Saturday, October 30, 2010

If you were a goose, what would a great joke sound like?

Sadly, Joey and I don’t have the answer to this title question, but we’ve definitely speculated that a joke must be involved in goose conversations to makes all the neighbor geese go into a tizzy. If it’s an awesome joke, it makes those 5am outbursts a bit more bearable! We have manages to get used to the roosters, but those geese are a piece of work. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if the level of humor is on the pun level… but that’s ok.

Falling out laughing is also what the locals seem to do when we ride on public transportation. Backpacks don’t help us blend in. Our Azeri skills seem to be comical in our efforts to get off the packed vans. Joey really did make a lady laugh out loud with his request to exit, which is pretty hilarious since public transport is pretty solitary with the exception of the music.

I ate a whole pomegranate (nar- the shorter Azeri word.) without making a mess, laughing and actually talking Azeri to my 7 year old host sister Nargiz who reminds me of my beautiful nieces back home. This is a girl with very few front teeth, always tries to catch my eye, loves to make funny faces in between her amazing grin and giggles and when we don’t understand each other (often!) she will pinch my cheeks. She typically is the best part of my day! By the way, we have nar trees in our garden and they are in season!

Where we’ve been and what we’re doing

Last week Joey and I traveled to Kurdamir & Shamika, which is basically central Azerbaijan to visit current volunteers. We had the most amazing time learning about where we might be in a year from now and how it really does come together, even if we’re not so sure right now. Joey and I both were able to observe within the roles we’re assigned (Joey teaching English & me working with youth) and it’s really exciting to know that by the first of the year we will be our site making things happen. Until then, we are appreciating our lives with our host family, learning an amazing amount of information and spending quality time with the other trainees.

Google Gobastan and AZ mud volcanoes. We were at these cool historic and natural places with the Caspian Sea in the distance last weekend with our PC group and had a blast– Once I have enough time at the Internet café, I’ll be sure to post some pictures.

As of this week, we have now had our site placement interviews our mid point verbal language exam. We’ve been working so hard and picking up the pace this week with an extra 3 hours of language training on top of our regular 4 hours, 2 hours of other training and basically 2 hours of travel. Apparently training is designed to toughen you up! With our placement interviews, this was basically the time where we talk about our interests and ourselves, then our program managers figure our where we best fit in the country. (I’m picturing super complex desk moves from my past…not easy!) Joey and I continue to make it a challenge since it’s always harder to place 2 people in the right site but we feel pretty confident about our abilities and flexibility. We have the potential to know our permanent site within the next few weeks, so it will be really exciting to learn about our new home and our future opportunities.

MAIL – Please feel free to write us! We have found out that most mail takes about a month for us to receive it so this is a great next 2 week to write us. It’s possible we will have our permanent address within then next two weeks, so this is it until December. If you’re inclined to send a package, you might want to go in with a group since we’ve heard they’re pretty expensive to mail. We would happily accept any treats you think we might enjoy. Here’s the temporary address!

PCT Hillary & Joey Zielazinski
Peace Corps Azerbaijan
Sumgayit Şahari
Azerbaycan Pr. 15
Merkezi Poçt


Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Quick Rundown Of Life In Azerbaijan

The past few weeks have been perhaps the most demanding and confusing of my life.  Hillary and I are currently making our way through pre-service training, which includes intense language classes and technical training for the jobs we'll do once we're at our permanent site.  Our daily routines include lots of walking to and from the bus-stop, dealing with amazing amounts of dirt and mud everywhere, and overall feeling confused and bewildered by this strange, beautiful place.  It's hard to really explain what we're going through, so here's a brief list of a few of the things we've experienced here:
  • Wild dogs roaming the streets
  • Crazy howling wind and debris -- making our walks interesting and/or awful
  • Various animal parts on the street -- a goat leg here, a cow jaw there
  • Not one, but TWO different butcher shops proudly displaying a cow head on a cinderblock in front of their store.  Fresh beef, y'all!
  • Seeing a lamb getting skinned on the street in front of my school.  The lamb's head was about two feet away.
  • Being treated like celebrities by the children at the our schools.  Everyday we're greeted with shouts of HELLO! WHAT IS YOUR NAME! WHERE ARE YOU FROM! OBAMA!
  • On the bus home from school, there was an engine problem... so the bus drive opens up a compartment INSIDE the bus, take out a wrench, and fixes it WHILE HE IS DRIVING.
  • The thrill of managing public transportation here all by myself... only once did the bus miss my stop, and I had to walk 4 blocks down the highway.
  • Teaching the children at our host home how to high-five, as well as the 3 Japanese words I know (thanks, Kayo!)
  • The family car at our house has no passenger seat -- that way we can fit all 8 of us in it on the drive to school each day
  • Doing laundry by hand for the first time in my life
  • Eating a fresh pomegranate plucked right off the tree
  • The victories in the small connections I'm able to make -- with the custodial staff at my school, local shopkeepers, and the kids in on my street
There's much more to this story, so please stay tuned.  As we figure this place out, I'm sure we'll have much more to say about it.  Right now, we're on a day-by-day basis, with plenty of ups and downs.  We miss you all so much, but as you can see, we're keeping busy.

Take care, all!!

/ / / /

Sunday, October 10, 2010


We’re over a week into our Azeri host family life and loving it! The first few days were intense. Meeting anyone for the first time is a bit overwhelming and then add in some hot temperatures on top of it all is an exhausting AND an exhilarating adventure.

Backing up a bit, the first 3 days we arrived in Azerbaijan, we were in a pretty swanky hotel with all 60+ PC trainees. It’s a remarkable group full of passion, diversity and energy. After those 3 days of basic learning’s about Peace Corps and Azerbaijan live and language, we were let loose outside of the hotel walls and delivered to our host families. Despite what they shared with us when offered the positions, Joey and I are able to live together during this training period, so we’re really off to a good start by challenging each others language growth and decompressing every evening.

As of this earlier this week, it seems like the weather has turned to autumn. Pretty amazing winds, which we think are coming off the Caspian Sea, are making our walks home a little more challenging and the howling noises whipping across the house are becoming familiar sounds. Our family has a television but we rarely get to see the weather and with communication being a bit challenging, I actually have no idea if this is normal or just a short-lived front coming through. All I think I know is it seems like we are also entering fall with all of you! (more to come on our family)

General Schedule Until December: we typically have language training 4 hours a day, eat a quick lunch, take a quick bus/van, walk 45 minutes and then get to our next training from 2:30-5ish, then walk home about an hour. Because of Joey’s teaching curriculum, he’s now on a slightly different schedule, but still includes lots of travel excitement and walking. After doing laundry by hand this weekend and this weekly routing, I’m pretty sure my corporate waistline will diminish quite a bit.

Also, at this point in training, we don’t have a lot of free time, which means writing on the blog (which is in Russian? At the internet cafe computers - now we'll use our laptop!!) is pretty challenging. Hopefully this will regulate as we continue to get our bearings straight.

More to come on Azeri life, cuisine, etc but we still have to figure our how to translate what we’re eating before then.