Katherine the Great
Okay, so I have written a lot about my life here, the stuff I do, the things I learn, and the people I meet. However, I have not yet talked extensively about one of the most important people in my Peace Corps life. My site mate Kate is one of the most unique individuals in all of Azerbaijan; people ask me how she is with a big smile and the expectation of hearing a hilarious story. It proves for an interesting life.
Kate and I are what the rest of our peers call “Peace Corps married”. This is an arranged marriage through the Peace Corps and only happens in rare instances. We have been grouped together since the beginning. We were roommates in Philadelphia the night before we left for Azerbaijan, we are in the same technical group (Youth Development) and we were in the same Azerbaijani class during training, which meant we lived in the same development outside of Sumqayit. At the end of this training, we found out that we would be at the same small site, as site mates. We have been through every stage of the Peace Corps together, so far.
During Pre-Service Training (PST), I formed bonds with the people around me. My peers were my support network, and we were together so often that we would laugh about stuff together without acknowledging it aloud. Kate would be the one who would ask “what are you laughing about?” She's tattoed, i have my ears pierced. I stayed on the beer wagon for a month, she fell off the first week. During class, I had vocab lists mapped out, she had great stories as to why hers weren't. She doesn’t care what people think, I am very aware of the rumor mill and try to avoid it. Kate used to like to sneak out of her host family’s house, and one night I was sitting quietly in my house with my host family when Kate’s family called. My host dad asked me where Kate was, and I had no idea. I told my host dad I had not a clue but I was sure she was fine. I guess she had told her host family that she would be out with me and when she was late they got worried and called my family. Rule 101 of sneaking out: tell your accomplice that she is your accomplice, or your cover is going to get blown. There are a lot of differences on the surface between Kate and me.
Therefore, when our project manager, Tarana, told us that we would be going to the same site, I had my reservations. While I had formed close bonds with the rest of the people in my Azeri class and many in my technical training group, Kate was aloof and we hadn’t really gotten to know each other very well. I liked her enough, but was nervous about the person that was about to become my site mate. Recently, I have talked to the other people in our technical training group, and they said (laughingly) they had the same reservations I had. To my knowledge, Kate didn’t overthink it as much as I had. So we entered the next two years together on completely different pages.
Our first month was a time of getting to know each other. We were able to hang out pretty much every day because, let’s face it, there’s not too much else to do here. We went to each other’s work and home all the time, went on walks, talk about the frustrations of our life without internet, than visited the creepy internet club we found together. We quickly realized, to borrow Rick Blaine's words, this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
We have had many crazy adventures together, and I will highlight a few of them here. The first big adventure was when in February when we went into Baku for a GLOW meeting and the Superbowl. We got caught in a snowstorm visiting our former host families, but neither of us wanted to stay in the village for another night. We made the terrible decision to take a cab to Baku because the buses refused to go to Baku (the roads were too bad for the bus, but a cab can do better, right?).
Well, the whole way down I was clinging to the seat, my knuckles must have been white. We spun out three times on the road, which wasn’t a big issue because there wasn’t anyone else on it! The car got about 6 miles within the place we were going to and hit traffic that was going into Baku. The taxi driver decided to turn around, because the road was closed. Kate and I looked at each other and made the decision to walk the rest of the way, hoping to find a Good Samaritan who would take us the rest of the way when the roads opened up. Well, we trudged in the snow for the entire six miles while cars inched along. If the drivers got even a few feet of room, they would gun their gas and slip and slide all over the road. I wasn’t in New England anymore; these people don’t know how to drive in the snow. We eventually got to our destination after many static panic filled phone calls (WHERE ARE YOU? ARE YOU ALIVE?) and on time for the meeting to boot.
Another classic adventure would be our attempts to find a house. I have written about our apartment in a previous blog post, but I will repeat myself a little here. For as bad as our apartment is, we have been shown worse. Our apartment has no hot water, no gas heater, no refrigerator and no chairs (we had 5, but since living here we have broken two, it’s getting desperate!). We are the only PCV’s I know that have to borrow spoons, forks, and plates if someone other than us eats at our house. We decided upon this house because unlike the bigger cities, the small Goranboy does not have a huge housing market. We also have a new infestation of bedbugs (we think) in Kate’s room which we have been battling vigorously (I mainly make sure they don’t go into my room!).
We didn’t even intend to live together at first, but couldn’t find two apartments/houses in our price range, so we decided to live together. It was the best decision we made. Even though the apartment is awful, we enjoy living together and our neighbors are amazing! We have kids outside to play with, xanims to ask our silly questions to, and people who are willing to stick their necks out for these two crazy Americans if we need it. We also have a system for living now: I cook, Kate washes dishes. It’s pretty awesome. If one of us is ever gone, it is pretty lonely. For example, when I went out for two weeks to do my soccer project, I got a text from Kate saying “I just ate pasta with Ketchup on it, I miss you. Come home soon!” When Kate recently went to Germany for 10 days, I got really lonely and went guesting every day to have company. I didn’t want to cook if I had to eat alone and no one was going to tell me how good of a job I did!
Outside of the adventures, we work well as a team. Kate makes things relaxed and comfortable, I help with the communication. When Kate gets frustrated, I calm her down, when I get frustrated, Kate helps me let it out. We do many things together, but have our separate groups too. Kate likes to have actual conversation clubs with the better English speakers, and I like to hold computer classes. Kate wants to work with disabled kids and I want to work with girls in sport. Kate works with all women, I work with all men. Both have their unique difficulties which Kate and I are trying to work out. We have been doing softball together and are trying to write a grant together. I get called Kate at least 10 times per day, and Kate gets called Amy. Some people even think we are the same person. Even Peace Corps volunteers treat us like we are attached at the hip. If people can’t get ahold of us, they’ll call the other to find the one they’re looking for. Kate’s host mom had to explain to a few Azeri’s that we are TWO people, that there are TWO American girls living in Goranboy at one time. Remember the twins and Lord of the Flies, SamnEric? Well, Kate often refers to us as KatenAmy. I don’t have a problem with it, I have been dealing with being confused with another person all my life (I can’t get away from it Jess!). Kate is fine with it as well, she is confident enough that there is no danger of her losing herself.
Life is good with a great site mate. Where I had reservations before, there is nothing but relief that Kate is with me. I have great friends here, but she is the first one I would go to if things were to go wrong. In a situation where it’s hard for people who know you well to know what you’re going through, Kate knows exactly where I’ve been, what I’m doing and where I want to go. While she and I are different people, I would trust her to give sound advice on counsel I am seeking. It makes my life easier here to have someone to share the everyday things. The frustrations when people don’t understand me, the small successes (like finding cheap cheese!) and the bizarre are all shared and discussed.
So here’s to Kate
(this is a little late)
she’s my site mate.
We can relate
when frustrations won’t abate
living in a different State.
It must’ve been fate
because she really is great!
Pictures: Kate at our Thanksgiving celebration, Kate and I in Baku, Kate and I at our Swearing in Ceremony