Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tea Culture

On a recent trip, I had an opportunity to meet a fantastic group of girls. During our time together, the girls took turns asking me questions, one such question being, “What do you like about Azerbaijan and why?” My immediate response was, “The tea culture.”

Unlike Americans, Azerbaijanis drink tea like it is going out of style. You would be hard pressed to find a house that didn’t have a tea kettle boiling away 24/7 (personally, I do not think such an Azerbaijani house exists).

Yet, it’s not the constant supply of tea that makes Az a tea culture. No, it’s what tea represents: hospitality.

Any visitor to Az’s rayons will attest that the moment you step inside a local’s home, a cup of tea is surely on its way. No matter what your purpose or how long your visit, tea precedes (and often follows) any conversation, meal, business matter or gathering.

I think it is fantastic. How many times have you invited a random stranger into your home for a cup of tea and a fun first conversation? It never occurred to me, but now, I can’t wait to start a tea culture of my own back home

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Peaks & Valleys

You might think I am talking about hiking, and I wish I was. How much better a post about hiking than a post about...depression.

That’s right, the blues. That sneaky stuff that creeps up on you when you least expects it. It blows chunks, but it is to be expected. It’s not brain surgery to know that a PCV will have a down day or two (maybe even 730) during their service.

Unfortunately, I just never really thought about what I would do when those days came. Of course, I had to learn the hard way that my traditional methods of seclusion, massive chocolate eating, and dance movie marathons were probably not going to work here.

So, what did I do when I started down that slippery slope? I wrote emails, called PSN (Peer Support Network), visited friends, and took an evening or two for myself.

You do what you got to do.

P.S. the picture is from the last round of care packages I received - a sure fire way to help bring a PCV out of the doldrums. Thank you Aggie, Meghan, Matt, Gina, Will, Rhu, Johanna, Baby Bushue, Troll, Steve, Nora, Gwen, Mom & Solyne for your recent packages of care.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kitchen Democracy

A couple of months ago, my two male site mates wowed my family by cleaned up after the Mac & Cheese Off.

Well, maybe “wowed” is the wrong word, but they definitely befuddled.

After cleaning the dishes, Donny and Josh explained that in America, there is the old adage “You cook, I’ll clean.” At first, my host bros were unimpressed. In Azerbaijan, it’s rare to see anyone act outside gender roles. No matter how much I tried to get my host bros to wash the dinner dishes, I encountered resistance.

That’s why, three weeks ago I was struck speechless when my youngest host brother told me I was washing the dishes wrong and pushed me out of the way. He pulled up a chair and attacked the dishes with a single mindedness I have come to appreciate.Even more astonishing, he did it several days in a row (much to the kudos of both his mom and myself).

Hmm. This cultural exchange thing isn’t so hard.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dude Delight

On a recent out-of-site trip, some friends and I descended upon a very gracious host (who happens to live alone) to spend a couple of days chillin’ like villians.

Now, the town may not have been the most happening place in Azerbaijan, but it was great visiting another site and acting like a tourist (I brought my camera). We even had the wonderful opportunity to visit the local museum and were pleasantly surprised by the thoroughness of the exhibit.

Even better than the site seeing was getting the opportunity to eat a couple of meals prepared by our own eight hands. I can’t say we followed a recipe, or even had any idea of what we were cooking, but whatever it was - it tasted delicious.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Wicked Sweet Host Family

I know I have yet to write about my host family, but that’s been intentional.

Do not get me wrong. My host family is the coolest host family on the planet (and I am not being biased just because I live with them). They are awesome.

No, I have yet to write anything because I respect their privacy. Firstly, I am concerned about personal property rights and photographs. I have yet to master the language to where I can ask if it is “olar” for me to post pictures on my blog. Secondly, I am all about talking about myself, but other people are a different story. Anyone featured on my blog has given their permission and my host family has not. I was assigned to them, they were not assigned to me.

Thus, this is all you are going to get on the subject. You are just going to have to trust me that my host family rocks. My proof? At least once a week, everyone and anyone at our house gets in on an impromptu dance party.

How could a family that has dance parties not be cool?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hi-ho Hi-ho, It's Up the Hill (Mountain) We Go

A few weeks ago, I had the extreme pleasure of getting a great ariel view of the beauty that is Zaqatala. Our goal: the mountain peaks directly behind the village Car (pronounced Jar). At a little over 8 hours, it was well worth the soreness the next day.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mac & Cheese Cache

A couple people have asked for the recipes, and here they are. Try both and tell me which one you think is the best.

Ma’s Macaroni & Cheese

1 lbs elbow macaroni
8 oz colby cheese, shredded
8 oz sharp new york cheddar, shredded
1 pt half and half or whole milk
1-2 egg(s)2 tablespoons finely ground flour (I use the Wonder gravy flour)
4 tablespoons butter
salt, pepper, white pepper
3/4 cup bread crumbs & 2 tablespoons melted butter combined

Cook macaroni according to package directions. Season liberally with white pepper and salt. In a medium pot, whisk together milk, butter, flour, and season liberally. Bring to a light simmer, but do not boil. Slowly add 1/2 of the cheese. Heath until completed melted. Remove from heat. In a small bowl, beat eggs. Temper eggs and add to liquid. In a baking dish, layer macaroni with cheese. Pour in liquid. Top with bread crumbs and bake at 400 F until top is brown and cheese is melted. Serve hot.

P.S. There is a secret ingredient, but my mom would kill me if I told you :) My advice - use whatever seasoning you think would enhance the dish. Red pepper flakes, shallot salt, be creative.

Donny’s Mac & Cheese*

1 lbs elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk1
1/2 to 2 cups cheese powder

Cook macaroni according to package directions. In a medium bowl, pour in hot macaroni and add butter, milk and cheese powder. Add more powder for a cheesier sauce. Add more milk for a more liquid-y sauce. Mix together. Serve immediately.

*Measurements are not Donny’s and they are just a guess.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Answers to Shannon

Sual: How did your packing list reflect what you actually needed? Did you bring stuff you don’t need, or are you missing something you overlooked?

Cavab: Because Nome is so remote, the moment I moved home, I thought it best to get a head start on the packing (well, I am a Virgo). I went a little nutso on developing an intense gear list (I thoroughly researched every item I considered buying) in addition to constantly visiting my favorite outdoor websites, perusing Wiki pages and blogs, and gabbing with friends and family.

After all that, I began buying. I started with stuff I knew I’d need (slippers, a Gerber knife, digital camera, etc) and worked my way to country specific things.

Still, I ended up with a few things I rarely use and a couple things I wish for constantly.I really wish I had brought a headlamp and an overnight bag. In addition, I really could do without the computer lock and ultimate frisbee I brought. Yet, overall, I think I did pretty well.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


When preparing for service, I would say I was a bit...hubris*, in my belief my body could handle just about anything. Being plagued with lactose intolerance most my life, I was sure my stomach was iron clad. Having worked in a Boys & Girls Clubs clubhouse, I thought my immune system could handle anything. Enjoying the hospitality of western Alaska, I have tried (and enjoyed) many foods most would consider exotic.

So coming to Azerbaijan, I wasn’t worried. I was even a little lackadaisical.

Bad move.

It took me several months (and a few problems), but I now know that moving half way around the world involves more than just a change of scenery. Of course, if you are on top of it, you can reduce (and even bypass) any hiccup that may occur. If you are overly confident like me, you may have to...experience a few things before you really get the picture.

*Yup Ma, I finally admitted that I am hubristic... but just a bit.