Thursday, September 30, 2010

Basa Dusmuram (I Don't Understand)

This post was written after my first night with my host family, just to give you all some context. Since then, I have been busy doing language and program management training everyday. Here you are:

Goats, roosters, chickens, ducks – they are currently combining their vocal abilities to produce an off-key symphony in order to keep me up ALL NIGHT!

As slow as the application process seemed, waiting for what seemed like eternity to find out where I would be assigned, the first day actually in-country with my host family has come and gone in an instant. Although it has been less than 24 hours since I met my host family, I have a good feeling. I cannot think of a more welcoming family, and a more hospitable community. I am located in Khirdalan, a city just outside of Baku, in something of a complex. I will be here for 11 weeks before getting assigned to my permanent, 2 year post. All of the neighbors are relatives, and there are 3 other PCTs just a stone’s throw away. In my house, I have my own room, as per PC protocol, and a cement-like stiff bed; I am extremely fortunate! The bathroom, on the other side of the house, is inside thankfully. However, as expected, a hose and hand replace the use of toilet paper; we’ll see how that goes!

After being dropped off and meeting my host family, I went and met the families of the other PCTs. I was forced into eating dinner twice, as both my neighbor AND my own family insisted I eat their food! In general, the day has been a whirlwind, and my head is spinning one million miles per hour. It is hard to even comprehend where I am and what I have gotten myself into. I just spent the past seven hours with the most dumbfounded stare on my face listening to Azeris speak to me in Aerbaijani. Given that this is just my 5th day in Azerbaijan, it is not surprising that I am likely better at translating a dog’s bark to English than I am at deciphering what these wonderful people have been saying to me all evening! And no, just in case you were wondering, none of the adults speak any English…ANY! Thankfully, my two wonderful host brothers are mildly proficient (very mildly) in English and have had their heads stuck in my Azeri-English translation dictionary ever since I arrived, eager to serve as my personal translators. At 12 and 15, they are energetic, excited about having me, and full of questions. Ulvi (12) plays the violin and Nicat (pronounced Neejot)(15) plays the accordion. They both do some form of MMA/Kickboxing, as well. They have already shown me their homemade dumbbells and have asked me to workout with them someday soon; I look forward to that, especially if I will be eating 2 dinners every night! (PS, Dolma is my new favorite food!) The mother Sevinc is so welcoming, as exemplified by the fact that I have been served 7 cups of tea this evening alone. The father is incredibly friendly, but the most distant of all, as is expected. I expect him to open up a bit after I have lived here a while. My host sister, Quetibe (my mom’s sister), is a teacher in the southwest city of Imisli and will be staying with us occasionally, as will her son, Sanan (he is older and looking for a job in Baku). It is sad because he has a Master’s degree in economics and finance and was just married in June, but cannot find a job. He is confident that me teaching him English will get him the job in Baku he deserves and needs. So, we study English for a couple of hours every night. Inshallah (godwilling), it will pay off.

As I mentioned before, it still has not sunk in where I am right now. Once I get into a routine of work going, life will be more manageable. Forget the fact that I start working tomorrow: doing more language training, organizing conversation clubs, program management training, etc…, I am just trying to keep my head above water. I can see why the PC experience makes RCPVs so dam qualified and valuable! I guarantee the day I just experienced has only been experienced by a handful of people in the world, ever…and all of them are RCPVs! Truth be told however, despite the confusion and the feelings of being overwhelmed and completely lost, I AM LOVING IT! This is the dream I have had for so long. It’s finally happening, I’ve finally reached my goal, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be!

Bedtime now! 7am is going to come very quickly! Who knows what Azerbaijan has in store for me tomorrow?

Monday, September 27, 2010

6 Days Down, 808 To Go

The first week of my PST (Peace Corps Training)…be ready for a lot of acronyms; I work for the US government now…was nothing like what I expected. First off, my peers, all from staggeringly different backgrounds, are fantastic and I am sure they all will become great friends and coworkers. Our accommodations prior to moving in with our host families were not exactly rough! The hotel is very nice, and I am sharing a suite with 3 other male PCTs. Last night, our final night in the hotel, we had an impromptu pool party. The pool at the hotel, which has gone completely unused given our extremely busy schedule and the general nature of Azerbaijani culture, is very nice. However, again, we never really had time for it, and having American girls in bathing suits swimming alongside men is not very appropriate in the Azerbaijani culture, nor is it a precedent we want to set while attempting to integrate into and adopt the culture of Azerbaijan. Nonetheless, our Training Manager, Khayal, okayed it and we proceeded to have a pool party filled with dancing, loud music, and frisbees (the pool had a cat walk out to the middle of it)! Not only was this a much needed release following 3 days of information overload, it was also interesting to observe how Azerbaijanis reacted to such a raucous event. The entire hotel staff seemed to be quite taken aback by so many women dressed so “scandalously” and interacting with men in such a familiar way. It certainly opened my eyes to just how different the culture here is, and how aware of such differences I have to be in the future in order to not offend anyone, and effectively assimilate into my own community.

We ended the party playing childish camp games into the wee hours of the morning. It was at this point that we really experienced our first Azerbaijani “culture shock”! Again, it was quite late and we were all being very loud in the hotel conference room playing games like Ninja, Pow, and Werewolf with some AZ7s (I am an AZ8) who had graciously come for these few days to help us prepare for our postings. The manager of the hotel kept walking in giving rather disapproving looks, undoubtedly displeased with the level of noise at such a late hour. After he spoke with an AZ7, we were informed that he was, in fact, not mad at all, but was instead concerned. You see, the AC was on in the room, but many of the girls had just recently gotten out of the pool, so their hair was still wet. He was sure that the girls would all get sick in such “terrible” conditions, so he requested that all the girls return to their rooms to blow dry their hair! Only in Azerbaijan!

Anyway, I am anxious to move in with my host family and begin to actually experience Azerbaijan! It is now time to pack and start the day. We are concluding our logistical training this morning before leaving for our PST sites. I will be training in Khirdalan (Xirdalan) with a small cluster of other YD (Youth Development) facilitators; there are also CED (Community Economic Development) and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) PCTs. We all live with different families, but we meet everyday for further language and cultural training. We have been assigned an Azerbaijani LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator) named Ilaha who will be our teacher and “guide” for the next 3 months. It is strange to think that tonight I will be sleeping in a new bed in an Azerbaijani family’s home.

I am unsure if and when I will have internet again, but I hope to continue posting as often as possible. I am doing very well and give everyone back home my love and best wishes. I welcome everyone to make comments and reply with questions.