Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Xashed!

When it comes to cuisine, I think I’m pretty adventurous. I’ll definitely try anything once and I’ll like most of those things. In this case, I’ve tried it twice, and I still don’t like it. Wait, I take that back. I despise it. I loathe it. I curse the morning I tried it. And now I’m becoming ill just thinking about it. I’m talking about Xash!

I won’t start with any “for those of you who don’t know…” lines. If you’ve not been to this area of the world, you definitely don’t know about it. It’s not some international cuisine that has made its way across cultures, varying just slightly from place to place. It’s too gross for that, too revolting. No one would ever want to bring it back to their home country. Some of my closest friends like Matt and Trey truly love it. I like them a little bit less as people because of that!

Okay, enough build up. Xash is a soup made up entirely of hooves, head, and stomach; sheep or cow is available. That’s really it, I don’t have any further explanation. Take two parts hooves, one part head, and all the chopped up pieces of stomach you want. Boil it for about a day, add a lot of oil, and it’s ready to be served! Put it in a bowl, the thick bone of the hoof as the center piece, add fresh garlic and vinegar and then go to town!
If any of you are truly interested in trying this, don’t bother writing me ever again; I’ve lost all respect for you!
Because it is the hoof, the whole concoction is very gelatinous. As you eat away at the cartilage and fat and whatever else is on the foot of a cow or sheep, a film forms in your mouth and on your lips that does not go away!
The ONLY thing good about this meal, which is consumed with friends in the winter between the hours of 6-7am (only), is that it is always served with vodka.

So, at midnight on Saturday when Matt asked me to go with the boys to “enjoy” a xash breakfast the next morning, minor inebriation and the promise of camaraderie convinced me. Matt will likely never receive another invitation to come to Balaken ever again!
Here's a little more information about xash: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khash_(dish)

On a brighter note, some of my plans for Balaken are finally starting to come to fruition. Stephanie and I arrived about 10 minutes early for club on Monday afternoon. To our surprise, most of the students had already arrived and were quietly playing games and completing puzzles that we had donated to the children’s library over the past year. It was so inspiring to see the kids all playing without supervision, without us there to facilitate. Hopefully, this continues and the library actually becomes a place for students to go and spend time reading and playing games!

Matt and Dustin walking to the restaurant early in the morning.

Tastes even worse than it looks!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

It's Going To Be A Good Year...

What a start to 2012! Seriously, in all my years (am I too young to say that?), I don’t think I’ve been as excited for a year as I am for 2012. A couple of trips, a plateful of unbelievable projects this spring and summer, and of course, the conclusion of my Peace Corps service (November 9 for those of you who still don’t know). To think that I will back in North America by this time next year is almost too strange to believe, but that’s still a ways off so we’ll stop right there!

2012 has been good to me so far! It started with a short weekend of skiing in Georgia with some of my closest PCV friends, 8 of us to be exact. We called it a guys’ weekend, despite the two female PCVs that came with us…they were good sports about it all! 4 of us were celebrating January birthdays. After a day and very long night and early morning traipsing around Tbilisi, we caught a small bus to Gudauri, a very small ski resort 4 hours or so north of the capital. It sits at about 10,000 feet, well above the tree line. It was whitewashed with nearly two meters of fresh powder the day before we got there! The road up to it was closed so we had to stop and put chains on the tires halfway up. Gudauri is said to have the best heli-skiing in the Caucasus mountains. Of course, a Peace Corps stipend does not exactly allow us to splurge on a helicopter, so we stayed grounded and stuck to the chair lifts. The weather was perfect and conditions on the mountain were magical. It is an open-faced mountain: no trees and no distinct trails. The cats groom a path down every so often depending on weather conditions, but you are not really restricted at all in terms of where you want to go. You can stick to the winding groomed trails all the way down (a 7km path from top to bottom) or brave the glades and try your luck in the ungroomed stuff. Some of us spent most of our days near the top doing this. Thankfully, we all finished the weekend safe and sound, minus some burning quads and the occasional instance where we got stuck in snow up to our neck and had to dig and hike our way out!
We rented an apartment right on the slopes and spent our nights mostly in our long underwear eating, drinking, doing karaoke, and sneaking into hotel spas for some R&R in the saunas and hot tubs. Not surprisingly, it was a wonderful group of people to travel with and we had a fantastic time together!

Despite our failure to meet anyone remotely interested in paying for our trip in a helicopter as Trey and I had dreamed of, we had an amazingly refreshing and at the same time draining weekend. Very little sleep was had and nothing but pork, wine, and cha-cha (Georgian liquor) was consumed. Yet, being outside all day on the slopes, the sun shining and not a cloud in the sky, was so revitalizing that we came back to Azerbaijan and Baku for our Mid-Service Conference (MSC) all smiles!

MSC was another exciting event. It is the final conference for the AZ8 group before our Close of Service meeting in August. The two-day conference is spent reflecting on our first year of service, sharing stories, feelings, ideas, plans, etc. As much as most of us role our eyes as staff encourage us to share our feelings, it was a useful couple days to find inspiration for the final 9 months of service. Even better, it was capped off by being assigned the 3rd earliest COS date of November 9. No plans are set in stone yet. I hope to travel a bit in Southeast Asia before returning to North America before the holiday season. I’m looking at going to Nepal, India, Thailand, and Malaysia. If anyone has travelled in these countries or any other ones nearby, I would love your input!

This 2 week whirlwind of ridiculousness and reflection was capped off by the first conference of my gender training project that I am doing with the WID/GAD committee and our counterpart organization, the World of Women Public Union. This conference was not an actual training, but a training of trainers as we like to call it.  With that, I believe this conference became the longest acronym that Peace Corps has (WID/GAD WoW ToT), and that’s saying something because there are A LOT of them, believe me! Despite a massive dumping of snow, WoW came to Peace Corps headquarters on a Saturday and presented their material to the WID/GAD committee and a number of local PC staff. After presenting their material, we critiqued them, providing feedback in an attempt to prepare them for the six presentations that they will make to students and community leaders throughout Azerbaijan in the coming months. They did a wonderful job and I am so anxious to begin the trainings! For more information on the ToT and to see pictures, please click here: http://widgadaz.com/

Of course, as much as I hate to say it, all good times must come to an end. I have fallen back to reality pretty hard. To say the least, Azeris can be quite averse to snow and cold weather. Generally, their first reaction is to cancel everything and stay at home, no matter how little has actually fallen. A couple of “monster” snow storms this week, no more than six inches mind you, have put a halt to absolutely EVERYTHING. Schools are cancelled, interregional buses have stopped going, and all meetings and activities I had hoped to have were immediately assumed to be called off. There’s no telling how long this hibernation will last. I hope not long; I cannot wait for spring to come!

Peace Corps Azerbaijan (8th Group)...I'm the "A"

The Top

Just 3 Guys, Having a Good Time

Avalanche Zone?!

Ya, let's do it!

And we're the 3 best friends that anyone could have...

The biggest downside of MSC...having to take an intestinal parasites detection test. Yes, it is exactly what you think it is! I will be sending my own poop in the mail! How many people can say they've done that before?