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.