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!