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, July 30, 2007

The Dog Days of Summer

Well it is officially freaking hot here. I sweat 100% of the time, and usually it is more than just a little. I walked to work Friday morning at 8:30 and my entire shirt was soaked-not much fun.

Last week was pretty tame. I had a meeting in Baku for my small grants committee on Tuesday and there were a few other friends in town for other reasons, so we had a good couple of days. One tragic discovery was that our favorite pizza place has started using a lesser quality cheese-very disappointing. I came back to Lankaran for a few days of work-I’m trying to help my office build a website for our region with a lot of information and pictures about the 6 cities in the region they are responsible for. I also got to meet the new second in command at the head Ministry of Economics.

A group of us went to Mingechivir this weekend for a last get together with some of our AZ3 friends out in the regions. AZ3 Tom has an ex-pat buddy in Mingechivir that bought us a ton of hotdogs, chicken drums, pork, hamburger meet, etc. We ate like kings all day-it was fantastic! His house is on the river that goes through town from a large fresh water quarry. Needless to say we all jumped in several times even though it was bone chilling cold.

I got Lyka from Terah this weekend also. I now have my first solo dog ever. She rode on the bus very well the entire ride back and no Azeris gave me crap about brining her. Most people here are either scared of dogs or just don’t like them. Very few local families have a dog as a pet. They are usually just stray dogs everywhere that people treat horribly, so when they see an American with a dog on a leash and a bag of dog food they paid for, people tend to be quite confused. She’s almost a year old we think and tons of fun, although she is kinda freaking out about being at my house with me. She just sat in the room and growled at me for a couple of minutes, so hopefully she will calm down soon and adjust to her new home. If not I may have to ship her to America and let Terah have her back!

In some very exciting news, my sister Alison has put up the video of me and Tom’s Thanksgiving talent show performance from last year. It is certainly good for one or two dumb laughs, so I hope you enjoy.

This week I’m going to just work on getting Lyka settled in, work on that website and another presentation I’m giving in August, and then we are all heading into Baku on Friday for the last weekend AZ3 will be in Azerbaijan. Most of them fly out this coming Sunday or Monday, so we will go play one last time with them. Then on next Tuesday a group of nine of us is flying to Budapest to go to a week long music festival. There will be approximately half a million people there, several hundred bands from all over the world, tons of crazy things, tons of good food, fashion shows, and movie screenings all on islands in the middle of the Danube River. We are camping out on the grounds all week, so I’m getting really excited! It should be a really fun and laid back vacation and a chance to let my inner PC hippie self really shine. I’m sure I’ll have tons of pictures and stories for everyone when I get back from my trip…

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lazy Summer Days

Not a whole lot to report from last week so this will be a short blog of just recent random thoughts.

The weather is back up to high heat and a constant glaze of sweat is upon us 24/7.
I put up netting on all of my windows to keep the mosquitoes out and so that I can have a breeze through my house. Well didn't work so well so I'm covered in bites and now officially sleep in a mosquitoe net at night.
I am back in summer nap mode where I sleep for 1-2 hours each late afternoon to avoid the heat. I feel like a lazy bum, but my body is just always worn out.
I have been asked to help write a grant for a small village to get a new bridge to their crop fields put in so I'm really excited about that opportunity but feel a little pressure to do a good job because they really need the bridge.
My hair is getting back to crazy go everywhere length. I can't wait to see what it will look like 1 year from now.
OU got its 2005 football season erased because of players taking bribes-top notch stuff baby!
I found out the hard way that if i don't draw water from my well every other day at least a little, my pump system gets messed up and I can't draw water until the neighbor comes and fixes it-not fun.
This will be a big weekend-a friend is having a big crawfish party, I'm getting his kabob grill after the party because he's heading home for good and I'm getting my puppy Lyka this weekend as well. Needless to say my life will change quite a bit with a 6 month old puppy around.
The AZ3 gang only has 10 days left in AZ, so it is weird to hear them all talking about going back to the main land and having a normal life again. We are all meeting up in Baku their last weekend in country, so that should be nothing short of a nice time on the town.
Our favorite pizza shop in Baku started using crappy cheese, so there's one less good meal in town.
I'm heading to a week long music festival in Budapest in two weeks, so I'm starting to get super pumped for that.
I counted the other day and as of right now while I'm gone I know I will miss a minimum of 8 good freinds' weddings and 5 births and I'm only half way done. You guys need to quit growing up and becoming adults. Speaking of....
I'm heading back to the US in October for a week to be in Andy Macklin's wedding, so everyone get ready to play!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Shake, Rattle and Roll

So last Monday I was at my office. All of a sudden around 11:30ish it sounded like a bunch of grenades were going off on the first floor of my building. We realized that it wasn’t bombs, just a FREAKING EARTHQUAKE! I tried to decide if I should haul ass down the stairs and out the building or just stay in the doorway. My coworker came in freaking out, so we just got in the doorway and tried to calm her down. After the bomb noises my 4 story old soviet cinder block office building felt like a wave pool for 20-30 seconds. It turns out northern Iran/southern AZ has a big fault line coming through them. It was officially a 5.1 on the Richter Scale.

In other crazy happenings, my plumb tree’s fruits ripened and I ate my first plumb. It turns out if they are sour, I really like them. I have eaten a big bowl of plumbs every day this week. My body doesn’t know what to do with all of these damn fruits I keep putting in it!

Last week was pretty low key. It was 95 degrees every day last week, so summer is officially here. We played wiffle ball at our conversation club-the kids loved it. We now have an easy cop out for days when we are too lazy to plan activities for them.

The AZ5 group got to AZ about three weeks ago and we had three guys come down to Lankaran to visit us this weekend. It is just a chance for them to get out of the villages they are living in for training and to get to see how PCVs live in the regions. We’ve taken them all over town and made some really good meals. Having guests come down is always a good excuse to make a big Mexican meal with chicken quesadillas and salsa!

This week should be fairly status quo. The AZ5 guys are leaving in the morning, we have a wedding Tuesday night and that is it for the week. I am going to give a presentation to a bunch of kids about leadership in a couple of weeks, so I have to start working on that. I am also going to help a local village write a grant request to put a new bridge into their town, so I’ll be working on that a bunch. I’m getting excited-I’ll get my dog (Lyka) in less than two weeks!!!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

My New Pad

This blog has been a long time coming. I have been traveling and super busy, so the pictures of the new house have had to wait. I looked for almost six weeks and only came up with two options. One was not a good place and the land lord wanted to keep his clothes in one room and come back any and every time he wanted to change clothes. Needless to say, after my last land lord experience, I was not interested in that at all. A PC person came down to check out both options and thankfully approved the better one. It is about 30 minutes from work (a big difference from the 5 minutes my old house was), but has buses that go by all the time. It is right next to the big bus station when you get to town.

Before you see the pictures, I want to say that this house is way nicer than I was looking for, it was simply the only real option I could find. I have 2 bed rooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, big yard, garage and outside area. I have a realish shower, still have a squatter, a nice refrigerator and also a clothes washing machine. I was fine with hand washing my clothes, but having a machine is insanely nice. My mom did 5 loads while she was visiting, so she was happy I got it. The land lady moved to Russia to be with her husband for the summer and will come back to Lenkeran in September. She will then decide if she wants me to stay or if she wants her old house back. I really hope she lets me keep it. I don’t want to have to move/look for a house again. It is not fun in any way at all. Enjoy all of the pics of bathroom/water tower/outside cooking area, front door, me playing ladder golf in the drive way, yard/garden with plumbs, pears, and peaches, my room, spare room, and two of the kitchen.

Last night Tom and I went to Farana’s (my Azeri tutor) Aunt’s wedding in Lenkeran. We had a blast. You have to sit through 3 hours of blaring Azeri music, toasts and tons of food before you finally get to go out and dance with everyone, but it is worth the wait. Farana’s family is pretty laid back/fun loving, so women and men all danced together for quite a bit of it. The pictures are of me, Tom, Farana, her brother, my counter part Nenebaju, and a cousin, one of the 4 TV’s showing the wedding videos the 2 camera man were filming real time, our table of food, the wedding cake pushed in on a cart (it was basically 6 or 8 little cakes), and me, Tom and Farana with the bridge and groom-notice no smiles except for the dumb Americans!

Oh, I wanted to show you the list of the DVD purchasing day Tom and I had in Baku on the 4th of July: the new Die Hard, new Fantastic 4, Smoking Aces, Miami Vice, Tenacious D, Predator, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Knocked Up, and TRANSFORMERS!!!! Transformers is freaking awesome-even though our bootleg dvd copy sucks. It was the greatest dvd purchasing day of all time I think!!!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

I’m a travelin man…

So my sister Alison came back to Lenkeran with Tom and me for a few days to check out where I live. We did the same tour I took Mom and Dad on. During the summer nights here the main park fills up with all of the locals who come out because the weather is much cooler at night, and also to see our new, super cool musical fountains! We took Alison down there to check it out after we ate some Lanvangi and played a ton of Yahtzee. She only stayed for 2 days, so it was a short time, but she had to press on to Vienna…probably a smart choice ;)

I recovered from traveling and tour guiding all that weekend and then took off for Mingechevir for a couple of days to talk with AZ3 Tom about some projects he has done. Ming was the first city that I visited during my training, so it was good to finally go back. Besides work, I got to practice with the Ming softball team, eat some good kabob and take some money off of the local PCVs playing poker.

After that I headed to Ganja for the rest of the week. Myself and a couple of other PCVs had meetings about getting medical equipment and supplies donate to AZ. This is hopefully going to be a big scale project for me to work on the rest of my time here. Hopefully we can find enough donors and get a good enough system down for delivery, training and implementation that we can really help out the under funded hospitals out in the regions. I also got to practice with the Ganja softball team and help Ben move into his new apartment some.

On Saturday and Sunday we had our last softball tournament of the summer. It is just too freaking hot to travel and play sports during the day. There is never any chance to cool off since most places don’t have A/C. I’m horrible at softball for some reason, but finally started hitting the ball decently on Sunday. I finally hit a home run after screwing up on a couple of fielding plays, so I got to gloat a little bit.

We headed to Baku Tuesday for a 4th of July although we had it on the 3rd) Party at the American Embassy. For 2 hours they had burgers, hot dogs, chips, and Miller Genuine Draft bottles! I had to control myself to make sure I didn’t eat myself sick. It was a great party and fun to hang around a large group of Americans on “American soil” for a while.

Now, after all of my travels and visitors, I am back in Lenkeran and glad. It will feel good to go shopping for food, hanging out with local friends and living the slow life again. My boss wants me to make an internet site for Lenkeran and the other five regions our office serves, so I’ll be working on that as well as busting my buns on my big projects.

Oh yea, one last thing. A big WELCOME TO AZERBAIJAN to AZ5! The new trainees got here last Wednesday and all moved to their training host families last weekend. My old host family got another volunteer. I told him that he will get the best food out of anyone since he has the café to eat at every day. Sadly the PC is not letting many of us go meet the trainees until they are sworn in as PCVs. Our group got to interact a lot with the other Volunteers and that was one of the best parts of training. Tom, Tim and I will each get a few trainees down to Lenkeran for a three day site visit in a couple of weeks, so that should be fun.

Happy Belated 4th of July Everyone!!!!