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.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Adapting

So, I’ve been struggling with this post. Mostly because I want this blog to be all fun and games, but to accurately represent my PC experience, it cannot always be that way.

Additionally, I don’t want anyone taking my personal observations too negatively, but in the words of a famous song, you can’t always get what you want.

Firstly, I live in Zaqatala. It about as progressive as you can get in non-Baku, Azerbaijan.

Secondly, adapting to expectations and a culture different from my own is ridiculously hard. General living, ya, I knew that would be tough. The lack of housing insulation and intermittent gas threw me for a loop. Using water instead of toilet paper, a bit different, but okay. It is the adapting to everything else that gets me.

In Azerbaijan, I don’t drink alcohol (unless I am with other Americans). In Zaq, if I am out after dark, I am normally with a male friend or I am walking straight home. In other regions, I won’t walk alone after dark. There are less than a handful of places in Zaq that allow women patrons and I will never wear shorts here. Every shirt I own is as modest as it gets.

Of course, there are a dozen other things I could write about, but you get the point. Living in a culture different than your own is hard stuff.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Watching Things I Never Would Have Watched Before

Should I also mention I am watching all 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer...

If I do, will someone take pity on me and send me Deadlist Catch?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Vicariously Volunteering - Softball

Thanks to everyone who donated to last year's softball program! Of course, softball will be happening next year, so keep us on your donation lists!

For more information on Peace Corps Partnership Program, visit www.peacecorps.gov/donate [link].

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Finger Brunches

Taking some time to decompress, chat, and enjoy an all-American meal is a vital necessity in Peace Corps’ service. Luckily, a dashing duo of PCVs came up with the idea of Finger Brunches.

Huh?

Well, if you check out a map of Azerbaijan, you may notice that if you superimpose it just right, the country resembles the shape of a hand. Each “finger” consists of several regions which may house PCVs.

So, a few months ago, the Oguz PCVs came up with the fantastic idea of Finger Brunches (get the name now?)! This once a month treat is only for the PCvs in our finger and provides us with a great excuse to get together and enjoy a delicious Sunday brunch.

What a great idea.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Reading Things I Never Would Have Read Before

Down time is a real kicker in the Peace Corps.

If you think about it, vast amounts of down time are obviously a by-product of Peace Corps service. Of course, nobody who enters the Peace Corps really thinks about it all that hard. Thus, when you get to site and spend a few days staring at your wall, your normal tolerance shifts to, “give me anything to relieve the boredom.”

That’s how I started reading Eragon (laugh now Tom). At first, it was something to give my head a break between Oil and Black Garden (highly recommended for parents of Az PCVs). Of course, I had nothing better to do but go on a week long crusade to find the remaining Inheritance series books.

And my only comment is: really? I really am reading a book about: A boy. A dragon. A WORLD of adventure.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers (inshallah). Any Az7 or any faithful reader for that matter, ask me your burning question and I will update this post with replies!

Brenda B asks: What are the grocery stores like? Are there American brands? Totally weird things?

Löki Gale answers: Oldu - grocery stores here are mom & pop deals. There are a couple chains, but you will only find them in major urban areas. Rarely do you find anything that isn't Russian...so American brands are difficult, if not impossible to find. And weird..want a set of cow hooves for some soup?

Jenni asks: How do you get books? Do you trade with other PCVs? Do you trek to Baku? And what kind of snow boots do you recommend?

Löki Gale answers: By trade, family & friends send them, pick 'em up from the PC lounge in Baku. BUT! In PST you may have some problems getting a book or two, but our answer was to set up a book exchange during Hub Days.

And boots...people do not wear snow boots here and you will not need them (the snow does not get that bad in most areas). Bring rain boots - but be warned, you will get a lot of stares and maybe some negative attention.

Brenda B asks: When you pass people on the street, what is their reaction?

Löki Gale answers: The most often reaction I get on the street is an intense stare. I think it is because I stick out like a sore thumb, but I could be wrong. My return reaction is usually a mixture of small town Alaskan politeness and confrontation - I give a big smile and say, "Salam, Netarsen?"

Jenni asks: Do you plan to travel much before COS (Close of Service)? I have a hankering for Tblisi.

Löki Gale answers: Uh..YES! Traveling is a big perk of being a Volunteer! A lot of Volunteers travel and especially to Georgia (it is easily accessible and cheap). There are certain rules about travel as PCVs have to be extra safe, but once you learn the ropes, it is a blast. Even better - most countries in this area have PCVs, so you know you've got connections!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Not Wall Paper

 
And for those days when outside is where you want to be.

Friday, May 1, 2009