Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Bad News Bears Are Back!

Actually, we really should be called the Bad News Balakan-ers. Trey and I were considering suggesting this name to our newly-formed team, but without watching the movie (the original only!), they probably would not get the reference.
Friday brought with it some of the most beautiful weather we have had this spring. The whole town was so upbeat. As expected, everyone and their mothers showed up to conversation club at 2pm. We had about 22 kids squeezed into my tiny resource room. Friday is our game day. I have learned that just like in America, it is impossible to get school-aged kids to focus on a Friday afternoon once school has been let out for the weekend! It was pure agony trying to give some semblance of a lesson while students were pleading with me to play UNO or Pictionary. Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! Now, on Fridays (except for this Friday because of a student mix-up) students take turns teaching the class. They come to me in pairs prior to the club and discuss what they want to teach. They create a lesson plan and decide what we will do, be it an actual lesson, a movie, UNO, you name it. I find that it gives the students some practice in leadership and responsibility, as I just sit in the corner and act as an assistant while they are setting up and explaining things to their peers.
On this particular day, I had planned to stay in the office and offer games to any of the kids who wanted to stay indoors, while Trey was going to take other students out to the field at the local school to throw around a softball. Before Trey arrived, we started the club by discussing ideas for our newly formed volunteer club. The kids decided that they would like to start with a used clothes, books, and toys drive to donate to the orphanage/school on the outskirts of the town. I really cannot tell you much more about this place yet. I need to go meet the director on Monday and learn more, but it is a school for orphans, I at least know that. Either way, I am again so proud of my students. They want to donate all of this stuff as a way of introducing themselves to the school. From there, they want to facilitate clubs at the school, sharing with these less fortunate kids the games and lessons we have taught them over the past 4 months. I am also encouraging them to teach the kids other valuable skills that they have, including computer skills, sports, and musical instruments, among others.
Anyway, back to Friday. The second Trey walked in and offered a game of softball to the kids, they were gone; every last one of them left to go with Trey! He had saved the day!
So, we made our way to the field and played a full game of softball for about 2 hours; we managed to play two full innings and the final score was 6-5. It was a game straight out of the Bad News Bears, rife with schoolboy fights at the other end of the field, kids using cell phones while fielding, kid running the bases backwards, and kids “stealing” bases even though the play was over. After reaching home, some kids were then running back to first to run the bases again; they couldn’t get enough of it!


That night, I went to Stephanie’s house to make cookies for the host mom’s birthday (I don’t have an oven). Stephanie has a full, enclosed house with a yard, so Trey and I were able to hang out in our underwear in the sun throwing around a football and no one, save for Stephanie (sorry Stephanie), could see us. Great day!


The next day was equally as fulfilling. At both of our sports clubs, we taught the kids how to play ultimate Frisbee. Surprisingly, the kids have a lot of natural talent and they picked it up very quickly, or maybe it just seemed that way because I am so bad at it. Either way, it is such a wonderful reminder why I am here when I get home at 4 in the afternoon and collapse on the floor exhausted, sunburned, and covered in grass stains, only to have to get up because one of my boys is knocking on the door, wanting to give me his baseball permission slip that his parents finally signed and thank Trey and I for such a fun afternoon. Yes, I like it here.

In other news, GO HABS GO!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Creative Writing and Hot Showers

Life has been crazy since I returned from judging the Writing Olympics in Baku. Baku was an unbelievable, and much needed, holiday. I spent a couple of days with the old host family in Khirdalan. It was just like I was back in training. The family dynamics picked up right where they left off, without missing a single beat. Ulvi and I played card games all day and he asked questions about America. Nicat and I wrestled (I accidently knocked out his front tooth I might add…oops) and talked about his multiple love interests while feeding the chickens. My host mom and I gabbed about life in Balakan versus Khirdalan while cooking and she asked about food prices in my bazar, while my host dad and I continued our one-sided contest to see who could act the most stern and manly. Clearly, I didn’t win that one.
Side-note: The whole tooth knocking out thing with Nicat is really not that big of a deal. His teeth had pretty much rotted through anyway. Besides, Crystal came over to see my family the night before we left for downtown Baku to judge. Right as she walked in the door Nicat immediately told on me (that snitch!), displaying his missing tooth to Crystal. Crystal, the warm-hearted, motherly figure that she is, quickly dismissed his complaint as she went to give my host mom a hug, telling him he should have brushed his teeth more. If she wasn’t upset at me, there’s no reason any of you should be.
Wednesday was spent at the Peace Corps lounge reading the over 480 essays that were written by students and professionals from across Azerbaijan; that’s almost 200 more than last years total! 12 students from Balakan submitted essays. This was the first time that Balakan had participated in the competition, and I am so proud of all of our students. It took some real courage for them to voluntarily write a creative essay in English. If someone had asked me to do that in Azeri, I would have promptly declined. These kids have such a passion for learning; it’s wonderful to see. I am also proud to tell you that one of our students placed 3rd nationally for the 8th form!
The remainder of the week was spent relaxing with Dan, Marie, and Stephanie at our friend’s apartment. Martin and Tama, expats working in a lab in Baku, were such gracious hosts and we were privy to daily showers with actual water pressure, comfortable beds, and nights out at actual restaurants. My wallet may be hurting, but my stomach certainly isn’t.
After all that, I think it is finally safe to say that I have gotten back into the swing of things here in Balakan. Clubs are running smoothly for the most part (volunteerism is the theme of the week) and I finally feel like I have settled into my new apartment (more on that in my next post).

Before I finish this post, I want to share with you some examples of essays that I read this past week. We all divided into groups and read the essays of different grades. My group was assigned to 6th and 7th form essays. The first is a list of phrases, comments, and sentences (or whole essays for that matter) that really stood out to my group. Some are wise beyond their years, others hysterical, and others, well some of them just don’t make any sense whatsoever.

Talking about incarnation: “See you after 300 years. If you will die, you can do that is born again!”

As a concluding sentence… “And these are my thinks.”

“I want to be on the high.” Don’t we all my friend, don’t we all.

In response to the question, “What would you rather be, a bird or a fish? Why?”,  one student simply replied, “A bird.” Seriously, that was their entire essay. Short, yet so powerful.

Azeris also have trouble making the “th” sound. So, when talking about birds in their essay, one student keenly pointed out that “Birds thing thongs”.

The next two are full essays submitted by two different students in the 7th form. Neither of them are from Balakan, but I had the great pleasure of reading both and wanted to share them with you. They have not been altered at all. We judged the essays based on creativity and originality alone and put no weight on sentence structure or grammar. I typed them up exactly as they were written, mistakes and all. The first one placed 3rd in all of Azerbaijan for the 7th form. The second essay placed 1st. Enjoy!

What would you rather be, a bird or a fish? Why?
What do you think your village/town will look like in 300 years? I don’t know my city will look like in 300 years. Now 21 century: but will 300 years my city is a change. I think my city car’s fly. Home’s door are sensetivy. People come to home and door automatic open. But other people come to home and door not open. My city people’s are a magician and they are happy not fight. I think my city children will 300 years go to school. School is technological. Everyone have got computer on the table. Children prepare to exercise at computer. I think my city peoples fly to everywhere. Because they won’t rocket shoes. People say to shoes fly, fly, fly and shoes to fly. I think my city people seed and will 5 day seeds will very big tree. I think my city will 300 years everywhere have got speed internet and every television have got 1000 channels. People go to the market and say: eggs. Eggs come to the people.

How would the world be different if everyone spoke the same language?

A beautiful morning. Everything is better than yesterday. I awoke early and went to bathroom as everyday. But something was different. I went to kitchen and said: “Sabahin xeyir, ana!” to my mother, but she said: “Good morning, son! Why are you talking different?”. I couldn’t understand anything and asked: “Ne deyirsen?”. And she answered in English again: “I can’t understand you. Please, speak in our language!”. So I felt something is wrong. Then I said: “Men…OK. I go to school”. And finaly she said: “What? You must be mad for it. Today is Sunday and you want to go to school?!”. Then I said: “Ok mom I have meeting with my friend at school. I go!” First I thought it’s joke, but…
            …I went to school and saw my friends and said: “Salam, ushaqlar!”. And they look at me in interest and said: “What did you say? Why are you talking that?”. I said: “OK guys! I must go!” and began to run…
            At street, on TV, at school…Everyone was talking in English. I cried: “What is that mean?” and one man said to me: “Hey, you, why do you cry? Stupid!”…
            I went to bookshop. There is no dictionary in there. In France, in Germany, in Italy, in Azerbaijan…Everyone was talking in English. I cried again. “Oh, no…” and awoke…
            I went to kitchen and said: “Good morning, mom!” to my mother. She asked: “Niye ingilis dilinde danishirsan?”. The I said: “Hech, yuxu gormushdum.”…
            …It was just a nightmare. But I understood that if English (or other language) would be the official language of every country, if everyone would spoke the same language the world would be boring. No one would want to learn other languages…
         …Now English is most important language in the world. And you, my reader, learn more. If you want to be an important person you must learn and learn and learn… 
Nachos that Stephanie and I made
Elvin and Farid playing Jenga! for the first time

Friday, April 1, 2011

HELP (it’s a double entendre)

I am still a bit dumbfounded, not quite sure how to react. I did some laundry this morning, my first time in the new house. After soaking and scrubbing my clothes in the bathroom, I brought the sudsed clothes outside to the communal fountain where I was planning on rinsing and then hanging them. Almost immediately, an elderly woman, Sevil, pushed me out of the way and took charge (Sevil is a toothless old woman who lives next door. Every time I see her she kisses me on the cheek and calls me her son.). She rinsed and hung the clothes with the precision of a brain surgeon and the speed of a race car driver.  In no time at all, the clothes were perfectly hung, dripping fresh mountain water in the beating sun. I stood there, absolutely useless, half smirking and half gaping. I had done absolutely nothing except hand her clothesline clips as she hastily demanded them, and I could barely keep up with that task!
I’ve been spoiled by the convenience of washing machines, and she, after many years, has mastered a craft. Her reasons for helping an absolute stranger wash his clothes, and even his underwear, are twofold. Firstly, and most sincerely, the Azerbaijani people are just so ‘gosh darn’ kind and hospitable! They are truly a warm-hearted people, especially elderly women, known as Xanims (pronounced Hanim). Secondly, as is also true of the Azeri people, they believe men are useless (only partially true). She likely did not want to see me clumsily demean the craft she has spent so many year perfecting. Either way, I’ll accept the help with open arms!
However, herein lies one of the greatest moral dilemmas of our generation. As she finished hanging my clothes and retreated to her own apartment as if nothing had happened, she insisted that I bring her my laundry every time. She almost pleaded with me to allow her to wash my clothes. So, should I take her up on this most gracious offer, saving myself the time, sparing myself the humiliation as all the housewives look on, and allow her to perform this task with the grace of Gretzky? Or, do I refuse the offer, take the embarrassment and harassment that are sure to continue, and clean my own clothes with the clumsiness that Ting talks to girls (sorry buddy)?
I welcome your comments!
Sheep getting a little too close to the field
Kids at the Writing proud!

Very Excited!!!