Monday, August 31, 2009

Saying Goodbye...

It is amazing how fast two years go by. It feels like I have been here forever and at the same time, I can't believe it is already time for me to leave. My friends and family and most of my loyal readers know how excited I am to be coming home in about a week and a half. But at the same time, leaving is HARD. I guess that means I did it right, though.

Tomorrow, I leave Lankaran. I have spent the past week or so guesting, saying goodbye and spending time with the people who have come to mean so much to me. I haven't prepared supper for myself in over a week! I've gotten my fill of lavangi, plov, kompot, and chay. I've spent my days walking in the park with students and friends and having tea at the library. I made the tour of shops and the post office to tell them I'm leaving and I'll miss them. I went to school to visit with my director, the teachers and cleaning crew.

Many times over, I have promised to...
- return to visit with my husband and children (that's assuming I'll have a husband and children).
- write letters, emails, text messages, and talk on Skype.
- say hello to my mother, father, Barack Obama, and America.
- show them around Washington D.C. if/when they come to America.

I have turned down offers to...
- marry an Azeri boy so I can stay in Azerbaijan.
- take jars of pickled vegetables and jam to my mother.
- throw out all of my clothes and take him/her in my suitcase instead.

Everywhere I've gone there have been hugs and kisses and tears and many, many pictures. It's been lovely and sad. Knowing that I will probably never see many of these people again makes departing that much harder. I have loved my time here and the people who filled it. I am so lucky to have had all of these amazing people in my life. I will keep it touch, and I hope visit one day. But, for now, I'm saying sag ol and sag ol (goodbye and thank you) to my Azerbaijani family.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Possibly one of the coolest things about living in a developing country is getting to watch it, well, develop. Over the past 2 years, so many things in Azerbaijan have changed and improved. I'm not talking about the gazillions of high rise building sprouting up in Baku, although construction in this country is a fascinating process. I'm talking about smaller scale changes that will probably have a bigger impact. Here are a few of my favorite examples...

Cars and Travel...
When I first arrived, the majority of the cars you saw were Russian made Ladas and a hand full of Mercedes. Incidentally, the Ladas are almost always white. Don't know why. Anyway. There are still plenty of Ladas on the roads, but now you see almost as many foreign cars. I stopped in my tracks the day I saw a Ford Focus driving around Lankaran. My students tell me that there are apparently a few Hummers here although I've never seen 'em. There are car dealerships of every manufacturer imaginable all over the country. There's even a Chevrolet dealership in the region just north of me.

The roads have improved too - or are in the process of being improved. The first few times I made trip between Lankaran and Baku it felt like we were off-roading. It was uncomfortable and often too bumpy to even sleep through the trip. Now, the road is redone and repaved, making the trip much more enjoyable. I'm one of those people who often gets car-sick, but on our new road, I've even been able to read on the bus. A lot more the roads in town are paved than they were before. And, just a few weeks ago, they painted a line down the middle of the main road in town to help control traffic.

Washing machines and air conditioners seem like a fantasy to most PCVs. And for most families here, that is still the case. You struggle through summer, sweating profusely, with at best a fan in the apartment and everything from jeans to shirts to socks to carpets gets hand-washed. But as I've been looking around recently, I've seen a lot of the apartments in my neighborhood install air conditioners (I'm trying to make friend with all of them!) And washing machines are becoming more and more prevalent. In the past year alone both my counterpart and old host family have gotten washing machines in their homes. I'm a little sad I moved out before that improvement happened!

Last but not least comes perhaps my favorite example - Milk...
2 years ago, the majority of the milk you could buy came straight from the cow. In bigger cities you could sometimes find long shelf life Russian milk, but that was usually only in one or two stores (at least here in Lankaran). About a year ago, the Pal Sud (Pal Milk) factory opened right here in Lankaran. Very quickly we saw Pal Sud coming into almost all of the stores in town. Slowly it spread to Baku and then the other regions. Now, Pal Sud can be found in every region of Azerbaijan. But there's more. As Pal Sud has gotten bigger, so has their product line. The first thing on the shelves was 3.4% milk. A few months later, 2.4% started showing up. Then came qatiq (yogurt) and some other azer-dairy products. The crowning moment was when I walked in a store and discovered 1.4% milk!!!! Oh, how far we've come!

Now I know a lot still needs to change and improve here, but to watch a country go from Ladas to SUVs, from hand washing to washing machines, and from straight-up cow milk to choices in fat percentage in your milk is pretty rad. Seeing these examples and other things - like heaters being installed in the schools and little girls outside playing and rarely losing electricity - makes me hopeful and makes me think. If this much can improve in 2 years, what will Azerbaijan be like in 10?

Friday, August 7, 2009

How I Spend My Days...

My friend Heidi asked how I've been filling my days now that camp is over and most of my work here is done. To be honest, I have more free time than I really know what to do with. My entertainment options are limited, so my activities can get pretty weird. Here's today's project...That's right. It's a model of the Titanic. Complete with Iceberg. I have no idea what I'll do with it now, but it sure was a good way to pass a few hours!

Monday, August 3, 2009


Yay Kamp the Sequel was an incredible success. We had over 130 students attend and participate over the course of three weeks. I truly believe the experience has changed their lives - both in small and big ways. Yay Kamp would not have been possible without the help from so many people at home. So, for all of you who donated to the Peace Corps Partnership Program, or gave stuff to be sent, or just sent good wishes, thank you so much!