Monday, October 30, 2006

Happy Halloween; Bring on November

Back from Ganja and it is safe to say that the Halloween party was a success. There were a lot of friends and good times had by all. One person dressed as a pomegranate. There was also a pirate, a witch, a devil (me), an angel (Ashley), two people dressed as best friend babies, and a wide variety of randomly thrown together outfits. Sunday morning brought with it the joy of an 8 hour bus ride back home. It may have been the slowest bus ever, but it got us home and that’s all that matters. Monday brought with it a sweltering 88 degree day! I did not expect it to get this warm on October 30th, but I’m not complaining. It was gorgeous. We met the Ambassador for dinner tonight and it was good to share with her our experiences so far and our thoughts about a variety of topics. She offered a good perspective on a lot of things and shared some stories of her travel experiences which was real interesting. Other than that, there really isn’t any news for now. I seem to have lost some weight, so that’s a relief. I was really worried for a while that I was just getting out of control so next time you all see me I should look like a totally different person. The pictures I have included may have been sent with one of my earlier emails but I decided to post them here since not everyone was able to see them. They are of the field where we played Frisbee a while ago. The stadium is pretty new and we have yet to see a soccer game there, but are planning on going next chance we get. So we still have that to look forward to. I believe that is it for now. The other two pictures are from Baku. One is the Maiden Tower, one of the more popular tourist attractions and the other is just a picture of the city. You can’t see it in this picture, but the Caspian is just to the right. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I'm Bloggin' Baby

First Blog update, woohoo! So to catch everyone up, I lived in Saray for a month with one host family and there is a picture posted of me, my host brother Qudrat and sister, Fatima. Then I moved to Lankaran. That‘s about it. I work in town and will post some pics from there (work and town) shortly. Now to recent news. Lately, things have been pretty bland, Yahtzee here, Monopoly there, not much going on. The next few weeks, however, are action packed throughout. This last weekend, for instance, I, as well as many other Volunteers, went to Baku for my flu shot. Normally this would be more of a hassle what with the 4 hour uncomfortable ride in the marshrutka just to get stuck in the arm with a needle and what not, but since the Peace Corps gets me a hotel room and pays for the trip, it’s totally worth it to get nachos and McDonald’s (scheduling conflicts did not allow this to happen) and, of course, my standard 2 bags of Doritos (still love ‘em, but unfortunately, this also did not happen… scheduling). Plus, since all us volunteers rarely get to see each other, we store up all our energy for weeks at a time and let it all out at once. It’s been likened, pretty accurately no less, to when we were 5 and all of our friends piled into a van to go to an amusement park and all the kids are bouncing off the walls with excitement. Then, on Monday, my friend Ashley and I invited our offices over to his house to do some pumpkin carving. They had never really seen anything like it and we all had a great time. The picture of all of us on the steps are my host brother Ulvi and I at the top, then Ziya (a lawyer from my office), then Ayzel and Farina (from Ashley’s office), then my counterpart Arzu and Ashley. This weekend is the big Halloween party at one of the volunteer’s houses in Ganja. Costumes are mandatory, so this should be fun. I’ll let you all know how that goes. Next Monday, the Ambassador is in town as well as a Texas swing band so we will not only be treated to a wonderful dinner, but will also be rockin’. Should be fun. That’s what’s going to be happening, now for what happens normally. As I have mentioned several times before, the rainy season is upon us. This means that we are pretty much confined indoors which means the great Yahtzee and Monopoly Challenges have begun. Ashley and I are in the early stages and will have a year long bet on each game… the terms have yet to be determined, but so far I am in the lead in Yahtzee (points and games), but recently got passed in Monopoly (games only). To give you an idea of how much of this is being played, keep this in mind. Ashley and I average about 3 games of Monopoly per weekend day, and maybe 3-6 games of Yahtzee per weekend day. I expect these to increase as weather conditions worsen. My littlest host brother and I, however, play much more often, seeing as how we live together and all and how he has taken such a strong liking to the game. The rest of the family can take or leave it, it seems. Here are some numbers for you to think about:

30,886 - Total number of points scored by me
29,263 - Total number of points scored by Ulvi
1,623 - My point lead
496 - Most points scored in a single game (Ulvi)
245 - My average points per game
232 - Average points per game for Ulvi
128 - Fewest points scored in a single game (also Ulvi)
126 - Total number of games played by Ulvi and me
68 - Number of games I have won
58- Number of games Ulvi has won
1 - Spreadsheets created by me to keep Yahtzee stats
½ - Number of bottles of dandruff shampoo my friend’s host father drank because he couldn’t read the label that was in English and didn’t realize it went on your head (unrelated, but amusing… he’s ok)
0 - Number of people I expect to be impressed by any of this
Countless - Hours wasted playing Yahtzee and maintaining stat spreadsheets

Yes, I am aware of how ridiculous this all is, and yes, I am aware that there are plenty other things to be doing with my time, but when it is cold and rainy, there really are few options. We’ll watch a movie every so often and watch Azeri TV (mostly Azeri and Turkish music videos… my brothers cannot get enough of the same 7-9 videos) but nothing passes the hours like rounds upon rounds of Yahtzee. Also, this gives me a good opportunity to practice my Azeri since Ulvi speaks English decently enough to help me out and answer questions. That’s about all that has been happening lately, work is still going well. I have found out that a letter takes about 2 weeks to get to Lankaran from DeKalb, Illinois, so apply that knowledge accordingly. Work is still going well, hard to believe I’ve been there over a month already, but that’s the way it goes. The other pictures are of the main park in town that I live about a two minute walk from. The big statue is Heydar Aliyev, the former President, and current President’s father. The other picture is one of the fountains in the park that we have named Buckingham South (There are 3 fountains, Buckingham North, Buckingham South and Buckingham East… we have yet to locate Buckingham West).=""> Also included are the bacon chips we found in Baku. Don’t they just look delicious??? So that’s the first of many blog entries. Keep coming back as more pictures will be loaded and more stories and updates. One more thing. Ashley and I are quite proud that we won one week of the NFL Pick ‘Em League that we have joined consisting of friends of mine from Chicago. Not bad with very limited internet access and electricity. Just had to take a moment to publicly revel in my glory… we hope to win more and will let you all know as soon as that happens. And one last thing - thank you to Tyler. Got the first of da Bears Game DVD’s (week three against Minnesota) in the mail… glorious sums it up. Even the commercials were entertaining. But mainly da Bears rocked.