Wednesday, December 23, 2009

FULLY FUNDED

Just a quick hello from Thailand (I am having a super wicked sweet awesome time - more on that later) to say:

THANK YOU
THANK YOU
THANK YOU

My PCPP Photography Club has been fully funded. Thank you to everyone who donated, emailed helpful hints, and sent me boxes of photography things. You all are the best family that any person could ever ask for.

Zorsa! (Awesome in Avar)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Löki in Thailand

Well folks. I am going to try and get a couple more posts written and scheduled before I head out on vacay, but if I don't:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Not Gəşəng Enough

I got a funny story (actually, I've got many).

So, a few weeks ago, I hopped a train to Baku for...well, why I was going is not the point. Now, I am not a big train person, but this trip was unavoidable and even more frustratingly, I was going alone.

Anyway, at first, I started to chat up a family, but was moved to a room with a single female. After about ten minutes, the woman and I (she was an older grandma type) enjoyed a sparse conversation (if not also grammatically incorrect) about Yeltsin. A few stops later, two older gentlemen boarded the train and we struck up a conversation about who I was, where I am from, and why I was wearing a pair of xtratufs.

After about 15 minutes, the three of them started to speak about something in rapid-fire Azerbaijani. I tuned it all out (which I later realized was my downfall) and kept on reading The Shock Doctrine. Well, about an hour later, 15 manat appeared before my eyes with strict instructions to buy better shoes. I tried to give the money back, but alas, my single-divorced-parent-volunteer status resigned me to a charity case in need of some Azerbaijani approved black boots.

(Jaclyn has some pretty gəşəng boots).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hard Questions

Late last week, I receive a long list of questions from Meggers' 7th grade students (who is Meggers? Just wait for my posts about THAILAND!). Holy crickets could those kids ask tough questions. As I sat typing up my long winded responses, I thought...wow, this is a great review of my past year of service. December 11, 2008, I moved to Zaqatala to began my 2 years of service and look where I am now... 

What is your job there? (J)

Well J, I am a Peace Corps Volunteer - which means I work toward accomplishing 3 goals: 1. teach the locals what I know 2. teach them about America & Alaska and 3. learn about Azerbaijan so I can teach people at home (so, while I spend the next hour answering all these questions, I am actually working!).

My specific program area is Youth Development, but Peace Corps worldwide considers any PCV a Community Development Worker. So...

I do several things. I hang out a lot and talk about America and learn about Azerbaijan with my friends here. I visit PCVs in other regions of the county to show locals in other areas that not all Americans look or act the same. I lead conversation clubs were young people practice talking in English and are able to debate topics (an example is why are ethnicity and nationality different - all Azerbaijanis are Azerbaijani - unlike America where we are Chinese American or American Indian or Puerto Rican). I am trying to raise money to buy photo cameras for a summer art camp. I am helping a local farmer co-op in learning how to combat a local chesnut tree blight and, I am teaching a group of young girls how to use computers and the internet.

3. What is it like day to day living there as a black female ?(R)

Good (but difficult) question R! Well, being Black is one thing. Azerbaijanis live in a homeogenous society where everyone looks the same. Seeing someone different is so odd, it is scary for them. They say hurtful things. Living in one place has really helped me build a great support network. After living here for one year, I have earned a lot of respect in my community. My host family played a crucial role in helping me build a positive reputation, which I will forever be in their debt. Now, people act as if I am just another piece of the puzzle for Zaqatala and I attract very little attention from locals.

Unfortunately, I leave Zaqatala rather frequently and have to deal with people who have no idea who I am. Most often, it is just straight forward curiostiy. Why is my hair so curly? Why is my skin dark? Where am I really from (I am definitely not American to Azerbaijanis who only see Americans on television and think we are all blond and blue eyed. Thank you Obama for helping to change that belief!)?

Plus, leaving Zaqatala, which has a pretty liberal policy of how to treat women and heading to more conservative communities is hard. In Zaqatala, I visit my market alone. I walk around unescorted, and I talk with males on the street. Anywhere else, I am treated like I am a female - which in this culture means I should be at home, having children and cooking food.

But do not get the wrong idea. For Azerbaijan, the gender roles are different and ingrained. It is how people have always been. Just because it is different than America does not necessarily make it wrong.

8. How do you stand helping a sexist society? (M)

Ah M. I laughed when I read this question. Not because I think it is a bad question, but because it is a question often debated in PCV ciricles. A lot of us talk about cultural relativism - which is the idea that you are viewing another culture through your cultural lense and judging it based on that. Just because it looks sexist from an American standpoint does not mean it is sexist.

Then again, maybe it is...maybe cultural relativism is just an excuse to do nothing when women are stripped of their basic rights.

Who knows. To be honest, after living here for a year, some things about how women are treated in Azerbaijan will never sit well with me. On the other side, I now know a lot of how men treat women here are because for them it is respectful.

This experience has been great for me because it forced me to open my eyes. Just because I was taught that women have to be treated one way does not make that one way right. There is gray everywhere and it is more important to be aware of the gray, the relative, than to believe it is all black and white.

I guess that does not answer your question. I work here because 1. I did not have a choice (Peace Corps places you). 2. I can teach about human rights. 3. Nobody will learn about alternatives unless someone brings those alternatives to their doorstep.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Whole Lotta Persimmons

Ever like a fruit and then eat...say...25 kilos of it? Can't really say you like the fruit after something like that. More likely, you would probably vomit if the fruit ever came in....say...25 yards of you.

This is my newest problem. During Gurban, my friend Ibanez gave me 25 kilos of persimmons. Now, I like persimmons as much as the next guy (but not nearly as much as my dad), but 25 kilos is a whole lotta persimmons.

Needless to say, if I see another persimmon in...say...the next 25 days, I may vomit red pulppy stuff all over the place.

Monday, December 7, 2009

3rd Installment - Gurban Bayramı

Hands down, Gurban Bayramı is the biggest Islamic holiday in Azerbaijan. I think it is observed 40 days after the end of Ramazan, but don't quote me on that. In Az, everyone takes off an entire weekend (we are talking, Thursday to Tuesday) and spends the time with their family and friends.

This past bayram, I had the awesome privledge of sharing the day with my friend Ibanez and her family. After a delicious lunch of cabbage dolma, I partook in the sheep sacrificing ceremony and then ate a delicous dinner of xəngəl and baklava (Ibanez taught me how to make baklava - it's complicated!).

Anyway, a quick religious lesson: Gurban (meaning sacrifice) commemorates the day Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac. In Az, a sheep is sacrificed (which Abraham did as well) and then given to impoverished families. Awesome for me! I got some sheep (and a literal sack full of persimmons. More on that later).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Installment 2 - Thanksgiving Day

Really, I just want to showcase some awesome pictures of our Thanksgiving feast...

And tell you that Josh (my sitie) killed the turkey himself, roasted it (using super secrets that made it so delicious I teared up a bit), and carved it.

And give you a visual of what my site-mate Amy cooks on. Pretty radtacular huh?

Anyway, I had the pleasure of sharing a great holiday with my two sities, two very good friends, and a head-cold that just won't quit (I still have the darn thing).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Big Weekend (in 3 installments)

Whew. Thanksgiving is over! Wait, that did not come out like I wanted it to...

Christmas is coming! I am going to Thailand! I can now listen to Christmas music non-stop (I made a playlist). Zorsa! (That means awesome is Avar).

But before I start blogging about my upcoming Thailand extravaganza, let's rewind and talk about this past weekend, starting with my apple pie.

I may have mentioned this a time or two, but cooking in Az is an adventure. Not only are you limited in available ingredients, but even the simplest things must be made from scratch (like bread crumbs). As part of my contribution to our at-site Thanksgiving feast, I promised an apple pie and roasted veggies. Of course, I had to make the entire pie from scratch, meaning, I had to whip up a couple pie crusts and jimmy rig apple pie spices.

If I do say so myself, my pie looked awesome. It tasted pretty good too (I really need to locate the Az equivalent of shortening). The whole process was a bit of an exercise in oven mechanics - my oven doesn't have a temperature guage and sometimes is really hot and sometimes is luke warm, but, it all worked out. I knew it would.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Seasons...who knew?

I think this is a first for me - living through 4 seasons. In Alaska, there is is construction and winter. When I lived in New York, it was Christmas and summer. I spent a little over a semester in D.C. and other than that, I am a holiday hopper. This is definitely a first for me.

At any rate, seasons are amazing. It is amazing that here on a sunny Tuesday, November afternoon, I am walking around in a light jacket and tights, talking with few students who just took the 3 round of FLEX testing. It is amazing that my apartment is comfortably warm without my electric heater.

I never really got why people would live anywhere but Alaska. I mean, come on, Alaska is gorgeous. Great people, great scenery, killer fresh food (goodness, I miss Alaskan King crab). All my life, I have lived a stone’s throw away from God’s greatest creation - that would be the Chugach Mountain Range for those who don’t know - and, I always wondered why people would live anywhere else.

But, now I get it. Seasons...who knew?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Really Talking

Recently, I have been wondering what people think of my blog. I mean, obviously, it’s awesome, so I guess that is not my question. I guess I am wondering what you think about my service. What does the average Lökite (yup, that is what you all are, my “ites”) think Löki’s life is like?

Blogging is hard. Mass emails are hard. Some things I can’t write. Some things, I won’t write. It would be like trying to explain how pop-rocks feel when you drink cola. Unless you’ve done it, the description sounds a bit...off putting.

Plus, I recently heard that people back at home really aren’t that interested in PC service. I’ve been told that when I hit American soil, I get 5 minutes with anyone who asks me, “so, what have you been up to,” to explain the last 27 months of my life before people’s eyes roll back and the listening stops. For me, the talker, I can only imagine what all my Lökites are thinking with my constant blogging.

My answer to this? I got none. I write lots of emails. I complain to my dad. I try to explain my feelings to Scott. I call up Jesse and cry, but for the people at home, your getting a view from the cheap seats. I wish I could make it all more meaningful, but I don’t know how. How can I explain that Löki ain’t the same Löki anymore?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hairdate #6

At little 'fro update for ya'all: my hair is getting long. Annoyingly long. I really could go for a good haircut right now. A nice little trim to take off all my split ends and the weird little knots that seem to form at the end of every strand of hair (is this normal?).

Besides a good cut, my hair is doing pretty well. My ma has gotten me hooked on Carol's Daughter [link] products, which keeps my hairs hydrated and frizz-free. I had tried these babies before, but for non-crimpy hair, Carol's Daughter is just a little too greasy. Now, my hair soaks the stuff up like a summer sweat on a do-rag.

My bigger hair has definitely taken on a life of its own. Obviously, I stick out here like a sore thumb, but I have never had to fight so hard for my American heritage. I have been mistaken for Arab, African, Brazilian and Hispanic. For awhile, I was telling people I was Alaskan (which I am), but after an incident with another minority Volunteer, I realized everyone was just assuming that all the American minorities live in Alaska...

At any rate, I am rocking the hair. It's getting touched a lot. I constantly get asked where I am from (not all that different from being state-side) and I am only hearing one or two racial ephiphats a month (I got a speech for this). All in all, I am beginning to think my hair is international development.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Löki Homemaker

Winter is here. Or at least, what I think winter in Azerbaijan is like. I am not really sure. I am slowly coming to the realization that an Alaskan's idea of winter and the rest of the world's idea of winter are vastly separate concepts.

At any rate, it's kind of cold outside and there are fewer people roaming the streets. This makes being outside less fun, so, I am staying inside. I am still running, but mostly, I sit at home and think up projects. Unfortunately, any person who visits me gets pulled into one of my hair brain schemes. Last week, I had 3 [Azerbaijani] girlfriends over to make friendship bracelets. I cooked a "traditional" American lunch (chicken fried steak, mashed taters, and sautéd spinach) and we sat in a circle and gossiped. It was great.

This weekend, I made a door draft snake and French Onion soup from scratch. Now, you may be thinking I caramelized the onions and then added the beef stock, and you are right. But, I made the beef stock. That's right. I made beef stock.

I am so ready to take over the world.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scary Spice

So, I am going to start this blog post with a qualifier: For me, Halloween is a fun, politically incorrect holiday that involves friends, family and lots of sticky sweets. My costume is meant to entertain and not offend.

Now that I got that out of the way...

No, I wasn't Scary Spice for Halloween (although, I kind of look like her). I was Tina Turner! That's right. I can Proud Mary with the best of 'em!

Actually, I really enjoyed my costume this year. My friend dressed up as Ike and we went as that infamous duo...but where'd we go? Well, my sities and I decided that Zaq could throw a little Halloween get together - which was awesome because I LOVE HALLOWEEN (any holiday were people wear orange with pride is a great holiday).

20 PCVs, several whole chickens, 3 kilos of potatoes, a 1/2 pound of sugar cookie dough and enough caramel corn to feed a small army makes a great Halloween shin dig.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Donate Now!

Don't you just love blog posts entitled with "Donate Now!"? I know I do.

Well, really, I love blog posts that describe a project proposal that I co-wrote (that's right, my community counterparts wrote a fair share of this baby) that just needs a few dollars from you!

So, what exactly am I talking about?

1st-ly: Peace Corps promotes a great grant opportunity for communities called Peace Corps Partnership Proposal (PCPP). Once written, this grant gets a space on the Peace Corps Donate Now webpage and asks for family, friends and general do-gooders to donate to a PCV's project.

2nd-ly: After a great summer photography workshop, several girls buckled down and helped me write a PCPP to start a photography club here in Zaqatala. The general idea is this:
The Z’Photo Photography Club will provide a forum for young people to learn basic photography skills and assist in developing an appreciation of photography as an art and as a profession. Youth will promote their art during local community events, as well as create public service announcements through digital manipulation. Furthermore, youth will be presented with the opportunity to develop publications for other Peace Corps’ sponsored projects, which they can add to their developing portfolio. Additionally, several youth leaders will learn how to plan and implement a youth project and will facilitate the Club’s weekly meetings. Money raised through this partnership grant will be used to purchase photography equipment for Club participants.
 3rd-ly: This whole project depends on you, sooo...donate now [link]. You can donate snail mail like too:
Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Headquarters
Peace Corps Partnership Program, OPSI
1111 20th Street NWWashington DC 20526
4th-ly: If you have any questions about this, please do not hesitate to email me [link]. Thank you, thank you, thank you!  

And don't forget, your donation is tax deductible!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Plateau

So, a few weeks ago I was pretty pissed. How in the heck could I know so much Az grammar and vocabulary and still struggle to put together a simple sentence. Even worse - if you gave me a couple minutes, I could say almost anything, but in the moment, I got flustered as heck.

I take bi-weekly Az lessons. I study on my own (much more than I probably should). I soak up new words, idioms, phrases and slang like nobody's business.

So why was speaking so hard for me?!

Well, about two weeks ago, two things happened: (1) the trainees came to Z-town for a visit; and (2) I was forced to use my Azerbaijani for 5 other people.

And lo and behold, I realized I was just in a language plateau. A completely expected and known phenomenon that I downright forgot about.

It's weird how the most obvious of answers doesn't even blip on your radar when you are mad as heck and spittin' nails.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cooking in the Corps



And I learned something today: Löki's started a new blog category.

What? No? Geez. She is going to make us read more ridiculous posts about PC cooking...

Yes. She is.

Actually, this new blog category is all about cooking. Cooking in the Corps [link] to be exact. So, don't worry. You do not have to.

Really. You do not have to read it. I started it because several new PCTs mentioned they had no idea how to make rice. I joked about organizing a cooking 101 workshop for them, but decided this was way more sustainable and way more fun.

So, if you are interested, check it out: Cooking in the Corps [link]. Otherwise, just ignore those posts as they come up. I won't be too hurt...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why I Like Azerbaijan

I feel like I have been complaining a lot.

I guess it is just that time of the...month? Service? Lökiness?

PCVs have no qualms about complaining about service, but we usually do it to each other. This is for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being we get it. It is hard to explain what it is, but when you live it, you understand it.

That doesn't mean I won't try and explain what it is to you. Obviously, I can get bogged down in the frustrating it, but there are definitely the awesome its that keep me going everyday; the its that have me thinking about applying for an extension, and that make me wake up every morning thankful I am here doing what I am doing.

So the counterbalance all the negative its I've been throwing at you, here are some positive ones:
Az friends (Könül, Timur, Shahane, Naile, Ema, Fariz, Rena, Sakina, Ibanez Xanim, Ulviyye, and mo)
PC friends
PC staff (the awesome Baku team that rocks it)
A great apartment (even if all the showers are lukewarm)
Free time (I am now trying to figure out how to dry persimmions)
Service projects (my photo grant is rockin' and my summer Z'Art camp project is gaining speed)
The return of Number 1 (thanks Liana!)
Lots of time for guitar practice
Guests & CouchSurfers
And of course, the opportunity to blog about it all!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reach Out and Touch Your (Az) PCV

Got a PCV abroad and wondering how you can reach out and touch them? Just listen up and I'll give you the skinny:
Tap it out: Use AT&T International Texting [link] to contact your PCV. Texts from the US of A to Az cost $.025 a pop ($0.20 to receive). A relatively cheap way to put a smile on a PCV's face!
 Scott D tip: Use biteSMS [link], an "unofficial" iPhone application to save money.

Skype It! Skype To Go Number allows you to call an Az mobile for dimes on the minute.
Löki T tip: My ma calls me once a week for 10 minutes. Not only does make me feel more connected and supported, but it gives me an opportunity to say, "I love you!"

Chat services make the world go round! Use Google Chat, Jabber, AOL, MobileMe, that weird duck program Liana put on my computer... Chatting is free, easy and can often be done while reading online news sources or typing up emails. A PCV's life is a multitasking one.
Liana T tip: Arrange a chat "date" with your PCV! That way, you are talking computer to computer and it is free!
*For Az PCVs, AT&T seems to be the only carrier that carries text messages over this way.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Moonshine

I am an experimenter. Give me an internet connection, a couple of hours, and no guidelines, and I will come up with some wacky idea that I want to give a whirl.

Good thing, my site mates are those types of people because I don't think just anybody would spend 6 hours coring, juicing, and bottling 25 lbs of apples just for the heck of it.

That's right. My sitemate Amy and I are in the process of making some homemade hard apple cider.

I started this project because another Volunteer mentioned they were partial to hard apple cider, which got me to thinking: Azerbaijan has lots of apples. I could juice a lot of apples for cheap. Hard apple cider would be interesting to make....

And lo and behold, 6 hours of hard pressed work and Amy and I are on our way to our first batch of homemade appley-delicious moonshine. Wish us luck.

Find the recipe at Tor's Hard Cider [link].

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A New Group

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of welcoming in a new crop of PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees for those of you who already forgot the terms!). I remember that moment of flying into Baku, in a solid daze, scared witless and feeling ill prepared for whatever awaited me at the end of the tarmac. Without assuming too much, I am sure this new PCT group is feeling something similar; however, unlike our group, they all got the introduction phase well out of the way. With these new internet wonders, such as Facebook and Blogspot, these cats are already connected. For me, the scariest part was meeting the 60 other Az-bound PCTs. For them, it was a simple, "put a personality to a face" sort of thing.

At any rate, I remember one of the Az5s telling me he had never seen an iPhone. Then, I did not think much about it, but now, I am a little scared that I am going to return to flying cars and laser guns.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Distance

Every PCV knows that 2 years is an awful long time. People get married, babies are born, tragedies happen and you are thousands of miles away with only limited means of communication.

It sucks.

For me, the classic verbal processor, not being there to hug (and be hugged), plan parties for, and to laugh with (and cry on) my friends and family is the hardest thing I have ever experienced. It is impossible to imagine the emotional roller coaster that is Peace Corps service. Everything I feel is magnified by my lack of ability to simple talk with those at home. Even harder, being this far away makes contacting me with any news darn near impossible. You'd think it would get easier the longer I am here, but even after one year, I am still a basket case.

Oi. This distance thing is hard.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

One Year Down

Odd that I'm now just mentioning it, but we have passed the 1 year mark. I have now been in Az for 1 year (and some odd days).

You'd think I would have brought more fanfare and attention to this, but, truth be told, I was a bit busy. Firstly, I had VAC (I am a member of the Volunteer Advisory Committee, which I love!). Then, FLEX came up and I was busy working with my youth to prepare them for the different tests and the upcoming interview. After all that, I had the super fortunate luck of being chosen as a member of the Welcome Committee (that's right - when the next group of PCVs arrive - huh...this will have already happened by the time this blog posts...anyway, when they arrive, I - and 5 other PCVs - will have the distinct pleasure of welcoming them to Azerbaijan)...and then after all that...

I wrote this blog.

So...15 more months to go. Woo, hoo.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Iron Chef Zaqatala

So, I am down to 2 sitemates. I think ya'all have already met Josh [link], and I have mentioned Amy [link] a time or two. I think Amy said it best when she noted we bicker like siblings...because we do. Get the 3 of us in a kitchen and we back seat cook like nobody's business.

That's why we decided to settle our differences with a little cook-off (queue music) - Iron Chef Zaqatala: The Chili Competition.

Pounds of beans, hot peppers, and secret ingredients (is that chocolate Amy?) later, the line up goes something like: Josh, Löki, Amy. The judging may have been a little faulty as Azerbaijanis were calling the shots and hot food ain't received real well around these parts.

At any rate, Josh is the King - well, at least until the next cooking challenge (do I hear a pancake throw down on the horizon...).

Löki's 2nd Place White Chili
2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c cooked and cubed chicken (run with cumin & chili powder and pan fry)
1 1/2 c chicken broth
4 hot chilis, seeded and diced
1 t cumin
1 t dried oregano
1 t cayenne pepper
2 1/2 c white beans (soaked and cooked with chopped onion, chili powder and whole cloves)
1 can white corn, undrained
Prepare chicken and beans. Set aside.
In a large pot, saute onion and garlic in oil for 10 minutes. Add chicken (and collected juices), chilis and broth. Add spices and bring to a boil. Add beans (mash 1/2 a cup for a thicker soup) and corn. Heat thoroughly. Serve hot!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Not taking credit, but...

15 Zaq students passed the first round of FLEX testing! Woo-hoo!

An Americna Councils student exchange program, FLEX [link] provides the opportunity for high school students to spend 1 year attendingan American high school. A very competitive program, students participate in a series of test, interviews, and essay skill excercises. Each year, les than 50 Az young people are selected for the program, with less than 1,000 former FLEX students hailing from Azerbaijan. If I have not already mentioned it, my host bro is a former FLEX student (and so is my host cousin).

At any rate, I think this program is awesome and I am blown away by the number 15. Kudos definitely go to Natalie & D-man, the newest RPCVs from Zaq. Their convo clubs, prep classes and general presence prepared these kids - and look what happened! 15!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Visitors

I just received word my blog would receive some special visitors and I thought I would write a quick hello and introduction to Peace Corps, my service, and me! Sorry if this is a repeat for anyone. Think of it as a recap if it gets too...repeative (read annoying).

So...where should we start? Well, let me lay out my blog for you. This should help you and my dad find out all there is to know about me and my stint as a PCV.

Who's Löki? Nome is Home [link] can tell you.

What to know how I got into Peace Corps? Visit The PC Process [link].

Interested in how a PCV lives? Check out The PC Life [link].

How does it feel to be a PCV? I got that in The PC Experience [link].

Got an odd question or two? Frequently Asked Questions [link] may be your best bet.

And finally, how can you show your Löki Love [link]?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Real Vacation



Like most Americans, my idea of a vacation was going to some exotic place (or a normal place chock full of relatives) and trying to cram every sight-seeing, touristy event into an already over-booked schedule.

Well, my friends, my days of American vacationing are over. After spending 12 months serving 24/7 as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I had the opportunity to take an Azer-Vacay (which consists solely of slow walking). A couple friends and I hopped the border to Tbilisi and ate and drank our way through 4 wonderful days of absolute relaxation.

Holy cowpokes, was it amazing! Don't get me wrong, I perused a few tourist shops, gazed a a few unique and beautiful sights, and sampled the delicious local cuisine. Still, for the first time in my 26 years, I took a true vacation. I got to admit, Azerbaijanis are on to something here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thanks Sharon



A few weeks ago, I published a blog post about homesickness. At first, I was scared to write the blog. What if people did not understand that even though I love my service, there are days where I contemplate returning home and hugging every person in sight? What if people thought I was whining? What if once I wrote it, it became even more true and I ended up ETing?

Even with all these questions, I still wrote the post. My service is about the good, the bad, the frustrating, and the funny. It is about how to navigate the Peace Corps system and expectations. It is about being an American overseas who wants to help, but isn't sure how. It is about everything that goes into international development.

At any rate, at the end of that post, I mentioned a taste of home would go a long way for easing my hurt and lo and behold, Sharon (and Mark!) sent that taste to me. Even though the cereal and soy milk (and coffee) were fantastic, it was the reminder that even though a huge body of water separates us, I am still connected to each and every one of you. That makes my heart smile.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Darn Good Birthday

For those who know me, my birthday is the biggest holiday in the book. I love it. I love being surrounded by my family and friends. I love birthday cake (preferably chocolate) and cooking related presents. I love sitting in my kitchen and enjoying countless cups of coffee and talking the afternoon away. I really love my birthday.

That's why, when I woke up at 5 a.m. Thursday morning, I was deflated. I was sad that my birthday was going to eek by without so much as a nod to signify the day. I was scared of spending my first birthday away from my home, my Team, and my family.

And what happened? I had one of the best birthday of my 26 years.

My sister called and we chatted for hours. My awesome site mate Amy showed up and we sat, drank coffee and chatted. Amy made a delicious flourless chocolate cake (really chocolatey) and we gorged ourselves on chocolate and fresh blackberries. My host family threw me a surprise birthday bash with all my extended Azerbaijani family and a few other PC friends. Amy brought her computer and we watched a cooking show. Overall, it was spectacular.

I could never have asked for a better birthday.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fasting

It’s that time again, Ramadan. Here they say Ramazan. I am not sure why that is...maybe I have been saying it wrong my whole life...

At any rate, I know I have talked very little about Islam, but it is a big part of Azerbaijani culture, much more than Christianity is a part of American culture. I would venture to say that 95% of the Azerbaijani populous considers themselves Muslim with something like a 3 to 1 split between Sh’a and Sunni.

That being said, a lot of my internal struggles come wanting to work with Azerbaijani women in a way that is congruent with their faith. Self-admittedly, I know very little about Islam. I think I can name the 5 Pillars, but besides that, most of what I know is here-say. How many of you can name the 5 Pillars or any major tenants of Islam? It makes me feel ridiculously ignorant to know so little about one of the major world religions.

So what do I do? Well, this week, my college conversation club and I talked about fasting and faith. I also plan to read the Koran and maybe participate in a service or two. I also am going to challenge myself to a 7 day fast where I plan to participate in Namaz (5 times a day prayer). I am learning, which is a big PC goal.

(a couple links for you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Azerbaijan [link] and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramadan [link])

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Say A Little Prayer

Number 1 is dead.

That's right. My awesome, hard working, handsome, and dedicated MacBook has kicked the bucket.

And right before I was supposed to start a correspondence course with my university back at home.

Needless to say, I am a little bummed (which followed the heels of extremely pissed off). But what does this mean for you my faithful readers? It means less blog posts, little to no pictures, and a few words of frustration every now and again.

On the bright side, I now have ample time to continue my Azerbaijani studies and perfect my folksy version of Right Now (by Akon).

PS Happy Birthday Liana!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Real Blog Post


I went hiking today. It is moments like these that I am struck by the absolute awesomeness of where I live and what I am doing. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. Right now, only 3,000 other people can claim that distinction. I live in Azerbaijan. Nobody knows where that is. I live in Zaqatala. Hands down, it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever experienced in my life.

Yet, at the same exact moment, I am filled with an intense frustration. Being a PCV is hard. Living in Azerbaijan is harder. Most of my days I struggle to fill with meaningful activities. No, I have stopped searching for meaningful and now I simply search for action. Why is this so hard? I come from strong stock. I never get homesick. I am a perpetual optimist and still, I find myself being pulled down into a pit of continued self-pity and frustration.

I know all this will pass and sometime, in the future, I will be happy and excited and optimistic again. I know this will happen because I know myself. I know that I will continue to talk about extending my service or Peace Corps Response or Peace Corps activism. I know I will continue to promote international development. I know these things, which is what gets me through the bad days. Well, that and delicious dark chocolate.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Preserving Party

For those who know me, food preservation is high up on my personal interest list. I love canning. There is something about spending half the day in the kitchen, drinking good coffee, slicing fruit, and chatting about nothing.

Here in the ‘Baijan, food preservation is a way of life. No, it’s the only way of life. Unlike America, Azerbaijanis don’t eat food when they’re not in season. If it ain’t growin, it ain’t bein’ eaten.

For local folks, this isn’t a big problem. Every family has a pantry full of preserved food. Compotes, jams, pickled tomatoes, you name, an Azer-family gots it. Unfortunately, for PCVs, seasonal foods is a big problem. When it’s not summer, most PCVs rely on multivitamins to get their daily dose of nutrients.

Me, of course, had the great idea of throwing a “Preserving Party”. A dozen or so manats later, I am sitting in my ridiculously hot kitchen, waiting for my make-shift hot water canner to get a-boiling. Needless to say, I am excited and scared at the same time. What does botulism feel like?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Meet Donny (He's Leaving)

A veteran who loves experimenting in the kitchen (we are talking Dude Delight), can scan Nascar highlights while simultaneously reading current events, and out hikes even the most dedicated naturalist, D-Man is the man. Not only was he the pioneering YD Volunteer in Zaq, but he is also my bestie, my go-to-guy, my I’m-having-a-really-crappy-day-and-you-brightened-it-by-making-spaghetti friend.

And he is leaving.

Yup. D is going back to America. Not only is his time up, but I think D is ready for a new challenge. He’s mastered Az and now it is on to bigger and better things (like overcoming post office patiencelessness and mailing me a box).

Bye D. I am already missing you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How Well Do You Know Your PCV?


What should you send a PCV?
A. A set of guitar strings
B. A tub of high fructose corn syrup Jiffy Peanut Butter
C. A homemade beer tasting kit
D. All of the above (and throw in some extra dark, orange flavored chocolate)
If you chose D, then you know me...but what about your PCV? Sending packages to PCVs is hard. There are tons of weird, unsaid rules:
Don't send useless crap (it is useless and we we feel bad throwing it into the mismanaged trash pile).
Send pesto packets, taco seasoning, curry mixes - but only the ones I like.
Don't send risqué magazines or books. It makes us look bad (and they will probably be confiscated).
Send vacuum sealed tuna and salmon and throw in a couple handfuls of beef jerky.
Don't send seeds. They will be confiscated.
I really did not need that ginormous sweater you sent, even though I wear it everyday.
Confused yet? When in doubt, send something we can't get here, we can eat, and we can share with friends.

Thanks for the kit Sara!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bug This!


I am not sure exactly what a mosquito's purpose in the ecosystem is...

Do they pollinate plants? Do they absorb CO2? Do they reflect harmful UV rays?

For whatever reason they exist, I still strongly dislike mosquitoes. I would venture to say that I hate them. Back in the A to the K, you can see a mosquito coming from a mile away (they are quite large). In the A to the Z, I am not even sure I know what a mosquito looks like, but I know they exist.

During my last visit to Mosquito-Land, aka Göyçay, I was bitten 38 times. 38 #*%$ times!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Life in a Sandbox

My friends Emma and Mathias recently posted a great blog about daily living in Azerbaijan and men. For all those who received my email about Azerbaijani men, this explains a bit more.

Check it out: Life in a Sandbox [link]

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Word to Prospective Az7

Chilax.

I know, I know. It is hard. A year ago, I was were you are. I worried. I planned. I packed and then re-packed. I drove my dad and friends nuts talking about what to expect, my expectation, problem scenarios, possible outcomes, future plans...

You have no idea what this experience is going to be like. You can't. You may try to plan for contingencies, for the future, but you can't. You may end up loving it here. You may end up hating it. You may get married. You may ET. You may get medically separated. You may get sat upon by an elephant.

You will get here and you will either have everything you need or your mom will have to send you more socks. You will bring your favorite camera and then leave it at the airport. You will bring a cell phone and then realize you never had it unlocked.

It will all work out. Enjoy your time at home because in 6 months, you will be missing flush toilets.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Broken Refrigerator

A new trial in Azerbaijan: My refrigerator stopped working.

At first, I freaked out (and I still sort of am). I had to make an impromptu batch of cherry torts and beg my next door neighbor to take my no-longer frozen chicken.

I also visited my landlady. Her unsympathetic attitude made me realize that in Azerbaijan, there ain't no thing as rental agreements.

Thus, my broken refrigerator is up to me to fix. After several frantic phone calls to my friend and her brother, the fix-it guy is due at my door any minute (well, he was due a few hours ago, but I have hope).Ugh...good thing I rarely eat meat. Now my ət money can go toward coolant.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Homesickness (It Happens)

Back in AK, I never got homesick. Sure, I spent semesters away from my family, but they called so much that we should have bought stock in AT&T. Come to think of it, my dad did get a 1-800 number...

Anyway, I originally thought homesickness would be an intense hit that would fade into periods of non-existence.

Boy was I wrong.

I have never experienced sustained homesickness and I hate how debilitating it is. Who knew that I would miss Tofutti Cuties so much that not even a Newman’s Own Dark Orange Chocolate could cut the edge?

I know now that I could never have prepared for this level of homesickness intensity. Still, I wish I had figured out a way to bring over a box of Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs cereal and some soy milk. I think a taste of home (accompanied with a couple hours of family/friends hugging) would really hit the spot.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Just Another Sunday

Killing time in the Peace Corps is an art form. One can certainly sequester themselves in their apartment and watch re-runs of 30 Rock for hours on end. Lord knows I have done it.

Or, one can spend several hours performing mindless tasks, such as pouring salt on the carpet and then sweeping it up with a short handled broom. Been there too.

Or, one can mix a really big batch of sangria [link], submerge the entire metal pot into an ice cold stream, and grill up some hot dogs on a Sunday afternoon.

Monday, August 3, 2009

An Answer to a Prayer

It finally happened. It really did. And now I own it!

I watched the Star Trek movie.

It was good. I liked it. I mean, I obviously have my comments and my rantings as a die-hard trekkie, but, for purely entertainment purposes, it was okay.

However, I am upset how this influences some major TNG points - least of which, the relationship between Captain Picard, Spock and Sarek.

At any rate, thanks Jesse for the movie!

Friday, July 31, 2009

What did I drink today?

8:05 a.m.: 450 ml of lukewarm filtered water
9 a.m.: 450 ml of instant coffee
11:30 a.m.: The last few swallows of some apple juice
2:13 p.m.: 675 ml of strawberry iced tea
5:06 p.m.: 1/2 a liter bottle of Fanta
6 p.m.: 450 ml of strawberry iced tea
8:49 p.m.: 225 ml apple juice mixed with 1 Tbs apple cider vinegar and 2 Tbs hot water

8:15 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.: 1400 ml lukewarm filtered water

Total: 4200 ml or 144 oz of liquid (give or take a couple tablespoons)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Birthday No!

Please do not send me a birthday gift. I have another request (a donation to my Z'Photo Photography Club partnership grant) that will post in a few weeks (I am working on the grant with several young girls, so it is a learning process of how to write a grant and is taking a bit of time).

!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Eat Your Heart Out Rachel Ray


I love to cook. I love kitchens. I love kitchen-y gadgets (especially Mango KitchenAid mixers). I would love a Löki-powered meat grinder, but that is besides the point.

Before coming to Az, I was a mild experimenter. I tampered with fried chicken recipes, perfected slow cooked collard greens, and learned how to make ice cream (ironic, I know).

In AK, I had kitchen-y gadgets. I had access to exotic spices (like ginger powder) and necessity ingredients (like cornmeal). In Az, I have fresh veggies, vinegar, and buckets of salt.

Every meal becomes an experiment. You’d think this would get tiresome, but I am loving it. I had never tried lentils before Az (packed with protein and make a great enchilada-base). I had never attempted Ratatouille (delicious with crushed red pepper and served as a cold pasta salad). I never made my own sauerkraut (which is still sitting in my refrigerator).

Ahh...I wonder what’s for dinner. I have a couple of eggplants and some tomatoes...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Here We Go A Traveling

Summer is the time to travel in Az, not because the awesome public transit system is so easy to navigate, but because PCVs all over Az are engaged in radtacular projects that need the physical presence of other PCVs...

Huh?

In other words, last week I went to Lənkəran (Lankeran).

It was Sports & Fitness week at my friend Jane's 2nd Annual Yay Kamp. I left Zaqatala Monday morning at 7 a.m. and arrived in Lənkəran 14 hours later. For a country the size of Maine and the heat coefficient of Alabama - it was not the most exciting country traverse I have ever done.

Want to know my route? I went from:

Zaqatala to Xaldan
Xaldan to Göyçay
Göyçay to Hacəgubul
Hacəgubul to Şırvan
Şırvan to Salyan
Salyan to some random village outside of Lənkəran
Some random village outside of Lenkeran to Lənkəran

Uh huh.

At any rate, camp was awesome. I learned a lot and had a fantastic time. I really cannot wait to do a camp in Zaq next summer...right now, I am leaning toward Zee-Art Camp. Pretty witty title if I do say so myself.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer Schedule

You probably aren't wondering what I do all day, but I thought I would tell you anyway :)

As winter melted away into spring and spring into this humid, heat-tastic time period some call "summer", my schedule drastically changed. For awhile there, I was pretty lame. As school winded down here, summer activities picked up with a vengeance, but not the traditional, "let's go the Y and swim" activity, but the "let's plant the family's garden so we can eat next winter" activities.

When that stuff got going, students stop coming to my clubs. For the entire month of June, I was a little scared I would spend my summer twiddling my thumbs. Yet, slowly, but surely, students began to call me, wondering when the next club meeting would happen.

Now, I am pretty set. I am even excited to announce that I have a pretty solid project lined up for next fall and my host organization is moving forward on their sewing resource room! Even in the dead-heat of summer, things are a happenin'.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

3 Sister Dolma

Ever get a hankering for some good ole' down home cooking? A heapin' bowl of mashed taters and fried chicken? Maybe a slab of shepard's pie or a plate full of ooey gooey lasagna? Maybe a boş qabı of üç bacı dolması? Yes? No? Huh?

Üç bacı dolması or 3 sister dolma is a summer treat here in Az. Before I tried my hand at this tasty dish, I craved it with a passion and often would beg my host mom to whip up a batch. Again, that was before I tried to recreate the deliciousness.

Now, I will never beg for it again. Not because I do not find it scrumptious, I do. It is because I now know how much work goes in to preparing it. First you chop the onion. Then you fry the meat (for an eternity). Then you prepare the vegetables (coring, cleaning, boiling, salting). After, you add a bunch of stuff to the meat and then stuff the prepared vegetables. After all that, you cook the entire thing and finally, YOU EAT.

Whew. What work!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sacrificing for My Country

This past weekend, I made the ultimate 4th of July sacrifice: my skin.

Yup, that's right. I sacrificed my skin, the prospect of skin cancer, my only set of shoulders, for the good of America.

And why? Well, it was my duty (and my pleasure) to lead the "Dancing with Löki" station at Azerbaijan's first ever American style 4th of July bash. For 5 hours, PCVs from all over Az joined together to educate and entertain Az youth! We had a great time educating youth about America, describing the events of Independence Day and sharing fun cultural tidbits about the land of red, white and blue.

Unfortunately, we also had to brave the scorching sun and blood-thirsty skeeters.

My shoulders never hurt so good.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I Like Big(ger) Butts

I always thought that as a PCV, I would lose weight during service and I am not talking about a pound or two, serious poundage was expected to just melt away.

Well, that ain't happening.

I am pretty sure my hiney has gotten bigger. Significantly bigger. It may be the several cups of sugary tea I consume a day or the 3 kilos of potatoes I downed last week, but the point is...my hiney is big(ger)!

Ugh! Well, my newest plan is to run more (or at least start running, again) and to do more ballet (already was doing this, so...I am just going to step it up a bit and do it more).

Hopefully, my hiney strinks. Soon. I cannot walk around with this junk in my trunk. I just can't.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Peace Corps Parents

This post is dedicated to you Peace Corps Parents.

You are amazing.

You don't hang up on us when we call at 2:17 a.m. because we can't figure out the time difference.

You don't worry when we finally email to explain we were being detained by the Russian government when we were supposed to be Skyping you.

You don't laugh when we admit we pooped our pants outside the bus station.

You don't cry when excitedly recount how our new "mom" made us our favorite meal.

You don't complain when your monthly box's shipping costs more than the merchandise inside.

And of course, when we call crying, you tell us to it's okay to have a bad day and tomorrow will be better.

I love Peace Corps Parents. 

(P.S. Thanks Dad for the awesome spices, dried fruit and Borax! Thanks Ma for the massive amount of reading material, the agav syrup and the awesome hair products!)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hair Update #5


I know, I know. I am a bit obsessed with my hair. You would be too if you were always one 90% humidity day way from a full blown afro.

Anyway...if you had not already guessed it by now, Az does not have a whole lot of Black people running around. Thus, my hair is a bit of an...attention getter. Even more so now that summer is here and I am changing up my hair style as the days get hotter and my hair gets longer.

My new style of two-strand twists get regular comments and often an errant hand or two (Az culture does not have the, "thou shalt not touch a Black woman's hair" creed). Even with all the cultural faux pas and humorous hand slapping, I think I am looking pretty good, but hey, you be the judge.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Civic Engagement


My new favorite term: civic engagement.

This has been a favorite term of mine for awhile. According to Wikipedia, civic engagement is defined as individual or collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.

And there is no better group than Rotary International that embodies that definition.

I am extremely lucky as the Nome Rotary Club is extremely active. Throughout my childhood, I can't remember attending a meeting where the Club did not have a an active community project on the table. Although, I did attend most meetings for the hamburger and fries my dad was sure to buy me, I learned valuable lessons while munching away. The most important: being an active and responsible member of your community.

At any rate, I recently attended a meeting of a local Rotary club here in Azerbaijan. During my five minute intro speech and flag presenting, I told them this: I am truly blessed to have such a great role model of civic engagement as Rotary in my life.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Clap On

Prior to moving to Az, my experience with thunderstorms could be summarized into one tidy statement:
Hey, I think saw one of these puppies in a movie, once.
Nome gets some pretty big storms, but thunder and lightening ain't included, which is why I would consider myself thunderstorm-illiterate. This; however, is starting to change.

Evening thunderstorms seem to be the thing here in Zaq and lucky me, my bay of kitchen windows has the sweetest thunder view. My newest evening activity is to make myself a cup of tea (with a bit of apple cider vinegar and agave syrup to ward off night time creepy crawlies) and watch the event.

Not a bad way to wind down a day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thailand or Bust!

Team AK is headed to Thailand for Christmas! Wicked Sweet!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Coffee, Kahlúa and Cherry Muffins


There are many things I love, but coffee, Kahlúa and cherry muffins are quickly becoming my top three favs of all time.

Coffee from America (well, really shade grown organic coffee from Costa Rica that has been roasted in New Jersey by a small, independent coffee shop) is a super treat for me. Homemade Kahlúa brings a certain decadence to a Sunday morning and cherry muffins stocked full of cherries I picked myself and baked in my brand new oven, puts a huge smile on my face.

Even better, sharing all that with a couple of friends (one who happens to be an amateur photographer - check out her awesome photo of my muffins) while enjoying my apartment's fantastic view.

The only downside: 9 a.m. and it's already 85 degrees.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sangria Sundays

I’ve said it once and I will say it a thousand times, I am a PCV 24/7. Although, I love my job, it is extremely important to find some me time during the week.

Luckily, my sitemates and I stumbled upon a delicious new habit which I hope to enjoy all summer long - sangrias on Sundays. It does wonders for my disposition and provides ample opportunity for me to check in with my fellow PCVs.

If you are so inclined, enjoy a Sunday with me. I will be thinking good thoughts about you while sipping away (Note: These ingredients are easily found in Az. In the US, add a 1/2 cup brandy instead of a second bottle of wine)!
1 bottle red wine
1 bottle white wine
1 liter Lemon Aquafina (lemon flavored seltzer water)
1 orange
1/2 lemon
1/2 kilo strawberries
1-2 cups sugar
spices
In a small pot, combine 1 cup wine, 1 to 2 cups (your preference) sugar, a couple dashes cinnamon, some cloves, and a dash of ginger (I also add cardamon). Reduce to half.

While wine reduction is cooling, clean strawberries and slice citrus fruits. Add to reduction. Mix in remaining wine and Aquafina. Serve chilled.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Holistic Remedies

I have to admit, I am a bit anal retentive. I like the spick and span, the well-ordered, the methodical.

I also know when enough is enough. I understand that a certain level of germ is acceptable, even wanted. I am a big probiotic fan and support natural remedies well above any chemically enhanced pill.

I am also a Googler. Which, combined with my love of clean and my passion for herbal cures, gets me into a search engine frenzy when I come across a problem.

My newest issue: fleas. My house has got a couple and barring chemical bombing my apartment, what can I do? Well, I can:
  1. Vacuum a lot (great, I got no vacuum)
  2. Dehumidify (great, no dehumidifier and it is hot and steamy in Zaq); or
  3. Use salt, boric acid and consume a table spoon of apple cider vinegar everyday (this, I can do!)
So, with that in mind, my house gets a regular sprinkling of salt (which I sweep up a few hours later), I am searching for boric acid and I drink a cup of tea with a little ACV in it every night (this stuff is great for a variety of reasons).

2nd world countries are interesting places.

(Update: Newest problem: cockroaches)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Getting into the Groove

I love kitchen experimentation. Anything I can do while wearing my bright orange apron is A.O.K in my book! Just the idea of trying out some fun recipe I found on the internet and seeing if I can actually make it work gets me going for at least a week.

And what makes kitchen experimentation great is living in a country where everyone does it! That's right, Az is the land of fermenting, canning, and substitutions! Although, I loved living with my host family as I got a personal view of great kitchen creations, I am ecstatic to now live alone and be trying things out on my own!

So, what did I make this week? Sauerkraut! That's right. I pulverized some cabbage and it is now sitting under my stove (fermenting and not rotting I hope).

If you get an opportunity, try making a batch yourself. There is nothing like wacking* the heck out of some cabbage to take the edge off a bad day (or make a spectacular end to a great day).
Sauerkraut

1 medium head of cabbage
1 medium glass jar
Salt

Thoroughly clean glass jar (used boiling water). Chop cabbage as you would for coleslaw. Place a layer of cabbage into the jar. With the bottom of a spoon, pulverize cabbage. Sprinkle on salt. Continue adding cabbage and pulverizing (with a sprinkle of salt between each “layer”) until jar is full. Liquid should coverage cabbage; however, it is okay to add a little water.
*You can use a food processor.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I am melting.

I wish this was just a joke, but as temperatures hit the mid-80s (20s for us Celsius folks), I am reminded as to why I live (and love) Alaska. Who in their right mind would live in a place where eggs pop out of the chicken already hard boiled?!

The even crazier part of this? Zaqatala is considered the “colder” part of the country. Places like Ujar and Kurdimer hit temperatures of upper 120s. I have no idea how the PCVs in those rayons live.

At any rate, my plan is to get a spritz bottle, hole up in my house with jugs of filter, chilled water, and sit in my underwear with a large standing fan pointed at my face. Of all the plans I have ever created, this one tops them all.

Friday, May 29, 2009

UAF Rocks!

Now that I have dial-up at home, I have a lot more time to read the current news and peruse the internet. That's how I found a recent article [link] in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner congratulating the first graduate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Peace Corps Master's International Program!

Hey! That is the same program I am in!

Even better, I got a brief mention in the article:
Another pair of UAF students studying for rural development degrees are serving, respectively, in Macedonia and Azerbaijan, said School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences spokeswoman Nancy Tarnai.
Pretty awesome if I do say so myself! Check out the entire article at http://newsminer.com/news/2009/may/11/uaf-peace-corps-program-has-first-graduate/ [link].

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Neutral Road

Keeping my mouth shut is not one of my strong suits. I am a commentator, an opinion-sharer if you will. I like a healthy discourse on just about any topic and will play devil’s advocate if no one is stepping up to the plate.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), my org (Peace Corps) is a-political. I constantly have to remind myself that I am a representative of Peace Corps and not just Lökiland.

Now, why is any of this important? Well, I think we can all agree that in the US, half the population makes its paycheck by criticizing any number of topics (left-wingism, Bristol Palin’s life choices, the merits of the new Star Trek movie).

That ain’t the case in Az.

My job is to help young people develop critical thinking skills through discourse and knowledge quests. Figuring out how to do that while staying neutral is a hard feat, especially when a person likes to jab as much as I do.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Movin' Day

I am a movin’ machine. By my calculations, I have moved 14 times since 2001. Well, make that 15 times because I am on the move again. Except this time, I am not moving home or to a dorm or into a communal living situation. Nope, I am moving into a companionless, unaccompanied, solitary apartment.

That’s right, I found independent housing! My new digs boast instantaneous hot water, gas, electricity, and a telephone line. I am so stoked about cooking, cruising the internet at 2 a.m. and walking around in shorty shorts, that I’ve been playing Sarah Hanson’s song, All My Stuff, non-stop. I think my sitemates are going to string me up by the toes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

And it starts...[tear]

Az5 is COSing this week. COSing? Sounds painful.

And it is. Well, at least for me. COS or Close of Service is the time when a PCV group prepares for their last few months as Volunteers. Medical tests, language competency exams, returning borrowed equipment - these are all aspects of COS and over the next 3 months, Az5 will be preparing their lives for Americana re-entry.

Just the idea of Az5 leaving scares the beegeezes out of me. It sounds like a major suck up, but these kids are my rocks. At 24 months in country, Az5 is still rockin’ out and have a great time. They’ve got the system down and know exactly what trees to shake to get results. What am I going to do without my instigators? my sympathetic ears? my institutional knowledge?

Oi.

P.S. I bet you didn't know that ultimate frisbees make great platters.