Friday, December 30, 2011

Sticks and Stones

I’m just going to come out and say it, call a spade a spade: Azeri construction is a joke. I mean no disrespect, but it’s true. Most people know it. The only people who would argue this statement are the know-it-all “masters”, the bricklayers, the carpenters, the people who actually construct things around here. It borders on sheer ignorance. Tinkertoys are more stable than the things constructed in this country! I know that you could come up with any number of excuses to defend their feeble attempts at construction, but given my occasional suffering (especially in winter) and their refusal to take any sort of advice, I lack any sympathy on the matter. Houses are built completely misshaped, with tiny, unusable spaces, windows that don’t fully shut, and door frames that are completely off center. Gaping holes in the brick laying let in stinging cold air during the winter months. These men use cement like a six year old uses wet sand at the beach when making a sand castle. The main street in town, under construction for the past 6 months, was built without any sort of shoulder for parking, despite the numerous shops that line it. So, the new four lane road immediately became a two lane road. That’s funny, it was a two lane road before they went through all of the trouble! Cobblestone sidewalks were built as well. I trip over the bricks and inadvertently kick them out of their places on a daily basis. They also planted palm trees (don’t even get me started on that one) in the middle of the sidewalk. Between those and the lamp posts strategically placed on the sidewalk as well, your only choice is to walk on the street. Too bad there’s no shoulder!

The point of this post, other than to rant a little bit (it’s my blog, I can do what I want), is to share with you a joke my close friend Farid told me tonight over tea and nard. It’s an Azeri joke making fun of the very thing I was talking about above! It has been adapted for English. I hope you enjoy it!

An unfinished building falls down suddenly, leaving a huge mess. The building inspector must find out who’s culpable, so he calls everyone into his office one by one. First, he calls in the bricks.
“What happened yesterday? You were supposed to stand firm, give the building it’s shape.”
The bricks passionately reply, “We weren’t doing anything, promise. We were just all stacked there quietly, and the next thing you knew, BOOM!, we all come tumbling down.”
Next, the steel beams are called in. “What happened yesterday? You guys were supposed to really strengthen that place up. How could you have let it fall?”
The steels beams also fervently reply, “We had nothing to do with that, honest. We were in our places, keeping nice and firm, when, all of the sudden, we collapsed.”
The building inspector, clearly frustrated that no one was taking responsibility for the accident, calls in the cement in hopes of getting some answers.
“What happened yesterday? You’re the foundation of the entire building. How could you let it fall?”
The cement, very confused, innocently replies, “Sir, we had nothing to do with that accident, we weren’t even there!”

Happy New Year everyone!

Our homemade presents Christmas morning
Christmas dinner

Thai curry pumpkin soup

Our Christmas tree (Yolka in Azeri)
Happy Holidays from my region (the middle finger)!

Apple cider

Monday, December 19, 2011

Life In The 'Baijan: A Year in Review

This year was supposed to be my biggest yet, not to be outdone by anything before it. For the rest of my life, it was to stand out as one of the best. I was on the journey of a lifetime, living out my dream, going where no one (literally) had gone before. Yet after everything that has happened in our world this year, my own adventure doesn’t seem so significant anymore. From royalty and retribution to toppled despots and empowered masses. We’ve seen wars ended and icons lost. We’ve wrestled with fiscal uncertainty and privacy, as well as with the power of Mother Nature. It’s been a year like no other! It will certainly be remembered, but not in the way I, nor anyone else for that mattered, had envisioned it.
Looking over all of it made me feel so small, so inconsequential. Admittedly, this stung a little bit. I guess I figured my service would be headline news!
However, when I actually sit back and try to recap 2011, other than making my head spin, I realize that I never did expect this to be a big deal to anyone but myself. The fact that it wasn’t is exactly how it should be. Sure, we PCVs try to do as much good as possible while we’re here, but in a strange place with limited funding, how much can we actually accomplish? The truth is, more than changing the world, the Peace Corps changes us.
Reviewing the year that was, I begin to appreciate what I’ve done, just as much as everything else that has happened in our crazy world! It’s not these great events of 2011 that impress me most; it’s the little things that remind me why I’m here, that remind me that we’re all in this together.

MY highlights for 2011:

One of the highlights of my service has actually been my family and friends back home. I have a support group at home larger and kinder than I ever knew. My family and friends have sent me packages and written me letters. They have sung to me over the internet, called me on my birthday, donated to my projects, visited me, and continued to include me in their wonderful lives. To those of you reading this, you know who you are. I am eternally grateful. Thank you.

Not including Azerbaijan, I have travelled to three new countries. I have made so many new, lifelong friends.
I have seen many of my students blossom into wonderful young adults. And I have seen parents so in awe of their child’s ability and passion that they ignore cultural norms and accept change, encouraging their children to strive for things they themselves never could have imagined.
I’ve seen my little brother, albeit through Skype video, transform into a great man (although don’t tell him I said that or his head will grow bigger than it already is). I even saw my parents sell my childhood home.

The changes have be too many to count, but as I settle in and prepare for my final 11 months of service, I am grateful for what was and excited for what will be.