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.