Sunday, January 1, 2012

Things That Aren’t So Strange Anymore

It is now 2012 and my service in Azerbaijan has spanned 3 different years. As I think about my time thus far, and on my life prior to this adventure, the differences are so distinct. Today, I’ll look at some of the most striking changes I have encountered and reflect upon the fact that this unfamiliar journey I am on has actually become the closest thing to normal that I know.

1.     Time
To most, 27 months is a longgggggg time, long enough that I added a few extra g’s. I have about 11 months left in my service. To most back home, this is an eternity. My friends laugh at me and I can sense their confusion over Skype when I mention plans for when I return. 16 months ago I would have thought the same thing. Not anymore. Service has flown by! It seemed like only yesterday that I helplessly stared at the lady in the post office as she berated me for not picking up my mail sooner. I had no idea what she was saying, and she’s usually in a pretty pissy mood. Now, whenever she gives me some lip, I give it right back to her! That’s a good feeling!
Whether it’s a coping mechanism or a result of experiencing something new nearly everyday, time is flying by. It’s almost too hard to keep up. At this point, everything I am doing is for the last time. That is a fact that is both exciting to think about and hard to swallow. Sometimes, I cannot imagine leaving this place. I still feel like I have so much to do. Yes, 11 months is quite a bit of time, but I know that one morning I will wake up and it will be time to book my flight home. That moment is creeping up on me ever so quickly.
2.     Animals
Garbage-eating cows, noisy chickens, mangy horses, wild dogs, fat cats, and scavenging rats – they’re all part of my daily routine here. It’s laughable that I no longer blink an eye when I have to shoo a cow away from they well outside when I need to rinse my laundry. Rooster crows, dog barks, and cat screeches when they’re in heat no longer keep me awake when I try to sleep in. I accept sheep in the middle of the road as a normal form of traffic, and I now know that when driving straight at a stationary cow in the middle of the road, you better slow down; I promise you that it will not move!
3.     Distance
Maine to New York City for a weekend? That’s a minimum 5 hour trip each way (if my mom’s driving)! Isn’t that a little crazy for just a weekend? Not anymore! Once you’ve taken a Soviet-era night train that gets stuck in the snow for 16 hours, squished into a van with all of the windows closed (actually they didn’t work) in the middle of summer for 6 hours while the driver chain smokes the whole trip, or sat on a bus next to a mother and child who, in between bouts of car sickness (ya, throwing up), eat moldy cheese and spit sunflower seed shells on the ground, well, travel back home just really is not so bad! So, once I return, invite me to come visit, I’m sure it will be a lovely trip!
4.     Clothing
What do you call a person with one pair of jeans, a couple pairs of slacks for work, and one pair of athletic pants for sports? I bet you thought I’d say a Peace Corps volunteer! Wrong! The punch line is: a normal person! Sure, cleanliness is sometimes questionable, but in general America, you’re a little over the top when it comes to clothing. In the winter it’s pretty normal for me to have the same long underwear on for days on end before changing. What, it’s cold here?! This may be a little over the top, but my general rule of thumb is, if it’s not smelly, wear it again!
5.     How things work
Were you ever curious where your water came from, or how it was heated? Ever get frustrated by a power outage, and wanted to just go outside and fix the lines yourself, even though you had no idea where to start? Ever question how internet was supplied to your house, or how phone lines worked? Okay, not the most interesting of things, I know. Quite honestly, I never really cared. These things just came, I paid for them, and everyone was happy. Not anymore! The antiquated and rudimentary nature of construction here means that I now know how EVERYTHING works! Some of it I can fix, some of it is hopeless. Either way, it’s quite enlightening to understand how daily utilities actually function…well, sometimes function.
6.     Loneliness
This is not loneliness in the sad face (L) ‘send me a card to make me feel better’ way. I actually mean just physically being alone, alone and far away from your past. Like most people, hanging with friends, making plans for the weekend, and going to social events like the gym, the mall, or parties was the norm. Now, it’s the opposite. A trip to the local restaurant is a big deal. A cooking night with friends is marked on the calendar well in advanced and remembered fondly. A weekend trip or party – well those are few and far between. Being alone is not so weird anymore. Sure, I spend a lot of time with Azeri friends and families, but to them I am still an outsider, still a guest. I’ve grown accustomed to and actually rather fond of quiet nights and weekends reading, writing, and watching alone.

Muham music about love and finding me a wife!

Elvin and I on New Year's Eve

Great way to end 2011
Thank you to my friend's and family back home for the wonderful messages I have received. Your support means everything! Also, thank you to my not-so-new-anymore friends here in Azerbaijan. Yesterday was such a wonderful day and a perfect way to close out 2011. I got to sit and hold my niece, Elvin's daughter Nuray, all evening. Then, Farid and his family welcomed me over. We ate, drank, and danced. Then, we went to his cousin's house where we ate more, drank more, and sang Muham music about love and finding me a wife! Farid, his brother Samid, and I brought in the new year watching the fireworks on TV back at his house. 
Happy 2012 everybody!

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