Wednesday, February 25, 2009

more and more videos

here is the video of when i first went to su ambar (resevoir). mingechevir is the only city in azerbaijan that can enjoy relatively (?) clean swimming and a gigantic "lake" of sorts. i can't wait to hang out there during the summer.
also in this video: my sitemate kim


novrus, ethics, and videos...oh my

i finally figured out a way to upload videos. i hope. let me know if it doesn't work....
SO please check out this hilarious (for me, maybe not for you) video of day 1: Novruz. Novruz is the Azerbaijani new year. it is not a religious holiday, but a traditional one. The official big day is the spring solstice (march 21). this holiday involves a lot of kabob and date eating and the jumping over of small fires. i especially like this latter part. please see the following video if you'd like to see my host dad, brother, and mom jump over our own little fire:
Basically, for the 4 Tuesdays (starting at sundown) leading up to the spring solstice, Azerbaijanis celebrate through eating with friends and family and bonfires. I'm sure there are some other things involved and I will relay that information to you all in due time.
here is a video of menim novbem (my turn) over the fire:

on another note, this morning was interesting for a couple of reasons. first, when i went to go get breakfast, i noticed the presence of two strangers: a woman and a young girl. i could tell immediately that they were not wealthy individuals. when i greeted them, the mother (i assume?) began saying something that almost sound like a prayer (...Allah...something something). my host mother sort of intervened and told me to go ahead into the kitchen. as i walked into the kitchen my host mom was walking out with plates of cake and food for the visitors. in other words, my host mom invited two kasib (poorer people) into her home and was feeding them. it was one of the most simple and kind gestures i've observed in a while. i also felt absolutely strange, as a peace corps worker, to be sitting at the breakfast table with an elaborate breakfast spread out before me. after all, i thought i was here in order to help people...but apparently, i'm fine dining with the rich! i'd be a fool to complain about good luck, but the moment was surreal. i did not choose my host family and i did not choose mingechevir. i did not know i'd be placed in such nice surroundings. i'm grateful, but i know i can't get lost in it either. i've got to emulate my host mom and find more simple ways to help people. also, i hope to copy her behaviour when i return to the states. every once in a while, I'd like to feed someone who needs it. ok ok...i'm rambling. "do good" blah blah blah. you get the point :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

host family yard, gate, and hamam (bathroom)

fruit trees and vines! beautiful home...

hamam straight ahead. shower room is separated from toilet room. a norm for azerbaijan. silver doors: garage. notice the high walls compounding the home. also a norm

soviets on my street!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

DING DING DING! battle one. gather round

i'm living in a muslim culture that isn't really religious as much as it is patriarchal. sometimes, i'm not sure it is so much patriarchal as it is sexually timid and afraid.
here is my situation.... in azerbaijan, you can't just throw people in a car. there are certain seating arrangements that must be followed for purely cultural reasons (it is not law). men sit next to men, women sit next to women, and basically no women drive. although, technically, it IS legal. SO...that means women always sit in the back seat. however, there are exceptions. For example: if there are 3 men and one women, then well...someone must sit next to the lady.
At lunch I get driven home by my branch manager. he drives me, this guy named a----, and sometimes another (married) woman named s----. Recently, I nabbed the front seat because I was there first. Consequently, A---- yelled at me and said that in azerbaijan women sit behind men in the car and that i ought to do the same. He also told me that in america men and women might be equal, but that is not the case in azerbaijan. I told him he was bad and that this cultural situation is bad (damn my sorry language skills). Today, I got shotgun again. I got in. Admittedly, I knew what was coming. However, I should also mention, that since that first incident, I have also sat in the backseat again. Moving on: A---- wouldn't let it go. He yelled and yelled. I asked the driver if it was ok for me to sit in the front seat, the driver was uncomfortable with the whole situation and laughing, but said "ok, sit". But no. A---- opened up the door where i was sitting and kept yelling at me. He mentioned the fact that S---- was coming. so, this was now a mixing of the genders situation. i decided, "screw this", jumped up, and declared i wouldn't ride in the car at all and that i was going to take a public bus. i went to the corner and did precisely that.
When i came back to work, my counterpart and my branch manager politely tried to explain the cultural situation to me. I tried to politely explain that i actually UNDERSTOOD, but that I did NOT AGREE. literally, my counterpart even drew me a diagram of a car to help explain. No no no...i UNDERSTAND, but i DON'T AGREE. The branch manager eventually left the room to go back to work. My counterpart started to raise his voice a little at me...perhaps he was getting mad. I told him him, again, that I understood and that i did not agree. He explained to me that i'm in a Muslim culture. I asked him if the Koran actually says women must not sit next to men in cars. He said no. I asked if there was any real reason, besides being culturally inappropriate, for not sitting next to men in a car. The answer again, was no. I then told him I no longer wanted rides home from my branch manager (A---- is always in the car too). He didn't understand why. I had to explain that I too had principles and that my principle was not to accept this.

I'll be honest here. I'm not positive that I'm right. But, I consciously made my choice about how to act. So in the end, I agree with my actions. Ways in which i could be wrong/insensitive (not exhaustive) include: Well, I don't want to force men and women to be in situations that would indicate to their neighbors they are loose or inappropriate with people from the opposite sex. Hence, the mixing of the gender thing. Not that I agree that mixing genders in a car points to inappropriateness, but i can't force my co-workers into that situation. It could upset their husbands, children, etc. It isn't my place. However, I agree with myself for making a point over something seemingly little. Things don't change until a new light is shed on it. Maybe i was making a mountain out of an ant hill. maybe this was too arbitrary of a fight to pick. or maybe not. i have to face the challenges that actually come to me.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

peace to all mankind? umm

i've been hiding in goychay, but i guess i'll return to my regular life today. my great friend katis on vacation and has allowed me to stay at her apt for a couple days by myself. it has been really nice and very reclusive.
so the strange sighting: there is a family of all white doves next to her apt. so i saw three white doves yesterday. i guess that means all wars are about to stop. finally!

Monday, February 9, 2009

hara gedirsen?

last saturday was a beautiful day. the sun was out, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and it was warm enough to wander around outside without a coat. that morning my sitemates and i helped Bev, our amazing 76 year old pcv in ming...this lady is hilarious and great, move to her new apartment. unfortunately, bev had a bat infestation problem at her old apt and was told to move right away. lucky for bev, she found one in a great location.
later in the day, i decided it was too beautiful to stay hidden inside. i decided to go running in the afternoon for the first time while in azerbaijan. generally, PC asks PCVs to only run during the morning in order to minimize the attention we draw to ourselves. But, i know that the road i run on is pretty deserted and my neighborhood relatively safe. So, i went running...and it was amazing. first of all, i got to run in a t-shirt. i think that's an AZ first for me. Secondly, my body is used to running in the afternoons and not the mornings and so i experienced this amazing sense of de ja vu. i felt like i was in the united states during spring...and this made me feel, how do i put home.
a couple of other funny things happened too. a bunch of boys decided to run with me. of course they didn't last that long, but it was funny while it lasted. also, instead of staring at me in amazement, almost every kid i pass now asks me "hara gedirsen?" (where are you going?). so, while running with these three boys they kept asking me where i was going until finally one of them asked "idman?" Bingo! Idman uchun (for sport). even this morning a little girl asked me if i was running to the store and now i have my canned fast azeri response: "I..D..M..A..N...saq ol!"
when i run i make a gigantic loop (i run to a dead end and back). On my way back, i passed two girls for the second time. When they saw me coming, they too decided to try running. Unlike the younger boys before, these girls tried running ahead of me. They got tired, walked a little, and then kept running again. This really pleased me. I've started to think i'm valuable to azerbaijani society just because i'm weird and different, and not necessarily because of the projects i work on. this is not because i think my american customs and idiosyncrasies are right and azerbaijani habits wrong, but because i introduce the new and the different. in order for any two groups of people to get along, they need to learn to accept basic differences. otherwise, we'll all be at each others' throats. tolerance is a value, but it is also learned. people need to be exposed to what is foreign in order to grow comfortable with it. although it can be difficult for me to be treated like every little thing i do is weird, being weird is probably the most important thing i can do right now. So, despite much appreciated PC advice regarding cultural integration, right now i'm experimenting with just being myself. cautiously myself anyways. i don't pretend to be in NYC, that would be ridiculous.

Friday, February 6, 2009

me = adult

last weekend i was surrounded by sick az6s. and now i have a cold. it is a cultural thing here to constantly tell me what to eat and wear. my mother can be my witness on this one: this annoys the crap out of me. especially when sick. I AM AN ADULT! it is crazy to me...after all, i'm 26. how did i survive all thesee years if i didn't know how to feed myself or how to dress?

serenity now......SERENITY NOW!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

siyazan-a, and back

this past weekend i traveled to siyazan, a town two hours north (by marshrutka--crazy minibus), to visit my friend danielle. my wonderful and oh so lazy friend danielle has not left her site since getting there (dec 10) and so i had to make the 9 hour journey for the sake our sacred friendship. danielle and i were not in the same training cluster, but we are both in CED (had CED trainings together) and I was moved to her language courses during the second half of my we spent a lot of time together and i was experiencing withdrawl symptoms. ANYHOW, the ride to siyazan is a pain. oh my is it a pain. i can only imagine how annoying it is to go even further north (here's looking at you xachmaz and quba). first, i left at 8am to take a 6 hour marshrutka ride to baku. picture bumpy roads. picture going super fast through foggy switchbacks (if you are geri cohen, then don't picture this part). imagine being seated over a wheel so i have less leg space. OH, and there is this amazing phenomenon with marshrutkas: they are made for individuals that have no knees. i find this striking because thus far, every azerbaijani i've met indeed HAS their knees. go figure.
after arriving in baku, i had to get out and find another marshrutka headed to siyazan. there is this mystical "other" bus stop in baku. i looked for it, but i was not considered by the marshrutka gods to be one of the deserving...i couldn't find it. however, looking for this marshrutka requires walking around this gigantic traffic circle in baku that has NO lights, pedestrian walk ways, or sympathy for people using their legs. in general, i am an angry angry pedestrian. in fact, i am a self righteous pedestrian from my boulder and brooklyn days. so this is hard to take.
eventually i found a bus headed to quba and asked to get dropped off in siyazan. and woah and behold, maybe 9 hours later....siyazan!
however, don't be fooled. it was worth it. i was not the only person visiting danielle and her sitemate julia that weekend. a group of really wonderful az6s came up to and i had a great time seeing them. we even had a talent show that required my learning how to shot gun a beer. i am so talented! but, not nearly as talented as tim.....
moving on. the next day, the entire mountain finger in siyazan's area come for their monthly potluck. There are three "mountain fingers" in azerbaijan. these are mountain areas that jut either northward or westward and are somewhat separated from azerbaijan's mainland (ming is in the mainland closest to the sheki--zaqatala finger). it appears mostly CEDs live in the quba-sizayan finger and so i got pst reminisce, talk shop, and eat burittos. ain't nothing wrong with that.