Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hello Again

Hey all, sorry for the delay between posts. I've been busy traveling through Russia and Azerbaijan the past month or so. That and my computer doesn't work so well anymore (I got it to turn on for the first time in a month yesterday) and the phone line at my house doesn't work anymore at all so I'm on the computer at work. Which means this will be a quick post.

My trip to Russia was awesome. I'll work on getting some pictures up and writing some stories down and hopefully I can get those posted early next week. Highlights included me trying to order food in Russian, blasting off into space in a real space shuttle in Moscow's Gorky Park, napping in parks in Latvia, petting a real live bear, calling America from Estonia, playing guitar for a group of Russians at 7 in the morning after a night at the bars, and many other tales. It was awesome. I also gained about 10 pounds by consistently eating 2 or 3 times the amount of food as my travel companions Bethany and Rachel combined. It was amazing and kind of disgusting at the same time.

After Russia, I went to my COS (Celebration/Close of Service) Conference that PC throws for departing volunteers. It was a lot of fun and a good chance for all of us to get together in a big group. This weekend is obviously the Fourth of July and I'll be heading to a friends house tomorrow. Should be a good time. I hear they have a pool so it'll be just like home. Anyways, I should go for now. Have a good Fourth, everyone!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Talkin' Softball

It’s finally time for the Azerbaijan Softball league to begin again. Two weekends ago we had the first softball tournament up in Barda. Some of the volunteers (John, Jason and Sarah) came down to Lankaran and stayed at my house for a couple days leading up to the weekend and we all traveled up there together on Friday the 2nd. While they were here, we showed them all the sights that Lankaran has to offer, including the Caspian Sea, the football stadium and the prison where Stalin was held. At the stadium, we talked to the same security guard that was there when I showed my parents the field. We also got a walking tour of the prison which is currently being renovated. It was nice to take a look inside and see what they had done. On one of the days, we ate at our favorite restaurant in town and had a couple drinks. John tried the fish due to Ashley’s high recommendation and after constantly complaining that it cost 6 manat, he ended up getting sick. Now he’s blaming the chicken Lavangi, but I won’t stand for that. He ended up making a full recovery.

As I said, we left for Lankaran on that Friday and got to Barda by early evening. Our first games were scheduled for the next morning, so everyone decided to take it easy and get to bed by 9:30 at the latest. By that I mean we partied until the early hours. Around 8, Ryan came to wake us up. I went with him to the field to get everything set up and play catch and basically just give myself time to wake up. I was recruited to play left field for the Barda team and I’m more relieved than anything that I didn’t screw anything up. I got a couple big hits and made a few good plays in the field, including throwing someone out at home plate. We still lost both our games, but the team put up a good fight. It felt good to get out and play again after a long winter. After each team played 2 games, we hung around and played another game just for fun. Afterwards, we kept up one of our favorite traditions and went to the nearby restaurant and got some beers. A good time was had by all.

The one bad part about this day was that my phone got stolen. I had placed it in Ryan’s bag with my wallet and a bunch of his stuff. It fell out at some point and someone had placed it on the bench where the people who weren’t playing were sitting and hanging out. There were probably about 20 people there, so I wasn’t too concerned. After the games when we discovered it was stolen, some of the kids said they saw who took it but that they didn’t know him. They assured me that they would get it back for me within a day or two and not to worry. I believed them and went about my normal business, hoping for the best. That following Monday, we received word that they had found my phone in a warehouse in town. I don’t know how it got there, or what the real story is, but they found it and for that I am grateful. It was actually kinda nice to not have to worry about charging it or anything like that. Luckily, the sim card was still in there and nothing else was taken.

On Sunday, we all got together again and played for a few more hours. This day was just volunteers, as usual. Afterwards, we all went back to Jason’s house again for another party. This time we were celebrating Cinco de Mayo eve. Yet again, a good time was had by all. As you can imagine, we all awoke Monday morning bright-eyed and ready to tackle the day. We bought some good meat, made margaritas and celebrated Cinco de Mayo, although it was a little tamer than last year’s celebration. Tuesday was more relaxed as most of the people had left by then, and it was nice to have a simple, quiet day. On Wednesday, Ashley and I left around 7:15 to get to Baku. He had some stuff to take care of and we were meeting Bethany and Rachel so we could get our visas from the Russian Embassy on Thursday afternoon. By the time we got into town we were both ready to crash. On Thursday, we all got our visas without any problems. So now I am officially excited for my trip to Russia, Estonia and Latvia. We’ll be leaving on June 1st and returning from Riga on June 11th. It should be an awesome time. We still have a little planning to do, but most of the details are taken care of.

When I returned from Baku last Friday, I arrived home to discover that I had no electricity. Because one of my pipes still leaks a little bit, I also had no water. And since I couldn’t plug in the pump for the well because of the electricity, there was little I could do. Fortunately, I had water saved up in a huge bucket so I was able to cook and clean and things like that. I also discovered that no matter the electric situation of the rest of my house, one outlet still works so I was able to use my computer at least. On Saturday, thinking that I had forgotten to pay my electricity bill, I went to the post office and paid up hoping that everything would be turned back on by the end of the day. It wasn’t and I also realized that I most likely paid the same bill twice and that something was actually wrong with my house. After a brief look at the wiring, I decided to call the landlord and have them take a look. A half hour later, everything was mostly back to normal except for the wiring. For now, everything works ok (except the actual well pump and my phone line), so hopefully the tape holding everything together lasts for at least four more months. What can you do though, right?

That’s about all I got. I put up some softball pictures from Barda. Our friend from the Peace Corps, Shams, was in town this weekend so we gave her the tour of Lankaran and ate Lavangi. It was her first visit to Lankaran and she seemed to enjoy herself. We also went to the stadium and saw the same security guard. He laughed at me. It was nice to see Shams at least once more, since we don’t get to very often because she’s so busy with organizing all the trainings that PC holds. I hope everyone had a great Mother’s Day!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Back to America...

…For my parents at least. I’m still in Azerbaijan for the next 5 months or so, not that anyone is counting. So I think it is safe to say that my parents’ and aunt’s trip to Azerbaijan was a success. I got to Baku last Thursday with Ashley and we hung out in the hotel until it was time to pick up my mom and dad at the airport. They didn’t have any problems with their visas or their luggage and we were back at the hotel in no time. My dad asked if I wanted to see all the goodies they brought with them then or wait a day until we got to Lankaran. I thought about this for about 1/8 of a second and a few minutes later we were all enjoying a glass of some fine tequila. It was delicious. The perfect appetizer for this deliciousness though, was one of the finest sandwiches I’ve ever enjoyed. That sandwich is known as the Spicy Baconator from Wendy’s. If you haven’t had one, go get one immediately. You won’t be disappointed. It didn’t bother me that the burger was around 24 hours old. It was so good. It also started a week full of much eating. I’m still kinda full.

We decided around 3 a.m. that we should at least lay down and try to sleep for an hour or so before we had to leave to the airport again to pick up Aunt Jean. Her flight was due to get in at 5 but didn’t get in until 6. Due to the long visa line and the fact that her luggage did not arrive with her, we didn’t see her for quite some time and were beginning to worry that she may have missed her flight. She eventually came out and we were on our way back to the airport and back to tequila. We all got some sleep and later went to the Peace Corps office to get phone numbers for the airport and find out when the luggage might make it. They told us to call back the next morning and they would be able to tell us if her luggage was there. The next morning when we called, no one answered. We decided to head over to the airport thinking that was the only option available at the time. We got there and found two very helpful people who took us right to her luggage and thankfully, everything was taken care of. Later that day, Saturday, we headed down to Lankaran.

Friday though, was for cleaning up from all the traveling and doing some touring of Baku. We took a taxi from the hotel to the center of town and walked to the Maiden’s Tower which is in Old City Baku. My parents were there last year as well on their trip here, so they were experts at leading us around. Not really, though. We walked to the top of the tower which has tiny stairwells and doorways and I think Dad and I managed to not hit our heads at all this time. After wandering around Old City for a while, we walked down to the Caspian and along the walkway there for a bit. By this time, it was getting kind of late in the afternoon and everyone was fading fast. We decided to head back to the hotel for a couple hours of rest and some showers before we headed out to one of our favorite gathering places, Tequila Junction. On the walk there, we were able to point out where Ben broke my nose, which I’m sure she enjoyed. A bunch of other volunteers met us there and we ate a ton of nachos, drank a lot of beer and had what can generally be described as a good time. Katie challenged Dad to a chugging contest, so while he sipped his Guinness, she chugged a full beer. It was that kinda night.

We got to Lankaran Saturday afternoon and get everyone settled into their hotel rooms. After wandering over to my house and giving them the big tour, I took my dad and Joyce to get some chickens and bread from one of the nearby tandir places. We devoured three chickens and bread and sat around and talked for a while. Again, everyone seemed pretty tired and by now it was around 9 or a little later. I walked them back to the hotel and made it back to my house without leading anyone into any of the roadside gutters/ditches and went to bed. On Sunday we walked around town a little bit to kill time before we then took a bus up to Isti Su (translates to hot water). We had lunch at our favorite Gutab place and had a couple cocktails. Basically, we showed my parents and aunt what we typically have for lunch during the week. Anyways, Isti Su is a small village about 20-30 minutes away by bus and they have natural hot springs, hence the name. They created small rooms where groups can go in for 10 minutes at a time and soak and as we say, replenish, refresh and revive your soul. It feels pretty good. Afterwards we walked back up and waited a while for the bus to come to take us back into the city. By then it was dinner time, so we all headed to the new Turkish restaurant in town. This took a lot of time but the food was pretty good. They forgot to make one of our pizzas so we had to wait much longer than we usually do, but everything worked out. We even got to play with one of their pet rabbits they keep in the restaurant. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel where we played a couple games of Yahtzee in the hotel restaurant. It was a good end to a good day.

On Monday I introduced everyone to my office and gave the grand tour of the city of Lankaran. At night, my office took us out to dinner where we ate and drank a bunch. The night ended kind of early since we needed to get my aunt back to the airport by 11 the next morning. We left Lankaran around 5:30 and were there in plenty of time. After saying goodbye, we picked up Ashley and were on our way to Sheki to see Magda and Charlie and show my parents more of Azerbaijan. We even helped move Magda into her new apartment. After checking out the sites of Sheki (climbing a mountain, old buildings, etc.) we packed up and were on the move again. Our next destination was Gence, where Ben was our gracious host. There was only enough time to spend one day there, but we saw most of the city and had a couple great meals. This ended the traveling portion of the trip and before we knew it, it was time to head back to Baku to send mom and dad off back to America. It was a great week though, for sure.

I finally made it back to Lankaran and was able to rest up a little bit and catch up on happenings at the office. I couldn’t rest long though, because I had to prepare myself for two weddings that week. On the 16th, my friend Ziya took me to a village wedding. We took a bus about 20 minutes out of town and went to his friend’s house. The groom was there, Ziya’s neighbor, and about 25 other men. We sat around eating, and giving toasts to the camera, me included, and at the end of all that, we went to a little wedding place where all the women and music were. We danced a bit and after a couple hours of that, we were off. I got home around 1 or so, but had a great time. Before we went to the wedding part, Ziya took me to his house where I met his father, wife and baby boy, Ujal. I put a picture or two of him up here. And yes, he’s a White Sox fan as you can tell by the apparel. Two nights later, Friday night, I went to another wedding. When we first moved to Lankaran, the AZ2 volunteers introduced us to Fuad, a friend of theirs who also speaks really good English. He helped us out with a lot of stuff as we got acclimated to our new surroundings and has been a great friend. So Fuad’s wedding was Friday and that was also a great time. Lots of food, as usual, lots of drinking, pretty common and definitely lots of dancing. Tim, Ashley and I had a lot of fun and we definitely showed off our dance moves as much as possible. The next morning, though, I was back on my way to Gence to celebrate Ben’s birthday, go to Qazakh to play soccer with Katie and a bunch of kids there, then back to Gence, then back to Lankaran again. Then, after just another couple of days of rest, I had to go back to Baku. I needed to go to the Russian embassy to fill out paperwork and start processing my visa for my trip to Russia in a month or so. Everything worked out great, and so now I’m starting to get really excited for the trip.
I’m back in Lankaran now, and things are finally settling down, but only a little bit. This month is sure to be busy again and it all starts tomorrow when a few friends come down to spend the week in Lankaran. On Friday, we will all head up to Barda to begin the softball season which is always a lot of fun. This Wednesday, we are going to play kickball at the orphanage that we had the play day at a month or so ago. Hopefully the weather will be nice. The past couple days have been gorgeous, but it started raining a little bit tonight. Tomorrow, I’m supposed to have a meeting with the ExCom to discuss plans for the sports league. We just found out last week that we officially received permission from the city to move ahead with the project and work directly with the schools, so now the real work begins. Should be interesting. Sorry for the lateness of this post, but hopefully it is full of plenty of information and joy to keep you busy and content until my next post. Pictures are: Ashley and I enjoying our amazingly delicious Spicy Baconators, Ziya and son, Ujal and me, Fuad and his wife Nigar, me dancing at the first wedding and then our friend Mobil, Ashley and me with Fuad and Nigar.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Back in the land of AZ

And back to reality. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Spain and will get into a little more detail soon, but I thought you all might be interested to hear my latest housing issues. Take a guess, water, gas or electricity. Well, this time it’s water. Again. I returned home from all my travels (when I got back from Spain, I quickly turned around and went to Baku for a couple nights to watch some March Madness on Saturday night) to find that I had no water left in my big water tank. No problem, I’ll just turn on the well pump, I thought to myself. So I plugged in the pump only to find that it is no longer functioning. So once again, I am out of water. I would like to say I will have it fixed this week, but I am leaving again on Thursday to meet up with my parents and aunt who will be here for a while to visit. Needless to say, I’m quite excited to see them again. Plus it should be a good time showing them around the country. Now on to Spain.

We left Baku around 6 in the morning and flew on to Moscow. We had to land for a couple hours in a town about an hour away from Moscow because of bad weather. It didn’t really matter though since we had a 7 hour layover so we weren’t in danger of missing our flight to Madrid. When we finally did get to Madrid, we met up with Joyce’s friend Nicole and her friend Sarah. Our original plan called for us to then catch a bus immediately to Sevilla, but we had a small problem finding the bus station and figuring out the Metro. We finally did, but it was too late. Little did we know, it would end up being a trend for the vacation… the whole getting lost and sleeping in bus station thing. We decided to wait it out in the bus station for 6 hours or so and we had some Doritos and tequila thanks to Nicole to keep us warm and busy. We had to sit outside which got a little cold, but what can you do. We finally got on the bus and made it to Sevilla where we had a hotel waiting for us. Unfortunately, we had no idea where the hotel was and after waiting for a taxi for an hour or so, decided to hoof it in the semi-correct direction, then completely wrong direction. What didn’t help was the parades going on in town that crowded the streets and all of us being tired from travel. We finally made it though, and checked in without any problems.

Joyce’s friend Caroline was going to meet up with us in Sevilla and gave us some directions, which of course, we could not follow. So Joyce and I wandered around for a couple hours, ate some food (tapas are freaking awesome, by the way) and went back to the hotel where Caroline happened to be waiting for us. Good times. Funny story, while we were eating it was after midnight which meant it was St. Patrick’s Day. I tried to order an Irish car bomb, in Spanish, and got laughed at. The bartender’s eyes popped out of his head when I said car bomb in Spanish, and I tried to explain how to make one. They finally got someone that spoke a little English to help me out and I tried to get behind the bar to make one, but eventually gave up. The next morning, Caroline took us around a little bit and showed us how to get around town a little bit. We ate some breakfast then wandered for a bit. Turns out, when Joyce and I got lost, we were about 5 minutes away from the hotel. Go figure. The rest of the day we walked ALL over the place and saw pretty much all of Sevilla. We took a lot of pictures of old buildings, parks and churches and at night we watched the parades celebrating Holy Week. There are a few pictures of the guys in robes and the floats they carried around with candles. It was all pretty impressive. After that, it was time to say goodbye to our nice hotel room and leave for Valencia.

Every year in Valencia, they have a festival called Las Fallas. I was very excited when I learned that our trip would be corresponding exactly with this festival. We were able to plan our trip so that we would be in Valencia on the 19th, which is the last and biggest night for the festival. All over the town, they build these giant paper machet floats. They are all judged and a winner is selected, although I have no idea what basis they use or which float one, or if I even saw the winner. Either way, at night time, they light them all on fire. All of them, except the winner of course. So all day long there are people everywhere, checking out the floats, drinking beer and throwing off firecrackers. They were the kind that are somewhere in between black cats and small sticks of dynamite. It was awesome. Whenever it was time to light one of the floats, they would set off fireworks from that site so at night you can hear and see fireworks all over the place. We staked ourselves a nice spot right in front of one of the bigger floats and were able to see them set up the explosives and watch from the front row as they blew it up. They had fire hoses on either side and were constantly spraying the buildings, the float and everywhere around it. Keep in mind these things are built in the middle of these old European streets, so the buildings are practically right on top of the fire. I can’t imagine something like this going on back at home. Crazy fun. After the fireworks, we were all pretty exhausted. I was starving so Bonnie, Arzu and I stopped off at a Burger King (I know, I know, sometimes you gotta give in, you know?). Everyone went back to the bus station where we had a few hours to kill before our bus left for Valencia. The one guard at the bus station was quite vigilant though and made sure that no one got to rest their head or lay down in any form at all. If you slept for one second, this guy was all over you yelling something in Spanish until you sat up right. There were tons of people at the station though, so he couldn’t really keep up and we all got to rest our eyes for at least a little bit.
We finally made it to Barcelona and met up with Dave (my cousin) without any problems. We gathered our stuff and went to his house where we were immediately greeted with showers and beer. Not a bad combo. We went out a little bit that night to some of the bars, but we got a late start so we didn’t get to see the usual places Dave heads to. Friday night though, we got the full tour. It was a great time and I can see that Barcelona would be a fun place to live. That Saturday, we all kind of hit a wall. It didn’t help that most of us slept until around 4 or so in the afternoon (we got in pretty late that night). We decided that a relaxing day wouldn’t be all that bad, so we made dinner in the apartment and hung out all night. It was still a lot of fun and re-energizing. Nicole and Sarah had to leave early the next morning anyways, so they weren’t really interested in going out all night again. On Sunday we got a pretty good tour of Barcelona. Dave took us to Park Guell and a couple of the other major landmarks. It would have been nice to have another day to walk around, but we saw pretty much everything we wanted to. Barcelona, I think, was still my favorite city to visit though.

Monday morning brought with it another early bus ride back to Madrid. We got there early enough in the afternoon that we could wander and check out some of the major sites before we had to be at the airport, so that’s exactly what we did. Arzu went shopping, since she had already been to Madrid, but Joyce and I did a fair amount of wandering. I don’t think we even got lost. Well, maybe just a little bit. We got to see the big palace, cathedral, parks and watched some old guys play bocce ball. You can tell they go out there all day, every day. It was pretty amusing. We got to the airport in plenty of time to catch our flight and made it back to Azerbaijan. It felt good to finally get home and sleep in my bed, but it also would have been nice to spend more time in Spain. I would have liked to see a bull fight, but that will have to wait till next time. I’ve attached a bunch of pictures and have a ton more on my computer. The pictures are: a bridge in Sevilla, a parade with the guys in their robes, a float with candles and the Virgin Mary, the bull ring in Sevilla, a palace, the view from the top of the towers in Valencia, two of the floats that they set on fire, one of the streets in Valencia with tiny booths for shopping on the sides, the float we saw get lit up, Joyce, Sarah, Dave and Arzu out in Barcelona, pictures from the park designed by Gaudi and a statue in Madrid that is the city symbol.

The excitement doesn’t stop there though. Tomorrow morning, I am heading to Baku so I can meet my Mom and Dad at the airport. A few hours after them, Aunt Jeanie arrives as well. I’m excited to see them all again and can’t wait till they get here. We’ll spend Friday in Baku, then on Saturday we will head to Lankaran for a few days. Aunt Jeanie will fly out on Tuesday, and then my parents and I will be moving on to Sheki and Ganja. I figured since they have been to Lankaran before and have seen pretty much all it has to offer, I would show them other parts of the country this time. It should be a lot of fun, as always. Be assured that I’ll let you all know in a little over a week. Till then, go White Sox!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Moving on up... food style!

The Lankaran food situation just keeps getting better and better. As all of you probably know, I am a fan of the chicken Lavangi that is sold and unique to Lankaran. Over the past months, we have been discovering new foods and newer places to get said foods. One of our favorites is qutab, which is basically a tortilla filled with meat or potato and then deep fried. You can cover it with a yogurt sauce too, which is quite delicious. While this isn’t the best meal around, it is probably the most economical. Seventy cents will usually fill you up quite nicely. Also in town is the cocktail stand which I have mentioned before. For twenty cents you get yourself a tasty, milkshake type treat. It’s amazing every time. Our newest addition is a Turkish restaurant that opened recently and has some of the typical meals, like kabob and the like, but it also has pizza which is quite delicious. On top of that, we just found they will deliver, so we now have pizza delivery. Unfortunately for us though, the pizza is a bit more expensive than what we are usually spending on food, but it’s still a nice treat every now and then.

In other happenings, some friends came down to Lankaran this past weekend and a great time was had by all. We hung out at Ashley’s and mine houses and effectively made terrible messes that will take me a few more days to clean up, but I’ve taken care of the main stuff. On Sunday afternoon, Tim, Joyce and I went to one of the orphanages in town for a mini play-day. This was the idea and implementation of a youth group that Tim and I have been working with for a while now. They wanted to do this a long time ago and they finally got the ok and good weather to do it. The girls that organized the play-day were in charge and it was fun to watch them try and take control of a 25-35 kids and teach them how to play different games. It was a great couple of hours and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. We will be going back in a couple weeks to teach them kickball and play some games with them which should be fun. I remember teaching my sports club how to play wiffle ball and then kick ball so I know this day is going to be a little bit tougher, but I’m sure it will be ok.

This week I am mostly putting my house back together and tying up things at my office because I leave for Spain on Saturday morning. Joyce, Bonnie, Arzu and I will fly out Saturday morning to Moscow and then on to Madrid for what should be an awesome time. From Madrid, we’ll head off to Sevilla for a few days and then Valencia and Barcelona before we make it back to Madrid and then back to Lankaran. Work wise, things are moving along pretty well. I’m supposed to go visit the schools in town tomorrow and Thursday to take pictures of the sports facilities and see what repairs will need to be made to make them playable for the kids. The goal is to get this done before my vacation, so I’m really hoping we get it done. That way when I get back, we can jump into other things that need to be done, such as finding coaches and officials and getting them trained. So far, though, things have been going well.

The pictures this week are Aygun handing the office keys off to Farana on Aygun’s last day and other pictures from the same day and then some pictures from the play-day on Sunday. See you all when I’m back from Spain and Happy St. Patty’s Day!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Running Water... wow.

A quick apology to all you loyal readers and avid Aloink fans out there, in particular, Mrs. Flegal. I know this post is long overdue, but I have been trapped inside my sleeping bag for the last month.

Well, after two months, the wait for water is over. Last Thursday, I sat around my house while my landlord, two of her grandkids and a repair man were over fixing up my pipes. The first repair man they brought over told them it would take him a week or so before he would have the time and equipment to fix the water pipes at my house. This would not do, so we went to a different neighbor, I mean repair man, who made a shopping list of things to buy at the bazaar and went to work that afternoon. By mid-day Friday, I had running water from the cold water pipes again. Needless to say I was very excited because as you all know, running water is freaking awesome.

Also, and I don’t want to jinx it, but the weather has been fantastic the last few days. Temperatures in the 50’s and low 60’s with a slight breeze and cloudless skies are a great thing. So is running water. Did I mention that already? There is still a little work to do, as I had to leave Friday afternoon for a meeting at my office, but I think I can handle the rest. After carefully observing the repair man once all the new faucets and joints were in place, all I have to do is turn stuff on and bang on the pipes with a piece of metal. So that was my evening after work yesterday. All went well and I was able to shower this morning which was a wonderful thing, seeing as how I haven’t taken a shower at my house in over two months, or this year. I’ve used other showers, but it’s just so much easier using your own, you know? Enough of that, let’s move on to work related happenings.

As most of you probably know, I am on my second counterpart with my organization, since my first one moved on to bigger and better things with a job in Baku. While I was in Baku two weekends ago for Volunteer Prom (the 14th through the 16th), my new counterpart and Russian tutor, Aygun found a new job in Baku as well. So this is her last week working for CLEE in Lankaran and will be moving to Baku to work as a lawyer in a big firm. While I am once again a little disappointed because we have become good friends and she helps me out with everything I need, I am more than happy for her and glad that she has a new opportunity. Plus she’ll be working right across the street from our favorite restaurant in Baku, so I should get to see her whenever I’m there.

*Quick notes* Prom was awesome. I’m not sure exactly why it’s called Prom, because it’s just an excuse for all the volunteers to get together in Baku and party, but I guess it gives us a reason to dress up. Whatever. It was a blast this year. We didn’t go anywhere special, just the usual place, but everyone dressed up in some way or another and the bar let us play our own music so there was something for everyone. We went out for dinner in groups on Thursday and Friday night and Saturday, a small group of us hung out in a friends apartment and played video games and made lasagna for Magda’s birthday. The food was great and it set us up to have a great night. I’m getting pictures soon, so I’ll put those up next time, which will be sooner rather than later. Ok, back to the other stuff.

So Aygun is gone. Fortunately, we’ve already hired a replacement who I already know because she was Ashley’s Azerbaijani tutor when we first arrived in Lankaran so we are already friends. That should make the adjustment a lot easier. She’s being trained this week and I’m sure she’ll catch on real quickly. She speaks English too so that will make it easier dealing with my new project that is finally starting to get some legs. On Friday, Aygun and I met with representatives of the city from the Ministry of Youth and Sports about creating the sports league that I’ve wanted to start. It was important for us to get the city to support us and they agreed so this week we are sending letters to the Education department and will begin getting the schools and teachers directly involved (I hope). So it should be interesting to see how this project develops, but I’m real hopeful we might be able to have it put together by the end of spring so I can see the formation of the league before I leave. I’m cautiously excited at this point and hopefully this will keep me busy in the upcoming months. I realized last week that I haven’t really put up any pictures of the area where I live so I went out the other night and tried to get some good pictures while the weather was clear. These aren’t the best but they are what I have right now and I hope to get better ones in the upcoming weeks. The first picture is Ashley, Carlo and me at Prom. The next one is the street my house is on and then the other two are from the surrounding area around my house.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

While a whole lot hasn’t really happened since the last update I’ll try and make this as entertaining as possible. A couple of weeks ago, the circus came into town and generated a bunch of excitement. It wasn’t Ringling Bros. but it was pretty entertaining. There was a rumor that they had some animals but that it was too cold so after a day in Lankaran, they sent them back to Baku. So, the circus was more of an acrobatic display with music and all that stuff. Tickets were really cheap as well, so it was volunteer friendly. I was only able to take a few pictures before the circus staff came and told me to stop so I’ve posted the ones I do have here.

This past weekend, I went from Lankaran to a small village way up north and to the west called Qazax. It’s as far as I could travel from one volunteer site to another. I hadn’t been up in that region before, so for the first night I went the first 10 hours to my friend Ram’s house in Shamkir. He took me to a Georgian restaurant where we ate some amazing food then we just hung out at his place and played a lot of guitar. We wrote a song which I think sounds pretty good. The next day I went the last hour or so up to Qazax to meet up with two other volunteers where they had pizza waiting topped with none other than delicious bacon! The next day more people came over and the party was underway. I decided to pack up all my stuff that night since I knew that I would not want to pack at 6:30 in the morning when I would have to leave. It didn’t occur to me until I was in the taxi and on my way that I had left my camera and iPod at my friend’s apartment. Not that big a deal, but it makes a long bus ride feel that much longer.

I finally made it back to Lankaran and had a fairly interesting bus ride. It seemed to take forever, and everyone around me was very talkative so I didn’t get to sleep as much as I would have liked, but that’s ok. Arzu is in town doing some work until Thursday, so I’ve been able to hang out with her which is always fun. My director Rufat took us out to dinner Monday night. It was only us three but we had a great night, talking joking and eating. So after my weekend travels and then being up all night Monday, I’ve been exhausted all week. That about wraps it up. My pipes still aren’t fixed but hopefully I’ll be able to get someone over to take care of that sometime this week. Ashley has running water now so at least I can go over to his house and shower. It’ll still be nice to be able to get my house fixed though. Some people are heading up to Baku to watch the Super Bowl at one of the bars, but I won’t be making the trip, mainly to try and save some money. Other than that, I’m just waiting for winter to end.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


I wrote everything but this paragraph a week or so ago, but have been either too lazy to post it or to cold to get up and get the phone line and connect it to my computer so I can go online to post it. Nothing much happened this past week though. In addition to the one broken pipe mentioned later, I also have two busted faucets as well. One of em flew about 2-3 feet from the wall!! Just waiting for that thaw. Anyways, like I said, nothing much new besides what’s written below. I had a new first for me today though, which is pretty exciting. It had been quite some time since I’ve been able to shower and was sitting in my room the other day watching a movie and finally got disgusted by my own smell (it really wasn't that bad, but I figured a cleaning couldn't hurt, you know). It was time to clean. I didn’t want to use any of the water that I had managed to save from the faucet though, so I gathered a bunch of snow by filling a bucket and a pan from my kitchen and then melted it on the gas heater in my main room. I let it get warm for about 5 hours or so then I walked outside to the shower room and cleansed. The cleaning part felt real nice. The miserable part was the fact that the room I was in was around 30 degrees. Needless to say, I moved quickly. And that was my first (I hope last) snow water bucket bath. I’m just grateful I live in the South of Azerbaijan. The pictures this time are of the winter wonderland of my yard and over my fence and then fireworks from New Years in the big park and the Lankaran volunteers (minus Tim who is on vacation) with the Azerbaijani Santa Clause and Ice Princess.

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a fun and safe New Year extravaganza. The Lankaran group sure did. Ashley, Jane and Joyce came over to my house for a nice evening of chicken Lavangi dinner, games and drinks. Ashley and I have taught Jane and Joyce how to play Euchre, which is one of my favorite games, so we’ve been playing a lot of that lately. It’s a good four person game and it kills the time pretty well. The day before, Ashley and I went to the bazaar and bought a bunch of firecrackers (like black cats) and roman candles and some other small things. At night we walked around town adding to the general mayhem of everyone throwing off firecrackers and celebrating the New Year. We got to the big park in the middle of town just in time to see the big firework display that they had put together. It was pretty good, so I added a few pictures. Afterwards, we walked around a little more and went to go say hi and happy new year to my host family. We had some tea and cakes, of course. From there we headed over to Ashley’s house for more cards and to sleep. It was a good night, and a fun way to bring in the New Year.

This past week has been quiet since there wasn’t any work. All the offices and organizations close for a week for the holiday. It’s nice to have some time to get the house in order, start studying Russian again and things like that. I also watched a lot of movies. Yesterday, though, it was time to get back to work. It has also been getting pretty cold here. On Saturday I woke up to find a couple inches of snow on the ground. I was going to make a snow man in my yard, but figured the snow wouldn’t last long, like last year. So far, I have been very wrong. It has only gotten colder. The pipes in my house have been frozen the last several days, but luckily it’s been sunny and a little warmer in the day so they thaw a little bit. The first night I was caught off guard, but since then I have filled all the pots in my house with water and I even have an 18 liter bottle filled so I should be good for a little bit. If nothing else, I can always melt the snow down and use that for cooking, cleaning and what not.

Yesterday before work, I was hoping to take a shower. Nothing beats a hot shower in the morning on a cold day. To my disappointment, though, after checking all the faucets outside, everything was still frozen. Not that big a deal, I thought, so I went to work. On my way home, I was walking down the street by my house and heard a lot of running water. My first thought was, which faucet did I leave turned on?? When I walked into my yard I realized that it wasn’t a faucet that was running water, it was a broken pipe coming out of my shower room. Water was spraying everywhere and flooding the pathway to the toilet. So I went back outside and ran to my landlord’s house but no one was home, so I went to my neighbor across the street that always helps me whenever I have a problem. She said she’d call a repair man and the landlord and let them know what had happened. Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out which valve to turn to make the water stop. I finally found it and lucky for me, the puddle that was gathering ran off so I don't have to skate my way to the bathroom.

I also made what appears to be turning out to be a wise purchase. Since it has been getting colder outside, the inside of my house has also been getting colder. If it is 30 outside, there’s a good chance the warmest part of my house is around 38-40 degrees. I decided to buy some plastic sheeting for my house since one side is pretty much all windows and they aren’t the tightest fit. After wrestling with the plastic for a couple hours, I got all my windows covered in the main room and in the kitchen. I only have a little bit left too, so I guessed how much I needed accurately, which I’m pretty happy about since I didn’t want to spend more than I would have to. After a couple hours last night, the temperature was around 50 while it was 28 outside, so I’d say its money well spent. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to this week. I’m picking my Russian lessons up again which keeps me busy and working on a few things with my office. Every day either on my way to or from work I get in a small snowball fight with some of the kids that live down my street. It’s fun. I usually win and every now and then they throw ice balls so I just whitewash them on the side of the road. Just kidding. I actually just say see ya later and walk away. All in all, it’s been a good month so far.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

And I'm Back

Well it’s been a while, but it’s good to be back. Mainly that means that I’m back to Lankaran and things have finally calmed down a little bit. It also means that I have electricity in my house which is an improvement. About two weeks ago, the power went out in my house. This isn’t that odd or even that bad a thing, as you grow accustomed to this sort of thing. The problem was, all my neighbors had electricity and mine was the only house that didn’t. That was annoying. So I burned through a bunch of candles and took to reading by the lights at the end of the lighters. I called my landlord and they came over with a neighbor but couldn’t figure anything out. It wasn’t that big a concern since I was heading to Barda and Sheki and I figured I could deal with it when I got back. So I got back and was hoping that the problem would have just fixed itself, but no luck. Later that night, the landlord came over with an electrician and after poking around a bit, the power came back on. We celebrated with high fives. They left and about an hour later, my power was out again. It came back a couple hours later, and has been better since. It’s not that bad a thing, but my computer only lasts 7 minutes on a full battery and you can only read so much. Oh well. Last weekend there was a Christmas party at my friend Jason’s in Barda and a good number of volunteers went to celebrate the holidays. It was a good get together with a lot of good food and friends. We didn’t do anything spectacular for the party, but it was definitely a good time.

On Sunday, Rikki George, Ashley and I went to Sheki to spend Christmas with Magda at her apartment. Basically this meant spending a great deal of time watching Christmas movies, like Elf, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and many others. First, though, we went to the fancy pants hotel in Sheki and got ourselves some great food. We got cheeseburgers, club sandwiches, fries, and stuffed chicken. The food there is really good, but a bit pricey for us. It was still worth it though. The highlight, for sure though, was Polar Express. Sheki has a small movie theater and we managed to find a time when they wouldn’t be having any customers and rented out the theater. They played Polar Express for us and we had Coke and popcorn. It wasn’t the same as the theaters in America, but it was really awesome. It was definitely better watching that movie on a big screen rather than a small laptop. Other than movie watching, we hung out, laughed a ton, walked around town for a little bit and played a lot of Life. That game is crazy. On Christmas night, we cooked ourselves a chicken, some pre-packaged stuffing, rice, instant mashed potatoes and some whiskey. It was really, really good. Everything tasted so great. Afterwards we made sock puppets from the kit that Ashley’s sister sent to him a while back. This was also a lot of fun although I was disappointed that we didn’t get to put on a theater show with the puppets because a lot of the glue hadn’t dried yet. So that’ll have to wait, but it just gives us more time to think of some good skits.

On Thursday, I was back at the office. Aygun had organized an office party to celebrate the new year and invited a few people to celebrate with us. She also planned a small game with small gifts. Each person had to grab a sheet of paper and complete the task that was on it in order to earn their prize. Mine was to say the Peter Pecker tongue twister, but it was Parrot Peter instead. Weird, eh? I succeeded though and got my prize which was a little mouse on wheels. When you pull it backwards on the ground a few times, it can roll away on it’s own. It’s perfect for my house and everyone got some sort of mouse gift because next year is apparently the year of the mouse. Who knew? We also had a bunch of snacks and fruits and balloons which led to a great balloon fight. Afterwards, Rufat took one of our new lawyers, Rahim, me, one of our old lawyers, Ziya, and Arzu (she was in town as well) out to dinner. He had brought some boar meat to the restaurant that they cooked up for us and we also had turkey and the usual assortment of bread, veggies and stuff to eat. The boar was so good, I could have finished it all on my own. After some drinks and some singing (they made me bring my guitar, and Rufat, Rahim and Ziya started singing some classic Azeri songs), it was time to retire for the evening. On Friday, I met Arzu for lunch and hung out at the office. We don’t have work all next week so now I have plenty of down time to catch up on some stuff around my house. One exciting development from this week is I found Mountain Dew bottles in a tiny shop right by my house, so they can be sure to get more of my business now. So far, we don’t really have any big plans for the New Year, but I think we’ll buy some fireworks and wander about town and see what trouble we can stir up. Should be a great time. I plan on going to the host family tomorrow and seeing what they are up to. That’s about it for now I think. I hope everyone had a great Christmas and enjoy your New Year’s celebrations. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost 2008 already, right?

The pictures are of my plate of food from Christmas night (to make you all jealous), the sock puppets that we made in Sheki, Aygun playing my guitar and “singing” a song, the New Years tree in my office, all the snacks and what not from the party and everyone from my office except Aygun (she’s taking the picture). From left to right, there is Arzu (doesn’t work with us anymore), Rahim (new lawyer), Shabnam (another new lawyer), Rufat (director) and me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Before I get to the results, I thought I’d give a little extra update on my week. Nothing too exciting happened, really. I got my hair cut, more like trimmed, by my new stylist, Joyce. She came over after work on Thursday to trim up the sides and back because my hair is getting pretty long since I haven’t had it cut short since I was home in June. Having her cut my hair is definitely an experience. She’s only cut guys’ hair once and that was me a couple months ago. So whenever she goes to cut something, she either flinches, or says “oh crap” or something else to make you think that your head is going to totally look messed up when she’s done with it. It’s pretty entertaining. I can’t complain either; it’s a free hair cut. It turned out pretty good, so I’m happy with the 2 Manat that I saved.

Tonight I’m going to a play at the Drama Theatre in town. I’ve been to parts of a play twice, and each time I saw the same scenes from the same play. This time, I’m hoping it’s a different play for one, and two, I’m going to try and stay for the whole thing. My friend Aygun is going and the rest of my office was supposed to go as well, but they bailed. So now I think it will be Aygun, her dad, her little sister and me. It’ll be nice to get out of the house a little bit and do something different. I’m even thinking about doing some laundry today, but it’s kind of crummy out so I’ll probably read and watch a movie instead.

Now on to the much anticipated (mostly by Mom, I think) results of my latest Reader Challenge. I appreciate everyone that sent in their guesses. I really liked the ones where the logic behind the guess was explained. And John, great job on getting the ball rolling. Dad, I was also impressed with your guess. That was some good sleuthing, but you forgot one fact. Only some people came Friday night, most Saturday night. Also, a good number of people left Sunday morning and only a handful stayed till Monday morning. So some people got 2 days, others 1. After collecting all the bottles and placing them in the garage and doing some calculating, the “exact” number I came up with for this challenge is 494. So congratulations Dad, with your guess of 521, you win this Challenge’s prize. It’s not a phone call; I’ll give that to the second place winner, which is Mom with her guess of 457. The pictures you see here are of both sides of the prize for this challenge. It’s a handy-dandy 2008 calendar!!! The months are written in Azeri but in the Cyrillic alphabet. I won it at the English Exhibition and will mail it with a short congratulatory letter. Proudly display it on your desk. That should about do it. Thanks again to everyone who participated, and I’ll think of a new challenge for you all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mmmm. Mutton!!

I apologize for not posting an update last week. I meant to do it before I was leaving for the weekend but my plans got changed and bunched around a little bit and I ran out of time. I will try to catch you up to the best of my abilities.

The Saturday before last, I along with the other PCVs in Lankaran were invited to an English Exhibition at one of the schools in town by my friend Lala. She is an English teacher there and comes by my office every now and then to say hi and talk for a little bit. She organized a play last year where the students sang songs in English and acted out scenes from Azerbaijani plays in English. I watched a DVD of it and it was pretty entertaining. This year was a little bit different. We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into. We showed up at the school and she showed us to the room where the exhibition was. In the cafeteria of the school, there were little tables set up like booths at a science fair. Each booth had a different theme with different facts about American or British history and some differences between American and British English. There were also games at each booth. Some were about grammar while others were about sports or food or anything else you can think of. Some games involved a saying written out in Azeri and if you translated it into English correctly you would win a prize. I started collecting quite a few prizes because all the kids wanted me to come to their booth. When I answered correctly, they wouldn’t let me not accept the prize, so I got all sorts of stickers and pens and pencils and things like that. I started giving these away and going around helping other kids as they dragged me around from booth to booth.

As the event was wrapping up, all the kids hounded us all and asked for pictures and autographs. Everywhere I turned there were kids posing and shoving paper under my face for me to sign it. One kid even asked me to sign her arm. Eventually, the teachers got everyone to calm down and they sat us down for tea and cake. The students and other teachers presented Lala with flowers and a gift and there were some speeches. Each of the kids from that school was presented with certificates and this is where Lala really put us to work. Azeri handwriting can be pretty difficult tot read and Lala asked us to stand up in front of everyone and read off the names and present the certificates to the students. So Joyce, Jane, Ashley and I each got about 4-8 certificates to hand out. I must say, I did pretty well. I impressed Ashley at least, although honestly, that isn’t too difficult. The picture over on the right is Ashley and me by a couple of roosters saying “Nush Olsun.” It’s by far my favorite saying here and means “bon appetite.”

Last week, my program manager Elmir from Peace Corps was in town to visit with Tim, Ashley and me and talk about our first year of PC service and our plans for the upcoming months and to check to see if there was anything they could help us out with in regards to our work. I had a really good talk with him and enjoyed the visit a lot. Fortunately, I have a very good working and personal relationship with the people in my office, so I didn’t need any help from him about that. I also got to bounce some of my ideas off of him and get some feedback. All in all, it was very good and I came out of it feeling a lot better about stuff. Plus, Elmir’s a great guy and always good to talk to. On Thursday, he took Ashley and me up to Beylagan where our friend Carlo lives. Carlo was having a small birthday party at his apartment so we stayed there until Sunday. Others joined us on Friday and Saturday and it was a good, small get together.

That (last) Saturday, Carlo took us around Beylagan to an old cemetery where there is a mosque and shrine dedicated to a prophet. The prophet is buried inside and visitors take off their shoes and walk around the grave and pay their respects. Hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room is a long chain with a hook on the end. There is a man there to assist you, or you can do this yourself. With a scarf wrapped up as if you were going to put it on like a neckerchief, you swing it over your head and hit it onto the hook at the end of the chain while you make a request to God. After a second or two, the hook jerks around suddenly and if the scarf stays on, it means that God has accepted your request. It was really interesting to try it and to see the Azeris try it as well. Afterwards, we went outside where they have small cabin type rooms. They served us tea, candy and mutton kabobs. It was all we could do to keep ourselves from constantly saying, “Mmmmm. Mutton!!” Once we were done eating, Carlo’s friends there drove us back into town since it was already dark and it was about a 45 minute to one hour walk back. On Sunday morning, Ashley and I had to catch a bus back to Lankaran. This was no small task as the bus we were to catch was leaving a small town at 8:00. We were told to take a taxi to a spot on the side of the road and wait around 10:00. We got out of the taxi, walked to the side of the road and five minutes later, our bus came flying by. It’s amazing how this stuff works out sometimes.

As for things at home here in Lankaran, they are going well. My landlady got the gas fixed at my house so I now have a heating source for the main room of my house and the water for showering. The night it finally got fixed a couple weeks ago, I just laid on the floor looking at the flame coming out of the pipe in wonderment and glee. Finally, I could sit somewhere without freezing. Unfortunately, my bedroom is still a little cold, but it does get a few degrees warmer than the outside temperature so it’s definitely an improvement. Plus, I have a few sweatshirts and the Peace Corps sleeping bags are wonderful. I typically sit next to the gas heater at night and read for a while. It is nice to be able to sit at the table and work instead of lying in bed all the time.

I realized after reading the guesses for the Great AzerAloink Reader Challenge #3 that I never placed a deadline for guesses. I apologize if some of you hurried your guesses and appreciate those that are playing. Dad, I must say, you definitely are talking some math. With all that being said, I will allow guesses for anyone else who wants to play until this Saturday morning, my time. You have until midnight Chicago time Friday night to get in there.