Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pasxa

It is not often that I observe Christian religious holidays here in the big AZ. Most of my time is spent learning about Islam and observing Muslim holidays. I find them ridiculously interesting as I grew up in an (arguably) Christian country.

At any rate, this past weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Qax and celebrate Easter (or Pasxa in Azerbaijani). Now, if you do not know, Qax is a predominately Georgian region, so this wasn't your average Easter. It was Georgian Orthodox.

I wish I could tell you all the custom and traditional differences between Protestant Christianity and Georgian Orthodox, but I had no idea what was going on the entire evening because I do not speak Georgian. Mostly, I just held a candle and did what any good guest does: people watched.

It was ridiculously interesting.

Of course, the next day, I spent eating and enjoying the company of local Qax-ites (? What are people from Qax called?). I had a fantastic time and am really happy I was able to experience this very uniquely Azerbaijani experience.

So, thanks Nona and Lori! :)

P.S. As you may have noticed, I do not talk about religion or politics on this blog. For those of you who know me, this is a divergence of my normal personality, BUT Peace Corps express forbids proselytizing of religion/politics/ any of those things. I find it easier to just not talk about my personal religious beliefs and my political stances (with locals). Therefore, please keep any comments PG :)

P.S.S. It is pronounced Gakh not Quacks, Tom.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Relief - A not so pocket-sized on-the-spot health guide

A lot of PCVs ask me about home/natural/NOW home remedies for common health problems. I made a Google doc. It is a work in progress. Check it out.*

Relief is online [link]

However, for those of you who need a sneak peak...here is an excerpt from the "Prevention" section...


Yogurt

A key ingredient in many home remedies, having a good stash of yogurt keeps you healthy. It can also keep your body balanced. Enjoy a cup for breakfast. Snack on some garlic yogurt and bread instead of teacakes. Use it as a douche...wait...too early to talk about that.

Homemade Yogurt

3 & 1/2 cups milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup powdered milk
Plain live culture yogurt (regular store-bought yogurt should be fine here)

Prepare several half liter or liter jars by washing thoroughly (with hot water), rinsing and setting aside to air dry. Prepare lids by washing thoroughly (with hot water), rinsing and pouring boiling water over top. Set everything aside until ready to use.

In a large pot, bring milk to a boil. You gots to watch this as it can boil over, especially if you stir it. Leave it alone, yo.

Remove from the stove and allow to cool (again, do not touch it). After a couple of minutes, insert a thermometer. When the milk is at about 110 degrees F (43.3 degrees C) or lukewarm, add in a couple heaping Tablespoons of live culture yogurt. Stir to combine.

If any skin has formed on the top of the milk, remove.

Pour into prepared yogurt containers and place in a warm area. The goal is to keep the milk lukewarm for 6 to 8 hours, undisturbed. Wrap in some towels, place at a respectable distance from your wood stove, anything as long as it is warm.

After 8 hours check to see if the yogurt has set. If it has not set sufficiently by hour 10. something went wrong. You can still use the milk to cook with (sort of buttermilky), but you cannot attempt another yogurt experiment with this batch.

If it has set, place in a cold place (the refrigerator) and enjoy! I use homemade jam to sweeten mine up!

*I am not a doctor...so, take everything I say and write with a grain of salt and possibly a real Doctor's advice.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why You Should Be a PCMI Student

Let me paint a picture for you:
I am sitting in my Soviet-bloc apartment kitchen (blue, probably lead-filled paint chips are falling around me), staring out my bay of poorly framed windows, watching the spring showers drench my laundry (that I forgot to reel in last night), praying that the power will stay on all day because tonight,
I defend my thesis.
If I say it enough times will it seem real? Seriously? Who thought that it was possible to (potentially) finish up a MA degree while completing a 3rd year of service? Most people think Peace Corps is rural Africa (that' s right "is rural Africa" - how many people know that Africa is a continent?) and not A DSL-crazy Azerbaijan?

Finishing up my MA degree was a big crux in my extension hopes. If it wasn't possible, I wasn't going to stay, but, it worked out. For the last year, I've been waking up at 5 a.m. three times a week to Skype into my MA classes. I have been communicating with professors and my graduate committee through emails (mostly at 10 p.m. for me - 9 a.m. for them). I have been using my textbooks to introduce my TOEFL Preparation Club to what college work looks like in the USA. Yeah...it's been a trip.

And it is a trip you can have too. Seriously folks. MA + Peace Corps = education to the Nth degree. How can I best articulate this to you....

1. RD 650 - Rural Development Strategies - read: Löki learns why the Peace Corps development model is organized they way it is and then gets to actually try out different development models while trying to get her counterpart to learn how to write a grant.

2. ECON 602 - Economics for Mangers - read: Löki finally understands why the US is not a free market and what everybody is talking about in the US (and what Ben Bernanke actually does).

3. RD 699 - Thesis - read: Löki spends hours reading and talking about indigenous issues with people....whoa! New friends alert (and mad community respect).

4. (potential) MA degree - read: Löki has theoretical and experiential learning under her belt. She is the total MA package.

This could be you too. For more information, visit the Peace Corps PCMI Web page [link].

And! I lost at least 10 lbs writing my thesis because I convinced myself that coffee was water and sustenance.
Super PS: I PASSED!

Friday, April 15, 2011

All "50 Tips in 50 Days" are in!

Over the last 50 days (or so), I have been posting tips for the potential PCV. For a complete list, check out my 50 Tips in 50 days [link] page, but for those who just want some highlights...

Tip 50: Pack a stash of good pens. It pays off to be able to actually write without having to lick the tip of the pen 10 times (tastes gross...).
Tip 46: Don't freak out about that scary, "A decision has been reached regarding your medical review" email. Whoever wrote it really wasn't conscientious of how badly it could be taken...but it don't mean a thing. You're fine. You're fine.
Tip 44: Pack two years' worth of underpants (and socks). Handwashing is hard on clothes and underpants aren't something you want to be picking up in your local bazaar. Plus, they probably won't have your color...
Tip 30: Everybody gets ringworm. It really is not that gross.
Tip 23: I love my REI tin cup and spork.
Tip 14: Your life is now a fishbowl. Get ready for little to no privacy and we ain't just talking about you in your future host community, but you on the 'nets, in the papers, and even the emails you write.
Tip 4: Your Director, Police Chief, Post Office Lady has no idea who you are. Explaining why yourself (and why you are there) over and over again is just part of the process. If you constantly call on Peace Corps HQ, your integration into your new home is going to take forever.
Tip 1: Once you are a PCV, you will always be a PCV (or more accurately, an RPCV).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Places to Go: Lekit

A small village in the Qax [link] region, Lekit is gorgeous. Definitely worth a quick trip - if only to do a bit of hiking. The only problem: that darn bumpy bus ride!



Thursday, April 7, 2011

Being a Minority PCV

I know I write a lot about race, but....eh. This is my blog.

So, the important thing to note here is that whatever I say, I am going to leave things out. I have no idea what it is like to be an older Volunteer or a male Volunteer or a blonde Volunteer. All I got is me...so this is my perspective.

The other day, I was reading a blog and a couple phrases jumped out at me. Now, I went through a mirage of emotions while contemplating how best to address what was being said. This is my best attempt:

First, being a minority PCV is not easy-peezy. As a young Black-White-American Indian woman, I wear my minority status on my sleeve. Of course, for others, it is possible to head back to the closet or "blend in", but for me, my hair is a dead give-away. This does not mean I think it is harder to be a racial minority PCV, I just think it is different. I mean, the difference between being male and female in some PC countries is vastly different. I'll never know what it is like to be a male PCV here and no male PCV will ever understand what it is like to be me.

This does not mean I do not empathize, but I understand the limits of my empathy.

For me, I feel like I stand out like a ringworm rash. Some days just plain suck. Even when words are not meant to be racial epithets, they still hurt. Ignorance and curiosity can get annoying. Always having to defend my "Americanness" wears away at my soul; and being asked to speak for my race can dampen even my brightest day.

The most frustrating part is that these things happen as often in situations with Host Country Nationals (HCNs) as they do with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, staff and my fellow Americans back in the US. It still catches me off guard, the small small perctenage of racial minority PCVs (17%) currently serving. I often feel like I am out on an island. Nobody gets what it is like to be me and I don't get what it is like to be them. As much as I enjoy the cross-cultural learning that is the essense of Peace Corps, I often get frustrated at other PCVs for their inability to understand where I am coming from.

I mean, that is also my fault. I expected to join Peace Corps and hang out with a bunch of hippies for 2 years. This definitely is not the case. PCVs come from all walks of life. Some PCVs have never even left their time zone, let alone be exposed to institutionalized racism or have any idea how race issues are at the core of many problems in the US. Seeing me and listening to me complain about words hurled at me by HCN or the intensive inquisitiveness about my skin color/hair/heritage simply does not compute for some PCVs.

I feel like I should stop ranting here and conclude. My point is this:

Being a PCV is hard. Being a minority PCV is challenging. Being one of the only minority Americans in an international US volunteer service organization is too complex for words.

Monday, April 4, 2011

So, I sent a package...

And it never arrived at its location. This has happened to me twice now. Seriously. Have I forgotten how to write addresses?

Anyway, sorry Brad . Inshallah, when I come to visit AK I can get this to you.

Which brings me to my next point, another package sent from the US to me has been lost :( As much as this sadnesses me, I am still all about the love, so...shameless plug for Mail Instructions (located on my menu bar). PCVs love mail. It does not matter if it is a Hallmark card or a 20 lbs box packed to the brim with Oreos and coffee. We love mail. Anything you send will probably get used, hoarded, shared, eaten, enjoyed, you name it - it will probably happen. That is the life of a PCV.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sometimes You Need A Break

I have noticed that the longer I am a PCV, the more time I need to "get away".

At first, I went a year without so much as a mini-vaycay. Now, whether this was a good decision or not, I did it. I definitely appreciated that month long trip to Thailand, but I do remember worrying about a whole lot of things.

Anyway, next came a six month wait until I headed to Georgia for a week. I am not sure how I made it to six months, but I did and I enjoyed the heck out of that trip.

Then 3 months went by and my friends started leaving. Of course, this caused me to spiral into a seemingly endless pit of despair, which made leaving to anywhere too difficult to attempt.

After that, another 3 months flew by before I headed to Germany to see some fam. Good trip. Good, good trip.


Now, another 3 months and I "snuck" across the border to spend a weekend in Georgia once again. Of course, there was no sneaking about it. I submitted my leave request, waiting the requisite two weeks, and then reserved bus tickets.

And, finally in less than a month, I will be heading home for a long month of relaxation and recharge (yeah right, I am gonna be living it up).

Anyhoo...my point is that breaks are essential to a PCV's mental health. Nobody was meant to work 24/7 for 27 months. It just aint possible.