Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I Finally Have A Little Brother!

June 1st was a big day. Emin (Ay-meen) turned 15 years old.

When we arrived in Guba a year and half ago,  Emin was our silly, skinny, 13-year-old host brother. For the first few days at the house, Emin and his older brother Ayaz borrowed their uncle's computer that had a English translation/speaking program on it, and Emin loved to just type away. With the click of a button, Azeri words were quickly translated into stiff, robot-sounding spoken English. Once the computer was returned, Emin would sit directly next to me on the couch and simply stare at me. While he would think of things to say, he would make sounds like the cookie monster (nom nom nom), but he'd stop without saying anything and then continue staring.

As time went on we realized that he could actually speak English, and with a little nurturing, we learned that he could speak English very well but lacked some confidence and feared mistakes.  I think he was surprised when he realized he actually knew how to speak so well. After our 4 month stay with his family, Joey and I decided to move out into our own home, which did not make Emin very happy, since we seemed to make the household much more exciting for him and he really enjoyed our company.

In a relatively short period, we had learned that he loves the Azeri pop singer Roya, is amazingly sensitive, and has a good knack of intuition. He also loves Santa Claus, loves to make Novruz bonfires as we welcome in Spring, and loves to walk around town being embarrassed if people notice us.

New Year's 2010
Christmas celebration 2011
Novruz bonfire 2011

Once we were out on our own, Emin began to visit us on a daily basis (which continues to this day), and our relationship has really deepened. We sit on the couch (not staring at each other) and have honest discussions about life in Azerbaijan, life in America, life as a kid, and his own life aspirations -- a pretty big leap from our conversations when we were at his home. He participates in my conversation clubs at work, and he's had the opportunity to attend ABLE, a leadership camp for Azeri boys. He came back from ABLE with a new and excited energy to give back to his community. He still remained shy, and it took a lot of energy to encourage him to step out and be a leader among the youth in our community. Soon, he began to prepare for the biggest opportunity in his life, the exam for the FLEX program, which provides full scholarship for a one year study abroad experience in America to high school students from post-Soviet countries. Emin made it through each of the 3 separate rounds, which is an amazing accomplishment especially since it was his first attempt. Even though he did not receive an invitation, this opportunity gave him something he didn't know he could learn. This opened his eyes to knowing he can do more.

  Don't get me wrong, Emin is totally a teenage boy -- but he is an amazing kid. He trusts us and we trust him. He's sensitive. He's silly. He's sometimes lazy and sometimes motivated beyond belief. I've learned when he wants to bring up a difficult subject that he needs a little time to feel comfortable. Over the last year we've had lots of conversations about the pros and cons of attending University. (Generally the University exams are extremely difficult to pass, and it requires a significant amount of expensive tutoring.) A year ago, Emin was certain he would finish high school at 9th form and go to a technical college, but now he is motivated to complete high school and pursue a University education so he can become an official community leader, give back to Azerbaijan and be an inspiration to other young people around him. He recognizes the importance and significance of education, and wants to make the effort! I honestly don't know what impact Joey and I have had on this young man, but we just keep poking away at the meaning of his questions, we try to dig a little deeper and keep asking questions back to him. (My Biogen Idec training continues to come in handy.) 

Waterfall in Guba region
Days before his 15th birthday
June 1st has come and gone and Emin is now15 years old. He's grown so much in the last year and a half, in both height and the depth of his thinking. He loves to make jokes. He tells us we've helped him understand his dreams for the future, and we all get a little sad when we think about November when it'll be time for us to pack up and head home. By far, he has been the best part of my life in Azerbaijan, and I'm certain he'll be be what I will remember most when I return home...  AND with current day technology, he won't really ever be that far away. He certainly has a lot of things going against him at times, but Joey and I truly hope that we've given him more self-confidence to fight for what he believes in, to surround himself with people who have similar motivations & drives in life, and to find the people who will love him for who he is and not what they think he should be.

Happy Birthday Emin! You are what makes Azerbaijan great!

Emin's 14th birthday party with Mother and cousin.

Emin's 15th birthday in Baku with Michael and Joey