Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Guide to Guesting

I thought this would be a useful guide for all those venturing to enter into the Peace Corps and by chance assigned to Azerbaijan. Guesting probably applies to other countries as well, like Armenia and Georiga, but here it is a real experience you'll enjoy several times a week for the rest of your service. I actually can say that many PCVs actually survive on guesting when money happens to be tight or when your host mom only cooks you potatoes for days on end. It is also the best way for you to use your Azerbaijani, get to know your community, and make great friendships.

First, understand that there is a process to guesting and it can not be interrupted or you will spend at least 15 minutes trying to excuse / explain yourself. Expect to be at someone's house for at least 3 hours and Always / Always tell your host family when you go guesting or you will be forced to eat once you get home, again. The fact that I've lost not a single pound here is testimony to not realizing this needed to be done to save my stomach from exploding.

So, the meal starts like this: tea: piping hot tea with your choice of various cookies, cake, chocolates, and sometimes gummies which my friends buys especially for me since there awesome. Also, when you have tea you always have jam and I will stress how important trying the jam is for getting in with the women. They love their jam and love anyone who eats it while saying how tasty everything has been.

Next, the main course: do not be afraid to tell people if they ask what you want to eat exactly what you like. I always list off dolmas, kabob, kitaf, plov, etc... If I am going to be forced to eat mass amounts of food I prefer to eat at least things I really like. Also, the drink of choice is kompot which is very sweet juice they make themselves or soda.

Tips to the main course:
  • Don't be afraid to start eating right away - they are waiting for you to start before anyone else.
  • Take a little each time, but understand that you will be required to eat more than everyone around you. Plan on taking at least 2 plates of food so that's why I make it small or eat more meat than bread, etc...
  • You have to eat bread with your food, you can not get away with not doing so without a major headache on your hands or at least I've not figured out the trick.
  • The women will yell Eat! Eat! so be smart on what you chose and how much.

After the main course, you will again have tea and this time probably more cakes. You basically repeat the beginning of the guesting at the end with having jam, etc.... Leave room for fruit which they love to have at the end of a meal becuase you will be asked to eat.

The question you will hear the most during guesting is, "why are you not eating". That's why it's important to have a game plan and to tell your host family.

I hope this guide helps and I will also stress how much fun guesting can be. I love going over to my friend's houses or my relatives who are all crazy as hell. I'm stuffed with food through the suffering have really gained an understanding of the people here by being invited to their homes.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Snow and more snow

So everyone told me to look out for this horrible month called February, "just make it until after February and everything will be okay." I'm making it, but God this month really sucks. I guess it's because I'm a Florida girl now living with snow everyday for the past week and dreading the thought of another day in the cold. I'm dealing with it. It could be the fact that I learned my organization is most likely going to have to close becuase of no money, I fell on my face and now only have a red spot but had a huge scrap under my eye, was stuck on a train for 20 hours trying to make it to Baku, and now struggling to breath since I have basically the plague. Everything really happened all at once. So I'm a tad depressed. I can't wait until the warm rays of Spring shine down on Tovuz and I can sit on the swing outside of my house reading a great book without a care in the world. Until that point I have to write a Business plan for my organization which we have to put in effect immediately and then begin writing a grant we need desperately to survive. If all things go well then I can say this organization has a chance to be sustainable and if it doesn't then I'll just become a YD independent contrator. I'm hoping we have the time needed to make a difference because my director is great and has been working for nothing since the beginning of the financial problems.

Everything here is at least communicated to me at the very last moment and it's very challenging to make a difference when your not really in the loop like you should be. I'm not the only one having problems, which makes me feel better and I do realize that I wouldn't be in the Peace Corps if I wasn't dealing with things like this. It's been almost three months so I can't be too hard on myself and can say it's been quite easy starting my English Conversation Clubs / Computer Clubs. This month will be the challenge on trying to get other projects started.

So far I am working on getting a Creative Art Workshop for the holiday here called Novruz where children can come to create water color paintings of the different elements. Starting business seminars for college students and adults in the community, which I will be starting this Saturday so wish me luck. Getting a Writing Club going for the Writing Olypmics in April. Tutoring students for the GRE & TOEFL tests. Starting an AZETA branch here in Tovuz.
Lot's of lofty goals and ideas. Not all of this I am doing myself, everything I am doing I am working with Azeri and PCV counterparts. It's a lot and I need to prepare myself for some of it not working out so I can be realistic on what are my real priorities. Now the real work begins.....

Other than the work, my host family is fantastic. My host mom is really awesome, she does these little dances when she makes fun of me. Has tucked me in almost every night since I've been sick and has me addicted to this Mexican soap opera doubed over in Azeri. I have no idea what the hell is going on, but we debate who is a good girl or bad guy. I will no doubt probably just stay here the whole time I'm here as long as my sitemate moves out so I have a place to drink and smoke. An outlet is always needed in Azerbaijan. My sitemates are great though and I am really fortunate to have easy going /motivated people around me. This month also I am going to start visiting other areas of Azerbaijan, which will include: Feb - Ming March - Lankeran / Lerik / Belagayn (maybe). I've decided once a month I will travel out of site to see other people and as much as this country as possible.

So even though I'm having a crappy month so far - oh did I mention it's VDay today - there's still lot's of things that are going well and lot's of things to look forward to.