One Year Down
On October 1, I passed my one-year mark in country as a volunteer. This year has been a rollercoaster, from meeting awesome people to living in the Money Pit. I have changed my language, dress, daily schedule and the way I go to the bathroom from what I am normally used to. I have celebrated weddings, mourned deaths and welcomed new lives into this odd country all while trying to figure out what the heck is going on. I have missed very important graduations, engagements, holidays, deaths and births of my family and close friends back home. I have learned that you can love someone you have never met, that people of the world are generally willing to help someone who is lost (physically or mentally), and the only thing you really need to be happy is the company of good people.
Kate and I just had a trainee come and visit us at site, and she was telling us of all the awkward situations that she has encountered in her short three weeks in Sumqayit. She told of the excruciatingly painful first night at your host family’s house, where you are not able to converse with your new family and you look for cues about how to act from anywhere you can take it. Many followed the ways of their small host brothers and sisters, and therefor behaved like little kids. My first day was full of highs and lows. I was greeted by a man who was smiling ear to ear (my host dad Adigozel) and felt relieved. I then was shuffled into my new bedroom, where I was served grapes with HUGE pits in them and left along to unpack. I did not know whether to eat the pits or spit them out, so I spit them out and put them on the plate. I then spent an hour sitting on my bed not knowing whether to come out of my room and face the trials of pantomime or wait until I was called. It was an intense hour of trying to remember what our language teachers had taught us in the three days of orientation (I could get through about 30 seconds of conversation with hello, how are you?, my name is Amy). After the hour, my host mom came in to gather my dishes and she looked at me as if I had three heads. I thought I had set up everything wrong or was not following some secret protocol, I came to find out that Azeris eat those huge pits in the grapes and no one spits them out. It was her first realization that I was an alien. The rest of the night was spent watching TV and shaking my head yes and no to questions I didn’t understand. “Are you a spy?” “Yes.” “Do you like to take showers?” “No.” I am surprised I didn’t get into serious trouble that night.
Our trainee also talked of the budding friendships that she and the other trainees are forming. She has informed us that they have all just settled down and gotten to know each other, and are spending time at each other’s houses. She texted people the whole time about what she was doing in Goranboy, and it made me happy that the trainees are getting so close. I wouldn’t have made it this far without the crazy cast of characters that have entered my life on this journey. My fellow YD volunteers have been the support that I have needed throughout service and I like to think that I have been theirs. We were a weird group from the beginning, from Jackie wearing her nametag upside-down on purpose, to Eli telling us all he did sex in a bucket (he used to work at a Salmon fishery). We were close in Tagiyev, and are still, while being physically far apart, very close to each other. We have supported each other in clubs, camps and Toga parties. There have been housewarmings, bitching sessions and football games. Life in Azerbaijan has been enriched by my colleagues, and we are always each-others cheer-leaders.
So as Kate and I await the Peace Corps to tell us who our new site-mate is, I am particularly reflective of Kate and my big move out to site. I remember being the ONLY ONE of the YD's who cried as I left, and Kate telling me I made her look bad, because she didn’t cry. I remember my counterpart leaving me at my new family’s house and saying he would be back in a few days. In those three days, I remember being trampled by xanims in a celebration of the former president, getting to know my host sisters, and finding out I could talk to Kate for free on the house phone. I would hear my host sister’s giggle when they answered the phone and immediately know it was Kate trying her best to get her off the phone and me on it. Those first few months I learned a lot about being in the regions, about my site, and basically learned how to be a volunteer through experience.
Since moving out with Kate, time has moved at a deafening pace. I have done clubs, special events and training sessions. My favorite time has been just hanging out with the kids. They treat us like we are one of them, and sometimes I think I am 12 years old again. Peace Corps is supposed to be a growing experience, but I seem to be growing backwards. I found myself the other day after a computer lesson throwing the acorn-like seeds of the trees at one of my students and then hiding behind another as he retaliated. At soccer, I forget that I am in a foreign country, because the kids remind me so much of the kids I used to coach every summer. I forget they live halfway across the world, and just play for two hours. I hang out with the kids in the neighborhood playing catch and talking. Kate and I stay out there for so long that we don’t realize that it is dark out, just like Jessie and I did when we were kids. This time it is a little worse, because then we have to ask a 14-year-old boy to accompany us home, but you get the gist.
So Kate and I have moved into a new house. We are cleaning and taking care of it and our newly adopted puppy (who is actually the neighbor’s, we just take care of it). We budget out every month so that when pay day rolls around, we aren’t begging xanims to feed us. We go guesting and take pride in the way we host people. We are acting like grown-ups, but at the heart of it all, we are still kids. This past year I have learned many new things, and really learned to be on my own, but the best times have been when I am still a kid.
Pictures: My first host dad and his wonderful smile, some of the YD's in Baku, me playing the kids at chess on "Youth Day" in Goranboy