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…

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Great Azeri Pumpkin Caper

Before we talk jack-o-lanterns, I have put up 2 new blogs this week, so read the next one down entitled 5 days in baku is a good thing from 10/23/06 to get my complete update.

Well Charlie Brown would be impressed I think. We had a great day of pumpkin carving on Monday. We had to do the carving a week early since Tom and I will be out of town for our party next weekend. In AZ they have orange pumpkins that are more like gourds, with tall and thick stems off the top of them so they don’t make for good jack-o-lanterns. They also have grayish white normal shaped pumpkins. I found some rare green normal looking pumpkin for me which was nice. They each cost $1 which everyone thought was a rip off. There were 7 of us (see pictures below) on my big deck carving away. I had some American candy for everyone and we had a great time. They all did really well carving them since they had never seen anything like that (I had shown them a few internet pictures, but that’s it). I hope you enjoy the pictures from the fun afternoon. One quick note, my Nene walked into my room this afternoon when Tom and I were playing Monopoly with my iPod stereo on and just started shaking her butt dancing! We both were barreled over laughing hysterically-she’s awesome! In the picture with all of us on the steps starting from bottom left is Arzu (Tom’s co-worker), me, Aysel (our secretary in red), Ferana (my tutor), Zia (Tom’s co-worker), Ulvi (Tom’s 14 year old brother), and Tom.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

5 days in baku is a good thing....

Lot’s to talk about so let’s get this blog a rollin…

1st order of business: tom and I won our usa nfl pick’em league last week. From the 3rd world with limited dial up internet access we managed to beat 11 other teams in picking the correct games last weekend. Needless to say we are extremely proud of ourselves for that one…

I just got back from 5 days in Baku which was a nice change of pace. I’m working with a group called the Eurasia Foundation. They have a lot of projects under their umbrella, but the one I’m working on has 5 youth groups (5-7 20ish year old guys and girls) throughout AZ. They have trained these kids a few times over the past 7 months and then just gave them each $2,500 to manage. The youth groups advertised around their regions, tried to find things to fix, and then accepted project proposals from other local youths. The youth group then critiqued the proposals, interviewed the candidates, and they just gave out their money 2 weeks ago to the 5 projects they picked. Examples are a book of local youth poetry, English lessons and computers for an orphanage, and an Azeri culture and history brochure about our region. Each youth group has a PC Volunteer as a mentor to help them along the way. I have a group of 7 kids (4 guys, 3 girls) that are all super bright and tons of fun to hang out with. We went to training at a resort in Baku (with the other 4 groups) and worked for 12 hours a day for 3 days. It was really long, but completely worth it and lots of fun to see how excited all of the kids were to be there and learn. The resort had an indoor pool, hot tub, ping pong table, squash courts, and a comedy channel with jay leno and conan o’brien shows on each night!!! Plus really good food-chinese, british, American etc. It was nice to live pampered for a few days.

I had a meeting with my program manager in Baku Saturday because my job was worrying me. My office of the government is basically only a reporting agency I found out last week and doesn’t have any real work for me to do. This freaked me out because I thought I needed to have an actual job. My PM told me it doesn’t “have”’ to be like that. My role is now going to be me assigned to my region. I’m free to work with any companies I can find who need/want help and also do my own projects on the side. Where the government office I’m assigned to will help is when I need to get things done. My boss is extremely well connected in the region, so when I get projects I want to do; he’s the man that can help me get them done. My PM and I am also going to meet with the head of the Economic Ministry in a week or 2 and try to get him to send me some work or let me come up to Baku a couple of times a month to sit in on meetings. I really want to work with the ministry at least some, I think it would be very interesting and a really good experience for me. My newly defined role will be challenging. I basically have to find something to keep me busy 100% on my own it seems which may be a struggle. That’s a tall order for 2 straight years. It’s nice to have work given to you sometimes ya know. Having said that, it leaves my door completely open to any and everything I want to do. It should give me the freedom to do some big/really important stuff for the people here. Instead of doing meaningless busy work in an office 20 hours a week, I can focus all of my efforts to getting grants from companies or organizations to fix schools, hospitals, etc. It will be a really challenging situation for me, but I think it will offer me the best chance to have the biggest/best impact while I’m here.

Then Friday night a bunch of people were in town for flu shots, so we all went out on the town and danced until the wee hours of the morning. Since we are all split up for 3-4 weeks in a row and live fairly boring lives in our towns/villages compared to what we were used to in the US, we just save up energy and it explodes when we all get together. The closest way I can describe it is when we were young and we would all load up into a friend’s parent’s van on the way to a birthday party or something and we were so happy we just couldn’t contain ourselves and the kid’s parents were in the front seat fuming because we wouldn’t calm down or listen to them. That’s right, I’m 29 and this is how I act when I get to meet up with my friends….being me is fun sometimes 

It’s really cooling off here and my house doesn’t stay warm for crap. I have a wood burning furnace in my room that I’m going to be firing up soon. I can’t wait!

My UTI seems to have subsided, so that’s good news for both me and the Nene’s carpet I was peeing in a bottle over.

I finally got to weigh myself for the first time in country the other day. I left the US of A at a whopping 173 lbs. (due to my insane consumption of all of Houston’s finest Mexican and fast food establishments leading up to my departure). I clocked in at 156 lbs. last week. I contribute this to my lack of totally unhealthy foods, my only eating 3 meals a day without ever having real snacks (i.e. McDonald’s ¼ pounder or bowl of queso), and the fact I haven’t worked out since I got here, so all of the limited muscle I had in the US is completely gone.

It’s the Ramadan finale holiday Monday and Tuesday, and then we are all meeting in the second largest city in AZ, Ganja for our Halloween Party Saturday night. Mom and Dad had a package brought to me with a log of Velveta, 2 bags of tortilla chips and 2 cans of Ro-Tel, so everyone is really excited for me to show up and make queso…..should be some good stories and pictures on next week’s blog….ciao America

For your viewing pleasure attached are pictures of my bedroom, kitchen, hamam-shower room, squatter, and my house from the separate hamam/laundry/squatter building 60 steps from my house door across the garden. The 2 huge satellite dishes are for Nene’s Russian TV stations she pays $50/month for…

Sunday, October 15, 2006

1 month in Lenkeran and we haven’t been kicked out yet!!!

Not a whole lot to report in this week’s blog sadly. Last week was cool and rainy and boring!!! Tom and I have taken to playing games for hours on end-Yahtzee and Monopoly are the only 2 we have (hint hint), so a 2 year battle is underway in both. We already have a spreadsheet for wins, losses, points/money, etc. that we are using to keep the final tally. We are still trying to decide the stakes of the bet. My nene’s sister died this week. They don’t show emotion when people die here, it’s odd but I think good. It took me three days to figure out that she had died and wasn’t just sick. Then nene made fun of me for not realizing what had happened….she’s great! They put a tent outside the person’s house and family and friends meet there all day for a week and chant, talk, and just hang out I guess. I went by for about an hour the other day and didn’t fit in too well as you can imagine. My host father, mother, and kids came in for the weekend. He is the assistant sales manager at the GM dealership in Baku. The parents both speak English, so it was good to talk to them. I gave each of the kids a package of Skittles from America, which they loved. I am going Baku this week for Eurasia training. I am mentoring seven 20ish year olds in Lenkeran. In 6 AZ regions the Eurasia Foundation gives youth groups $5,000 each to manage, and they accept proposals to fund local projects done by other youths in the community. My group is funding English classes for an orphanage, a local history and travel brochure, a book of local youth poetry, and an art exhibit fighting narcotics use. Eurasia puts us up in a nice hotel and brings in people from Europe and Asia to train everyone, so it should be interesting. Tom and I have invited the people in our offices over to my place next Sunday to carve pumpkins. They have grey/whitish pumpkins here, so they should be funky looking. Everyone is excited to see this weird American tradition, so it should be fun. The crappy news of the week is that we think I have a Urinary Track Infection, so I’m popping some antibiotics hoping to fix the problem. Everything is ok, but I just have no bladder control and am producing way more urine than fluids I’m drinking. Night Peeing is Good stuff! I get a flu shot this week and just got my Tamaflu packet for the Bird Flu-good times. They had a few cases last year in AZ, but nothing too major thankfully. I’m pretty sure face mask the PC gave me in my packet will be worn for some reason other than avoiding the Bird Flu. We found out the Ambassador is coming to town in two weeks and is taking the 3 Lenkeran PCV’s out to dinner, so that should be good times had by all. Sorry for no good stories, I’ll see what kind of fun I can dig up this week to make up for it.

The following pictures are of the following: Bacon flavored chips we found in Baku-sadly not good, a picture of us “people piling” at the hotel (I’m on the bottom in the dark colored t-shirt on Magda with tom, ben, and rikki on me)-a fun custom we tend towards when we are stuck in small hotel rooms with 10 people for days on end, and 2 pictures of the new park by my house (one is a statue of the former president). I walk through that park every day to and from work and they are building a new museum for the former president next to it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

here are the pictures....

the first is rob hanging out with ronald mcdonald AZ style after a night out on the town in baku, then you have tom and i cooking mexican for his family and lastly you have bilbo baggins' hobbit house that is next to the river behind my house...that's right, i live with hobbits...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ash's Azeri Countdown....

Before I begin, if any of Magda’s family or friends read this, please email me at We have a favor to ask regarding Magda’s birthday present we have in mind. And just like Cassey Casem says, now back to the countdown…

200,000,000-the number of $$$ the Yankees spent losing in the 1st round of the playoffs
101-the number of weeks we have left in Azerbaijan
30-the approximate number of men tom and I saw carrying a casket and chanting as they walked down the main road last Sunday morning
24-the number of points tom’s little brother beat me by in his first eve Yahtzee game with us helping him decide which dice to play (tom got beat by 30 something)
10-the number of hours per week I get tutored by Farana-my cute teacher-ha ha ha
9-the number of bees that swarmed tom and I as we ate lunch outside Thrusday
8-the number of US dollars 1.5 kilos of Holland cheese costs-tom and I make chicken quesadillas (tom and I each ate a huge quesadilla and his family of 4 ate a combined 1.5), chips and salsa for his family last Sunday-they thought they were only ok, we thought they were fabulous-on a personal note, frying tortillas to make chips is fun but takes a long time to make a decent amount of chips
7-the number of inches my hair is in the longest spots, can’t wait to see it in March
6-the number of gallons of Gatorade powder I got in the mail this week!!!
5-the number of times I heard the James Blunt song “You’re Beautiful” this week-the girls in tom’s office play it as my theme music when I stop by their office
4-the number of times I ate the same meal in a row on Tuesday/Wednesday-dinner, breakfast, lunch, and dinner-a new pattern by Nene: cook a ton, then serve it to us each consecutive meal till its gone-bone in fish for breakfast is miserabe FYI
3-the number of days during the work week it rained cats and dogs this week
2-the number of games in a row OU has lost to UT-glad I wasn’t there for them sadly…
1-the number of windows I ran into walking down the street texting on my phone-the stupid thing was head level and opened way out on the sidewalk and I nailed it-thanks to tom for not warning me and laughing his butt off at me
1/2-the number of dandruff shampoo bottles rachel’s host father drank because directions were in English and he didn’t realize it went on your head
0-the number of times ben hit the ball in fair play during our wiffleball game in baku-let it be known ben claimed to be good at high school basesball

For your viewing pleasure are the following pictures: Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit House on the river by my house and pictures from when tom and I cooked at his house last week…