Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Summer is in full swing here in Quba, which means we are working diligently to divide our time between our Peace Corps obligations and stuffing ourselves with the amazing fruits and vegetables that are in season in Azerbaijan.  Many Azeris take time off during the summer, to visit family and get out of the heat... but here we are, hurling toward August, and we're knee-deep in our summer curriculum, which includes English lessons, sports club, and our weekly arts group.  But in a way, life is much simpler now -- we teach our classes during the day, and relax and cool off at night.  We go through about 3 or 4 big watermelons a week.

We started off our summer with Son Zəng, the graduation or "last bell" ceremony at my school.  It was a great day to cap off my school year -- the kids were all dressed up, awards were given, and everyone was generally in good spirits.  It was the second and last graduation I'll have here in Quba, and it was a good one.

Dancing at our Son Zəng party
Son Zəng celebration at my school
My girls are pumped for summer to start!

We jumped right into our summer class schedule, which includes English lessons for kids of all ages: kindergarten, elementary school, high school, and Hillary's ongoing courses with a group of girls at the local education college -- they'll all be English teachers next year, but this is the first time they've ever spoken English out loud.  (She comes home exhausted but very proud from these classes.)  Our art club is still going strong, and we've done a lot of fun projects with the kids: coasters/hot pads made from re-purposed milk and juice containers, necklace beads made from magazine page strips, animals made from clean trash, and of course, friendship bracelets.  Twice a week, we take the kids outside, where we play a barrage of games like Red Rover, Marco Polo, and Red Light Green Light.  They also love frisbees as well as freeze tag, whose name is actually the Azeri word for ice cream.

(Oh yeah, we eat lots of ice cream too!)

Our kids going crazy with paper and glue during art club
Homemade coasters and pot-holders made from recycled materials!

But it's not all just time in the classroom -- we've hosted a handful of our fellow PCVs as they travel around the country.  We recently ended up with 4 of our friends sleeping on our floor after a night of pizza, guitar, and great conversation.  (Sadly, our toilet was a bit worse for the wear, as 6 Americans in one spot is a tough gig.)  Regardless, we're proud of our community and any chance we get to show off the connections we've made with those around us.

Hanging out with our fellow Peace Corps Volunteers
Talking and laughing with other Volunteers

The greatest guests we had, though, were undoubtedly Hillary's mom and sister Allison.  They made it via Germany and The Netherlands, and spent a couple of days with us in Baku before arriving "back home" to Quba.  Their visit was incredible, and they were amazing sports with everything we threw at them: typical 4-hour-long "guesting" experiences at Azeri homes, extended hikes up to local waterfalls, trekking through Old City and Park Boulevard in Baku, and an impromptu birthday party at Hillary's office.  With every step they took, they soaked up the culture around them, asking us insightful questions each evening.  They didn't complain about our meager living situation, nor did they balk at our toilet/shower setup.  Even better, they got a real taste of Azerbaijani cuisine, and I'm sure they'll be a great help to us when we get back to America and the rest of the family is clamoring for some authentic Azeri food.

Hillary, Gail, and Allison during a quick moment
of quiet during their visit to Azerbaijan
Gail and Allison get to know Nərmin, one of Hillary's greatest students
An enormous, wonderful meal at the home of Hillary's counterpart, Aycamal
The Smith women with a delightful bread baker in Old City Baku

Otherwise, we've been taking each day as it comes, often comparing our experiences this summer to how things were for us last year... of course we understand things better, and our language is more up to speed, so we can communicate more effectively, but overall there's more a sense of belonging, of community.  Perhaps the novelty of the wacky Americans has leveled off?  Some things never change, though... The screaming baby has returned to our landlord's home next door, giving us numerous chances for what my father Bob refers to as "an opportunity for personal growth."  I've added some David Bowie and Pavement songs into the setlists for my nightly guitar concerts.  We're staying cool by staying indoors and reading a lot of good books and catching up on old movies and TV shows.

We do have a couple of big events to look forward to: in August we'll finally take the trip to neighboring Georgia, where we'll spend 3 days in the capital city of Tbilisi.  (Most PCVs save money by going together in a big group, and share a room in a hostel... but I maintain that I am too old for a bunk bed, and I insisted on a hotel room with A/C and free wifi.)  In early September, we'll host our first Quba summer camp, featuring such activities as creating animal masks and making a movie, doing an egg-drop just like in science class, as well as yoga and improv games.  Wish us luck, because we'll need it!

In the meantime, we'll cool off with fizzy water and giant watermelons, and we'll keep on straight through the end of summer.  We've got less than 4 months here in Azerbaijan, and we're determined to make 'em count.  See ya soon!


  1. Now I don't feel so bad about the 1.5 watermelons I've been eating every week.

    I love the photos of you with the girls. So sweet!

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