Sunday, December 4, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
A few things I learned:
- It was really easy to come back to America. It was easy to fall back into the roles that everyone (including myself) expect of me. Since we were only home for two weeks, I'm not sure if that is or will be my reality in a year from now, but we got it done! Even though I've been living and breathing Azerbaijan for the last year, it was also easy to just get 'stuck in the moment' and not think about my life back here in AZ. It made me really understand how difficult it might be for those of you who are living your life to really think about us here on a regular basis, since we're so far away and living such a crazy, different life here.
- It was also so easy to get distracted! Because I am not accustomed to hearing much English around me (especially in social situations), when there were a lot of people around, my ears kept picking up other conversations! Here in AZ, I'm so focused on trying to understand and communicate with one person that I have tunnel vision/listening and can pretty much drown out all other voices because I don't naturally pick out words. My apologies to any of you who felt the wrath of this lesson learned!
- Wow, I can't recall a time in the last year when I've ever been so BUSY. I fully realize that I was in matron of honor mode, and had a lot of catching up to do since I've been missing in action for the past year. Between every meal we generally had somewhere to be, something to do, and someone to see. It was truly a gift, but amazingly exhausting. Comparing that American pace to our life here doesn't even begin to look at all the same. However, since communication was so easy, I felt like I could really do it all during those two weeks. Sadly, my last few hours in the States, I didn't feel so mentally strong, as I crammed an amazing amount of stuff in suitcases.
- Technically this isn't something I learned, but I was able to recognize the level of generosity from friends and family who donated things for us to use here in Quba. It was an awesome reaffirmation of the work we're doing! We received a huge amount of school supplies/financial support to bring back to Azerbaijan, donated from friends, family, former co-workers, and a Girl Scout troop! We've already put some supplies to work last month as we made Halloween masks! Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
- Finally, I didn't expect to have a great urge to return back to AZ life, but I think I really did. I've found that this place is my home. The kids I work with on a daily basis are truly amazing, and I get to see their motivation increase, their creativity rise, and their joy fill a room. I'm not done here yet, and even though it's not totally understood by some, I'm still learning (and sometimes teaching). I continue to learn so much about this new, different culture, about a religion that's highly misunderstood by many, about a lifestyle that's had such an oppressive history. Likewise, I'm learning about myself and my relationship with Joey. I like learning, but I know that in a year from now, I'll have much more learning to do as we re-enter a life in America that will be familiar and unfamiliar, all at the same time.
Have a happy Thanksgiving! We love you and we sincerely thank you for your support!
If anyone wanted to drop us a Christmas card, or has a desire to send us a care package in the future (Joey's requesting bacon and summer sausage), here's our address:
Hillary and Joey Zielazinski
Agamali Oglu Kuchesi #69
Thursday, September 8, 2011
We really can't explain how excited we are for our upcoming visit to America. Two weddings! Tons of family! Obscene amounts of fried foods! Perhaps most of all, we're looking forward to seeing all our friends that we've been missing for the past year. We'll be pretty busy throughout most of our visit, so we wanted to put together a specific event just for "hanging out." On Thursday, Sept. 29th, we'll have a whole evening just for friends and family -- come out to the James Joyce Irish Pub in Durham, enjoy some great food and drinks, and say hello to us before we hit the road back to Azerbaijan! We'll have the back patio all to ourselves, and my band The Monument Club will play a couple of sets of classic indie rock.
Party starts at 8pm. DO IT!!
Friday, September 2, 2011
|Before the workout|
|After the workout|
Monday, August 29, 2011
|Our first trash pick-up party!|
- Dry erase markers – any size or color
- Non-machine paper laminate
- Reading books – child or young adult
- Index cards
- Anything to help make learning English fun
- Puzzles – any variety from kids to adult
- Anything smallish and easy to teach that's fun
- Construction paper
- Embroidery floss – for friendship bracelets
- Magazines – any variety ( I cut them up for activities)
- Kid-size scissors
- Elmer’s glue
- Velcro stickers
- Popsicle sticks
- Watercolor set
- Little paint brushes
- Coloring books
- Pipe cleaners
- Googly eyes
- Colorful feathers
- Toms Of Maine toothpaste
- Bear Creek Soups, or just-add-water soups
- Peanut butter
- Fair-trade ground coffee
- Hot chocolate
- Mint tea
- Individual water flavor packets
- Granola bars
- Packs/bags of American candy for our neighbors
- Food flavor packets -- Taste Of Thai, Indian sauces, French onion dip, etc.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
As for our primary work, Joey and I have spent a lot of time here in Quba, working with a huge number of kids. During our Peace Corps training last year, it was explained that children generally don't participate in summer activities due to other obligations like work and travel, so we didn't really anticipate any sort of real participation in our summer courses. Apparently this rule must be more for the villages or small towns, because here in Quba we have a lot of summer visitors from Baku, and it seems like many families stay here since it's a bit cooler than other parts of the country.
Needless to say, with the locals and the addition of the Baku kids, we've basically doubled our numbers from my Spring English courses and clubs. It's been wonderful, but it's also put a great strain on our ability to manage a large number of children while still working to maintain basic speaking skills. With 9 separate groups, we're basically working with well over 200 kids a week. We've had our ups and downs for sure, but as August comes to an end, we'll have plenty of time to decide what's next. School begins in mid-September, so managing my new schedule once Joey goes back to school will require some obvious boundaries that we didn't implement during the Summer. Oh how we learn!
- Joey and I have learned how to can Azeri-style. So far we have 3 jars of pickles, 4 liters of tomato sauce and 5 smaller jars of salsa for the winter. Up next, we'll be stewing tomatos. (I might actually write a separate post about canning, since it took many neighbors to help, AND we're still not sure if it's going to work. I mean it looks good now, but will the jars spoil? We're not in the land of Ball mason jars!)
- Managing the heat has also been an interesting one. Since there is no air conditioning we've had to learn new techniques, like keeping the doors and windows open at night and during the late evening, but shutting everything up in the morning so the cool air stays in. These are concrete homes, so they really absorb what the weather provides... it's an oven in the summer and a refrigerator in the winter.
- Joey was able to go to the bazar and get some screen so we could better manage our bug situation. However, this was really propelled by what I think was a cat coming through a window and into our home in the middle of the night and scaring the daylights out of me. The next day we had the screens up. In addition to the screens, we were able to move around our curtains and cover the door up, allowing us to get the cool night air, yet not invite every single bug to join us.
- Joey's nightly concerts of playing guitar and singing for the kids has really made the neighbors much more comfortable with us. Up until the concerts we really didn't see anyone, since we come and go and live behind tall walls. Once the nightly shows kicked in, the moms and grandmas would lean out their gates or windows and watch. This might just be the way it is, but it seems like Joey's shows allow the women a time to come out and talk to each other. I've gotten to know some of these ladies, and it's been really nice to find out that they're all looking out for us!
- A homemade Memory game can help kids learn new English words! The week that Joey was at his 3rd camp, I was not about to pick up his guitar but I was able to put my Memory game to use. We have really eager neighbor kiddos, and they now love to play since they know the English word matched with the magazine clipping. Thanks for all of you that have sent magazines... you're helping educate too!
- I can bake! Apparently all it takes is reading a recipe and then you can make really good food. Amazing. I had no idea.
- Eating a melon a day makes you happy. Joey has fallen deeply in love with cantaloupe. It took coming all the way to Azerbaijan for him to realize that he actually likes many fruits and veggies! However, my loyalty still stands with watermelon.
|Delicious fruit salad!|
|Enjoying lunch with other PCVs|
during the Zaqatala arts camp
|A nice view of the Caspian Sea in Nabran, the Myrtle Beach of Azerbaijan|
|Rocking out with the kids gets us lots of attention...|
One day we came home to find that our front gate
had been "tagged" with some fruit-juice graffiti!
Some of our fans had written our names in Azerbaijani.
|The first apple pie of the season!|
It turned out GREAT,
and we served it at a 4th Of July party in Xachmaz.
|HOMEMADE PICKLES! |
Fresh, local cucumbers with pickling spices and dill. Delicious!
Saturday, August 6, 2011
- Cooked eggplant on the gas stove instead of baking it
- Couldn't start or make the apple pie. Will still have to wait a few more hours to get the butter hard again for the crust. Not so bad, keeps the kitchen cleaner longer.
- Defrosted the frozen freezer (plus!)
- No access to the outside world via computer. Went to bed earlier.
- Weekends are precious times to Skype and we lost an American day
- Headlamp/flashlight broke into multiple pieces when dropped from the only shelf in the shower. Surprisingly resilient little guy and once put back together, it still works!
- Continued to improve my candle contraption - glass bottle and the top of a coke bottle
- Joey was not able to perform his nightly concert to the neighbor kids due to cold/rain
- We were able to daydream/strategize about our trip back to America in less than 2 months!
- I was able to study some Azeri this morning
- Cleaned out the fridge
- Prepped our spaghetti sauce canning stuff
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
I think the nearly 5 years of marriage is working to our benefit, we know each other pretty well, we knew about these personal quirks even if they’re magnified a bit more, but all in all, it seems to be making us a better team. I can’t imagine being a newlywed trying to live a PC life and learning those things about your spouse that you adjust to or learn you can’t or don’t want to adjust to.
We’re in this to be models of what American marriage is. Yes, we’re speaking for all you married people out there… for better or worse. We let young boys and girls know that it is ok for Joey to wash dishes. One night this sent a neighbor boy giggling to tell his mom and grandma that Joey was washing dishes! People understand that I worked in an office and can drive a car back home while Joey was the teacher. Azeri’s see us together and happy! They see us as very young and are incredibly surprised when we tell them our ages and that we’ve been married for almost 5 years and do not yet have children (more on the children topic in another post).
So to sum things up, being married is good. Joey and I are learning more about each other than we ever thought was possible but we’re able to laugh, cry and groan through it and still like each other. We are lucky, but we are having a different type of experience, simply because we are married. More to come!
Thursday, July 21, 2011
- Joey and I have spent more than half of our married life talking about being in the Peace Corps and making it happen.
- We've been married nearly 5 years, which makes life here in AZ easier and sometimes harder.
Monday, July 4, 2011
|Hillary and I with our awesome 5th-grade girls!|
School's out for a couple of months here in Azerbaijan, so that gives us the opportunity to travel around the country and see a few more places than we normally would throughout the scheduled school year. Recently we headed West and spent a week in a village near Yevlax, where our friend Catharine was hosting a camp for the kids in her community. It was great to get a new experience outside of our insulated Quba daily routine. What struck me the most was that since it's a village (just a few roads here and there, a small school, a tiny market, and a soccer field), literally EVERYONE knows who Catharine is. Our taxi driver was trying to find out where to drop us off, so he simply rolled down his window and asked "hey, where does the American live?" Immediately a group of young boys pointed to a house down the street.
Throughout our week there, Hillary and I were in charge of a group of nine girls in the 5th grade. Among the nine of them, they spoke about six words of English, so it was a great stretch for our Azeri language skills. Regardless, we had an amazing time working with these girls on concepts like teamwork, patience, and kindness. Each day there were team sessions in the morning, and then group activities in the afternoon. Our girls were serious about coloring our poster with our team name (Dənizin Qızları, aka The Sea Girls), and making a metric ton of friendship bracelets. At first, the kids didn't really seem to understand how a grown man would actually sit down with them and talk and play games and make bracelets with them, but after a couple days, they really seemed to recognize that Hillary and I actually WANTED to work with them and get to know them together... the concept of a fun, healthy marriage seemed like kind of a new idea to them. On our last day at camp, there was a very sweaty dance party, and lots of autographs.
We also had the chance to spend time with fellow Volunteers from other regions of Azerbaijan. We're up in the "first finger" of the country, somewhat isolated from everything else because of a mountain range. (In order for us to travel anywhere, we must first get to the capital city of Baku, and then take a connecting bus.) It was wonderful to check in with my friends from training, as well as other Volunteers who are on their second and third years in-country. We operated as a team, planning our sessions daily, and working to throw together lunches and dinners. At night, we rotated through a shower schedule, and enjoyed time at a picnic table outside talking about our lives at home and abroad, our conversations punctuated by cool breeze and occasional lightning storms.
Next week we're heading to Zaqatala for an arts camp -- who's ready for guitar sing-alongs and some improv games?
|Giving orders like a champ!|
|Our girls presenting about having patience. |
They did a skit about being a rude customer at the bazar!
|Hand-making decorations for the end-of-camp party|
|PCVs going crazy during the dance portion of the party|
|A sweet young girl with her favorite PCV, Hillary!|
|This kid was awesome! He jumped and giggled the whole time, |
and insisted on getting a picture with me, even though I was tremendously sweaty.
|Late-night chats with Katie, Irene, Julie, and Oruj|
Thursday, May 26, 2011
I do watch out when I turn the corner to see if she's coming but other than that I don't believe there is any other sustained psychological trama. To manage our relationship, Joey and I have affectionately named her Jackie. Every night when she is corralled into the gate, her voice loudly ecos over the wall as we eat our dinner and here's a bit of our typical conversation with her:
"Hello, Jackie"," Of course it was a good day"
"Good Night, Jackie",
"For goodness sakes, Jackie, enough"
"We said , Good Night"
Saturday, April 30, 2011
For example, yesterday was a beautiful day, actually acting like Spring. Choices needed to be made, maximize the gas on such a day or do half of the laundry and go to the bazar for the week. Two loads in and nearing 2:00 the clouds began to roll in and the temperature dropped. Good choice to finish out the laundry and postpone the bazar.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
We are still alive and well. With the end of winter and all the Novruz festivities, along with less than ideal internet abilities, we have not posted in quite a while. Since we have off from work this week due to the holiday, we will be doing some traveling, moving on April 1st to our own home and with any luck we will have more frequent internet (and the keyboard might not randomly switch to a Russian keyboard - just spent the last 2 minutes figuring out how to get it back to English.) Needless to say, we've been quite busy saying goodbну (did it again!) to winter.
When we have more time, I'll be sure to post about Novruz and the massive amount of food we've eaten and the fires we've jumped over. I think there are quite a few of these traditions Ощун(Joey) and I would like to bring home.
Since this keyboard is making me nuts, that's it for now. More interesting stories and events to come.
We love and miss you all at home.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Much love from icy Azerbaijan!
- We took 5 showers for the entire month. Just think of all the water we’re saving…
- Hillary learned how to fold grape-leaf dolma for Joey’s 35th birthday dinner.
- Discovered that Azeris love SwissMiss hot chocolate
- If given the chance to cheat at Uno, some members of our family will take this opportunity
- We ate the noisy rooster that sounded like it was saying ‘happy birthday’ or ‘happy new year’ when it crowed at all hours of the day.
- A couch surfer from Spain randomly stayed at our house for 2 days due to our host brother’s connections. Her English was really good and we were able to mildly entertain her.
- Started the process of learning how to make baklava (here it’s called paklava) by cracking a million walnuts. I still have the blood blister to prove it. FYI – you might want to go out, buy some, and thank whoever made it!
- Had 10 folks from our neighboring town Xachmaz come to Quba for an afternoon visit. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the snow was melting but there was still enough for several snowball fights around our town.
- Our first trip back to Baku resulted in great food (Indian, pseudo-Mexican, and Joey nearly went crazy for the opportunity to eat pork ribs!), hanging out with great people for the weekend, and getting affirmed by our first host family that our Azeri actually has improved!
- One weekend, a family relative came by and took the boys out on a trip to see the Quba mountainside. Joey was able to see beautiful streams, mountains and a very happy horse.
- I received a pink stuffed bunny from my host brother for our New Year celebration. Apparently it the year of the rabbit. This is also a gift that should be in photos for special occasions, like Joey’s birthday.
- Joey got locked inside the toilet and I laughed a lot. Apparently the lock expanded on a warm day and our host dad had to pry him out. No more locking the door, so say goodbye to privacy! This later happened to our younger host brother, and Joey got to help rescue him. (What’s funnier – an American yelling for help in bad Azeri, or an Azeri yelling for help in bad English?)
Overall, January was a good month. We’re at the halfway point of living with our host family, which continues to help us with our cultural integration, for better or worse. For me, I was still waiting on a few things (like heat) for the activity room in my office, in order to get into the swing of my actual job of working with youth. At this point, never-ending patience has been my biggest accomplishment. Joey has been teaching up a storm and riling kids up throughout his school. As we walked around town last weekend, kids would shout “Hello, Mr. JOEY!” Looks like we’re starting to get noticed, for better or worse.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
In anticipation of entering the unknown environment of Peace Corps, I began growing out my hair over the last year. My last trim occurred in late August; therefore finding split ends became one of my favorite past times over the last few weeks.
On Saturday, my host mom was going to the hair salon to lighten up her dark hair with some highlights and an overall blonder hair color and wondered if I wanted to get my hair cut. Sure, why not! I could stand a little trim with a lady my host mom trusts and it was only going to cost me about $3!
Sitting in a slightly warm concrete room in a plastic chair, I let the lady know that I just wanted a trim. I was then informed by my host mom that she is fact a hair expert and would I like to have her do the good work she usually does? I basically must give my permission for her to be the ‘expert’ since it would be disrespectful to say no. I look in the mirror, she’s got about 2 inches she’s about to cut off. Fine. Let those split ends go! During this moment, I am also celebrating the fact that I understand the conversation that has been entirely in Azerbaijani!
Within minutes, I’m watching 6-9 inches of hair fly off my head, seeing long bangs come into my present life and realizing shorter than shoulder length means a ponytail is no longer in my near future.
I give her credit, the cut looks good and I’m getting a lot of compliments HOWEVER, this does not change the fact that showering only occurs once a week in our household, and managing a haircut like this may be difficult. After the initial adjustment to less showering, I have found that days 1-4 are not that bad and my hair looks pretty normal, even light. For those of you back home, this is what you remember. From days 5-7, things get pretty rough and this is typically when people ask if I’ve dyed my hair and the ponytail had been an essential part of my look to keep things in order. Today is day 5.
Not knowing if this is a compliment or not, my host brother said I look more like an American now. He says I’m beautiful and likes to kiss me on the cheek. He’s 13.
In an environment where I am constantly learning and don’t feel especially good at anything, I seek solace in knowing that I am really skilled at growing my hair.
In the meantime, Wednesday is shower night!
(Written on January 17th. First photo taken on Joey's birthday - the love bunny will be explained at another time, the second photo taken in the internet cafe on January 18th... day 6)