Friday, August 31, 2007

The Best Phone... EVER!

Quick note… Yes, I read all your comments. Sometimes twice, even. But never thrice. Oftentimes I try to incorporate the comments into my post, to give a little shoutout to commentators. So, John, I do read, and as for you Mr. Zachariah Bo Summers (that’s his real name), there will be no need for a beatdown. BLOG ON!!!

So, I’ve had this one phone that I’ve been using at my house since I moved in. It’s nothing special, and even a little broken. It’s a normal phone and the chord always falls out of it, so it was kind of a pain to continuously be replacing the phone line. In my bedroom I had another phone, but no phone line. I don’t know what took me so long to make the switch, but I finally did it and my life has greatly improved since then.

This isn’t any ordinary phone, mind you. Sure, it’s gold, with a cool, old-time kind of handset. But that’s not all. It’s also a lamp. And a clock. And a pen holder. And a celebration of 2001. There’s nothing this phone can’t do. Well… it can’t make bacon, but besides that, it’s a pretty efficient phone. So that’s been my last week. I plugged the clock/pen holder/2001 celebration phone in. Life is good.

Besides that, we had the new volunteers come visit us last week. They had a lot of stuff to do and people to meet at their host organizations and with their host families, but we got to spend a little bit of time hanging out and getting to know each other. We had them over to Ashley’s house on Thursday and made a quesadilla feast complete with a giant bowl of queso and freshly made chips. Needless to say, I had to take a taxi home because I could not walk. That’s about it for now. It truly is the dog days of summer.

Next week, Ashley and I are heading to Gabala with 8 kids from Lankaran for the boys leadership camp run by volunteers. It’ll be a week long event and should be a lot of fun. I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures so next time you have something to look at, although I’m not sure anything will really compare to the clock/pen holder/2001 celebration phone.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Yes, I know, I’m a slacker. I’m trying to be better, and we’ll all have to settle with that for now. You have to cut me some slack because I’ve been busy these past two weeks, aaaand it was recently my birthday, so there ya go. Anyways, last week I headed to Baku for a training workshop the Peace Corps put together for volunteers and Azerbaijani counterparts from our communities. The workshop was called the Project Design and Management workshop, and I found it to be everything a good workshop should be. Fun and informative. Other volunteer friends were there as well, and of course, so was McDonald’s. Good times. Also, I got reunited with my site mate, Ashley. He was in Budapest for a music festival, which by all accounts, simply rocked. But now that he’s back, Lyka is no longer staying at my house which means that I am now able to sleep from 2-4 a.m. unless I choose otherwise. Sometimes I think about going out on my porch and barking at the neighbors for old times’ sake, but then I think of better of it. Also this week, I have been working with fellow volunteer and Lankaran resident, Tim Ong and a youth group on another project that they want to do with one of the local orphanages. We just completed planning and now are working on getting all the permission we need from the city and everything else lined up. More on that later. As always, I am still working on the tourism booklet and we should be submitting a rough draft very shortly, knock on wood. This Friday, Ashley, Tim and I will be presenting on different topics for a Freedom of Expression workshop that one of our friends from Lankaran has organized. On top of that, Ashley and I are wrapping up plans for the boys’ summer camp that will be in September (ABLE Camp). We’re all really excited about this and it should be a lot of fun. See, I'm busy, right?

As for my birthday, I had a pretty laid back celebration. Aside from when my friends and I were all in Baku before AZ3 and the Budapest music festival goers left at least. The day before I went to my host family’s house because it was my host mother’s birthday so we had a small meal and talked and that was nice. They invited me over for lunch the next day for my birthday, and when I got there, there was way too much food, and my host brother Ulvi got me a gift, which is pictured. That night before I was leaving work, my director cornered me and they all came forward presenting their gifts for me. From the office all together was a dog piggy bank. Also pictured. It’s pretty awesome. Aygun wrote a message for me on the bottom of it which reads, “Wish you such a life you never have to bark about! With love, CLEE Band, Lankaran.” As if I could ever forget where it came from. Also from the office was a bottle of whiskey equipped with a glass to drink it from. What more could I ask for, really?

That night I went home and decided to have a very special dinner for myself. I carefully selected a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese and prepared it with care and skill. I made it old school, too. Instead of just regular hot sauce, I added taco bell fire sauce packets AND bacon bits. Let me tell you, it was quite amazing. I wrote several texts to fellow volunteers sharing my joy and all responses carried a tone of jealousy with them. I followed this up with several hours of playing baseball, basketball and skitchin’ on my Sega Genesis. I’m not gonna lie, turning 25 felt oddly like being 7. I’m not complaining though.

On Saturday (that’s the 11th for those of you keeping track) Arzu came from Baku to celebrate with me and my office friends. They showed up at my door around 5 with three chickens stuffed full of lavangi, 5 fresh loads of bread and a good amount of beer. So, we ate, drank and danced. Arzu also gave me a little bear she had made and on the bottom is painted in Azeri “Ireli, Chicago Ayilari,” which basically translates to Bear Down, Chicago Bears. The bear is holding a glove and baseball, but that’s a minor detail. Everyone had a great time. Tim was over for most of the day as well. We also played games on the Sega which was a blast, especially when arguments broke out over who the computer was favoring. The Bear Down bear is pictured and one or two dancing pictures, as well. Those are for you Zach, I know how you love them so.

That should catch you up on everything. This week is exciting because the two volunteers that will be moving here in September are visiting for a couple days. They will get to meet their host organizations’ and families’ and us, so I’m sure they are excited as well. It’ll be nice to have a few fresh faces around here, that’s for sure.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dogs Bark a LOT

The rock video is on for absolute certain this time. Just go to youtube and search amongst the videos for “Azerbaijan Bon Jovi.” It’s awesome. At least in my experience.

So this week should be a short update. I had a nice trip to Baku and we sent the AZ3 volunteers home in style. Plus I got to eat nachos, McDonald’s (stuffed into the chicken sandwich of course), and see everyone who I haven’t seen in a long time. We even got to meet some of the AZ5 volunteers and show them around Baku. Then it was back to Lankaran and the real world. Which, of course, means spaghetti and ketchup. Yum…

Since Ashley is gone to Budapest, I am in charge of watching the dog, and so far the first two nights have been interesting. The first night, Sunday, I was exhausted from the weekend in Baku and the hot journey on the bus back to Lankaran. First thing when I got back was picking up Lyka from Ashley’s house and collecting all the food and toys that I needed to bring over to my house. Second on the agenda was finding a taxi to save myself the 40 minute walk to my house. This proved to be more interesting than I had originally planned.

While waiting on the side of the road, the sight of an American with a dog on a leash attracted some attention. One kid in particular was completely fascinated with the dog and me. The highlight of this exchange, though, wasn’t the 79 questions he asked in a four minute period, but maybe the last question he asked. At the end of our conversation, he tells me to wait there for a second. I do, since I really don’t want to walk home and up to this point I couldn’t find a taxi driver that would let Lyka sit in the back seat with me, but rather wanted to put her in the trunk. This seemed like it would be uncomfortable for her, so I decided to wait it out. I mean, I’ve seen goats back there and they always look miserable. Anyways, the kid returns with a cat in his hands. I immediately start telling him no, this isn’t the way to behave and is inappropriate. Even after saying this, he asks me if he can throw the cat at the dog and see what happens. I couldn’t help but laugh, and despite my dislike for cats, could not allow this to happen. Hence, I decided it would be best to start walking. Finally I find a taxi in front of a tea house with, of course, more spectators. This time, they were able to laugh at the taxi driver enough to get him to take me. It was amusing when, as I was telling him that the dog was nice and there’s no reason to be afraid, Lyka jumped halfway through the passenger side window. He couldn’t stop laughing the entire ride, as Lyka would not sit still, and kept licking the seat. Finally, we made it to my house where Lyka could finally spend her days and nights barking at my neighbors on their porch. If only they would stop staring at her, I think she would shut up, but who knows. She spent the first night in my house and that is the last time that will be happening, for now at least. I do believe my yard is Lyka proof, as much as I could make it anyways. I had to find some wooden boards to cover the bottom of my gate because last time she was there she managed to sneak her way under it and I think you all know how little I want to chase her around the neighborhood. She has been getting better with each day that she’s been here and I’m hoping that trend continues. Enough about her.

On Monday, I had my first Athletic Club meeting and had 12 kids show up. We played volleyball, which you would think would be very difficult with no real volleyball net. Turns out, you can play many games like volleyball, but not quite volleyball. We even played an Azeri version of dodgeball which gave me an idea. We could play real dodgeball!! This should be fun, but I think we will wait until we can use the gymnasium at the school. Next week we will play wiffle ball. A lot of the kids want to play American football as well, which I’m really looking forward to teaching. On Wednesday, I will have conversation club again, which is getting more and more difficult since it’s hard to keep coming up with games to play that will keep the kids interested. I am planning on bringing my guitar and hoping that we can write a song, so we will see how that goes. There are a few pics of Lyka and one of the barricade, and if I catch her doing anything stupid, I’ll put that up as well.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Ok, so they aren’t gone yet, but AZ3 will be leaving Azerbaijan this weekend. This past weekend some of them had a party in Mingechavir and some members of AZ4 went to hang out with them. We got to swim in the ice-cold river which felt amazing, and eat pork, and all sorts of other great food. We played music and danced all night, so unfortunately, my legs have been killing me all week. That’s just the price you pay though.

Work has been busy the last few weeks. Conversation club still meets every week and next week I am meeting with a bunch of kids to play volleyball. We tried to meet last week to play kickball or wiffle-ball, but only two kids showed up so I’m hoping for a better turnout next week. I’m feeling pretty confident that more will be there. We are also wrapping up our tourism booklet project, finally, and I plan on filling out a few grant proposals in the next couple weeks. We are also getting ready for ABLE camp in September. We are in the process of finding Junior Counselors from Lankaran that participated in the camp last year and can help us out this year. We will be taking four kids to participate in the camp and three Junior Counselors. We are all very excited.

This week, since there are no weddings to speak of, or at least none that I was invited to, I thought I would take some pictures of my cooking equipment that I use daily to prepare my delicious meals. I made an exciting discovery last week, too! As you all know, a staple meal of mine is the spaghetti noodles with butter and ketchup. Well last week I got ambitious and made some sauce that was actually pretty good. Not as good as mom’s but still not bad. It also didn’t have any meat, but still tasty nonetheless. Anyways, my discovery. I was thinking of ways to mix up the meal a little bit and searching the scant selection in my fridge, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted some leftover sour cream from when we made quesadillas with the AZ5 trainees. I had no idea that putting sour cream into my pasta (with ketchup or the sauce) would be as good as it was. So that was my interesting discovery of the last week or so. Next week I’m going to try to make a kind of alfredo sauce, so we will see how that goes.

The pictures are pretty self explanatory, I believe. The green metal thing is my gas balloon that I fire up every night and boil my water on. I got it filled a couple weeks ago and hope that it lasts me about two months. We’ll see. Now that it is full, I consistently burn the hair off my knuckles when I light it up. Gets me every time. The big yellow container is a big tub of butter/cow lard type stuff. It’s great and delicious. Some of my friends here are disgusted that I use as much of this stuff as I do, but it’s perfect. A solid spoonful is great with the noodles, or you can use it to butter the pan when necessary. It lasts a while, and is really cheap. Both families that I have lived with use this liberally. Plus it’s called “Super Sun.” How can you go wrong? Finally, I believe there is a picture of the ketchup. They sell spicy ketchup here that is delicious. The noodles are normal so they are not pictured. And that is typically what I use to feed myself. A lot of times I’ll buy bread or some fruit to supplement the noodles and ketchup, and I have been eating breakfast more often as well. I also buy potatoes a lot to make French fries which is fun.

That’s pretty much all I got for this week. This weekend we are going to Baku to formally say goodbye to AZ3 and send them back to America in style. I’ll be back on Sunday and before I can get back to my house, I have to swing by Ashley’s and pick up Lankaran’s newest resident. Lyka the dog came back to Lankaran with us from Mingechavir. Our friend Terah from AZ3 bought her and since she will be moving back to America she handed the dog over to us. We are excited to have her here and it made the 9 hour bus ride from Ming a lot more interesting to have a dog with us.