Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bayramımız Mübarək: Kiş

I love spring break! I really love the Novruz version of spring break. First, I attended a wicked sweet party in Zaqatala. Second, my friend Lucy invited me to Şəki (Sheki) for a celebration with her family. Third, I got to start a new blog category, entitled: Places to Go!

And why did I start this new category? Well, while I was in Şəki, Lucy, Carly, and I decided to do a little trekkin’ in the village of Kiş (Kish). Located 30 minutes north of Şəki, Kiş sits on a mountain side and couldn’t get any more beautiful if it tried.

About 45 minutes outside of Kiş is a great set of castle ruins known as Gələrsən Görərsən.

An easy hike, the view is well worth the trek and the confusion directions.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bayramımız Mübarək: Şənlik

It’s here, it’s here! It’s finally here! Novruz Bayramı!

Since I got to this country, everyone and their grandmother has been telling me about Novruz. At first, they all made it sound an awful lot like Easter - a secularly religious holiday with a whole lot of tradition and cultural past times thrown in - and it is. It even has Easter-esq aspects: candy giving, egg coloring, fire jumping - well, that’s not really Easter-esq...

Anyway, Novruz has a bit of everything: trick-or-treating, egg coloring, family gatherings, spring break, fortune telling (by the way of marriage predictions), fire jumping, dancing, intense sugar consumption...

So far, it is my favorite holiday in country - and since it lasts for the next 2 weeks, get ready for a slew of Novruz posts!

P.S. These pictures are from the rockin’ Novruz party Zaqatala had last week!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Seeds, Seeds, and Goodness More Seeds

I have never been a big fan of sunflower seeds. Even my host family knows my thoughts on these little buggers as whenever someone pulls out a bag, my 7 year old host bro is quick to announce that “Löki doesn’t like seeds. She thinks it’s a lot of work for very little food.”

And it is. Shelling ‘em takes all my focus and half my energy. My rate of getting an intact seed about 1 to 7. More often than not, I drop the whole darn thing on the floor after struggling to break the shell into two equal halves.

It is not my favorite past time.

Unfortunately, it is the favorite past time of Azerbaijan. A popular summer activity is walking and seeding. Even better, squatting and seeding. Everybody does it. I am going to do it (it is a great way to meet people), I just am not going to enjoy the seeding part too much.

Too bad mowing down on pre-shelled, chocolate covered sunflower seeds isn’t in. I would totally rock at that.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Month 3: Does Anyone Know What I Do?

So, if I gave an opened-ended test to all my readers, would you be able to describe what it is I do...

Probably not.

And that is not your fault, that’s mine. I have been a bit mysterious about my jobie-job.

So, in the spirit of transparency, here’s a break down, yo:

I am Youth Development Volunteer. There are approximately 25 YD Volunteers in Azerbaijan. I am a member of the second YD group to be placed in-country, which means, this is the second year of the Az YD program.

Az YD has 3 goals. 1: Work with youth (ages 14-25) 2. Work with youth service providers 3. Work with businesses and agencies that can impact youth. To accomplish these goals, there are several objectives; however, the program is flexible enough that any idea you have (or your youth have) usually hits the nail on the head.

And since I am still relatively new to this country, my projects have yet to really gain any speed. Currently, I conduct several English practice clubs for school-aged and college-aged students, I am co-facilitating the development of a Az Scout troop, I am assisting a local youth group write a grant, I am planning the curriculum for a FLEX preparation club, and I am writing two funding proposals for projects that will happen this summer.

I am also searching for independent housing and taking tri-weekly Azerbaijani language classes.

Yup, that's about it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hair Update #4

For those on the “outside”, let’s catch you up-to-date:

I am a multiracial. I have really, really, really curly hair. From (approximately) age 7 I have relaxed my hair (think reverse perm); however, prior to moving to Az, I decided to stop relaxing and embrace the kink - and embrace it I have.

I am not sure I could adequately describe the monstrosity that has become my hair, so here are a couple pics for illustration.

Here’s me fresh out of the shower. As you can see, my hair has grown. If I pull a kink, it goes to about my chin (thanks Sarah for the wicked sweet shirt).

Wakey-wakey. Here’s me first thing in the a.m., looking hot in my hair styling coif. Every evening, I roll my hair, sleep on it, and wake up looking wicked weird.

And this last picture showcases my traditional style, a curly fro [link]. I am not sure what I am going to do the longer this all gets (taking suggestions), but for now, this works (my 7 year old host bro took the picture).

P.S. I have started rocking the dual french braids and a pointy-tail on really bad hair days.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring is in the Air

Remember those things called conversation clubs? The great ways to introduce yourself to your community and get an inside peak into the hearts and minds of your target population?

Well, I do several of these a week and each one is different. One of my newest clubs has a pretty relaxed structure and often involves just the group of us sitting around yapping about current events or cultural differences.

During a recent meeting, my site mate commented that his sleeping habits have been on the fritz and he could not figure out why. Several students began to explain an Az belief regarding spring and I thought it was pretty neat. Here’s what they said (paraphrased of course):

Because spring means nature is waking, it needs energy. Nature takes the energy from people and that is why many people have problems sleeping during spring.

I don’t know about you, but it sounds on par to me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Standard Fare

A couple weeks ago, I was mowin’ down lunch and realized that the spread before me was classic Az fare. Before I gobbled up the last bit, I took a quick snap shot.

So, here you go. A standard Az meal involves a main course, bread, tea and gand (sugar cubes).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Living It Up

If you haven’t thought about it yet, let me remind you of a sweet PC fact: Nobody joins Peace Corps to make money. Actually, I think it is against the rules...

Anyway, even though we are not allowed to make any cash, we are entitled to a living allowance that provides us with enough $ to live a volunteer-esq lifestyle (how’s that for a mental picture?).

But how does PC figure the amount of that living allowance? Well, for us in Az, this past month was Living Allowance Survey month. It’s that fun time when every PCV in Az spends 30 days keeping track of their purchases and the related costs.

As I am still living with a host family, my survey came out a bit different than PCVs living on their own, but the point is the same - to keep us PCVs in enough $ to live a safe and modest lifestyle.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tasty Tasty Treats

As I mentioned before, exposing you (my fellow American) to Az culture is one of my PC jobs. Not only does it give you an insight into another neck of the woods, but it also allows you to share in my experiences as PCV.

So, with that in mind, here is another radtacular Az recipe:Qutab (pronounced gutab)

Dough: flour, water, salt

Filling: ground meat (use something with a high fat content), minced onion and salt.

Make the dough by combining a couple cups of flour, warm water and salt. In a separate bowl, combine ground meat, minced onion and salt*.

Separate dough intoballs about the size of tennis balls. Roll each ball into a flat round, about 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick. On half the circle, spread a spoonful of filling. Seal by folding in half and pressing edges together.

On a stove (or a fire), turn a wok upside down (a skillet will also work). Once the wok is hot, toss on the filled dough. Brown each side (about 1-2 minutes per side).

Serve immediately with sumac (and a bit of butter).

*There are many variations for qutab. A popular treat in my house is pureed pumpkin, sugar and cinnamon. Also popular, a feta-like cheese and greens (parsley, cilantro, basil) or pomegranate seeds and minced onion.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Preparing to Serve

A couple weeks ago, I received an email from a prospective Az7 that blew my socks off. Why you ask? Because it’s February! I just got here and Az7 is already starting to coalesce...whew, time flies.

At any rate, this ALASKAN had a dozen or so questions about living in Az. As I know how scary it is to take the leap of faith that is PC living, I answered his questions to the best of my ability.

So - for those of you who are researching the options for your service, here are excerpts from my response:


I do want to note that before you read my responses, please keep in mind that every Volunteer’s experience is completely different. 

Each program (YD, CED, and TEFL) has multiple sites. Organizations apply for a Volunteer. What sites get PCVs are not announced until late in PST (Pre-Service Training - the 2-3 months you spend learning the language and about the culture).

(Un-requested piece of advice: If you want something specific, a small town, site mates, moderate weather - request it at your site placement interview. Do not be afraid to be specific. The happier you are with your site, the more productive you will be as a Volunteer.)

The easiest way to integrate into a community is to do things called conversation clubs. Basically, you get a group of youth together to practice English and from there you learn what the youth want in the community. Volunteers do conversation clubs with any population, not just youth.

Almost every PCV has a computer. This is for several reasons: 1. Music, 2. Movies, 3. A lot of our work is through email or writing reports - easier done when you have computer access and 4. Your host organization probably does not have one. 

Most internet access for Volunteers is through internet cafes. These are not like internet cafes at home, but instead are rooms stock full of computers with bootlegged programs. Most internet clubs women cannot go to.

Most places have fast enough connections that you can interact pretty easily if you bring a flash drive with your material.

Az has frequent black outs and brown outs (some places are on a rotating schedule where they have power every other day), but we still have electricity on a somewhat regular basis. We have access to water and there are petches (stoves for heat). Do bare in mind that sometimes there is no gas (for petches or cooking) and most often, the gas turns off at night.

The language is easy to learn. Do not worry about it (hard to do, I know), but really, do not worry about.

Remember that thing I said about petches? Well, a petch is like a big stove (sometimes wood, often gas) that is located in the kitchen or in the middle of the house. It is the ONLY thing heating the house in the winter. Thus, if it is 20 degrees outside, it is 20 degrees inside.

Houses are also built without insulation.

People make fun of me all the time regarding the heat as I requested the coldest place in Azerbaijan (Zaqatala) and then I complained about the cold. They say an Alaskan should be used to the cold. My answer: we have central heating and I left the polypropylene and Smart Wool at home.

Peace Corps gives you a huge sleeping bag we call the Brown Monster. It is toasty.