Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!!!

Merry Christmas!!!!!! I hope everyone had a great Christmas and stayed safe and had great food and great times. I realize it’s been a while since I updated this and I know you are all sitting on the edge of your seats to see what exploits I have gotten myself into recently. Well I hate to disappoint and we’ll leave it at that (if you’re disappointed, lower your expectations). Anyways, plenty to talk about. Last time we left off I had a rooster named after me by Nana, which is awesome. In the following week after that, not much happened. Which brings us to last week. On Tuesday all the volunteers in my group (AZ4 if you recall) traveled to Baku for three days of training. Every few months or so the Peace Corps likes to hold training sessions that not only refresh us and give us a break from our sites for a while, but to also help us develop our project ideas and come up with more ideas. This training was no different. Everyone arrived on Tuesday afternoon and we naturally headed out for one of our favorite Baku treats, lots of nachos and a beer or two. Neither disappointed. It was all good. Wednesday began our training which started at 9 every morning and went till 6 at night with an hour and a half for lunch. The first day was centered on language training and gave us lots of new phrases and vocabulary for holidays and weddings and things like that as well as job specific vocab. This was enjoyable because they brought back some of our teachers from Pre-Service Training including mine so it was great to hang out with them again. Plus we got to learn, which is always neat. Thursday was centered on a lot of reflection and sharing of our first three months of service. Everyone had a chance to share with the group all their successes and failures and we discussed which methods worked and which didn’t and were given other ideas. There was also a safety and security session which is always wildly entertaining thanks to Security Officer Emil. Seriously. He’s awesome. At the end of the day there was a Resource Fair with NGO’s where we could talk about what they do and pick up any information we wanted. Friday brought with it the most nasty weather I’ve experienced since last winter in Chicago. The good thing was it made me feel like I was at home. It was snowing/raining, windy and cold. Beautiful. As far as training goes, this day was my favorite. We started the day off with monitoring and reporting, which if you are familiar with my process of applying to the Peace Corps, then you know there are plenty of forms to fill out to keep you content for days on end. It was a helpful session, though, I thought. The rest of the day was mainly different programs that are available for volunteers to use to get money for projects which was nice, as well as more specific sessions that we got to choose. I chose conversation clubs and environmental projects. Hopefully these will help me with conversation clubs and environmental projects. All in all, I thought it was a great week of training. We got to see some staff members we haven’t seen since PST which was great and we got lots of good information. Plus, each night we got to go out and eat great food and have fun with all the volunteers. My favorite food thing that I ate was a chicken sandwich/sub type thing (chunks of chicken meat with melted mozzarella cheese and green peppers and tomatos on toasted bread). What made this even better was when we went to McDonald’s and Ashley and I decided it would be a great idea to buy a double cheeseburger and jam it into the middle of our chicken sandwich. It was amazing. We have pictures and I think Ashley is posting one of them. I can’t wait to do that again. On Saturday it was time to head back to site. Since it was Christmas weekend, our friends Rachel, Rikki and Kasey decided to join us for Saturday night. We got back to site and went to Ashley’s and drank hot chocolate with Nana and played a few games of Yahtzee. Sunday morning brought with it travel days for the girls and cooking for Ashley and me. Luckily for us, the girls stayed a little in the morning and helped us begin our cooking. I’m not sure if I mentioned this earlier, but Ashley and I decided to cook lasagna for a total of 10 people (his office and mine and Nana). Neither of us cooked very much in America with anything other than a Foreman grill or macaroni and packaged powdered cheese so the fact that we had to make our own lasagna noodles and then figure out how to put it all together meant that we needed help and are very grateful to the girls for staying in the morning and helping us out. I know it probably isn’t all that difficult to actually do that stuff, but if you know us, then you know there are about 293,820,848 ways we could have screwed it up. In a strange twist, we actually pulled it off!! The lasagna was great and ready to serve for our guests earlier than we said it would be, and we even made garlic bread which just made it absolutely delicious. It seemed that everyone actually enjoyed it and had a great time, so Ashley and I were very proud of ourselves. Plus, we only ate one pan on Sunday which means that Ashley and I get to enjoy the other pan of lasagna for the next two days or so! Today, Ashley and I went to the post office to get some packages that were waiting for us. We were very excited to actually be getting Christmas packages on Christmas day. After opening what we got, we played some Yahtzee, ate some lasagna, played catch with a football and baseball, watched the movies that we bought for each other in Baku. We made a deal that we would each pick out one movie for each other on the condition that it had to be watched by both people, so we could buy whatever we wanted but had to keep in mind that you’d have to sit through it yourself so you must pick carefully… we did awesome. I got him a movie about a softball league starring Ralph Macchio. You may remember him from such films as The Karate Kid and My Cousin Vinny and The Karate Kid: Part Two. He got me a movie about a fighting league where the best fighters are brought to a secret island to battle for 10 million dollars. It was ridiculous and pretty awesome. After this we ate dinner with my family and tonight I am going to watch A Christmas Story as I fall asleep and that’s how you spend your first Christmas in Azerbaijan. It wasn’t like being home with friends and family, but we did our best here and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, so I would say it was wildly successful. Tomorrow it’s time to go back to work. I should be pretty busy this week with the tourism project we’ve been working on and a few other ideas we’ve been kicking around. Enjoy the pics, too. Some may be on Ashley’s blog too, but I tried to pick one’s I didn’t think he was using. There, should be one of Nana, Kasey and Rikki decorating the tree at Nana’s house; then me, Nana, Kasey and Rikki before they left on Sunday; the actual tree after decorating; the trays of cooked lasagna…. Mmmm, lasagna; all of us around the tables eating the lasagna; and finally Ziya wearing Ashley’s ski goggles. He got a kick out of those as you can see by the giant grin on his face. That should about do it. Hope you all had a great Christmas!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Good Stuff

Only 13 days till Christmas!!! Y’all better be excited, because my Christmas celebration will blow you all away. Anyways, that’s a story for next week. This week I would like to tell you about my family life. Last week I told you about the whole Fam, Ulvi, Kanan, Mama and Papa, and occasionally our G-Ma. Today was a huge day in Azerbaijan as it was the Anniversary of Heydar Aliyev’s death (the First President of Azerbaijan). Azeri’s all over the country gathered to celebrate their leader and place flowers at his statue to commemorate his contribution to their freedom and independence. It really was quite interesting and amazing to wake up to quite beautiful music this morning dedicated to Heydar. I’m not sure how to describe it, and I will leave it at that for now. Anyways, as the family goes. My mom and dad here work a lot. Sometimes they wake me up about an hour or so before I plan on it, which as you all know is annoying, but I’ve figured it out and am ready for it. They only do it when I am the last person to leave in the morning, which is once or twice a week. So when they need me to lock the door I am prepared. Plus it means, sometimes, they trust me to make my own tea in the morning and get myself ready for work (I think). But anyways, both my parents are teachers, my dad is an Economics teacher for the local University and my mother is a History teacher for one of the local schools (I am constantly quizzed to see if I know who Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin are… So here is my formal apology to my 5th grade teacher when I wondered if “any of this will ever matter”… So far my answers have been qualified…. WHEW). Then there is Ulvi and Kanan, who are students. Ulvi wishes to be a lawyer or doctor and Kanan wants to work with photography. I believe they are both on their way. Anyways, I work from 10 am till 6 pm. The kids go to school through this time, roughly 8 till 1 or 2 and then they are done for the day. Lunch is at 1 for everyone (in the country, as far as my understanding goes). My dad works a ton, as does my mom… she tutors a lot of students when not working at the school. By the time I come home from work, Ulvi and Kanan have already worked on “bodybuilding,” which I need to start soon,… and are ready to arm-wrestle me. I am often challenged to arm wrestling (which I regularly win ;), and am also asked if I have ever seen Sylvester Stallone or Jean-Claude Van-Damm movies of any kind. I sometimes claim they are my relatives. I quickly explain that I am joking, as this may cause hysteria. Anyways, I get home from work, change into my Bears clothes and head down to the main part of the house where I hang out with the family. From 6 till 10 or so is family time. We watch music videos, talk and joke as much as I can manage. Now that I’m learning more Mom and I talk more often. Much like at work it’s hard to force the language cuz Ulvi can translate but I’m trying to make Mom talk to me instead of asking Ulvi to translate for me. Kanan pretty much decides what we watch on TV, unless Dad wants to watch something really interesting about Heydar or Azerbaijan, or anything that is funny. Otherwise we watch music videos. On regular nights, I get home about 6 or so and change into comfortable clothes (Bears pants and sweatshirt. Thanks Mom!) and chill out. I just found out that besides the Soccer game, that we play sometimes that I’m terrible at, they have a “Mario Cart” kinda game that I know and can be quite good at, and I think that we now just decided to play a ton. My mom just yelled at me to eat, which is normal, YE! is maybe the most common thing you will hear in this country. But anyways, from 6 till 10 or 11 or so I spend with the family either chatting or watching TV or just hanging out. So I hang out with my family a lot. My family and I have fun together (as much as I can tell… they seem to like me). As I’ve heard, it’s amazing where a smile can get ya. Anyways, work is going well, the project profile I was mentioning has hit a snag but I hope we get through it. Here come the problems we’ve always been told about. We have a plan and a budget is in the works, but the donor is asking for more than what is normally required. It makes for a real long story. I’ll let you all know how it works out because this is one I thought we had in the bag, but we will see. I hope this gives you a better idea of what I do during a regular day. Anyways, I hope you all are doing well, sorry I don’t have many pictures this time. The pictures posted are of Rooster Tom that Ashley’s Nana bought. Apparently, she’s really excited for me to get over there and meet my rooster self. I can’t wait. Tomorrow’s gonna rock! Thank You Nana, Thank you. The tall, skinny rooster dominating the photo is Rooster Tom. There is also a Rooster Ashley who should be in one of the photos as well. We haven‘t been formally introduced yet. I’ll confirm… if you see a picture of a different rooster later, then you know I was wrong this time. Also, I will have the video from Thanksgiving shortly, I just need to get it from Ashley’s computer. If I can’t post it, it will be in your emails… do not open at work, it’s horribly offensive singing. But radically awesome. Take care and have a wonderful Christmas if I don’t hear from you till after.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Only 21 Days Till Christmas!!!!

Big news day!!! Only 5 more days until I will have a copy of our Bon Jovi performance at the Thanksgiving Talent Show so you all have that to look forward to as I hope to make that available as soon as possible. Secondly, Ashley and I won our second week in our NFL Pick ‘Em Fantasy League, which means that two guys in Azerbaijan have beaten 11 people in America twice at picking football games. Thirdly, Da Bears clinched the division yesterday, which is nice. Some may even say it’s pretty neat. I’ll go with both. Anyways, this past week was a busy one, as we had meetings galore with CHF, an international NGO, and CDC, the Community Development Committee in Lankaran. Ashley, Tim and I also met with two youth groups in a sort of conversation club where we talked about potential projects to do with them as well. Beware: a talent show was mentioned. The meetings seemed to go well and I wrote a couple of project profiles which we will discuss tomorrow as CDC and CHF will gather once again and hopefully decide on a project to move forward with. The ideas center around developing tourism in Lankaran. One is about developing brochures and travel maps that outline the main attractions of Lankaran and the southern Region, and the other is about running a Customer Service Training Seminar for local business managers and owners. Eventually we want to have a Lankaran Days Festival, which I am really excited about, but there is a lot of work to be done before we get to that point. This weekend brings more travels for Ashley and I as we plan on heading out to Volunteer Sara’s in Siyazan. As always, we are excited about meeting up with other volunteers and seeing more parts of the country. In other news, the weather has been quite nice for this time of year. I have a feeling it hasn’t rained nearly as often as normal. Yesterday was about 63 degrees at it’s warmest and was perfect for throwing a baseball around on one of the streets (thank you Mom and Dad!). We couldn’t use the fields because it had rained for most of last week, but the street worked just fine. Ashley only threw the ball into the gutters that line the streets twice, which is better than expected. There was a small gathering of kids that stood there and watched us for about 20 minutes. They were content just watching and didn’t want to try to throw or catch. It was kind of funny to watch them all flinch whenever the ball went within 30 feet of them. Not much else is new so I thought I‘d share a normal day. I wake up around 9 and get ready for work. Once there, I generally wait 10-15 minutes and chat with Aygun or Ziya until Arzu shows up to let us in. Then we chat for a little and I study my Azeri and have Aygun write sentences in English and I translate them. Lately I have been working on project write-ups or just help around the office where I can. Ashley does his daily check in call around 10:40-11 and we talk about anything that may have happened over night and what may be happening during the upcoming day, such as where we are eating lunch, his house or my house. At 1, Ashley comes to my office and we head to his house or mine for lunch. After that we go run some errands around town, or play a quick game of Yahtzee if my room isn’t too cold. Then it’s back to work. While not writing sentences or project profiles, my main duties around the office are carrying the generator outside and starting it when there is no electricity, and when there is electricity, I carry the generator inside. Sometimes I go with Ziya to get more gas for the generator. We’re working on getting me more to do. Seriously. At 6 I head home and change clothes and hang out with the Fam for a while. We watch a lot of Turkish music videos, and lately we’ve been sharing pictures of family and their trips they have taken. When I’m tired I head up to my room and either watch a movie or read for a while then go to sleep. That’s about it around here. OH! Ashely and I had Kraft Macaroni and Cheese last week. It was insanely delicious. We made it without milk, but we added bacon bits (all of this courtesy of Marissa and Sarah) and I added Tabasco sauce (I’ve been throwing a bunch on everything I eat since I’ve received two bottles). Ashley and I just sat there and enjoyed every bit and licked the bowls clean. We also watched the Bears beat the Giants this past weekend and couldn’t help but notice the Jalapeño Cheddar Double Melt from Wendy’s. We actually re-wound the commercial twice to re-watch it and drool on ourselves. Someone has to let me know how good that thing is and make sure Wendy‘s keeps serving it until I return. Also, this past weekend, while writing letters to my friend Jackie’s students, my host brother ran in the room and said there was an earthquake. He said the tv and tables shook, but Ashley and I did not notice anything at all… so the status on the earthquake is still pending. We are leaning towards no, though. People at work confirmed this. This evening while watching tv, I saw perhaps the most ridiculous and aggravating commercial ever. It was for diapers for little kids, and wouldn’t you know it, they played the Macarena in the background and the kids danced around in their diapers. I cannot escape that song… EVER. Anyways, besides that, things are awesome here. Hope you like the pictures, there’s a lot of them and probly took me forever to upload. Peace!

There is a picture of Ashley’s Nene when she had me over and we grilled Kibobs. She’s awesome. The next bunch of pictures are my house and family. There is a picture of the “back yard” with the chickens. Then there is the outside area where we hang out in the summer, with the spiral stairs to the new part of the house where I live as well as the purple Lada. I love that car. Next are outside pics of the house, starting with the old part then the new bigger part (my room is the window on the left). The picture of the street is my ‘hood. Notice the brand new pavement, it’s neat. Next is my room, notice the tiger print blanket on my bed. I also like to keep some clutter on my table to make me really feel at home. The next picture is the huge shelving unit filled with the fine china. Not one piece has been disturbed since my arrival, amazingly. Then there is the “hamam” with the shower and toilet. Next is the kitchen with the sink and stove on the right and a bed on the left. The next picture of the shelves with dishes is in the same room. Then there is the family room, with the tv and another bed, and the next pic is the same room with the kitchen table where Ulvi is doing some homework. Finally there is a picture of my Mom, brother Kanan (16), my Dad and Ulvi (13). Then there is a picture of Mom, Dad and me. They rock and that’s about it. Hope you like!