Saturday, December 29, 2007

And I'm Back

Well it’s been a while, but it’s good to be back. Mainly that means that I’m back to Lankaran and things have finally calmed down a little bit. It also means that I have electricity in my house which is an improvement. About two weeks ago, the power went out in my house. This isn’t that odd or even that bad a thing, as you grow accustomed to this sort of thing. The problem was, all my neighbors had electricity and mine was the only house that didn’t. That was annoying. So I burned through a bunch of candles and took to reading by the lights at the end of the lighters. I called my landlord and they came over with a neighbor but couldn’t figure anything out. It wasn’t that big a concern since I was heading to Barda and Sheki and I figured I could deal with it when I got back. So I got back and was hoping that the problem would have just fixed itself, but no luck. Later that night, the landlord came over with an electrician and after poking around a bit, the power came back on. We celebrated with high fives. They left and about an hour later, my power was out again. It came back a couple hours later, and has been better since. It’s not that bad a thing, but my computer only lasts 7 minutes on a full battery and you can only read so much. Oh well. Last weekend there was a Christmas party at my friend Jason’s in Barda and a good number of volunteers went to celebrate the holidays. It was a good get together with a lot of good food and friends. We didn’t do anything spectacular for the party, but it was definitely a good time.

On Sunday, Rikki George, Ashley and I went to Sheki to spend Christmas with Magda at her apartment. Basically this meant spending a great deal of time watching Christmas movies, like Elf, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and many others. First, though, we went to the fancy pants hotel in Sheki and got ourselves some great food. We got cheeseburgers, club sandwiches, fries, and stuffed chicken. The food there is really good, but a bit pricey for us. It was still worth it though. The highlight, for sure though, was Polar Express. Sheki has a small movie theater and we managed to find a time when they wouldn’t be having any customers and rented out the theater. They played Polar Express for us and we had Coke and popcorn. It wasn’t the same as the theaters in America, but it was really awesome. It was definitely better watching that movie on a big screen rather than a small laptop. Other than movie watching, we hung out, laughed a ton, walked around town for a little bit and played a lot of Life. That game is crazy. On Christmas night, we cooked ourselves a chicken, some pre-packaged stuffing, rice, instant mashed potatoes and some whiskey. It was really, really good. Everything tasted so great. Afterwards we made sock puppets from the kit that Ashley’s sister sent to him a while back. This was also a lot of fun although I was disappointed that we didn’t get to put on a theater show with the puppets because a lot of the glue hadn’t dried yet. So that’ll have to wait, but it just gives us more time to think of some good skits.

On Thursday, I was back at the office. Aygun had organized an office party to celebrate the new year and invited a few people to celebrate with us. She also planned a small game with small gifts. Each person had to grab a sheet of paper and complete the task that was on it in order to earn their prize. Mine was to say the Peter Pecker tongue twister, but it was Parrot Peter instead. Weird, eh? I succeeded though and got my prize which was a little mouse on wheels. When you pull it backwards on the ground a few times, it can roll away on it’s own. It’s perfect for my house and everyone got some sort of mouse gift because next year is apparently the year of the mouse. Who knew? We also had a bunch of snacks and fruits and balloons which led to a great balloon fight. Afterwards, Rufat took one of our new lawyers, Rahim, me, one of our old lawyers, Ziya, and Arzu (she was in town as well) out to dinner. He had brought some boar meat to the restaurant that they cooked up for us and we also had turkey and the usual assortment of bread, veggies and stuff to eat. The boar was so good, I could have finished it all on my own. After some drinks and some singing (they made me bring my guitar, and Rufat, Rahim and Ziya started singing some classic Azeri songs), it was time to retire for the evening. On Friday, I met Arzu for lunch and hung out at the office. We don’t have work all next week so now I have plenty of down time to catch up on some stuff around my house. One exciting development from this week is I found Mountain Dew bottles in a tiny shop right by my house, so they can be sure to get more of my business now. So far, we don’t really have any big plans for the New Year, but I think we’ll buy some fireworks and wander about town and see what trouble we can stir up. Should be a great time. I plan on going to the host family tomorrow and seeing what they are up to. That’s about it for now I think. I hope everyone had a great Christmas and enjoy your New Year’s celebrations. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost 2008 already, right?

The pictures are of my plate of food from Christmas night (to make you all jealous), the sock puppets that we made in Sheki, Aygun playing my guitar and “singing” a song, the New Years tree in my office, all the snacks and what not from the party and everyone from my office except Aygun (she’s taking the picture). From left to right, there is Arzu (doesn’t work with us anymore), Rahim (new lawyer), Shabnam (another new lawyer), Rufat (director) and me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Before I get to the results, I thought I’d give a little extra update on my week. Nothing too exciting happened, really. I got my hair cut, more like trimmed, by my new stylist, Joyce. She came over after work on Thursday to trim up the sides and back because my hair is getting pretty long since I haven’t had it cut short since I was home in June. Having her cut my hair is definitely an experience. She’s only cut guys’ hair once and that was me a couple months ago. So whenever she goes to cut something, she either flinches, or says “oh crap” or something else to make you think that your head is going to totally look messed up when she’s done with it. It’s pretty entertaining. I can’t complain either; it’s a free hair cut. It turned out pretty good, so I’m happy with the 2 Manat that I saved.

Tonight I’m going to a play at the Drama Theatre in town. I’ve been to parts of a play twice, and each time I saw the same scenes from the same play. This time, I’m hoping it’s a different play for one, and two, I’m going to try and stay for the whole thing. My friend Aygun is going and the rest of my office was supposed to go as well, but they bailed. So now I think it will be Aygun, her dad, her little sister and me. It’ll be nice to get out of the house a little bit and do something different. I’m even thinking about doing some laundry today, but it’s kind of crummy out so I’ll probably read and watch a movie instead.

Now on to the much anticipated (mostly by Mom, I think) results of my latest Reader Challenge. I appreciate everyone that sent in their guesses. I really liked the ones where the logic behind the guess was explained. And John, great job on getting the ball rolling. Dad, I was also impressed with your guess. That was some good sleuthing, but you forgot one fact. Only some people came Friday night, most Saturday night. Also, a good number of people left Sunday morning and only a handful stayed till Monday morning. So some people got 2 days, others 1. After collecting all the bottles and placing them in the garage and doing some calculating, the “exact” number I came up with for this challenge is 494. So congratulations Dad, with your guess of 521, you win this Challenge’s prize. It’s not a phone call; I’ll give that to the second place winner, which is Mom with her guess of 457. The pictures you see here are of both sides of the prize for this challenge. It’s a handy-dandy 2008 calendar!!! The months are written in Azeri but in the Cyrillic alphabet. I won it at the English Exhibition and will mail it with a short congratulatory letter. Proudly display it on your desk. That should about do it. Thanks again to everyone who participated, and I’ll think of a new challenge for you all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mmmm. Mutton!!

I apologize for not posting an update last week. I meant to do it before I was leaving for the weekend but my plans got changed and bunched around a little bit and I ran out of time. I will try to catch you up to the best of my abilities.

The Saturday before last, I along with the other PCVs in Lankaran were invited to an English Exhibition at one of the schools in town by my friend Lala. She is an English teacher there and comes by my office every now and then to say hi and talk for a little bit. She organized a play last year where the students sang songs in English and acted out scenes from Azerbaijani plays in English. I watched a DVD of it and it was pretty entertaining. This year was a little bit different. We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into. We showed up at the school and she showed us to the room where the exhibition was. In the cafeteria of the school, there were little tables set up like booths at a science fair. Each booth had a different theme with different facts about American or British history and some differences between American and British English. There were also games at each booth. Some were about grammar while others were about sports or food or anything else you can think of. Some games involved a saying written out in Azeri and if you translated it into English correctly you would win a prize. I started collecting quite a few prizes because all the kids wanted me to come to their booth. When I answered correctly, they wouldn’t let me not accept the prize, so I got all sorts of stickers and pens and pencils and things like that. I started giving these away and going around helping other kids as they dragged me around from booth to booth.

As the event was wrapping up, all the kids hounded us all and asked for pictures and autographs. Everywhere I turned there were kids posing and shoving paper under my face for me to sign it. One kid even asked me to sign her arm. Eventually, the teachers got everyone to calm down and they sat us down for tea and cake. The students and other teachers presented Lala with flowers and a gift and there were some speeches. Each of the kids from that school was presented with certificates and this is where Lala really put us to work. Azeri handwriting can be pretty difficult tot read and Lala asked us to stand up in front of everyone and read off the names and present the certificates to the students. So Joyce, Jane, Ashley and I each got about 4-8 certificates to hand out. I must say, I did pretty well. I impressed Ashley at least, although honestly, that isn’t too difficult. The picture over on the right is Ashley and me by a couple of roosters saying “Nush Olsun.” It’s by far my favorite saying here and means “bon appetite.”

Last week, my program manager Elmir from Peace Corps was in town to visit with Tim, Ashley and me and talk about our first year of PC service and our plans for the upcoming months and to check to see if there was anything they could help us out with in regards to our work. I had a really good talk with him and enjoyed the visit a lot. Fortunately, I have a very good working and personal relationship with the people in my office, so I didn’t need any help from him about that. I also got to bounce some of my ideas off of him and get some feedback. All in all, it was very good and I came out of it feeling a lot better about stuff. Plus, Elmir’s a great guy and always good to talk to. On Thursday, he took Ashley and me up to Beylagan where our friend Carlo lives. Carlo was having a small birthday party at his apartment so we stayed there until Sunday. Others joined us on Friday and Saturday and it was a good, small get together.

That (last) Saturday, Carlo took us around Beylagan to an old cemetery where there is a mosque and shrine dedicated to a prophet. The prophet is buried inside and visitors take off their shoes and walk around the grave and pay their respects. Hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room is a long chain with a hook on the end. There is a man there to assist you, or you can do this yourself. With a scarf wrapped up as if you were going to put it on like a neckerchief, you swing it over your head and hit it onto the hook at the end of the chain while you make a request to God. After a second or two, the hook jerks around suddenly and if the scarf stays on, it means that God has accepted your request. It was really interesting to try it and to see the Azeris try it as well. Afterwards, we went outside where they have small cabin type rooms. They served us tea, candy and mutton kabobs. It was all we could do to keep ourselves from constantly saying, “Mmmmm. Mutton!!” Once we were done eating, Carlo’s friends there drove us back into town since it was already dark and it was about a 45 minute to one hour walk back. On Sunday morning, Ashley and I had to catch a bus back to Lankaran. This was no small task as the bus we were to catch was leaving a small town at 8:00. We were told to take a taxi to a spot on the side of the road and wait around 10:00. We got out of the taxi, walked to the side of the road and five minutes later, our bus came flying by. It’s amazing how this stuff works out sometimes.

As for things at home here in Lankaran, they are going well. My landlady got the gas fixed at my house so I now have a heating source for the main room of my house and the water for showering. The night it finally got fixed a couple weeks ago, I just laid on the floor looking at the flame coming out of the pipe in wonderment and glee. Finally, I could sit somewhere without freezing. Unfortunately, my bedroom is still a little cold, but it does get a few degrees warmer than the outside temperature so it’s definitely an improvement. Plus, I have a few sweatshirts and the Peace Corps sleeping bags are wonderful. I typically sit next to the gas heater at night and read for a while. It is nice to be able to sit at the table and work instead of lying in bed all the time.

I realized after reading the guesses for the Great AzerAloink Reader Challenge #3 that I never placed a deadline for guesses. I apologize if some of you hurried your guesses and appreciate those that are playing. Dad, I must say, you definitely are talking some math. With all that being said, I will allow guesses for anyone else who wants to play until this Saturday morning, my time. You have until midnight Chicago time Friday night to get in there.