|The grillmaster at work|
|Our picnic table, notice the hind leg hanging in the background on the right and the intestines and head on the ground to the left!|
Nothing like eating a freshly grilled piece of meat while the decapitated head of the animal sits at your feet, it’s lifeless eyes staring at you. I almost felt bad about savagely tearing at the late sheep’s tender shoulder, almost. This was my Gurban holiday!
Gurban holiday (the holiday of sacrifice) is one of the most celebrated holidays in Azerbaijan, and in the Muslim world. At my house, Gurban is the perfect combination of Thanksgiving and July 4th/Canada Day! It all began a week before. Nicat’s uncle pulled up to the house in his tiny 2-door sedan. Nicat asked me to help him. When I asked why, he said that the sheep for the Gurban holiday were in the back of the sedan. Live sheep in the back of his car? How? To my surprise, there were actually 2 sheep in the back of the sedan! PETA would definitely have had something to say about this! Anyway, one of the days of (it is a two day holiday), November 16, I had language class in the morning, but after that, my cluster all made their way over to my house where we watched my host-father slaughter a sheep. The sheep was skinned and chopped up into 12 separate bags containing 1 kilo of meat each. These bags were distributed to other families and friends in the area as recognition of my family’s love and thanks.
Of course, no holiday, especially one in Azerbaijan, would be complete without a feast! My host-father and mother prepared a delectable spread of kebabs (grilled on a makeshift spit in the backyard), pickled tomatoes and onions (unspeakably delicious), cherry juice, bread, and about 10 different kinds of cakes and candies. I think I ate about half of that sheep myself. Being outside grilling, celebrating with family, and giving thanks for the friends and family in our lives couldn’t help but send me down memory lane. I expected to get a little homesick around this time of year, first seeing Azeris celebrate such a momentous holiday with one another, and then watching as my own holiday season flew by from half-way across the world. However, as nice as it would be to be around my own family and friends back home, I am around family and friends here, and I don’t feel homesick at all. The Azeris and my fellow PCTs that I have met thus far have been so remarkably hospitable that I feel completely at home and happy here, now.
In other news, my friend Brad came to Khirdalan this past Sunday, our one day off. I was recently given baseball gear by a departing PCV. So, on Sunday, equipped with my Expos hat, instead of our usual soccer game, Brad and I introduced the neighborhood to the sport of baseball, and in particular, the games “500” and “Pickle”. Despite the language barrier, and the confusion with baseball being neither a contact sport, nor a sport that requires the use of your feet when throwing and catching, it was a fabulous success. The entire neighborhood was entertained for hours! There was quite a crowd watching us as well. The only thing stranger than an American playing soccer is Azerbaijanis playing baseball!
On a more serious note, I was meaning to comment on the recent parliamentary elections that took place here in Azerbaijan on November 7, the 4th parliamentary elections since the fall of the Soviet Union. According to the Peace Corps mission, it is my responsibility to:
1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.
Because of this 3rd proclamation, I feel the need, however brief it is, to inform the readers of the current evens of this country. The elections were to vote for new members of the 125-seat parliament for its next 5-year term under a majoritarian election system with only one round of voting. Although the elections were peaceful, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), who sent more than 400 monitors to the elections, found that “the conduct of these elections overall was not sufficient to constitute meaningful progress in the democratic development of the country.” Azerbaijani opposition has frequently accused the West of muting its criticism for fear of losing out to Russia in the battle for Azerbaijan's oil and gas in the Caspian Sea.
The US State Department, however, agreed with the findings, asserting that the:
Pre-election environment was characterized by a lack of balanced media coverage of candidates, continued restrictions on fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression, and a deficient candidate registration process that, taken together, resulted in an uneven playing field for candidates. On Election Day, observers from the U.S. Embassy in Baku, like their OSCE/ODIHR counterparts, noted serious violations of election procedures, including ballot box stuffing.
There are, however, positives to take out of these elections. The OSCE/ODHIR noticed that “some technical aspects of the election, including centralized registration and the inclusion of record numbers of domestic observers, constituted improvements, as did a modest increase in the percentage of female candidates.” These are very important improvements that must not be overlooked. Inshallah, things will only improve from here. For more information on Azerbaijan, www.EurasiaNet.org and the following blog, http://flyingcarpetsandbrokenpipelines.blogspot.com/, are wonderful resources. I have many other news sources if anyone is interested, just ask.
Lastly, I had my counterpart conference on Thursday. I cannot tell you how excited I am! My counterpart is a wonderful old woman who speaks absolutely NO English! She is incredibly bright, and despite my language deficiencies, we had wonderful conversations about the next 2 years. She has high hopes, as do I, and is so excited to begin working with me. She trusts me completely and is willing to entertain any ideas I have. I really believe that she is grateful for having me and fully understands that I am a volunteer who is to be her partner, NOT her employee. She also made it clear that she does not want me rushing into anything. This is a policy that Peace Corps deeply supports, but she brought it up herself. She firmly believes that getting to know my site and my community and gaining people’s trust is my first task before any concrete work can begin. I am so fortunate for everything and cannot wait to begin my service!
PS, for my cluster’s Thanksgiving party, I was in charge of getting the turkey. I successfully got the bird. Nevertheless, I must admit that, as embarrassing as it is, I could not bring myself to kill the thing and had to have my 15-year-old brother do it for me. They got a great laugh out of my apprehension. Later, they told me it was okay, and that I needed to start smaller. So, this week it seems as though I will be killing our dinner, a chicken.
|The boys hard at work|
|July 4th Azerbaijan style!|