Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Beginning of Great Adventures

So I am now at my organization after having ravished a doner, I know that sounds really bad, and wanted to jot down this awesome adventure I just completed. I woke up this morning to really great weather so I sat on the swing by my house and wrote down some thoughts. My host mom actually pushed me a little too while she was feeding the chickens. I said to myself, today is the day you need to do something all yourself. Having sitemates mean you spend your off time most likely hanging out with other Americans and I've been traveling a lot so some good me time was really needed. I love to go exploring and had never been down to our castle. It's not a real castle, but one they built near the entrance of the city that has a restrauant near by. It was not open and so I looked over to the river and saw a way down.

The river isn't really that high and has rocks that break up the little water it has so you can actually go far out into the river. It started just with I want to check out the water and then I'll go home. I saw the forest though and couldn't help myself. Now this is not Zagatala forest or other ones you might imagine. It was clear that these trees were planted some time ago in vertical lines, but it was good enough for me. I found my tree with a rock to sit down and just think, something I had been envisioning for some time. After that it just continued with me wanting to go a little farther and I actually found a picnic area where the Azerbaijanis go when it's Spring. A clearing with trees and stones, which looked like graves and a little hut with a bed where I sat imagining I was someone else. I was actually some distance above the river walking along a semi-mountain for around 4 hours.

It was really great and liberating because I was all by myself. I sang to my heart's content and even danced to the embarassment of the forest. There was no wildlife so I didn't have any close encounters. I then called Lorena my sitemate who lives in the village to tell her where I was and that we should all go hiking here tomorrow in the morning. I was quite confident that if I just continued along the river I would end up on the other side of town where Josh and I once walked to. This proved to be really wrong.

After awhile, I started to see the railway tracks and as I got closer thought that I would just go under them by getting down to the river or just cross them if it came down to it. Then there was this fence that bordered off where I needed to go to get pass the tracks. I saw that it ended with just a little grass that I could slip over without falling in so I went for it. Bad Idea!!! As I started to look around on where I could go next I hear this man yelling at me from above and realized it was a policeman. He kept asking me over and over again, hara gedirsen? (where are you going?). Ofcourse, I didn't know and do not have the language ability to really explain what the hell I was doing out in the middle of nowhere by myself and a woman. All I had was my walking stick so I started to point out where I started and if it was Olar to pass over the tracks. The whole time he's yelling at me and then into his radio where I see two other guys across the river looking quite agitated. Finally, he just had me come up to the tracks and I really didn't know what was going to happen. I had my phone on me just in case I needed to call the Peace Corps if I did somehow get arrested. He was really cool though and just told me that I couldn't walk along the tracks, but could go down and over.

About that time, I see this woman with what looked like a turban on her head walk onto the tracks across from me and they start talking about, where in the world this girl came from and where was she going. The whole situation was a bit absurd and I couldn't help but to laugh and believe me they either laughed with me or at me. So I crossed over to the tracks where she was at and started to realize that I was really far away from Tovuz and made it to one of the villages at the basin of the large mountains. It came time for me to swallow my pride and ask if I could get a taxi. So that's what I did and it cost me 5 manat. Thank goodness I had the sense to bring money with me and that I ran into some nice people to help the lost American.

This was my great adventure and has given me the courage to have lots more.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

For The Love of Women

Last Monday was Women's Day here in Azerbaijan and it brought up a lot of feelings, questions, and thoughts about the status of women in this country. I do not want to start a political discussion just merely to state how great the women are here, but yet how limited their lives can end up being. In America, women are actually able to make a significant amount of decisions about how their life will be and live independent lives. We make the choice to stay at home or when we will be married and to who. Going to college and then working or living alone are just what people do and so being here it is frustrating at times to realize that women just do not have the ability to make those decisions. It's not really the government more than tradition and culture. The highlight of the future for a lot of the young women I work with is their Toy (wedding), but there are some that have different goals yet may be forced to give those up for marriage. It's the thought that these brillant young women with great souls and questioning minds will have to give up their dreams or hopes at such young ages, like 23 or 24, that bothers me.

The family is the most important component to society here and I really do appreciate that. It's much different then how I was raised being far away from my extended family. The issue I see though is that young women and men are not able to really live independent lives even after marriage where they will live with the man's family. I do not have a complete understanding of why, but can speculate that it's due to economics, culture, and religion. Even the men do not have a wide variety of choices on professions or how to live differently then everyone else, but at least they have the power over making decisions when they are an adult and married. A lot of times women here will not work after marriage or they will work as teachers and then come home. Due to strict gender guidelines, there is no real appropriate place for women to gather socially. Women are not allowed to frequent any places with a majority of men so that means tea houses and internet clubs are off limit. Currently, I am writing a grant to buy computers and set a resource center specifically for women so they have access to the internet and computer courses. I hope this will help, but it's hard to make an impact.

So much here is based on the reputation of the woman or man. There are certain things that women can not do or they will be talked about badly and it would ruin their chances of being married. I get away with a lot just because I'm an American so I want to encourage these young women to change, but I am limited due to the fear of somehow negatively impacting how the women will be seen in the community. The issues here with women's independence really will only be changed through generations. I hope that the women I work with will give their daughters an opportunity to make more decisions becauseI fear it's too late for them. I will in my two years here see the young women I work with get married and I hope they will be happy, but I worry they may not be.