Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Yolka...

Yolka is the Azeri word for evergreen tree. Being a muslim country, they obviously don't celebrate Christmas here, but, not wanting to be left out of all of the festive fun, they have adopted many of the Christmas traditions for their New Years celebration. Shafta Baba – also known as Santa Claus – comes to visit on New Years – and brings toys for children (according to some of my students. Others say he doesn't bring stuff.) New Year's lights and decorations go up in shops and offices. And, they have a yolka, decorated with lights and ornaments and a star on top.

I of course, do celebrate Christmas. It is one of my favorite holidays. Living on my own this year meant that I could go to town with Christmas decorations. I have lights in my window, little decorations sent by my family last year placed strategically around the house. And, more than anything, I wanted a Christmas tree. A result of poverty, boredom, and an overabundance of craft supplies in my home, I didn't go the typical buy-a-fake- tree-and-ornaments-at-the-bazar route, I decided to make my own. The picture you see is the final product.

The “tree” is made of cardboard from old care package boxes and tissue paper. It took me about a day to figure out and put together I made the star – out of that foamy stuff and glitter. The garland also came from camp supplies. The base is the box for my water distiller covered in white felt – also sent for Camp Jane.

The ornaments are from my conversation clubs last week. A few are the examples that I made for the kids, the rest are all from my students. When we did this activity, I had them each make 2 – one to take home and hang on their New Year's tree and one to give to me for my Christmas tree. They loved it! And it was on of the best clubs I've had this year. I have to say that may favorite ornament is the orange ball near the top – it says “Miss Jane beautiful teacher.” So true. A close second are the American and Azeri flags that 2 boys worked on together. I will be bringing a bunch of them home with me.

All in all, I think my yolka is pretty rad. The entire thing is completely free and completely cool.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Layering Begins...

In a few emails recently I have told people that my winter layering of clothing has begun. I'm not quite at all of my layers yet – it has been pretty mild so far, but I know the time is coming quite soon that I'll be back in all of my layers. Anyway, I thought it might be fun to show you exactly what my winter wardrobe entails...

The first layer – long underwear and socks. There comes a point that this layer doesn't get removed until the end of winter. Last year that point was the first or second week of January. I'm pretty sure I finally lost this layer in the first week of March. Maybe the last week of February.

The second layer – tights and a long sleeve t-shirt. Seems gratuitous, but it is indeed necessary.

The third layer – my teacher clothes. Those are my super fancy corduroy pants that I got at the bazar for 10 manat. I stop wearing skirts in about the middle of December. If, for some rare reason I do wear a skirt to school, I add another pair of tights – and if the skirt is long enough, some running pants underneath. But, for the most part, trousers are the way to go in winter. I actually got lectured last year for wearing a skirt when it was “too cold”. And yes, those are Christmas socks.

The outer layer – this stays on throughout the school day – sometimes I might take off the coat, but that's rare. I wear the fingerless gloves at school so I can still write on the blackboard. When I go outside, I have real gloves I put on. The hat and the scarf are pretty much a constant - around the house and even at bedtime. The boots are azeri – notice the super awesome fur lining!

Ev Paltar (house clothes) - at home the teacher clothes get traded for some comfy, warm, lounge wear. This lovely velor ensemble is courtesy of my sister Kara. The azeris absolutely LOVE it.

A constant for walking around on my chilly chilly floors are the slippers I got when I was on vacation in Poland this year. They are possibly one of the best purchases I've ever made. Warm, soft, incredible. I'm hoping I don't get to the point that I'm even sleeping in them, but it is a possibility!

And I have to tell you, even with all of these layers, in the deep dark days of winter, it is still – to quote a friend – f*%^ing cold! So, as you sit in your houses with central heating and gas log fire places, dreaming of White Christmases and hoping for snow days, maybe add a wish for a heat wave in this part of the world :-)

And, send hot chocolate.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Somehow, it is already Thanksgiving Day. I'm still not sure how I am already this far into my second year as a PCV, but I am. Just like an American Thanksgiving, my Turkey Day includes travel and meeting friends for a delicious meal. I am incredibly lucky that Peace Corps scheduled me to come to speak to the AZ6 PCTs on Friday, enabling me to come up on Thursday and celebrate the holiday with friends.

We had our “official” PC Thanksgiving on Saturday in Baku. Like last year, it was just wonderful. I ate too much food, talked, laughed, and spent the night surrounded by friends and people who have become like family here.

I wrote a blog very similar to this last year for Thanksgiving. It is easy to think of all of the things I am missing, being away from home for the holiday season. But, I'd rather not do that. Instead, I'd like to take the spirit of the holiday to heart and share the things make me happy. I'm not sure how the list has changed from last year, but here are the things that I am thankful for this year...

– The amazing Thanksgiving dinner that Peace Corps and the Embassy hosted for us.
– Books.
– Having internet access at home. I love getting to talk to my family and friends almost everyday.
– Facebook. I was opposed to it for a long time, but it is seriously amazing. I can't believe how many people I have found – or they have found me - that I thought I had completely lost touch with.
– Left over supplies from Camp Jane. You'd be amazed how many bored moments have been solved by a craft project using those supplies.
– My apartment. And that my landlady is cool.
– That I have a western-style toilet. Even if I do have to flush it with a bucket of water.
– That in my neighborhood, I have stopped being “THE American” and become “OUR American.”
– My super warm slippers from Poland.
– The cat I adopted about a month ago. She is so sweet and snuggly and I feel way less crazy talking to her instead of myself!
– That it is starting to get cold enough that most of the mosquitoes are dead.
– Books.
– Letters and care packages.
– Hot chocolate.
– Dramamine. Seriously, the roads here are awful!
– My counterparts. They are two amazing women who I am truly lucky to work with and to have in my life.
– My “monsters”. There are days that I absolutely hate school, but for the most part, I really do love my students. And I REALLY love that this year, I have taught them to say, “Yo, Miss Jane. What's up?”
– My conversation club with university students. It is so amazing to have these incredible conversations with them and to know that these are the people who will really make Azerbaijan a better place.
– My water distiller. No icky-tasty water filter water or expensive store bought water for me!
– Music.
– Random phone calls from my sisters and Heidi and people at home.
– My awesome ship-clock from my students.
– Books.
– That I'm not as grossed out by only showering 2 or 3 times a week as I was at this time last year.
– Long underwear.
– My hot water bottle. Who knew that those things could keep you SO warm?
– That I've learned to really cook here. Not having everything available in a box or a can has forced me to figure out how to actually cook. And, I'm getting pretty good at it!
– Qatiq. It is basically plain yogurt, but way better. I seriously love the stuff. I put it on as many things as I possibly can.
– Sunday night phone calls from my parents.
– Books.
– The AMAZING group of volunteers that I am serving with.
– The enthusiasm and energy for Azerbaijan, Peace Corps, and being a volunteer that AZ6 - the new group of volunteers - has brought with them.
– Playing Scrabble with two of my favorite students.
– Books.
– Shannon and Dr. Heidi coming to visit.
– Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, my school day ends with my itty-bitty 2nd formers. Those little guys are so frickin' cute, it doesn't matter how the rest of my day has been, after 45 minutes with them I always leave school with a smile.
– Mandarins.
– The ridiculous Christmas CD my sister Kate made for me last year that includes classics like “Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg...”
– Did I mention my cat? She's currently helping me type this.
– The incredible support I have gotten from friends and family and people I barely know at home over the past year and a half.

And, of course...
– That I have a family that loves me and I love them.

I think I've got a pretty good list this year. I hope this holiday finds all of you happy and well and with a list of things to be thankful for that is just as long as mine – if not longer. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Beef - It's What's for Dinner...

Shannonand Dr. Heidi Come to the AZ...

In the past few months, I've been complaining a bit to my friends and family in America about being lonely. Don't get me wrong – I have GREAT friends here. But, most of them live hours away, and being the only American around can just get hard. And, as amazing as my friends here are, it is not the same as having the people who have known you for years and years nearby, you know?

I had accepted my solitary existence and was even getting o.k. with the amount of time I spend talking to myself. Imagine my delight when, one day, two of my dearest friends from college – Shannon and Dr. Heidi - showed up to spend the rest of my time in the AZ with me!

Frugal as ever, the girls showed up by post – the few dollars to mail themselves was much less expensive than the cost of a flight. They packed lightly – just one or two warm sweaters and a hat (everyone has heard me talk about cold, cold Azer winter). And, like good guests, they showed up with a gift – a yummy swiss cake roll. I ate it almost immediately!

We have started traveling around the country – I want to show them as much of the AZ as I can while they are here. Our first trip was to Baku for a conference. They got a big kick out of the bus – until they had to ride along the azer-roads for hours!

Last weekend, we went to Ismaylli to visit my friend Colleen. Shannon and Dr. Heidi were taking pictures all over the place – the Heydar Aliyev statue (a standard in any Azeri town), a cool statue of a horse and cart, and even with Colleen's new kitten.

O.k., o.k., I'm not really crazy. The truth is that my amazing, talented friend Shannon crocheted finger puppets of herself and Heidi to “keep me company”. I have to say, I think it is the coolest care package I have gotten to date.

Real Shannon is absolutely incredible. She is smart, creative, and one of the most caring people I know. She does some crazy cool work involving surgery on rats – it has something to do with biology. I don't pretend to really understand. In her free time, she volunteers at a cat shelter, and makes AMAZING things for friends and family. Last year, Shan sent me a couple of hats and scarves to help me get through the winter. She also makes cat toys and other cool stuff. She is an incredibly talented artist and an even better friend.

Real Heidi has her PhD in literature (hence the Dr. Heidi moniker for the mini-version). She teaches at a university – I am envious of her students. She is one of those people who makes being smart cool. She is also one of the best friends anyone could ever ask for. She is always there for her friends – I think she is one of those people who genuinely cares more about others than about herself. She is witty and fun and just plain great.

Anyway, Shannon and Dr. Heidi (the mini-versions) are going to have many adventures during their time in the AZ. Hopefully, we'll be able to post lots of pictures of the two of them as we explore the country!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

10 months....

Today marks 10 months until I finish my PC service and come home.  I definitely have a countdown - I CAN'T WAIT to be home - but I'm also using my countdown to remind me how little time I have left here and how much I still want to do.  And I truly believe I CAN and WILL do it.

One of my friends has a tradition (for lack of a better word) that I have adopted.  As each month ticks by, on the 11th, we drink a glass (or bottle) of wine to celebrate. And it really is a celebration of our accomplishments, what we have left to do, and that glorious moment when we get on the plane to go home.

And so, as I drink my celebratory wine...

To my friends and family in America - see you in 10 months! Inshallah.

To my friends and fellow volunteers here in the AZ - congratulations! We've accomplished a lot - and we have much yet to do. I am proud to be here, doing what we do, with each and every one of you. Mubarek 10 months!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Did I tell you about the chickens?

A few weeks ago, my friend Whitney came to Lankaran to hang out. She lives in Jalilabad, about an hour north of me, so she visits fairly regularly. It is always nice for both of, we catch up, eat yummy food, tell our recent stories and adventures. Whitney doesn't have a blog, so only a select few people at home get to here her tales of life in the AZ. This last visit, she told me a couple of stories that I felt had to be shared with the masses. She very kindly gave me permission to post them on my blog.

The first story came as we were walking around town, talking about school. I was talking about my fancy new heating system - that I am both hopeful and skeptical about whether or not it will actually work. At Whitney's school they recently installed new windows. Very exciting! Unfortunately, the quality is not quite what we would expect. Very shortly into the school year, all but one of the handles for the windows had broken. Now, if a teacher wants to open the window in their classroom, they must go to the teachers' room, borrow the one working handle, go open their window and return the handle to the teachers's room. And they repeat the process when they want to close the window.

A little later that day, we were chatting about something and Whitney says, "Oh! Did I tell you about the chickens?" We are all fairly accustomed to livestock being part of our daily live by now. So, you know if a story starts with that kind of enthusiasm, it is bound to be pretty interesting. (I'm sure you remember my story about the duck in the hammam.)

A little back information. Whitney's landlady has a daughter who has been married for about six years. In all this time, she has not had any children. That is very unusual in this culture, and apparently the daughter's husband has been making noises that he might divorce her if she doesn't get pregnant soon. Obviously, this is a huge concern for the landlady. She has been worrying, praying, doing anything she can do so that her daughter would get pregnant.

The landlady raises chickens. This is here livelihood. These chickens are very important. Suddenly, the chickens started to die. A lot of chickens died. I think over 100. She called the chicken doctor. He discovered that there was a new plant in the yard that the chickens had been eating that was toxic to them. Obviously, the landlady was distraught. Losing all of those chickens was quite possibly catastrophic for her.

But, the next day, the landlady comes to Whitney giddy with joy. OK, OK, I don't know if she was giddy, but Whitney said she was REALLY happy. She had just gotten a phone call from her daughter telling her that the daughter is 2 months pregnant. What a relief! The landlady proceeded to tell Whitney that she believes that the chickens were a sacrifice to Allah to make her daughter pregnant. Let's not address the fact that the daughter was pregnant long before the chickens started dying. Who knows, she could be right.

I think the most interesting thing about these stories is Whitney's and my response. A year ago, they would have been completely ridiculous to us and a great example of how different this place is to where we come from. They are still noteworthy to us and fun to share, but, not nearly as unusual as they once were and now they actually seem fairly logical and almost as commonplace as complaining about the awful traffic at home. When Whitney told me these stories, I did laugh, but my response was, "well, of course. That makes sense." And it did.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

To my Mom and Dad...

Today is my Mom and Dad's 37th anniversary. It's also my friends Keith and Danielle's anniversary. And Mike and Shannon's is the week, too. Keith & Danielle, Mike & Shannon - Happy Anniversary! But this blog goes out to my parents.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have the parents I have. I kinda think anyone who isn't a Flegal missed out. So, I am taking advantage of today and telling the world just a few of the reasons my parents are amazing.

They taught my sisters and I to shoot for our dreams. And to do all of the hard word required in acheiving them.

My Dad taught us how to ride a bike and drive a car. He tried to teach me math - which is possibly one of the biggest challenges he has ever taken on! He made sure my sisters and I knew we could do anything - and he taught us how to do a lot of it.

My Mom packed our school lunches every day until we graduated from high school. And she put little post-it notes in them telling us she loved us. I still get post-it notes like that in my care packages.

My parents provided a pretty darn good example of marriage. Perhaps too good. My sisters and I hold up what they have as what we want when we settle down. Wanting to find what my Mom and Dad have may be the reason the Flegal girls are still unwed. But we will never compromise this particular ideal - and we believe we will find it.

They taught us responsibility and integrity. They taught us to own up to our mistakes and learn from them.

They survived our mistakes and screw ups.

My Dad gets the giggles. My Mom dances to the sound of the dishwasher. They taught us to be silly and find joy in the very simple things.

They taught us always to do our best. Never to do things half way.

My Dad coined the phrase that my family now uses to end every phone call, email, letter, text message, any kind of conversation, or just when we are leaving the house. No Flegal conversation would be complete without "Love you and Hey."

They always make sure we know how valued and loved we are and to believe in ourselves.

They are taking care of my cat while I am in Azerbaijan. I'm beginning to think I will have to fight my Dad to get her back!

They showed us how important it is to do good in the world. To be good to others. To take care of the people we love.

Without them, I wouldn't have had the courage to go halfway across the world. Or the strength to survive the year I've been here.

My Mom and Dad are two of the greatest people in the world. And I think they are definitely the best parents a girl could ask for.

Mom and Dad, thank you for getting married a long time ago. I love you both very much and I am so proud to be your daughter. Love you and Hey!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Of Pensioners, Ramazan, and the Biggest Brain Fart Ever...

Of Pensioners, Ramazan, and the Biggest Brain Fart Ever...

At the end of every month, our Peace Corps stipend is deposited into our Azeri bank accounts. Usually, this happens one or two days before the actual end of the month. Like any self respecting PCV, by the end of the month, I am basically tapped out. I look forward to “payday” with eagerness. This month in particular, I stretched myself even thinner than usual. By the final weekend of September, I was out of cash and getting low on fairly important things like toilet paper and food.

Another fun aspect of getting money in Azerbaijan is the phenomenon that happens when pensions are deposited into pensioners bank accounts. Also falling close to the end of the month, pension day creates madness at the ATM. Suddenly there are hordes – and I do mean hordes – crowding around the ATM. Since there's no such thing as lines here, 30, 40, 100 people all cram as close to the machine as possible, bustling to get to it next. It is pretty much an awful experience. As a general rule, I avoid the bank on pension day. If I walk up and there's a crowd, I'll typically turn around and come back another day.

So, back to money-less Jane at the end of September. Saturday morning, I decided to go check and see if, hopefully, we had gotten paid. So, I grabbed my umbrella – it was raining just a little, not much – and headed downtown. It's about a 20 minute walk. By the time I get to the bank, the drizzle had turned into a downpour. And then I see the crowd around the ATM. Greeeaaaat. I just walked through the pouring rain to discover pension day. I thought for a minute, judged the size of the crowd – only about 20 people – and decided that I didn't want to have walked through the pouring rain in vain, so I joined the crowd and waited.

After about 30 minutes of waiting, the bank security guard who knows me made all of the others let me cut in line. There are perks to being the American qiz (girl). I was flustered. I was annoyed with waiting, I didn't want to take too much time, and there is the added pressure of 20 azeri men peeking over your shoulder at everything you are doing. I stuck my card in the machine and entered my pin number. A few seconds of waiting – and then the message that I had entered the wrong pin. Dumbass! I had typed in the pin for my American bank account. Ok. No problem. Until I tried again... and blanked. For the life of me, my azerpin would not come to mind. Sheepishly grabbing my card, trying to ignore the comments from the azeris – “you need your code”, I walked away. Deep breath, I decided to go home and let the number come back to me in a leisurely fashion. I was sure it would come to me.

Sunday morning, I woke up with a 4 digit number that I knew by heart. Must be my pin. So, I went back to the ATM (no droves of pensioners this day!), and tried again. Only to realize just too late that the number I know so well isn't my pin, but is the last 4 digits of my old sitemate Ashley's home phone number. I don't know why I know that number so well, but it is definitely not my pin. At this point, I had tried the wrong number 3 times – which automatically blocks your account until you can call or go to the bank and get them to reopen it. So even if I suddenly came up with the right number, I couldn't do anything about it. Fine. The next day was Monday. I could get it resolved quickly.

On Monday, I called the bank and got some weird Azer message. So, I called Peace Corps. I explained my predicament to the lovely PC cashier, Afaq. She quickly explained the weird azer message – it is the end of Ramazan. Azerbaijan has a 3-day holiday. The bank is closed until Thursday. And, because of that, there is nothing that can be done until then. Well, crap.

At this point, I was annoyed, frustrated, kicking myself, limiting myself to 3 squares of TP, and eating plain rice for breakfast and dinner (I had decided to forgo lunch for a few days to make it stretch a few days longer). At least I could see how ridiculous my predicament was and laugh at myself! A bail out infusion of cash into my American bank account from my mom and dad meant that Tuesday evening I was able to buy toilet paper and some food. Thank God for Mom and Dad (for more reasons, of course, than getting me money, but that's a big one this week)!

Now, at this point, any sane person (and every person that has already heard this story) would ask if I had the number written down somewhere. Well, about a month ago, I was going through old papers and clearing out stuff I didn't need anymore. I came across my code. And, truly, I thought, “I don't need this anymore. I've been using this thing for over a year. There's no way I'll forget.” And I chucked it. Word to the wise – just don't ever do that. It will come back to bite you in the butt. Keep the paper. Keep it.

And, FINALLY, Thursday was here. I went to the bank right when it opened to try to get everything sorted out. In my broken, feeble Azeri, I explained to the man that I had forgotten my pin code and my account was blocked. He was able to unblock it, but if I couldn't remember the code, I still wouldn't be able to access my account. The bank could get money for me today, but I would have to get a new card and new pin number. After several phone calls and conversations and sitting around for about an hour and a half, I nervously approached the ATM again. I think I know the number.... I hope. I typed in the number. Big pause... and what comes up on the screen? Incorrect pin. Crap. Have I said that before? I'll say it again. Crap. Apparently the number is well and truly lost in the abyss of my brain.

I sheepishly went back into the bank, laughingly told the guy “Kod bilmirem” (I don't know the code). He tsked. He and the other employee in the office lectured me – again – to write the number down. He accessed my account and gave me some money (yay, I can pay rent and eat!!!), and reminded me to have Peace Corps order me a new card. I immediately called Afaq, who laughed and lamented with me and started the process to get me a new ATM card. I should have it in about two weeks.

You can bet that I'll be writing my new pin number down. Maybe getting it tattooed somewhere. Because I am sure not going through this experience again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


I just knew I would miss an important name when I wrote my thank you blog. And, indeed I did. Jenny Chou also contributed to Camp Jane.

Jenny is super awesome. She works with my sister Kara and is fun, kind, and just enough silly. Last spring, she sent me this crazy scarf thing that can be worn as a scarf, hood, shirt, dress, whatever other crazy things you can dream up. It's blue and I love it. Although, I have to say, I did kinda look like Cookie Monster when I tried to make it a dress.

Anyway, sorry I missed your name Jenny. Seriously, you are super awesome!

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Long Time Coming...

I know you thought you were done with blogs about Camp Jane (until next year, that is!), but there is one I still need to post. And this one is, perhaps, the most important.

As you may know from previous blogs, over 80 kids came to Camp Jane over the course of three weeks. And all of them were impacted in some way. Here are a few examples... at school, lots of kids are already asking about camp next summer. During a lesson on hobbies and free time one of my students, Cavid, said that jumping rope (which he learned how to do at Camp) is his favorite free-time activity. Sevinc, the formerly quiet, shy girl who delighted me by running when we played Kickball, is now one of the most active participants in class.

None of this would have happened without the support from people from home. The response from family, friend, and even people who have never met me was overwhelming. Before Camp started, I recieved over 20 big, heavy packages of supplies. Donated supplies included markers, crayons, chalk, jump ropes, fethers, googly eyes, pom poms, glue, stickers, books, wiffle balls and bats, frisbees, fabric, playing cards, board games, paper, pens, bandaids, tape, scissors, and so on. the is a fair amount left over - which is a great help for clubs during the school year and is a very nice start for next year's Camp supplies.

I want to take a moment to thank all of you -
The Council for the Arts of Herndon
Employess ofthe Herndon Department of Recreation
The PRD Group
Joanne McCammon
Sue Roberts
Richard McCluny
Jane Rother
Vicky Lewis
Heidi Hanrahan
Mary Taylor
Amber and Mike Tran
Rachel Green
Kathleen Edwards
The Berg Family
Barbara Gouldey
Ther Borg-Breen Family
Sherry Yates
Ken and Dorothy Grimm
Marilyn Bowers
The Gardiner Family
Gary and Jeanne Wolfe
Katy Bain
Several other unnamed people who donated supplies in a box my mom put at church
Judy Downer
Elyse Camozza
Penny Halpern
Jennifer Boysko
Barbara Glakas
Chris Griffen
Vicky Dorman
Diane Traub
Keith Pinkard
Rita Pierre-Davis
Susi Russel
Rachel Piro
The Shaw Family
Phyllis White
Anyone else who donated stuff that I forgot to mention
and, of course, my mom, dad, and sisters.

I truly can'y express the depth of my gratitude. Each and every one of you helped make a difference in the lives of these kids. Thank you.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back to School...

Somehow it has gotten to be the middle of September and my second year as a TEFL volunteer is beginning. I seem to be saying this a lot, but I can't belive how fast the first year went! It seems like just last week I was walking nervously to school from my host family's home for my very first day of school in Azerbaijan. How can it be that September 15, 2008 has already rolled around?

In the days before school started, I debated whether or not I was going to go to my school's Day of Knowledge ceremony. There are no English lessons on Mondays, so I had no real need to be there. But, in the end I decided to go. Unlike last year, I got to hide in the background, talk to a few of my students and take pictures. No celebrity Jane sitting on stage, and I didn't have to congratulate anyone on behalf of anything! After the ceremony, I checked the timetable to see when I would have to be at school to actually teach, and went home. I'm glad I went - it is a nice way to start the school year. And the Day of Knowledge is such a part of Azeri culture to me, I think I would have regretted missing it.

Ay my school, English classes are only scheduled Tuesday through Friday. Somehow, the lessons I am teaching ended up just being Wednesday through Friday. I think I must be one of the only people on the planet to have a four day weekend every week! It won't last long - in a few weeks I'll be starting up clubs on Mondays and Tuesdays. But, they never really seem like work, so it'll still feel like a pretty easy schedule.

This year, I am teaching four sections of the seventh form and two sections of the sixth form. Plus, I'm probably going to be working with one little group of second formers - which will either be adorable and awesome OR way too much for me to handle! I love the idea of working with the itty bitty ones, but I'm not sure I'll have the patience for them! We'll see how it goes. Most of the likds I am teaching are my students from last year or kids who came to Camp Jane. It is really nice to be working with these kids again - they are enthused and eager and really wonderful.

I am starting the new school year determined, positive, and enthused. I only have one year left - I want to make the most of it. I know that there is a lot that will still be as frustrating as it was last year - there are just some things I'll never be able to change, no mattter how hard I try. BUT - I do see things I have already had an effect on, and hopefully that will continue this year. I am determined to make the classrooms I work in a better learning experience. And, hopefully, that will rub off on my counterparts (I do see glimmers of it already) and it will carry over both into the lessons that I don't teach with them this year and in the years to come when I'm not there anymore. Hopefully. I know I'm gonna try my hardest to make that happen.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Camp Photos...

Just to let everyone know, I have updated my camp postings and added a few pictures. Check them out!!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Miss Jane's Greatest Night Ever...

Every night, I go through pretty much the same routine. I eat dinner, wash the dishes (usually – sometimes I'm lazy and leave them until the next day), then settle into a chair and read a book, or write a letter, or – only recently – do some ridiculous craft project. Eventually, I go to bed. The chair I sit in is right next to the window and door that leads out to my balcony that overlooks the courtyard. Every night I can hear the sounds of life around me drifting up from the courtyard – kids playing, women talking, cows mooing, you know, the typical neighborhood sounds. Its nice. I like my evening ritual.

Tonight was no different. I finished dinner (haven't done the dishes yet – they're still in the sink), and settled into read. Like always, the sounds of the courtyard were drifting up. I don't normally pay much attention to the specifics of the sounds, I just enjoy it in the background. But tonight, I tuned in when I heard what was distinctively the tune to “Wonderball”. Informative interlude - Wonderball is a game that Bethany brought to Camp Jane. We taught it the first week. Everyone stands in a circle and passes a ball around and sings the Wonderball song. The song goes – The Wonderball goes round and round, to pass it quickly you are bound. If you're the one to hold it last, then for you the game has passed, and you are OUT! The person holding the ball on the word “out” is out. The game continues until there is only one person left. It took a moment for me to realize what I was hearing, but when I did, maaaaan, was it cool! I put down my book and went out onto the balcony to see if what I was hearing was real. And it was! There they were, playing Wonderball in my courtyard. Even better – only one of the kids playing had come to camp. All of the others were just neighborhood kids. AWESOME!

It didn't take long for the kids to look up and notice me watching. As soon as they did, they all came over and clustered around my balcony and called up to me – “Hello Miss Jane, how are you?” - very Romeo and Juliet – if Juliet was a teacher and Romeo was 10 adoring schoolchildren. Shafiga has the best English and was nominated to ask me to come out to the yard and play. At first I said that I couldn't. They said ok, and went back to playing. I watched for a few more minutes, then settled into the chair on my balcony to pretend to read out there. Peek over the balcony wall and watch some more was actually what I was going to do. I was just glowing with happiness and pride. About 3 minutes later there was a knock at my door. ALL of the kids had come up to my door to say hello and ask me to come out and play. Ohhhh, my heart just melted. Of course I said yes. I mean, how could you possibly say no to that???

So, I went outside and we played Wonderball and another camp game. While this was going on, ALL of the surrounding Azeri grownups were watching – leaning out their windows, standing on their balconies, a bunch of the women came down and stood around and watched and talked to me some. Honestly, I think the audience enjoyed it as much as the kids did. But, I don't think anyone enjoyed it nearly as much as I did!

As darkness fell, I told the kids I had to go home (dark is when the mosquitoes come out and I didn't have any bug spray on – I was having fun, but not enough to get eaten alive!). They said ok, and then asked me if I would come out to play again tomorrow night. My verbal answer was “Inshallah” (if God wills – basically meaning maybe, hopefully, if I can, if God wants it to happen. It's a totally acceptable answer for just about anything). My mental answer was – “Heck yeah! I am totally there! Tonight was AWESOME!!!!!”

I don't know if I can put into words how happy tonight made me. When I came inside, I was bouncing off the walls giddy. As a volunteer, you constantly look for the signs that you are being successful and are often beating your head against the wall because you can't see them. Every once in a while, you get a glimmer. And tonight, that came through for me in a big way – far more than just a glimmer. Tonight I had my I-AM-making-an-impact-here epiphany. It makes all of my hardest days and moments, all of my work and effort, all of my stress and sweat and tears TOTALLY worth it. It is, quite possibly, the coolest thing ever.

Monday, August 4, 2008


So, I have photos to go with all of the Camp blogs, but I won't be able to post them until I get to Baku at the end of the month. Check back around August 26 and you'll get to see how truly awesome Camp Jane was!

Week 4 - My Great Disappointment...

So, I go into Week 3 of Camp Jane feeling like the queen of the world. I am truly a successful Peace Corps Volunteer. I have this project that is being incredible. I have tons of enthused, happy kids showing up for my camp. Every week, I get more kids. I have volunteers coming from all over Azerbaijan to help me. My camp is awesome, I'm awesome, the world is good.

Then Tuesday came. As I walk into school to get set up to begin the day, my director stops me. Now, my director is great. Seriously. He is kind, supportive, interested. The second week of camp, he arranged for all of the kids and PCVs to go to a play at the drama theater for free. He is a truly one of the best directors a PCV could ask for. That being said, I'm kinda mad at him now. Because, when he stopped me on Tuesday morning, it was to tell me that Camp would be over this week. What?!?! I asked him all kinds of questions – Why? But it is supposed to go for another week. We talked about this in May, you said it was good, what changed? What?!?!

Well, they are installing an new heating in my school. The entire school is getting torn apart. Ok, ok, great. A heating system is lovely. Maybe I won't have to teach in my coat and hat and gloves next winter. It is completely reasonable not to have kids running all over a construction site. But couldn't this have been thought of and planned for back in May?

I think there is another reason too. Now, this is just my perception, but I do think it influenced the decision to end camp, rather than try to relocate it or work around it. Azerbaijan is preparing for a national election in October. Schools will be voting sites. The preparations are all starting now. As these preparations are going on, bigwigs stop by every so often to check things out. And it looks really bad to have a bunch of kids running around and playing at the school when they stop by. Seriously.

Anyway, all my protestations came to nothing. Camp would be over on Friday. And there was nothing I could do about it. How did I handle it, you ask? Well, I pretty much threw a several-day-long temper tantrum. When I got up to my classroom, I threw some stuff, then I cried. I pulled myself together to go start the day with the kids, but all day I had to take some timeouts to go hide the fact that I was crying. My friends got me through the day and picked up my slack when I couldn't handle it.

After Camp was over for the day, I went home and cried some more. I had a friend call me and talk me through it. Then I went to Tom's house and my friends helped me get drunk. Not necessarily the healthiest choice, but I NEEDED it. I wallowed. It was just not fair. I had worked SO hard. I spent months planning and preparing for a 4 week camp, not a 3 week camp. And the last week was going to be drama – the theme I was the most excited about getting to do. Why does that have to be taken away? NOT FAIR!!!!!

And then, slowly, with the help of my friends, I started to process. They jumped in and decided that we should do some of the drama stuff during our week so that I could do at least some of it. They told me that is wasn't fair, but look at my successes, not my failures. They helped me find ways to get out of my moping and see the good and be positive.

I found the little things that could be the silver lining – no more house guests (i love my fellow PCVs, but 3 weeks straight of people can get a bit old), I can sleep as late as I want, because I won't be having guests I can sleep naked again (it is REALLY hot here), I don't have to play Miss Mary Mack or jump rope, the list goes on and on.

I know how lucky I am – I had a really successful project and this, while it was big, was really the only roadblock I had met along the way. This is the first time I “failed” - and a lot of PCVs have an uphill battle everyday. I am truly lucky that this was as successful as it was.

And then I started thinking about the three weeks I did get to have of my camp. And the impact I had on these kids. Every week, I had more kids come to camp. The first week, some of them were shy, scared to speak English or try new things, and accustomed to being told what they are doing wrong rather than what they are doing right. And by the third week, they were enthused, outgoing, daring, and happy. I look through the pictures that I have of camp – and they just make me smile. The monsters had fun. And these three weeks will probably stay with them forever. I achieved my goal. And that is good.

Don't get me wrong, I still think it sucks that my final week was taken away (although I have LOVED getting to relax a week early). But, I can see it with some perspective now. I did something incredible this summer. I changed the lives of these kids in a really good way. Isn't that what is really important? So, yeah, I'm sad that it didn't go exactly as I had planned BUT I am so proud of what I did accomplish. And, hopefully, next year, I'll get to try again. Inshallah.

And then came week three... Sports and Games... and it was awesome!

When I had the idea for my multi-themed camp, I knew that this was the week I was going to need the most help and expertise from others. I mean, really, what does a drama-nerd-turned-shoe-salesman know about getting kids to do a bunch of sports activities? But with the supplies and ideas from home and my fellow PCVs, I think we pulled it off quite effectively.

I can't talk about the week without mentioning the PCVs who came down to help. Carly, Carlo, Joe, Kelly, Tom (although he lives here), Will, and Ram (for a day) were all just wonderful. They dealt with the heat and the kids with more than patience. They were energetic, enthusiastic, and all around amazing. And when I was told that camp was going to have to end a week early (more about that in another blog), they totally stepped up to the plate in supporting me. They helped me see the positive side and decided that since I wasn't going to get to do “drama week” we should do some of the activities I had been planning during sports week. I am so honored that these volunteers gave up a week of their time to come help me give such an amazing experience to my kids.

Now, to be honest, one of the things I didn't really consider with this whole camp idea was azer summer. Oh, logically, I remembered how hot last summer had been, but in May it didn't really register what playing sports in 110 degree heat with humidity twice as bad would really mean. Silly, silly me. I have to say though – the kids (and PCVs) were champs! There was definitely complaining that it was too hot to do the outdoor activities, but in the end, almost all of them stopped whining and participated enthusiastically.

We broke the day into two parts – the first half (when it was a little cooler) was spent outside doing outdoor games like Ultimate Frisbee, kickball, soccer, tag, and relay races. Frisbee was a big hit and Tag went really well. I think the big winner of activities for the week was the day we did the relay races. We started with a three legged race, then did a water balloon toss, then a race to put together a puzzle. Most of the kids chose to run the three legged race twice, and the water balloons could have gone all day if we hadn't run out of balloons.

One of my favorite moments of the week was during kickball. First of all, it was REALLY challenging to explain the game to the kids and get them to play it properly. We finally gave up and Tom pitched the ball to the kids, they kicked it and ran the bases. A good beginning. If we had done kickball all week, I think that by the end we would have had a fairly successful game. Maybe. Anyway – the moment. One of my hijab girls, Sevinj, told us during the first week that she wasn't allowed to run. We told her that was, of course, fine and she spent most of that week walking around hanging out with a PCV, watching the games. She has been one of the quietest kids, but also one of the most interested in camp. Fast forward to kickball day, and Sevinj wasn't going to let anything get in her way. She was one of the first in line, kicked the ball as hard as she could and RAN! I think she made it to second base before she had to stop. It was incredible. I hope she wasn't taking any big risks with what her family would think if they found out. Rather, I think she used the “not allowed to” line because she was shy about participating – and by week 3 she had gotten over that. It is ridiculous how proud I was watching her run. But I was.

The second half we moved inside for indoor games. Among other things, we taught them paper football, we did some memory games, and a great game that Will suggested called Silent Ball. Gotta say – Silent Ball was my favorite. The group gets in a circle and tosses around a ball. If you make any sort of noise, you are out. I thought it would last all of 2 seconds before the kids lost it. Not so – it was one of our longest lasting games. Who knew those kids could be quiet for that long?!?! It was HEAVEN!

On Thursday and Friday, we added a few of the theater games I had been planning for the next week. We played Wink Murder and the Magic Cloth and did some Mirroring games and a game where they had to act like people in pictures they were given. I'm not sure which was a bigger success – Wink Murder or the Magic Cloth. In Wink Murder, everyone gets in a circle. One person is chosen to be the detective. The detective leaves the room, and a murderer is chosen. Once the detective comes back in the room, the killer bumps people off by winking (hence the name of the game!). The victims must die as dramatically as possible. People were shy at first, but after a few rounds, the death scenes got pretty impressive!

In the Magic Cloth, a large piece of fabric is passed around the circle. Each person must make the “magic cloth” into something new. After the examples we gave of a superhero cape, a skirt, and a diaper, the kids started. And it was AWESOME! We had dresses, hats, scarves, a bracelet, handcuffs, and – my all time favorite – a hula hoop. It was absolutely incredible to see the creativity these kids have.

All in all, Sports and Games Week (like the 2 weeks proceeding it) was a big success. It was hot and hard work and had A LOT of challenges – both personal and professional, but it was worth it. My overriding goal for Camp – for the kids to have fun – was definitely met. It sounds cheesy and stupid, I know, but seeing these kids smile and laugh and play is a pretty amazing reward. A really amazing reward.

Popsicle sticks, feathers, and scissors, oh my...

I have to begin talking about this week with the AMAZING PCVs who helped out. Bonnie, Donnie, Kathleen, Maria, Mariko, and Sarah have all earned their spot in heaven for everything they did this week. Adding glue and scissors to the week made it hard enough. Throw in trying to teach kids who have never been exposed to arts and crafts to the mix and you have a really intense work week. And the PCVs were all absolutely wonderful. Enthused, strong, patient, kind, and creative. I cannot thank them enough for everything they did last week.

American kids are trained from preschool age to do this stuff. I'm sure a lot of the parents out there still have popsicle stick picture frames and handmade pencil holders and all kinds of things made with feathers and beads and construction paper and felt tucked away somewhere from when we so proudly created it. We learned how to use scissors and the art of sharing from an early age. We learned to think outside of the box – and how to put our own stamp on everything we made.

The same can't be said for Azeri children. Art for them is, quite often, copying the example set before them. Creativity is a luxury they are often not afforded. Sharing is a word that is foreign to them – even in their own language. All of those things made this week one of the most important to me – and one of the hardest.

We started the week with drawing and pom pom animals and friendship bracelets. I think the pom pom animals were the biggest hit that day. The bracelets were, perhaps, a little too complicated. A few of the kids really got into it though. I am now the proud owner of a necklace made by Sevinj – one of the quietest kids, but also one of the happiest. The drawing was great for the little kids, but the bigger kids definitely had the look of “man, this is lame.” It was a good start to the week – we learned fairly quickly what some of our challenges would be. At the end of the day, I had to remind myself that this is completely new to them. They have never done this kind of stuff at school – and probably anywhere else – before. Of course it is more difficult for them. And so, of course, we need more patience with the kids and the project.

The second day was crayon etchings and masks. I think the masks were my favorite craft. We showed them some examples, provided basic mask forms – precut out of card stock – and markers, paper, feathers, beads, etc. and let the kids go to town. And they did. Sharing glue and scissors was a new lesson – and one we constantly had to reteach and reinforce. But even with all of the whining over sharing supplies, they made some really cool masks – and were even willing to wear them for a picture. I'm hoping to have them bring them back for drama week. We'll see if that works!

My favorite moment was when we made the popsicle stick picture frames. We still had the arguing over glue and scissors (although the lesson on please and thank you did have at least a small effect), but for the first time, the majority of the kids started thinking of their own ideas without our prompting. Normally, we would show them our examples and they would try to make their craft like the example. We would keep telling them “you can do whatever you want” and “do you own thing.” This time, though, they just did it. One girl made a stand for her frame, another made hers in the shape of a house. And they all used all kinds of combinations of feathers and beads and markers and made some pretty unique – and super cool looking frames. That was the moment that I really felt that arts & crafts week was successful. The the kids were starting to think creatively was just amazing to me. I can't tell you how proud it made me.

One of my favorite little girls, Lala, had a big crush on Donny. She as often as not tried to give her completed crafts to “Mister Donny” as a gift and is putting a picture that we took of the two of them in her picture frame. It was SOOOOOO entertaining for me – and the rest of the PCVs - to watch. And, honestly, I think Donny kinda loved being the object of her idolatry.

On Thursday we made pencil holders out of old plastic bottles – continuing some of our recycling education from the week before. All of my Peace Corps Newsweeks came in very handy as we had the kids create collages with magazines and stickers all over the bottles. I am hopeful that they took them home and are now using them – it would kinda defeat the purpose if our “recycled” art went immediately to the trash pile. We also made hemp bracelets that day. Somehow the knot tying was a much bigger success this day. Maybe because they had already had some training with the friendship bracelets. One of the best bracelet makers was Ravan, a boy in the seventh form who is typically a little too cool for this stuff. He got REALLY into it!

Friday was sock puppets and paper flowers. We ended up with dragons and bees and lots of snakes and elephants and all kinds of random people among our puppets. I ended up with a fairly large collection of paper flowers from the boys who loved making them, but didn't really want to keep them.

Arts and crafts week was definitely hard work, but all in all, it was awesome! I have kind of come up with a mantra for myself as I am getting frustrated – if the monsters (my affectionate nickname for the kids) are having fun, it is TOTALLY worth it. And they are. They really are. What more can I ask for?

Camp Jane Week One...

Note to readers – I have to give the credit for calling it “Camp Jane” to my friend Heidi. She also, I'm pretty sure, came up with the witty name for this blog. She's really smart.
It all started with boredom. Daydreaming in a particularly long class, I had an idea for my summer. After a lot of planning, work, help from here and abroad, and countless moments of others (and myself!) questioning my sanity, my idea, my daydream actually turned into a reality.

Camp Jane started with “English Language Week” on July 7. The PCVs signed up to help for that week arrived Sunday evening for a big planning session. And then, D-Day arrived. I was, of course, nervous, excited, and everything in between. On the walk over to school, I flip-flopped between praying that at least a few of the kids showed up and hoping that none of them did so that I didn't have to do it! But, happily, they showed. A bunch of them. About 60. Awesome.

The week was designed to get the kids a little comfortable with English, enjoy learning, start to try new things, and just have fun. And, I think we succeeded. We broke the kids into 3 groups, with 2 PCVs for each group. Each day was broken into parts – an hour long “lesson”, recess for 45 minutes, another hour long “lesson”, then a large group activity that involved all of the kids.

The lesson times were great – we did things like play Simon Says and Hangman and teach them songs and rhymes like the ABC song and Miss Mary Mack. We drew pictures and read stories. We attempted some creative writing. We made learning fun.

Recess was a huge hit. Four Square was a big winner from day one. As the kids learned thing in classes, they continued them outside. Once they got the hang of Miss Mary Mack and Wonderball, they wouldn't stop. Poor Kelsey – the PCV from Ali Bayramli/Shirvan – got roped into doing hand clap games for 3 days straight at every recess. I think the best recess activity ended up being the jump rope. The kids LOVED it. It took awhile for some of them to get the rhythm. One little girl, Lala, couldn't even get one jump successfully. Then, she had a 10 minute jumping lesson with Bethany (the PCV from Tovuz), and by the last day was the second best jumper with 52 jumps. She was only beaten by Cavid, a little boy who was great from the start. I think he got to 74.

The large group activities were probably my favorite part of each day. Each one was different. The first day we had each kid make visors with their names on them. We used those as name tags for the rest of the week. The second day we did a school yard trash pick up. We all taught an environmental(ish) lesson that day, then had them put it to practice. Honestly, I kinda think the biggest reason the kids got so into it wasn't to make our school and Azerbaijan beautiful, but because they were promised a prize if their group collected the most trash. The third day was Capture the Flag. Once the got the hang of the somewhat complicated rules, they were way into it. They hid their flags so well that PCVs ended up playing traitor and leaking information about flag locations to the other teams so that the game would end on time. The fourth day, we taught them the Electric Slide. Some of the kids really loved it, some wanted nothing to do with it. But most of them tried. And I got some REALLY great pictures from it. The fifth day we did a Scavenger Hunt. Competition really motivates these kids. The group that hadn't won the Trash pickup or Capture the Flag made certain that they won this one!

The best thing about this week is that the kids had fun. All of my other goals for camp are, of course, important. But, that's the one that fills me with joy. I would come home everyday exhausted, of course, but also completely enthused and – frankly - proud of what we had done that day and how much the kids had enjoyed it.

I can't begin to thank the other PCVs enough. Bethany, Brent, Kat, Kelsey, Vy, and Whitney were amazing. In many ways, they had the hardest week – the first one, the kinda boring theme, the unknown, dealing with my stress – and they were rockstars. Their enthusiasm, excitement, and ideas were what got me to not only survive the first week, but to really enjoy it. And the kids loved them – they were very sad to see them go. Hopefully the following groups of volunteers will hold up in the kids eyes to the example these PCVs set.

So, Week One down. Three more to go. And, honestly, I can't wait to start the next week. That feels REALLY good to be able to say.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Son Zeng (The Last Bell)...

The last day of school was May 31st. Now, in all honestly, the kids stopped coming to school about a week before that, but the official last day was a big deal. Just like at home, the day was eagerly anticipated by students and teachers alike.

At every school there is a ceremony on May 31st called Son Zeng. I was told by my counterpart that ours would start at 10 a.m. I should have learned, after almost a year here, that the really means about noon. So, I hung out at school, talking to the teachers and students until the event began.

Like every Azer ceremony, it was filled with speeches – but, as my mom pointed out, I understood a lot more at this one than I did at the first day ceremony. And, even better, I didn't have to give a speech this time! No congratulating anyone on behalf of anything this time. Yay! Instead, I just got to observe. I think that might mean that I am finally viewed as more than the American guest. Maybe even a real teacher. Hmmm. Can always hope, anyway.

The ceremony was LONG, but cool. Each of the 11th form classes paraded out, all decked out in their finery. When they reached the center of the courtyard, they all released white pigeons into the air (does anyone know – are white pigeons doves? One of the English teachers told me that they are, but I'm skeptical.) That was super neat to see. They were all presented with their certificates (essentially diplomas) by the director. As each student came up to receive their certificate, family members would come up and present them with those huge bouquets of fake flowers.

Next came more speeches, then the now graduated 11th formers passed the symbolic key to the school to the 10th formers – the new top class. After that can my absolute favorite part. The 11th form boys paraded around with the little 1st form girls on their shoulders, while the itty-bitty girls rang hand bells. Officially – the last bell ringing. I cannot tell you how absolutely adorable that was. My heart completely melted. My pictures don't do the moment justice.

The ceremony ended – after more speeches – with all of the students dancing. They played loud Azeri music through the speakers (they also did this in between every break of the ceremony) and the students all danced. I love watching Azeri dancing – I am, however, not very good at it. Family members and some of the teachers joined in. No surprise, I guess, I was pulled down to join the dancing. I spent most of my time dancing with my host sister Shams (who just graduated – and will spend next year studying in America! I'm pretty proud of her), until somehow I got sucked into a dance-off with one of the boys. Well, not really a dance-off, more him doing crazy stuff with his feet and me trying to follow. I held my own for awhile, but mostly I looked ridiculous. Let me tell you, this was a BIG hit! Seriously, a huge circle surrounded us, watching. It is all on several videos of the day – both the official school video and a lot of home cameras. Yippee. There is part of me that loves the novelty and celebrity of being Miss Jane, and then there is that other part that would happily hide. Gotta say, the dancing part of my celebrity I kinda loved! It was fun.

Finally, the crowds began to disperse, and I headed home to take a nap. Son Zeng was one of the neatest things I've been to here. Way different from American graduation ceremonies or even Elementary school last days. In a lots of ways, much cooler. Although, there is something to be said ice cream socials and going to the pool. Ahh, well, you can't have everything. Birds, bells, and dancing is pretty awesome.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Summer Vacation...

Well, the final week of my first year of school is upon me. Like almost every teacher and student on the planet, my dominating emotion is YAHOOOOO!!!!! The old kids' rhyme, “no more teachers, no more books, no more teachers dirty looks” has been running through my head for the past few weeks. Even when I was a kid who really like school, there was just something about getting to that last day and having the prospect of summer stretching before you. Ahhhhh.

Originally, I had a very lazy summer planned. I feel like I've earned it. I'm traveling in June – which will be awesome. Outside of that, I was just gonna hang out, continue some of my regular clubs, maybe go help some of the other volunteers with projects. Spend a lot of time in the direct line of my fan to survive the heat, maybe do a little sunbathing in Tom or Ashley's yard. Sounds like a great plan, right? Like every teacher a student, I worked hard during the school year. I deserve a break. And, I was definitely looking forward to my lazy summer. Until I had the idea.

One day a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in one of my lessons, honestly, bored out of my skull. I started thinking about all of the ideas that I have had of projects and things to do. Originally, my thought path was for clubs and things next school year. And then I thought about the 3 months looming ahead of me. And I decided.

The idea is an English Summer Day Camp. It is 4 weeks long, 5 days a week, 4 hours a day. Here's the part that I love about my camp – each week is going to have a different theme. The first week is just English language. Get the kids comfortable(ish) is English, get them prepped for some of the stuff they'll do in the following weeks, get them to have fun with learning. The second week is Arts and Crafts. The third week is Sports and Games, and the fourth week is Drama and Theatre. (That's kinda the selfish one – I actually get to kinda use my lovely theatre degree that has been sitting idle for the past few years.)

It took a bit of work to turn the idea of the camp into something that is really going to happen. I am enlisting the help of my PCV friends – each week 5 to 9 different volunteers are coming down to help. I had to get permission from my school director (essentially the school principal – you don't do anything without getting his approval). I had to prepare information for him in English and Azeri. Luckily, my director is awesome and he is really into the idea. I had to explain it to the other English teachers so they can help me explain it to the kids. I had to hope that kids would actually be interested in coming.

The response has been awesome. My friends are really into coming to help. The kid response is even better – if a little overwhelming. I expected to get 30 – 50 kids who wanted to come. I had a moment of panic on Friday when I was counting the applications in so far and I already have over 75 students signed up. And the deadline is Tuesday. I still think I might be in over my head, but it is also so completely awesome that so many kids are into it and excited about it – it kind of inspires me.

So, here is the shameless plea part of this blog... I need supplies. I certainly don't have the funds on my Peace Corps living allowance to get much and, in a lot of cases, the stuff just isn't available here. I can't ask the kids to pay – kind of defeats some of the purpose. So, I'm asking you. Or, rather, I am offering you an amazing opportunity to support a really cool Peace Corps project, and help provide something for these kids and this community.

The Flegal family is heading up the donations part of this. If you are interested, please email my mom at or She has a list of the things I really need – things like paint and chalk and yarn and jump ropes. There is a time constraint – to get stuff to Azerbaijan in time, she needs to mail it by mid to late June.

I want to thank the people who are already helping and those of you who will! It is really amazing for me to see and feel the support from everyone at home. This experience is going to mean so much for my kids, I love that you all are enthused about helping me and helping them.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Just Some Pictures...

I know, I know... I haven't posted anything in forever. I'm just bad at this internet thing here. Anyway, as an attempt to make it up to my fans, I thought I'd share some pictures I've taken recently of things that have made me smile. Enjoy!

The first is a sight that made me so happy I could cry... Almost everyone at home know how I feel about Coca Cola. Seeing the truck here...awesome!

These are fishing nets, strung out to dry. Being right on the Caspian Sea, Lankaran is a big fishing town. Men put the nets out at night, then bring them in in the morning, taking to fish to the bazar to sell (on several occasions I've seen fish so fresh they were still flopping), and letting the nets dry through the day.

This is a building right by my school where they sell bread (that's what corek means). I have always liked this building, so I finally took a picture of it.

This is me (obviously) at the local history museum. The pot I am holding is dated to 1392. And the museum had no problem with me picking it up. I have a feeling the folks at PRD would not be big fans of me handling ancient artifacts for the fun of it. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should, right?

This is one of the parks in Lankaran. I just like that they have a map of Azerbaijan made out of plants and flowers.

This is a fishing shack on the beach. I just liked it.

This is at the bazar - and a common practice all over Azerbaijan, referred to by many as the Loaded Lada. That's cabbages filling it up.

This is a painting on the wall in my school. I think it is rad.

This is one of my favorite things about Azerbaijan, that I didn't know until just recently. They have these fields of roses all over. And they are all in bloom right now. It is this amazing spot of beauty in a place where that is so often missing.