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!