Thursday, October 25, 2007

And the Winner Is:

Last week in Baku was a great time. I ate all the food that I wanted to, several times for some of them and got to see all of my friends in one place again which is always great. We went out dancing a few nights and on Saturday afternoon we played some people from the US Embassy in softball. The field was really nice, much better than what we have gotten used to. The game was a lot of fun as well. I only got a couple of hits (everyone struggled at the plate but we got the big hits) and scored a run. I threw out a runner at home from left field as well in the first inning which proved to be a big play later in the game. We got down a few runs early but got back in the game thanks to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" blasting out of someone's iPod stereo. Going into the top of the ninth, we were down 9-8. Once again, we decided to play some Journey to get us the lead. An AZ5 got a couple of big RBI's to put us ahead 11-9. The Embassy team scored one run in the bottom of the ninth but that was it as our defense shut them down. Afterwards we all went out to lunch for nachos and chicken nuggets. Then it was time for all of us to head back to our sites. Ben and Magda came to Lankaran with Ashley and I and we've made awesome meals all week and just been having a great time.

Also during the week, we had our medical and dental check-ups and everything turned out great. I'm healthy and within the normal weight range for my height, so don't worry Bonnie's mom. It's all good. You'll all also be pleased to know that I have no cavities. I'm relieved because now I don't have to worry about it or go back to Baku for fillings. Good stuff. I also took my language test on Tuesday and scored an Intermediate High which means I improved a little bit and I can get a tutor to start learning Russian. I think it'll be challenging but I want to give it a shot.

Now the moment you've all been weighting for (GET IT???). I got a decent amount of guesses and they vary quite a bit. My personal guess would have been 134, but I figured it wouldn't be fair of me to make a guess. Some guesses were intriguing, such as Joel and his ELMO!! guess. I think he's just a little bit off though. My official weight at the time of my weigh-in was.......... 139 pounds. So John, with your guess of 138.8, you are the winner. Sorry Zach, I wanted to go in dripping wet, but the Peace Corps is very strict about walking around dripping wet. Oh well. Congratulations and thanks for your guesses. Now I must prepare for the Halloween party.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

You Ready For This?

This past week hasn’t brought much excitement to the great city of Lankaran, but it hasn’t been completely boring either. I have had some company at the office which has been nice. The cleaning lady comes by once or twice a week, and another volunteer (Azerbaijani) at one of the other NGOs in town comes by to answer the phones for me and help out with clients that come in. Turns out it’s much easier for her to talk to them than me. Plus she doesn’t speak English, so it’s a good chance for me to practice. Which is important because next week, I have a test.

During our service, Peace Corps organizes several trainings for all the volunteers in Baku. We had one last year, and next week is our Mid-Service Conference. I’ll leave Lankaran on Tuesday morning and arrive at the Peace Corps office a few hours before my Language Proficiency Interview. We had to take these during training as well. Basically, you sit down with the Peace Corps language coordinator and talk in Azeri for 20 minutes or so. She’ll ask questions or just let us talk and she judges how well we can speak and understand. This wouldn’t be so bad, but the part that freaks me out every time is when she turns on the tape recorder. I don’t know why, but it always unsettles me for the first minute or so. I’m hoping to get a higher score than I did in training, obviously, or at least maintain (insert awesome “thumbs up” picture here). I really hope I haven’t gotten worse, but I’m fairly confident that I haven’t. Time will tell though. On Wednesday and Thursday the Peace Corps staff will have sessions planned out for us to refresh us on things we have learned in the past and also to motivate us to get back out there and break the monotony of being at site. On Friday we have our medical and dental check-ups. Can’t wait for these! And this brings me to the Great AzerAloink Reader Challenge #2.

As most of you know, or have at least noticed if you have seen any pictures of me recently, I have lost some weight during my time here in Azerbaijan. I thought that this week, I will post another challenge for everyone (update on Challenge #1 coming later). I will even through in a prize. The winner will receive a phone call/voice mail from me at some point in October. I know, I know, it’s very exciting. I will be weighed on Friday morning, and will post the results in two weeks. Everyone has until my next post two weeks from today (October 11) to make their guesses on my comments page. The winner will be whoever guesses closest to my weight on next Friday.

Some helpful hints:

When I left America in June of 2006, I weighed around 160 lbs.
Between then and now, I may have misplaced somewhere between 20 and 25 lbs.
While in America this last June, I gained roughly 10 lbs.
I’ll be in Baku next week. That means McDonald’s, nachos, beer and pizza.
I walk to and from work every day… about a 25 minute trek, one way.
I try to work out, but have no set routine.
My good friend Carlo got so worried in Barda that he made a diet plan for me, which I have yet to follow.

Ponder all this and get your guesses in!

As for Challenge 1, two people entered, and that was Dad with a guess of 24 days of rain in October and Katie with a guess of 17. We are still at just one night, so it looks like Katie will win.
I'm surprised we're still only at 1 day, but I'm more than happy for it. I'll think of a prize, Katie.

Barda was a great time last weekend. Each softball weekend involves one day of just the American volunteers playing a game or two, and one day of the Azerbaijani/American teams playing against each other. This weekend, the American games were on Saturday. And John, yes, I did hit a home run. Aside from stellar play in left field and that home run, I really didn’t do much else. It was a rough go around, but still a great time and a good tune up for next week. A group of us will be playing some of the Marines from the Embassy in Baku on Saturday. The volunteers won the basketball game last year, and we hope to keep it up in softball.

Aygun is returning from Australia this week (today she should be in Turkey), so it will be good to hear her stories, see her pictures and see if she brought back some Vegemite, which we all know is an acquired taste. Granted, it is a taste that I have not yet acquired. Lyka is staying at my house since Ashley has gone to America, and has become a little bit more well behaved. She still barks at night, but not nearly as often, which is nice. I have gotten her to stop digging at the concrete in front of my gate, but now she digs under the house. My yard has a nice collection of bones and other random objects that she has pulled out from under there. I just found out yesterday that the tourism booklet my office had been working on with another NGO will not be getting made like we had thought. The other NGO is experiencing some budget cuts and decided to cut our project. I’m disappointed and frustrated but have a few other ideas on how we can get this completed so we will see what happens. Other than that, everything is pretty normal in Lankaran. And Zach, I’m waiting for that video hello and letters from your co-workers. Let’s see if they can entertain as well as a group of 5th graders.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Steak Sauce

Apparently, I’ve been weak sauce the last couple updates (according to Mom) so I hope to remedy that this week. I don’t think I can, but I’ll do my best, and isn’t that what really counts? Well, that, and making sure we all have fun. Here we go!

As you can probably guess, the last week or two has been kind of slow. Tim, Ashley and I organized a training for college kids that was supposed to be on Monday at 2:00. We were going to have 10-15 students meet us at the library and we were going to give a seminar on resumes, cover letters and interviews. Ashley contacted his tutor who knows students and one of our other friends from the youth group that he is involved with to invite other kids. So at 2:00 on Monday, Tim, Ashley, Jane, Joyce and I all headed over to the library to meet with everyone and do the first of what should be many trainings. Turns out, Ashley’s friend in the youth group was on a bus coming from Baku and wasn’t able to make it that day, which means that all the people he invited weren’t going to show up. So, there you go. Just goes to show that you can schedule and prepare all you want, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. So I think we are going to try again next week.

In office news, I have been holding down the fort over at CLEE this past week and a half. My coordinator, Rufat, was on a month long vacation to Russia. He just returned this week and stopped in to see how I was doing and make sure everything is ok. He had a great trip, from what I could tell by his stories and pictures and brought back some pretty tasty chocolate. Arzu, who is working in Baku, has spent the last month in San Diego for a program designed to train it’s participants on youth organizations. Last I heard from her, America rocks. Ziya, one of our lawyers, recently got a new job as an ombudsman in another city, about an hour from Lankaran. That means that Aygun has been the only lawyer in our office for a while, but we are searching for another one as a replacement. Speaking of Aygun, she is currently in Australia. She also has my camera, which is why I won’t be putting up any pictures for a couple weeks. I get an email every other day or so, and so far she is having a great time. She is staying in Sydney and says she is constantly getting lost, but that everyone is really nice and helpful and more than willing to point her back in the right direction. I hope she brings me back a wombat and some vegemite. Well, maybe just the wombat, vegemite is nasty. So that leaves me alone in the office to answer questions and give out lawyerly advice. I don’t do much of that, I usually just ask the clients to write down what they need and when Aygun gets back, she will help them out. And as for Ashley, who doesn’t work at my office but is there quite often, he is on his way to America for a friend’s wedding. He has promised to do all he can to eat a baconator in O’hare Airport and let me know how it goes. If nothing else, I’m sure he’ll eat plenty of other stuff.

Ashley and I received a treat in the mail a couple weeks ago. My friend Jackie is a teacher in Chicago and had her 5th grade students write us letters. While the letters weren’t as crazy as the ones we got last year, they were just as amusing. She even sent a cd with a video of all of them saying hello to us. So now we have something else to keep us entertained and hopefully the kids will learn a little about Peace Corps and Azerbaijan.

This weekend promises to be very exciting. Maybe not exciting but at least mildly entertaining. I am going to Barda to meet up with a bunch of other volunteers and play softball. We did this over the summer and it was a blast. The same four cities (Mingechavir, Barda, Sheki and Ganja) all have teams again (Americans and Azeris) and this is the first meeting since the summer time. I’ll get to see and hang out with my friends and meet some more of the new group of volunteers who I didn’t get to hang out with much in Baku last time. Should be awesome, except for the bus rides. Those are never fun.

Later this month, we are having a Halloween party in Lankaran for all of the volunteers. So far we have heard from a lot of people that they are coming so it should be a good time. In the next week or so I’m going to go around the neighborhood and tell everyone that a bunch of American’s are coming for a holiday party and that they will only be here for one night and to apologize ahead of time for the noise. On that Sunday, there is a soccer game at the local stadium so we are going to get a big group of kids together with some of the volunteers and watch a game. It’ll be great to get the girls involved because they always tell us that they want to go see a game, but feel uncomfortable. Our hope is that with a large group and American girls, they will feel better about it. Hopefully the weather will be nice. So far it has only rained one night in October. I kind of hope it keeps it up because the days have been quite lovely. I have attached one picture, from a while ago. It's me enjoying the Krusty-O's you sent me Mom. Thanks! They were delicious.