Culture Shock #1,872:
Today was a hub day, which means that all AZ8s met in Sumgayit for general PST. On the bus on the way home I was talking with a fellow PCT from Colorado and Rashad the LCF. We were discussing the American university system and graduate school opportunities. Two elderly Azeri women entered the full bus. Naturally, Rashad and I rose to give them our seats. However, we continued our conversation with Kiersten. Bear in mind, Rashad is an Azeri. A few minutes after the women sat down, they began telling Kiersten very sternly to refrain from talking to us because it was rude and inappropriate for a woman to talk with men on a public bus! A few minutes after that, another female LCF (Azeri) was hushed by the same women for giving language instructions to a male PCT. It was as if the world was crumbling before their eyes! These women were absolutely beside themselves! We spent the rest of the bus ride in dead silence. To the credit of modern Azeris, Rashad explained that some old women have a rather out of date view of public behavior, and that most Azeris would have no problem with such behavior, especially given that we are foreigners and it was not sexual in any way. Only in Azerbaijan!
My New Workout Program:
I have more or less settled in, and for those of you who know me, that predominantly means being able to workout regularly. My new workout program, however, is not exactly what I had expected. On the weekends, I do my cardio by playing soccer and learning wrestling with all of the boys in the neighborhood. I exercise my back by doing however many pull ups (on the gazebo bar) the boys demand I do; it’s a challenge of manhood. This is usually followed by a deep tissue massage as the boys grope me to feel my muscles! Azeri boys and men are, in fact, quite physically affectionate towards one another, and have no problem feeling ANY muscle they desire, or walking down the street arm in arm. Nicat (15) will often rest his head on my shoulder as I do my language homework at home. I find this rather paradoxical given the cultural norms against public affection for women. It is certainly contrary to Western traditions, but you get used to it pretty quickly. I go on runs after work when the weather permits. They are certainly not like runs back home. It is more like parkour, avoiding speeding buses, jumping from cracked sidewalk to cracked sidewalk, avoiding puddles the size of the Caspian, and occasionally taking the long way around groups of old, judgmental men, or stray, rabid dogs. Personally, I am more afraid of the old men! O ya, and I am usually being followed by 20 or so young boys. For weight training, Nicat and Ulvi come in my room and we blast American rap music and do pushups and sit-ups. They have also begun to take a liking to Johnny Cash and James Taylor among others, however they are unconvinced when I tell them that Celine Dion is the greatest artist of all time…I’m still working on them! Ulvi sits on my back while I do pushups, and Nicat spends the entire time feeling my biceps and looking at his physique in the reflection of the shiny finish of my closet doors. I genuinely treasure this time with the boys. They are such great kids, and they find joy in every little thing.
Additionally, I have begun doing yoga with Dan and Erika on Dan’s balcony. Thank god no one can really see us. Who knows what they’d say about that!
Diet as of late:
I cannot say enough about my host-mother. She is an incredibly generous, hard-working, selfless lady, much like another mom I know! She is a wonderful cook. For breakfast, I never eat much. I have a warm glass of milk, and I mean REAL milk straight from the cow! I also have a cup of tea (of course) and some bread and jam. If she has apples, I bring a couple to work. When I come home for lunch, she has a full meal prepared EVERYDAY!
Lately, dinner has been fantastic, although meat has been a little sparse because prices have apparently risen lately. Every dinner (as is Azeri tradition) is accompanied by cucumbers, tomatoes, pickled vegetables, especially eggplant, and bread…SO MUCH BREAD. Along with these accompaniments, I have had:
Dolma (my favorite): Grape leaves with meat and rice inside covered in real yogurt.
Plov: Rice made with milk and meat broth and beans with sautéed squash.
Peroskis: Fried dough filled with potatoes or meat and vegetables or a combination of it all.
Salted Fish: And when I mean salted, I mean it is actually Fished Salt!!!
Hamburgers: My mother wanted to make me an “American treat”! It consisted of hot dog pieces cut thinly in between two thick pieces of bread with tomatoes and cucumber! I’m going to have to give her a FAIL on this attempt, as sweet as it was, but she makes up for it with just about every other meal I have!
I have also learned a little more about my family from others in the neighborhood. The other night, Dan’s host family introduced us to an English teacher who lives in the neighborhood. She and her family live in the largest house around. Her English is excellent, and both of her children are university students. One is fluent in English, the other in German. Clearly, they are very well off relative to most people in the area. I also get the impression that Dan’s family is quite comfortable. Mine on the other hand, is a little different. My mother is not nearly as publically social as these other moms. For the most part, Sevinc stays in the house working. Additionally, the other fathers seem to be home quite a bit. Oktay, on the other hand, goes to work very early and gets home very late, 7 days a week. Not only that, Nicat is the English teacher’s pupil, and she mentioned that Nicat and Ulvi were both quite rough around the edges academically and behaviorally given the region their family comes from (Imisli in the southwest). This was not meant to be insulting at all. Khirdalan is just a far more developed, forward-thinking city. The Ibayev family (my family) are dear friends with everyone and are very highly respected, but it seems to me that they are a little more blue collar.