Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Getting a lil Cold

So it seems the winter chill has arrived. This past week or so, the temperatures have gotten much cooler, especially at night. Some of the regions up north even got snow. We’ve been getting rained on most every day recently, which just makes everything seem that much colder. What doesn’t help is I still have no heat in my house. This means that I can see my breath while I eat dinner (right now it’s around 45-50 degrees inside my house). It really isn’t that cold but there’s no escaping it since the inside of my house is about the same as outside, just less windy. My landlord called last Wednesday to tell me that they have gas in their house and wanted to know if mine had turned on yet. I think they were just bragging because I still don’t have any. They said they would call a repair man to come check it out but as of today I still haven’t heard anything from them. I’m planning on stopping by after work to see if they have any news for me.

I have also been very busy at home trying to catch some mice. A month or so ago they weren’t really causing any problems and you could hardly notice them, but recently they’ve gotten much bolder and are starting to create some issues. So I went out and bought some sticky glue type stuff that you spread on cardboard and drop bread crumbs on to lure the mice on to the cardboard. Once they are on it, they are stuck for good. So far I’ve caught two mice this way, one small and one that was a decent size. Overall, I’ve caught three mice and the first one was all me. I was getting ready for work one day and walked from my kitchen to my bedroom to grab my computer. At the doorway of my bedroom I noticed a mouse making his way across the floor as well. I grabbed a broom that was nearby (luckily I had just swept out my house the day before and left the broom inside) and was able to hit the mouse once like a golf ball. After that it kind of laid there wheezing. It was a little weird. I proceeded to sweep him out of my house and down the stairs and left it at the mercy of the dinosaur mural. I think a cat came and scooped him up. The other mice, the ones that get stuck to the cardboard, are placed into a plastic bag and then into my dumpster. Amazingly enough, my dumpster has not been emptied in the 7 months or so that I have been living in this house. It’s getting a little full and my landlord has told me they will tell the garbage truck to come clear it out when it comes by but this has not happened yet. I think they think I leave my house every weekend, so they are waiting for me to be there. Just another thing I need to talk to them about, I guess.

We had a nice Thanksgiving last week, and thank you to everyone that sent me an email or message. It’s always weird not being home for the holidays but it’s always good to know people are thinking of you and it will be great to be home next year to celebrate with everyone. I don’t want to say I’m used to not being at home but it definitely helps to have great friends, Azeri and PC, to spend time with. It helps makes home feel a little bit closer.

At work, I have been meeting with some of the kids that participated in ABLE camp back in September on a small project that they want to begin. They want to do something with a website, but I’m having difficulty finding out exactly what their goal is. It seems to change day to day and week to week so it’s definitely interesting. If nothing else, I will be able to help them with basic computer skills and maybe some organizational stuff (yes, I can be organized when I choose to be). In the next couple of weeks we will be having trainings at my office so we have been preparing for those as well. Other than that it has been kind of laid back lately, which is nice. People are starting to get Christmas and New Year’s plans in place, so I am thinking about what I want to do. There is a group of people heading out to Turkey for a week so I am thinking about ways I can make that happen. That about does it for this week. There’s not a whole lot to talk about now that things are settling down. My Russian lessons are progressing nicely. A little slow right now, but Aygun and I try to have a lesson whenever she has time.

I decided to share some pictures of the aftermath from Halloween weekend (The other picture is a random one I found of the view off my porch. Breathtaking, isn’t it?). With a little bit of help, I was able to collect all the bottles from the party and put them into boxes and garbage bags. I put them all in the garage so they are out of the way and don’t get all cruddy by sitting out in the rain. The goal is to get the garbage truck to back right into my lawn and just take everything from the garage and get rid of it all in one fell swoop. Should make for an exciting Saturday. In fact, I think this might make for a good challenge for all my readers out there.

So here it is, the Great AzerAloink Reader Challenge #3. As usual, each contestant receives one guess which is to be posted on the comment board of this blog. This week, your job is to guess how many bottles are in my garage. I’m looking for a total of all the bottles. This includes beer, champagne, tequila, vodka, wine, Fanta, Sprite and anything else that might be in there. While I don’t know the exact number, I have a pretty good idea (I have determined a number that will be considered “exact” for this challenge). Things to consider before making your guess:

Not all the bags shown contain bottles; some contain regular garbage items, such as chicken bones or Slim Jim wrappers.
The piles in the pictures are the result of people staying at my house for three nights.
We have added to the pile since Halloween, so not all the bottles are pictured.
Ashley and I used some of our Fantasy Baseball winnings to provide “party favors” for everyone.
The bottles come in many different sizes. For example, a bottle of MGD is small compared to a bottle of Xirdalan and tiny compared to a bottle of wine.

So there you go. Think carefully and talk some math. The prize this time will be really neat. I promise.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


So, on my walk to work one morning something funny happened. At least I was amused, which admittedly doesn’t take much, so hopefully you all will be too. My office is about a 25 minute walk from my house and is basically a straight shot down one main road. I was walking down the road, just minding my own business when, from way behind me (like a couple blocks), I hear the unmistakable sound of a bell being rung from a bicycle. Lots of kids in my neighborhood ride backs and like to ride circles around me as I walk home and ask me random questions, so I figured one of the kids saw me and was cruising down the street to say, “Hello, what is your name?” So I keep walking and I keep hearing the RING RING getting closer and closer. Now, the RING RING is just about next to me and all of a sudden there is a flurry of RING RINGs as the bike rider slows down and pulls up next to me and rides at my walking pace. I look over to see an old man, probably around 50 or so, staring right at me. RING RING, he says. He followed that up with a quizzical stare that I returned to him. After saying hello and then asking him what he wanted with a simple wave of my hand (you know what I’m talking about), I looked away. He stared at me for a few more seconds and said … (wait for it) … RING RING RING RING RING RING and rode away. I couldn’t help but laugh and wonder what the hell had just happened. And now on to this week’s update.

Last weekend ROCKED!!! Team Lankaran decided to take the night train into Baku, so we left around 9:00 Friday night and arrived around 6:30 Saturday morning. A long train ride to be sure, but with music, beverages and snacks (FUNYONS RULE!!!) it can be a fun ride. Once we arrived in Baku we went right to the Peace Corps lounge where there was already a good number of our friends trying to catch up on some sleep and hang out until they could go to the houses they were staying at for the weekend. The Peace Corps calls other Americans that live in the area and arrange for us to stay at their houses for a night or two. Ashley and I stayed with the same couple we stayed with last year. They’re really nice and have an amazing house. We got there around 11 and they were just getting up and making breakfast so we were treated to eggs, pancakes, sausage and bacon. Needless to say, it was awesome. Ben, Carlo and Jason also stayed with us. During the day, we decided to relax at the house and have some beers while we swam in the pool and sat in the sauna. Great Peace Corps experience, right? Around 3:30 or so it was time to start preparing our dish to bring to the party. This year was a potluck party with volunteers bringing pies and mashed potatoes and things like that while the embassy provided the turkeys and stuffing and the house and main items. We made mashed potatoes. They were delicious. A little after 5, we headed out to the party only getting a little lost along the way. We made it there in time, though, and got some appetizers and chatted up our friends and Peace Corps staff. It was funny watching people react to the appetizers. One server would walk in with a tray full of chicken nuggets and volunteers would be running from different rooms to grab one or two. You would think we’d never eaten before. Then came the real meal. You know you have served yourself well when you walk by other people and they stare at your plate and say, “Oh wow.” I done well. Twenty minutes later, I couldn’t move. The food was incredibly good. I covered everything in tons of gravy. For the first 5 minutes, I stared at my plate, just soaking in all the Thanksgiving wonderfulness. Dinner was amazing and so was dessert. Shortly afterwards, it was time for the talent show.

Many of you have probably already heard, but Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne made an appearance at the party. Ashley and I have been trying to figure out a way to outdo last year’s performance so several months ago we decided it would be funny to dress up as Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne, since they are both really awesome performers. A few days before the party, we were practicing at my house and trying to decide how we could have some chatter in between the songs we played and came up with the idea to do a “VH1 Storytellers” skit. After I got up on stage and played Dave Matthews Band’s Warehouse solo, I headed to the basement to get beautified as Kelly Clarkson. Ashely was already dressed as Avril when I got down there and our beautician, our PCV friend Karen, was putting on his makeup. It was my turn next and then we patiently awaited our turn at the end of the show. Some of the staff was cleaning up dishes and taking down the tables and saw Ashley and I sitting in the room preparing and just laughed at us. One lady freaked out and started yelling something in Russian then petted the tuft of hair on my chest. She then walked away laughing hysterically. Ashley and I just about lost it there. Finally we got called up on stage and performed quite possibly the most ridiculous performance ever. It took us a while to prepare for this too, because Ashley can’t play guitar so I had to learn all of his songs as well as mine so I could teach him how to play at least a little. We played a duet together as the last song, and I’ve been told that we melted at least one face (Joyce’s). If you ask me how Ashley and I look dressed in drag, I’ll tell you its incredibly hideous and more than a little frightening. Everyone else at the party seemed to think that I was quite attractive. Not sure what I think of that, but compliments are compliments. I’ll take what I can get.

And so now the last month’s whirlwind tour of Azerbaijan is complete. I look forward to resting and getting back into a normal routine again. I’m having some troubles with my house that I need to get fixed. The gas line that heats my house is very weak and doesn’t light. The landlord has come over to look at it but I need to follow up with them and find out what the deal is before winter really starts. I’m concentrating a little more on my Russian lessons as well and hope to get into more of a routine for that as well. For real Thanksgiving, Team Lankaran will be sitting around someone’s house, eating some good food, some pumpkin pie (thanks to Becky, I believe) and watching movies. In other words, we’ll be doing nothing. I’ve posted some pictures of people getting food last Saturday, people sitting in the room of the talent show and Kelly and Avril. I’m still collecting more and hope to get those up next week. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pig is Delicious

Nothing quite like a pig roast, no matter where you are. Last weekend in Gence, a bunch of us got together for softball during the day and pig at night. I could go on and on and on about how awesome it was, but I don’t need to make any of you jealous. I have put up a couple pictures. One is of the pig being cooked and the other is of me enjoying a piece of bread scraped on the pig and a bottle of Mountain Dew after a day of softball.

This weekend pretty much concludes a very busy and eventful month. All the volunteers (or at least most) will be heading to Baku on Saturday for a Thanksgiving celebration with folks from the Embassy. We did this last year and gorged ourselves on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and pie. This year shouldn’t be much different. After dinner, the volunteers organize a talent show for our hosts and it has become very popular. This year I’ll be performing a song solo and then teaming up with Ashley to melt faces and rock everyone’s worlds all over again. There is quite a buzz over what we are going to do this year to top last year’s performance, mainly stemming from the fact that we have been spreading the word that we are going to blow last year out of the water for the last 4 months. We’re very excited and have been practicing for the last couple weeks now. We only have a couple days to get ready and put on the final touches, so it’s been a busy week.

Next week things should get back to normal. Or at least normalish. We are planning a nice Lankaran Thanksgiving celebration for the weekend. Basically, we’ll just make some good food like mac and cheese and sit around and watch movies. It’ll be nice to just relax instead of going all over the place. As for work, I applied for the grant and will be waiting until the end of December before we hear if we get it or not. In the meantime we will start meeting with our conversation club again in a week or so and I have met with the kids that went to ABLE camp in September and the plans for a small project are in place with them. My office is also organizing several trainings for different groups in the community that we hope to begin in December. They will be focused on human rights (one of the main focuses of CLEE) and on general business skill development (where I come in).

I went to my host family last week with a large duffle bag full of laundry because I have gotten very lazy and hand washing that many clothes would have taken me months. They were kind enough to let me use their machine and hang my clothes all over the place to dry. Plus it was a good opportunity to hang out with them which I haven’t done in a while. Ulvi and I renewed our Yahtzee rivalry and played 6 games with each of us winning three. My Russian language lessons have started as well. I haven’t been able to find enough time to study, but I’ve pretty much got the alphabet down and have started learning grammar rules (so much fun). It’s going ok, I think. Other than that, I’ve been waiting for letters from Jackie’s students and a video from Zach’s office. Also, thank you to Jane’s mom for the “Darn Good” Chili pack you sent. No joke, it was better than “Darn Good.” Anyways, I found a picture of all of AZ4 together a from month or so ago when we were at our Mid-Service Conference in Baku. It’s a good picture of all of us together. I’m still trying to think of a new challenge that will really make you think so stay tuned.

Monday, November 05, 2007

November... WOW!!!

Sounds as if there are some sore losers out there. Don’t worry, I’m thinking up a new challenge for all of you and an even better prize. Maybe I’ll send some chicken Lavangi to you, but odds are I’d eat it first so all you’d get is a pile of bones. They’d still be delicious, though, you can bet on that.

As you all know, the last two weeks were incredibly busy. I had Ben and Magda stay at my house the week before the party, and then the party was general insanity. We made costumes mandatory or else you weren’t going to be granted entrance into my compound. People started to arrive Friday night, and we bought 10 chickens stuffed with Lavangi and 10 pieces of bread to feed everyone. It lasted about 8 minutes. Later that night, I was talking with some friends when someone came up to tell me that my neighbors were at my gate and wanted to talk to me. Thinking they thought we were too loud, I asked everyone to quiet down and to turn the music off. I got outside and two of my neighbors drag me over to one of their houses where one of their sons is waiting inside. They bring me in and tell me that he plays keyboard and that they want him to come to my house now and the next day to provide music for us. I thought it was very nice and told them so, but that it was unnecessary. Instead, they gave me a cd of music for us to play and told me again and again that they are my sisters. So, now I have two older sisters to look out for me in my neighborhood. Good stuff.

Saturday afternoon brought more people and lots of awesome costumes. One guy, Nate, dressed up as Gwen Stefani, but his costume wasn’t all that great and he just looked like a creepy dude. I called him Glen Stefani the rest of the night. Ashley and I dressed up as Ron Burgundy and Brian Fantana from the movie Anchorman, and as always, we were a huge success. Jane and Joyce went the commercial route and dressed as the Chiquita Banana girl and Land o’ Lakes Girl. I am still collecting pictures from everyone that was there and hope to be able to post more next week. I have put up a few to tide you over though. All in all, the party was a great success. There was a little bit of trouble though, as Joyce playfully slapped (shoved)me, causing me to lose my balance. I hit my head against one of the windows in my living room/hallway and got a cut above my eye. I had a pretty nasty bump too and got quite the shiner, but it’s almost all faded away back to normal now. My house is also just about back to normal thanks in large part to Jane, Joyce and Tor, an AZ5 Volunteer. Others chipped in before they had to leave, but these three stuck around for the bulk of it. I decided to stack all the garbage in my garage until I could figure out how to get rid of it all. It’s a little ridiculous, but I guess three days of Halloween festivities is bound to make some trash. I also want to thank all of the parents that sent decorations and anything else Halloween related. My garage was decked out and I had decorations all over the house as well. It was awesome.

This upcoming weekend a bunch of us are headed up to Ganja for a Luau/Pig Roast. I’m not sure the pig roast part is realistic or will ever actually happen, but it has been discussed and I am certainly holding out hope. Either way, there should be a lot of volunteers getting together to celebrate November, or something like that. Man, I hope we get a pig.

Besides cleaning and recovering last week, I was very busy writing a grant proposal for my host organization. A lot of the work had already been done, but I needed to fit everything into the grant applications specific guidelines. This is still for the Lankaran tourism booklets that we have been trying to produce. It came down to the wire, but I got the application in Friday evening and so now we are playing the waiting game. This week at the office we are welcoming two new lawyers into the office that will be here mostly part time. One of them is friends with the lawyer that used to work here so I know him pretty well. The other one recently graduated from University in Baku so I will be getting to know her. Aygun will fill in as a lawyer when the others are gone but will mostly be working as the office administrator. She’s very excited to finally be back to one job as she has been the only lawyer and office administrator the last couple months. So my office is finally getting back to normal and things should calm down a little bit, just in time for winter. Aside from all that, I’m also busy preparing for the Thanksgiving Day PCV Talent Show. I’m sure most of you remember Ashley and I performing a Bon Jovi classic last year (remember the youtube.com video?). Well, this year should blow that completely out of the water. As usual there is a great air of secrecy to our plans and so no one else knows what we have planned until we walk out on stage. It makes it more fun that way.

So everything is going well over here and getting back to normal. November has been very busy so far and will continue to be with Ganja this weekend and then Baku the weekend after that. It’s nice though, because as it starts to get cold and dark by 5, things tend to slow down to a crawl. With the office getting back to normal and with Aygun having some more free time, I will be starting Russian lessons this week or next. I figure it will be a good challenge and it couldn’t hurt to know a little bit if I want to go visit Russia next year. We’ll see how it goes. I’m thinking of a new challenge, like I said and will get that up soon. Other pictures posted besides the obvious are Rikki the Mexican eating Ina the Bulgarian Flavored Taco, Ben as the Jolly Green Giant and Ram as a transformer. It only worked from the side though, he looked absolutely ridiculous from the front.