Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Teenage Years: Revisited

As of next Thursday, I will have been at site for 3 months. At the 4-month mark, Peace Corps gives us permission to move out and find our own, independent lodging. They provide us with just enough money to rent a quaint house or apartment. I have begun looking for a place. Although I thoroughly enjoy my host family, cherish the time we spend together, and am grateful for their love and hospitality, I would like, nay need, more independence. The other night, while discussing an issue I have been having with some troublemakers at Nizami School who are intent on harassing my students and I during our dancing club, my family firmly reminded me, “We are your family. I am your mother, and he is your father. Tell us of any problems you are having and we will take care of it.” 99% of this is sincere. The other 0.01% is the general Azeri attitude that we are useless and whatever we are doing, they can do better. Honestly though, while usually light on affection, I get the sense that the Dibirovs truly care about me. They understand what I am doing here, and why am I doing it, and they completely support me. For this, I am eternally thankful. They also support me moving out. They understand my need for independence. After so many nights of conversations regarding our cultural differences, they, unlike most people in Balaken, understand that, for a young American adult, living with family is, in fact, the strange choice. They now recognize that solitude and independence is almost always preferred. People here do not understand the concept of living alone and being independent. For a woman, it looks bad and would never be allowed (even though both Stephanie and Bailey live alone). And for a man, well, men are useless and need someone to cook and clean for them!
At least my family understands. It’s cute; when people come over now to offer their home or suggest I look at a particular house that is empty, my family is quick to correct their Azeri brethren. My father has even conveyed his frustration to me with people not understanding my request to live ALONE, in MY OWN house…not my own room in a family’s house, not my own bed in a room I will share with granny…A-L-O-N-E (or tep tek in Azeri)!
It is nothing against my family or Azeris in general, but if this place will be my home until December 2012, I need my independence in order to stay sane! My family has already warned me of how insulted they will be if I do not come over every week to eat dinner and play n∂rd with my host father!
It’s seemed like such an easy decision at first, moving out and living alone. On the contrary, it was very difficult to rationalize to myself why I wanted to move out. I am living in a foreign country and my language skills are still severely lacking. On top of that, I have a family that cleans up after me, washes my clothes, and feeds me (none of this is really by choice, and I promise I try and help). Why then, in such a foreign place, would I choose to leave the only thing that has begun to make sense, the only thing has begun to feel comfortable?
To best explain this need, I’d like to revisit the teenage years, a tumultuous time in any young persons life. Everyone, regardless of age, can surely relate to this.

Our time in PST is like being a freshman or sophomore in high school and not yet having your license. Unsupervised social gatherings have begun, and girls no longer have cooties, but we still need to have our moms drop us off in the big red van (preferably a block or two down the street so that they do not embarrass us). In PST, we are completely lost, We feel independent and grown up because we are in this new place so far from home, but in reality, we can’t so much as go to the bathroom without help. Seriously, it took me the longest time to figure out how to ask where the bathroom was…or how to flush some of these toilets!
As our language improves and PST nears its end, we grow into high schoolers with a license, and maybe even a car. We feel a slight degree of independence. We can go to Baku, the capital, on 2 occasions, we go on a trip for site visit, and we meet each other at our various training sights on the weekends, but when it all comes down to it, we still have to ask permission to do anything. Someone must know where we are at all times, and no matter what, we have to be home before dark!
The move to college, much like swearing-in and becoming a volunteer, seems like the biggest transition of all. It’s not. In reality, it’s just another small step. As college students, we feel like we have all the independence in the world, but when we come home for school breaks, that new world is shattered into a million pieces and we are quickly put in our place. We have to share the car with our younger siblings and still must ask permission to go out. “As long as you are living under this roof, you will play by my rules!” Sound familiar? The same goes for new volunteers. Sure, we can travel whenever we want (except for out of the country for the first 3 months), and there are no special restrictions on us, but at the end of the day, we still have a family waiting for us, wondering where we were and what we were doing.
For me, it is only once I move out and get my own house that I will feel like a real adult again, simply living and working in a different country. Currently, I still feel so juvenile, so helpless and needy. My family is wonderful and they are in no way overbearing or nosey (quite the opposite, in fact). However, at this point in my life, in order to fully appreciate where I am and accept that this will be the place I call home for the next 1-½ years, I need to feel constructive and self-sufficient.
This doesn’t mean I won’t be over at the Dibirov’s once a week for some dolma and n∂rd!

The wax sheets for bee hives that my host dad has made from his bee farm
Russian candy bar named Jake! (D*ek)
The birthday cake Bailey (with very little help from me) made for Stephanie's 24th!
A lot of people showed up to Stephanie's surprise party!
PCVs post-party
Gold's Gym: Azeri style! My state-of-the-art gym includes a jump rope, stretching strap, resistance band, and yoga mat (bath mat material bought in the Bazaar for 5 manat). We are just a little tight on floor space!

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