Monday, November 27, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!! I know all of you are concerned so I’ll put your worries to rest… I am no longer cold and the frozen part has been lifted from my room’s name, “Tundra Comma Frozen.” It is now just “Tundra Comma.” That being said, a good week was had by all. We had a neat weekend in Baku. On Saturday afternoon a group of us went to Ashley’s host family from training and they treated us to a great lunch. Then we went to Baku and got ready for our Thanksgiving dinner at the Embassy. The food was great and I think I ate half my body weight (yeah I know, that’s about 4 pounds, but I still ate a lot). After a lot of visiting with friends and staff members, we went to the living room (party wasn’t actually at the Embassy but at one of the people’s houses) and had a Volunteer Talent Show. Most people played a song and sang on the guitar, and Ashley and I were no different, but we were the only people that actually had a costume change. Basically they were just jeans and t-shirts, but Ashley wore a wrap thing around his head (I have no idea what you call it) to look more like Jon Bon Jovi or Axel Rose. Ashley did a little intro on the guitar that he doesn’t know how to play then I took over and we played a classic tune, Wanted Dead or Alive. If you haven’t heard the song, you must, it is a can’t miss. Ashley sang the Bon Jovi parts and I sang the Richie Sambora parts and even had a waling guitar solo. We don’t have pictures yet but as soon as I get them they will be put on here. The song really lent itself to our skills, which is loving Bon Jovi and being able to be loud. To sum it all up, we rocked. After the party ended a bunch of us went out and then went to American families in Baku to stay for the night which was really nice. We got to meet some great people and the family we stayed with even treated us to a great breakfast of pancakes, coffee, bacon, eggs and milk and juice. It was delicious, especially the bacon. After breakfast we got to enjoy the sauna that is in the basement of the house. It was quite refreshing and got me all geared up to sit in a little bus and make the trip back. So there you have it, the big news in Tom Kniola’s world is he ate a lot of great food this weekend, including bacon. It was a busy week before that as well. As I mentioned, CDC had a meeting at my office and we discussed some ideas for projects that can encourage tourism in Lankaran and the southern region of Azerbaijan. Tim, Ashley and I also had a meeting with two youth groups in Lankaran to see if they wanted to work on projects together as a large group. It went pretty well and we are meeting again this week and will hopefully have some good ideas. Anyways, right now I only have one picture to post and will get more off my camera for next time I am online to put on here. For those who may be confused (Marissa) I have lived with a host family my entire time in country. I am with my second host family right now (since I lived in Saray for training and now live in Lankaran). My host father, Namiq, is an Economics teacher and my mother, Ulkar, is a History teacher. I have two little brothers, Ulvi who is 13 and Kanan who is 16. They are both students. Ulvi speaks English fairly well and helps me explain things to my family if I need help. We also have a Nana that stays with us from time to time, but she is in Moscow right now and will return near the new year. At home I have my own room (“Tundra Comma”) and right outside my room is a big room where my mom tutors students and attached to that is an extra bedroom. Under the large room is a big open space where the car is parked and in warm weather there is a table and tv out there where we eat and hang out. For now, though, everything is inside. There are two rooms, one functions as the kitchen and the other is where we eat and watch music videos. There are two beds (one in each room) and a big sofa in the tv room. That’s about it. Everything is well, Ashley and I rock, and things are all good here in lovely Lankaran. Until next time, you stay classy, America.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Keep in mind while reading the following that I am in no way complaining, but simply stating some facts about the current situation in which I live. That being said, my room is really cold. It is now known in Lankaran as the “Tundra comma frozen.” (This bears no relation or similarity to the field on which the most despicable NFL team plays on). We have now tried two heaters in my room, one of which half works, the other works but is tough to start. You plug it into the wall and it has a bar that heats up and warms the area immediately surrounding it up to and including three inches away. This one is ok and is quite reliable. The other heater we have tried is powered by kerosene and is less reliable but much warmer and effective. I haven’t blown it up yet so there’s a positive. It is much harder to turn on however, and does not get used very often. The Peace Corps issue sleeping bag is wonderful and keeps me warm and toasty while I sleep. I knew it was cold in there the other day when my host brother, Ulvi, walked in and asked me incredulously, “How do you live in here???” The main sitting area in the other part of the house is quite warm though. My family has a little metal stove where we burn wood and it heats up real good. (pictures of host family and home coming soon) Recently I have become insanely jealous of Ashley because he has a fireplace in his room! His room used to be the kitchen of the house and so there’s a wood-burning stove that heats up his room. Like I said though, I’m not complaining. I only sleep in the room and with the sleeping bag, I am quite comfortable. In other news, Rikki George, another Peace Corps Volunteer, came to visit Ashley and me this weekend. She got in Friday afternoon and we showed her around town and headed to Ashley‘s for dinner and hung out and played some games and watched a movie where a fascinating event occurred. It‘s a well known amongst the other Volunteers that Ashley and I break out into laughing fits at random times for no reason and cannot stop laughing for around 10-20 minutes. Up to this point, amazingly enough, we haven‘t had a laughing fit with Ashley‘s Nana (grandmother). Not even when she comes into the room and dances to the music we have playing, or when she calls Ashley a baby when he can’t do something or even when she spills food on herself and calls herself a baby. It finally happened. We were all watching Batman Begins (in English so Nana couldn’t understand what was being said but the action scenes were good) when she said something and we all lost it. Ashley, Nana and I just sat there and laughed for about 15 minutes while Rikki sat there and laughed at the three of us. Good stuff. Anyways, back to Rikki’s visit. There are several places around Lankaran in other villages that have hot springs that people go to to refresh and replenish their souls and we had planned on visiting one on Saturday afternoon but the weather was less than favorable. In fact, it was quite cold and rainy. It was the perfect day though, to push a car up and down the street to try and get it to start. We were unsuccessful, but I reached my three month exercise quota so there’s another positive. That’s how my morning started, but then I met up with Rikki and Ashley and we hid from the inclement weather in Ashley’s house and played some Monopoly during the day. Afterwards we went to my house for dinner and played some Yahtzee (of course) with Ulvi and just passed the time with music and games. We all had a great time and sadly, Rikki went home today. This should be a busy week for us though. The big Volunteer Talent Show is on Saturday after thanksgiving dinner at the Embassy and Ashley and I have a ton of practice to do before we are ready. I also have some meetings coming up with a local committee called CDC (Community Development Committee) where we will make plans on developing tourism in Lankaran and the surrounding areas. That should about do it for now. I took some more pictures of the town Friday afternoon because it was so nice outside and have attached a few. They are from right next to the Futbol Stadium near the outer edge of town.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Playing Catch Up

Bonus update since mine appears to be lacking in entertainment value. I thought I may update this more regularly (at least that’s what I say now until I forget again). Anyways, I found this little nugget of information amusing and helpful. For anyone wishing to send packages to me here in Azerbaijan, the following is a list of items that cannot be sent according to the regulations posted on the U.S.P.S. website (thanks to Marissa for sharing this):

-Articles for smoking opium and hashish.
-Films containing technology on the manufacture of narcotics, psychotropic or toxic substances, explosives, or arms or ammunitions.
-Films promoting immorality, violence, or terror.
-Firearms, ammunition, cutting and stabbing arms, and other articles designed for attack or defense (knuckledusters, stiletto blades, balls of paralyzing fluid, etc.), explosives, war materiel.
-Narcotics and psychotropic substances; articles for their use.
-Printed matter (books, newspapers, pictures and other products of the printing industry; manuscripts, typescripts, and plans) promoting immorality, violence, or terror.
-Radioactive materials.

So please keep that in mind when putting a package together. It occurred to me today that I haven’t posted many pictures of the people I work with everyday so I decided to put a few on here with more to come, I am sure. The first two are part of my walk to work every morning. I go through a park and down a main section of the town. Then there is a picture of my office from outside (in spite of the bars and everything it is not a prison, but work can feel that way sometimes, am I right? HA!), my friend Ashley and Ziya who is a lawyer in my office, then there is a picture of Arzu (my counterpart and office manager… the blonde one) and Aygun who is also a lawyer in my office (she says hi to Marissa). Finally, there is a picture of my cactus and a fruit (that I’m not sure how to spell but I can pronounce it) that was carved by Ziya (he really enjoyed carving the pumpkins). Not pictured from my office is my director, Rufat. He also is the director at one of the local banks so he is very busy and is not around very often but I will get a picture of him soon. Also, Ashley does not work in my office, but right down the street and stops by often. That is it for now, more to come later.

Monday, November 13, 2006

America Day in Sheki

It appears some of you are getting awfully impatient about these blog updates. I hope this one will ease your craving and meet your lofty standards, Marissa and Zach. Anyways, lots of stuff happening lately. This past Thursday, Ashley and I traveled from Lenkaran to Sheki, a beautiful little town in the mountains in the northern/central region of Azerbaijan. We got there Thursday and met up with everyone and went to our friend Charlie’s apartment/house. The bus ride was very long and it seemed like we would never get there. It was entertaining though. Right when we walked on, the first thing you saw was a bunch of huge wicker bags filled with various fruits placed all the way down the aisle way and covering the last four rows of seats. In order to get to our seats we had to climb around all these bags and maneuver your way into your chair. Good stuff. Then, about halfway through the trip, Ashley took out his computer and we watched some Simpsons episodes. This caused a huge commotion on the bus and created a lot of interest in us. A little kid really liked my Bears hat that I was wearing and I let a guy listen to my iPod for a little which he really enjoyed. He was dancing to 311 and a little Guns ’N Roses. The reason for this journey was because the volunteers in Sheki, Charlie, Magda and Josh, organized “America Day” and they needed help from other volunteers. Josh’s organization allowed us to use their office to have a bunch of Azeri kids from the area come over and learn about American holidays and traditions. We had one room where they learned about Thanksgiving and one room where they learned about Halloween. I was in the Thanksgiving room and we put on a great show. We did a small play about the first Thanksgiving. I was a Pilgrim. There is a picture posted of the play down below. After that, we had everyone make hand turkeys out of construction paper and we went around in a circle and everyone told what they were thankful for. We also had cookies and apple cider for the kids to eat and drink and everyone enjoyed themselves. In the Halloween room, they explained trick or treating and the carving of pumpkins and all the other fun stuff we do. Then they showed a Simpson’s Tree House of Horror episode which got a bunch of laughs. After this we went bobbing for apples. Some of the kids were reluctant at first, but after a few people went they all got really into it and volunteered to stick their head in a bucket and grab an apple. Finally, we explained the rules of football and headed over to the stadium and played flag football. Everyone seemed a little confused at the rules and there were a few mishaps, but once they played a little bit everyone got the concept and had a blast running around. Some of the kids were really into it, which was good to see. This all took place on Saturday. Friday we did some preparations and then Charlie took a few of us on a walk around the town. We went up one of the hills/mountains to a very old gravesite and watched the sunset. The pictures with the view is from this spot. It was gorgeous up there and the weather was nice for it too. It was a little chilly once the sun went down but it was well worth it. Charlie took us through the town on the way back and we saw two of the museums (didn’t go inside, but they were impressive from the outside). One of them had two absolutely enormous trees in front of it. They were huge and definitely worth writing home about. I couldn’t even come close to getting my arm around the trunk. After we went out to eat we headed back to Charlie’s to relax and hang out. We were sitting around, kind of bored, when Charlie noticed that the barrier between his living room and kitchen made an excellent viewing area for sock puppets. We then did sock puppet skits for a while which was hilarious. That tuckered us out so we all went to bed and got ready for the big day which was to be Saturday. After the football game was finished, we again headed back to Charlie’s where there was a big pot of chili waiting for us. It was delicious. We had sour cream, shredded cheese, and oh yeah… delicious chili. We ate a lot and hung out the rest of the night listening to music and relaxing. All in all it was a great time. The journey back was very long and tiresome, but that was expected so at least it didn’t sneak up on us. Plus today (Monday) was a holiday so we didn’t have to work, so an extra day of rest to recover was well spent playing Monopoly. Ashley and I also practiced for the talent show that will be after the thanksgiving dinner at the embassy. We’re real excited, but I can’t share what we are doing yet in case some other volunteers look at this, but I will let you all know how it goes. If you would like to hear more about my adventures in Lenkaran, please view my friend Ashley’s blog at Me and him usually hang out and do the same things together, but he might have some different pics and a different way of telling stories. That should about cover it. Enjoy the pictures!