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…

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Home Sweet Home!!!

Well I officially moved into my new house on Wednesday morning! Thankfully a PC staff was in town that day, so he could drive all of my junk to my new pad. I only came over here with 3 big bags (not that big of a deal really), but since then I have received 3 big boxes of books from the family as well as some American food treats I got a huge sleeping bag, water filter, med kit, and tons of other papers and things from the PC. Oddly enough, I will probably not bring much if any of this stuff back to the US when I head home (I plan on burning all of my clothes before I take off).

My house is small and includes the following: bedroom with 3 twin beds, a china cabinet and a decent sized table, a hallway type area that has a couch, small table, book shelf, armoire, and sink (this is the room you walk into when you come in the front door), then a kitchen with a counter/table, cabinet, sink, and small gas balloon for cooking. My house does not have gas but has pretty good electricity since it is right next to the main park and mayor’s office. I have a big yard area, but it is mostly cement. I have about 10 or so little fruit trees, my own water well, and a small porch. My bathroom is outside about 20 steps from my front door and has a squatter toilet. Next to it is a small room with a huge bucket under a faucet next to a wood burning furnace deal. I will be taking bucket baths for the next few months (although my land lady mentioned she may put in a shower type apparatus at some point if I pay her each month). There is an “electrical prong” deal that I can plug in and put in the bucket of water to heat it up. I’ll be attempting my first shower sometime Tuesday, so I’ll let you all know how it goes.

My land lady is in the other side of the house (which is completely blocked off from my side) currently, but will be going back to live in Baku later this week. I pay $100 AZN a month (about $115 US), and this is the cheapest decent place I could find. Tom and I shared a “freedom beer” the night I moved in and it tasted FANTASTIC! It is going to take some adjusting and trial and error as far as shopping and cooking for myself. I have a refrigerator but haven’t plugged it in yet to see how well it works. My diet will probably consist mostly of pasta, rice, eggs, bread, cheese, fruits and veggies and some occasional meat. I’m still unpacking my stuff and it is just starting to hit me how life on my own is going to be, but I’m really excited. I’ll have to go to the bazaar a ton to buy my food and deal with the people there and shop owners on a very consistent basis, so I’m excited about that local interaction. Having to plan what I’m going to eat and having to go to the bazaar and buy stuff every couple of days will be annoying probably, but it will be good for me.

I have only stayed in my house two nights so far because we had out second “America Day” in Aghjabedi this weekend. About 10 Volunteers came to Rikki George, Kasey, Ressa, and Candice’s home town on Friday and Saturday to talk to some kids about living in the States. We had a Valentine’s Day room where we talked about this history of it the holiday and then we all made Valentines Cards. After some tea and cookies we had a St. Patrick’s Day room where some Volunteers acted out the story of St. Patrick and then had the kids do a scavenger hunt to get the “pot of gold” at the end. Everything went really well and it seemed like the kids had a good time. Candice and some other guys made some really good chicken chili Friday night which was worth the trip in and of itself.

This week in AZ is “Novruz” which marks the beginning of spring as well as what they consider the unofficial beginning of the year. There will be a lot of good food to eat and some fun traditions such as: jumping over fire which symbolizes letting go of your bad experiences of the past year/starting fresh for the new year, going down to the river and getting some water to splash around your yard and wash your hands and face with (this is a Lenkeran thing), they grow plates of grass (actually sprout type deals) in their houses and then plant them in their yards, the kids toss their hats at houses and get them filled with candy (kinda like Halloween), and most importantly everyone has entire week off!!! I’m heading to my boss’ house for the first time for the main nights feast, so I’m excited about that.

This week I will be getting adjusted to my new surroundings (I have to buy a few items for my house but not much), participating in Novruz as much as possible, going to a training given by Right To Play in Baku on Friday which is also when the Kniolas (Tom’s parents) are getting to AZ! We are going to hang out with them in Baku for the weekend and then bring them back to Lenkeran on Sunday just in time for Nene’s 70th b’day celebration. Rumor has it that Tom and I are going to get to slaughter the goat for Nene’s party, so there is a hint of excitement in the air…

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ode to Nene

Well, this has officially been my last week/weekend living with Nene. I can move out on Wednesday at 12:01am (I actually may wait until 9 or 10am though). I just did my last two huge loads of laundry so I can put off hand washing stuff for as long as possible. I’ve been extremely lucky in my service so far that I’ve had two amazing host families. It has made my stay in AZ much easier and a lot more fun. Several of my friends have had not so good situations, had to change families a few times, and it has made their time here a lot more stressful that it needs to be. All week Nene has been giving me the semi-guilt trip. Here is a sampling of what she’s told me this past week: she will call me when she’s making a good meal so I can come eat “good food”, I can come eat every breakfast and dinner if I want, Tom can take my place and move in, she wants another Volunteer if one comes down here, my family should still stay here when they come visit, I can’t take care of myself because I’m a baby, she’s asked me how/what I’m going to cook for myself about 50 times, etc. She will miss me and I’ll miss her, but I’m only moving 5-10 minutes away and I’m sure I’ll be over here at least once a week (and a lot more once she starts trying to teach me Russian in a few months). Plus, the week of the 20th of March is a big holiday week so I’ll visit a lot and then she turns 70 on the 27th, so we are going to have a big party for her!

Last week I heard some good news that I am going to get my first little grant to build a safe playing area for a local orphanage for disabled kids with the help of kids from two local schools, so that is exciting. Tom and I are starting to plan an America Day in Lenkeran for May (we are going to one in Agjahbedi this weekend that Rikki George and Kasey planned). I am also starting to work on ideas for larger scale projects with my co-workers and boss, so there is a lot more interaction in our office, which is nice.

Here is a poem I wrote a couple of months ago for our PCAZ news letter that a few Volunteers send out every few months:

Ode to Nene

By Ashley R. Seuss

I have only one Azeri Nene, yes I do.

I have only one Azeri Nene, how about you?

She’s 70 years old, but acts like a youth.

She’s 70 years old, but it doesn’t seem like the truth.

She calls me “baby”, maybe I am.

She calls me “baby”, because she can.

I live with my Nene, and that is all.

I live with my Nene, and she is a ball!

She names our chickens, yes she does.

She names our chickens, just because.

She burnt our hamam, believe me she did.

She burnt our hamam, and laughed like a kid.

She watches US movies, with me every day.

She watches US movies, and says “Wow” and “Hey”.

I live with my Nene, and that is all.

I live with my Nene, and she is a ball!

When she dances to music, she likes to get down.

When she dances to music, it looks like the doll version of James Brown.

She likes McDonald’s and Kool-Aide, you better believe.

She likes McDonald’s and Kool-Aide, and I taught her to say “Geeeeeze”.

When she speaks English, she sounds like E.T..

When she speaks English, I laugh uncontrollably.

I live with my Nene, and that is all.

I live with my Nene, and she is a ball!

She cooks the same meal, for three meals in a row.

She cooks the same meal, and won’t let me say no.

She had a sleep over, with Rikki, Rachel, and Kasey.

She had a sleep over, tucked them each in and said “good night baby”.

She is the best Nene, that there ever was.

She is the best Nene, and I love her just because.

I live with my Nene, and that is all.

I live with my Nene, and she is a ball!

The pictures are of: the flowers Tom and I bought her for International Women’s day (March 8th-the entire country has work off for this day), Nene’s room (she has bunk beds-not seen), 2 single beds pushed together, one “sleeper couch” an armoire, wall furnace, and small chest of drawers), a storage room under our house, all of the jars of pickled eggplant, pickled tomatoes, pickles, pickled peppers, etc. and jars of natural fruit juices (of course with tons of sugar added so it is like natural Kool-Aide), a bed under the house with tons of basketballs, soccer balls, skate boards, and other random spots stuff, and a Russian music cassette tape I found in her kitchen cabinet-a complete surprise because unlike me, Azeris don’t like hot chicks in bikinis really, so her Russian living style is showing through here, and of course Nene.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Not a lot to talk about this week. We had 2 days of training with our counterparts in Baku late last week. It was interesting to see the differences in everyone’s counterparts as well as what the counterparts had to say vs. what the volunteers had to say about our first 6 months at our assignments. There are some things that we all have to work on a little to better fit in with our new surroundings still, but everything should work out fine. I hit McDonald’s twice, had nachos once, and pizza twice, so it was a big weekend for my belly. Upon arrival to Baku I found out that I have officially lost 16 or 17 pounds since I left America. This is a little distorted since I ate a ton before I left and was a few pounds heavier than usual. What will be really interesting to see is what my weight does once I’m in charge of my own meals starting next week.

We had over two feet of snow total last weekend, so there were snow ball fights had and snow men made which was fun. I think we officially found Tom a house today, so that is good news for the Lenkeran crew. A few other Volunteers have found new places, but a lot of people are still having a tough time with it.

I have two Nene high lights of the week. This morning when we were eating breakfast a piece of wood in the fire made a loud pop/crackle noise and she told me seriously that the wood was talking about her-I kinda believe her oddly enough. She also cleaned my room while I was in Baku and said she had to clean my curtains 3 times because of the smoke from my furnace and then just stared at me like I did it on purpose. I told her it was her furnace that did it, but that I think black curtains are very pretty.

I am still waiting to hear on my grant from Disney, so hopefully I’ll get some good news on that soon. I just met with a local teacher and Tom and I are going to meet with her students for an hour each we to help them practice their English speaking. I also got some good news from the PC that a proposal a few of us made to create an environmental committee has been accepted. I also met with a local entrepreneurial organization and am hopeful that I can arrange/help with some basic business skills trainings at the new business center in Lenkeran. I don’t feel like I’ve done too much so far in my first six months as far as projects, I kept using the language and new environment as excuses, but that should all be changing now and hopefully I can get some good projects going ASAP.

I would like to say Hello! to another addition to the extended friends family: Ryan Elizabeth Hughes decided she was sick of traveling with Nikki 24/7 and joined the world late last week. Matt “Mr. Mom” Hughes should already be in full effect…

Pictures seen this week are of Magda, me, Tom, Rikki George and Ben at dinner, me, Ben, Tom and Magda screwing around in the hotel, me, Tom, and Rikki George, some funny little kid we saw in a store, the final snow count at Nene’s, Nene’s electrical set up with battery collectors, surge protector, and all sorts of junk it takes to have consistent electricity in Lenkeran, and finally what I use to wash my clothes…seriously it is called “Barf”-I can’t make this stuff up…