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…

Saturday, September 30, 2006

2 down, only 102 left!!!

This was what I realized on my way home from work on Friday-2 weeks down and only 102 weeks left in my PC experience. Depending on if you are a glass is half full or glass half empty type of person, this could be either awesome or really overwhelming. Well thankfully for my sanity and the tone of this blog, I’m a half full kinda guy…

Week 2 on the job was about the same as week one, but with 2 big changes. I got a translator/language tutor who comes in for 3 hours each afternoon to help me communicate with the work gang. Her name is Ferana. She is 18, really funny, just got back from an exchange program where she went to her senior year of high school in Michigan, is a freshman at the local university, and is probably the cutest girl I’ve seen here so far! What that means is I now have a big motivation to get better at language 3 hours each day (and it makes work a little more fun). Big change #2 is that I finally had a talk with my boss to see what the deal is with my job/his expectations/why there hasn’t been anything for me to do. The deal is this: our office of the ministry has spent its budget for the year and is just coasting till January 1st. What this means for me is that all I have to do for the next 3 months is work on language which is great, but kinda odd. Welcome to government life I guess. Thankfully I have a couple of side projects I’m already starting to keep me busy too. My boss also seems really big on he and I doing some big and really good projects-putting computers in schools, fixing up a hospital in a village, fixing a busted bridge to help people get to their village, etc. It really sounds like he was to do some great things, so that gets me really excited about being here-I just hope we can get the grant money, organize everything well, and make a lot of good things happen for the local people.

Most of the people who are reading this know me, and therefore know I’m a little weird (to put it nicely I’d imagine). Well what would top that already fun insanity really good? The PC seemed to know and sent me my first batch of Malaria pills! That means 1 day a week I get to have really intense dreams and go nutz for free! Tom and I chose Wednesday since the middle of the work week always sucks anyways. Sadly I just got them and can’t use Malaria pill insanity to explain….

This week’s gross part of my new life came during a huge storm the other night. I woke up at 1:30am needing to go potty big time. Well, I looked outside and it was raining so hard I couldn’t even see the 60 step path to my squatter. I then saw an empty 1 liter water bottle on my floor by my bed and decided that was the best option I had at the time. Nothing like using the light from your cell phone to make sure you don’t miss a little water bottle when you are ½ asleep during a storm to make life fun! We’ve got a big weekend in the US of A coming up. OU is going to crush UT hopefully. Thankfully Spencer has agreed to tivo the game, burn it to a dvd, and mail it to me. Boomer Sooner Baby!!!

The picture in the blog is of me and a guy named Josh in Gobustan (where they have carvings from 10,000 years ago) doing our best “Titanic” impersonation. One of our buddies decided to put the PC motto on it and send it to me. The other is my friend Rachel proving that Duck Tape is one of the greatest inventions ever. They don’t have walking casts over here (her cast was known in the hospital as the “American Cast”), so she bought a crappy sandal and made her own….

Monday, September 25, 2006

Snakes on a Marshrutka

Just a few topics to hit upon this week:
First and most important, OU seems to be doomed this year. First Bomar gets kicked off, and then the PAC-10 decides to start rigging games so Oregon can win them. 2 gigantic blown calls in a row-COME ON! We did kill Middle Tenn. St. it seems, yippie!

I finally got to watch the movie “Snakes on a Plane” and it was horrible. I couldn’t have been more disappointed. There were a few good parts, but nothing near as cheesy/ridiculous as I was hoping for (plus my bootleg dvd was pretty crappy quality).

I had my first full week of work last week and it was pretty slow (I think with each passing week things will get better though). My boss is on a 2 week vacation, no one speaks English (and my Azeri isn’t business grade yet), and it was just a slow week I think. I went to a conference on put together by the Counterpart Organization. They come in, invite people from the community to get together and discuss what the major challenges/problems are in their region, both locally and nationally. It was very interesting to hear what all they had to say. They are doing 6 of these in the major cities in AZ, and then will have a grant competition in 6 months for people to get money to fix the problems. I hope it works well for them. I then went to a city hall meeting (I was invited by the mayor’s office-the mayor is the big wig of each city, appointed by the president and has all the power so I’m glad he likes me already) about a new 4 lane road they are building from my city to Baku over the next 2 years. They made me sit on stage with the 2 American engineers that were there to talk about it. Pretty funny stuff. As I was writing this my boss just brought in a local college girl that is going to volunteer at my office for a while to translate for me. She did an exchange program and went to her senior year of high school in Michigan, so things are looking up at work in the language department. Oh yea, plus she’s really cute and 19…

My nene took me as her date to a wedding Thursday night. I sat at a table with all of the professors from the local college, one spoke English so that was nice. Everyone stared at me when we entered the room, and then really stared at me when my nene grabbed my arm and made me dance with her. What made that even more fun was the fact that we were the only 2 dancing at the time so there were about 100 Azeri’s just watching me do my best Azeri dance with a 70 year old woman. My life is soooo weird right now!

A big group of us went to Baku this weekend for my friend Rikki George’s 24th birthday party! Man McDonald’s is so freaking good I can’t even begin to tell you. I also personally killed 2.5 huge nacho grande plates over the weekend, chicken strips, a club sandwich, and as many Gatorades as I could get my hands on. There were a lot of volunteers in town, so it was a lot of fun-we went dancing till 4 am both nights and we are all completely pooped. One major highlight was us playing wiffleball in a park by the Caspian Sea-IN SHORTS!!!! It was great. All the Azeri’s just kept walking by and staring at us having a great time.

I now have 5 straight weeks coming up where I’ll stay in Lenkeran with no friend contact (besides Tom and Tim). I’ll be working 5 days a week and will begin language tutoring soon hopefully so things are changing. It should be a big adjustment period for me, so I’m hoping it goes well. A volunteer that has a huge house in Ganja (big city 8 hours away from me by bus) is throwing a Halloween party for us at the end of October, so I’m already working on costume ideas and looking forward to that. OU/TX is coming up and I’m missing it. I may cry. Fletcher’s and Budweiser for breakfast followed by OU football, best day of the year…

The pictures are of me and nene at the wedding and then our gang Saturday night in Baku: Marko (an Aussie that lives in Baku), Ram, Jason, Tom, Ben, Me, then Magda, Kasey, Rachel, and Joy (in very front).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hedgehogs and volunteers

Well it has been about 10 days since my last blog, but they have been crazy days. I said goodbye to my first host family on 9/10 and moved with everyone to a hotel for our last 4 nights of training. They were very sad to seem me go for some reason and have been calling and texting me like crazy. I guess they are bored. I’ll get to see them when I go into Baku for weekend trips since they only live 20 minutes away, so that will be good. My host father’s family all lives in my new town, so I’m sure they’ll come visit me as well. My mom gave me an Azerbaijan tea mug and my brother’s present is insane-see below picture. It was weird being here for the 5 year anniversary of 9/11, can’t believe it’s been that long since all of that crap. We had a moment of silence with our group and some people said a few words. The US Ambassador officially swore us in as volunteers on Wednesday and there were a few top government officials and about 200 people in the audience (it was covered by 4 of the 7 TV stations in AZ). It was good to finish up training getting to spend so much time with everyone since we are all split up now and will only see each other for about 2 weekends a month on average. On Thursday Tom, Tim and I packed up a taxi and drove to Lenkeran. Tom and Tim together will now be referred to as TNT. My nene is still as crazy and fun as ever. It has been cool and rainy here, which is a nice change from the heat, but this is supposed to last through October so I’m sure I’ll get sick of it. Day one of work was a good indicator of how frustrating of a process it will be at first. My boss and two counterparts were busy all day, so I sat alone quite a bit. They are supposed to get me a computer, but it doesn’t sound like I’ll have internet for a while-I’m going to push for it big time though. The language barrier is going to be a tough one since they speak zero English and my Azeri is only good for basic stuff-I have zero work vocabulary. So that means I’ll be busting my butt on Azeri for the next months so I can help sooner rather than later. It will eventually be good, just going to require much patience from all of us at first. I think I’ll spend most of my days studying instead of working for the rest of the year. I watched Russian TV with my nene last night and laughed at her laughing all the time about nothing I could understand-welcome to my world. The night before Tom’s office took us out to eat a huge feast. They told us they had a surprise for the last course (they all speak English-as it turns out I’m 1 out of about 4 volunteers that doesn’t have an English speaker at their school/office, lucky me). They proceeded to tell us we’d be eating "hedgehog" (kidpee in Azeri) and then started dying laughing because I think Tom’s and my eyes were as big as our head in freaked out confusion. It turns out they call American shredded hash browns "hedgehog" because that’s what they look like. I was already stuffed and yet I killed the hash browns fully accepting the consequences of my stomach. It’s amazing how something so plain as hash browns can get us excited because it has some American food resemblance. Last night I had my first late night squat session. I stumbled on wet stones through the garden using my cell phone as a light (going to start using my little headlamp I brought from now on) to go pee early in the am. It is 60 uneven and crooked steps from the door of the house to my squat spot-that is going to be awesome when it’s freezing cold!!!
One picture is the gang at my café the day before we all headed to the hotel (from left front to right front): Rikki, Magda, Maria, Ben, Tom, me, and Terah. The other picture is us after swearing in: in front is Joy (shortest) and Rikki, next row is Anar-one of our teachers, Rachel, Kasey, Magda, my mullet, and Maria, then Tom and Ben are in the back.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

My thoughts so far...

This is our last week of training and I have a big oral language test on Thursday. We get sworn in next Wednesday and I have been asked to give a speech. The audience will have a few high up officials of AZ and the US Ambassador and will be televised all over AZ, so I’m going to do something really stupid I’m sure. Well I really don’t have any good stories or events to report on this week, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts about my training and first 3 months of my 27 month journey:

Azerbaijan is a good country and I really liking it here so far
The living conditions are much better than I expected thankfully
I’m not happy that the PC scheduled us to be here for 3 entire summers of heat misery
Living off of $6 a day for all expenses (rent, food, transportation, etc.) is fantastic
No matter where you are, if you laugh and smile a lot, people tend to think you’re a good person…or in my case an idiot
The language was easy at first and has become increasingly more difficult the more we have learned-but I think being around Americans all the time hurts my learning so…
In my new town I’ll have only 2 people who speak English and a private Azeri tutor
I don’t know English grammar for crap (as evidenced by me typing “for crap”)
The food is really good, but I get meat w/ every meal w/ my current family, which is rare
Fruits and veggies aren’t nearly as bad when you need them to make you full
You can use ½-3/4 an inch of butter to scramble 1 egg
I already miss driving a car and can’t wait to get back to the US roads
No matter where in the world I am, it seems Tom Cruise is still crazy
I’ve taken for granted the ability to sit on an outside porch with queso & a cold beverage
Training has been more laid back than I expected and we’ve been allowed to hang out with each other a ton, which is great because I’ve already made some great friends…
Having said that, we get split up next week & will only see each other 1-2 times a month from now on, so that will suck, but should help out our productivity levels a lot
I haven’t freaked out yet about being here, so that’s good. Can’t wait for that day though!
Americans/I have a sense of humor that doesn’t translate to everyone...
No matter how far away from USA I am, I feel the pain of OU not playing well
How I spend my time with the PC will be based on my decisions, it isn’t very structured
Seeing people litter like crazy even though they know its bad sucks in US and AZ
No matter where I live, people will always ask my why I’m not married yet
I don’t miss TV at all (minus weekend sports)
Air conditioning really was man’s greatest invention, although…
The iPod isn’t far’s amazing the sanity it gives me when I think I’m going nutz
My over/under on how many books I read while here is set at 95
I’ve really taken to not showering too often during the summer, so this winter should be awesome since people really don’t shower often here in the winter since you don’t sweat
The PC record is 18-19 days of no showers. Tom and I plan to have “’The Great Stink Off” the next winter when living together…it’s going to be epic
People who don’t wear shorts when it is hot outside confuse me greatly on many levels

That’s it for now, have a great week America. Hope you all had a great Labor Day!