Saturday, February 28, 2009

Once Again, True Love Thwarted by Religious Differences...

Almost all of my students have captured a piece of my heart in one way or another. One of my favorite kids is a 6th former named Murad. He's a sweet kid, eager to learn, and just full of life. His ears stick out a little and he has a slight stutter, both of which make him all that more endearing.

Last year, I became fairly certain that Murad had a crush on me. He was always eager to please Miss Jane. He would walk me home from school and bring me fruit and flowers from his garden. I have to be honest, I kinda love it. I mean, how cute is it to be the object of a schoolboy crush?

As this year began, it was pretty obvious that the crush was still there. He's turned into a 6th grade boy - showing off a little, doing the little things in class that are kind of misbehavior, but are guaranteed to make me and my counterpart laugh. He is my most dedicated conversation club attendee. No flowers this year, but he did bring me a bag of chips and some candy.

A few weeks ago, the father of one of the girls in Murad's class returned from a religious trip to Iraq. She brought everyone gifts from the trip. The gift she gave me was one of the stones that gets placed on the floor so that your head doesn't touch the ground when you pray and some really pretty cloths to put the stone on. Always trying to turn eveything into an English lesson, I asked questions. My counterpart and the kids answered them - mostly in English.

I have never talked about my own religious beliefs with Azerbaijanis. It's kinda frowned on, and more importantly, its not why I'm here. But the assumption is that because I am American, I am Christian. I'm ok with that, but I do often wonder how my Jewish PCV friends feel about it.

Anyway. As we were talking about the gift and the students were answering my questions about what it was used for, how to care for it, etc, Murad asked my counterpart - in Azeri - if I was Muslim. She told him - also in Azeri - no, Miss Jane is Christian. At point, Murad VERY dramatically pretends to sob and cry at the calamity of me being a - gasp - Christian.

And in that one moment, my luster diminished in his eyes. Oh sure, he still likes me. He still shows off for me, but not as much. Since then, he's even skipped a few conversations clubs. And the pure joy in his eyes when he gazes upon me has faded. And I am no longer the amazing and wonderful Miss Jane, glorious object of desire. I'm just kinda cool fun Miss Jane, who is heartbreakingly Christian.

Oh, sure, the earth still spins on its axis, the world will not come to an end. But for me, a little bit of the joy in life has gone, and it can never be recovered. Sigh.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My New Door...

A few weeks ago, I was walking home and got followed by a car full of boys. While it wasn't one of my favorite experiences here, it led to a day that ranks high on my top ten list of experiences in the AZ.

About a week after the car-full-of-stupid-boys event, I got a call from my landlady. One of the benefits of being a yaxsi qiz (good girl) living in the fishbowl is that when something even slightly bad happens, everyone knows and everyone wants to take care of you.

So, my landlady. On this particular Friday night about a week later, she called me to tell me that the next day they were coming over to install a fancy new metal door so that, and I quote (well, I translate and quote), "the bad boys can't get me and I won't be scared." I didn't know that I was scared, but whatever. I'll take a fancy new metal door.

Saturday morning, my landlady's husband showed up with the new door and a couple of guys to install it. Very quickly my old wooden door with the Coca Cola sticker was gone and the work began to install the fancy new metal door. While the guys were banging and hammering and chunks of cement were falling, my phone rang. My landlady, asking to speak to her husband. When he got off the phone, he told me to go over to their apartment right away to eat. Ohhhhh Kaaaay. Sure.

When I got there, Hegiget (my landlady) was in the kitchen with 3 other xanims, her daughter-in-law, and her 2 year old grandson. They were making ash (with a long "a"). Ash is milk porridge. It tasted a lot like rice pudding to me. While they were cooking, I sat down, had some tea and just got to chat with them. There was, of course, lots of them talking about me, but there was also a really great conversation. They explained that the ash was part of a religous holiday Azerbaijan was in the middle of. You cook a ton of the stuff and give it to your friends and neighbors. They tried to explain to me how to make it and showed me everything they were doing. And then we sat down and shared a bowl of this super yummy stuff.

After the ash break, I returned to my apartment with Ziyad, my landlady's husband, for the next phase of door installation - cementing the fancy new metal door in. Always the yaxsi qiz, I got them tea. Always the conscientious Azeris, they lectured me that it was too cold and made me put on more sweaters.

When the cementing was done, Ziyad and I cleaned up the debris and I was informed that I should be back at their house at 6 o'clock for supper. One if the conversations I had had with Hegiget and the xanims was how much I like Lankaran meals - especially Lavangi. Lavangi is stuffing made with walnuts, onoins, and this paste stuff. It is delicious. There are many different types of lavangi - chicken lavangi, fish lavangi, eggplant lavangi, you gewt the idea. Since that is what she was making for supper that night, they insisted that I not cook and come join them for the meal.

Dinner was bird lavangi. Bird is winter bird. Probably pheasant or quail or something. Sadly, I don't really like bird. Honestly, I think its gross. But I do love lavangi. I was able to eat a lot of lavangi and rice and smother the bird in qatiq (essentially plian yogurt) to nake it edible.

The dinner wasn't anything fancy or special - it was just a family meal. Usually azeris pull out all the stops for guests. But they didn't treat me like a guest. I was just a part of the family. And that was very cool.

After supper and tea, Hegiget walked me home. When I walked through my fancy new metal door and sat down and reflected on my day, I was just completely content. Being a part of their family for the day. Knowing that they think of me as a part of the family. Seeing how much they care about me and my safety and my happiness. Remembering the truly good things about Azerbaijan and why I love this place.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Prolonged Absence...

I want to offer an apology to my fans for my superlong absence from the blogging world. I'd like to say that it was because I was lazy and just didn't feel like writing, but the truth is that I had some technical difficulties. Technical difficulties that involved the power cord for my laptop, the smell of electrical smoke, sparks, and mini flames. None of which you really want anywhere near your computer. Luckily the only thing that suffered any actual damage was the cord...but because my laptop is an antique and because I live in Azerbaijan not America, getting a new cord required extra effort. A lot of extra effort. Mostly on other people's parts. I just had to wait for it to arrive. But that was still annoying.

Anyway. At long last, my new power cord is here and I am back online! Yipeeee!

Special thanks go out to my Mom, my sister Kate, and Bill Lanzenby for getting me back to my regularly scheduled blogging.

Stay tuned for more episodes of the Adventures of Azerbaijane.