Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Things I am Thankful For...

This past weekend was the Peace Corps Thanksgiving in Baku. A little slice of America - turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, shared with the people who have become my close friends. It was delicious and amazing and fun. And, not surprisingly, it made me miss home a lot.

It is weird to not be in America for Thanksgiving, with my family and our cheesy traditions and hectic schedule. I spent more time than necessary thinking about the things I am not going to have this year – watching the Macy's parade, green bean casserole, my Dad playing Christmas music after Thanksgiving dinner, and the feeling that the holidays are finally here.

I'm being proactive when I start to get sad, so rather than giving into my holidays-away-from-home-blues, I sat down and wrote a list of the things I am thankful for this year. I'm still a bit homesick, but I'm also a lot happier. Anyway, that list seemed like a good thing to share with you…

- My rad sitemates
- My down slippers and fuzzy socks
- That I don't have to get up at 6 a.m. on Friday to go sell shoes
- Highlights magazines from the Bergs
- That my counterparts are good
- The rare occasions, like this past weekend, when I get to sit instead of squat to go to the bathroom
- Care packages
- When I can have an entire conversation in Azeri – and understand most of it
- When I don't have to try to speak Azeri
- My super warm Peace Corps sleeping bag
- Hand Sanitizer
- Learning how to be simpler
- When it stops raining for a few days so my laundry can dry
- Scrabble and Skip-Bo
- When my host mom makes pumpkin plov
- Coffee
- The days (about twice a week now) that I get to shower
- That I live in an apartment, so my toilet and shower are inside, not outside
- That texting is so cheap and easy
- Books
- Random emails from people I haven't heard from in years
- The daily ego boost of walking into school – I'm still a superstar
- Letters from home
- The pictures that people email from home
- That you can always find a Snickers to satisfy the chocolate craving
- That I'm here, doing something so frickin' cool
- That I've stopped taking for granted what it means to be American
- The people here who have already become like family
- All of you at home who care about me and support me
And, of course,
- That I have a family that loves me and I love them.

And, so I have decided that I am incredibly lucky to be where I am, even if it is not that Thanksgiving I am used to. I will have lavangi and pumpkin pie with my sitemates on Thursday, and think of all of the things that I love – both here and at home. I hope that all of you reading this have a truly lovely holiday and have a list of Thankfuls that is just as good as mine. Happy Turkey Day!!!

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Ride Home...

This past Monday was my first time traveling any real distance in the AZ by myself. I was able to get to Baku with others, but the trip home was gonna be solo. A little daunting, but, for the most part, it was entirely uneventful. The marshuka was easy – I bought my seat, settled in between 2 azeri women (xamins), read my book, listened to the xanims talk about me, and took a nap – arriving 5 bumpy hours later at the Lankaran autovagzal.

Because I was coming from Baku, I had to deliver Double Cheeseburgers from McDonalds to my sitemates (a standing Lankaran rule – if one sitemate goes to the big city without the others, they must come back with Double Cheeseburgers for everyone). So, instead of going straight home , I headed to Tom’s house to distribute the goods. This is where my story gets interesting.

As soon as I got off the marshuka, a taxi driver came up and asked if I needed a ride. “Beli, bes nomra mektebe, zehmet olmasa” (yes, school number 5, please), which is right by Tom’s house. I got in the back, he put my bag up front, and we were off. Along the way, he started asking me questions Where are you from? America. Are you visiting? No, I live here. Are you a teacher? Yes, I’m an English teacher. Do you work at school number 5? No, I work at school number 10. My friend lives near school number 5.

Now, since I’ve gotten to site, I haven’t used my Azeri much at all. I speak English at school and my host family speaks English, so that is what is used mostly at home. So, I was feeling pretty proud about my conversation with the cabbie. That’s right, I thought, I CAN speak and understand this language. Woo Hoo!

A few more questions, then he started singing to me – Turkish pop. Eventually he turned on the radio, I guess as musical background for more questions. How old are you? 30. Are you married? (We get asked that A LOT here, so it wasn’t a big surprise) No. Why not? Because. Why? I don’t want to be. Why? Here I used an Azeri idiom – subayliq sultan liqdir (being single is like being a king). But having a man is good. Yes, but I don’t want that right now.

A few moments of quiet follow and he tells me he likes me very much. Then he tells me he loves me very much. Again, this happens all the time here. On a daily basis, I have students, teachers, and perfect strangers tell me that they love me. So, no big deal from the taxi driver, right?

Finally, we arrive at school number 5. I hop out and the driver gets out to give me my bag. First he tries to overcharge me for the ride, which I protested to. Then he knocks down the price to the regular price because he “loves me very much.” He reaches out to hand me my bag, then…dramatic pause… he kisses my neck. NOT COOL!!!! And – BLEGH!!!!!!! I proceeded to grab my bag and walk away as quickly as I could. And, again, blegh, blegh, blegh.

I have to tell you, I still shudder a little when I think about it. You know when you eat something really gross and you can still taste it weeks later when you remember? Kinda like that. On the flip side, though, when I think about it, I laugh a lot. I mean, really, a five minute ride and he loves me and kisses my neck?!? Come on! I could over react and take it really seriously and be freaked out, but I think the funny aspect of it is much better. I will tell you this though, I am not practicing my language skills on taxi drivers anymore!