Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Curiosity of Water

Since living in our own home for nearly an entire year now, I've learned a lot about water and water management.  It seems odd to be in my 30s and feel like I'm just beginning to grasp how important water is to daily life.  It's certainly something I took for granted in my pre-Peace Corps life!  So here's a little glimpse into how water impacts our life, and the ways we manage.

Pumping Water
In order for Joey and I to have water in our home, we must connect an electric water pump every few days.  Directly above our front gate, we have a giant metal box that holds all our water.  For our end of the street, water is available to pump around 10:30am and again around 9pm, give or take a couple of hours.  Lessons learned:
  • You must have electricity to pump water.  This past autumn and into winter we had a lot of power outages, which made collecting water a bit of an issue.  Crisis management: walk a few blocks to the local market and buy a giant 5-liter bottle of water when needed.
  • You can "hear" when the water is available to pump.  This has been an area of great "ear training" for me.  Our next door neighbors don't have a water tank, and they can only collect water during the two times of day.  I'm now able to hear the sounds of water coming to their home, signaling to me that it's time to pump for our own use.  I hadn't previously paid much attention to these random noises, but now my ears perk up even with the smallest drip!
  • Before I was so attuned to the neighborhood noises, we could simply turn on our landlords' yard spigot, which is connected to the water supply.  Once it starts gurgling, it's time to pump.
  • With the morning water, I pass by a big, broken water pipe on my way to work.  When the water is bubbling loudly, flowing out into the canal and onto the street, I can tell this is also a time to pump.
  • We cannot pump water when the giant metal container above our gate is frozen solid.  Sadly, this is our current situation.  BUT, we can get the ice to slowly melt by turning on our water heater, and then filling up old Coke bottles for cooking, washing dishes, and drinking water (to be boiled and filtered, of course).  It might also result in bucket baths if the weather doesn't heat up a little, or if the sun continues to be hidden behind the clouds!

Our front gate and water tank

Many people in Azerbaijan have a laundry agitator (some might actually have a washing machine), but for a lot of folks, laundry must be done by hand.  We are in the "by hand" category.  Summer is pretty easy when it comes to anything related to water.  The pipes warm up with the sun, and there is very little to do in order to prepare for a shower or to do laundry.  Winter, however, is a much bigger challenge.  Our bathroom (toilet, water heater, and shower in one big room) is about 5 feet away from our front door, and isn't technically a heated space.  Taking this all into account, we've come up with a pretty solid routine:
  • First, you must turn on the gas for the heater at least 3 hours before you're ready to wash.  (Even longer on colder days.)
  • Because it's outside, you wear lots of layers - but be prepared to get wet, especially your socks.
  • Three rounds to laundry:  Round 1).  Fill first bucket with soap, water, and laundry, agitate, ring out, throw laundry into second bucket, and pour dirty soapy water down the toilet (which is just a couple inches away from your face).  Round 2). Fill up second bucket with water and laundry, agitate, ring out, then throw laundry back into clean first bucket, and pour less soapy dirty water down the toilet.  Round 3).  Fill first bucket back up with water, follow all steps again, and then place the laundry on the clothesline outside.  WHEW!
Clothesline: In the summer the laundry dried really quickly on the line, but in the winter they have a tendency to freeze or even accumulate snow (it's a covered space, but snow tends to wander).  We try bring everything inside before it's frozen solid - we've even placed an old wooden chair next to the gas heater inside our house, which acts as a makeshift clothes dryer.  It's proven quite effective, and even adds a little moisture to the dry heat!

Since it's not easy (or enjoyable in the least) to wash clothes by hand, we've found a few ways to manage.  Luckily, it seems this might be the same way that native Azeris cope too.
  • You wear the same outfit all week long.  If you only have one set of clothes, you have less to wash.  (We've adopted this strategy through keen observation.)
  • You only wash the clothes that you really need.  For example, only the smelliest, dirtiest clothes get a rinse.  Otherwise, you can probably get another week or two out of 'em!
  • Since doing laundry uses 3 buckets of water, especially in the winter, we want to conserve as much as possible, since we're never really sure when our tank might thaw out and be ready to pump again.
  • Finally, hand washing is a back-breaking endeavor that makes your hands sore and raw.  Fee free to try it out and let me know what you think!

    Blue buckets for laundry/dishes and potential bucket baths.  
    Gas water heater in the right corner.

    Washing Dishes
    Up until this last really cold spell, we've had plenty of water in our house to wash dishes.  But, there's no hot water unless you've had the outside bathroom water heater on for several hours.  Currently, our strategy is to take our dishes out to the bathroom and wash 'em out there.  Last week, it took nearly 3 hours total to wash all the dirty dishes because we could only rinse so much before the "thawed out" water ran out.  Luckily, we have all those Coke bottles filled with back-up water.

    Our kitchen sink
    In the summer, we could shower or rinse nearly every day if we chose, and there really wasn't even the need to turn on the water heater.  Now, we shower about every 3-4 days (which is a huge improvement from a year ago, when it was every 7-9 days).  With the cold and the winter/frozen water situation, I have a much greater appreciation for water in general.  I've realized how convenient it is when everything works properly and barely have to think about a thing at all.  Now, everything associated with water involves multiple steps, which can make life really tough.  I've also come to understand some of the large discrepancies between homes, even on our own street.  Our former host family (on the same street as us, just a block down) had running water all the time, and could keep the faucet on full blast so nothing would freeze; we have a tank but can only fill it twice a day; and others have yard spigots to fill up water containers; and some families must wait for a water truck to come fill up the tanks in their homes.  (I'm sure I'm missing a few, but you get the point.)  There aren't always consistent ways to receive this life-sustaining source of water, so you're forced to always have a back-up plan (and a back-up to your back-up plan).  Now we just need to get through February (which is the coldest month of the year here in Quba), and then I can start to consider what water/conservation differences Joey and I might be able to make once we finish our service and return to America at the end of the year.  My challenge to you all is this: appreciate your water!  Are there any changes you'd like to make in your own water usage?

    Monday, January 23, 2012

    Back in 2011

    In efforts to jump full swing into 2012, I thought I might need to back track a little bit and tell you how we wrapped up 2011. I'd even say we ended with a bang... or at least sparklers!

    As many of you know, Azerbaijan is a Muslim country and does not celebrate Christmas. As I have learned from the people who surround me, during the Soviet era religion was altogether banned, however more secular holidays were allowed. With that, there are many similarities to a traditional American Christmas and how Azeris ring in the New Year. The last week of the year there are decorated trees, little lights, and a joyous energy of the anticipation of Santa Claus (or as he's known here, Shaxta Baba) bringing the children a gift or two. One of the more surprising areas of Azeri celebration is that young boys typically throw firecrackers, either into a large crowd or just in the general direction of anybody walking by. (This is NOT a tradition I plan on adding upon our return home.) BUT, there a handful of very popular Christmas songs here that are inexplicably sung in English. All in all, the secular American Christmas feels a lot like how the locals celebrate New Year's Eve here in Azerbaijan!

    Since Christmas and New Year's was fast approaching, I decided to share a little bit about our American culture and create a party for all of my students. In preparation, we made decorations such as a paper chain, paper snowflakes, ornaments for our silver tree, and reindeer out of feet and hand cut-outs (in addition to our holiday tree stained-glass project from last month). I use the term "holiday tree" because it was not only a Christmas tree, but also a New Year tree... a little bit of cultural acceptance and integration!

    For the party, my adult counterparts got really excited about this event too. They strung up lights from their own homes, helped prepare a balloon pilar, set up music and speakers, and helped prepare tea. It was quite nice to see how all generations got so excited for this party. I even had one student bring a full size cake, extra decorations and masks.

    The event itself was pretty amazing, since over 45 students arrived right on time, got dressed up, brought treats to share with our tea, socialized and had FUN! It was quite an amazing feeling to be the only one in that room who knew every person there, and then encouraged this community to get to know each other more! (Of course, the groups stuck together. Yes, they are still teenagers.)

    What I learned: If I let go of how I want things to go, everything works so much better! Because I was able to relinquish a lot of control of the outcome, this event became something so special to everyone involved. In general, there are a lot "parties" that are intended to be for adults or televised (which in turn can get a little stiff), but since this was only for them, these kids could be kids!

    Highlights from Christmas:
    • A student brought in his family's silver tree to help liven up our room
    • "Hillary, can you please come to my home for O Holy Night?" An invitation from one of my students to join her family for Christmas dinner. And boy did we feast!
    • "Happy x-mas to you and happy birthday to Jesus. Let the Jesus makes your life amazing, divine. Let him gives to you only good things." Another text from one of my students.
    • "May the spirit of love gently fill ur heart and home in the loveliest of seasons may u find reasons 4 happiness. I wish u a Merry Christmas." A text from my Azeri teacher.
    • A group of students saying this was the best party they had ever been to

    Without all the hubub of Christmas advertising, I think that the Azeris in my life get it. They get the meaning of Christmas like the way I get the meaning of Ramadan. I don't know every religious component there is to know about that Muslim holiday, but I understand the intention, the openness and interest in helping a foreigner feel welcome. The Azeris in my life have made an effort to make me feel welcome in my community to celebrate my own holiday with them. My wish for the world is to have the inclusion, love and openness that my community has for me / Joey and I / foreigners / other religions / America / all the people in the world. We make a difference here. We make a difference in our own hearts and in the hearts of those we let in.

    Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Monday, January 16, 2012

    Confused Roosters

    Lately, I've noticed in the middle of the night how the roosters just start crowing. There are a few things that I'm considering for this rooster confusion.
    1) It could be that our neighbors just got a rooster or he just grew up enough to get his really loud pipes.
    2) We recently had a full moon
    3) Everyone just goes a little crazy, including roosters, in the Winter
    4) And of course, a combination of all 3 and even things I've not yet considered.

    So the other night when the neighbor rooster started its crowing around 2am, and it was loud enough to wake me up, I began thinking about the above ideas and how I might just be a confused rooster too. I still feel new, and will likely continue to feel new until the moment I leave Azerbaijan. I'm not sure how moons effect me but it was a tough week to be me last week. There wasn't anything particularly bad going on but simply feeling like my attitude was going down the 'American style toilet', thanks to hours of working on reports and them disappearing, a mouse or mice in the house and a surprise unplanned travel day. Also, this rooster gave me the ability to realize how cold it gets in the middle of the night, yet knowing we get to deal with the cold until May.

    So, as you can tell, this rooster call did not put me in the best frame of mind. And for those of you that have woken me up in the middle of the night, you know, I'm not the nicest version of myself. What's a girl to do?


    On Sunday I was invited to another PCVs home for a yoga lesson since she has a strong passion and a great ability to teach. Even jumping into the 1/2 full minivan (marshrutka) to get to the bus to ride for 45 minutes and then walk for 15 minutes, I was still feeling a little off and I was really hoping yoga would re-something me. I noticed 2 women wave the driver down and practically run toward the van (women rarely run here, especially in their heals and long fur coats). I recognized one of the woman as she entered the van, said our hellos and sat quietly for the short trip. When she got off at the bazaar, she put her hand on my knee and sweetly said to me, "I paid for your ride, Hillary" and got off with her friend. I was nearly in tears as I sat by myself in the first row thinking that even though I had been having a few low days, I am still a part of this community, people know me and respect me and I want to be the best version of myself for this community.

    So even as confused as the roosters are, and as confused as I will periodically get, I just need to remember that simple kindness in this world, this country, this town and in my classroom can support and love me through it all!

    Also, I now know that yoga is awesome and it's a great physical feeling ESPECIALLY in these long winter months. If anything, my tremendous soreness will be a reminder to not fall back into grouchy mode for a while!