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, November 27, 2007

Winter Is Coming-Save Yourself!!!

I woke up today and it was 46 degrees in my room-WINTER RULZ!!! In America I never thought 46 was that cold, but man, it sure is cold here for some reason. I wore a freaking stocking cap around today…I can’t explain it. I gave in and went to long underwear under the pants last Thursday which was a bad realization. Thankfully I live as far south as possible so it is warmer here than most places (I have friends that have been in long undies mode for a month already). I don’t have a wood burning mini-fireplace in my room this year-just an electric heater, sleeping bag and a ton of blankets. I have placed my bed (a folded out recliner type chair), couch, coffee table, and voltage regulator for computer and phone charging all in the corner of a room so that I don’t have to get up much and the heater can keep all of the “important” parts of my house as warm as possible.

Let’s see, not much to talk about this week so I won’t waste your time. Tom and I just got home from going to a tea house and playing a board game similar to backgammon. I also hit the bazaar today and loaded up on 2 kilos of pasta, 1 kilo of rice, spices, 10 eggs, 2 red peppers, 2 green peppers, 5 garlic, a jar of tomato paste, 2 kilos of potatoes and 1 kilo of onions for about 9 bucks I think. I’m having a very low key week of reading and Russian studying after a long holiday weekend of movie watching. I finished season 3 of Lost-such a frustrating show I almost wanted to punch my computer. They need to end it soon, for all of our sakes. We have grants that you can get from the PC locally for about $3,000 so I’m trying to figure out a good project to use at least one of those on in the spring. We are also trying to plan another boy’s camp similar to the one in August, but in Georgia with the Georgian PCVs and their kids. We want to do a yearly rotational camp between the two countries.

That’s about it on my end. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. I will be up early in the morning Sunday to hit refresh every 10 seconds during the Big 12 Championship Game…BOOMER SOONER KIDS….

Pics are left over from Thanksgiving in Baku-me, ben and ram, me and tom kissing pumpkin pie off of bethany, tom and charlie and then me with our makeup still on after the show….

Monday, November 19, 2007

Introducing Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne!!!

And I mean it was ridiculous!!! Tom and I came up with the idea to dress up as Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne and perform a few songs for our Annual Turkey Day Talent Show performance back in April I think. We did a “VH1 Story Tellers” session where we talked about songs and being idiots, then played the first parts of six songs total. Tom’s really good at guitar and I suck, so he helped me learn how to play two of my three songs. We got some help from my sister and Tiffany Bryant with our costumes and a fellow PCV Karen was in charge of our beautification process. She did a great job. Sadly Tom and I aren’t much to look at. Oddly enough a ton of people told Tom he looked hot as a girl. I only got two compliments between a bunch of disgust, so I guess my aspirations of becoming a drag queen are shot-I’m strangely ok with that. We will try to get a video clip or two up on youtube some time for you guys to watch. Talent is not a word I’d use to describe our performance, but general merriment was had by all I hope. People definitely didn’t hold back laughing at us the entire time. We followed some pretty talented people singing, playing guitar and violin, so we had to mix it up a little. My stomach was a mess leading up to the performance because we CHOWED DOWN on some amazing food and I was pretty damn nervous for some reason. Once again this year our director and the second in command at the embassy provided us with a delicious spread of turkeys and all of the fixings. Each PCV was in charge of bringing a side dish or desert so Tom, Ben, Carlo and I made about 10 pounds of mashed potatoes as our contribution. We stayed with the same amazing American host family as last year, so we spent all day Saturday relaxing in their indoor pool and sauna!!! All of our friends went out for a long night of dancing at the meal and talent show and we were treated to a huge pancake, eggs and bacon breakfast Sunday morning. The entire weekend was simply FREAKING AWESOME!!!! Thanks to everyone who was a part of it.

I’m now back to Lankaran and going into hibernation mode for a couple of months. After all of my travels it is time to shut it down. I don’t plan on going anywhere near Baku for a month or two and will be at site pretty much non-stop except for a probably Christmas get together at someone’s house. I think the Lank Crew will make some good eats this Thursday night and will be movie watching bums all weekend for our version of Thanksgiving AZ. Mom mailed me pumpkin pie ingredients, so we will be chowin on that for sure.

My Russian lessons are back in full swing-I learned how to conjugate verbs today. I’m starting to write some proposals for a few training projects for the spring, so we will see what happens. I’m going to be spending the next couple of weeks figuring out my last 10 months here so hopefully I can figure out some good stuff.

I’m not talking about the OU game…

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! I hope you guys all have a great week and enjoy all of the delicious food. I could use some Turducken leftovers covered in gravy right now…

Thursday, November 15, 2007

And it went “wee wee wee, all the way home!!!”

This blog is dedicated to my friends Carlo and Rob for their pig roast last weekend in Ganja. Top notch gentlemen, top notch. We had a great weekend of playing softball in beautiful fall weather and followed it up with roasting a 45 pound pig on a metal ladder for a feast fit for crazy PCVs! Everyone ate more than their weight limit of pork, potatoes and fixins and there was still meat to spare. It was definitely one of the better weekends I’ve had here so far.
This week has been pretty low key around Lankaran. My office has been pretty empty and everything around town is definitely slowing down for the winter. I am going to house sit for Nene some in December. She’s going on a month long bus tour of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and somewhere else I think. How freaking cool is that?
We are going to have our Turkey Day Feast this weekend thanks to our Director and Embassy folks. Tom, Carlo, Ben and I are responsible for making about 10 pounds of mashed potatoes-we figured that was the safest side dish for 4 idiots to be in charge of. We are staying with the same amazing American host family as last year so we will be living the high life in their pool and sauna all afternoon leading up to and following the party. Tom and I have been in full talent show preparation mode all week. We are going to attempt to top the Bon Jovi performance last year. It’s gunna be hard, but I think if we can pull off what we are trying for, it should be the dumbest thing of all time!
That’s about all I’ve got right now. After this weekend, I’ll be done with my insane travel schedule I’ve had over the past months and will be ready to buckle down for my last 10 months. Tom informed me that we are in the single digits of months left in our service (not that he’s counting), so that was a real wake up call for me to get my butt in gear! Here’s some pics from the roast: the pig, tom getting the first taste, me in my pig roast outfit (sarong) with the potatoes, me, Carlo and Tor, the “pig” lights, Carlo and I doing out best Chris Cross impersonations-JUMP JUMP, the Lank gang, and finally me, Jane and Magda with our weekend “pig tails”…that’s right, my nasty hair is coming back in full force!!!!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Recovery and America Day Barda

Last week was fully dedicated to operation “Ashley Recovery”. I got all of my stuff moved into my new house and basically crashed every night at 8pm and slept till 9am. My body and mind completely shut down after going to America, having 4 days in baku for training and playing, having friends in town working on projects, the Halloween Party and then moving. My dog Lyka also completely flipped out and went into heat. She ran away from Tom’s house about 25 times over the weekend, was scaring the crap out of the neighbors and was snapping at people she knew. My new landlord would not allow dogs and no way would any local take her, so I had to take Lyka to a village and set her free. She was a dog from the streets of AZ and she decided that’s the life she wanted to go back to. It made me really depressed for a couple of days to let her go, but I’m sure she is much happier with life now. There was just no way anyone could control her any more. That will be my last attempt at a pet in AZ…unless I can find a good donkey to hang out with.

About 12 of us headed to Barda on Saturday for Ina’s Halloween Carnival/America Day for the kids at her school. She did a really good job. A ton of kids dressed up, all the PCVs dressed up, we had a haunted house, bobbing for apples, ghost stories, trivia and mask making. She had a ton of teachers also participating which was nice to see. After that the teachers surprised us with a delicious meal and my favorite fall treat-pumpkin rice-DELICIOUS!

This week has been pretty low key. Tom and I are starting to get geared up for our Thanksgiving Dinner performance so lots of practice will be going on the next 10 days. We are headed to Ganja this weekend to play softball and have a pig roast-if Carlo can pull it off. There isn’t much pork over here, so the idea of an actual pig roast is really exciting!

Attached are pics from our Halloween Party for your enjoymet: Ron Burgandy and Brian Fantana from Anchorman, the Lankaran crew-us, and the Chaquita Banana and Land 'o Lakes Ladies, the Jolly Green Giant, Bethany the Witch with Kat the Kat, our Herbal Escence Girl, school girls and our very own Baltica Girl!!!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Happy Halloween and stuff!!!

Well, everyone survived “A Very Barani Halloween” in Lankaran. We had about 40 PCVs all make the trek down to lankaran for a party Saturday night. Thanks to all of the parents who sent candy and decorations to make it a little more festive! It was a fun, rainy and tiring weekend of crazy costumes and a little American fun! We had everything from a Transformer to a taco to a beer bottle to the Jolly Green Giant and Snow Pea. We made costumes mandatory to add to the fun. I’ll have a bunch of pictures to post next week. Thankfully Tom’s neighbors were super cool and didn’t give us any problems. One actually brought over a cd of Azeri music for us to play and one wanted to send their 14 year old son over with his keyboard to play for us for a while. We respectfully declined.
In other news my landlords showed up and demanded that I pay them 3 times as much rent as I was paying since they got a new expensive apartment in Baku. Obviously that was going to happen so I had to get yet another house (that’s 3 in 7 months for those of you keeping score at home). This place is a lot more normal, is in the center of town again thankfully and has a huge yard with a ton of fruit trees. Sadly no more washing machine, but hey, I’m in the PC. I never should have had one in the first place.
The weather has turned cool and rainy-true Lankaran fall/winter weather. We don’t really have a distinct fall season here, it kinda just goes from summer to winter.
After my crazy month of America, Baku trainings, friends in town and the party, it is now time to settle down a little bit and get back into PCV/Azeri life. It feels good to slow down again and get re-focused on my life here. I may actually be getting some work soon through my office, so that is potentially exciting. I am going to start my Russian lessons up again, it is dark here by 5:30ish again, so here come the long cold nights of reading in bed, etc. I went to chop wood for my Nene last night and when I came in she was in bed with an IV in her arm and a nurse watching her. From what I could understand it is just a vitamin cocktail of sorts and that she is ok, just needed a little pick me up so to speak. It was fun to chop wood again, although my back is killing me.
I am headed to Barda Saturday to help Ina with an American Day for her school children, so that will be fun. We are all dressing up in Halloween costumes and telling ghost stories!!!
Oh, last thing. There were threats on the American Embassy (supposedly 10 targets in Baku) on Monday. The American and British Embassies as well as PC Office and major foreign oil companies shut down Monday and Tuesday just in case. I guess a soldier stole some grenades, guns and rifles from his base, gave them to some angry people who were planning on using them. You can look up articles on the internet that will explain it better. Everything seems to have been taken care of with no American casualties of any kind, so we are all thankful for that. I never felt scared or concerned, so please don’t be for me-everything is ok. It was definitely a weird feeling, but such I life over here. I’m just it is over.
The pictures are of my new house, the bedroom, living room-2, kitchen, shower, path to my outhouse/my yard, and the best part of all made possible by William Clay Campbell, my garage with hammock!!! The last pictures is of all 33 remaining AZ4s at our mid service training in baku 2 weeks ago. I mean we are idtiots!!!
Have a great week everyone!