Not because it's bad, but because once I write this down...it gets real.
But, as a full disclosure kind of gal (or more accurately, a run-of-the-mouth girl), I feel like I should keep you alls in the loop of Löki life. Not to mention, this blog is about keeping my family and friends up to date, but also helping any potential PCVs (and current) navigate the system....
THUS [pretty big build up, huh?], it is with thoughtful self-introspection and lots of counseling with family/friends that I inform you all I am in the process of seeking a 1 year extension to my Peace Corps contract.
Whew. That was hard, but not as hard as the next few months will be. Don't worry. I will keep you all in the loop. Expect tons of blog posts about what an extension means...literally and figuratively...in the life of Löki.
A common Peace Corps myth is that you will lose weight during service.
I mean, for some this is true. I am sure in non-Azerbaijani countries it's a totally different bag of beans, but for here, well, the average size American girls struggle to maintain their weight in Az. But, this ain’t me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve struggled with my weight before, but not the gaining part. It’s the keeping weight on I have problems with.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, let me address the common misconceptions:
I am not anorexic. I can barely spell the word;
I am not bulimic. I like delicious food staying in my belly; and,
I barely think about my size, unless Josh comments on my butt size (thanks Donny).
My problem is that I get too busy to eat. In Az, all your food has got to be prepared. Ready made food is darn expensive and not really available. I, the pragmatic procrastinator, usually put food at the bottom of my “to do” list and it often gets overlooked or I run out of time.
I know this is a problem. I get that. Really, I do. I am also tired of Azerbaijanis commenting on how “skinny” I am. I really don’t think they mean it as a compliment.
Anyway, I think I found a solution to my problem. No ready made food in Az? Well, I am going to make some! A week ago, I started a batch of kosher pickles (check out the recipe I used here [link]). Inshallah, a delicious homemade pickle, a pack of tuna (thanks everyone for sending me tuna!), some mayo...and viola! a quick and easy meal.
I think this is going to work. Actually, it better work. I am pretty sure staying alive on cookies and Fanta is not going to contribute to the longevity of my lifespan.
It never fails to come up in conversation, the subject (or lack there of) of American national meals.
In Az, I have come to realize that almost every meal is considered, "national". They've got their dolma, their ash/plov, their küfta, their xash...and so on and so on and so on.
So, what do we got in the big bad US of A? Do hamburgers count? I think those are sort of national. What about squash dishes? Hey, maybe we could count chow mein. I think an American invented that.
I mean, that's sort of my point. America, the big melting pot, hasn't come up with a truly "American" meal. We do have ethnic meals down to a science though and last I heard, fusion was the "it" buzz word.
Anyway, what do I say to Azerbaijanis when they ask me to describe the American national foods?
Well, I try to say all that (see above), but normally, I just fall back on old stand-bys. For me, I think anything in Alaska could be considered a National meal. That's why, when I wanted to say, "thanks for all the awesomeness," to my friend Könül's family, I made burritos. It ain't National, but it sure was delicious.
Last night, I was walking home and I realized, I ain't Löki here.
I mean, I know this. I get this. I have "realized" this at least a half dozen times.
Still, whenever I actually think about it, it really hits me. Löki Gale Tobin from Nome doesn't exist in Azerbaijan. Lüki Qal Tobın, the Peace Corps Volunteer hangs out here.
You'd think these two people would be similar, but there really not.
In Az, Lüki doesn't hug people. Lüki doesn't rock climb. Lüki doesn't talk about politics.
In Az, Lüki doesn't wear mismatched tones of orange or drive a [fairly large for her] truck with the license plate Trekie.
In Az, Lüki lives alone and runs early in the morning (something Löki really dislikes in the States).
In Az, Lüki doesn't smile when walking down the street.
It makes sense that Lüki is this way. For many Azerbaijanis, she is the first American they have ever met. I am darn sure she is the first ethnic minority American and for those random people on the street, that first impression is often all she gets. If I act like Löki, well, I would be judged on the Azerbijani standards of behavior and found hugely lacking (and probably a little crazy).
So, my answer is to tone it all down. In public, I am 100% Lüki. In private, I am working on becoming less and less Lüki and more and more Löki, but it's still something like a 70-30% mix.
Why am I telling you all this? I bet this is sort of a "duh" for you all.
Well, it's because last night, I realized that Löki is being so darn suppressed that I am not sure she's there anymore. I mean, there are parts of me that had to change and I am not sure that they will change back when I return home.
That's scary. I hope, I mean, I know, I am changing for the better, but...what will that look like? What will the new Lüki/Löki look like?
I don't know, but it will be interesting to find out.
If you asked me to describe what I believe to be the coolest cultural tradition of Azerbaijan, without hesitation, I would say, "çay mədəniyyəti" [tea culture].
In Az, 99.99999% of the population drinks tea. You drink tea when you wake up, an hour after you wake up, when you are getting ready to leave your house, when you arrive at work, before and after lunch, when you re-arrive at work, when you arrive home from work, before and after dinner, and throughout the evening. Tea is everywhere and a big part of Azerbaijan.
Now, don't get me wrong. I like tea. I mean, my dad has at least 200 different varieties in his house. Tea is pretty neat, but...I am a coffee drinker. A good ole cup of joe is how I start my day (and how I would end it if I had decaf).
Still, I feel like I have adapted pretty well. I can drink four or five cups of tea in one sitting with no problem. It doesn't feel the same as when I take second coffee with Sarah, but it works.
Whew! I feel like I am on a roller-coaster that's going too fast to control.
What was it...three blog posts ago that I wrote about the first Z'Photo Club meeting? And, look at us now! Our 6 week intro course is almost done.
Although, I feel like I have done quite a bit in Azerbaijan, this project holds a special place in my heart. It's my first project driven and implemented by local youth. Pitfalls and frustrations aside, it has been a success. In June, we will being a new intro photography course and I already have 3 students signed up.
Geez...this is the stuff that dreams are made of. When you sign up for Peace Corps, this is what you imagine doing: development work. Frustratingly enough, when you first arrive in your community, you realize that was a pipe dream. It's not like you just show up and everyone comes running to you with project ideas. You've got to work for it and, in most cases, you never actually get to the good stuff. No. You spend countless hours laying the groundwork. I think my site mate Amy puts it best when she says as a grassroots organization in Azerbaijan, "we are growing the grass."
All I can say, is I got it good. A handful of Volunteers before me put in the time and effort to get this grass to grow. I am just reaping the rewards. Without Natalie, Donny, Josh, Robert, Steve, and David, well...I would still be sowing seeds.