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, February 26, 2007

I’m movin up in the world!!!

For the first time in my life I will live alone (which is kinda amazing in and of itself). I found a house in Lenkeran to rent and someone from the Peace Crops came down last week and approved it. A fun little old lady owns the house, but lives in Baku, so I get to rent it. It comes completely furnished (although I’ll need to buy a few things to add-mainly fans and a comfortable chair) which is nice. Unfortunately Tom is still looking for a new pad for himself. We looked for over 3 weeks and only found 5 places for $100/mo or under-which is insanely expensive since we only get $200/mo for everything. I am extremely hopeful the PC will help me out a little with my rent. By the time the PC came to approve the houses, they were all taken accept the one I got. Renting property is a weird concept out in the regions, so people won’t hold houses or sign contracts normally. It is first come first serve and you can get kicked out at any time basically. My landlord seems super nice, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to make it all 18 months in the same house. The house is right next to the big park in the middle of town, so everything is within 10 minutes walk. It has a big yard/outside area with apple, pomegranate, and cherry trees. I have an outhouse and the shower is out there as well. By shower, I mean the room that has a water faucet with a big bucket and drain that I will be bathing in. I’ll have pictures up in 2-3 weeks after I move in. I’m going to go over today and officially tell her I’m moving in and hopefully get everything squared away. I’m going to miss Nene, but I’m really excited to have my freedom again. I’m still going to see Nene at least once or twice a week, so that will be good. She’s going to cook me food for my wood chopping services.

In other news, it is snowing like crazy. Saturday night we got about 4 inches, but it all started to melt off during the day. Well it started up again last night and we have about 8-12 inches now and it just keeps coming down. This is our first big snow in Lenkeran that has stuck, so we have been playing in it a bunch. All of the CED Volunteers and our work counterparts are supposed to go to Baku on Wednesday for a 2 day training seminar so I’m hopeful it stops soon so the roads will have a chance to get cleaned off before we leave. We will have 2 full days of training and 3 nights of Baku time paid for by the PC, so it should be fun times. I’m really lookin forward to some nachos…

Our final topic this week comes as a request from my father, Ronald Hunziker-enjoy dad!

Since most of my readers have not been to this part of the world (or have but have only stayed in nice hotels), Ron thought you should be enlightened on the typical toilet scenario. I have included pictures of toilets from around town (in order: Nene’s house, my office, and Tom’s office). There are some rare sit down toilets with lids around, but not in too many places. You typically have a squatter (tiled hole in the ground) or just a hole in the ground. You pull your pants down (chicks are lucky with wearing skirts in this situation) like normal, then pull the bottoms of your pants up some, then squat low and do your work. You then typically have a small water bucket with a spout (other options are plastic bucket, plastic bottle, I have a Corona bottle at work, or a water hose) available and you pour some water on your hind quarters and use your left hand (always your left hand) to clean away after you are done. Only in hotels or really nice places to eat (basically only in Baku) do you find toilet paper. Most volunteers carry toilet paper around with them to use, but I decided to live like the rest of the country (unless I’m in a hotel that offers westernized pooping facilities and toiletries). You then dump a bucket of water into the squatter to clean up your mess (or flush if you are in a fancy place). After your have finished your business you wash your hands EXTREMELY well. Tom’s house has an in between toilet squatter. It looks like a normal toilet but doesn’t have a seat and is only half as tall as a normal toilet, so sitting down isn’t really an option even though it may look like it.

Also featured in this week’s picture collection are: a sack Nene has in the kitchen (I love it!), Nene’s yard, the big park by my new house and the main street in town-all this morning.

T minus 16 days until I move out!!! I’m off to play in the snow-ave a great end of February everybody!!!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Eurasia and Prom…

I took off for Baku on Friday with my Eurasia youth group I volunteer with. They had a 3 days training in Baku to review all of their projects that have finally been completed. We stayed at the “Aqua Park”. I was excited about this idea until we found out it was way outside of town and they didn’t have any indoor water entertainment. They had a ton of slides and pools, but they were all out door, so we didn’t get to play at all. My group made a good presentation on their accomplishments. The group of 7 managed $2,500 that they funded 5 different projects done by youths in Lenkeran with. The projects were: a 4 part debate series that was televised on local TV, an intellectual competition for college ages kids on AZ geography, history, etc., an anti-narcotics art exhibit with paintings done by youths, they printed and passed out 600 poetry books written by local youths, and also had people teach local orphans English and basic computer skills. My group is really good, so they don’t need my help much at all. It is really fun just hanging out with them and listening to all of their thoughts and observing how they work together. The high lights of the weekend were: one youth from another region changed outfits 11 times in 2.5 days (yea, we kept track) and they hired a guy to play music and a woman to sing for the kids one night. Well the kids decided to act out an entire typical Azeri wedding, but mocking themselves. They had the annoying little kids, the sloppy uncle, they went through and did all of the family toasts and dances, it was hilarious. I’d never seen kids in AZ have so much fun.

This weekend was “prom” weekend in Baku, so a bunch of us all went out together both nights. Some of us dressed up, some went in normal clothes. Tom and I had our first clothes shopping experience in AZ two weeks ago when I bought a stretchy denim pants and jacket combo and Tom got some shinny pants and a top notch sweater for the prom occasion. We also celebrated Charlie’s and Magda’s birthdays throughout the weekend as well. It was good times had by all…

Tom and I spent a lot of time last week on our respective house searches. We have found a couple of good houses and apartments and a ton of not so good ones. The prices in AZ have jumped up (especially since we live in a larger city), so we haven’t been able to find anything really cheap that would meet the PC requirements of living. The guy in charge of housing is coming to visit on Thursday of this week to check out what we’ve found (we both have to provide a couple of options for him to inspect), so hopefully we can each get everything all set up by the end of this week. I had my talk with Nene on Thursday night. She took it well, although she wasn’t too excited by the idea of me moving out. I’m still going to go hang out there some and she asked me to chop wood for her each week, so that will be good. Hopefully I can get a meal every now and then out of her. I’m still having an internal debate if I’m going to request continued use of her clothes washing machine for me helping her out or if I’m going to suck it up and hang wash everything. I’m sure I’m going to do the right thing for my experience here and hand wash all of my clothes, but it is freaking miserable!!!

Last, but certainly not least, I would like to give a very special shout out to Parker and Preston Noffz who came into the world sometime last Friday. Welcome boys, glad to have you with us. Go easy on your mom….

The pictures in order are of: my Eurasia kids, a big group of the kids singing songs, Charlie and I in our room, Lucas and I going to Prom (that’s my super sweet outfit), Ben, Maria, Ram and me, and Charlie and I have some McDonalds while waiting on a bus.

Monday, February 12, 2007

It was bound to happen eventually…..

In this blog I wanted to give you guys a little insight to my never ending battle with the local language. I also have a ridiculous story at the end that it is well worth your time to read.

So the local language is Azeri (which is really close to Turkish). Pretty much everyone in AZ also is fluent in Russian as well. Since they were a part of the Soviet Union for so long, Russian became their unofficial main language. There are also other dialects used in the different regions (Talish is spoken down south where I live, but in the small villages-most people in Lenkeran only know a small amount of Talish). You can read and write the Azeri language with Russian letters, which really threw me off for a while. There is a large amount of the population that cannot read Azeri, even though they speak it every day. They have little English to Azeri dictionaries that are written in Russian. That threw me off for months because I thought people were looking up things in Russian and then translating them in their heads to English. If you go to Baku, most business is done in Russian. It is really weird to me. I’m doing ok in the language, but not great. I can speak it, but I still can’t keep up in conversations that well, especially with new people or multiple people talking. I’m going to attempt to learn Russian starting in Mayish if I can get my Azeri good enough by then.

The Azeri alphabet has 32 letters. It has a few “combo” letters for some English sounds-“ch” & “sh” are each only one letter-ç & ş. It has a dotted i (İ) & an un-dotted ı (I), regular e & ə, regular u, g, and o & ü, ğ, and ö. They have a few different letters that to me sound the exact same to me, but to Azeris they are completely different-this does not help my communication ability what so ever and is extremely frustrating. I just don’t hear the difference and it drives people crazy (I just think it is a hoax to mess with my head). Their sentence structure is different that English also. Here’s the basic structure-1st time/day/place, 2nd subject, 3rd any descriptors or second verbs (all of the stuff the end of an English sentence), last is the verb. So you say the subject and everything else and then have to wait to hear what the action is. It makes it hard to get to the point quickly. The Azeri language is big on suffixes-they have zero prefixes as far as I know. They use suffixes to tell you possession, direction (from, to, etc.), to make plural, who the word relates to, to make it an adjective, adverb, and for the words must, is, have, were, etc. You can put 3, 4, or 5 different suffixes all together on one little word. The verbs all start out as “to verb”, so the root word is “to run” or “to talk”. Then you change the ending if you need to change the tense so it goes from “to talk” to “have talked”. When you change the verb’s tense you also have to put a personal ending with it so you know which person in the sentence was doing that specific verb. So the English phrase “I have walked” is one word in Azeri. I kinda like that-it makes things a little more basic/not as wordy. They have one word for he/she/it, so you never know if they are talking about a guy/girl/dog/watermelon unless they previously told you. One thing that is sometimes fun and sometimes annoying is that when you first walk up to someone, there are about 10 different greetings that you just keep saying back to each other over and over until finally someone decides to start the actual conversation. The Azeris don’t get straight to the point like Americans. I like that because it is really friendly, but it also drives me nutz when it just drags on when all I want to do is ask a quick question. This is extremely evident during phone conversations. People go through all of these greetings without ever knowing who they are talking to. They never announce who it is that is calling until finally someone either recognizes the voice or decides to ask “who is this” well into the conversation. It is a fun language and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of learning it. Since this is the first language I’ve ever really tried to learn (I wouldn’t say I tried to hard in my high school Spanish and neither did my teachers/grades) it has been pretty difficult for me. Thankfully all of my Azeri friends are patient with me and help me out all the time. I also have a great little teacher that comes to work every day, so that helps a ton.

The weather is back to fantastic low 60’s and sunny during the day, so life is good. I’m heading to Baku on Friday morning for 2.5 days of training for my Eurasia youth group I volunteer with. We are staying at the “Aqua Park”, so I’m hoping they at least have an indoor pool going we can play in. This weekend is also PC Prom-basically an excuse for everyone to come to Baku on the same weekend, possibly dress up in fun outfits and go out together. Magda and Charlie will also be turning a year older early the next week, so this will serve as their birthday celebration weekend. Magda has a pirate fetish, so I think we will have one night pirate theme and one night prom theme. That should make for nothing short of a fantastic weekend! I am going to tell Nene this week that I’m moving out next month (assuming I can find a freaking house in the next 6 weeks), so keep your fingers crossed for me on that conversation going well. I’m not sure how she’s going to take it, so I’m pretty nervous. I told her when I moved in that I would be moving out in six months (that’s when the PC rule runs up and we can decide where we want to live), but she seems to have forgotten that conversation completely. I’ve already written a script in an attempt to make that conversation as painless as possible. And finally….

Just so you all know that I am still the complete idiot I was back in the US, I have a story to tell. I want to set the stage first-we have zero street lights in Lenkeran, there isn’t much of a moon right now so things are pitch black, and we usually walk in the middle of the road with our cell phones out to light up the way if we think we see a puddle or huge hole in the ground.

In AZ they don’t have an underground sewage system. They just have little ditches (see picture) that run along every normal road that cars drive on (not little back allies and paths). The ditches are about a foot wide, about 2-3 feet deep and just have typical sewage stuff in them-leaves, trash, water, cow patties, sheep patties, dirt, etc. Every now and then they come by and shovel the stuff out-yummy! They have pieces of metal covering some small parts in front of shops that you can step on to get to the shop and/or sidewalk. They also obviously have it paved over where cars need to drive. Well we always joke that one day someone is going to not pay attention and break an ankle or something in one of those. Well lucky me, I am now the first that I know of to have a sewage ditch experience. Last night on my way home from Tom’s house I was texting Rikki George, completely not paying attention to the road and all of a sudden walked into one of these ditches. I sunk in sludge up to my knees and the only thing I could do was laugh. Walking home covered in sludge and in the 45 degree weather is not the most fun thing. I went back to Tom’s to get some pants to change into. He opened the door and about fell down due to laughing convulsions. Needless to say I didn’t smell too good and from my knees down I was covered in black “stuff”. It wasn’t quite as bad as the time we were snow sledding in Bartlesville and I tried to sled over some ice, broke through the ice into what I later realized was also sewage. That was head on and in full winter gear-but I think they both smelled equally disgusting. I’m currently waiting for the water to heat up in my bathroom area so I can hose myself off! Hopefully that little story made everyone’s day a little brighter.

The pictures in today’s blog were (in order shown): the moon from Nene’s balcony the other night, 3 rows of wood stacks under where we shower-each row from floor to ceiling is the amount of wood I have to chop/we use for each month, my ditch I walked into, a close up of the contents I went directly into and a goat head at toms’ house on Sunday-sadly we missed the slaughtering sadly.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Kids say the craziest things…

This week’s blog will focus on the letters that Tom and I received last week from his friend Jackie’s 5th grade class. This was our second batch of letters from out new pen pals in Chicago. Apparently they thought our first set of responses was funny enough to write back to us, so we were both glad. Our rules in writing back is that we answer every question asked, draw a picture for every picture drawn, and we also write back the exact amount written to us in the exact same format. The more the kid gives us, the more we give the kid…it’s called tough love. I am not including any names with the quotes (all of these quotes were said directly to me or me and Tom together), but remember, these are 5th graders….

You sound crazy, no offense.

Eggplant sounds nasty, I mean the name is horrible. If you are going to invent a food, I’d call it something good.

So which one of you ate the goat heart? That’s disgusting.

Are you a murderer? Are you planning to kill us? I hope not.

If you were on fire and there was a hose across the street but a truck was coming would you be: A-hit by a truck and die or B-Burn to death

If you were in a house and it was falling down and trees were falling down a hill at you would you: A-be crashed under a house or B-be killed by trees

(The last three about me being a killer or getting killed were all from the same girl.)

I’m writing a book about these radio active sea creatures that attack Earth.

I really like the Legos I got because they rock! (the exact same thing I say every year at Christmas)

I wouldn’t like going to the bathroom in an outhouse, but I guess it really doesn’t matter.

Ashley, my name is far better than yours and Tom’s. I’m not saying your names are bad, they just aren’t as good as mine.

Over break I bruised my brother’s ear! I wouldn’t have, but who know an ear could bruise!

Ha ha you don’t have any pets. I have 1 hamster named Hollywood, 1 lizard named Pete, 1 fish named Angel Eyes and 1 frog named Aristotle.

No duh, Sponge Bob is superior to Garfield and Odie muhahahaha


And my favorite….

I don’t have much to say but I think I can cough something up.

Some of the pictures included were of radio active sea monsters, a Bears player kicking broccoli, ponies, and penguins. We also each have 2 games of international tic-tac-toe going. Needless to say, this is by far the most fun thing I’ve done in the PC!

In other news, there is not much to report. Our sunny weather took off and it has been overcast and cooler the last week or so. Tom and I had a meeting in Baku on Monday morning, so we went to Baku Sunday and got to watch the Super Bowl live on a huge TV at an ex-pat’s house! Man it was fun to watch live American sports while eating queso (thank you Tom’s Aunt and Uncle!), even if it started at 3:30am and I stayed up all night. Tom wasn’t too happy with the outcome of the game being the psycho Bears fan that he is. We had an ESPN feed so we had Sterling Sharpe as our commentator and he was HORRIBLE! He was driving us insane. We also didn’t get any of the commercials from America, so that kinda sucked, but hey, I’ll take anything I can get these days. It is hard to be picky when you don’t get much…