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…

Friday, June 27, 2008

My Final Blog on this Site...

I'm sure not many people will read this final post on this blog, but I'm writing it anyways. Since I last wrote I have gone home to Houston to see friends and family and just got done with my first week of training in DC. There are two training update blogs on this site that I posted this week fyi. I will be here a couple of more weeks for training and will then head off to Iraq in a couple of weeks. I wanted to write a big long blog wrapping up my PC experience, but I've been insanely busy-my bad. So here are my quick final thoughts about my time in PC:
I'm sad/disappointed I didn't make it the full two years, but the new job was too cool to turn down
I honestly have no problems showering once every 4-5 days. Since I've been home I'm still having a problem getting motivated to shower and change clothes every day
Sleeping on crappy beds for almost two years really messes up your back-I got a massage the day I got home and it almost killed me because of how knotted up I was
I learned that we live WAAAAAY in excess in the States and am sure I will feel that for a long time to come and hopefully live a little more within what I know is fine for me
The people of AZ are amazingly kind, friendly and caring people and I am extremely grateful for their hospitality-they made trip unforgettable
It is scary to not drive for two years then come back and get on a highway-after two weeks I'm still not comfortable
A Butterfinger Blizzard from Dairy Queen is the best thing I've had since I came back (second place tie goes to a filet mignon steak with crab meat on top of it and lupe tortillas)
I have always thought I could move to an island or something and live the basic life for the rest of my life-now I'm almost positive, not saying I'm going to do it...yet
I had a lot of what I'll call smaller successes and no big ones (in my mind), but over all I think I had a positive impact in the PC
The main thing my time in PC did for me was show me that I want to start a career in development work because there are a lot of people/countries out there that need help and it led me to my new job
You can give all the trainings or demonstrations you want, but unless the people you are trying to help/work with honestly want them, they will never work
It's easy to find people who are willing to give grants and people who will accept/want grants, but it takes very special and determined people to work for the grants and/or work hard with the grant once they get it
I loved being a PCV, and it certainly is true that you only get out of it what you put in it-sadly part of the time I didn’t put near enough into it, but live and learn I guess
If you aren’t going to put in more than one hour a week of class and a ton of studying, you are not going to learn Russian very quickly
I actually like more fruits and veggies than I thought (although they are all still lame)
I’m pretty sure Tom and I (Tom is still improving on it) set a new world record for most road miles in old buses in a two year period in the AZ EVER
I am 100% glad and proud that I was a PCV and wouldn't trade those almost two years for anything...

Two things before you go: First, thanks for reading over the past two years-I hope I didn't bore you too much and second, my new blog's address is
and will be password protected due to my new job so you have to email me at and I will send you an invite to view my blog. It will be the same thing, just about my next adventures in Iraq and beyond.
Good bye from this blog and a big NUSH OLUN to everyone I had to leave behind in Azerbaijan...Ashley

Best Training Week EVER

Ok, so after 2 days of killer driving, we then woke up Wednesday and got to shoot 10 rounds on Beretta and 006 pistols and AK-47 and M-4 rifles. I love shooting guns, so this was a good time. We then headed back near DC for 1.5 days of emergency medical care training-how to deal with all the gross injuries no one likes, especially someone who hates blood as much as I do. Friday we had surveillance training then did afternoon exercises where we drove around between two spots (supposedly our homes and the Embassy) and had to spot people and cars along the way that were trying to ambush us. Once they made us paranoid, we all were sure about so many different people and cars that were not involved that we looked like idiots. We did three laps and they staged an ambush on the last one to show how it could have happened (a four car ambush for those keeping score at home). This week was one of the coolest weeks of training ever. I had a great time and learned a ton. I'm hanging around DC this weekend and then start cultural training Monday morning. I'm still not sure when I'm leaving, but thankfully Tiffany Bryant and her husband are being cool with a bum living in their basement...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bye Bye Houston. Hello NYC, DC and Beyond

This is just a quick update. After a quick and relaxing time in Houston I headed up to DC for the first time ever last week. I had two days of paperwork and stuff. The highlight was getting my Iraq ID and then being able to use it to walk around the Pentagon solo-even though it wasn’t that cool inside, it felt cool.
Then I took my first American train from DC to NYC Saturday morning to meet my family. We went to a Yankees game and sat out in the right field bleachers where all of the fun action is. They have a bunch of cheers and chants the entire section does throughout the game, so it was certainly entertaining. I’m glad I got to see a game there (even though the Yanks lost) before they close down the House That Ruth Built at the end of the season. We then went out to dinner with my cousin and to see Spamalot-the Monty Python musical which was really funny. I also got to see a PC friend from the group before me, Terah, to have some drinks after the show. I took off back to DC Sunday and came out to West Virginia today to start my training. Today we were at a raceway where we learned ways to drive aggressively with controlled breaking, driving backwards around 25-40 mph and whipping the car around to turn, driving from the passenger’s seat and also drifting around a wet circle course with the back tires sliding but keeping your foot on the gas which I killed! Tomorrow we practice crashing through ambushes, driving hummers and getting to see IED demonstrations. How’s that for a Monday and Tuesday?
Pics are from the NYC weekend: the fam in central park, me at Spamalot, john lennon deal, fam at the game, and scoreboard pic is when Jason Giambi gets a hit they put up “Power of the Stache” with his face and a dancing moustache…YANKS RULE!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bye Bye PC & AZ

Ok, so sorry for the long pause between blogs-I've had a lot going on and wanted to get everything in order before I sent this one. So I started looking around at jobs and doing research to figure out my life post-PC in early March. Well it turns out that the second job I applied for, I got an offer and accepted it. It was an EXTREMELY hard decision, because it meant I had to quit the PC about three months early. I had always planned on sticking it out the full two years, but I felt that this opportunity was too big to turn down.

I was offered a 366 day contract with the State Department to work at the Embassy in Iraq. I will work in the new Embassy in the International (Green) Zone in Baghdad. My title is Quick Release Fund Program Officer. Here is what that means: the Quick Release Fund (QRF) is a $30-40million fund that is set up for the local Iraqis out in the provinces. There are approximately 30 provincial teams that can apply to this fund for projects under $50,000 (from what I’ve heard so far this could include funding NGOs, building bridges or schools, or funding micro-loans). I will be the point of contact for 10-15 of those regional teams and will help coordinate their requests to the QRF, work with other managing partners to make sure everyone is working together and then monitor and evaluate the projects. I will also be responsible for helping improve the current system they have in place to manage this fund. I will work only in the International Zone-I won’t be required to go out into the provinces and will live in an apartment with one other person. I think this is a tremendous opportunity for me to help the people of Iraq and also to have an amazing experience to start my post-PC career.

My timeline has gone like this: got offered the job, then had to do a ton of medical and security clearance stuff, kept doing my PC stuff trying to wrap it up, finally got the official job offer, quit PC, did all of my exit requirements, flew back to Houston, am trying to get adjusted to USA life, getting my life organized/prepared to take off again for another year, then take off for Washington DC next week for two weeks of training and then I’m off to Iraq on the 4th of July. Needless to say, I have had a lot on my mind and have been a tiny bit busy lately. I fully intend on having a blog over there and will post the new web site link later, along with my final thoughts on my time in the PC. I’m sorry it took so long to post this…