Sunday, May 31, 2009


An abundance of free time leads to a multitude of ways to to fill it. Last night, instead of my usual reading a book or playing solitare, I composed some Haikus (this might be a new low - or high, depending on how you view it for my ways to cure boredom.) Anyway. I thought I'd share the gems about my life here that I came up with. Enjoy!

In my apartment,
The rooster's crow wakes me up.
That, I will NOT miss.

In the yard, "qatiq,
ayran, xiyar, pomidor,"
Xanims yell to sell.

Translators notes on this one - qatiq is basically plain yogurt, ayran is this super-gross (in my opinion) dairy product that they make, xiyar is cucumber, pomidor is tomato, and xanim is the word used for woman/lady - usually when PCVs use it it refers to old ladies.


Swerve to miss a sheep.
Speed to pass the slow, slow trucks.
Stop - for no reason.

And my personal favorite...

Bucket Bath
Scoop, splash, scrub with soap.
One bucket is all you need
To get Azer-clean.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Last Toy...

Toys (the Azeri word for wedding) are a BIG deal here. Everyone loves a toy. Peace Corps Volunteers get invited to about a gazillion toys during their time here. One of my friends went to 18 toys last summer alone. There is prestige in having the American at your wedding - and showing them off. And toys are fun - there's good food, dancing, tons of toasts and speeches, and photos. As much fun as they are, I have to say, after about 3, they get kinda old.

When my parents came to visit in March, I went through all of my stuff to see what I could send home with them. Sweaters, my winter coat, knick knacks my students have given me, souvenirs I have accumulated all went in the suitcase. And then I got to my toy shoes. They're American - Nine West, I think. Black pumps with a pointy toe and high heel - Azeris LOVE them! I sat down and thought about whether or not I would be going to another toy in my remaining time here. I had decided that I would only go to a wedding if I knew the bride or groom or their parents personally. I mentally went through my list of people. Both of my counterparts are married and the children are little. One host sister is too young, the other is working in Baku and has no desire to get married yet - and my host mom is ok with that. Most of my landlady's family is already married off. It a bold choice and quite a risk to take, but I decided that I was safe sending the toy shoes home.

Fast forward to May, when I found out that my gamble had failed. See, when I went through my list of people, I had forgotten about the young, unmarried English teachers at my school. Women I know really well and like a lot. People that fit my criteria of whether or not I would go, and people who's wedding I would actually want to go to. So, when I got the invitation to Vusala's wedding, I knew I had to go.

Luckily, one of my sitemates wears close to the same shoe size as me, so I was able to borrow some appropriately fancy shoes. I got myself all dolled up - shiny shirt, heels, and far more makeup than I usually wear - and went with my counterparts to Vusala's toy.

And it was a lot of fun. The food was great. We danced - but not so much that there is a whole section of the American dancing on the wedding video. And, of course, we had the obligatory photo with the bride and groom. You'll notice no one is smiling in the picture (which, I think makes me look stupid. I'd far rather my big grin in the picture, but sometimes you have to do it Azer-style!) No one smiles in pictures. And certainly not in toy pictures. All in all, I'm really glad I went.

I'm pretty confident that this was indeed my last toy. There's a chance Elnora (the woman in the blue shirt in the picutre) will get married before I leave. And if she does, I'll borrow shoes and go to her wedding and dance and eat good food and not smile in the picture.

But, inshallah (if god wills), Vusala's toy was my last toy in Azerbaijan.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Shameless Plea for Help...

The most successful I have felt as a Peace Corps Volunteer was last summer. Many of you will probably remember the gloriousness (and stress!) of Camp Jane. That month was A LOT of hard work, but it was also the first time I felt like I had really offered something valuable as a volunteer. I certainly couldn't have done it without all of the support from home and other PCVs. I believe, looking back on my service in 10 years, Summer Camp will always be the thing I am the most proud of.

Last year, Camp Jane was a HUGE success. Over 3 weeks, a total of about 80 kids participated and PCVs from all over Azerbaijan came to help. We played Capture the Flag, we jump-roped, we taught them Miss Mary Mack. We made popsicle stick picture frames, friendship bracelets, and sock puppets. We showed them how to make paper footballs, we played kickball, we had relay races and water balloon fights. I saw kids go from shy to outgoing, reserved to enthusiastic, barely able to speak English to chatting with PCVs during our break time. We watched these kids have fun - and we had fun with them. And even more importantly, we gave them something that will last a lifetime.

Over the course of this school year, I have gotten to see some of the lasting effect Camp had on my students. I see my students have a much more positive attitude and willingness to participate in the classroom. I see some of my little girls outside playing - often games they learned in camp. One of my students' new favorite hobby is jump-roping. Another student teaches her own English Club - the day I visited they were doing Miss Mary Mack. And almost everyday, students ask me if we will have camp again this summer.

The answer to that question is YES! This year I have teamed up with another PCV, Jaclyn Gilstrap, who lives and teaches in one of the villages of Lankaran. Since I'm working with Jaclyn I can't call it Camp Jane anymore, but I'm ok with that! Students from both of our schools will participate in the 3-week long camp. This year, we're doing an Environmental Week, Sports and Games Week, and Arts and Crafts Week. Between the 2 schools, we expect over 100 students. Yay Kamp is going to be bigger, better, and definitely impact more kids.

We need your help. I have a lot of supplies left over from last year, but there are things we still need. We need to be able to pay to bus the students from Liman (Jaclyn's village) to and from my school. We hope to be able to be able to provide water for the kids and we looking at being able to take them to a football (soccer) game. We have so many plans and ideas for Yay Kamp the Sequel - and a lot of them can't happen without financial support.

Yay Kamp has been accept as a Peace Corps Partnership Program project. PCPP is a way for people at home to contribute to PCV projects. It is tax deductible, and no amount is too small - and certainly, no amount is too big :-) Please, check out the link below. Feel free to share it with anyone who you think might be interested in supporting this amazing project. And if you decide to donate, you'll have the undying gratitude of me, Jaclyn, and about 100 Azeri children.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Favorite Thing About Wednesdays...

These are my second formers. They're all 7 or 8 years old, and are super cute. I only teach them one hour a week (which is probably good. I think I'd lose my patience with them really quickly if I saw them more often than that!) Anyway, they are my last lesson of the day on Wednesdays. It doesn't matter how bad my day was leading up to the moment I walk into their classroom, as soon as I'm there, the day is good. They are excited, really eager to learn and show off how much they know, a little wild, easily distracted, always smiling (except for those rare few times someone dissolves into tears for something that seems ridiculously little to me) and just silly enough to crack me up every week. In short, they're awesome. And I love 'em.