Ash's Azer Adventure

Hello everyone! The following is my blog about my 27 month trip to Azerbaijan working with the Peace Corps. I am a part of the 4th group sent to Azerbaijan and am in the Community Economic Development (CED) Program working with local companies to help them operate better in the world. Hopefully I’ll have some fun stories and cool pictures from traveling around Asia Minor and Eastern Europe. This blog is in no way related to the Peace Corps or their opinions. I hope you all enjoy…

Friday, June 27, 2008

My Final Blog on this Site...

I'm sure not many people will read this final post on this blog, but I'm writing it anyways. Since I last wrote I have gone home to Houston to see friends and family and just got done with my first week of training in DC. There are two training update blogs on this site that I posted this week fyi. I will be here a couple of more weeks for training and will then head off to Iraq in a couple of weeks. I wanted to write a big long blog wrapping up my PC experience, but I've been insanely busy-my bad. So here are my quick final thoughts about my time in PC:
I'm sad/disappointed I didn't make it the full two years, but the new job was too cool to turn down
I honestly have no problems showering once every 4-5 days. Since I've been home I'm still having a problem getting motivated to shower and change clothes every day
Sleeping on crappy beds for almost two years really messes up your back-I got a massage the day I got home and it almost killed me because of how knotted up I was
I learned that we live WAAAAAY in excess in the States and am sure I will feel that for a long time to come and hopefully live a little more within what I know is fine for me
The people of AZ are amazingly kind, friendly and caring people and I am extremely grateful for their hospitality-they made trip unforgettable
It is scary to not drive for two years then come back and get on a highway-after two weeks I'm still not comfortable
A Butterfinger Blizzard from Dairy Queen is the best thing I've had since I came back (second place tie goes to a filet mignon steak with crab meat on top of it and lupe tortillas)
I have always thought I could move to an island or something and live the basic life for the rest of my life-now I'm almost positive, not saying I'm going to do it...yet
I had a lot of what I'll call smaller successes and no big ones (in my mind), but over all I think I had a positive impact in the PC
The main thing my time in PC did for me was show me that I want to start a career in development work because there are a lot of people/countries out there that need help and it led me to my new job
You can give all the trainings or demonstrations you want, but unless the people you are trying to help/work with honestly want them, they will never work
It's easy to find people who are willing to give grants and people who will accept/want grants, but it takes very special and determined people to work for the grants and/or work hard with the grant once they get it
I loved being a PCV, and it certainly is true that you only get out of it what you put in it-sadly part of the time I didn’t put near enough into it, but live and learn I guess
If you aren’t going to put in more than one hour a week of class and a ton of studying, you are not going to learn Russian very quickly
I actually like more fruits and veggies than I thought (although they are all still lame)
I’m pretty sure Tom and I (Tom is still improving on it) set a new world record for most road miles in old buses in a two year period in the AZ EVER
I am 100% glad and proud that I was a PCV and wouldn't trade those almost two years for anything...

Two things before you go: First, thanks for reading over the past two years-I hope I didn't bore you too much and second, my new blog's address is
and will be password protected due to my new job so you have to email me at and I will send you an invite to view my blog. It will be the same thing, just about my next adventures in Iraq and beyond.
Good bye from this blog and a big NUSH OLUN to everyone I had to leave behind in Azerbaijan...Ashley

Best Training Week EVER

Ok, so after 2 days of killer driving, we then woke up Wednesday and got to shoot 10 rounds on Beretta and 006 pistols and AK-47 and M-4 rifles. I love shooting guns, so this was a good time. We then headed back near DC for 1.5 days of emergency medical care training-how to deal with all the gross injuries no one likes, especially someone who hates blood as much as I do. Friday we had surveillance training then did afternoon exercises where we drove around between two spots (supposedly our homes and the Embassy) and had to spot people and cars along the way that were trying to ambush us. Once they made us paranoid, we all were sure about so many different people and cars that were not involved that we looked like idiots. We did three laps and they staged an ambush on the last one to show how it could have happened (a four car ambush for those keeping score at home). This week was one of the coolest weeks of training ever. I had a great time and learned a ton. I'm hanging around DC this weekend and then start cultural training Monday morning. I'm still not sure when I'm leaving, but thankfully Tiffany Bryant and her husband are being cool with a bum living in their basement...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bye Bye Houston. Hello NYC, DC and Beyond

This is just a quick update. After a quick and relaxing time in Houston I headed up to DC for the first time ever last week. I had two days of paperwork and stuff. The highlight was getting my Iraq ID and then being able to use it to walk around the Pentagon solo-even though it wasn’t that cool inside, it felt cool.
Then I took my first American train from DC to NYC Saturday morning to meet my family. We went to a Yankees game and sat out in the right field bleachers where all of the fun action is. They have a bunch of cheers and chants the entire section does throughout the game, so it was certainly entertaining. I’m glad I got to see a game there (even though the Yanks lost) before they close down the House That Ruth Built at the end of the season. We then went out to dinner with my cousin and to see Spamalot-the Monty Python musical which was really funny. I also got to see a PC friend from the group before me, Terah, to have some drinks after the show. I took off back to DC Sunday and came out to West Virginia today to start my training. Today we were at a raceway where we learned ways to drive aggressively with controlled breaking, driving backwards around 25-40 mph and whipping the car around to turn, driving from the passenger’s seat and also drifting around a wet circle course with the back tires sliding but keeping your foot on the gas which I killed! Tomorrow we practice crashing through ambushes, driving hummers and getting to see IED demonstrations. How’s that for a Monday and Tuesday?
Pics are from the NYC weekend: the fam in central park, me at Spamalot, john lennon deal, fam at the game, and scoreboard pic is when Jason Giambi gets a hit they put up “Power of the Stache” with his face and a dancing moustache…YANKS RULE!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bye Bye PC & AZ

Ok, so sorry for the long pause between blogs-I've had a lot going on and wanted to get everything in order before I sent this one. So I started looking around at jobs and doing research to figure out my life post-PC in early March. Well it turns out that the second job I applied for, I got an offer and accepted it. It was an EXTREMELY hard decision, because it meant I had to quit the PC about three months early. I had always planned on sticking it out the full two years, but I felt that this opportunity was too big to turn down.

I was offered a 366 day contract with the State Department to work at the Embassy in Iraq. I will work in the new Embassy in the International (Green) Zone in Baghdad. My title is Quick Release Fund Program Officer. Here is what that means: the Quick Release Fund (QRF) is a $30-40million fund that is set up for the local Iraqis out in the provinces. There are approximately 30 provincial teams that can apply to this fund for projects under $50,000 (from what I’ve heard so far this could include funding NGOs, building bridges or schools, or funding micro-loans). I will be the point of contact for 10-15 of those regional teams and will help coordinate their requests to the QRF, work with other managing partners to make sure everyone is working together and then monitor and evaluate the projects. I will also be responsible for helping improve the current system they have in place to manage this fund. I will work only in the International Zone-I won’t be required to go out into the provinces and will live in an apartment with one other person. I think this is a tremendous opportunity for me to help the people of Iraq and also to have an amazing experience to start my post-PC career.

My timeline has gone like this: got offered the job, then had to do a ton of medical and security clearance stuff, kept doing my PC stuff trying to wrap it up, finally got the official job offer, quit PC, did all of my exit requirements, flew back to Houston, am trying to get adjusted to USA life, getting my life organized/prepared to take off again for another year, then take off for Washington DC next week for two weeks of training and then I’m off to Iraq on the 4th of July. Needless to say, I have had a lot on my mind and have been a tiny bit busy lately. I fully intend on having a blog over there and will post the new web site link later, along with my final thoughts on my time in the PC. I’m sorry it took so long to post this…


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Camping and Growing Old

Happy Memorial Day!

Last weekend a small group of us went hiking and camping up north near Oguz. We camped near a little vacation place along a stream at the base of the mountains. Charlie attempted to take a group of five us on a day hike up to the top of one of the mountains, but we took the wrong ridge and didn’t even come close. We climbed up some pretty steep stuff, so on the way back down we could literally slide on the loose leaves and mud (it poured for an hour each night) which was really fun. It was a really fun weekend minus the rain (we had to buy big tarps to cover us and sleep on) and a ton of ants found our campsite and decided to hang out with us.

It was a pretty low key week in Lankaran after that. One of my buddies loaned me ‘Flight of the Conchords’ DVDs, so we watched that all week. Really funny and weird stuff. We have had sunny days with temperatures in the mid-80’s, so it has been great. A group of friends came down this past weekend for my birthday, so that was fun. We made a massive pot of Mac&Cheese from my supply from my parents for dinner Friday and grilled out beef kabobs on my bday. The weekend was filled with a lot of ladder golf and general stupidity. It was a good way to welcome my 32nd year to town!

Now I’m just at home relaxing and trying to recover from a couple of late nights. I see a nap in my hammock in my immediate future.

In my last news I have a new addiction. Rikki George lent me the complete ‘Invader Zim’ cartoon collection. It was a Nickelodeon cartoon for three years around 2001 and is freakin hilarious. It’s basically just a bunch of yelling and screaming and I can’t stop watching it or talking like the main characters. I’m not sure if I’m going insane from being gone from the US for almost two years now, turning 31, or if its just the next step in my fun life…

Pictures are of: the gang cooking hot dogs, me, Charlie and Bethany, Charlie preparing to lead out expedition, Magda and Ina with water balloons, Ben and me cutting up the 16 pounds of meat for kabobs, Rikki George presenting me with my cake she and Bethany made, Tom and me after our cake food fight, and me, Joyce, and Bethany

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


So in Baku down by the Caspian Sea near downtown they have some amusement rides for kids. Well about a month ago we were driving by in a taxi and saw some sort of skateboard ride. Obviously I flipped out and have been eagerly awaiting my moment of happiness when I finally got to ride it. Well fortunately last week Bethany and I had some spare time in Baku and thrashed away! While it wasn’t quite as cool as the Texas Giant, for 1 buck and being in the Peace Corps, it wasn’t too bad.

In other news:

We had our first softball weekend of the year in Barda which was tons of fun. An AZ5 got a grant so we got some free hotdogs for everyone for lunch and ended up playing about 10 games in two days. We had great weather and I was really sun burnt afterwards. A few of us stuck around for Cinco de Mayo margaritas, Ben’s famous refried beans, and kabobs.

I then spent a couple of days in Baku for some medial stuff, the skater ride, and crashed with my friends who have the indoor pool and sauna-life was good!

Then I headed up to Bethany’s village for her birthday. She had two parties thrown for her by her students, so that was fun. The high light was the first party about 20 sixth grade kids threw it and she had to cut a red ribbon to get into the house to start the party while a kid had “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky blasting! I was dying laughing the entire time because the scissors were too dull to cut the ribbon so she had to fake cut it and tear it at the same time.

My medical supplies project is 100% dead due to new regulations from the Azeri government on importing medical type supplies that the donor organization cannot meet. I was really disappointed when I found that out.

A few of us are going camping this weekend and are going to do a big day hike that is supposed to be beautiful. Hopefully I’ll have some good pics next week. For now, I hope the skateboard ride and bday pics can keep you satisfied…

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Czech It Out

So we had some friends from Barda (a city in the center of AZ) in town to visit this week, and we all went to a restaurant by the train station for some beers and for them to try some local food. In walks a group of eight backpackers that site down a little ways away from us, but clearly aren't speaking English, so we don't pay them much attention. After about 10 minutes of them sitting there a waiter comes over to ask me if I can translate for them. It turns out they were from the Czech Republic and spoke English. They didn't know an Azeri or Russian and didn't know where they were staying for the night. So I ordered some food for them, then offered to let them all crash on my floor (they had camping gear with them). So Tuesday night I had a slumber party with eight Czech back packers. It was funny, they all walked around in t-shirts and undies and that was it (girls and guys) while we played Uno. Not your typical Tuesday in Lankaran I can assure you.
Other that that, we played kickball at a local orphanage yesterday for a couple of hours, then helped move furniture for a new English resource center an American woman who teaches English at the local university is setting up. I'm off to Barda this weekend for our first softball weekend of the year, so definitely looking forward to that...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Wedding Time!

So Tom, Tim, and I went to our last ‘big’ wedding in Lankaran two Friday’s ago. It was our friend Fuad’s wedding. He was the first local that we met that spoke English well and has helped us out a ton with finding houses, figuring out life in Lankaran, and a TON of other stuff. He has been a great friend so we were very excited about his wedding. The three of us and three other foreigners we know had a ‘table of honor’ near the door so everyone that came in got to walk by and gawk at us which made for some funny reactions. It was a night of great food, good times, and dancing. To say the entire group of us made complete asses out of ourselves is a huge understatement, but it sure was fun.

I also went to Ganja for Ben’s birthday-a quiet night of good food and Skip-Bo. Then I headed to Qazax to play soccer some PCVs and kids. Then off to Bethany’s village to visit. I got to go to four of her classes (5th and 6th graders) where the kids all had prepared questions in English to ask me, sang I’m a Little Tea Pot, Jingle Bells, and Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes for me. I brought my wiffle ball stuff and we let about 50 kids take batting practice once school was over. It was definitely a fun day for everyone. I had a pretty low key weekend. The Lankaran gang played ladder golf and 4-square all Saturday afternoon and then had a big queso feast to enjoy the mid 70’s and no clouds weather!

I got an email Friday that an organization in Baku has agreed to get the first of eight medical supplies shipments and manage them this year as a test. If that goes well, then they will be responsible for seven more shipments over 4-5 years. This is really good news because it will help a ton of people out in the poorer regions (and I’ve been working on this dang thing for almost a year now).

We have our first softball weekend coming up and I think we will try to throw in a little Cinco de Mayo fiesta attitude for good measure.

Enjoy the pictures of us being idiots at the wedding!