Sunday, January 31, 2010

Just Being Different

Sooo here I am in the computer club, actually not the only woman in the place due to my far off site mate skyping with her boyfriend next to me, and realizing that being different has now become normal. Last weekend, I talked to a fellow volunteer who had just gotten back from the land known as America and it was scary what she talked about. Being overwhlemed by so many people and too many choices, missing your simple life, and being saddened a little that your not so popular back home where you can melt right into your surroundings. Here everything I do is noticed and everytime I walk down the street it's liking walking on the cat walk in a new fancy outfit from some famous designer. Some people loving the creation others scauffing at how ridiculous it looks. It bothered me a little in the beginning, but now it doesn't really phase me anymore - with one exception - when your standing/sitting someone and this guy just stares as if he's been starving for weeks and your a beautifully cut / cooked steak. You can't really divert your eyes because of where your at and you dare not stare back for fear he'll start talking to you (Quite Annoying). I've started staring though too, like it's contagious, I see these little Russian kids with blonde hair and blue eyes and stare with the single thought of hey you look like me. They turn around or catch my stare and give me the same look as if we both understand we're different and in a way they sympathize too. People are not mean to me, quite the contrary actually, they just stare like I'm an animal at the zoo.

Everyone here has of course dark hair, dark eyes, and wear a lot of black. I'm 5'11, long light brown hair, pale skin, green/brown eyes, and love wearing color. I thought at first when I was in training that being at your permament site one had to really emerse themselves into the culture and make sure that they were always a good Azeri girl. I thank the heavens now that I was placed in the Wild West where there is an ability for me to be myself. I can do a lot of things that other women can not just because I'm American and I take advantage of that. I think the largest part of me being here is just being different and confident about that. How can I truely express what it is to be an American if I don't act like myself? So I stick out all the time, but I've really embraced it and the people here have embraced me for who I am. Even when they look with horror as I walk down the street eating and drinking from a bottle, I love those moments.

I make these observations because no one back home can understand what it's like being here so helping to describe the people / country / or strange events that happen to me is the only way I know to put things into perspective. I love this country, love my host mom, and adore my conversation club members.

It's a good feeling now that I've been here for more than a month and have a great group of Azeri's that I work with. Problems are always around and I have to remind myself to take things slower, but the women that I work with are super eager to be involved in my projects. Soon the focus will be on their projects with me just organizing in the shadows, making things sustainable. I was really made to do work like this, in a country where I still can't speak the language. Everyday I'm amazed with the types of reationships I make and the amount of people that are interested in working with me. Being positive is the only advice I can give to those thinking about the Peace Corps because it makes the difference between wanting to go home everyday or being excited about the next two years of your life. I can't wait to see how things will work out in the end and what I will look back on once I'm on that plane back to America.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Life in Tovuz

It's been sometime since I last updated my blog and a lot has happened. I have officially sworn in as a volunteer, which definitly was one of the moments in my life where I was most proud of myself and wished my family was there to witness it. Shortly afterwards, I moved to Tovuz and have been adjusting to life in the wild wild west. Tovuz is located between Armenia and Georgia in the western part of Azerbaijan. This town was actually founded orignally by Germans and now is one of the most liberal areas in the country, but liberal is a difficult word becuase it still seems quite conservative compared to life in America. The people here are different then those in Sumgayit and it's quite refreshing. I've seen smiling faces in the streets, husbands and wives clearly in love, people who look like me (Russians of course), and people who are extremely eager to be my friends or help me with my work. The town itself is not clearly a city, but could not be considered a village because of the size and amentities. Life in the village is really different from what I see when I visit Lorena the AZ 6 in the village near by. There everyone knows her and what she has been doing, no privacy to be heard of, and the markets do not even have a sign. We literally had to ask several people and then went into this random door to buy a wide range of items from what seemed to be a bomb shelter - we determined this was where we would hide if zombies or war broke out.

My host family here in Tovuz is really great. It's actually just my host mother and myself living in her winter house. There is two houses, one larger one that is quite hard to heat so I have not yet been inside and a smaller one just out back where we are currently residing. It's really a great place with this gigantic wooden / metal swing that overlooks the yard that is filled with lot's of fruit trees. In the summer this place is going to be gorgeous and I can already tell the amount of hours I will spend on the swing. I have two host brothers and a host sister, but none of them actually live with us.

As for my organization, we are not really doing anything yet. I work for Regional Cooperation & Community Development Center, Tovuz branch, which really serves as a information center for the community. There are some projects that we have received grant money for, but she really doesn't know yet what is active. So far I have started a small English club where I am teaching English, but hope to soon get into the schools where I can begin after school programs or computer courses. The goals here are mainly to get funding for computers that would be designated for women to use. In Azerbaijan, women do not enter the internet cafes and no one really has internet in their homes. The reason for this is mainly the fact that men frequent the cafes and play games or look at porn. Women as expected to stay at home for the most part, especially if they are married, and if there are areas with a majority of men it will look badly on them if they hang out in those areas. It's all about your reputation in this country even to the degree that women are isolated from being able to socialize or work. There has been success in other organizations and PCVs getting funding and setting up internet areas for women so I am excited about working on this project.

Right now everything is an opportunity, but I have to remind myself that things work a lot slower here in Azerbaijan. This is my time to spend observing and guesting to make good contacts that I know who will follow through with the ideas they have. I am very fortunate to have such a great site and sitemates. I can see myself here for two years and actually missed it when I went to Baku for the holidays. There will be a lot more exploring coming up soon and tomorrow my artist friend here is going to take my sitemate and me to a farm that is about an hour away. I am really excited to see more of the area around here.