Friday, October 15, 2010

Witchcraft and Wizardry

Who knew that being sick could be so inconvenient…and culturally enlightening?!?!
This week, technically Tuesday and Wednesday, we began our conversation clubs (more on these below).  These clubs are a huge deal for PCT’s, as it is our first opportunity to work with locals directly and get a taste of what our job for the next 2 years entails. Unfortunately, everyone in our cluster has recently become ill. I held off longer than anyone, but in the past couple of days, it seems to have hit me the worst. Not only do we have these conversation clubs now, we also have 4 hours of language training every morning…4 VERY important hours that cannot be made up. Despite these illnesses, my fellow PCT’s have been real troopers, and we are all still going strong.

The first night I became sick, I was unable to sleep, AT ALL. At 8am, I got dressed and staggered my way to our class. 8 hours later, I finished my language class, completed 2 conversation clubs, and went home. At home, things got interesting! To my host family, I clearly did not look well. After guzzling some mystery liquid they gave me (made up of herbs and fruit), they had me lie down on the couch and performed some traditional remedy that I will never forget! They are called Bankas: small, round, glass jars. First, my host-father poured oil all over my back and gave me a painfully deep massage. After, one by one, they put a small drop of some liquid inside the Banka, lit a match inside of it, and then suctioned it to my back. They did this 17 times. They then put 37 blankets on top of me and told be to rest for about 30 minutes, at which time they quite painfully pulled the jars off. The picture below shows the after effect. By the way, the marks have not faded at all! Supposedly, the Bankas, which families use a lot back home in their original region of Imishli, are supposed to warm you up/relax you/suck out the bad that is inside of you. The darker the circles that are left behind, the sicker you are. The family was clearly very distraught with the color of my circles. I didn’t dare try and explain that they might just be that color because of my fair Irish/ginger skin; my Azeri is not that good! Anyway, it was a very cool experience, even though it really didn’t do anything to cure my sickness!

Regarding the conversation clubs, they are a blast! I have two groups that come successively: one group of 10th and 11th forms, and one of 9th graders. Although it may be easier to explain to all of you readers, it is another thing to explain this to Azeri teenagers who only speak a few words of English. I AM NOT AN ENGLISH TEACHER!!! I do not teach grammar. My conversation clubs are not classes, but opportunities for kids to speak English and practice what they are learning in their actual English classes. I merely facilitate. Thus, I try and have as much fun with the kids as possible. We play games that involve speaking English, learning vocabulary, and practicing basic conversation. The two games that have jumped ahead as the clear favorites are “Simon Says” (to learn body parts) and “Musical Chairs.” In my version of musical chairs, the kids move around listening to the cheesiest, mainstream, top 40 American music I could find (I may have added Celine’s “All By Myself” and Alanis’s “Head Over Feet). When the music stops, they sit down. However, while they listen to the music, the must write down words that they recognize. I then check everyone’s sheet. If they do not have a new word every time, they lose their chair and someone who was previously out gets to come back in. It is a hoot to watch these kids play!

Tomorrow, Thursday, a PCV is coming to speak at our YD technical session. He is staying at my house for the night, so Nicat has informed me that we will be sacrificing one of our ducks and one of our hens to celebrate. Inshallah my stomach is feeling better!

PS: Regarding the title of my last post, “If Aslan = Lion, Does Azerbaijan = Narnia,” our cluster has confirmed that Azerbaijan is, in fact, Narnia. The Azeri word for pomegranate, one of Azerbaijan’s staple crops, is, wait for it…NAR. Coincidence? I think not!

Also, on Monday, I head to Lankaran for 4 days for my PCV visit. 
Check it out:
Hopefully I don't get lost and stroll into Iran!

Western toilet on the right, our squat toilets on the left
Apple Sale in the Market
Ulvi and Nicat
The Butcher


  1. any chance we can see some full frontal pics??

  2. Hi Jake. It is great following your experiences. I finally got a Google account so I can now write to you. We are getting ready for Rob's wedding. Wish you could be with us but we know you will be there in spirit. Your dad is in the bridal party and Uncle Dick is the Best Man. I will let you know how it goes. Please stay safe and know we love you very much. Love Auntie Linda

  3. Hey Jake!!! I have really been enjoying following your blog and am also most impressed with your writing (and this is coming from an English teacher!). One small suggestion however - the next time someone wants to apply fire and suction, you could always reply "no thanks, I'm good."
    Looking forward to your next post. Take care and much love. Love Aunt Reth and gang

  4. I know it was painful but that picture gave me a huge laugh. You look like a ladybug, or I guess manbug would be a better term?

  5. hey jake! your posts are awesome, i've been having a great time reading them. gotta admit, when i first saw the picture of your back, i thought you'd taught your host brothers a version of that silly game where you try to hit ping pong balls as hard as you can at other people's backs, and i was going to be really impressed with how hard your host brothers could hit whatever larger-than-a-ping-pong-ball they were using! but the actual story kicks ass, that's hilarious, and i'm really glad to know you're having a good time!