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…

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pics for the following blog-descriptions at the bottom, sorry...

I’ve finally committed to a woman!!!

I know most of you have asked/wondered why I have never committed to a woman. Well it finally happened on last Thursday. I moved in to a house with a wonderful lady and will officially be living with just her in our house for a while. While I always pictured my first female roommate would be Elle MacPherson in a villa overlooking the ocean, this may be just as good. My new home in Lenkeran for the next 6 months is with a 70 year old Russian speaking woman!!! I’ll give you all time to think that one over. To try to quote Owen Wilson from Armageddon, "I’m 98% excited and 2% scared….or maybe it’s 2% excited and 98% scared. That’s what makes it so great!"
One quick housekeeping issue I want to take care of. It has been brought to my attention that several of my good friends here have told their friends and families to read my blog since they are involved in most of my stories and are too lazy to write their own blogs. This is fantastic and I hope you all enjoy. I will try to include more names in my stories for everyone. If you would like and good dirt on your particular friend, relative or child, feel free to email me at and I will be more than happy to pass any information/pictures along to you that you request for a small fee of powdered Gatorade sent to me in AZ or a good story on the person in question that I can use as blackmail.
Everyone got to go visit their new site for 2 days and 2 nights this past week. The overall response to sites, families and job assignments is really positive/excitement. Some people got some really hot/dessert locations, but they seem to be ok with it and up to the challenge. You could basically get ocean, desert, mountains, or a mix. The city location could range from bigger city w/60k-250k people (mostly for CED volunteers doing business) or a village 2k-10k people (TEFL volunteers teaching English in schools). TEFL may or may not have a site mate from our group or the previous group, and all CED volunteers have at least one site mate (except for Carlo who is all by himself in the desert but he’s a good guy and I think he’ll be fine). So me, Tom and Tim all headed to our new homes in Lenkeran on Thursday. It is 6.5 hours from Baku by bus (it was miserable on the way down) and 3 hours by taxi (which was both scary and great on the way back). A bus is $4US and a taxi is $8US/person (if you have 4 people). The city has about 200k people, is really pretty, clean, and calm. There is one huge bazaar and one small one, several nice parks, an Olympic training center I haven’t seen yet (but they have tennis courts so I’m going to try to sneak in later), tons of mountains, and is on the Caspian Sea as well. Lenkeran has 7 out of the 11 weather climates in the world. It is Houston humid in the summer and snows in the winter. They grow tea, oranges, lemons, tobacco, and anything citrus related. They also just opened a huge powder milk factory. My house has a new good fridge, TV, stereo, clothes washing machine-HUGE, 2 recliners and nice squatting toilet-I’m going to be a squatting pro! My boss and 2 co-workers seem really nice. I’ll work from 9-6 starting off (with a 2 hour lunch break to walk home, eat and nap) and see how that goes. Still not sure what I’m going to do, but that’s going to take some time since none of them speak English and my Azeri isn’t good enough for working situations yet. Tom and I have already agreed to work with the Eurasia Foundation in town advising a group of college age youths on grant writing. Both local papers want to interview the 3 of us when we get to town and we are going to suggest they throw a "Carnival-esque" party to welcome us! Everyone stared down the new Americans that are invading their town (Tim’s parents are Asian which really throws them off). There are 3 current volunteer chicks there teaching English, but they leave the day before we get there, so the city will have to make a big switch. The girls treated us to homemade chicken enchiladas and they were fantastic. Add a few cold beers and it almost felt like Chuy’s….minus the margaritas and creamy jalapeno dip. It’s a really conservative town and women don’t really leave the house much, so the girls were only out in town when they walked to and from their school or to buy food and that’s about it. Us as guys will have a ton more freedom and can do pretty much anything we want. I heard a story from one of the chicks that live there last night that I have to pass along, and then I’ll let you get back to work: So we have squatters here mostly for toilets. One of the girls was hand washing her clothes with her iPod in her back pocket so as to not get it wet. She spaced out and forgot about it and when to take care of her business. Well in falls the iPod, a direct shot into a hole as big as your hand into months and months of poo. An iPod is one of the most valuable possessions for a PC volunteer so she and her 2 roommates put on faces masks, head lamps and latex gloves and went after it. After 2 hours of searching in a pit o’ poo, one of the girls finally got it out. They used hands, a broom, a stick with a spoon taped on it, branches, and other weird stuff. The neighbors thought they were insane-and so do I. The amazing thing is that the girl who owns the ipod swears the battery now lasts an extra hour. The iPod is now known as the pooPod. With that tale, I bid you a fond farewell for another week…..ash
One picture is of the garden in my new house’s courtyard. The other two are from Sunday’s movie day at my school-Tom (who is going to Lenkeran with me), Kasey, and Magda in the first and Rachel and I laughing at Ben acting like an idiot.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


So I’ve had a fairly exciting past few days. Things started on Friday when we all found out our 2 year locations & the companies we will be working with while there. I am moving to Lenkeran, which is on the Southern most coast of the Caspian Sea if you are looking on an AZ map (that’s 20 miles North of Iran for all of those keeping score at home). There are about 200k people there, so it’s a good sized city. It has the best food in the country according to locals and has a tropical weather climate (they grow lemons, oranges, etc. there). The power and gas supply is very sporadic though, and it is very hot in the summer (it does get 3-5 feet of snow during the winter though). It was second in my rank of cities to move to. One of my good buddies Tom and another guy named Tim are also both moving down there (sadly the 3 hot blonde PC chicks are all leaving Lenkeran for the US the day before we get there). We will live with separate host families for 6 months and then everyone has decided that we should rent a house together to make an “Old School” frat house so people can come visit us and the beach. Tom and I already have plans to get a dog and a donkey as our pets! I got the best job offered potentially (at least in my mind). I’m working with a “Branch of Ministry of Economic Development of the Republic of Azerbaijan”. I’ll be at a regional government office working with the top dogs of the southern part of the country doing economic strategy and supposedly will get to travel a great deal in the country. This is the first time PC AZ has worked with the government and I volunteered to be a guinea pig (another guy who is 44 years old has the same assignment on the other side of the country). Since it is a new gig, it could go bad or great, depending on how open they are to working with me (although they did request a volunteer and give me the ok, so hopefully it will go smoothly). I met the Director of the Ministry of Econ today and he seemed really excited about our program. I have no clue what will be asked of me since no one has ever done this, so I’m both nervous and really excited. I’ll also be doing solo projects in the local community to help them out as well. On Saturday we all got to go to Baku to eat American food, check out the city, and go out on the town. I started off with a thick bacon cheeseburger, fries, and beers at an English pub for lunch, then followed that up with tons of nachos and chicken nuggets for dinner. I had a McDonalds buffet for lunch on Sunday too (double cheeseburger was better than the royal with cheese by far), chased down by tons of Gatorade (my lost American lover). A bunch of current volunteers also came into town to meet all of us newbie’s, so that was cool to meet everyone. We took over The Pollo Bar (think Colorado Mexican restaurant looking interior) with about 60 Americans and made it into Dance Party USA (pics attached of me, sachin-f/texas, and emily who is heading back to USA in 3 weeks and also a group shot). We all had a blast and it was fun to blow off steam with everyone and get silly. Walking home around 3am, one of the girls was skipping and somehow landed on her foot wrong (but didn’t fall or anything). The next morning she woke up with a black and blue swelled up foot-broken baby! She has a full boot cast and is hating life. Crutches and a full foot cast in AZ is not fun since you have to basically walk everywhere and there aren’t any good roads and it’s extremely dirty everywhere. We did get to color her cast though, which was fun. Ok, sorry for the long update, but like I said, lots to tell. I go visit my new host family, office and Lenkeran Thursday till Saturday, so I’m sure I’ll have a bunch of stuff to write next week as well. I’m jealous everyone gets to watch college football soon and am not happy about just reading about it online….ash

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

beach and pals pictures for following post...

the beach and a disco baby!

So this was an eventful weekend. The PC took all of us to Gobustan which is an hour outside of Baku. There are tons of huge rocks that have what they claim are the oldest carvings on the planet-some dating back to 10,000 BC and they were mostly women, men, cows, deer, dogs, and other animals. It was insanely hot-probably 100+ and in the desert basically, so we were in a great mood. Then 20 of us hopped 2 vans and drove 4 hours up the coast to Nabran to meet 5-6 current volunteers for some serious beach time and to go clubbing. The Caspian Sea (which is actually the world’s largest lake) has decent water up there, so we were loving actually being able to swim in non-gross water. We all came back with horrible sunburns, include my glowing red self. We all went out to a disco on the beach and danced till 3am and had a blast! That was the first time we’ve actually been able to go out on the town since we’ve been here so it was fun. I had a dance off with 10 local guys doing the Azeri dancing moves they love. Needless to say I made an ass of myself, but I made some new friends. All of the hotels in the town were booked, so we all stayed in local houses. We each paid $5 for the night. 12 of us were in one house that had 2 rooms with space for 5 people each, then a big living room area. We thought we had all of that to ourselves, but when we came home at 3am the Russian family (6 of them) had put up blankets 2 feet high cutting the main room in half and had all crashed on one side of the room with the lights on. Well this was both shocking and the funniest thing ever. One of my good buddies Tom and I started laughing so hard and just couldn’t stop for 20-30 minutes. Well the other 10 people followed our lead and started laughing and it was a complete mess. It was so loud, but the family never flinched or said a word. I had to sleep on the floor in the room with the family since we were out of space which was fun for them I’m sure. I was just glad they didn’t kick me in the head when they got up in the morning because I probably would have deserved it. Having said that, we paid them $60 total and that is more than the average monthly wage in AZ, so they couldn’t be too made at the stupid Americans. This week should be low key, but this Friday we find out our site and job placements, then we get to go to Baku Saturday for the first time to shop, eat at McDonald’s/big city restaurants, and go out on the town. Most of the current AZ volunteers are coming in for the weekend as well to finally meet all of the new kids and go out with us. That means about 80 Americans with an average age of 26 are going to be tearing up the city….I pity the locals but it should make for some good stories on next week’s blog.…the pictures are of the beach we went to and a few of my friends and I at the disco…

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

party pics...

my computer is really slow so the pics wouldn't u go...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I'm gross...

So I’m sitting in my room sweating my butt off the other night and I scratch my arm. I then notice that my skin pealed a little as if I had a sunburn. Well, since it was my shoulder and I can’t go topless unless I’m in my room I thought this was odd. I pealed/scratched some more and the entire top half of my arm started pealing. So I freaked out thinking I had turned into a leper! This continued for a couple of days and I finally asked a girl about it. It turns out if you sweat a ton and don’t shower daily (or every few days for that matter), you don’t get the old skin washed off-good stuff. Now that I have officially made sure anyone who reads this well never find me attractive, here’s what happened this week in my adventure:
Well I had my first language oral test on Saturday. I am officially an “Intermediate Mid”, which is as high of a score as anyone got as far as I know. It basically means I can speak in short/basic sentences and have basic conversations. To get to the next level, (which is the minimum I need to achieve before I am done with training in mid-September) I have to be able to speak in paragraphs/have full, thought out conversations instead of speaking like a little kid I had a group of about 14 American friends to my village Saturday afternoon for a movie day (The Anchorman on a lap top) at my school-pics included. We had a ton of watermelon, crappy Pringles knock offs, and some cocktails to celebrate being half way done with training and getting out first test over with. It was a really good time! The 4th volunteer from my group quit last week, so we are very slowly shrinking. The average group has about 30% leave at some point during the 2 years for whatever reason-so we have about 10 more that will leave (and yes, we have bets on people and days they’ll bail as sad as that is). This week I also “squatted” next to an old guy that managed to chain smoke 2 cigarettes while we did our business, had “milky rice” with tons of white and brown sugar for breakfast-actually really good, and watched a video of a “Kid Toy (celebration)” where a boy at age 9 gets circumcised and they have a big basically wedding reception for him-ouch. On a personal note, I will send anyone $100 U.S. to kick Rhett Bomar, former OU quarterback, in the crotch for me for ruining our season before it even began. I was really going to miss OU football while I’m here, but he has made sure I won’t miss much this year by taking $15k for a “summer job” at a car dealership in Norman. Which makes sense since our team could have won the national championship this year and he could have been set for life-way to think that one through buddy. We’ll still beat UT though…Boomer Sooner everyone!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

the 2 other pics

couldn't get them to post for some reason...

A week of ups and downs

Well the last week has had highs, lows, and normal stuff in the middle. I gave my first presentation with another volunteer on presentation skills to the rest of the group (I told them to watch what we did during out presentation and do the opposite). Myself and a 3 other volunteers start working with a local micro credit business this week. We will work with them for the next 3-4 weeks on a marketing plan and a few other general business projects. This is just to give help to a local company and give us practice working with Azeri businesses before we are on our own with a company for the next 2 years. I went to my first Azeri wedding Friday night with my host father and uncle. They have a small family only ceremony one weekend and then have a huge reception for 6 hours the next weekend-lots of toasts, eating and dancing. The weirdest thing about weddings is no one smiles EVER. They think it looks better in pictures if you have a straight face-needless to say I ruined several pics because I couldn’t stop laughing at no one smiling-oh well, such is life. I was the token American which everyone thought was funny and I danced my butt off. Dagen and Michelle, tell Wally I’d make him proud with my dance moves! I then woke up at 4:30 am the next morning with a really bad case of the yaks. I think I set a personal record of 8 yaks in one day on Saturday and had 101.5 degree fever. I’d drink half a glass of water or 7-Up and about an hour later I’d get to taste it again-good times. Sunday I felt a lot better. It was just a 24 hour bug that everyone in my Peace Corps group has been passing around-I’m one of the last ones to have the pleasure. The first pic is of the huge water reservoir/lake I visited 2 weekends ago and got to swim in. Next up is our local soccer field with rocks, broken glass and a cow (my school is on the right and my apt is straight ahead). Last but not least is a pic of me and the men I hung out with at the wedding-mostly host relatives…I’m officially half way done with my training!!!