Tuesday, September 30, 2008

my family in tagiyev

so, i'm here! woohoo. i've begun my three months of pct (peace corps training). i have school everyday (language) and then most days i have courses more related to being a CED (community economic development). we have been broken up into clusters of 4-5 people. i'm with three other ladies...of which i am the youngest. the other ladies' ages reach upwards of 49 years.

my internet situation is not figured out yet, but for now you can reach me via phone. in other words, if you email me at this address: alexistentialism@yahoo.com, i can read and respond through my phone! very exciting. as for mail: my town has not received mail since soviet times. yep. nuts, right? so i have to pick up packages every once in a while from our central pct location (sumgayit).

sooooooo, my family: i live with a mom (menim anam) a father (atam...which means father, but his name is mohammad) and two sisters (menim iki bajim). the sisters are in their twenties and the family is pretty progressive. one sister speaks some english (AWESOME) and we help each other. my family seems more russian/soviet style in culture than asian. i live in a soviet style living apartment situation. so i'm not in a house. i have a flushing toilet and a shower type situation. also, i've explained that all meat eating = hospital time for me and now i've got some amazing veggie stuff coming my way. its sooooooooo good. i love it. veggie dolma with greek/turkish style yogurt! come on. mmmmmmmm. so, thus far i'm lucky. however, i'm still stressed out because living in someone's else's home is really hard for me. as most of you know, i'm used to taking care of myself and being very independent. living in someone's elses home makes me super anxious. luckily, my family has had two volunteers before me, so they understand where i'm coming for far more clearly. i get space and i can paint etc. though, they are shocked i paint...but in a good way.

my town is small. very small. it is on the caspian sea. every day i hear the muslim call to prayer three times. its incredibly beautiful and i think that it brings my community together in a cultural way....which is not necessarily religious. its communal music. right now it is ramadan and there are celebrations. my family is not religious, but they had a semi (for them?) formal dinner in celebration. though, it was very laid back. my anam mentioned allah, but just in passing, e.g. "thank allah that blah blah blah". american atheists even do the same, right?
outside my home i see cows just walking around like people. it is kind of hilarious. same goes with chickens, cats, and dogs. there is NO trash collection. none. it is so very polluted and the animals are just eating it all the time. though, the cats seem happy.

i have a LCF (language cultural facilitator). he teaches all our classes (us 4 ladies) and helps us to get around and aclimate. he is around my age and has spent some time in the US. he got a scholarship from the state department for college and so he has gone to the US for college and therefore understands a lot about english and american culture. this is a huge benefit to my group. so again, i got lucky. our school is pretty rundown, but perfect for photography. i can't wait to upload my pictures.
some cultural things: NO LOOKING MEN IN THE EYE if you don't know them. booo. so hard for us americans. i walk around ignoring every eyeball. and i notice, azeris don't do that for each other too...they don't look eachother in the eye either when just walking around. also: NO smiling at men. ugh. this one kills me: it is very agains the culture to show the small of your back when you bend over. this is especially hard for me. apparently, with my low cut pants i am the equivalent of butt crack city, so i have to be very cautious. not that anything will happen to me, but....still. oh, and NO CROSSING LEGS! this one bothers my back constantly.
this cultural note is interesting: bread is sacred. so the bread cannot touch the ground. if it falls to the ground, you kiss it and put it elsewhere. if you find bread on the ground, you ought to pick it up and put it on something. so, you will find bread in trees, etc. however, you can just feed the bread to the birds. thats ok.

yesterday, i entered a mosque for the first time. it is a shia mosque. our lcf explained how one tells the difference. this was very exciting for me.....it seems like muslim culture here is sort of like what christianity is for most people in the states: casual. not necessarily religious as much as it is cultural...like celebrating christmas without going to the church.

this place is incredibly polluted. trash is everywhere. you can't escape it. there is no trash pick up in most of the country...though they just began it in a couple of places. i don't think i'll be able to adjust to this fact. but, i can live beside it.

azerbaijan is the crossroads of the world. people look asian, middle eastern, and russian. people are conservative and yet casual. it looks european and sometimes very very central asian. this is a cultural of everything and nothing like anything i've even heard of before. azerbaijan has been conquered repeatedly by east and west alike. i'm not in either the east or the west. i'm in both and yet neither. i'm in azerbaijan. it is very exciting and very hard...just because i've never had to adjust so much to not being in control of my own person so much before. but this will change. i think my culture shock came early.

i miss you all. please right me :) and don't worry....all is well.

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