Saturday, November 28, 2009

Almost time to leave

In a little over a week we will all be sworn in as volunteers and making our way to different corners of Azerbaijan to start life officially as volunteers. I am leaving Tagiyev to work in Tovuz, which is north west, close to Georgia & Armenia. I am really excited to finally have the freedom to make my own schedule and explore a new part of this amazing country, but also know that I will be leaving the comforts I have created here and that makes me sad. I have such a great group of Youth Development trainees that it's been soo much easier to deal with the challenges of living in a foreign country. They are extremely supportive and we have had such great laughs in the past two months. My Azerbiajani family as well is better than I could have ever expected. My sisters are the light of my day and I will miss them terribly. The only good part of this is thinking about coming back to visit when I can speak better Azerbaijani to show them how much I have learned.
I have to say though I am nervous about the whole transition. A new city, new family, new counterpart, and new responsibilites. I am thankful that the Peace Corps understands the difficulities of initiating new projects and the encouragement they give for us to take our time when first at our site. Things will be slow, but for a good reason. I'm not really looking forward to the cold, but hey you can't always have things your way and it will be good for the Floridian to get a change of climate. Also, I have a great site mate who is easy going like me so I am sure we will have a lot of fun and will explore like crazy when we first get there. The area is relatively liberal compared to the rest of Azerbaijan so I am hoping my family will not be super traditional. I have been used to an all female family that allows me to be somewhat independent and they are super open minded, at least when it came to the tattoos. It is also suppose to be beautiful and very close to the mountains so be prepared for some great photos coming my way.
This week we pretty much celebrated Thanksgiving the whole time and have a big dinner tomorrow to end the week. On Thursday, most of the YD group met in Sumgayit to have drinks and it was the most fun I have had since I've been here. Yesterday, we went over to my cluster mate Eli's house and his family prepared chicken kababa's which were fantastic. I will really miss his family as well they have been great and so welcoming to me. His mom actually allowed me to help clean up, which in the states would be customary, but here not so much. The guest just sits back and relaxes while the rest of the women clean everything up so the fact that she let me help meant that I am becoming a part of the family. It was good times for sure. I'm glad we decided to take it easy this week and have some fun. The upcoming week will be really busy for us: community project on Monday, getting ready to leave, language tests, etc.... Also, to end this blog I wanted to thank everyone in my life who have been so supportive in my decision to join the Peace Corps. To those who have kept in touch and those who keep the encouragement coming.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

New Ideas and Recent Reflectins

I am actually taking the time to write my blog in advance so I do not feel rushed or squished into a tiny space at the internet cafe. This has been a week of many new ideas and a reflection on my experiences so far in Azerbaijan. I've lived in Tagiyev for over a month now so the daily routine is starting to feel normal and even quite refreshing even though they are keeping us quite busy. Language classes and technical sessions for Youth Development take up the majority of my time Monday thru Saturday with the evenings spent hanging out with my host family. I live for the Marshutka rides into Sumgayit for a chance to go shopping, possibly a toyuc doner (fresh baked bread with shaved hot chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, and some type of sauce), and the feeling that I am slowly getting the hang of how to act like an Azeri. Lately, I've been thinking a lot in the mornings this week on different life issues for myself and taking a look back on why I'm here in the first place. The thought of being gone for two years is starting to hit home to me as I become more comfortable with my surroundings and closer to my host family. I asked myself, “is this experience really to help others?” Probably not. This whole journey is really only about myself and I know that's selfish to an extent, but it's true. I don't know yet how I'm going to help people or if they are even going to want what I can offer right now so everyday is just about me. It's nice to only take one day at a time and not to have a million things to worry about anymore. How complicated my life used to be and for what? For the moment I'm just living....

In a week though I will find out where I will be permanently placed and in December a lot will change for me. I will be starting the foundation for my work over the next two years and that prospect is exciting. I'm nervous about living with a whole new host family though and actually quite sad to be leaving my wonderful family. I just want to start preparing myself for the area I'll be working. I really stressed to have a site mate or to be close (at least 30 mins) away from other PCVs so we'll see what happens. I was given two scenarios, one seemed really promising. In two weeks as well we'll be able to meet the counterpart / organization we'll be working with at a convention in Sumgayit so it will give me the opportunity to learn what they do and work out what my role will be.

In other news, I feel a lot closer to my cluster mates now and that makes everything so much better. We're not necessarily the closet group, but definitely feel that they are there for me if I needed them and we all like to have some fun. I have one cluster mate who is about two years older then me so we're pretty close and it's nice to have someone who thinks somewhat the same as I do. We had a Halloween party this afternoon which was really awesome. We played Apples to Apples (card game) and watched Boondock Saints, so jealous that the new movie came out and I can't see it, as well as ate sooo much candy. The one thing Azerbaijan is not lacking in is lots of sweet delicious (as my Language teacher would say). Anything from hard candies, chocolates, fresh baked breads, and a whole array of cookies. I'm going to get so unbelievably fat and happy, especially since my host sister makes at least two loafs of fresh bread every week. Literally my drug of choice. I do not understand why anyone would want to buy processed bread anymore it's just in no way the same. I also made banana raisin walnut bread this week that came out perfectly and received rave reviews from the women in my building as well as cohorts. I had one trial run earlier this week and totally failed to realize the whole Fahrenheit / Celsius factor until class the next day, I wondered why it only took about 10 minutes to cook.

I have no real strange stories to tell though or extremely funny experiences. It's been actually quite not really normal, but yet not so different either which doesn't really make sense. It's hard to explain that feeling where you know you should be like what the hell is going on, but you don't really question it or it doesn't really shock you. Then you think to yourself afterward and say wow that was more than just interesting. I think I suppress the majority of my culture shock. I just concentrate on the little successes, which include: waking up to 3 roosters crowing one after another with no substantial thoughts of murdering them slowly, mastering walking down my hill and around the streets here without stepping in any cow poop, getting the sheep at Eli's house to come up to me for food every time I stop by, stopping his dog Topush from humping me (still though working on that), befriending about 8 little girls who live around my building, making banana raisin walnut bread, going to and from Sumgayit by myself, bartering at the Bazar, staring back at little kids on the bus until they stop staring at me, the art of shuffling and readjusting on a marshutka, and hanging my clothes on a clothes line four floors up on a super windy day without losing my underwear or other unmentionables. These are the things I look forward to and the reasons I love being where I am right now.

Monday, October 26, 2009

5 American Women on a Marshutka

Many new updates from my shennangians in the Land of Fire, also known as Azerbaijan. I can say that I really have found my groove here in a place where I once felt so strange, but have started to slowly fall in love. One the people here are fantastic. Yeah, I get stared at all the time and have yet to fully understand all the customs, but my host family is the best and all of the other neighbors have been really good to me. I strangely see myself here for two years already. It's amazing as well how you to start to develop relationships with people who don't speak the same language, if you want to communicate nothing can stop you. I realized the other day that when my host mom would say something to me in Azeri that I could not understand she would repeat it to my host sisters and then they would say something in Azeri and magically I knew what was going on. I thought to myself, how the hell did this happen. They both do not speak English, but somehow figured out how to communicate with me. Amazing!!!

So my last post updated everyone about my host site visit to Lankeran, which was really informative and fun, thank you Hiba / Rachel / Jaclyn. Since then I was talking to my dad and thought it would be a very humorous tale to talk about my trip back. Now, what is a marshutka (not spelled correctly). A marshutka is a van, but not only does it have an additional high ceiling it also has additional seating, a walk way, hand rails, and a snazy driver. The drivers, or Kings of the Marshutkas, are the greatest men alive. They take lonely passengers everywhere around Azeribaijan for anywhere from 20 qepik to 5 manat. This is truely a saving grace because a taksi is expensive and you may not have a bus coming by your area every day. Oh yeah, and there is absolutely no limit to the amount of people you can fit on a Marshutka. I have yet to see a driver not stop to pick up one more person, but I do hear that it happens occansionally. So, here we are 5 American women like little ducklings following Hiba and Rachel around the bus station hoping to get back to our sites before dark. The 11am bus to Baku is not there so we loaded our luggage onto a Marshutka and was demanded to all sit in the very back. I forgot to say that 3 of us are 5'11 and one is 5'9 with the other rounding somewhere around 5'5. Yeah the tallest of us got in the back, it was not the greatest idea we have had yet, with the shortest in a lonesome seat in front of us. 5 hours we arrived in Baku not being able to fully feel our legs and having one of the funniest trips so far.

This Saturday we actually went on our first cultural day as well and I had a blast. I climbed on lots of rocks and confronted by fear of ladders. We were at this site where there was once a village 5 thousand years ago with lots of caveman drawings, etc... I hate tours so took off to climb on rocks and got yelled at several times. Then suddenly I see several Americans on top of this huge mountain and of course took off to see how this happened. This is when I conquered my fear of ladders and climbed up a iron ladder, probably from Soviet times, to the very top and of course was shaking like a scared little kid. The worst was coming back down, but there is no way that I can say I'm too scared to do anything that involves heights or a possible fear of death. It was awesome and I have another picture of me hanging my legs off the side of a mountain.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Site Visit to Lankeran

On Sunday, we bravely awoke at 5:30am to take a taksi, bus, subway, and then train to make our way to Lankeran, which is at the south end of Azerbaijan. My cluster mate and myself are staying with Hiba a current Youth Development Volunteer and I can say that, at least for me, it has given me more motivation then any training so far. I am excited to have the opportunity to live in this country in my host site and develop these close relationships with random people in the town. I am doing that now, but we are soo busy with training that it's hard to find the time to really wander around town and my language is not up to par. The city here though is really beautiful and there is a quite a lot to do so I actually feel like a tourist somewhat. Pictures to come shortly when I have the time.

Hiba let us sit in also on her TOFEL class yesterday and it gave me a better idea of how I am acutally going to teach youth how to speak English or help them with tests that allow them to study abroad. Youth Development workers here do tend to start off teaching English and it was a bit scary to think about that, but with the observation of her class the tension has eased for the time being. I have a head full of ideas and at times it is exhausting because I have no idea what will actually work in my town. I am beginning to accept the fact that as a YD volunteer I will have different challenges with staying busy or getting projects off the ground, but every volunteer so far has stories of big / small projects they have successfully completed. This gives me hope of being able to stay busy and leaving something for future volunteers to build off of.

I am looking forward to more than anything else though to just live in this country and develop new hobbies, skills, and relationships. I'm going to be such a different person when I come home.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Experiences

I just posted an email that I sent to family last week. Today I am back in Sumgayit after having spent a week in Tagiyev with my host family. It is a lot harder then I imagined to learn a new language, but for the time being I am enjoying being ignorant to a degree. I hate that I can not communicate to my host sisters and mother very well because they are so kind to me. Its amazing how you can start to bond without ever having a real conversation, but I try to do silly and nice things for them so they know I really appreciate their hospitality. Our town has been great to us so far with the exception of screaming children. Our cluster as well has started to bond and we said good bye to our Lanuage & Cultural Facilitator Tural who was drafted into the army. Males here have to serve one year and it was his time so we all got together at Eli (my hostmate)'s house to have a really great lunch. It was the best day I have had soo far and hope to have many more like it. We sat around and sang American songs while Tural played the accordinan, which was great to hear some traditional Azeri songs as well. We all took lots of pictures and played a little soccer. It's amazing how welcoming everyone is.

I do find myself missing everyone at home though even when I'm so busy. You take things like seeing your family, hanging out with friends, and fast food for granted. Another update soon.

First Week with Host Family

Well I am at an internet cafe in Sumgayit today. Yesterday I met my host family and it was really great. I have a 15 yr old host sister named Axsana and another host sister who is 22 named Tahmina, they are not related. Tahmina is married to an older man named Roushan who lives there as well and I think it is their cousin. My host mom is named Ilhama and she is divorced so I do not have a host dad. She works in Baku 6 days a week as a cook in a restrauant and does not get home until 7/8pm every night so Tahmina does all of the cooking, etc... I arrived and they were actually Linda's ex host family so after about 5 mins she showed up. Linda is a AZ6 who was at my training and no one told her I would be there when she stopped by to visit, but she was able to introduce me and answer the girl's questions. I have a hard time saying anything and I know they wish I was like Linda who can actually have a conversation. The girls love looking through my stuff though and have been teaching me all kinds of new words. They braided my hair this morning and put blush on me, it was fun. There is also a next door neighbor that speaks a little English and she is hoping we'll become best friends so I have already met new people. The area we are living in is nice. The 5 of us are all in apartments in the same square so it's not bad and from my balcony you can see the Caspian Sea. The beach is quite polluted, but it's a great view. We walked around the area where there were people pushing their cows and sheep through the streets, pretty crazy. Also, we saw a huge and I mean huge hog just going through the trash on the streets. I haven't taken a lot of pictures, but I plan too and will post them asap. I will not be able to get on the internet, but probably once a week so please call me.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Breakdown of Things to Come

Alright, I have officiall been in Azerbaijan for three days and now have a better grasp on exactly what I will be doing until December for my Pre-Service Training (PST). I received my official host site today where I will be at until I am sworn in as a volunteer in December, but will not meet my family until Monday. Please email me if you are interested in learning exactly where I will be living becuase we have been advised not to post that information on a public blog.

A group of 3 girls and 1 guy will be located in the same area, I actually have a fellow volunteer in the same building as me so I'm really psyched. We will come together from about 9 to 12pm for language training with our Language & Cultural Facilitator (LCF) and then journey to another school in our area to meet up with all the Youth Development PCV for training in our specific area. We are only allowed to go into Baku once while we are in training. We have several Cultural Days and times when every AZ7 PCV will meet in Sumgayit for HUB trainings, which cover topics like safety and health.

Monday - go to host family
Tuesday - go to Sumgayit with cluster group and LCF to purchase cell phone and they will show us around the area.
Wednesday - will walk to school to start language classes - host families normally walk you the first 2 to 3 days so you can get to know the area.

Some of our training in YD will be practicums, guest speakers, and visits to NGOs or governmental offices that deal with youth issues. Very exciting and we will also either have a conversation club or computer type class to do in training to start working with the kids.

I am more excited today then I have every been and look forward to getting acquainted in my new area.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

1st Day in Baku

So far most everything is close to what I expected when arriving into Azerbaijan. Very closely reminds me of certain parts of China in the cars and look of the buildings along the street. From our bus ride we were able to see our first accident, which in Florida we always complain about rubberneckers and I can say that we have it good because at least people stay in their cars. There were crowds of people surrounding the crushed cars and policemen. It was quite exciting. My expectations of the hotel surpass what I thought would be our living conditions for the next four days, but I am reminded by the AZ6s to enjoy what we can. I guess it's the tactic of those who have been here and know the routine to remind the new ones to prepare for the worst. That's somewhat how I feel right now. I couldn't be concerned with the actual job at hand becuase there was so little information on exactly what my job would be like.

I imagined all Youth Development would be doing the camps or have different type groups in our communities, but I should have taken the lack of questions answered as a sign that it's the newest and less community supported program. This led to a mini breakdown last night and followed by the kind words of my roommate who reminded me to take it one day at a time and to be like an ambassador for my first 6 months trying to befriend and talk to as many people in my community as I can. I want to make sure that I develop a lasting respect to hopefully be able to one day lay the foundations of a new NGO or new club that other Peace Corps Volunteers can build on. I don't know though how I am going to teach others to speak English as I am just now learning their language, but I think we'll figure it out and have some good laughs along the way.

P.S. the view from the airplane was amazing. At one point I was directed to look out the window and peaking out of the clouds we could see the Caucasus Mountains. It was beautiful!!!!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Less than 30 days before departure

I would assume I'm hitting the normal freaking out period for volunteers. Realizing that my departure is now just weeks away makes me full with different emotions that it's hard to figure where everything is coming from - if that makes sense. I know that once I am over there my internal strength and ability to ignore some of my more vunerable feelings will take over (even though at times it's not the best way to deal with things). It's hard for me to not feel in control of my own emotions and I know that I will need to start coping better now to help with the more dramatic changes coming my way. I'm a great adapter, but this is the first time I have made such a drastic decision for myself and I thought I would be dealing with everything in a much calmer fashion. But again I am at times too hard on myself and this is the mental challenge I need face to be prepared for leaving.

On a positive note, I have now met four PCVs also leaving to Azerbaijan - two in Jacksonville and two more in New York City. It was great to talk with others about the things going through my head and the possibilites of what life will be like over there. I am very lucky to have had this opportunity and can say that we have a great group of people joining the AZ6s, who have been really great in giving us constant reality checks. I can't wait to meet everyone in Philly and have a lot to do over the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Packing List

Please comment if you feel like I could do without something or if I forgot anything.


Wool black down coat
One thick sweater
3 long sleeve shirts
2 cardigans
2 light weight jackets that are great for layering
silk long underwear and a smart wool pair that's antibacterial
long black rain boots - highly suggested b/c it's so muddy - fleece warmers too
hiking boots - waterproof
4 pairs of hiking socks - smart wool that keeps your feet dry
2 pairs of gloves
Lot's of scarves
ear muffs - have to buy them
2 winter hats - have to buy
2 pairs of tights
3 pairs of knee highs

Summer / Fall:

2 pair of jeans
1 pair brown khaki pants
3 skirts - check out macabi - you get a skirt for $40 as a PCV if you email customer service an email with your invitation - they turn into short pants / shorts
1 pair long shorts
2/3 tank tops
3 blouses
1 pair khakis that come down to my calf
3 t shirts
1 summer dress
1 sexy dress - just in case
1 black pair of work out pants - need to buy
1 pair of sneakers
1 pair of sneaker sandals - not sure what they are
1 pairs of dress shoes


2 cameras - I have a really nice one that I'm bringing b/c I love taking pics & a smaller one for everyday use
shower bag - haven't bought it yet (REI) website sells one that military use and would be great instead of washing out of a bucket
compactible sleeping bag
glove warmers
spices/measuring cups
laundry bag
duck tap
adapter & voltage adapter - plugs for electronics most likely will be different and voltage
Lot's of daily contacts - OMG I did not imagine how much a year supply would really be until I picked them up and walked about with a huge box.
Alarm clock - need to buy
Double flat sheets - need to buy
Batteries - need to buy - AA
Flashlight - one w/ batteries - other wind-up
Emergency water tablets - may or may not buy them, but can't hurt

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What I Will Miss The Most

What I will miss the most while I am gone and a good way for people to get to know more about me.

1) My MOM - such a great woman that has always been my best friend and there for me through all the changes in my life.
2) My sis and Dad - hopefully they can make the trip over to check out Azerbaijan first hand.
3) Fox - my baby the best dog in the world!!! Shiba Inu's rule!!
4) Driving a car - being able to get in my Mazada and zooom around town whenever I feel like it.
5) BBQ - I will miss you little piggy all the way home....
6) Being able to wear whatever I want. (accumulating too much clothes and shoes)
7) TV and movies - so many good shows starting this Fall (Glee) and going to the movies - doesn't even matter if it is horribly gut wrenching to get through.
8) Late night walks with my dog.
9) Used bookstores and thrift store shopping.
10)Being able to communicate and read signs everywhere I go.
11) Finally, western toilets, showers, washer / dryers, microwaves - all the conveniences that I take for granted everyday of my life, but I understand not having these luxuries is going to build strength as well as gratitude for a simpler way of life.

I think I needed to just say what I am going to miss because time is speeding up every day before I leave and I try to stay strong by ignoring the things I will miss most. From talking to all the other PCVs leaving with me I know they are feeling the same way. It's too late to turn back and I am so excited to leave.

I hope that above all I can bring happiness and creativity to those I work with. Show all who I encounter the love I have to share. Inspire only open thought and a drive to be yourself. Fight the worthy battles and humble myself to learn as much as I can from my host family, youth I work with, my community, and fellow PCVs.

Friday, July 31, 2009


I just purchased my Dell Laptop today to bring with me to Azerbaijan. I was very excited to get everything I wanted in a 13 inch and they do provide discounts - up to 7% for Peace Corps Volunteers. Very easy!! I wanted to post a discount website that I found for PCVs in case any of the other AZ7 don't already know about it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Funny Little Feeling

I love that song from the Rock & Roll Soldiers. It so thoroughly describes my feelings right now like something is growing inside of me, that funny little feeling. Anticipation most likely, but also I think the knowledge that somehow my old life will continue on without me. My mom is already turning to me at moments with that look on her face as if this will be the last time that she will experience who I am at this moment. I know that this choice will change me dramatically and she's said it before; that she knows I will come home, in a way, another person. I am not wondering right now what will happen in those two years because it is impossible to know, but more who I will become afterwards and the way my life will be impacted. I will have the same voice, same funny / sarcastic attitude, stubboriness, and passionate urge for debate. Yet, I am fullfilling for myself what I feel I am meant to do and with that in mind I can not see clinging to the same wants / values / and habits that I have right now.

Azerbaijani Word of the Week: Sarimsaq - garlic - for some reason I love this word - sounds that what it is!! (pronounces like : sarumsock)

Azerbaijani Phrase of the Week: Men Basa Dusmurem - I don't understand - I know I will use this often (not spelled correctly - I haven't figured out how to type the different letters) - (prounced like: Men Basha Dusherm)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Links About Azerbaijan and Peace Corps

These are some cool links to check out: - you can read other blogs from PCVs around the world - type in Azerbaijan to read current blogs

Two Months Before Departure

I wanted to go ahead and get a blog started about my upcoming transition in life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Azerbaijan. I also thought this was a great way for my family and friends to learn more about my country prior to leaving. I am set to depart on September 28th and will be in Azerbaijan for 27 months working in the area of Youth Development.

To answer the majority of questions I get on a regular basis:

I will be flying to Philly and then taking a bus to NY City to fly over to Baku (Azerbaijan's capital). Once there I will be living outside of Baku with a host family for three months during my orientation. I think I will be staying in Sumqayit - a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) in the country mentioned this area. After the three months, I will then be sworn in as a volunteer and move to my host city where I will be for 24 months. No I am not able to come home, but my family / friends are able to come over to visit me.

This is a great website to learn more about the current events in Azerbaijan so please check it out:

The official language is Azerbaijani or Azeri for short. It is a majority Mulism country located in the Caucasus region on the Caspian Sea. Their culture is a lot more conservative than the U.S. so there will be some restrictions I will need to adhere to as a woman, but I will not be required to cover my whole body. I will be working with youth and young adults focusing my activities to: working directly with youth helping them to become more successful and responsible adults in the future; working with youth service providers and organizations within the country to better serve their local community in the area of youth; and engaging parents and other community adults to help them to recognize young people for their talents / contributions, supporting greater participation in the community.

My reasons for joining the Peace Corps are quite simple: this is something I was born to do. I want to dedicate my life to helping others and I hope to gain an insight into ways to help young people in our world today work towards positive change in their local community. I understand that I am going to learn more than I can teach anyone in Azerbaijan. If anything I can provide them at this point is just as a friend and share the love that I have to bring happiness to the live's of others.

Please feel free to comment or send suggestions for things I may need to bring with me on my trip.