|Adam Sterling and Ministry Reps on stage|
|Fellow YD Gio and I with Adam Sterling|
|My Program Manager Tarana and I|
|9namite! (My cluster)|
Swearing-in was quite the experience – Gesheng (awesome) as we like to call it in Azeri! It was the perfect mix of a graduation ceremony and an LA Lakers post-game press conference. From the beginning, the auditorium was filled with Azeri press. I was quickly summoned by my program directors to do a number of interviews. My Azeri has gotten fairly good since arriving, which is partly the reason why I was one of the “trainees” (now Volunteer) asked to be interviewed. Anyway, the initial questions were basic: “What is your name?”, “Where are you from?”, “What do you think of Azerbaijan?”, “What is your favorite Azeri dish?”. After a few successful responses, with little hesitation and few mistakes, the interview quickly got out of hand! The real questions began and I suddenly had no idea what was going on. The reporters began to mistake me for someone who hadn’t just started learning the language less than 3 months ago! I actually understood most of the questions being asked, but responding to multi-faceted, thought-provoking queries is a whole new ballgame! On top of that, bright spotlights were blinding me and large microphones were being shoved in my face. The elation and poise that had surfaced at the start of the interviews quickly dissipated into a blush, bug-eyed, sweaty mess! I retreated to my seat, defeated. My first “exclusive”, international interview experience did not go the way I had hoped. My attempt to become an Azeri media sensation overnight and capture the hearts and minds of all Azerbaijani’s was a failure!
Luckily, all was not lost! I was just mere moments away from being sworn in as an official United States Peace Corps volunteer! Equipped with my Azeri schoolboy zipper tie, I took my seat in the front row and watched as representatives to the various Azeri ministries, U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Azerbaijan Adam Sterling, and Country Director Meredith Dalton congratulated us on the completion of our service. It was a wonderful ceremony and was great spending time with my fellow AZ8s and the LCFs who worked so hard to get us where we are today.
Here is a link to an article about the ceremony: http://azerbaijan.usembassy.gov/press_releases.html
That night, my family and I sat and watched every news program on TV, waiting for clips of my interviews and of the swearing-in ceremony in general. Surprisingly, every station had significant stories about the ceremony and my family got a kick out of watching me speak Azeri on national television. In one snippet, you could see Ulvi run by and wave his hand in front of the camera as I spoke.
I finished the night playing N∂rd with my host father, losing every single game to him!
The last day: With our first order of business as volunteers, we decided to do something that we were not allowed to do as trainees. A quick trip to Baku for some McD’s seemed like the logical choice! It was great to take a trip with Crystal and Dan into Baku without having to notify anyone of our whereabouts, but it did make us realize that the next day we would be many hours apart and would only see each other occasionally. My cluster has been a tremendous support group and I am so grateful to have had them by my side during this, oftentimes, difficult adjustment period.
With this realization, a moment of sadness set in – although it was nothing a few strawberry milkshakes and Big Mac’s couldn’t take care of!
I figured that my move to adulthood (although I think many of my friends would agree that I never quite made that move) would mean the end of childish things like impromptu wrestling matches and sleepovers. It didn’t. For my Montreal/McGill readers, rooming with Mike Ting meant that I had both of these things in spades, as well as many uncomfortable cuddle sessions. In Azerbaijan, my final week has been one big wrestling tournament with my host brothers. I must admit, I will miss Nicat and Ulvi very much. They are wonderful boys who treated me like a real brother from day one. If the rest of the kids that I meet in Azerbaijan are anything like these two punks, this country has a very bright future.
My final night was a memorable one. First, I guested (the Peace Corps verb “to visit/be a guest”) with all of my neighbors in order to say goodbye and thank you for their hospitality. Afterwards, Dan and Crystal, along with my LCFs Rashad and Ilaha, came over to say goodbye. They stayed for a while and we ate strawberry/banana cake that my mother made. Once they left, we sat down for dinner. My mother prepared a very special meal; peroski’s (my favorite) and duck Levenge (a duck Nicat and I killed earlier today). By the time the meal was over, I must have eaten 25 peroski’s and half a duck! To end the night, my father presented me with my very own wooden N∂rd board!
As everyone prepared for bed, it became painfully obvious that my brothers were not going to let me sleep alone in peace tonight. They demanded to have a sleepover with me in my room… in my bed! As I attempted to kick them out of my room, we again started wrestling, but these kids are gluttons for punishment and just will NOT give up! Eventually I was the one who conceded. They let out a massive cheer that must have awoken the entire city, and then ran off to change into their pajamas. They were back in my room changed faster than Clark Kent can change into his Superman outfit in a telephone booth! 20 seconds later they were fast asleep, and taking up 95% of the bed. Never have I seen such small people take up so much space; it was remarkable. I slowly got ready for bed and then curled up next to them on my 5% of bed, sans pillow or blanket. That night, I slept like a baby, grateful to have been blessed with such a wonderful and loving family. I am forever indebted to the Ibayev family.
|My host mother (Sevinj) and I|
|Ulvi and I...looking quite dapper if I do say so myself)|
Tonight, I will take the night train to Balakan, where I will spend the next 2 years as a youth development facilitator! More to come!