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, January 15, 2007

4 months in baby!!!

The following pictures are of T’blisi (that’s Ram in front of the castle), us on the mountain skiing (me, Charlie, Magda, Ben, Kasey, Jenny’s back and Rachel), Me, Rikki George, Ina, and Bethany’s forehead this past weekend, some “Greasy” Wash and Go shampoo we found, and me with my group of kids I played with last weekend-more on that below).

This week I wanted to cover courtship in Azerbiajan-once again, this is only my view as a single American guy that hasn't had a serious girlfriend in a while and has only been here for a few months. I have the perfect, true story lead in from last week in Lenkeran:

An Azeri kid was driving his car around town and saw an attractive girl walking down the street. The guy decided it was a good idea to follow this girl for a while and then she turned off the street into the huge main park in town. Well our masculine hero decided street or no street, he was going to continue his pursuit, so he drove right into the park. About 50 yards in he realized this was maybe a bad idea, turned around, and drove out. Well someone got his license plate number and they tracked him down in a town about 20 minutes away from Lenkeran a few days later. He had to go to jail for 15 days and every morning he had to go to that same park and sweep it with the old sweeping ladies so that the girl could see just how cool he was every morning. I freaking love that punishment…

So that’s basically a good intro on Azeri style courtship. Obviously it is kinda different than in America (although I’d imagine most guys I know have followed a hot chick before, just not me, that’s immature). There is no “dating” here. Typically a guy sees a girl he likes at school or a wedding or something, tells his parents he wants to marry her, they call the girls’ family, explain the situation, and then they set it up. The guy has to come ask the girl to marry him, and she can say no-I’m not sure how often that usually happens, but do know a girl that declined a few months ago (and no, it was not me asking her). Supposedly after the age of 25 for girls, they are considered past their prime, so they want to get married ASAP. They get married in a mosque-signing the official documents and exchanging rings, etc. but with no family or anybody else in attendance, but then live apart for about 6 months. During that time they have a “girl wedding” and a “guy wedding”. There are gifts given and dressing up before each wedding and the group of main cars going to the wedding put ribbons and stuff on their cars and haul ass all around town constantly honking their horns and swerving all over the place so that every single person in the entire town knows that there is a wedding (this happens every single day, sometimes multiple times a day-not my favorite thing ever). The girl wedding is close to an American wedding reception with guys, girls, music, food, dancing and drinking (for the men). The guy wedding is strictly for men and is basically the same thing but no chicks. Lots of toasts are given by each side of the family. After a certain group of men (or women) gives a toast, they then go out and dance in a group for a song. This rotation of toasts and dancing goes on form 6-12 pm, I love it. Very rarely do men and women mix on the dance floor (an exception being when Nene made me dance with her at the first wedding she took me to). One nice feature is that they usually have several video cameras going around during the wedding with live feeds to TVs all over the room, so you can constantly watch the wedding that you are at on TV while you are there. The favorite national past time here is to watch wedding videos. People here will literally watch the same video 4 times in a night, it’s unbelievable. When you show up at the “wedding”, you give a guy at the door money and he writes down how much you gave and your name. Each person is expected to give the same amount at every wedding they attend usually. This money goes to the father that is paying for the wedding to cover the cost of the wedding (if he gets shorted he’s out money and the other way around he makes money). You kind of pay for how much you think you will drink and eat, or if it is a good family friend you give more.

Having said all of that, my host parents during training have been sweethearts since the 5th grade, so this “typical courtship” is not always the case, just most of the time. Baku apparently is its own separate planet and dating and things of that sort go on there quite often. Out in the rest of the country, especially the villages, guys and girls typically aren’t allowed to interact, so dating is completely out of the question. Everyone here is really concerned about people gossiping about them, so they make sure not to be seen anywhere near a person of the opposite sex in public. A friend of mine had to set up an elaborate scheme so that her friend could walk on the beach with a boy she likes for 15 minutes one day. It was amazing the planning that went into a 15 walk in broad daylight. Turns out that she found out in that 15 minutes that she really didn’t like the guy…go figure….

In other news, last week gasoline, natural gas, and electricity prices all sky rocketed in AZ, permanently it seems. This means that everything in the country is going to go up in cost, so it will be interesting to see if the PC gives us any extra funds. Obviously none of the locals are happy about this what so ever considering they have a major oil and natural gas pipeline running through their country and the fact that they don’t have gas or electricity consistently in most of the country as it is anyways.

Last week we had the PC Security and Medical Officers pay us a site visit, so Tom, Tim and I got to meet the head of the hospital (I’m going to have to be in a really bad way to go near a hospital here so let’s think good thoughts about that) and the Chief of Police. They were both extremely nice guys and gave us their personal cell numbers incase we ever need anything what so ever.

A group of 10 of us when to a town called Imishli (kinda in central AZ) for a Right to Play (an organization out of Canada that promotes exercise and athletics to kids in underdeveloped countries) Day. We played games like tug of war, duck, duck, goose, red rover, etc. with about 100 kids in the 10-12 year old range on Sunday afternoon. It was a freaking blast man! I think we may have had more fun than the kids did. I kept getting picked on in duck, duck, goose, so I was tired after all was said and done. I didn’t see it, but I hear Jenny got nailed in the head with a ball. I’m hopeful that I can work more with this organization while I’m here because P.E./gym class isn’t really common over here and kids don’t get much exercise unless they are a boy that plays soccer after school. There isn’t much organized sports for kids unless you are in Baku it seems.

My boss came back to work today; I hadn’t seen him in a month. He told me that “2006 is over and that means school is over. This is 2007 and I am going to be very busy.” I’m excited to see what that means exactly. Tomorrow Tom and I am going to meet with the Director of Education in Lenkeran to try to set up a conversation club to help kids practice speaking English. Then I’m going to a local school to try to set up a project for their kids to do some sort of community service if I can get this Disney Grant for them. I think Rikki George, Kasey and Rachel may come visit this coming weekend, we are all kind of Baku’d out right now. Tom’s aunt and uncle sent queso fixins, so I’m counting the minutes until Saturday afternoon when we cook that up…


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