Tuesday, February 20, 2007

We're Smart Over Here

First I would like to apologize to all my faithful readers on the lack of an update last week. For those who read Ashley’s blog, you probably read the most important and funny thing that I could have thrown into my blog, which of course, is the story of him falling in the ditch. It was gross and completely hilarious. I haven’t laughed that hard at any one person in such a long time. In all fairness, I too, have fallen into one of those ditches, but luckily mine wasn’t filled with anything and I didn’t have to wash my clothes immediately after. It also happened in another town, where I was unfamiliar with the surroundings. Good excuses, I know. In case you were wondering about the other volunteer in Lankaran, Tim, he has also fallen into a ditch. I, for one, am glad that I fell into one so early and got it out of the way so I can enjoy the rest of my time here without that dark cloud hovering over me making me fear the day I fall into the gutter/ditch. Plus it’s funny. So, with that all out of the way, I’ll move on.

Last week was rather busy. My organization found a grant opportunity that they wanted to apply for so I was busy helping develop project ideas and writing the application. The program is based around HIV/AIDS education focusing on the youth. It had to be written in Azeri, so my main focus was helping with ideas and offering any advice that I could as well as preparing the budget. This was much easier than my first experience from a few months ago. On Sunday (last Sunday, the 11th) I helped two kids with a Youth Leadership project of theirs. They had traveled to America a month or so ago to learn about our constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, and part of their program involved talking to a group of kids their age about what they learned and the Azeri Constitution. They talked about their freedoms and how they can become active in their country’s politics. It was very interesting to hear what they had to say. They asked me to say a few things about the U.S. Constitution and that was about it. That basically sums up last week.

On Friday I headed to Baku to meet up with pretty much all of the other Volunteers. Every year they have Volunteer Prom, which is basically the entire group going out in Baku and having a good time with all their friends. We don’t get together in very large groups very often just because it is hard for everyone to be able to go to one place at the same time due to obligations at our sites, so it was great to see everyone. A good time was had by all.

This week, the housing search really heats up. Ashley and I informed our host families last week about our intentions of moving out next month and we both really thought the reactions would involve lots of questions and disappointment and just general awkwardness. Once I was able to convey what I meant, my host mom asked me three questions. The first was am I going to live alone, answered by me saying yes. The second was, “Why are you going to live alone?” with my answer being “Because that’s what I did in America, and I’m used to it.” And the third was, “Who will cook for you?” My reply was, and get ready to laugh now, “I can cook.” My host mom’s response was, “How wonderful.” And that was the end of that. It was quick, painless and surprising. I really expected more of a reaction from my host brother, but oh well. We hope to get our housing options approved relatively soon and then wait until moving day. The picture I have included is the group of kids that came to my office for the Youth Leadership day last Sunday. The park by my house that I keep talking about is really coming along and so I will take some pictures this week and maybe some more of the mountains. As my tutor, Aygun, says, “Keep it real, yo!”

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Groundhog Day

So I hear that the groundhog didn’t see his shadow… and if I remember correctly I believe that means winter is over soon, or now. It has been warming up a little bit here, but the wind keeps us cool. It’s somewhere in the 50’s most days, I believe. I hear Chicago is pretty brutal right now as far as the weather goes, so I’ll move on.

A real quick comment on the Super Bowl. I did get to see it live. Ashley and I went to Baku on Sunday because we had a meeting on Monday with Right 2 Play and some project ideas we have. We met a couple friends who were volunteers here before we got here and now they live and work in Baku. They were staying at a house that had the game and were kind enough to let us stay and watch. Our announcers were Mike Tirico and Sterling Sharpe. Sterling Sharpe would not stop talking about the Bears being on a cliff and “the game within the game” between Urlacher and Peyton Manning. It was a little ridiculous… every play was a game within the game and the Bears were on a cliff or close to a cliff. Once the game ended around 7 a.m. Monday morning, we went to the Peace Corps office and got some sleep before our meeting the we headed back to home. Twelve days until pitchers and catchers report!

This year marks the first year I actually celebrated Groundhog’s Day. I didn’t do anything to celebrate on Friday since I was at work, but on Saturday, Ashley and I had quite the celebration. However, Friday was a busy day at work. Besides brainstorming some project ideas and my regular tutoring sessions, I was teaching my office how to sing Bear Down, Chicago Bears. Earlier in the week, my tutor Aygun and I translated the song into Azeri and on Friday we were singing the English and Azeri versions. It was fun. Back to Saturday’s festivities. We had one of our friends buy us syrup in Baku and he brought it down last week. The syrup went perfectly with the pancakes and bacon we made on Saturday morning. We bought some orange juice which was good and the bacon was, of course, wonderful as were the pancakes and syrup. We finished pretty early, so to kill some time we played Rummikube which I dominated. Around 2, we went and got some food and went to my house. We sat around and watched Groundhog Day, the movie. At every point possible, I pointed out the places in Woodstock that I recognized, which Ashley appreciated. Once that was done, it was time to eat, so we headed downstairs to have dinner. Then Ashley, my little brother Ulvi and I played a few games of Sorry!. Ashley actually won a few games, which was amazing. That was our Groundhog Day.

We also started writing letters to my friend Jackie’s students. Here’s a picture of us with the pictures of the class that Jackie sent to us.
The letters they send us are amazingly hilarious. From the questions they ask, like, “If you were wanted by the air force for some crazy reason do you… A) run like a madman screaming Sponge-Bob? B) Grow a beard that touches the floor then hide in the wild? C) Build a time machine, go back to pre-historic times and get eaten by an extinct animal?” I have to provide an answer and those are my only options, so I guess I have some serious issues to ponder. Ashley also received some goofy questions, so we have a good time reading and writing back. They also ask some questions about what it is like to be in the Peace Corps and Azerbaijan.

That should do it for now. Everything is going well. Next month will be six months of being a Volunteer which is very exciting. Not only will 25% of my service time be complete, we are allowed to move out of our host family’s houses. So the search for other living arrangements has begun. Hopefully I will find something nice in town that won’t cost too much. I really enjoy living with my host family, but I miss having independence and being able to decide when I’m going to eat and what, and everything else. But, if I can’t find a place to stay that I like, I will just stay with my family. I have attached some pictures that may be repeats. I mentioned earlier that they are doing some construction to the park near my house. The pictures are of what the park used to look like.

What it looked like a couple weeks ago.

And what it looks like today.

There’s quite a difference, and I’m really curious as to how it will look in a month or so. The whole town has changed quite a bit since I moved here in September, so after two years I’m sure it will be very different. Until next time, be well.