Monday, April 28, 2008

Back to America...

…For my parents at least. I’m still in Azerbaijan for the next 5 months or so, not that anyone is counting. So I think it is safe to say that my parents’ and aunt’s trip to Azerbaijan was a success. I got to Baku last Thursday with Ashley and we hung out in the hotel until it was time to pick up my mom and dad at the airport. They didn’t have any problems with their visas or their luggage and we were back at the hotel in no time. My dad asked if I wanted to see all the goodies they brought with them then or wait a day until we got to Lankaran. I thought about this for about 1/8 of a second and a few minutes later we were all enjoying a glass of some fine tequila. It was delicious. The perfect appetizer for this deliciousness though, was one of the finest sandwiches I’ve ever enjoyed. That sandwich is known as the Spicy Baconator from Wendy’s. If you haven’t had one, go get one immediately. You won’t be disappointed. It didn’t bother me that the burger was around 24 hours old. It was so good. It also started a week full of much eating. I’m still kinda full.

We decided around 3 a.m. that we should at least lay down and try to sleep for an hour or so before we had to leave to the airport again to pick up Aunt Jean. Her flight was due to get in at 5 but didn’t get in until 6. Due to the long visa line and the fact that her luggage did not arrive with her, we didn’t see her for quite some time and were beginning to worry that she may have missed her flight. She eventually came out and we were on our way back to the airport and back to tequila. We all got some sleep and later went to the Peace Corps office to get phone numbers for the airport and find out when the luggage might make it. They told us to call back the next morning and they would be able to tell us if her luggage was there. The next morning when we called, no one answered. We decided to head over to the airport thinking that was the only option available at the time. We got there and found two very helpful people who took us right to her luggage and thankfully, everything was taken care of. Later that day, Saturday, we headed down to Lankaran.

Friday though, was for cleaning up from all the traveling and doing some touring of Baku. We took a taxi from the hotel to the center of town and walked to the Maiden’s Tower which is in Old City Baku. My parents were there last year as well on their trip here, so they were experts at leading us around. Not really, though. We walked to the top of the tower which has tiny stairwells and doorways and I think Dad and I managed to not hit our heads at all this time. After wandering around Old City for a while, we walked down to the Caspian and along the walkway there for a bit. By this time, it was getting kind of late in the afternoon and everyone was fading fast. We decided to head back to the hotel for a couple hours of rest and some showers before we headed out to one of our favorite gathering places, Tequila Junction. On the walk there, we were able to point out where Ben broke my nose, which I’m sure she enjoyed. A bunch of other volunteers met us there and we ate a ton of nachos, drank a lot of beer and had what can generally be described as a good time. Katie challenged Dad to a chugging contest, so while he sipped his Guinness, she chugged a full beer. It was that kinda night.

We got to Lankaran Saturday afternoon and get everyone settled into their hotel rooms. After wandering over to my house and giving them the big tour, I took my dad and Joyce to get some chickens and bread from one of the nearby tandir places. We devoured three chickens and bread and sat around and talked for a while. Again, everyone seemed pretty tired and by now it was around 9 or a little later. I walked them back to the hotel and made it back to my house without leading anyone into any of the roadside gutters/ditches and went to bed. On Sunday we walked around town a little bit to kill time before we then took a bus up to Isti Su (translates to hot water). We had lunch at our favorite Gutab place and had a couple cocktails. Basically, we showed my parents and aunt what we typically have for lunch during the week. Anyways, Isti Su is a small village about 20-30 minutes away by bus and they have natural hot springs, hence the name. They created small rooms where groups can go in for 10 minutes at a time and soak and as we say, replenish, refresh and revive your soul. It feels pretty good. Afterwards we walked back up and waited a while for the bus to come to take us back into the city. By then it was dinner time, so we all headed to the new Turkish restaurant in town. This took a lot of time but the food was pretty good. They forgot to make one of our pizzas so we had to wait much longer than we usually do, but everything worked out. We even got to play with one of their pet rabbits they keep in the restaurant. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel where we played a couple games of Yahtzee in the hotel restaurant. It was a good end to a good day.

On Monday I introduced everyone to my office and gave the grand tour of the city of Lankaran. At night, my office took us out to dinner where we ate and drank a bunch. The night ended kind of early since we needed to get my aunt back to the airport by 11 the next morning. We left Lankaran around 5:30 and were there in plenty of time. After saying goodbye, we picked up Ashley and were on our way to Sheki to see Magda and Charlie and show my parents more of Azerbaijan. We even helped move Magda into her new apartment. After checking out the sites of Sheki (climbing a mountain, old buildings, etc.) we packed up and were on the move again. Our next destination was Gence, where Ben was our gracious host. There was only enough time to spend one day there, but we saw most of the city and had a couple great meals. This ended the traveling portion of the trip and before we knew it, it was time to head back to Baku to send mom and dad off back to America. It was a great week though, for sure.

I finally made it back to Lankaran and was able to rest up a little bit and catch up on happenings at the office. I couldn’t rest long though, because I had to prepare myself for two weddings that week. On the 16th, my friend Ziya took me to a village wedding. We took a bus about 20 minutes out of town and went to his friend’s house. The groom was there, Ziya’s neighbor, and about 25 other men. We sat around eating, and giving toasts to the camera, me included, and at the end of all that, we went to a little wedding place where all the women and music were. We danced a bit and after a couple hours of that, we were off. I got home around 1 or so, but had a great time. Before we went to the wedding part, Ziya took me to his house where I met his father, wife and baby boy, Ujal. I put a picture or two of him up here. And yes, he’s a White Sox fan as you can tell by the apparel. Two nights later, Friday night, I went to another wedding. When we first moved to Lankaran, the AZ2 volunteers introduced us to Fuad, a friend of theirs who also speaks really good English. He helped us out with a lot of stuff as we got acclimated to our new surroundings and has been a great friend. So Fuad’s wedding was Friday and that was also a great time. Lots of food, as usual, lots of drinking, pretty common and definitely lots of dancing. Tim, Ashley and I had a lot of fun and we definitely showed off our dance moves as much as possible. The next morning, though, I was back on my way to Gence to celebrate Ben’s birthday, go to Qazakh to play soccer with Katie and a bunch of kids there, then back to Gence, then back to Lankaran again. Then, after just another couple of days of rest, I had to go back to Baku. I needed to go to the Russian embassy to fill out paperwork and start processing my visa for my trip to Russia in a month or so. Everything worked out great, and so now I’m starting to get really excited for the trip.
I’m back in Lankaran now, and things are finally settling down, but only a little bit. This month is sure to be busy again and it all starts tomorrow when a few friends come down to spend the week in Lankaran. On Friday, we will all head up to Barda to begin the softball season which is always a lot of fun. This Wednesday, we are going to play kickball at the orphanage that we had the play day at a month or so ago. Hopefully the weather will be nice. The past couple days have been gorgeous, but it started raining a little bit tonight. Tomorrow, I’m supposed to have a meeting with the ExCom to discuss plans for the sports league. We just found out last week that we officially received permission from the city to move ahead with the project and work directly with the schools, so now the real work begins. Should be interesting. Sorry for the lateness of this post, but hopefully it is full of plenty of information and joy to keep you busy and content until my next post. Pictures are: Ashley and I enjoying our amazingly delicious Spicy Baconators, Ziya and son, Ujal and me, Fuad and his wife Nigar, me dancing at the first wedding and then our friend Mobil, Ashley and me with Fuad and Nigar.


Anonymous Wendy said...

Hi Tom,
My name is Wendy and I'm about to accept an invite for Azerbaijan for CED in September. Any words of advice or general comments about the country/CED program? Feel free to email me at Any comments would be appreciated!
Thanks so much!

6:42 PM  
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