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, December 11, 2006

Azeri culture and some other ramblings...

Highlights from last week:

Nene now has 2 chickens and 2 roosters (in the pictures) living with us and decided last week to name them. The red headed chicken is Malecha-one of Nene’s daughters who Nene affectionately refers to as “crazy devil” (fingers as horns when she says it), the orange headed one is Rikki-Rikki George visited Tom and I a few weeks ago and Nene loved her so much she got a chicken named after her, the first rooster we got is named Ashley, and I came home last night from a weekend trip to find a rooster named Tom has now joined the club-Nene informed me that he’s tall and skinny, just like real person Tom. The first one is Little Ashley hanging out with the ladies-as usual, second one is Little Tom kickin it solo-he hasn't made friends quite yet, and the third is once again me having breakfast with Little Rikki George and Little Devil.

We went to Sarah from AZ3’s house this past weekend for a quick vacation and to celebrate Rachel’s b’day. Sarah lives about an hour north of Baku and Brendan from AZ3 also lives in her town. Tom, Kasey, Rachel and I all made the trek up there. The rest of the gang bailed because they are all extremely lazy. I hope this trend does not continue for the rest of our service because Tom and I live the farthest away from everyone and have to travel a minimum of 4 hours to see anyone basically, so we will by far log the most hours on a mini-bus out of the gang. Sarah made us sausage gumbo, we had breakfast tacos (with Taco Bell hot sauce!) and some wicked garlic mashed potatoes to chow on. Tom and I played home run derby in Sarah’s yard with her waffle ball and a large stick. I hit 2 balls through a small window in her house’s attic and had to crawl around in 6 inches of hard as rock pigeon poo to get the ball both times-talk about gross!

I wanted to talk a little bit about the Azeri culture this week so you all have an idea of the culture I’m immersed in every day. This in no way is meant to be negative or critical. I could write a blog a mile long griping about American culture. I’m just stating a general description of how I, as an American guy, view it. I love the people in AZ, they are extremely hospitable and friendly, just a little different in some ways.

This country is about 8 million people

It seems like it is about 95% Muslim

They were under Soviet Rule until 1992

Almost everyone speaks both Azeri and Russian fluently

There are pictures, statues and museums of their first big President (who died in 2002 or 2003-his son is the current President). The father is still basically the face of AZ.

No one travels within the country. Most people have never left the town or village they were born in (although most have been to Baku at least one time in their life). I have already traveled way more within AZ than a typical Azeri.

Men usually smoke and have moustaches

When they drink (only males), it is always with a meal and they take turns giving toasts before each shot of vodka throughout the meal. They very rarely just have a drink without a meal.

It is a traditional male dominated society, but that is starting to change a little with the younger generation. Typically women stay at home all day to clean and cook and only leave the house to get groceries. There is a slight shift now where women are starting to go to college and come out and join the main work force. Once women hit the later stages of life (grandmas) they dominate the place. Old women can do and say anything they want and people out of respect go along with it. Being a Nene is a good thing! Everyone is extremely respectful to their elders and give up seats, carry bags, etc. whenever they are near an older person. They have a formal part of their language so you can change any normal phrase to the “formal” tone when speaking with elders. Older men typically hang out on the same corners or in the same tea houses all day every day (unless they work). They will literally stand (or squat) in the same spot all day long every single day-it is really quite amazing. Women are not allowed in the tea houses. It was a big deal when we finally got my old host family to let the American girls come eat with us-of course now they love it!

As far as courtship/weddings, I’ll talk about that in a later blog, there is a lot to mention.

Kids here go to normal school like in America-grade school and high school. They go 6 days a week and are required to take Azeri, Russian, and English classes. It’s amazing how many kids by age 11 or 12 can already speak all 3 languages extremely well. It makes me feel like an idiot as I struggle with my Azeri. A quick weird side note-you can write Azeri words with the Russian alphabet. Most adults cannot read Azeri in the traditional Azeri script-they read and write in Russian letters. This really confused me at first because I could not understand why people would look up words for me in what I thought was a Russian dictionary. The boys go to the army for 1 to 2 years after high school and then they may go to university or get a job in their town (many help out with the family business). AZ and Armenia have been and are currently at war over a disputed territory they both claim. Currently there is no fighting and they have been at a stand still for a few years. The first two years of university is for your bachelors and the second two years is for your masters. They have small state universities in some of the larger cities and Baku has several universities. It is hard to get jobs in AZ for young people, so many males do not have typical jobs. A large amount of the male population go to Russia to work and just come home every few months to see their families.

Everyone here seems to really be pro-America. I haven’t heard one anti-American thing since I’ve been here. They love Clinton and Bush-many people still think Clinton is the President. They love American action movies-they all know Stallone, Arnold S., Van Damme, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, etc. They like American music, but prefer Turkish or Russian tunes-many families watch music videos 24/7 in their houses. Many families watch soap operas from South America dubbed in Russian every night which is hilarious. Everyone hates what happen on 9/11 and is very anti-terrorist.

As far as food, they eat the same meals all of the time-lots of rice, fresh veggies, bread, and cheese. Not much variety in the meal selection. They drink tea scalding hot tea 24/7-it doesn’t matter if it is freezing cold or so hot people are having heat strokes. They don’t drink plain water. Everyone believes cold water makes you sick. They are very anti-cold anything here.

They are very particular about clothes. Every outfit is very stylish and cleaned and pressed so they always look good. This does not help me fit in at all since I’m against ironing clothes. They wear the same outfit usually 3-4 days in a row to cut down on washing (since most women here have to hand-wash everything). The kids are very big on blasting music from their cell phones while they walk around town. Everyone here is big on “cruising”. They don’t really walk to anywhere specific; they just walk around a ton.

Driving is an adventure. Basic street laws are not enforced, although cops will bust you for speeding…sometimes. You constantly hear car horns honking at other cars or people on the street and it’s not odd to see a car going backwards or the wrong way down a street. Driving on the wrong side of the road or on curbs is also quite common. Very rarely do you see a female driver. Most people drive Ladas here, but you see a ton of Mercedes and Hyundai cars.

That’s just a little glimpse of the Azeri culture. They are a very proud country and will tell you everything that they love about it at the drop of a hat. They are extremely family oriented-entire families live together for long periods of time or for their entire lifetime. Everyone is very affectionate. Both men and women often greet with cheek kisses and walk in pairs holding hands, arms, or with arms around their friends’ shoulder.

This week is going to be pretty low key. Today was the thrid anniversary of the passing of AZ’s first President. Everyone went to the big park in Lenkeran and put a flower by his statue in front of the new museam they are building for him. The police wouldn’t let me in to that sadly. I went with one of my co-workers to the drama theater and they had 4 people on stage giving a speech about him and then showed a video of his life for 30 minutes. It was pretty interesting-lost of kissing babies and shaking hands with important global leaders (Clinton and Bush were in there several times). It is really weird to see such a high amount of devotion to a politician-you just don’t see that in the U.S. Like I said, he’s basically the face of the country, so today was a sad day for everyone.

A quick book plug: Marley and Me by John Grogan is a great little book for anyone who has ever had a dog. I highly recommend it.

I hope everyone has a great week. Good luck to all of you taking finals at school and have fun to all of you that are going to Christmas parties all week! I would like to introduce you all to Zeka. She is Sarah's dog that we got to hang out with all weekend and she's awesome! She has a small excitement and peeing problem, but is a super cool dog. Some BP rig workers found her ditched in the freezing cold Caspian Sea and got her all fixed up and gave her to Sarah. That's Brendan and Kasey lounging with Zeka this past weekend.


At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Marley and Me" made Tye cry on our wedding night. Yes, that's right, he cried. I HATE THAT BOOK.

Peace, Love, and Mojitos.


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