Merry Christmas! Milad Mubarek!
I hope this note finds you all healthy, happy and in a joyful spirit!
A year ago, Joey and I were happily living our lives in Durham, running around preparing for Christmas. This year, our lives couldn’t be more different. We’re now residents of a small country between Eastern Europe and Central Asia called Azerbaijan. We’ve left all we know and love – like our amazing family and friends, steady jobs, day-to-day comforts, speaking English – all so we could jump into our Peace Corps adventure for the next 2 years.
As we approach Christmas, we’ve done a lot of reflecting on our past and present lives, and those memories help make our holidays away from home more bearable. Just this year alone, 3 babies were born, one is on its way, one best friend and one sister got engaged… that’s big stuff!
As you might imagine, since we’re in a Muslim country, the Christmas hustle and bustle is non-existent here. However, there is one exception. Yenni Il, (New Year) is a celebration that resembles secular Christmas but just a week later. There are trees, lights, decorations of ornaments and colorful garland, and Shaxta Baba (the scary-looking Santa in the picture above). Shaxta Baba carries a long stick, he can be skinny or fat, and he brings a present to children for the New Year. Here in Quba near our local library, a super tall tree has gone up and will be decorated within the next week or so. With the first big snow of the year coming, it’s bound to be a great celebration full of great food. Before we left our last host family in Masazir, the kids were super excited to put up their Yenni Il tree as a surprise for Joey and me. The excitement is here, but the outcome and timing is a bit different.
We now live with a great family who have taken us in as their own, and we’re figuring out what our jobs will look like and learning our Peace Corps community as well. Right now, our Christmas spirit can be seen as we sneak in a Christmas movie on our laptop before bed, cooking Zielazinski pizza with new ingredients but the same love, and playing and laughing with friendly game of Rummikub with our host family! If we can’t have our wonderful family and friends from back home, we’re making efforts to incorporate the joys within our control and to be as happy as possible.
For Christmas day, Joey and I will travel about 5 hours by bus to a town where some other Peace Corps Volunteers are hosting a holiday extravaganza. We’ve heard rumors of Christmas cookies, eggnog and even a Christmas movie at the local movie theatre! Since we’re still settling in with the language skills, it’ll be nice to be around people who we can easily communicate and celebrate with.
We’re slowly settling into this quiet mountain town where the people are friendly, the air is fresh, and we get to see the landscape of the beautiful Shagdag mountain range on our daily walk home from work. It’s an enormous change, but I think we’ll make it.
We wish you all the happiest holiday season, and want you to know that the Zielazinskis in Azerbaijan wish you a year of happiness and joy!