Sunday, September 30, 2007


Once again, Ashley and I have defied the odds and won another fantasy league against my friends in America. This time, we dominated in baseball. I came back from behind several weeks ago to finish in first place, and Ashley took second. So now we hold both titles in football and baseball. Taunt my friends at will, because I surely will.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


I didn't know what to write... so. Hi Jane's mom and Jane's friend Shannon. Hope you are well. Love, Tom

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I got nothing!

Well, this should be a really quick update this week. We officially have welcomed two more volunteers to Lankaran which is very exciting. Everyone came over to my house last Saturday and we made sloppy joe’s. This was great because we got to eat an awesome meal AND got to sing the sloppy joe song. Always a fun time. So Jane and Joyce definitely got a warm welcome and they have insisted that we cook one American meal every week, which Ashley and I were quick to agree to. Other than that, not too much has happened since last week. School started on Saturday as well, so it’s been fun to watch all the kids walking to school in their new outfits. On Monday, Ashley and I saw 3 kids, pretty young by the looks of ‘em, walking down the streets. They were wearing matching shiny suits with matching briefcase style bookbags. It was awesome. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera, but you can bet they broke some hearts in the schoolyard that day.

A funny thing happened on Sunday night as well. I was lying in bed watching a Bears game from last year when I received a text message from Aygun. Here is how it read. “Hey tom! Will u come after lunch plz? Tomorrow I’ll have surgery in my throat. Bone got stuck there. While eating. Very dunzo. Don’t cry for me. I’ll be ok. Have a good night.” Needless to say, this caught me by surprise. I was also a little confused and worried that Aygun might not be ok, so I texted her back to make sure she was alright and to see if there was anything I can do. Her response was that she is ok and not to worry, she was just so hungry she thought she was Lyka (Ashley’s dog) and “here you go – bone inside.” Not to worry though, the next morning she was ok and back to her usual self as the bone somehow worked itself out of her throat and she didn’t miss any work. Hearing her tell the story is hilarious though and we all had a good laugh. That was the excitement of the week for me.

Since school has started, we have to find a new time and day to have our conversation club. I also need to schedule a new time for the athletic club. We’ll see how this goes, as scheduling has never been an easy thing for us and the students. I hope that I can continue both though, as they have been a lot of fun. I would like to see the athletic club grow to involve other schools as well. This weekend promises to be a good one as well. All my friends and I are heading off to Baku to hang out with a ton of the new AZ5 volunteers. This will be our first chance to meet a large number of them and them us, so it should be a fun time. Also, on Saturday I am planning on going to visit my first host family from training. I haven’t seen them since I left last September, so I’m excited to see how everyone is doing. I just heard that an AZ5 stayed there for a week or two during their training and they constantly told her about how much I ate. I found this funny because they always told me how little I ate. I’m sure they’ll be surprised to see how much weight I’ve lost.

The pictures I have posted are random and don’t relate to anything in particular, but I find them to be amusing. The first is from the Project Design and Management workshop conducted by the Peace Corps that I attended in August. That’s Ashley on the left and Maria on the right. Next is my friend Chris Boswell and cardboard cut-out Tom at Zach and Julie’s wedding a couple weeks ago. Finally, there is the groom himself having a drink with party cardboard cut-out Tom at the reception. Fun times were had by all. (Next time I'll try to put up more pictures from this side of the world.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

One year?!?

September started off a couple of big weeks for us here in Lankaran. On the third, Ashley and I traveled with 8 other kids (ages 14-17) up north to Gabala. You may have heard of Gabala and the listening station that is posted there. Anyways, we went up north to attend ABLE (Azerbaijani Boys Leadership Experience) Camp 2007. Of the 8 kids, 5 were going to attend the camp and three others attended last year and went going as Junior Counselors to help out the volunteers. We met up with five other volunteers who also brought kids from their regions. Before I get into camp and how much fun it was, I want to thank everyone that contributed to this project or wanted to, but didn’t get a chance. All the kids really enjoyed themselves and took a lot out of camp and it could not have happened without all your help.

Being in Lankaran, we always have long days of traveling ahead of us if we want to go anywhere. Gabala, being in the northern part of the country was no different. We met on Monday morning to catch the 7:30 bus to Baku where we would transfer to a bus that would take us to Gabala. Ashley decided to bring Lyka with us rather than leaving her at home by herself for a week, so we had to take a big, slower bus, but it was a little more comfortable. We all crammed into a littler bus in Baku and arrived around 6:00 that night. We made introductions, ate dinner, and that pretty much wrapped up the first day of camp. Tuesday morning, Ashley and I were in charge of leading the day. I gave a presentation on Leadership and Ashley presented on community. The kids then got into their groups and talked about what community groups there are in their towns and how they can work with them. That afternoon we had a guest speaker from the Embassy come. He spoke about leadership as well and told stories of his experience working with the Embassy and as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Each day was structured the same way. The mornings were made up of technical sessions that encouraged the campers to think of ways that they can work together to help their community and in the afternoon we did different activities. On Wednesday and Thursday, we had counselor to camper skill transfer where the kids got to choose where they go. Ashley and Charlie taught them how to make hemp necklaces, Mike taught them about photography, Carlo talked about astronomy and I was in charge of music. I brought my guitar and everyone was excited that they were going to learn how to play guitar. Once I explained that I couldn’t possibly teach them how to play guitar in two hours over two days, some were disappointed. Then I explained I would play a song and they would sing and we’d play a mini concert for the camp, they got more excited. While I had many requests to play Sweet Caroline (mainly from one kid), I did not oblige. Instead I taught them how to rock to, what else, Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive. The kids got really into it and it was a blast to practice with them. We put on a show and everyone loved it. For me, it was a highlight for sure. The kids are wearing gloves in the picture because they were going to tie dye their shirts afterwards.

During one of the afternoons, we taught the campers how to play football. That is, American Football (really... what other kind is there?). There was one American to each team, and the kids counted off by 4’s to make the teams. We then rotated who each team would play. I had a rough day of it, losing 7-0, 14-7, and 21-14. At least my team got better with each game. I’m convinced if we had played two more times, we would have tied and then won. Oh well… it was still a lot of fun. The highlight of the week for me came afterwards, when the bus was waiting by the field for all of us to load up and take us back to camp. One of the kids, from Lankaran no less (which was easily the rowdiest and goofiest group of the week… go figure), was bouncing around the group screaming, “We are the champions!” over and over again. I’m guessing his team won more than mine did. Anyways, he was real pumped up and just bouncing around all over the place with a huge, goofy grin on his face. Finally, he sits down on the curb and is just laughing and joking. Carlo and I are standing by him, just watching, and you can tell he was building up to something. Finally, he raises his arms triumphantly and screams, “THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE!!!” It was incredibly hilarious and cool that he was that pumped up. That's him, on the right, re-creating the moment on the last night of camp. For the rest of the week you could randomly hear someone shout that across camp. It was great. There’s even a picture of him shouting, “This is the greatest week of my life!!” I believe it will be the poster for future ABLE camps.

On top of that, we did a lot of the regular camp stuff. One night, we built a bonfire and made smores. Always delicious. On the last afternoon, we played wiffle ball and went on a hike. There was also a lot of Frisbee and football throwing during downtime. One afternoon was dedicated to teambuilding activities, like the trust fall and egg drop competition. There were three other stations that challenged the kids to work together and reach a solution faster than the other teams. We even had a dance party one night, which was actually a lot of fun. It’s amazing to watch them combine the traditional wedding style dancing to rap and rock music. It’s quite entertaining. The picture though, does not indicate this. I went with the classic dance, just for you, Zach. All in all, it was a great week.

This week is exciting as well. Two more volunteers will be moving to Lankaran in the forms of Jane and Joyce. It’ll be nice to have fresh faces around and someone else to hang out and joke around with. Plus, I think we are already planning on having an American meal at least once per week, which means I should start packing on those pounds pretty soon. Another event this week is Tim’s birthday. I’m not sure what the plan is, but I’m sure there will be some sort of celebration. Finally, this week also marks the one year anniversary of my move to Lankaran. The other side of that, of course, is that I have just one year left until my service is done. It feels pretty weird to think about at this point, but hopefully I can make the most of the next year since I am sure it will fly by just like this past one has. I decided to add a poll to this week’s blog update as well. You can answer on the comments page, if you feel so inclined. October is coming (it’s next month, you know) and last year we were blessed with good weather. From what I’ve heard, it usually rains every day here in Lankaran, or just about. Last year, I think it rained about 1/3 of the time, which seemed nice. My question to you is: how many days will it rain in Lankaran during October this year? The answer may shock you, but you’ll have to wait till November.

The pictures should be pretty self explanatory. Except for the one with me and the bear. Whenever you travel across Azerbaijan by bus, there is always a 30 minute break at the halfway point. At the particular café we stopped at they had a bear in a cage. Just sitting there, hanging out. I had always heard about it but had never seen it. So I guess that’s one thing I can cross off my list. I tried to use different pictures than the ones Ashley put in his blog. I’m sure there are a few repeats though. Oh well.