Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You Go Girl!

As January came to an end and February arrived, so too did the rain and snow. It has not been quite cold enough for the snow to really stick, but you cannot help being discouraged from leaving the comforts of your peç-heated home when you wake up most mornings to a cold, slushy sleet and muddy sidewalks. For a YD’er, however, staying home really is not an option. Here’s why:
In the wintertime here, people shut down completely – much more so than they do in America or Canada. As a volunteer, and especially as a YD, it is a challenge you have to just accept. Work, school, and tutors carry on, but activity outside of these essentials comes to a screeching halt. For someone who is meant to work with youth after school, this is an overwhelming obstacle. The weekends especially are an interesting challenge.
Back home, even in the winter, the weekends were a time for rest and relaxation. The same goes for here. Simple. However, back home, Saturdays and Sundays were also a time to catch up on work, be active and play sports, and generally take care of tasks you usually did not have time for during the busy week. Here, in winter, they really like to stick to that whole “rest and relaxation” mantra on the weekend. Most people do nothing, and I seriously mean nothing. Short of getting out of bed in order to move to the couch and opening your mouth to eat, you do absolutely nothing productive! (Sounds a lot like my brother Adam! You'd fit in well here buddy!)

Now, before I go on, I must admit that the other extreme, the “go go go” busy-bee attitude of the western world (MOM) I came from has its problems as well. In training, we talked about the “art of sitting”. We discussed how the western world mistakenly perceives much of the developing world as lazy when they see footage of men and women sitting and simply talking for hours on end. “Where could they possibly find the time? How lazy are they! Don’t they want a better life?” Although this can, at times, be attributed to social problems like unemployment and general idleness, it is most often just the way of many cultures. Social interaction is a central part of everyday life. Dialogue is far more valued than it is back home. I have come to very much enjoy this tradition and believe that Canada and America could stand to slow it down a few notches, spending a little bit more time stopping and listening.

I digress. More often than I would like, when I propose a project, or even just a soccer game, I am immediately dismissed and told, “yayda, yayda” (in the summer, in the summer). I have only been in Balakan for two months, but thus far it seems as though people are perfectly content doing things for the few summer months and then retiring to their televisions for the remainder of the year. Such indolence is especially distressing for a YD’er.
This has never been more evident than it was this past weekend. On Saturdays, I have two clubs: an exercise club at the Olympic center for girls only, and a general sports club later in the day for anyone interested (it is only boys at this point). The exercise club for girls is meant to educate them on the benefits of physical activity (which they are usually discouraged from) and show them that they have just as much right to use athletic facilities like the “boys club” that is the Olympic complex. This past Saturday, it was especially miserable outside, but I was to meet my girls at 9:30am. Honestly, I had no interest in going and secretly hoped that no one would show up. As any PCV in Azerbaijan will tell you, the likelihood of anyone showing up in those conditions is extremely poor. Nevertheless, as I turned the corner onto the street where I was to meet the girls, there they all were, soaked and clearly cold, but unmistakably excited. We spent two wonderful hours playing volleyball and learning how to stretch!
I came home approximately an hour before the other sports club was to begin. The boys and I had planned on playing baseball, but because it was raining out, I had arranged for us to also go to the Olympic center free of charge, an arrangement I thought would be met with much excitement. My host brother and cousin were the first to back out. Despite the fact that we could take a bus to the center and play indoors, the weather was apparently just too bad to warrant leaving the couch and the computer. I did my best to convince them, but it was to no avail. One by one, my other boys called me, all citing the weather as their reason for not wanting to come. Just like that, my afternoon freed up. 
I sought to understand why exactly strapping young boys would so easily shy away from the opportunity to play sports and be active. As a kid, I would spend days on end at Twombly, our town’s outdoor rink, playing hockey, be it ice hockey in the dead of winter or roller hockey during the scorching summer months. You could not get my friends and me off that rink! Despite my incessant questioning and personal anecdotes, I got no answer other than, “It’s winter, in the summer we will.”

Despite this let down, I must admit how refreshing it was when I saw those girls waiting for me outside, excited to let loose and have some fun. To see these dainty girls “roughing it” all in the name of fun and one-upping their male peers was quite inspiring. I have had a smile on my face ever since! Such dedication and energy speaks volumes to the dazzling youth I have surrounded myself with. How fortunate I am.
As the title reads, “YOU GO GIRL!”


In other news, the Minister of Youth & Sport in Balakan hosted a party to celebrate national youth day, February 2. The PCVs of Balakan were the guests of honor. I sadly must report that I have once again landed in a country that does not respect me for my dancing skills. After being duped into dancing in front of the roughly 200 guests, the MC acknowledged my performance, “Thank you Jake for that interesting dance.” I just cannot win!


I would also like to share with you a comment that I received from my great aunt Edie, a woman I adore more than anyone else on the face of this earth! Regarding the conversation about senior independence that I had with my host family a couple of weeks back, she keenly pointed out that:
As a first generation child of Russian-Jewish immigrants, we did exactly the same as they - we lived in small neighborhoods with large extended families and this was possible, but after WW11, kids went where the job opportunities were and thus came what we call the "nuclear family". We still care as much but have to have different arrangements.
Thank you Edie!


  1. I promise I will comment but seeing that it is the morning after our 5-0 BURmac win, I am not in the best mental state to dazzle you with my amazing comments.

    Lots of Love,


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  3. It sounds like you, as a YD,are on the very productive path in your community. "You go girl" is a respectable step in that path. Keep it up!

    P.S. It sounds like you need more positive feedback on your dancing skills. Belke, reqqassan, dostum? :)