For the past week or so, Hillary and I have been relaxing here at home in Quba. All Azeri schools are on the same schedule, and we just finished up “winter break,” where students and teachers get a week off right after Christmas. Since we’ve already traveled to Shabran for a party with other Peace Corps Volunteers in our region, and to Sheki for a massive Christmas party (the white elephant gift we received was some ranch dip packets, taco seasoning, and Sour Patch Kids), we decided to stay local for New Year’s. (The picture above is from our Sheki trip – all 40 of the Volunteers had dinner at a swanky hotel that was nicely dressed up in holiday decorations.)
We’ve had lots of time to relax, but the weather’s been pretty gross here (light rain, cold temperatures, and tons of MUD), so we’ve had a lot of “inside days” where we read a lot and watch TV and movies on our computer. It’s nice to take a break, especially after the frantic pace of our pre-service training in Masazir, but it also means more time to get homesick and think about what all our friends and families back home are doing right now.
It’s a huge contrast to our life in America, where we were constantly busy with social activities, projects, and work. Every time I hear one of my favorite songs, it makes me think of playing music with The Monument Club, and every time I watch a funny movie or TV show, it makes me think of my improv community at DSI in Carrboro. I stay connected with my friends via email and text messages, but the time difference and lack of internet availability makes it challenging.
The up-side is that we’ve spent a lot of time with our host family, which means watching Azeri television, drinking tea, and learning about Michael Jackson. We’ve done one round of laundry here, and once again, I got yelled at by our host family for trying to help. (Hillary’s doing great though – now she’s allowed to watch dinner getting prepared, and on good days she can help clear the table.) There’s also been a good amount of “guesting” during our holiday break – family and friends meet up for a giant meal and conversation, and there’s usually many rounds to the meal, so one gathering normally lasts around 4 hours. (Hillary and I were a huge hit when I got up and danced with the host at our last guesting experience.)
When the rain stopped, we got out and explored our community a bit – our younger host brother Emin took us to the town bazaar, the open-air market where we can purchase clothes, meats, and fruits & vegetables. We enjoyed what we’ve been told is the country’s best doner (kind of like a gyro sandwich), and we checked out MegaMarket, the nicest grocery/bakery I’ve seen in a long time. We crossed the Qudiyalçay River and walked around Qırmızı Qəsəbə, the “Red Settlement” which is home to Azerbaijan’s largest Jewish population.
As for our official Peace Corps duties, Hillary’s working on getting English conversation clubs started with the support of her office, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and I’m finalizing my official teaching schedule – I’ve got 12 English teachers at my school, and I’m attempting to teach at least one class per week with each of them. The students are generally respectful and always happy to see me, and most of the kids understand what I’m saying during my lessons. (However, I recently intercepted the first note passed in one of my classes. It involved the Azeri word for “kielbasa.”)
We’ve been told that the first six months of your Peace Corps service are by far the most difficult, and we’re definitely working through our ups and downs, so please continue to send good thoughts our way. In the meantime, we’ll work our way through all the episodes of Mad Men. Have you seen that show? Don Draper’s a jerk!
Holla from Azerbaijan! Haralik!