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…

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Becoming old ain’t so bad…

Well, I guess turning 30 is just like any other birthday, it just sounds a lot older than 29. Maybe I don’t feel that much different since I still act like I’m 16. What ever it is, I’m officially cool with being 30 so BRING IT ON!

I hung out with Tom in Lenkeran for a mini Ashley birthday/Tom going to America party (read we made queso, cocktails, and played games all night) on Wednesday. On Thursday I headed up to Sheki (north central AZ) to help Magda with a marketing project for her company. My program manager Elmir was in town, so he treated us to a nice birthday dinner, which was really fun. Sheki has a really nice hotel that serves American food, so I had 2 cheeseburgers with fries and 2 caesar salads over the weekend. I do miss a good salad being over here. Then on Saturday, a couple of us headed up to some mountains near Sheki to hike and camp for the night. The weather was perfect all weekend! We hiked for about 3 hours each way and found some really cool water falls up in the hills. It was by far one of the best weekends I’ve had in country so far!

What else? Lenkeran is becoming hotter and more humid with each passing day-not excited for the summer what so ever! I am starting to remember how miserable last summer was and am not looking forward to the sequel. Sadly I missed the Lenkeran soccer game yesterday. We are officially the AZ Champions! I am hoping that is a good omen for OU football this year!

This week I will be spending a ton of time trying to plan our trip to Egypt, so that should keep me busy. Alison is off trekking through Europe right now and Ron and Becky will get into Baku Saturday morning. They are in for a bit of a shock I think. Rumor has it most of the PCVs are all coming into Baku this weekend to play and meet them. I hope they survive Saturday night!

I hope you all had a fantastic Memorial Day!

Pictures this week are of: the hills/mountains we hiked in, the cow that decided to visit our camp site, madga dumping rocks out of her boots, the river we followed to the water falls, the water falls, Charlie cooking our toasted meat and cheese sandwich, and the perfect night sky looking up from my sleeping bag.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I mean what a relief. I worked for 11 straight hours with Tom and two workers (and all of the orphans for the last couple of hours) to finally finish my freaking playground! We cut about 100 square meter sections of grass, loaded them on a huge dump truck, then unloaded and put them on the playground. We got all of the sod put down at 8pm and realized we still needed 4 square meters of grass. My body is going through complete shock having worked all day since it normally does nothing athletic besides walking around town or throwing a baseball with Tom for an hour. I’ve been shaking for hours and had several dizzy spells-I’m not joking. I have 3 massive hand blisters and am filthy, but it is done, so I am happy as can be. The pictures on today’s blog will be of the progression of the playground that only took 2 months to complete. It feels good to have that and America Day all wrapped up. They both ended up successes, but I sure did learn a lot about how things work here while working on these projects. Hopefully I can learn from that and avoid some of the pitfalls I found in my future projects.

Last week was really low key. It was my boss’ birthday, so I didn’t see him at all last week. That means I spent very little time at work. I read a bunch, started working out for the first time since last September, and relaxed. Now that the projects are done, I will be spending this week planning the Egypt trip, reading a ton, and looking for a new house. My land lady told me she is not moving out and her son is going to move in with her. That means that I am not happy and leaving as soon as I can find a new place. Renting homes and living alone are just two things that they don’t comprehend well here. I think she never planned on leaving and thought I would just let her stay there after I saw how nice she was. WRONG! I am going to head up to Sheki to help Magda with a marketing project on Thursday (should be my first hot all day bus ride of 2007-can’t wait!) and Friday. I think we will go hiking in the mountains around Sheki during the weekend, so I’m really excited about that. It should be a nice and relaxed way to spend my bday. Tom takes off for America on Friday, so we are cooking a Mexican feast for his office and a couple of other friends on Tuesday night. We will see if they like enchiladas as much as they liked lasagna.

Well Ron and Becky will be here a week from Friday, so that is exciting. I sent them a wish list that includes ladder golf, a 9 iron and some golf balls and other miscellaneous fun things! Alison takes off this week for a tour de Europe that will end meeting us in Cairo and then coming back to AZ with me for a few days. It will be fun to show the family my new home country and to see their reactions at my current life style. I’ve always been the odd ball of the family, so this should just further enforce that in their minds…

Happy Memorial Day Everybody!!!!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Barda Baseball

This week started off pretty slow. I had to recover from the America Day week for a couple of days. Tom, Carlo and I went to a natural hot water spring in Lenkeran to replenish our bodies and souls-man it felt great. There are several springs like that around Lenkeran so I’ll be hitting that place up a ton this coming winter. We painted the goals and put the nets on the basketball hoops and soccer goals on Tuesday. That was all that got done on my playground because this past week was full of Azeri holidays. We had a black holiday on Tuesday that was the anniversary of a town in AZ being taken over from their neighboring country, Victory Day on Wednesday, then Heydar Aliyev’s (the former President) birthday anniversary on Thursday. I hope to finish the grass on the playground this week so I can finally get my project over with and fill out all of the paperwork for PC and Disney.

This past weekend a group of Volunteers all headed to a town called Barda that is in the middle of AZ. Volunteers in four towns have been organizing softball teams in their towns with Azeri youths. They had a mini-tournament on Saturday and Tom and I got to play on the Sheki team due to their lack of Volunteers in their town. I am not known for my softball skills, but we had a blast! The Volunteers that organized the teams and the weekend did a great job. They had a great turn out of kids to play as well as locals to watch the games. We then had a massive Americans only game on Sunday that was a blast! My body was completely worn down after that game. It was really sunny and kinda hot out Sunday and my body just isn’t used to physical activity. It is freaking pathetic. One major surprise of the weekend was when we showed up Friday night in Barda, Mary had made a huge dinner for us including MEAT LOAF!!! Man, I love me some meat loaf and Mary did a great job! As if that wasn’t enough, Carol then whipped out a huge pan of apple cobbler and five tubs of Azeri ice cream. I mean I was stuffed beyond my limits but it was sooo worth it…

Other things that are going on:

The weather has been great so I have been sleeping outside most nights-it feels great

Ron and Becky get here in less than three weeks

I’m starting to plan the big Egypt trip for us

I had my first hot bus ride of the year this past weekend-man I’m not ready for the blazing hot summer yet

And last but not least, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY MOM! That also goes for all of my friends who are apparently baby factories!!!!

Sorry for the lack of pictures this week, I am slacking. This is myself and Carlo fixing up the goals and nets last week.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

More America Day Pics

Ok guys, here are some more pictures from America Day. They are the kids in my room, me presenting our american slide, another room pic, breandan teaching a girl how to hold the bat, tom pitching to the one line of kids, two group pics just before the last of the gang left, and finally the cardboard batting tee tom and i made for ben (talked about in following blog). My blog about it plus more pictures follows this set of pics…ash

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

America Day Var!!!!

I mean, what a freaking week in Lenkeran! I don’t even know where to begin…

First of all, everyone around town kept telling us that May 1st would be amazing weather. This was hard to believe since it rained approximately 28 out of 30 days in April at least a few hours each day. Amazingly enough, it was freaking gorgeous on May 1st. Mid 70’s and not a cloud in the sky. One cue, all of the stores in town brought out coolers with tons of ice cream in them! It was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen as far as weather prediction accuracy. Maybe the Houston weather guys should call the Azeris and ask them the next day forecast-they couldn’t be more wrong than those guys, even from half way around the world.

I had to call the Mayor’s Office 6-15 times a day every day of the week bugging them about the permission we needed for America Day. It drove me nutz! They sent a letter to the Baku Mayor’s Office to ask permission for out little day for some reason. Finally on Thursday I call my guy and he says “Of course there is not a problem. Why would you ever think that?” Oddly enough I had to call him three more times that day to get the guy two power levels below him to call the directors of each school to pass the permission along. We went to two of our three schools Friday morning to invite the kids for Saturday’s event.

On Friday most of the crew that was invited (we asked 20 PCVs to come help us manage our expected hoard) showed up to Lenkeran. We had a nice and relaxing evening where we showed some people around town and everyone got their first chance to sample Lenkeran’s Famouse Lavangi (the rotisserie chicken with stuffing). Everyone was more than impressed-our reputation for AZ’s best food is still in tact thankfully.

Saturday morning we took some more people on a tour of the “hot spots” in town and then we made a surprise visit to Nene’s house. She was really surprised (she knew they were in town but I didn’t tell her we were stopping by). She was mad at me for not warning so she could have cooked for us all. I told her that may have put her in the hospital, so most people just drank some local tea (not me, don’t worry). Then we headed back to my house to put the finishing touches on our skits, picture presentations and logistics for America Day taken care of.

We got to School 4 in time to set up the food for the kids, the props, computer projector, etc. A little after 2:00 there were three parades of approximately 35 kids apiece flooding to the school. We had the Deputy Mayor say a few words to kick the day off (he’s hilarious and made me “coax” him into talking-the oh, well, I guess if you really want me to I can say a few words, but it really isn’t necessary, beg me some more and maybe it’ll happen routine). We then split the kids in half-50 kids out back to the play area and 50 kids into the conference room. Out back Tom and half of the PCVs did skits about Memorial Day and 4th of July. They had some really funny stuff to help the kids follow along with what they were saying. We had some people talking in English (it is America Day after all) and people translating for some of the kids. I didn’t see this, but apparently at one point when they were talking about the Boston Tea Party, Tom dumped out a few packets of tea on the ground and stomped on them. The kids’ faces were those of complete shock for a few minutes, and then they kinda decided to laugh. Like I’ve said time and time again, people drink tea here 24/7 and they couldn’t comprehend why someone would do such a thing as to waste any of it. Yet another funny lesson learned in AZ! My room we had talked and answered questions about summer vacations in America, showed a slide show of American hot spots and then an Azeri hot spot slide show. We encouraged the kids to take a trip to somewhere in AZ they have never been before. Most people here do not travel outside of their towns (except Baku trips), so this is a big deal to encourage we think.

After that was over was when the pure insanity took over. We had two representatives from the local Ministry of Youth and Sports go with us on a 25 minute walk through the center of town with 20 PCVs and 100 kids to a big sports field. Two friends brought down softball equipment from their towns and we set up two areas to show kids how to hit softballs and one area where they could play catch. 99% of the kids had never played baseball (most of them had never even seen it), so it was a lot of fun to watch them go after it. The girls here are great and wanted to play just as much as the boys. No one was happy when we finally called it quits around 6pm, but a great time was had by all! Tom and I got really lucky because America Day went about as smoothly as we could have wished for and local kids, local leaders and the PCVs all had a freakin awesome time!

After that was all done we treated out guests from out of town to a Cinco de Mayo 100 count chicken soft taco feast including a HUGE bucket of queso and four bags of Tostitos tortilla chips from America. Needless to say we all stuffed ourselves silly. This wasn’t near the spread the Embassy had for us for Turkey Day, but it was pretty freaking good for a couple of PCVs. A special shout out to the Hunzikers and Kniolas for the two insane gift boxes for all of us that included sombreros, decorations, maracas, Mexican spices, Velveeta, chips, and other amazing times. Your praises were sung highly throughout the night! Having an outdoor feast with a bunch of our friends was the perfect way to top off a huge local success for Tom and I in Lenkeran! A special thank you to the PC Staff and all of the PCVs that helped out with America Day! Everyone in Lenkeran had a freakin blast!

All of our friends really liked Lenkeran and you could feel the jealousy seeping from their skin as we had perfect weather and not a bad little town to live in as well! We also celebrated Terah’s 26th birthday this past weekend. She brought down Lyka for me to finally meet. For those of you that haven’t heard, I have been offered to take over puppy patrol when Terah splits for America in August when she’s done (she’s an AZ3), so Lykya and I did some major bonding over the weekend. Tom and I also presented Ben with his belated b’day gift-a home made cardboard tee ball set due to Ben’s inability to hit a waffle ball in any way, shape or form. Thankfully he takes us constantly reminding him of this fact quite well.

This week will be a big week of recovery from an intense last week. In AZ this week they have a black holiday today, Victory Day tomorrow (I’m told is the anniversary of the dissolution of the USSR) and the birthday anniversary of the first AZ President on Thursday. We are off to take part in a softball tournament in Barda this weekend. PCVs from Ganja, Mingechiavier, Sheki and Barda have put together softball teams in their towns and we are going to have a tournament. There aren’t enough Americans in Sheki to make a balance on the team, so Charlie invited Tom and me to play on their team. American sports two weekends in a row should be amazing! I only have a few pictures from the weekend today, but hope to put an additional post up this week full of them.

Pictures seen this week are of: kids coming to the school, me explaining what will happen at America Day, Ram talking to the kids, Tom Maria and Rikki George acting out their play, the American Flag we showed the kids, Brendan and Maria signing autographs for the kids (this went all for all of us the entire day and is completely funny/ridiculous), Rob teaching a kid how to hold the bat, two kids watching the action, and lastly one local youth with a monster swing, just not much of the ball!