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!!!!