Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Day In Balakan

Two months into my service, here is a look at a day as a youth development facilitator in Balakan, Azerbaijan:

8:30am – Woke up to the incessant sounds of chickens outside my window and my family getting ready for work on the other side of the thin door that separates my room from the main area of the house.
8:35am – Yoga in my room. In the winter, there is usually no water in the morning because the pipes are frozen and my family only has hot water on Sunday afternoons. Thus, yoga is a great way to stay in shape and keep warm without getting to sweaty and smelly.
9:00am – Wrote a blog, checked the score of the Habs game (a big win over the Panthers), and checked the news for more information on the protests in Egypt while drinking a cup of tea and eating stale bread with fresh honey (made by my host father) and pear jam (made by my host mother).
10:00am – Went to the ExComm building (Executive Committee) to speak with the Minister of Youth and Sport about the “Writing Olympics”, a Peace Corps initiative that has now spread to 11 countries. The Writing Olympics gives students the opportunity to express themselves creatively in English. Students from 6th form all the way through 4th year of university write an essay in response to a uniform topic, based on age, that they are not told about ahead of time. A panel of Peace Corps judges then selects winners, both nationally and internationally.
10:45am – Waited in line to get money out of the one functional ATM in the city…it’s quite a process! People have no concept of lines when it comes to ATMs, and despite having ATMs for a few years now, no one seems to know how to use them.
11:00am – Ran to the store of my friend Farid’s family to see if they knew a repairman who could help my sitemate Bailey, whose water pipe exploded.
11:30am – Stopped by my office to drop off my backpack.
11:45am – Walked to Nizami School for my new dance club.
12:00pm – Despite uncomfortable teens, confused teachers, and about 1,000 requests for me to break-dance, the club was a huge success! I co-facilitate the club with my friend Jessica, who lives about 30 minutes away in Zaqatala region and is the one who actually knows how to dance. After about 10 minutes of deliberation amongst the students at the end of class, it was decided that we would begin learning the Thriller dance by Michael Jackson next week. Is a flash mob on the way? I hope so!
1:15pm – Bought Jessica lentil soup for lunch at a local Turkish restaurant – our arrangement for her coming to teach the dance club every week.
2:00pm – Stopped by the children’s hospital where Stephanie and I facilitate a conversation club with all of the nurses. Unfortunately, I could not stay. I had to run to Bailey’s school (she is a TEFL) to fill in for her while she waited for the repairman to come and fix her exploded water pipe. Her students were quite confused at first, but once I pulled out the UNO cards and they realized that we would be playing a game, they loosened up!
4:15pm – Following Bailey’s two classes, I made my way to the newly discovered children’s library to have tea with the director. Despite not having a floor (literally, the floor boards are completely rotted through and you must hop from support beam to beam), the building and the women who run it are tremendous resources to have. We discussed my role in the community and I learned about the various clubs and programs that the two women run, primarily in the summertime.
5:00pm –Stopped by my office to see if anyone had left me a note and then walked home.
5:15pm – Worked out and watched a couple episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” in order to unwind after a busy day.
6:00pm – Miraculously, I took a shower! My host mother and sister decided to put almond oil in their hair. Apparently, keeping almond oil in your hair for about an hour helps to make it longer. Anyway, they needed to shower after, so the water in the kalonka (Russian for water tank) had been heated. Knowing that I would be gone for the weekend, they offered me a shower!
6:30pm – Headed over to Stephanie’s house for our weekly Balakan PCV dinner (Me, Stephanie, Bailey, Trey). Stephanie made bean burgers! We feasted and discussed potential project ideas.
11:00pm – After having their minds blown by the hilarity and stupidity that is the “Trailer Park Boys” (this may be a figment of my imagination), I decided to go home, utterly exhausted.

*Important note:
I must admit that, although I recorded this day randomly, it was extraordinarily busy and successful. Not all days are like this. Most days are, in fact, not like this. Take today, Wednesday, for example: 
I had 3 clubs planned. No one showed up for my first club because of some mystery holiday. Later, at about 10 minutes until 3pm, on my way to another club with Stephanie at her school, my counterpart Sayyara came to pick me up and take me to some unknown event that was to start at 3pm. Not quite clear about what exactly the event was, and mildly annoyed that she had not given me any advanced notice, I declined the invitation and went to the club. Only one student showed up to our club. I left early, and upon returning to my office, I found out from one of the office assistants that the event was an opportunity for me to meet all of the university students that were back in Balakan for the week on break. This would have been an invaluable opportunity. Unfortunately, and very frustratingly, I missed it.
At 4pm, a number of older students came to my office to watch a movie. We watched the first half of Rush Hour 1 (in English with English subtitles) and talked about all of the slang used by Chris Tucker in the movie. They loved it! I was even able to explain to them why the men in the bar were mad when Jackie Chan said, “What’s up my ni****?” Most Azeris are not aware that the N-word is offensive, as they only ever hear it in American rap videos. Consequently, they innocently use this word to describe any black volunteer or actor that they see. 
Despite its simplicity, I’ll count this last club as a win.
The view from my house in the evening
My office!!!
My cluster at our teacher Ilaha's house in Ganja for her birthday
Ilaha and I...ya, she has a thing for my flat-brimmed hats
Thought this was funny
Ilaha sportin' the Red, White, and Blue
PCV's watching the Superbowl in Ganja at 5am!
Go Packers!!!

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