|The YD group post Game Day|
|The turkey tree|
|Kebabing with Ilaha and Rashad|
The YD AZ8s facilitated two “Game Days” (Oyun Günü) with students at the schools where we did our language and technical sessions: Xirdalan and Masazir. The event at our school, School #9, wound up having 65 students from the 9th form participate. The goal was to increase community awareness of Peace Corps presence in Azerbaijan and strengthen relations with our current technical/language schools in Xirdalan and Masazir. It was a gender equal event and included the following events: 3-legged Race, Paper Airplane Competition, Health Trivia, Frisbee Toss, and a general game station. We ended the day with a dance and limbo party! We designed our “Game Day” based on the McGill Sports Camp model, wherein facilitators ran specific games while counselors were in charge of small groups of kids and brought them from station to station. This design allowed real personal connections to be made on the part of counselors, while also allowing facilitators to focus on teaching their game and challenging the kids without being too concerned with discipline. I was a counselor and really got to go crazy and have some fun with the kids! I was probably more of a handful for the facilitators than my kids were!
It was so wonderful seeing these kids with such beaming smiles on their faces! Nothing against the teachers of these schools – we have, in fact, met some extraordinary individuals who, like our own teachers back in the states, have a thankless job. Teachers here, on average, get paid less than $200/ month. They are also extremely restricted in that they are part of the systematic, Soviet-esque education system that completely frowns upon individualism and creativity. The kids are the victims of this system. It was heartbreaking when, during the paper airplane competition, my kids responded to instructions with completely blank stares. When they were told to decorate their newly finished airplanes they asked questions like, “What do I draw?” or “What colors do I use?” and just sat there. Imagine, 15 kids, markers and crayons in every color imaginable, free reign to do whatever they want, and not a single idea! One kid was bold enough to write his name on the underside of the wing. This hesitation persisted until we exclaimed that it was okay to use your imagination, that there was no wrong answer and they were not being graded.
Nevertheless, I've learned that, no matter what country you're in kids are all the same. The creativity, innocence, and excitement is there; in this case it just took a little extra push to have them come to life. Before I knew it, I was being pelted by rainbow colored airplanes from every direction! I know it seems like such a minor thing, such a small victory, but that is exactly what we were looking for, especially at this point in our service. My hope is that, not only will these kid’s creative juices continue to flow, but also that school itself will start to be associated with this “fun and creativity”. Many teachers came to the events as well. I hope that between the student and teachers who participated, they will begin to realize that there is so much more to education than merely what lies within the pages of an English composition book.
Thanksgiving here was a magical experience. As I mentioned in my last post, I regret not being home for the holidays, but I am among great people here. We held Thanksgiving at my LCF’s house. Her family miraculously gave us free reign over the kitchen for the entire day. Everyone was in charge of cooking a dish. I was given the task of getting us a bird, as I explained in my last post! Here, that doesn’t mean going down to the local Metro and snagging a frozen one from the freezer – it means buying a live one, fattening it up, killing it, plucking out the feathers, and gutting it. Based on US turkeys, I figured one would be plenty for 12 people. How wrong I was! After plucking and gutting and chopping, I realized that one was not enough! (By the way: baking a turkey is really not an option in most places here; ovens are either too small, or most of the time, non-existent, so we “kebab”ed ours). Anyway, with all the feathers and fat and guts gone, the thing maybe weighed 3 pounds when wet…makes you really appreciate the ole Butterball! So, day of, Dan and I went to the market and bought a second turkey. What didn’t cross our minds was how we were going to get the thing home. Sure enough, I gave the turkey wrangler the money and he gave me the live turkey by its feet. So, there we were, making the 15-minute walk home on the main road of the city with a live turkey in our hands. Strangely enough, no one seemed to notice or care. Only in Azerbaijan can you blend in while walking down the street with a live, gobbling turkey in hand!
The dinner itself was excellent and I was blown away by the resourcefulness my friends showed in their cooking abilities. We had all of the fixings: mashed potatoes, stuffing (cooked separate from the turkey of course), gravy, cranberry sauce (cranberries substituted for pomegranates), steamed green beans, peas, and carrots. This, of course, was accompanied by VERY terrible wine, and then followed by delicious apple pie, chocolate chip pumpkin bread, and chocolate cheesecake!
Tonight, I watched a bootleg version of “The Social Network” with my cluster. As terrible as the film was, it got me thinking of that other world, that world that “normal people” like me will never see. I’m talking about the world where counting starts in the 100’s of millions, the world that, in many regards, runs our world. I found it so fascinating just trying to imagine how the Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world live, how just a handful of ideas from just a handful of people essentially shape our world and all that we know. I couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around this concept. So, I started thinking about all that I would miss out on in life, especially while I was here, in tiny, “insignificant” Azerbaijan. The feeling extended to the exact subject of the movie, the social network, my social network. Every visit to facebook during my trips to the internet café reminds me of all that I am missing out on. The updates usually leave me yearning for home and all that I knew. Tonight, however, after walking my friend home, it hit me. I am living! This is it! I may not ever be worth 25 billion dollars, and I may not have been able to attend "Graffiti Party 2010" at Gertz, but I’m living and learning more than I could have ever imagined – far beyond my wildest dreams. To most, and even myself sometimes, my daily routine might seem menial, and my job irrelevant, but at this very moment I am content. I am engaged and I am eager.
|Can you pick out what's different about this picture?|
|The crew cooking our Thanksgiving feast|