Monday, August 29, 2011

We're coming home... well, at least for a few weeks!

Many of you know that Joey and I will be heading back to North Carolina for two weeks to take part in two separate weddings in LESS than a month! (FYI: September 23rd to October 1oth) We're so lucky to have such wonderful friends and family, AND the ability to fill most of our time catching up with great people -- we hope to see you! (Joey will have more updates later on the when and where for all you NC folks.)

Basically we'll be arriving on the same day we left a year ago, and it's going to be a whirlwind for sure. Many of you have asked us over the last year what types of things we might need or want, AND we've been extremely lucky to receive such kind and thoughtful care packages. THANK YOU!

So this is where the reading becomes optional...

Since shipping is so expensive to send packages to Azerbaijan, if you have been inclined to send a care package but haven't had the time to stand in line at the post office... here's your chance to skip the lines and the fees and help out a Peace Corps Volunteer! My sisters, Mom and in-laws have all agreed to collect and bring things to us from you. (Joey's folks are coordinating a trip from Oklahoma to North Carolina to coincide with the first week of our stay!) Since Allison's getting married and already has a few obligations of her own, it might be best to hand things off to Jess if you are a Biogen Idec person. (I can provide contact information if you need, so just email me if you have questions.)

If you do pass things along, please make sure to put your name, address and email address on a note. My kids would love to say thank you!

I've provided a guideline below of the kinds of things that might be helpful, but it's certainly not limited to these 4 categories. Ultimately, we want to do more craft-type things with the kids here in Quba, but we've run into issues with supplies or having the means to get the supplies. I created the guidelines below with activities for next summer in mind, and we'll also be attempting to create an art club when we return in October. Likewise, I've included things that won't be the end of the world if we don't receive them, but also won't be a problem if we receive a large portion! New and used items are A-OK!
We sincerely thank you for your interest in our service in Azerbaijan, and we appreciate all the thoughts, prayers and well wishes. We'll need them all for another 14 months!

Our first trash pick-up party!

School Supplies
  • 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

  • Frisbee

  • Boomarang

  • Puzzles – any variety from kids to adult

  • Uno

  • Memory

  • 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)

  • Crayons

  • Kid-size scissors

  • Elmer’s glue

  • Velcro stickers

  • Popsicle sticks

  • Stencils

  • Watercolor set

  • Little paint brushes

  • Coloring books

  • Pipe cleaners

  • Googly eyes

  • Colorful feathers

  • Yarn

  • Ribbons

  • 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.

Çox sağol! We thank you SO MUCH from the bottom of our hearts. And... we hope to see you all soon!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Summer updates

Since the last bell of school rang out on May 31st, our summer has been filled with kids, camps and lots of learning how to do summer things here in Azerbaijan. In every category we've done more learning than we ever could have imagined, and as we begin to wind down our 2011 summer, we're starting to think about how we'll be excited to possibly better manage things next summer!

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!

One new concept we learned about is the Azeri idea of "camp."  It's not a traditional American summercamp -- rather, think 4 hours of activities in the morning to beat the heat, and then the kids go back to their homes. (Sometimes everyone will meet up again in the evening for sports or activities.)  Since we've traveled to other Peace Corp Volunteer sites, this allows us to get to know what's going on with other folks, and gives us the chance to see different portions of the country. Since we always have to go through Baku to get to most other places, travel gets pricey and LONG. I put in time with 2 camps and Joey did a back-to-back, finishing out with 3! We're thinking how we might be able to put on a Quba art camp next year...

Lessons Learned This Summer:
  1. 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!)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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!
  6. I can bake! Apparently all it takes is reading a recipe and then you can make really good food. Amazing. I had no idea.
  7. 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
Our summer view of the mountains.
If you squint, you can still see some snow up top!

A handful of neighbor boys join in to sing with Joey during his nightly "concert,"
while Hillary gives a quick English lesson to a young girl.

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.
Fresh, local cucumbers with pickling spices and dill.  Delicious!

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Throughout the summer we've been pretty lucky with our electricity situation. Pretty consistently we have electricity to cook in our oven, use the internet and if at night, shower with a light on.

In late Spring it rained quite a bit and one day we had a flooding type situation. That day, the power went out. Since then, we haven't had a whole lot of rain and we've had our "power." Summer has been hot and dry and it seems like our seasons change at the beginning of new months. For example, when we arrived last September, it was really hot. Then on October 1st, the winds came off the Caspian sea and the weather changed. It's totally coincidental, but I've noticed this pattern for most months. So after a mild June, came a hot July and since the beginning of August, it's been cool and rainy.

For the last two days, it has been almost sweater weather and it kept spitting rain and then transitioning to the harder rain you hear hitting the tin roof. Needless to say, the electricity went out. A positive with the cooler weather, our concrete brick house has begun to cool down. It took about 2 days to normalize, so maybe once it begins to heat back up again, it will take a while to get back to oven status.

Here's the not so serious impact of nearly 20 hours of not having electricity:
  • 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
Ultimately, it is not so bad loosing power. It forces you to really take a look at what is within your control and make due. It's nice to have lots of comforts around us but when they're not there, we live on!
This electric symbol is on the front of most circuit breakers.