Monday, July 23, 2007

Toy Pictures

There was a request, or demand, for more wedding dancing photos, and I am more than happy to oblige. Unfortunately, I was dancing most of the time and was also the only one with a camera, so you won’t get to see my killer dance moves. However, there are some other good ones.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, a wedding here is called a “toy.” Which in my mind, makes them that much greater. Who doesn’t like toys? I like toys. With that out of the way, I’ll give a short explanation of the pictures and then just let you enjoy the pictures. At this particular wedding, like most, we were invited by one person that we know. In this case, my friend and Azeri tutor Aygun invited us. We knew some other people there, but for the most part, we were on our own. After enjoying the fine food that was there we were invited to dance, and there’s no way we could say no. The first picture is Ashley, me and Tim taking a short breather.

At this particular wedding, it was mostly women dancing the entire time. Men would occasionally gather to dance, especially after giving a toast, but at this particular wedding it was mostly women and children. The next picture is a grandmother who really wanted to dance with the Americans. She got up and danced like hell, which led to us taking a breather. She was good.

Next is Tim in a sort of dance-off. This woman was all over the place throughout the entire wedding and was non-stop dancing. Tim, getting into the groove and shoved into the center of the circle that had formed, had no choice but to engage in a dance that increasingly picked up pace. You can see Ashley laughing in the background. I would have gotten into the center of the circle and danced, but who would have taken the pictures?

The next picture doesn’t involve any dancing, unfortunately, but it does involve an entire lamb. At some point in the middle of the wedding, a group of waiters came out to and wheeled this giant cart to the head table. We couldn’t see from where we were what was on it, but when they put it on the head table, we could see it was a whole lamb. I was told later that this was very expensive.

Finally, we have Tim and Ashley dancing with a group. Everyone is feeling pretty good about themselves and their dance moves and are just enjoying the music at this point. Hopefully I will be going to many more weddings this summer and will be able to get a fine collection of photos for all of you back home. Typically, each wedding starts around 7, with a couple hours of eating, then dancing. The brides’ sister kept asking us what music we wanted (typically, we request our favorite Turkish pop star) and then insisting that we dance. We ate as much as we could and then danced. That’s usually how it goes. Till next time, you know what to do.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wedding Season Is Upon Us

I thought I would take a moment to answer a reader’s question posted on the comments page of this very blog. This may have been a question troubling many of you, but most likely none of you. The question asked of me was, “Why do you stuff the double cheeseburger into the chicken sandwich?” There of course is an obvious answer to this, but I decided to draw it out into a much more complicated answer. And here it is: I'm sure you know the deliciousness of the double cheeseburger from McDonald's. Put simply, it's amazing. Now, if you were to order the chicken sandwich from this fast food Lebanese place, you would get about 10 inches of marinated chicken covered in melted cheese with green peppers and onions. This by itself is also, again putting it simply, amazing. When one sandwich simply won't do and you are forced to decide which restaurant you should dine at, my question is this. Why decide? Have the best both have to offer and combine them into a powerhouse (some may also call it a ‘tour de force’) meal that will give you all kinds of enjoyment and leave you satisfied for days. Again, I ask you, why would you not give yourself this supremely outstanding moment of happiness? That, my friends, is why you stuff the double cheeseburger into the chicken sandwich. Also, it's more of a placing of the double che inside the sandwich. We've found the best and easiest way is to tear the double che in half and then open the chicken sandwich and then place each half of the burger inside, completely filling all empty space, both in the sandwich and in your belly.

Now that I have that out of the way, there has been plenty happening in Lankaran lately. Last Wednesday, I was sitting quietly in my office, checking email, when all of a sudden there was a sound that came rumbling from all sides of the building. It sounded as though the entire building was collapsing around us and then all of a sudden everything was shaking, the lights, tables, chairs, walls. That’s right, everyone, we had an earthquake. Ashley did some research and found that it measured as a 5.1 and was the first earthquake I’ve felt since we’ve been here. We’ve been told of others, but never noticed anything. When it was over, my stomach felt like it does after coming out of a wave pool. All this did was make me miss wave pools, though. All in all, it was a fun morning. Everyone talked about it all day, which was fun.

On top of that, all the Volunteers in Lankaran (Ashley, Tim and me) were hosts to three of the new Peace Corps trainees. They just arrived in country at the end of June and came down on Saturday and stayed with us until Tuesday morning. We played games over the weekend and walked around town and gave them a quick tour. On Sunday we met with Tim and his youth group and they showed the trainees what they had been doing with their project (translating text for a local museum from Azeri into English). After this we wandered around town for a little bit then had everyone over to my house for chicken quesadillas (enhanced with the taco seasoning from Mom and Dad… THANK YOU!), which I’m sure you can imagine, was intensely delightful. We then played darts and some Chicago Bears Uno and just hung out. On Monday morning we brought them over to each of our offices and introduced them to our coworkers. They were able to ask any questions they wanted and get all the information they could handle on what it’s like to work with PCV’s. Tuesday morning, they were back on their way to Baku and it was back to the regular work schedule for us.

Tuesday night brought another wedding for us to go to. My coworker Aygun’s friend was getting married and invited us Volunteers to the ceremony. We aren’t about to decline a bunch of great food that is free and hours of dancing, so we dressed up and partied it up on a Tuesday night. It was a typically good time and the food was awesome. There was much more dancing at this wedding than the last one that Ashley and I went to and we were sure to take advantage. We did so well, that we even got invited to another wedding this Thursday. Depending on how quickly I recover from the trainees visit and the wedding last night, I hope to go to this wedding as well. It would be particularly fun since we wouldn’t really know anyone there. Wedding crashers anyone?

Other than that, everything else is going normally. Conversation club has been fun the last two weeks as we have played wiffle ball. I took some pics of the kids a couple weeks ago sitting patiently in the classroom and have those pictures posted above. Later this week I have my first athletic club meeting at the same school that we have conversation club, so I’m hoping that it will be fun for everyone.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

July is HOT

Quick note: Some of you may remember me telling you all about Ashley and I performing at the talent show at the Thanksgiving Day party last year in Baku. Well, it’s finally done. The video has been posted thanks to Ashley's sister, Ali. Simply go to and search for "Azerbaijan Bon Jovi sighting", and you should be able to rock out. Enjoy and you’re welcome.

NATIONAL CHAMPS!!!! Ok, so Lankaran doesn’t have a team but we were well represented in this past weekend’s softball tournament in Gence. Ashley and I were invited to participate with teams from Mingachevir and Barda, and needless to say, we dominated. Maybe not so much, but I was recruited to play center field for Mingachevir and made some spectacular plays as they clinched the championship. Each team got to play two games on Saturday, then on Sunday we had just Peace Corps Volunteers playing each other. All in all it was a great time. As you are perusing the pictures, notice the shorts being worn and the occasional shirtless player. That is because it was incredibly hot outside and shorts are allowed when playing sports. After the games we all had to change back into pants for the bus ride back into town. An excellent time was had by all and was made even better by post game burgers and beer at one of the volunteers’ houses in town.

On Tuesday, a group of us headed into Baku for the Fourth of July celebration at the Embassy. Not all of the volunteers were able to attend, but there was still a good group of us and a ton of other people from all over the place. I met up with Arzu and we walked to the Embassy to meet up with everyone else. The Ambassador was there waiting to greet everyone and shake their hands, and then there was the food. Hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, appetizers and MGD (insert Homer Simpson drooling noise). Needless to say, we felt free to help ourselves and walked away sufficiently fed. Afterward a group of us went to hang out at Tequila Junction and relax. It was a really pleasant way to spend the 3rd of July. Not quite the Taste of Chicago, but you make do with what you have. My Fourth of July was spent in a bus riding back to Lankaran after devouring a double cheeseburger from McDonalds stuffed inside of a chicken sandwich from the nearby Lebanese fast food place. Upon arrival in Lankaran, Ashley and I ate our double cheeseburgers that we bought before leaving McDonalds, watched a movie and immediately crashed for it was back to work the next day.

Last night Ashley and I were invited to a wedding or toy as they are called here. These are always a fun experience and we got to eat a ton of great food. Better than spaghetti and ketchup, for sure. As usual, there was lots of dancing. Ashley and I even got called upon to give a toast. This was my first toast at a wedding, and it went about as good as it could have I think. Once the toast was over we had to start the next dance, as per tradition. So that’s always fun, being forced to stand up and speak to a ton of people you don’t know and then trying to dance the way they do. I think everyone got a good laugh. I know we did.

Our conversation club is going well; we still have about 15 kids that we meet with every week even though school is over for the summer. The girls’ athletic club I was planning on creating should start meeting soon, so that should be a lot of fun as well as keep me busy. Oh, I also hope to be putting some netting around my porch to keep the mosquitoes away, so I will soon have a great sitting area/porch for the warm summer nights. Very exciting. That about catches us up for this week. Pictures included this week are of me driving a ball out to left field during softball, a team picture of team Mingechavir (the National Champions), some friends of mine and I at the Embassy, the wedding room from last night and a couple of us dancing. Stay tuned for more, and stay cool.