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, November 27, 2006

Turkey Day 12,000 miles away…

Well I just had a fantastic Thanksgiving Weekend and I hope all of you did as well. Thursday was a really low key day, but Tom and I treated ourselves to a tremendous Thanksgiving feast at lunch: bread, cheese, little smoky type sausages, trail mix and half a gigantic Snickers each! I’m not positive that’s the same meal the Pilgrims and Indians had, but it has to be close I think. Friday some of us headed to Baku for some nachos and followed with a night out on the town. Saturday Tom, Ben, Rikki George, Maria and I headed to my old village to eat at my old host family’s new café. The new café is amazingly nice and I was blown away. My family was happy to see me and it was good to hang out with them again. I’ve been really lucky with both of my host family set ups. We dined on their famous “tabaka” which is fried chicken, french fries, onions and tomatoes all in the same skillet and a few beers. It was FANTASTIC! We then headed back to Baku to clean up and head to the party and the Deputy Ambassador’s house. There were about 70 Volunteers, 20 PC Staff and a few people from the Embassy. I ate way too much freaking food. My plate had turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, creamed corn, and more gravy on top of everything. We then topped that with Pumpkin Pie which was awesome, but sadly no whipped cream. My plate was a war zone and I’m pretty sure I grossed out several people with my Thanksgiving eating display. We then had the talent show which was hilarious. There were 6 acts including the violin, singing and a few guys playing guitar and singing. Tom and I had been building up our performance for the past two weeks getting people good and scared about what we could potentially be doing and I don’t think we disappointed. Jon Bon Jovi and Ritchie Sambora would have been proud. Kasey video taped us and I’m hoping to have that posted soon for your view pleasure. Ben, Tom and I stayed with a really cool American couple in Baku Saturday night. They made us pancakes, bacon, and eggs for breakfast on Sunday and it was amazing. I don’t think I’ll have to eat anything for a few days minimum.

Big news day from America for me-I just read that OU barely beat OSU and A&M beat UT so now OU is playing Nebraska next weekend in the Big 12 Championship Game! You can’t beat that for a good news day in my book, especially after how bad/weird of a season OU had been having.

Not much going on for the next two weeks. My Program Manager is coming to town on Thursday to meet with Me, Tom and Tim and have meetings with our work managers to see how things are going so that will be fun. Tom, Tim and I met with a different group of about 12 high school kids last week and are going to start doing conversation clubs with them in English and also working with them to do small projects around town, so we are trying to get that rolling. I was on national TV last week because a youth group I’m volunteering with had an anti-drug art exhibit in Lenkeran and I got interviewed about it with the kids.

Have a great week everyone. I’ll put up some pictures later this week when I have more time. Boomer Sooner!!!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Happy Turkey Day to All!!!!

I’d like to start off with a tragic tale from my time being 12,000 miles away from America. My dad sent me a copy of an article about the new KFC Cheese Snacker. I literally started drooling reading about this delicious invention that I probably will never get to enjoy. Then I had a few college football games Spencer mailed me (the OU/TX was still painful to watch even though I already knew everything that happened) and they had food commercials all throughout them. It’s been over 4 months since I left America and my stomach misses all of its non-healthy and completely delicious foods I used to feed it on a regular basis. I’m home sick for food…ha ha ha, seriously….

Well typical Lenkeran Fall/Winter conditions hit this week. It is 46 degrees, windy and rainy out at 3pm and has been like that for the past couple of days. My stove in my room has been on a constant burning cycle lately. I’m lucky to have that thing. Tom has named his room Tundra, Frozen because you constantly see your breath in there-no heater/fire. Nothing makes you feel good like going outside in the cold rain to take a scalding hot shower and then back out into the cold wetness to get back to your room! Rikki George came to visit Tom and I this weekend-our first official visitor! We walked around town, played Monopoly and Yahtzee, watched movies, and our families cooked fantastic meals for our guest-a nice bonus for Tom and me! We had grand plans to take her to a soccer game in the new stadium and to the hot springs outside of town, but the weather kept us in doors most of the weekend. She seemed to have a good time and hopefully that will lead to other people coming to visit us all the way down in the south.

I’ve decided it’s long over due that I dedicate one of my silly little blogs to my Nene. While I understand that this may cause many people to stop reading immediately for fear of a boring write up of a 69 year old woman, I encourage you to give it a chance and we’ll see if you don’t find yourself jealous of my living situation.

A little background and context information for you first:
I have lived with Nene Yagut for 9 weeks so far
It is only the two of us in this house 24/7, with the exception of random visits from my friends or her kids and grandchildren (besides our 2 chickens)
She has 5 children (3 girls and 2 boys)
She is 69 years young
She was a Russian teacher for 37 years and has lived in Russia for parts of her life

Ok, now for the fun stuff:
Nene talks to our chickens way more than necessary
She constantly tells me she’s a teacher, not a cook/clothes washer/cleaner/etc.
She constantly tells me I’m a 29 year old baby she has to take care of (which is true)
Now she calls herself a baby because she constantly drops food on herself while she eats
Every time Tom has been to my house she asks him his parents’ names and jobs in AZ
Now that I have my iPod stereo, she comes in my room when I have music on and just starts dancing (which is freaking hilarious-if you have seen that James Brown doll/toy that plays his music and dances, that’s what she looks like)
She talks to me about getting me married a few times each week
She wants me to become fat because she’s fat and we would match (that took me forever to translate and now I kinda want it to happen for shits and giggles)
She now tells me about her dreams each morning, and she has some crazy ones!
The other night I was eating some soup for dinner and she got out a huge hunk of goat meat and proceeded to chop it up on the same table 6” from my plate with a huge knife and pieces of raw meat flying around….nothing makes soup better than raw meat everywhere
She constantly complains that her “old” neighbor lady comes over to talk to her and old women are boring
She complains about having to do work around the house even though she has a maid that comes two days a week to clean our small house for her
I’ve had a runny nose for a few days (I slept in a freezing cold hotel room and then it rained for 3 days-no wonder I have a cold) and she blames it on the fact I only sleep with 2 blankets on my bed when it’s 60 degrees outside. I now have 5 blankets on my bed at all times until I go to sleep and rip them all off because it’s freaking hot out
She hates villages and refuses to visit her friends in them unless someone dies or there’s a wedding
She loves McDonald’s cheeseburgers more than Azeri food (one of the top 5 reasons I love her so much)
She can fart in her bedroom, no less than 1 concrete wall and 20 feet away from me and I can hear, feel, and smell it-that’s power baby!
One night she told me that if I eat raw garlic and onions for dinner I will be healthier-no biggie right? The next morning she followed that up by telling me if I rub my entire body with garlic that I will be healthier (and smell fantastic I assume!)
Tom, Rikki, and I were watching the “Batman Begins” movie Friday night, Nene comes in and sits down, and during one of the violent fighting scenes at the end of the movie just starts cracking up laughing. Well this sets Tom and I off on a major giggle fit and Nene just joins right in. The three of us were doubled over and crying at a completely not funny part of a Batman movie. It was awesome!!!

Not much else to report. We are going to Baku Friday to go out on the town, Saturday we are going back to my old village to eat at their new café, then off to the Ambassador’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and the talent show. Tom and I gave Rikki a sneak peak and she assures us we are as bad as we think we are….

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! Eat a ton and take a nap for me!!!!

The following pictures are of: Nene by the grill, Nene and I preparing our kabobs, and my entire host family and Tom (Arzu-mom that’s my age, Namiq-GM dealership manager in Baku, Tom, Me, Nene, Muhammad Ali-brother, Lela-sister)

Monday, November 13, 2006

America Day Sheki Style….

Hello world! Quick announcement before the stories:
I heard the Wulf Family has found their way to my blog and I just want to say hello, nice to meet you, tell Texas hi for me, and if your son (Ben) does anything I feel you should know about, I’ll make sure to include it from now on…

Well, I just got back from a really long and really fun weekend trip. Tom and I took off Thursday for an all day bus trip to Sheki. Sheki is in the North Central of AZ at the foot of the Caucus Mountains, which already have snow up on the peaks. Magda, Charlie and Josh set up an America Day in their home town of Sheki and invited about 15 of us to come up and participate. Volunteers are supposed to show, explain and involve locals in American traditions, holidays, and customs as much as possible while we are over here and America Days are one of the most common ways groups of people do that. We had about 30-40 local students (8th-12th grade I think) that could all speak some English come to Josh’s office for 2 hours on Saturday and we explained to them Halloween (showed them pictures of jack-o-lanterns and costumes, had them bob for apples, and a Simpson’s Halloween cartoon) and also Thanks Giving (we did a play for them explaining the Pilgrims and Indians, had them cut out “Hand Turkeys”, talked about traditional Thanksgiving Dinner, football, and naps and also made cider and cookies for them). After that we took them all to a soccer field and explained then played American Flag Football. They got it good enough to play and have tons of fun. We were all amazed that the girls all played and loved it (women in AZ generally are very quiet, bashful, and told not to do things like that so it’s great that these girls were willing to try it out). Everyone had a blast and no major injuries to report (a few girls didn’t catch the ball and got nailed in the head and Charlie almost got drilled in the worst spot on a guy from about 30 yards away on a perfect toss by Rikki George ). We had about 12 of us crashing in Charlie’s new house in Sheki and most of us slept on the cold floor (40’s at night in Sheki) in our huge and warm PC issue sleeping bags. We had pancakes for breakfast one day and Charlie made a huge batch of AMAZING chili for dinner one night which was awesome!!! Friday night we entertained ourselves with a long series of sock puppet shows for each other depicting some of the ridiculous things that have happened to our group since getting over here. That may sound dumb or lame, but it was honestly one of the funniest times I’ve had in a long time-I cried about 50 times during the skits since I cry when I laugh. Charlie was the best impersonator of the group and Magda won for grossest sock used.

This should be a really low key week I think. A new business center my office and a German company created opened last week and I sat in on their first official trainings. The center has 10 new computers, internet, copy machine, and nice conference room with TV and projector. It is open to anyone for free but is going to be focused on local business people and will have trainings on English, computers, business plan writing, etc. I think I’ll be working a lot with them on their trainings and hopefully making the center a big success. This is the first of it’s kind in AZ, so we are hoping to get good results for everyone. It’s cool and rainy in Lenkeran now-late fall/winter seems to officially be here. Temperatures here are high 40’s/low 50’s at night and get up in the low-mid 60’s in the day. The breeze off the Caspian is pretty freaking cold but temperatures shouldn’t get below 40 too often. We have the potential to get some snow (either none or 3+ seems to be the normal-all or nothing deal I guess). Thankfully I have a furnace in my room and will stay warm at night! Tom just gets a ton of blankets it seems, although he’s hoping his family breaks out a mobile heater or something soon. Rikki George might come to visit next weekend, so Tom and I will get to show her around town and have something to look forward to this week. We officially have 12 days until our Thanksgiving Dinner with the Embassy folks and Tom and I began our rehearsals for our act that is officially going to blow everyone’s minds. If there’s anyway I can figure out how to put a video on here, it’ll be up ASAP. It’s going to be the most ridiculous thing seen in the PC easily.

Ok, the following story is gross (not rated R dirty, just 3rd world weird gross), so if you don’t want to read it, just skip the next short paragraph.

First of all, everyone better be reading this, because everyone I know likes gross and weird stories. Tom and I were on our way to Sheki Thursday and stopped at a restaurant to eat (the buses all stop mid-way of their trip for food and bathroom breaks-we usually stop along the way for someone to use the side of the road to go to the bathroom or puke too fyi). I had to go #1, so I walked into the bathroom and there were 4 squatter stalls, with only the last one unoccupied. I walk in and there is a huge fresh pile of doo-doo just sitting on the squatter-the person before me didn’t use his bucket to wash it way for me. So I just take care of my business trying not to look at what I’m peeing on. I finish, zip up the pants, turn around to leave my stall and a local man is standing there waiting for me to finish my business holding his bucket so he can clean his doo-doo off. I say hello and walk straight out the door before I broke out in hysterical laughter. The look on his face and the fact he just waited for me to finish and then hosed his mess off was hilarious! This story in no way was meant to be mean towards Azeris or AZ, I’ve seen stuff just as bad in America, but this kinda typical here……..and was funny!

Ok, that’s about all I’ve got, which was probably more than enough with the last story. The following pictures are of: all the America Day kids on the stairs (I’m top left), Terah, Charlie, and Tom playing flag football with the kids, Me-Pilgrim, Terah and Kasey-Indians getting ready for our performance, a view of the Sheki mountains with a mosque tower in the distance that we saw when we hiked on Friday, and Charlie’s, Tom’s, and my sock puppets during our performance Friday night. Have a great week everyone-I have to go iron my clothes to dry them off since nothing ever gets fully dry outside here!!!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Life with little money...

We are all heading to Sheki (a beautiful city in the mountains up central north region) for an American Day-15 volunteers go to a school for a day or two, talk about America, show the kids American movies, feed them American food, play some American football etc. It should be a really fun time. Tom, Tim and I are taking off Thursday and coming back Sunday (2 days of America Day and 2 days of 8 hour travel). Charlie, Terah, Magda, Rikki George, Rachel, Ben, Joy, Kasey, and Josh will all be there, so it should be a really good time. Tom and I are in charge of helping Magda bake pies on Friday-so the kids can all blame Madga when their “American Pies” taste like “American Poo”! Other than that, not too much else to report over the last two weeks. The Sooners play A&M at 6am my time tomorrow morning, so I may wake up really early and try to listen to in on the internet or something (since the roosters wake me up by 7am anyways). Wish me and my 3rd world dial-up connection luck!!!

A quick insight to my life:

So we got our monthly stipend the other day (we get automatic deposits in a bank account and we all have ATM cards to take the money out as needed). We got $218 (in Azeri money-probably $240ish in US$) for the month of November and I wanted to give you guys an idea of how I spend my money right now and the budgeting process we all go through at the beginning of each month.
$218 for 1 month provided by the PC
$110 goes to Nene for rent and food and the constant entertainment she provides
$20 for cell phone
$3 for internet
That leaves me with $85 for spending money for each month. This has to cover everything from meals eaten away from home, candy/snacks, any travel that I do (the killer) and expenses when I’m away from my house. So here’s how my remaining $85 is budgeted for November (keeping in mind if I go over, I have ZERO dollars to cover me and there isn’t such a thing as credit cards over here).
We are having an America day in Sheki for 2 days (with 2 days of travel) so that’s $20 for travel and $12 in food for 4 days (gotta make sure I keep the beers to a minimum).
We will go to Baku for Thanksgiving at the Embassy, but I need to get there and back, as well as pay for hotel both nights (split with no less than 6-8 friends for 2 single beds) and eating while in Baku minus the Turkey Dinner.
$12 for travel, $14 for hotel, $5 for McDonald’s, $5 for nachos, and then $10 for beers, maybe a DVD or a miscellaneous expense that always comes up in Baku-total of $46 for the trip.
That leaves me with $7 of “free” money for the month of November after my rent/meals at home, two weekend trips, cell phone and 2 hours a week of internet. That means I can eat lunch away from home 4 times maximum during the week and get a couple of Cokes and a Snickers!!! The chances of me making it till the end of the month with anything more than 50 cents in my bank account is ZERO. I had 35 cents at the end of October 

This was in no way made to make you feel sorry for us; we get plenty of money from the PC. This is just how I am choosing to spend my money this month. Some people eat every single meal with their host family and don’t go into Baku or to visit other Volunteers and they save money each month. I choose to live as cheap as possible when I’m in Lenkeran, and save up my money to meet up with my friends 1 to 2 times a month, either in Baku or another city in AZ. When we all get to move out of our host family houses and get our own places, I would imagine we will travel to visit each other a lot more instead of going to Baku like we do now. I did manage to save up money from the stipend the PC gave us in Philly before we left and from my moving allowance I got when I moved to Lenkeran, so I’m going to use that money to fund my ski trip to Georgia in the spring. I’m hoping to go 100% on PC money while here besides my trips outside the country, so we’ll see if I can actually pull it off….Now go spend $8 on your caesar salad and bottled water for lunch, and remember you just ate my months “free” money!!!

The following are pictures from Halloween, sorry they took so long. Tom and I as the AZ3 Angel and AZ4 Devil-my hair was ridiculous, Kasey and Rachel as BBF Babies, Magda the Pirate, and Rikki George the Witch, and the Devil with the Babies…

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Tom, Tim and I had dinner with the US Ambassador last night. She is going around with a Texas Swing Band that is touring the region for some cross-cultural exchange deal or something. We went and watched their concert this afternoon-it was really fun to hear some good old fashioned swing music! The AZ Ambassador is a really cool lady who actually tries to hang out with PCV’s as much as possible, which is great and I think fairly rare among ambassadors world wide, so we all feel pretty lucky to have her over here with us.

I am going on a major push staring today to be a lot more efficient with my time in Lenkeran when I’m not traveling. The last half of October I got in a lazy mode and just never felt like studying/reading/doing anything productive. I spent way too much time watching movies/laying around/just wasting time. I’m not sure if it was just me being lazy or if I hit some sort of “I’ve been here for over 4 months” wall or something. Who knows? So my goal for November is to be a ton more productive, knock out several books, and be a lot better about my language practice and studying. One odd thing that I’m trying to get over right now is the fact that I’m not good at faking conversations. I talk non-stop it seems in America, but when I try to just fake a conversation over here to practice speaking the language, I can’t think of stuff to say at all. I’m honestly baffled.

I’ll be in Lenkeran for the next 10 days, which should be nice. It’s cooled off here a ton (mid 50’s-low 60’s during the day), fall is definitely upon us. The tree leaves are starting to change color, so it’s pretty here when it’s not raining. My house doesn’t stay warm at all, so I’m sure I’ll start firing up my furnace in my room before too long. Nene brought in a plastic tarp to my room where I’m pretty sure my wood stack will reside for the remainder of my time with her. Having said that, all of a sudden it got up to 88 degrees yesterday, which was completely ridiculous.

And finally, the Halloween Party in Ganja. Tom and I made it to and from Ganja without completely getting lost or taking a wrong bus or anything (we just had one flat tire on the way there and no other major hiccups). We were both blown away by this, and aren’t counting on it happening again any time soon. Tom and I went up and met the gang who greeted us with 3 huge bacon and pepperoni pizzas! They were amazing. We hung out all night (Tom and Ram played the guitar) and we just vegged out, which was great. Saturday we made biscuits and my gravy mix for breakfast (the below picture is of my B&G I ate with a ladle so I could drink the happiness of the gravy…it just made sense at the time) and my queso for lunch….by far the 3 best meals in a row I’ve had since I left America-thanks to mom and dad for the awesome gift package!!! I cried when it was finished…figureatively…..seriously. We then all loaded into a cab and went to Carol’s (a super cool AZ3 Volunteer that has a huge house in Ganja-she pays for it with money form the US). There were probably 40+ Volunteers there and most of us dressed up. Tom and I were the AZ3 Angel and the AZ4 Devil respectively-AZ3 seems to think they are perfect and my group of AZ4 Volunteers have gotten into trouble a few times already, so we found it appropriate-of course I was the Angel . We definitely got the most laughs at our idea and costumes-thanks again to mom for the gift package, you can’t find Angel and Devil costumes in AZ oddly enough. The party was a blast, Carol made corn bread, chowder, cookies, cakes, and tons of other great American foods! We all crashed on her huge living room floor-think YMCA lock-in basically. Since Tom and I live the farthest away from the center of the country (where Ganja is), we had to hop a 9:30am bus home that crawled at a snails pace. Eight long hours later we were back in town and completely beat. Amazingly Tom and I only managed to piss people off one time at the party with our stupidity. Around 8 am Sunday morning one or two people were up and moving around, and you could tell that everyone was kinda awake, but just not wanting to move or talk yet. I was wide awake and ready to play so I yell “Good Morning Tom!” to him on the other side of the room, and there was a collective moan throughout the room. We then basically had a recap of our favorite parts of the party and couldn’t stop laughing at each other from across the room. This woke up the entire group and no one was impressed what so ever. I thought it was really funny. People dressed up really well for being in the 3rd world where there are no costumes: Kasey and Rachel were BFF Babies (Tom’s idea), Rikki George was a witch, Terah was covered head to toe in work out gear (no one knows why she has all of that here), Ram bought a muumuu and dressed like an old Azeri woman, Becky made a pomegranate costume that was awesome, Joy was a Vampire, Ressa was a cowboy (using my boots and belt/buckle combo), Magda was a pirate, etc. I was really impressed. Enjoy the pictures and Happy Halloween to all of you in America, Trick or Treat well!!!

Pictures: B&G, Queso in the 3rd world, Tom, Ram (in costume), Magda and I at Terah’s. Halloween pictures to come, I didn’t use my camera so waiting for them to get emailed to me…