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, September 25, 2007

Bloggin Just To Blog

Not a whole lot to report this week, but figured I would still give you guys a quick update. The pictures are of the new Lank Gang-Jane-pink shirt and Joyce-white shirt hanging out at Tom’s pace and in the back of a mini bus going to Baku. The other one is me Ina and Vy in Baku Friday night.

Life in Lankaran is good. The weather is starting to cool off. Our favorite little café opened back up again since school just started-we get mashed potatoes inside a folded over tortilla (like a quesadilla), fried then you put on some spice and a bunch of yogurt-DELICIOUS and it only costs 50 cents to get you full. All of the schools started up last week so there are tons of kids out and about everywhere. My boss has me and another guy working on a series of trainings throughout our region. We are writing the project plan now, but my confidence level that this will actually get funded and happen is pretty low. Hopefully we can pull it off somehow. My boss should start his month long vacation soon which oddly enough will be the exact time I’m coming to the US-nice timing! We went to Baku last weekend to meet/hang out with our friends and all of the new PCVs. We had a blast! The new group is really fun. It was weird playing the Baku tourguide instead of always having someone else show us where we are going. I took my camera to take a bunch of pictures and left it in Tom’s backpack all weekend so nothing good to share sadly. I’m getting more and more excited to watch the OU/TX game with each passing week OU keeps killing people. Man I hope they can keep that up while I’m home. This is the last week of fantasy baseball-Tom’s in 1st and I’m in 3rd. We are hoping to be the top 2 to continue our dominance from AZ! People are starting to get things lined up for Halloween and Thanksgiving parties over here, so those will both be something fun to look forward to in the coming months. We are going to try to take a big group of boys and girls to see the local professional soccer team play at the end of October. Girls never go so we are going to have some of our female PCV friends come down to go with us to make the local, younger girls feel less self conscious about going-they are all very excited. My bridge project keeps dragging along. I’m hoping to have a meeting about it before I leave next week. That’s about all I’ve got. My Russian lessons have been slowed up due to me being gone and school starting, so I need to get those back on track ASAP. Have a great week everyone! I’ll see some of you guys in about 10 days or so...

Monday, September 17, 2007

One Year Down, One Year To Go….as it were

So I thought that I would dedicate this week’s blog to my general thoughts/feelings/observations on everything I’ve experienced over the past year. The pictures are just some of my favorites from over here. These thoughts are pretty random and just off the top of my head so I hope you enjoy!

What I liked:

The people, the food, getting to hang out with all of my fellow volunteers every day during training, chopping wood and lighting a fire in my room every day after work, my first host family’s café, Nene’s insanity, AZ4’s giggle fit affliction, dancing all night in Baku, nachos and beers on the patio at Tequila Junction, pumpkin rice, cooking for myself, all of the kids saying “hello” and “what’s your name”, ABLE Camp, our conversation club with the kids, and our America Days, reading a lot of books during the cold winter nights, walking everywhere I go, everyone trading all of our cheap dvds we all buy, Turkish music videos, both of my sites have been fantastic, writing this blog each week, making big Mexican feasts with my friends, our Program Managers really do try to help us in any way they can, my trips to Georgia, Egypt and Budapest, when my family (and other PCV’s families and friends) visited, when packages from America arrived, Novruz Holiday, all of the people that I at least say hi to every day when I see them in town, shopping for foods at the bazaar, walking down a road next to a cow, or chicken, or duck, or goose, random funny texts from my friends, Dalga Days 1 and 2, going to weddings, that our group gets along so well, my new acceptance of most fruits, the challenge of adapting to a new culture and way of life, and realizing that a lot of what we think about/worry about in our lives in America really isn’t so important in other parts of the world.

What I didn’t like:

The long bus rides from Lankaran to anywhere in the country, egg plant, Nene’s serving of cold fish for breakfast, roosters outside of my window, TAXI DRIVERS, non stop tea drinking-I just don’t like the taste, when Volunteers had their service cut short (for personal or PC reasons), filling out our extremely long quarterly reports, finding houses to rent, eating the same few things all of the time, people always walking around with their cell phones blasting music, all of the local permission you need to get in order to so a very basic project, stepping into a ditch of sludge, eating heart and lung, not hanging out with friends and family back home, when the electricity goes off when all you want to do is watch a movie on your laptop, not being able to watch OU football, how hard it is to travel and see the different regions in AZ due to our strict travel policies, talking to several friends that are going through a rough time and complaining about it a bunch can really wear you down too, trying to buy a ticket at the train station or getting a package from the post office (those basically both mean the lack of lines or order in those types of situations), when it rains for weeks at a time and your pants every day are covered in mud up to your knees, hand washing clothes, rubbing my arm and a ton of dead skin rubbing off, sitting in my hot office with nothing to do, kids puking on bus rides, Lankaran’s mosquitoes, and when I mess up my Azeri really bad or just can’t understand what a person is trying to tell me.

General Thoughts:

My first year here went pretty well I think. I’ve actually been here about 14.5 months, but I don’t count the first 2.5 months of training. After I finally realized my job wasn’t ever going to give me any work and started working on my own projects, my Volunteer life started to really pick up. I am very hopeful that the next year will be full of projects (small or large) that I feel will really help the people here/make some sort of positive impact. It is frustrating when you find a project you know would be great for you community but the motivation for the locals to do it just isn’t there. As a PCV in AZ you won’t really have any “big impact” through big projects, it is a lot more of a day to day, smaller impact type of experience. It’s amazing how good a random piece of food from America that I barely used to eat can make me feel when I’m having a bad day. After one year I am DEFINITELY glad I joined the PC and am proud of what we are doing over here and all over the world. I really think it is a great organization/concept and think it will definitely have a very positive affect on the rest of my life.

What I’m looking forward to in the next year:

AZ5 officially swore in last week as Volunteers and I had the chance to meet a lot of them during their training. Myself and the rest of AZ4 are definitely excited to hang out with them for the next year. We have Halloween and Thanksgiving weekends, our mid service and close of service conferences (so we can all hang out in baku together) coming up. Getting my bridge and medical supplies projects actually going, using what I’ve learned in my first year to make my second year much more productive, getting better at Russian, come January I will start thinking about what I’ll do with my life after PC is over (I think I’d go insane if I started to worry about that now), ABLE Camp next year, Novruz Holiday, and all of the little things that will fill in my last 365 days with happiness and interesting experiences.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Well, the 2nd Annual ABLE (Azeri Boys Leadership Experience) Camp was a success. We had 9 PCVs, 36 campers, 5 junior counselors, 5 Azeri counterparts from six different towns/villages all go up to a “resort” type place in the mountains near Qebele in northernAzerbaijan. We were just a few miles from the listening station that GWB wanted to use with Russia for a missile defense base-I could see if from my room’s window. We had daily sessions on leadership, teamwork, community project design and management, and responsibility to name a few. We played American football, baseball, went on hikes, had bonfires (with Smoores), had team work challenge courses, Tom taught them to sing the same Bon Jovi song we sang at Thanksgiving last year, tie died t-shirts and had a disco. We had guest speakers come give presentations on American school exchange programs as well as someone from the US Embassy spoke about leadership and the camping experience. I took Lyka with us since I had no one to take care of her for a week and I also thought she would be fun out in the woods. Turns out I was WRONG! Azeris in general are scared crapless of dogs, so the kids would freak out when she would run around and jump on them (not one of her better characteristics Terah let her keep throughout her early days that I haven’t fixed yet). I had to tie her up to a tree way up in the forest all day and night so you couldn’t hear her constant barking 24/7. I’d go take her on walks and feed her a few times a day, but other than that she had to sit out there solo and bark her brains out for no reason. That was the last trip I think I’ll be taking Lyka on until I can get her in some way calm around people. She is really going to be a test to my patience for the next year. Speaking of next year, later this week will be our one year anniversary at site and the mid way point of our service. The kids had a blast and so did all of us old guys! It was by far one of my best experiences so far in the PC, and I can’t wait to do the camp again next summer before I leave AZ.

I went straight from camp to Baku to hang out for a day and then off to my first host family’s house for two nights. We had a big dinner on Monday night with about 15 trainees and my self at my old café with my favorite fried chicken and French fries meal. It was really fun to go back and see the old host family. They have an AZ5 staying with them now, Tom, so I crashed with him both nights. Our host mom kept getting our names wrong and would hit her head every time-it was pretty funny. I gave a presentation on Monday to all of the new volunteers about the grant committee I’m on. It was fun to finally meet the entire new group and get to actually hang out with them. They all basically new me already because every one of them I talked to had read my blog every week before coming to AZ. I can’t believe they knew there was someone like me here and still decided to come. They swear in as volunteers tomorrow so we are excited to have about 50 PCVs around to hang out with. Jane and Joyce will move to Lankaran on Thursday-just in time for Jane to go to the first day of school Saturday.

I’m going to leave you all with a bunch of pictures from camp today and a short blog. I’ll have a pretty long one next week talking about our 1 year anniversary.

The pictures are of: tom with a bear in a cage at a road side tea house on the way, the mountains where the camp was, me and Rasheed presenting, the big gang on a hike, the lankaran guys and Charlie on the hike, me, Jason and some kids, the rug game, the lava walk, the spider walk, me with Charlie and a jr. counselor, my fellow AZ4s and our tie died shirts, Tom with the Bon Jovi singing group, kids tie dying, kids making the hemp necklaces I taught them to make, mike with some egg drop contestants, the disco, the entire group at a learning session, me presenting to them about community work, me, Carlo and Tom at football, the kids with the Deputy Ambassador, the bon fire, me and Tom in the paddle boat, and finally us doing some hard night work in our room.