Saturday, February 12, 2011

Broken Pipes And Cactus Rays

Since Hillary’s done such a good job explaining what we’ve been up to for the past few weeks, I thought I’d give a glimpse into some of the odd things we’ve learned/experienced here in Quba.  Enjoy!
Gas:  You might have already seen the pictures, but our house is on a street covered with mud and road debris.  This is because the gas pipes “are being worked on.”  Before we arrived in December, our road was torn-up to gain access to the pipes.  I have not yet seen any municipal workers, or any kind of repairs taking place.  My host family explains that this is because the city of Quba is now secretly diverting gas to a village a few kilometers away.  The really don’t seem to care for the village people.
Deadly Rays:  In Hillary’s office, there are small potted cactus plants on a desk.  This is to absorb the nasty rays and bad energy that comes from the computer.  Don’t worry, it also works on televisions too!
Bus:  There is a giant bus parked on our street every night.  Like, a full-size Greyhound bus.  Apparently our neighbor is a busdriver with a route to Baku, and he just takes his ride home every night.  My host brother Emin said nonchalantly, “No problem, this bus very comfortable.”
Ice Cream:  In every market there’s an ice cream freezer, but at this point in the year it is filled with giant blocks of butter and salt-cured dried fish.  This is because it is “olmaz,” or not permissible to sell frozen treats in wintertime.  Why?  Well, if you eat ice cream in winter you’ll get sick of course!  (HOWEVER, when I was in Baku recently, the local Baskin-Robbins seemed to be doing pretty well.)
Table etiquette:  Last month some Azeri family friends dropped by for the 4-hour ritual that is “guesting,” i.e. dinner and vodka with friends.  We only have 4 chairs in our home, so we pushed the table over to the couch to accommodate everyone.  I was on the couch, leaning forward to hear the conversation.  It was cold, so I crossed my arms to keep warm.  As soon as he saw this, one guest quickly told me that this gesture was “so wrong,” and that I could only cross my arms at work.  If I cross them at home, it means that I will have a very bad career.  (When it happened again, the guy jumped out of his chair and started hitting my forearms to bring his point home.  Did I mention the vodka?)
He also explained that if you clear the entire table right after the end of the meal, you will only live to be 50 years old.  BUT, if you only clean up half the table, you can live to be 100.
Quba Mornings:  Like I said, our home is cold.  How cold, you ask?  Well, most mornings when I walk from the kitchen back to our bedroom after brushing my teeth, I can see my breath in front of me.
Pipes:  Houses in Azerbaijan are constructed out of concrete, so there’s no insulation.  This means that pipes freeze in wintertime.  Our family solves this problem by turning all faucets on full-blast overnight.  The outside sink is right below our room, so we fall asleep to the sound of our very own chilly rain forest.
Names:  While explaining my family tree to him, my host brother Ayaz became quite frustrated with the pronunciation of American names.  He asked “Why so many difficult names, there’s Robert, Jobert, Gorbert, so difficult.”  He further explained that Azeri names are so simple and easy.  Here’s a short list: Bilgeys, Etibar, Orxan, Mirjabiv, Qorsumaz, Ilkin, Ulker, Aygun, and Sezxan.  And those are just the first names.
Fame:  Last week, a high-school girl walked by me and said “Mr. Joey, why you don’t teach my class, Mr. Joey you are my best friend.”  I had never met this young lady.
As you can see, we’re absorbing a lot.  We'll work to keep you updated as often as we can... as long as we don't eat too much ice cream or cross our arms too often.

Much love from icy Azerbaijan!

 - Joey

January Highlights

  • 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.