Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Actual Update!

Well, I have been at site for a few weeks now, and it has been awesome. My new site is in the Midwest of the country, and it is nestled between snow capped mountains that are GORGEOUS. Today I was playing soccer at the stadium here (the only grass field at site, but that’s okay, it’s a grass field, and I am playing outdoor soccer in January, life’s good) and I looked at the mountains to my left and right and just felt completely blessed. In Merrimack, you don’t find a lot of snow-capped peaks, and it is just one of many perks to being in this town.
My counterpart is very nice. I am working at the Ministry of Youth and Sport for the government, and the man I work with is the head of the department for the town. My co-workers are awesome too. None of them speak English, but we get along. My Azeri is getting better and better each day, so it works. They get a lot of humor out of me though. I have secured respect from all of them though because I go play soccer with the 14-16 year-olds out on the field outside our work, and they watch. I kick the boy’s butts, so I have justified my placement with a youth and sport organization. The boys think I am hilarious, because I have made each and every one of them look foo.ish at least once, so they all can rag on each other for being tooled by a girl. Then they get all prideful if they beat me. I have a really good time with them.
After the New Year I should be starting English Conversation clubs, computer clubs and hopefully some sort of adult English club. Kate (my site mate) and I are holding a field day to meet some kids, so we can show how much fun we are to have kids coming to our clubs!
About my town: there is no internet that we have found yet, one library, one soccer field, a bazaar where you buy food, a few convenience stores, one tiny apartment bloc that we have seen so far, a handful of government buildings (fire, police, tiny hospital) and lots of one-story houses. The main feature is the one big paved road going through the city where a few other paved roads and all the dirt roads weave off of. It is like a main street, because that is where everything is based out of. All schools are on that road. There are 4 schools, but the schools here are very small, so four isn’t that much. One school is an orphanage and another does all it’s teaching in Russian, the other two are 1st-11th grade schools (the kids go until 11th grade here). I really like the town and feel like Kate and I can do a lot of good work here. We are the first Americans in this town since 2006 and they haven’t had Youth Development workers.
I will leave you with a funny story about life here that my family asked me to post to you all:
I was taken to the memorial service of Heydar Aliyev, the former president of Azerbaijan who died 6 years ago. His face is all over the place and quotes are still up on billboards. It’s surprising in this culture to find this guy’s image plastered all over everything when Idol worship is a HUGE offense in the Muslim religion. Anywho, it was my first experience with the Azerbaijani line. In this country, people don’t do lines. At the market, ATM, the toilet for god’s sakes, it’s whoever can weasel their way to the front. At the memorial service, people were supposed to put their flowers on the Heydar statue and leave. Well, it was supposed to be at 10, but for some insane reason, the police didn’t allow that to happen until 11, when people were standing out in the cold for an hour, unhappily. As much as they loved the former prez, they didn’t love him enough to be happy about waiting around an hour to put a flower on his statue. Anyways, the police then told the crowd to go ONE BY ONE up to the statue to place their flower down. Well this all could have been done AN HOUR AGO without the police’s help. But they decided to create a bottleneck by taking this huge crowd and cramming them into a line, something the public has NO FAMILIARITY with. All the local xanims (that’s old ladies in azeri speak) started pushing to the front. Now, these ladies could be linemen for Brady with the way they can push people around. I started to get squished, my host sister looked at me, told me not to worry. I was worried. I don’t do well in these situations. I don’t like to push strangers unless they have cleats strapped to their feet. I just dealt with it though.
It got worse. While I was being squished, a weird guy came up to me, handed me a piece of paper with his number on it and left, without saying a word. A little background on this: A lot of PCV’s are mistaken for prostitutes, but this was my first time. I handed the number to my host sister, pretending that I didn’t know that this guy thought I was a hooker, and she looked at me, shook her head with a wry smile, and threw the paper on the ground. At this point, I did not know what I was most offended by, the local xanim with her knee up my ass, being mistaken for a whore, or my host sister, the LITTERER! Anyways, I got my flower to the statue without any more incidents. The kicker is that I don’t even really like Heydar all that much.
Okay love you all! Miss you and hope you had a great holiday!


So my first toy was the other day,and it was FABULOUS! A TOY is an Azerbaijani wedding, and they are everywhere here. My first week at the new site and I was invited to one. It was a neighbor’s wedding whom I didn’t even know, but I was urged to go along with my host sister anyways, if not for anything else, for the free food.
So my first impression of this toy was that it is a normal wedding, like in the United States. We walked up to the restaurant, were among the first ones there, and went into a huge hall and sat down at one of 30 tables in the room. The hall was decorated in bright pinks and greens with lovey-dovey decorations everywhere and the food already on the table. I thought to myself, “people always tell me how much food is at a toy, this isn’t that much, like a normal wedding”. Well, I am proven ridiculously wrong in the coming paragraphs, but first we have the entrance of all the rest of the guests. So there end up being around 250 people at this wedding, from what I hear, a small toy. The doors were opened and it was like the gates opening at a Spice Girls concert in the early 90’s. The people rushed in to find the top seats, and save seats for their friends. Men sat on one side of the hall and the women sat on the other. Looking towards the men’s side, I saw vodka on the tables and cursed my choice of seating. I think it may have been the first time I had ever had penis envy. The women’s side had compote (a tasty but non-alcoholic juice drink) and a “fizzy pear drink”. That’s actually what the bottle said, in English. I thought there was hope, maybe this was some sort of girlie Smirnoff Ice spinoff, but no, just flavored carbonated water. That’s okay, it would’ve been just for decoration anyways, considering a woman is considered a “pis qiz” (bad girl) if you drink alcohol in public. The Smirnoff Ice knockoff would have sat there on the table taunting me the whole time I was there.
After the mass entrance of all the guests, the bride and groom entered with a 4-man band preceding them and streamers and confetti being thrown at them as they entered. The bride was beautiful in what we Americans consider a traditional gown and the groom wore a tux. The only thing that baffles me still, even after watching a dozen 3-hour long toy videos (and I actually watched the whole thing each time… so. long.), is that the bride and groom never smile. Not once. They walk in as if they even smirk their marriage is ruined. I asked an Azeri once why they do this, and they responded that this is a special event they want to remember without goofy smiles ruining the pictures. So this couple is walking, not smiling, and being followed by a video camera and multiple photographers. More fodder for yet another toy video. This one I won’t have to sit through though because I sat through it the first time (that’s the logical reasoning, but if I ever am a guest at this person’s house, we will go through the tape for hours just to see my one brief appearance, and my goofy smile).
So after the bride and groom sit, we eat. I had salad, chicken, nuts and my own half-loaf of bread. Plenty of food for this girl. To my surprise, the waiters bring on the next plate, boiled meat and potatoes. I pass on this one because I am already stuffed at this point, not knowing there was more to come. Each Thanksgiving in the States, I have strategies that help me through the marathon eating that happens in my family’s household. We weigh each other before and after, seeing who has gained the most weight. I usually gain a full 5 lbs in one day, so I can eat my share of food (nothing compared to my brother-in-law though, who packs in TWO dinners each Turkey Day). However, not knowing what was coming, I hadn’t enacted any type of strategy. The local xanim (older lady) sitting next to me definitely had a plan. We will refer to her as Red because she had her hair dyed that bright fire red that the xanims are sporting all over the place. Red definitely was getting her money’s worth out of this meal. The kebob came out, three different types, and I was forced to eat all three types to be polite. Red had no problem eating all three types, two times over. Then, to my utter horror, MORE food came out. The fruit that was sitting on the table when we entered the room was cut up and served. I ate that too, but Red had about 15 slices of apple, 10 of orange and about half a pineapple. She ate enough to feed a linebacker for two days.
It reminds me of a time when I was working as a waitress. My sister worked there too, and she had two little old ladies who maybe weighed 100 lbs a piece. They ordered a spinach and artichoke dip, one fish and chips a piece and dessert, all at the beginning of the meal. The fish and chips at our work could be three meals for the average man, so when I heard this, I said to Jessica, “There’s no way that these women are going to finish this meal, they’ll be taking three takeout bags home with them”. After an hour, I saw Jessica again, and she told me that they finished every bite. Practically licked the plates clean. The only thing they left for me to eat were my own words. I peeked at my new heroes walking out the door and I realized that you can’t underestimate a little old lady with a big appetite. Well, here I was doing it again. Red put me to shame. I am embarrassed to say that she ate three times as much as I did, and I couldn’t even eat dinner that night (this was an afternoon toy).
So after dinner comes dancing, but I was saved from that by my host sister, who decided not to dance at that particular toy. Thank goodness, because the little girls of his country grow up dancing a specific way, which I have never seen before, and I would have been a laughing stock if I had whipped out my trademark lawnmower move. Anyways, we watched as this awesome 4 piece band played, which was my favorite part. Every single old man in what was obviously a wedding band, look like he was perfectly enjoying what he was doing and will do it for the rest of his life. The look was something like “Yeah, I’m the shit, but there’s room for all kinds of awesomeness in this world, so you can be the shit too!” The kind of look I want on my face when I actually find a real job someday.
The last thing we did was take a picture with the bride and groom, and guess who was the only one with a big smile on her face? Yours truly. No big deal, but every time my host family will see that picture, they will laugh at the goofy American who was all smiles at a person’s wedding she doesn’t even know. I can’t wait until my sister’s wedding pictures come, and then my host family will see pictures of a LOT of goofy smiley Americans who have ruined ALL the pictures!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

So life is going well. We have been planning projects and implementing English conversation clubs and they have been going relatively well. The level of English is pretty low, but that is what we are here for!

I got my site placement a few weeks ago, I am in Goranboy with another Youth Development volunteer, Kate. I am super excited because it is only 30 min from the second biggest city, and we YD's are huddled together in the west. (there were a lot of western jokes thrown around too cheesy to write down). I am working with the Ministry of Youth and Sport. It should be very interesting to work with a government agency and the title pretty much says it all, so I feel like the job is pretty perfect for me. I have access to a youth cafe, library and upwards of 14 computers with Internet to start clubs. The youth center was just built and there is a new pool in the works that should be done when I get there. (Inshallah). A lot of these things are not like what they would be in the states, and I am interested to see what these resources look like. We had a counterpart conference where I met the head of the Youth and Sport ministry of Goranboy, who I will be planning projects with, and he only speaks Azeri. We got a lot of information across, but I am not quite sure how much was lost in translation. I do know that he is coming to pick Kate and I up on Dec 12th, our last day in Tagiyev!

My Azeri is coming along nicely. I can get around pretty well, explain who I am and what I am doing here (I am not a spy...) People laugh at us any time we communicate, but I think it is a shocked laughter, that these Americans actually know a little bit of their language. We have on many occasions surprised the folks of Azerbaijan by responding to them in Azeri when they ask us a question. I am still nervous for site, there are a lot less English speakers in the regions to go to if I need help...

Life at home is glorious, I don't want to leave my family. A few nights ago, Adigozel (my host dad) and I had a dinner party with a few other PCT's because Sevinj (my host mom) went to a toy without him. He planned out a "program" where we would play all kinds of games and the winner would get a prize. We ended up just playing checkers, chess and "Nerd", a game that resembles backgammon. Of course he kicked everyone's butts, and we ate the "prize" which was a basket of fruit picked from our pomegranate, quince and persimmon trees outside and a few bananas thrown in. Bananas are super expensive, so that was a nice treat.

Last night, Adigozel asked me "How much money do you make?". I explained to him that i am a volunteer and that I don't "make" any money. Just receive a small allowance to buy essentials (like snickers bars) and the money I pay him and Sevinj to live there. He seemed confused and was asking why I don't receive more money, working for the government, and why I was there being a volunteer, so I explained that I wanted to make the world better, that I wanted to help people in Azerbaijan. He then asked if I requester to come to Azerbaijan and I replied that I hadn't, but am really glad that I was placed here. After that statement, I went to get us more tea.

Upon returning, he looked up at me with a big smile and asked if there were a lot of people in the United States who had big hearts like me. I was touched, and said of course there are, there are other Peace Corps volunteers, Americorps, tons of different organizations. Then I got to thinking, there is my mother, who donates blood every time she can because she is a universal doner, my father who lines the soccer fields 20 times a spring so kids can play. People in America have all kinds of citizenship that I would love to bring to Azerbaijan. After this discussion, Adigozel, a man who every time he sees money says to me "I would like to have that" said to me: "Yaxshi, sonra pul gelecek." Which means "That's good, money will come later".

Thanksgiving tomorrow. We have the grand plan to go to the dove, a Sumgayit hangout, have a few beers and just enjoy each others company. We are having a huge meal on Sunday. I am in charge of green beans, and since the idea of casserole hasn't been introduced in this country, I can't make that (no French's onion rings or Campbell's condensed soup) so I will just saute them. We are also making 2 kinds of mashed potato ("ruined potatoes, ruined potatoes, and ruined potatoes"). Another group is planning on killing a turkey and plucking, degutting and cooking that. I said no thanks, I think we are going to do it the 20th century way and buy ours from the market.

So what are you all thankful for this year? I am thankful for new adventures for me and my sisters and a niece or nephew that's on the way!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Re-Education of Amy King

So, my host family has decided, after the Spaghetti incident (see previous blog entry) that they should educate me on how to make food. I DO know how to make food, but just not Azeri food. Anyways, I learned the other night how to make dolma, one of the big dishes in Azerbaijan. It is like stuffed cabbage, only better. I have devoured the stuff many times here.

I basically watched Sevink make it, cringing sometimes at the un-sanitary aspects of cooking here, but it hasn't killed me yet, has it? I have decided to take the Stephanie Rosenberg approach to eating, anything that hasn't made me sick before is fair game, and to try everything once. However, cooking with Sevinj made me realize that some things you just dont want to know. That phrase has always bothered me before, only making me curious as to what the think I didn't want to know was, but here, some things are you REALLY just don't want to know.

Anyways, I helped wrap the dolma in the grape leaves and the cabbage. Sevinj's were these tight little balls and mine were these messy lumps of food with meat spilling out the edges. I realize, that in cooking, I have a portion control issue, and am working on that. I always use too much spaghetti or too much cupcake batter in the tin, this time it was too much meat in the cabbage leaf. I am a cooking glutton. Anyways, Sevinj was encouraging, but Adigozel and Atash, the 27-year old relative living at our house, both laughed at my attempt. When I invited them to make the dolma, they said they already knew how to make it that I needed to learn, and walked away laughing. I thought that was very George King-esque.

Anyways, life here is going well, we had a pancake breakfast at my house today (it was GLORIOUS) and I am starting to get the hang of living here. It still surprises me that cows and sheep basically walk me to school (Fuzzy-style) and that at some parts of the day, which parts we do not know, we may not have water or electricity. I love the fact that I am buddies with the Doner Kebob seller and the lady who runs the corner market. I have an outdoor toilet and I think it's a great toilet, but when I have to go at 3am, it's not so great and pretty cold.

I love the people here. They are so friendly, and we get stopped constantly by people asking us who we are and what we are doing here (in a good way). We had an English conversation club the other day which went really well. About fifteen 16/17 year-old kids showed up, we spoke in english the whole time, and afterwards we all had to take pictures with them one by one so they can show their friends. Apparently we are the talk of the school, but try to stay as inconspicuous as possible, which is pretty hard.

I have officially been here for a month and a week exactly and haven't regretted the decision once.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Italy meets America meets Azerbaijan

So I brought a little bit of Italy to Azerbaijan two days ago when I made Spaghetti for my host dad and mom. This is how I came to cook the meal:

Host dad: Do you know how to cook anything?
Me: Not really.
Host dad: But you are a girl, you must know how to cook.
Me: (pride now hurt and defense of my womanhood on the line) Well I do know a couple of dishes...
Host dad: Which ones?
Me: Spaghetti. It is noodles with tomato sauce.
Host dad: Then you and I will make it tomorrow.

So, I was stuck, making spaghetti. This wasn't as easy as you may think. First I had to tell my dad what ingredients to buy. The only words I know for this sauce is tomato, garlic, onion, oil, salt, pepper, and "vermishil" which isn't quite spaghetti, but a weird thin but short noodle that is pretty tricky to cook. Well, these minus the black pepper, and plus some sugar were the only ingredients I had to work with. I mean THE ONLY. No spices, no red pepper flakes, not even any greens (basil or parsley, which on regular occasions they have stocked in the house, but that day they didn't). So I made the sauce. Sevinj watched for like 2 minutes before peacing out, shaking her head and mumbling as she walked out. In her defense, I was making my usual mess when I cook, which according to my mother "looks like a bomb went off in the kitchen". The neighbor came over with her 5-year old daughter, they watched over my shoulder the entire time. The littel girl "helped out", which means it took me twice as long to do things. Auntie Carol, you are a saint for putting up with me and Jessica cooking with you all those times. We must have caused you to take THREE TIMES as long to bake cookies and cook blueberry jam. So while I was trying to make the sauce, the neighbor is turning up the heat on the onions, I was peeling the weird garlic that has a thrid skin on it, so it needed to be peeled like a potato. I almost burnt the onions because they were turned up and I was actually peeling the garlic. The little girl insists on rolling up my pants dragging on the ground, and the neighbor is aking me what I am doing every minute...

The sauce didn't turn out too too bad, but was far from delicious. The neighbor insisted that I use ALL of the pasta I cooked. I had completely misjudged the amount of pasta I needed due to the unusualness of these noodles, and I mad WAAAY too much pasta. I was forced to put all the noodles in the small amount of sauce I had, so the dish tasted like pasta that had been cooked in tomato flavored water. It definitely needed salt, and I didn't even have black pepper to add (we had run out earlier that day). Adigozel, being the cheery host dad he is, praised it to all high heavens. (My womanhood was secured!) Sevinj, my host mom, didn't even touch the stuff. Haha. They force fed it to the 27-year-old cousin staying at our house for a week, and he said he liked it, but I have my doubts.

After eating leftovers last night, made better by waay more oil and salt put on by Sevinj, my host dad turned to me and asked: So what else can you make?

My response was: I don't know how to make anything.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What IS it with these animals?

Hey all!

I am back from my trip to Siyezan. It was a really nice vacation from Pre-Service-Training life (going to language class, going to technical training, struggling to communicate with my host family, then going to sleep only to wake up to do it all over again). We had pancakes, burgers, and spaghetti (Those are in order of importance to me, I hit the motherload!!). My host was awesome, a Peace corps volunteer doing Youth Development and working with the Ministry of Youth and Sport. She has started dance groups, conversation clubs and a youth as volunteers project. She is a super hard worker and I took a lot of tips home with me. I was able to really help with the sports group because she had a sprained ankle, so I felt of some use. She is one of the only people still living with a host family, which is pretty cool. Their relationship is super-good, and she speaks Azeri VERY well. She says the benefits to living with them is that they always tell her when she is about to something stupid, which is something I may need...

So, we were chased by geese the other day and I got a great opportunity to relate my father's story of being chased in Florida by a pack of angry geese. He really should have dropped the bread and run for his life... Anyways, we had no bread, and just kept walking at the same pace to show we had no fear (even though we obviously were terrified of these murderous geese) and they just kept honking at us and followed us a little ways, but did not bite. Just another animal to keep my eye on in Azerbaijan. Who would of thought when joining PC Azerbaijan that your main threat would be wild/domesticated animals? I mean, out in the desert, maybe. There are snakes and scorpions and things that go bump in the night all over the place, but here, they say you have to be "lucky" to encounter one of the 4 venomous snakes that habitate in this country. Personally, I think you would be unlucky, but there are those crazies out there who enjoy the occasional snake.

I had tripe the other night for dinner. It was actually pretty delicious if you don't think about what exactly you are eating... I would eat it again if served to me.

We visit the mud volcanoes soon (sounds like something out of The Princess Bride, along with the Cliffs of Insanity), so that should be pretty cool, and we have a big Holloween get together planned in our Tech Group because our Mid PST language interviews and site placement interviews are going to be held on Halloween and are pretty stressful.

Anyone going to be anything interesting for Halloween?


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Post Number One

Hi all! I am safe and well and have been gone for 2 and a half weeks! Everything is great here! I really like the people I am working with (the other trainees) and the people of Azerbaijan are really accomodating!

My host father is the best. He plays chess, checkers, chinese checkers and a game called nerd (it's something I imagine backgammon would be like, but I've never played backgammon before, so I don't know). My mother makes me eat tons of food, and I try and get as much exercise as possible playing soccer with the kids but hopefully I don't get too fat. My mother reminded me not to gain to much weight or I may be over the weight limits for the plane ride home. :)

I have been working my butt of studying the language and I can say complete sentences now!! I can communicate with my fhost mom and dad pretty well, we have our own pantmime/azerbaijani form of communicating, but I am pretty sure I'm getting my point across. I hope so anyways. It's so awkward but awesome, they should do a true live: I live in a host family because I'm sure a lot of people have the same funny stories.

The only problems I have had is that I have been stalked by Pooch, the dog who lives outside my house. We have an agreement, that if I talk to him he won't bark/bite, but he usually barks if I dont talk. Also, my Marshtruka (it's like a van for public transport) played chicken with an oncoming train. The three americans were ducking our heads and freaking, but the azeris were just calm as could be. The train came like 20 yards from us, but I guess we shouldn't have freaked because the guys who drive these marshtrukas have done so for 20 years, and they wouldnt put themselves in danger.

The culture here is so interesting! I hear the call to prayer every day, but the Muslim religion is not as prevalent as I thought it would be. There are certain cultural rules to abide by, but so far I have not broken any. Actually, I did have a Marilyn Monroe moment at the bus stop because it was so windy, and I was wearing a longer skirt and it flew up! I was mortified, but I think only Americans saw me.

All the little kids love the fact that I play soccer. I kick their butts, then let them play a little. :) Thanks to years of soccer camps, I now can show them all kinds of tricks to do, and I have been successful in "IRB"-ing (Relationship Building in the community) through soccer.

We have site visits until Wednesday, I will post sometime after wednesday! Miss you all in the states and send me an email or post here so I know how you are!!

Lots of love,