Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Class of 2012

(My fellow PCV Josh in the nearby town of Xachmaz has already made this comparison recently, but I'd like to take it a bit deeper.)

Right now, the weather has warmed up, the kids in Quba are having a tough time sitting still in class, and Hillary and I are working on our summer plans.  We're in a transition, teetering right on the edge between a very tough winter and a summer full of activities and travel - lots of discussions about what will happen, thinking about how we'll finish up our big projects, and the best ways to gracefully leave our community and head back home to America.  We know we've got a lot of work in front of us, but we can see the end up ahead.

I thought a lot about the significance of this point in our service, and it reminded me a lot of how I felt right before I started my senior year of college.  In fact, the traditional four years of university are a pretty good metaphor for what we go through in our Peace Corps service:

We left Durham on a high note, reeling from a great send-off from friends and family; we had done a tremendous amount of work to get through the official Peace Corps selection process, and when the time came to finally start our adventure, everyone back home sent us off with love and support.  We felt great about who we were -- so let's call this point high school graduation.

An amazing night with our wonderful friends

But things moved quickly… We met the rest of our group at the orientation training in Philadelphia, made new friends, and immediately flew to Azerbaijan.  We settled into our temporary communities for pre-service training, where we spent the next ten weeks fumbling through language classes, falling into and off of buses, and woefully attempting to speak Azeri.  We were hungry, sad, confused, and disappointed.  Clearly, we were working through our freshman year.

My language class for pre-service training

We passed our final language exams, finished our student teaching, and were sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers at the end of training.  We packed our bags and drove out to our permanent community of Quba.  After a housing mishap (we were originally dropped off at the wrong house), we made it to our host family home where we spent the next 4 months.  December through April are the toughest months in our region of the country, and we spent most of our time working to stay warm, understand our jobs, and settle into our new community.  We kind of knew what we were doing, we had some autonomy, but there were a lot of mistakes and learning moments.  Sophomore year, absolutely.

Hillary's office
The park at the Quba town square
The "40 Stairs" at our local Nizami Park

In April, we found a small duplex and moved into our first independent housing.  The difference it made was enormous - we come and go as we please, we cook all our own food, and our time is our own.  Even better was the fact that once the weather warmed up, all our neighbors came out of their houses to say hello… we met the kids first, which led to great conversations with their parents.  We had an amazing summer full of fun classes at Hillary's office, travel to other regions for summer camps, delicious meals made with local fruits and veggies, and late nights playing guitar for the kids.  Hillary and I started to better understand our roles within the community, what we could do, and how we could do it.  She's done an incredible job with her English classroom, and my Azeri counterparts at my school finally seem to understand what my job is and how we can work together as a team.  (I'm just now approaching the point where I can make jokes with my counterparts, and they understand and joke back.)  We've done a lot, but we're aware that the end of our service is coming sooner rather than later.  It's the same feeling I got at the end of junior year.

Some of our girls at the Yevlax summer camp last year
Rocking out with our neighbor kids
Joey Z's Famous Chicken Fangers
Hillary Z's Famous Pizza

And so here we are, poring over our calendar to determine which weeks we'll have our English lessons, when we'll do our Quba summer camp, when we'll travel to Tbilisi Georgia, and what we'd like to accomplish before our time really is up.  We're extremely excited about what's in store for us -- art projects, softball games with local kids, visits from Hillary's mom and sister, work with other PCVs on different camps, and everything in between.  We've done a lot already, but we've got this feeling that the best is yet to come.

We're ready for our senior year.

Our crazy neighbor boys
Leyla rocks out!
Our kids having a blast with a homemade English word matching game