Monday, June 25, 2007

Back to Work

Wow, so it’s been some time since I’ve done this. Let’s hope I remember how. A lot has happened since April, mainly I visited America and went to Egypt. So, I’ll just pick up from right before I left for home. This gets pretty long, so read at your own pace. Hopefully you’ll finish before my next update. The Tuesday before my vacation, I invited my whole office over and Ashley’s tutor for enchiladas and drinks. Ashley and I cooked for them, and again, pulled off an amazing meal. The picture of everyone in sombreros around the table is from that night, if you couldn’t guess. After dinner, we all played darts and just hung out all night. It was one of my most fun nights in Lankaran, I think. The next day was Ashley’s birthday and he said goodbye to his banging twenties. I mourned for him.

Next up was my trip to America which was an amazing time. I’ll try to touch on a little bit of everything that I did as quickly as possible. I got to see most everyone I wanted to see and do most everything that I wanted to do. Right when I got off the plane, my parents took me over to John and Kristi’s where they ordered some pizza from Lou Malnati’s and had some cold beers waiting. I couldn’t imagine a better way to arrive home. That Sunday, as most of you know, was a barbecue at mom and dad’s. It was awesome getting a chance to see everyone. Thank you to everybody who came that day to see me, or just enjoy the pool and food. It was a great day, and just a little exhausting. I am still proud to say that I got my brothers back for throwing me into the pool, although Steve required a little help from the crowd. He’s spry for an old man. The next day, Steve, John, my dad and I all went golfing. Since I hadn’t touched a club in a year, I was pretty confident that I would not be winning that day. The competition wilted, though, under my excellence and I was once again crowned champion. John had a good excuse though, as he was chased by a small bird on one hole that I think got into his head.

Later that week, I went to my friend Jackie’s apartment in Chicago. Ashley and I had been writing letters to her classroom and she had invited me to go meet the students and answer questions about Azerbaijan. I had a blast, and it was great to meet the kids that I had been writing to. They were funny and I think a bit shy when I first got there, but they definitely warmed up by the afternoon. During my stay at her place, I continued my goal of trying to eat everything in site. Although I couldn’t move very well afterwards, I highly recommend going to McDonald’s and ordering a Big Mac, two double cheeseburgers, a McChicken and a large fry. It is delicious.

That Friday I returned back north and began preparing for the Bianchi-Spencer wedding in Crystal Lake. Friday night was the rehearsal dinner, and while I wasn’t allowed to eat two meals, the steak that I had was delightful. Plus it was great to see everyone and hang out with some great friends. The wedding was outrageously fun, as expected. Again, I will thank Marissa and Drew for having me be a part of their wedding. It was an honor to be there. Congratulations, you two.

The next day it was back to Chicago for me. I met up with my friend Anne for some hot wings and a beer and then was off to Tyler’s apartment where Zach was waiting for me, on vacation from New Haven and studying for the bar exam. That night we all went out on the town and celebrated nothing in particular and just had a great time. The next night 8 of us went to the Sox game against the Yankees, and they actually won this game, much to our delight. It felt amazing to be back with all my friends at a baseball game, and even though it rained, all seemed right with the world. We even had all of us standing in the aisle and dancing “Azeri style.” I was hoping we’d be on SportsCenter, but I think they missed us. After the game, we had a limousine take us around town anywhere we wanted to go. What was funny about this was that we did this last year as well, before I left for Azerbaijan and this time we had the same driver. Go figure, he remembered us. The next day was spent hanging out on the North Side and a trip to Millennium Park for dinner and some shopping.

The next morning I headed back to Woodstock where Corrine had arranged a dinner party in my honor. Mark, Alex, Paul, Emily and Corrine all gathered to cook some burgers and hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, salad and chips for me. The food was great and the company greater. After stuffing ourselves with food, we all relaxed in the hot tub with some champagne. I’m not sure what the occasion was, but I think it was more because it was there and had to be drunk at some point. Once we were all relaxed, it was time to head home for some much needed rest.

The next morning I was up and at ‘em again, heading out to the golf course with Tony and Joe. It was just like old times, and although it was pretty hot and extremely windy, we all played fairly well. We could only fit in 9 holes though, as I had dinner plans again for the evening. This time though, Steve, Darcy, Madison, Jared, John, Kristi and Joel all came over to my parents’ house for a Mother’s/Father’s Day dinner. While we had planned on trying to cook Lankaran’s famous chicken lavangi, mom and I quickly abandoned this plan as we realized it would take all night. So instead we just threw the chickens into the oven and had chicken with fried potatoes instead, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After dinner, we had some drinks, sometimes out of a measuring cup (sorry Kristi), and hung out by the pool, which was really cold. Too soon, though, it was time to say goodbye and begin preparations for Egypt. I had two more stops to make, first, though.

That Friday morning, I drove down to Tinley Park to visit my Cousin Emily’s classroom who I had also been writing letters to. I visited with them for about an hour or so and answered a ton of questions. They were fun and I am looking forward to writing more letters with them again, next year. After this, I drove back north to have dinner with Grandma and Grandpa, and showed them pictures as well. We had a great lunch at Culver’s and a great visit as well. Then it was back home to mow the lawn and pack my things for the finale of my trip. Jackie arrived and shortly after 5, we were picking up my dad and off to Egypt.

That Sunday, the 10th, we arrived in Cairo around 3 a.m. or so and kindly woke up Ashley and Rachel from their oh so comfortable beds. Thankfully, I called the right room on the first try and didn’t have to wake up the rest of the Hunziker clan. Upon reaching the room, we offered the gifts that we had brought. Those being a small personal pan deep dish pizza for Rachel, smuggled from Chicago, and a bottle of Patron Tequila, bought by mom in the airport. After a couple of shots and some quick story telling, the kids headed down to explore the hotel and have some fun in the casino while the parents got some much needed rest. That morning we woke up bright and early to explore Cairo and take in the Egyptian Museum. This place was enormous and incredibly unorganized, kinda like my house, but the stuff was older than anything I own. There was so much stuff there, you could spend days getting lost in there. That night we saw a famous belly dancer. While the opening band was pretty terrible, the real show was pretty good. The best part, besides the belly dancer of course, was the drummer off to the side that would make intense faces and hoot and holler at the dancer as she moved across the stage. That guy was hilarious.

The next day we checked out the Giza pyramids, which was host to the greatest tour guide of all time. In all honesty, this guy really didn’t do a whole lot. He did, however, show us that it was much easier to enter the pyramid backwards instead of forward and give us catch phrases (are you happy, welcome back and watch your head) to be repeated throughout the trip, surely annoying anyone within earshot of us. We also went and checked out the Sphinx. It was amazing to stand next to and walk right up to these buildings that you have always seen pictures of. It’s impressive to see how huge they really are.

That night we took a bus out to Mt. Sinai and faced a tough decision. We were allowed to start our hike up the mountain around 2 a.m. and the decision was should we ride camels up the mountain, or take the Steps of Repentance that Moses took when he received the Ten Commandments. Curiosity and overzealousness won out, as we decided to climb ourselves up the rugged trail. It probably wouldn’t have been too bad if it wasn’t pitch black outside. In my mind though, it was well worth the effort. The view going up the mountain and at the top was spectacular and the sunrise was incredible to see from up there. We did, though, take the camel trail back down the mountain which was a much easier and smarter choice. This was followed by a short trip to St. Catherine’s Monastery and a visit to the Burning Bush. That day was spent in Sharm el Sheikh, where we waited for our ferry to take us down to Luxor. Unfortunately, the only ferry available to us was at 3 a.m. This did allow us to spend the day at a resort and swim in the Red Sea and pool. We even hit up a bar supposedly housing pirates, but alas, it was not meant to be. Instead we went to a dance club and made them play music we requested. It was a good time and set us up well for the 2 hour boat ride. What was supposed to turn out to be the “best boat ride ever” quickly turned into the opposite. For those of you who are curious and are considering renting Jackie Chan’s “First Strike,” take this piece of advice. Don’t. It’s awful.

Upon reaching Luxor, we set up our game plan to go visit the temples and museum in town. We visited Luxor Temple, which was really cool when lit up at night, rode some Sphinxes there, which was fun, went to the Luxor Museum which was very interesting and even had two mummies, which were creepy and fascinating, the Valley of the Kings where we walked into three tombs and saw a ton of carvings, the Valley of the Queens, saw two colossal statues, and rode some camels at sunset around the west bank of the Nile River. While we couldn’t quite figure out how to start our camel spit fight, Jackie did develop an amazing dance, and my camel did spray some slobber on Jackie and Rachel, so I think I won.

The next few days were spent exploring more temples in Karnak and Abydos. It got much hotter the last two days we were there, but still wasn’t that bad. While we probably didn’t give the temples we saw the attention they deserved, the sun takes a lot out of you and we pretty much templed ourselves out. Our last day there, Ron, Ashley and I celebrated Father’s Day by golfing next to the Giza pyramids back in Cairo. The course was real crummy, but it was still pretty cool to golf next to the pyramids.

That about wraps it up. Hope you enjoyed the update and pictures. Thank you to the Hunziker’s, my family and Jackie for making the Egypt trip as much fun as it was. All in all, I had a great 3-4 weeks and now it is back to the grind in Azerbaijan. For those keeping track at home, I gained about 10 pounds on my vacation, and only have 15 more to go before I’m back to pre-Peace Corps weight. My counterpart, Arzu, accepted a new job in Baku and has since left Lankaran. We wish her well and miss her here in Lankaran.