Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Novruz, Baby!!!

Happy Novruz, everybody! March 20th and 21st are the two days that Novruz is officially celebrated to bring in the new year. There are a lot of traditions that go along with this holiday, and lots of fun as well. A lot of families grow a kind of grass that kind of look like sprouts, each year and plant them in their yard for new beginnings. They also pluck the first flowers of the year and bring them into the house. My family took a picture with them after we ate. The grass is grown kind of in a similar way as a Chia Pet, with the seeds placed on some soil in a dish, covered with a thin piece of cloth, and watered until they have grown. The main difference, of course, is that this isn’t grown in the shape of an animal or anything like that. Just the shape of the dish, usually kind of roundish. They also spend a day or two before the holiday cleaning most every inch of their houses, kind of a spring cleaning sort of deal. Not that fun of a tradition, but I suppose it’s got to be done every now and then.

Another tradition that you can probably guess at is the food. As I may have mentioned, Lankaran has a famous dish called lavangi which is like stuffing for chicken or fish. It’s very delicious and one of my favorite meals, if not the favorite. So they cook a bunch of rice with sweet raisins on it and serve fish and chicken lavangi, and some other stuff that I’m not sure the name of. It’s all good, although I tend to stay away from the fish if given a choice. Just a personal preference. They also cook a bunch of sweets and cakes for dessert that are always good and I do believe I ate myself stupid with all the chicken, rice and desserts that I ate.

Two more things that most families do, at least from what I have heard here in Lankaran, is jump over a fire (called “tonqal”) and go to the river early on the 21st. The fire jumping is a bunch of fun. My family made 7 small fires in our little garage/yard and we all took turns jumping over them. My host dad kept yelling a prayer/chant that basically says, “May all the bad be left behind in last year.” If you haven’t guessed or read elsewhere, the fire jumping is supposed to leave all your bad things behind in the last year and start this year fresh and clean. I have a few pictures of this as well. On the morning of the 21st, a bunch of families go to the river to wash their hands and faces and bring some water back to spread around their yard, another cleansing ritual for the new year.

This is one of the biggest holidays and everyone gets all geared up for it, which makes it a lot of fun. Also, we don’t have work for four days, and who doesn’t enjoy that? My nene is home from Russia right now which is always nice because there’s always someone home to dote over me and she cooks awesome desserts. In other news, Ashley has moved into his own place and has been tasting the sweet taste of independence lately. I found a house that is about a 30 minute walk from my work, but the lady living there told me originally that she would be out of her house around the end of the month, after the holiday. Now she is saying that she isn’t sure when she may move out and that it could be May or June. So I told her to let me know and I am continuing my search for a house. Finally, my parents will be arriving in Baku on Friday to spend a little over a week with me here in Azerbaijan. Some friends and I will be going to Baku this weekend to hang out with them and then I will bring them to Lankaran and hopefully show them a good time. We are all excited. Ashley’s nene and my family keep asking when they are going to be here and if I will bring them over and all that, so it should be fun for them to meet everyone. That’s about it, look for more next week.

The pictures included are: My dad lighting the 7 tonqals, my nene jumping over the fires, Ulvi jumping over the fires, me and nene, the table of sweets and fruits that they have out each year and the host family.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Six Months Already???

This will be a special edition of my blog this week. It will be a short update of what is going on around town and my office followed by a poll that I have put a lot of thought into and have debated furiously with Ashley and I need some help, although I have a suspicion of what the results will be. Ok, off to the updates.

Well, there really isn’t much to say this week. Ashley is moving into his new house right in the center of town. It’s pretty exciting. I’m looking for houses still and have a PC representative coming down on Wednesday to approve a house for me. The one I have my eye on is pretty nice except that it’s a 30 minute walk from work. This isn’t too bad and I could probably use the exercise, but for those of you who know me, you know I don’t like walking all that much. On the plus side, it’s mostly a down hill walk from the house to the office and for the uphill portion on my way home, I would be able to catch a bus heading out to the villages. This is all assuming, of course, that the house gets approved and I actually move in there. Other than that, there really isn’t too much going. Work is the same as last week with preparations and planning taking place for the next steps of our tourism booklet project as well as trainings/workshops that I am trying to put together. Now to the poll.

Ok, so most of you know how much I like bacon and how I truly believe there isn’t one thing you can’t add bacon to that would make it better. For example, mozzarella sticks wrapped in bacon. How can that not be good? Or onion rings wrapped in bacon. Same thing. I already know that Macaroni and Cheese is improved ten fold by adding bacon. With that being said, Ashley and I have had some lengthy discussions on the possibilities of adding bacon to… are you ready… ice cream. That’s right. I maintain that if you take some freshly cooked bacon, drain the grease, cut it into small bite size pieces, but not as small as bacon bits, and add it to a bowl of ice cream, it would be great. Ashley disagrees. That’s the first part. The second part of the poll is what flavor of ice cream would be best. I originally thought vanilla would be the clear choice, but the other day while I was thinking about this, Neopolitan ice cream (chocolate/vanilla/strawberry) might work too. I could be wrong though. After some more discussion, we felt that vanilla has potential because it would be like milk and bacon, two staples of a solid breakfast. This led to orange sherbet being thrown out there, since that would be like orange juice and bacon. You get the idea. So if anyone would like to share their thoughts on whether it would work, or what the best flavor would be, we’d appreciate it. Also, if anyone is daring enough to actually test this out that would really help solve this problem for us.

No pictures for right now. We are heading to Agjabedi this weekend for another America Day with a big group of volunteers. We are going to teach a large group of Azeri children about St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day. I think part of the plans even involves having two groups write a play and performing them for the group, so that should be a bunch of fun. Plus, I’ve never been to Agjabedi, so I get to see another part of Azerbaijan which is always interesting. Also, our conversation clubs will be starting soon, so we will be helping school children practice their English. My hope with these is that we can also get them to think about small-scale projects that they can do in the community on their own without funding and get them more involved. That should wrap it up. Hope everyone is good and Happy St. Patty’s Day!!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Happy International Women's Day

Happy International Women’s Day to all the women out there! I hope you enjoy this day and that you get many great gifts. There is no work for me today, on account of it being Women’s Day, as I just mentioned. I thought I’d give another brief update on how work is going. First, we have begun our meetings with CHF and CDC to begin the next step of our tourism booklet project. Within the next month, we should have a good idea of what information the booklets will contain and who is responsible for what and all that fun stuff.

Second, and maybe more entertaining, is the construction site that has become my office. Last Friday, I was told that one of the walls in the back half of the office had been knocked down and that some things had been moved around. On Monday, I was nowhere near prepared for what I found. When I walked in, I was immediately stopped short by the door hitting a small chair that had been placed behind it. Right in front of me was a large desk that had been in the coordinator’s office in the back half. On top of that was a very large collection of files from the past two or three years. Next to that was a bookshelf and next to my desk was another desk completely covered with files and binders. A huge sofa sat in front of one of the lawyer’s desks and a door was propped up in front of another. As you have probably already guessed, every piece of furniture that was in the back half was now in the front half where almost all our business takes place. In the other half of the office, there were no walls and half the floors were missing. Apparently, while the workers were tearing down the rooms connected to our office, they cracked one of our walls and decided it needed to be taken down. As they took that wall down, it became obvious that the other walls also needed to be taken down. So, long story short, our office gets to be remodeled. I took some pictures of the construction and will take more as the construction progresses. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Helloooooo March

Is the year going really fast for anyone else or is that just me? Last week, the Peace Corps had all the AZ4 Community Economic Development Volunteers in Baku for two days of training with all our counterparts. For the most part it was pretty good. It was good to hear what everyone’s counterparts expected of the volunteers and gave us a little more insight into their perspective of what kind of work they want us to do. Also, I think it will ultimately make it easier at work to have better communication with our counterparts on what we need and want and all that good stuff. Arzu (my counterpart) had lunch with my friends and me and everyone had a great time. Plus, we all got three nights in Baku with most of our friends which is always a good time. We ate chicken sandwiches with a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s jammed in the middle for lunch and had burgers Wednesday night, pizza Thursday night and nachos and beer Friday night. All of it was great. On Saturday it was time to go back to site, which for me of course, means Lankaran.

This last week brought a couple new experiences for me. Last Sunday, I woke up and there was several inches of snow cover on the ground. It has snowed in Lankaran before, but it only stuck around for maybe half a day. This snowfall actually looked like it would stay. Not only did it stay, it snowed MUCH more in the next two days. By Tuesday we had easily over a foot of snow on the ground. This of course, led to a lot of fun. On Monday at work we decided to take a break from our daily routine and Aygun, Arzu, Ziya and I all headed outside to build a snowman, which got kicked down immediately, and romp around in the snow. We went to a nearby park where we all had a small snowball fight, made some snow angels and just basically ran around like little kids home from school. For lunch, my office has a tradition of having lunch all together after the first big snowfall with our coordinator, Rufat, and they also invited Ashley to join us. They usually go out to eat at a restaurant, but decided to order in and have lunch in the office this time. Needless to say, I like this tradition.

The second new thing this last week was riding the train in Azerbaijan. Since the snow seemed like it was going to stick around for a while and Ashley and I wanted to get to Baku a little early to take care of some errands, we decided to take the night train from Lankaran which leaves around 9 and gets into Baku around 6 the next morning. Apparently, they have two person cabins and four person cabins. By the time we bought our tickets there were only four person cabins left and as it goes anywhere, you never know who will be in your cabin with you. The two people that were in our cabin with us seemed relatively quiet and generally uninterested in the goofy Americans sitting with them. A fifth person wandered in (I guess he knew one of the guys) and was very interested in us. So we had a good conversation with our new friends and they even offered us some tea. After having our tea and cake, we decided to kill some time by watching a movie on Ashley’s computer and then try and get some sleep. Other than that, we had an uneventful journey. After we got off the train we tried to catch a bus and waited for the right one to come along for about 45 minutes which was really fun at 6:15 in the morning.

Some big news for me came on Wednesday from the other volunteer in Lankaran, Tim. I’ve mentioned the project that Arzu and I have been writing with the Community Development Committee that we submitted to an organization called CHF where we hope to produce some tourism booklets and maps to help create more tourism in the Lankaran region. Well, on Wednesday, Tim informed me that CHF accepted our proposal and the project will be moving forward, so I got my first project proposal accepted as a volunteer here. I’m pretty excited about it and am looking forward to the next steps. I’m sure that will be an interesting and fun new challenge for me and I can’t wait to see what happens. Aside from that, I introduced my co-workers to the typing lessons I created for them and they seem to enjoy them so far. It’s hard to find time where they have the free time to practice the typing and where we have electricity to run the computers. Luckily, though, the electricity has been much more consistent lately (knock on wood) so hopefully that run continues. I’m still looking for my own place to live in and I hope to get that wrapped up this week, but if not, I’ll just keep looking. I’ve posted pictures of us playing in the snow. The group photo is Aygun, me, Arzu and Ziya. The two of the street are looking from the door of my office. The others are just random photos from playing in the snow, including Ziya and me on a seesaw.