Sunday, August 14, 2011

Catching Up

Where to begin, it’s been so long since I last posted – July 14th to be exact. The devastating heat of summer has oftentimes left me lethargic, too sluggish to put my thoughts to paper and share them with you. At the same time, the freedom of summer, the sanguinity and innocent enthusiasm has kept me busier then ever. As 3 projects conclude, 4 more start up. Volunteers throughout the country are sending e-mails requesting assistance; camps are in full swing, preparations for the school year are underway, and oh ya, I almost forgot, I went on vacation to Albania for a week!

I try and keep my posts focused, narrowing in on one theme or event as opposed to just recapping what I am doing. However, it has been far too long and way too many things have happened to move on without summarizing just a little bit. So, here we go!

My last post was July 14. The next day, a Friday, my volunteer club had its second ever event. As you’ll recall, we had a used-item drive for the Internot School/Orphanage. This time, we returned to Internot, with the intention of holding a field day of sorts. Prior to going, the students all decided what games they wanted to teach to the students of Internot. We narrowed it down to 3: softball, ultimate Frisbee, and UNO. We showed up at around 10 (there were approximately 15-20 of us) and met the director. She summoned her students and instructed them to take us to the soccer field out back. This wasn’t much of a soccer field, strewn with grazing cows, geese, and more piles of cow dung than I think I have ever seen before. There was also the smell of a rotting carcass. We couldn’t pin point it, but something dead had clearly been sitting in the sun too long. Anyway, Trey and I were quite nervous. Our kids were hot and reticent, while the Internot students seemed wholly uninterested. I turned to talk to Trey for a second, to figure out how we would organize and motivate. Before we knew it, Muslim and Rasul had rounded up most of the boys and were distributing baseball mitts. A group of our girls had started teaching the rules of ultimate Frisbee to another group of students, while the younger ones sat in a circle with Layla and Samira playing UNO. Without any instructions or encouragement, my students had taken charge. Just like that, there was a baseball game being played on one half of the field, an ultimate Frisbee game on the other half, and all of the little ones had gravitated to the UNO circle. Trey and I were left standing there, useless, superfluous. This went on until about 1pm, when we finally tried to wrap things up. No one wanted to leave, neither group. The girls had a cult following, Rasul and Muslim were being called teacher (I don’t even get called teacher), and people were pleading with me to left everyone stay. It was getting too hot, so I conceded a little and we played a couple of group games before finally leaving at around 2, promising to return the following month. A great day completed, no thanks to Trey and I!

The Field at Internot
Had to include this one...too cute
Ultimate Frisbee
Muslim and Hecer teaching softball
The UNO circle

I didn’t have time to write about the Internot event because, on that Sunday, I brought Muslim to ABLE (Azerbaijan Boys Leadership Experience) camp, a national boys sleep-away leadership camp about 4 hours south of Balakan. This is one of Peace Corps Azerbaijan’s biggest projects. There is another one called GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) for girls the week after; I sent two girls to that. Anyway, I am also part of the committee that organizes ABLE. I worked on inviting guest speakers who come each day to speak about everything from the environment and fitness to gender equality, human rights, and project planning. I am also on the evaluation team that reports back to our donors on the success of the camp.
These boys are the best of the best! They must fill out an application and have 2 different PCVs vouch for them. The goal is to help foster their leadership skills, allowing them to meet boys like them from all over the country and putting them in leadership roles through various games and activities during the week. Being away from home for so long without family is a totally foreign concept in this country, so this camp is an enormous step for most of these boys.
Long story short, the camp was one of the most amazing experiences I have had in country thus far; I was surrounded by a fantastic group of PCVs and Azeris. The boys seemed to get so much out of the experience. So many times, kids would come up to me unprovoked to tell me how much fun they were having, or how they just did something that they had never done before. As well, the male PCVs really got to bond. A prank war unfolded in the last few days that included a midnight dance party, a stray dog, missing shoes, and a water balloon attack at 5am.
We were so busy the whole week, that by the end of it, we were popping Aleve every morning like they were Skittles. The camp was quite strict, and bossman Todd kept the kids in line. Those who broke the rules were sent to me for morning punishments. I took them on Indian runs, made them do pushups and wall sits until they cried, and generally tried to discourage them, through pain, from ever breaking the rules again. In most cases, it was a success; there were not too many repeat offenders. However, by the end of the week, I had some kids joining me just for the fun of it. Clearly, I was not cruel enough!
On the final day the Ambassador came. He met with the students, talked with them about leadership and respect, and awarded medals to the winning team. This, was my proudest moment. On the first day, the boys were divided up into 4 random teams. Most events counted for points, which were tallied everyday. On the final day, the winning team was announced by Todd and the Ambassador. Muslim, my boy, had been selected team captain by his peers; the Fire Land Gang was the name of his team. He was, by far, the youngest of the 4 captains. Regardless, his team won. It was so thrilling to see him call up his team in triumph, and then proudly shake hands with the Ambassador. I am so proud of him!
The AZ8s met one night to begin planning ABLE 2012! Next year, I am the project manager for the camp. I cannot imagine how we could make it any better, but we’ll do our best.

The panel of judges for the talent show. The winner did impressions of many of the counselors, including me!
Ambassador Bryza speaking to the campers
Ambassador Bryza and Muslim

Counselors and counterparts along with Ambassador Bryza

From there, I had a much needed vacation! Marie and I spent a couple days in Ganja with the world’s most gracious hosts, Dustin & Kelly…and Brad, and then went to Qax for a couple days to see Lori. She too spoiled us silly. On August 1st, I took a flight to Tirana, the capital of Albania, to meet Tony for a week of fun in the sun! We met so many wonderful people along the way, from the 2 French couples on the streets of Tirana also trying to find out how to get to Saranda (the southern port city where we spent the week) to our newfound best buddy Stephen, the crazy Brit who teaches English in Iraq. Long and short of it, Albania is a magical place! It’s a backpackers paradise. There isn’t enough time in the world to list all of the interesting people we met along the way. It’s cheap; Tony and I struggled to spend our remaining money by the end of the trip. Fairly underdeveloped still, the city of Saranda is small and clearly unfinished, but quite hopping. Many restaurants, cafes, and bars line the waterfront. There are many hotels and inns, but if you are seriously looking to go, and want to keep it on the cheap, you can do no better than the Hairy Lemon Hostel. This hostel was perfect. Run by an Irish woman named Annette, it is clean, has a breathtaking view, and offers free booze and pancakes. What more could you ask for? Did I mention Saranda was beautiful? We spent our days exploring beautiful pebble beaches, swimming in the still turquoise water of the Mediterranean Sea. It was so wonderful catching up with an old friend, making new memories, and relaxing for a week. I missed the buzz of work and it felt strange walking around in an unbuttoned Jimmy Buffett shirt and headband without being stared at, but it was just what I needed. I am so grateful to Tony for taking the time out of his busy life to spend a week with me. Thanks buddy!

Tony and our new French friends

The Blue Eye Spring (a sink hole over 50m deep and 10 degrees C that constantly has water flowing from it)...I jumped into it. Unreal colors!
The view of the Sea and the Greek island of Corfu from our hostel
The beach at our hostel...we actually didn't even spend much time here
Marie gave Brad and I haircuts!

Dustin, Brad, and I in D&K's new pool!
Dustin and Kelly, my favorite couple
The gang hanging out after dinner
Dustin, Trey, and I in the mountains in Balakan washing off in the river post watermelon-eating contest. Trey won.

In other exciting news, my good friends Elvin and Elnura had their first child, a girl named Nuray! Now I get to be that crazy American uncle! 

And lastly, please, if you have any interest in donating to our national softball league, I would be most grateful. It is a fantastic project for the youth of Azerbaijan. Help them experience America's pastime!
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  1. Hi it was very inetersting day in Able Camp do you remember me ? My name is Emin)))