Wednesday, May 27, 2009

my heros

don't know where to begin: the flight that never was

so much has happened i'm a little lost on where to start. i went on vacation to meet my parents in paris and that is the primary reason i haven't added much to this blog in so long. i had an amazing time with them and really got to relax. only now that i'm back in azerbaijan have i been able to appreciate how much more relaxed i am. i think i'm going to be a big advocate for pcvs taking sanity breaks.

should i begin with my flight fiasco or the fact that my sitemate, bev, and I received a 3,000 dollar grant? i don't know. i guess the flight fiasco...

well, i was booked for a 6:40am flight on airbaltic (latvian airline). i was going to the airport WAY too early because a fellow pcv wanted to arrive at 2:30am (don't ask). when i got there, apparently my flight had been canceled weeks earlier but NO ONE informed me. yes, my flight did not exist.
i word on azerbaijan's airport: it is a shell. there is no one there to really help you with information. in fact, you can't even really purchase the majority of airline tickets there. for some flights, you have to physically pick up a ticket in baku first. so, when push came to shove and my flight wasn't there, i had no one to help. people would start showing up to sell tickets for the azerbaijani airline, azel, at anywhere between 9am-11am. also, maybe later in the afternoon a turkish airlines representative would come by. whether or not they could actually sell me a ticket was up in the air.
and then there was tural. poor tural from sheki. this sweet 20 yearold kid had to take care of the hysterical and crying american girl with no where to go and tons of luggage weighing her down. what did i do? i called the head of peace corps security for translation help and advice. of course, he was on vacation, so i had to call his back up. given that it was about 3am, she didn't answer the phone. i wasn't happy.
luckily, around 3:30 am our head of security called while out of country and off duty to deal with my quasi emergency (if even that...). through talking to tural, jeyhun (head of security) told me that i would either have to go back into baku and he would get someone to open the peace corps office for me to stay in or i'd have to wait until about 9am to see what i could buy a ticket for. i agreed to do the latter. after all...pcvs have limited vacation days and I HAD TO SEE MY PARENTS. and no, i wasn't going to wait a day. i was going to go that day or bust.
tural felt bad for me so he kept trying to talk to me (in azeri of english) and kept buying me cups of tea. eventually his friends came to visit him and he told them of my absolute mess. They felt horrible for me. They also stuck around with me to see if they could help. They started to brainstorm with whatever knowledge of flights they had. Keep in mind these kids were night security...not ticket agents. Someone knew of a flight directly to paris saturday morning (this was thursday morning). NOPE. i had to go TODAY. someone else thought maybe there was a direct flight to london, but i'd have to travel into baku to get a physical ticket in the afternoon. NO...THERE MUST BE ANOTHER WAY.
I had hours and hours to kill.
I had to wake up another pcv, colleen, and get her into my email account to write my father an email explaining my dilemma. No one wants to be woken up at 4am to do such a thing, but she did it. THANK YOU COLLEEN!
I called my other pcv friend Mathias at 6am hoping he could look up connection information for me. After all, he had high speed internet access...and the airport did not. That is right, no connection information was available at the i had to just call people to do research.
Of course, Mathias's high speed was down.
but! Mathias, without my asking him, called his father in the US for help. His father did research for me and found out info about connections to paris from both istanbul and moscow. Mathias gave me detailed information about flight numbers and times. It started to become apparent that if i could just get to Turkey, then i had a shot in hell of getting to Paris. Three flights were leaving that day to Paris from Istanbul. Tickets were still on sale it seemed. I could not book them in advance, but hell i decided it was worth the shot. My new posse of Azeri friends decided this was my best bet and told Jeyhun's back up (Zamira...who was sick, but by now had noticed i called) that i ought to buy a ticket to Turkey first thing when the booth opened to try to catch the 10am flight. Thanks everyone!
Ticket booth opened at 8:30am. Everything is slow. I'm getting nervous.
But my Azeri friends refused to leave my side and guided me through the whole process thereby speeding everything up. They were with me to get my ticket, to check my luggage, to withdrawal cash when the first machine was broken (could only buy tickets with cash). They even took me to my gate. They stayed with me even after their shifts ended at crack o'clock in the morning. I'll never forget that.

I got to Istanbul and was able to buy a ticket to Paris for 1:45pm same day. No problems.

The airport kids kept writing me emails making sure I was ok. They even sent me a picture of themselves that i will upload to this blog.

So this was the story about getting TO paris....more later on actual vacation.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

fostering creativity

i suppose it has been a long while since i've last discussed azeri culture as seen through my eyes.

one thing i have noticed is that creativity is generally not fostered within azeri society. this is not to say that azeris do not believe in creativity's worth. instead, it just is not fostered. azerbaijan is homogeneous. i know what i'm about to write isn't particularly flattering, but i'm being honest. moving on...
from the childhood and through adulthood, azeris are in often encouraged to think creatively. when children draw, the draw what is real. i've hardly ever seen a child scribble abstractly. but of course, not many children worldwide do. however, most kids draw things having to do with azerbaijan and azerbaijani national pride, like the azeri flag. also, i have never seen any adult abstract art in country. i have visited a number of small H. Aliyev museums (there is at least one in EVERY CITY...he was the first president) with art present in it. no abstraction. i paint abstractly and when azeris see my paintings they are generally very encouraging, but also confused. they just have not seen anything like it before. many azeris know the term abstract, but it is still a new experience.

but what i've said above is hardly evidence. the most prominent evidence occurs in the classroom. i teach children to use computer software. while teaching Word i cannot just say "type something. anything". I've tried it many times. when i say "type anything" the result is that each child types nothing. they cannot comprehend the idea of typing "just anything". they need to be told what to type. so then i have to make it up for them.

CED volunteers often encounter the problem of NO WORK. as a result, the CED volunteer must make her own work. firstly, organizations in azerbaijan generally have difficulty thinking creatively about what to do with their volunteers. until the volunteer came, everyone had their pre-prescribed positions. everyone knows their job and they are not really trying to think creatively about how to do it better...which poses as a challenge when the volunteer tries to shake things up. in azerbaijan, people really tend to stick to what is known: comfortable hierarchies, comfortable presidential families (they just voted to eliminate presidential term limits here recently and thereby chipped away at it's democracy because power here stays in the family), and comfortable sex role norms.

why is this the case? i have a couple amateur theories: post-soviet culture and passivity.
i honestly don't know that much about the soviet union. however, azerbaijan is the second ex-soviet culture i've lived in (the first was prague). it appears to me that there was something so stifling about the soviet union that people take time to warm up again. something about the soviet union was cold and rigid. clearly, hieirchies and bribery were an intricate part of the soviet union. and as i've already experienced in azerbaijan, there is something incredibly defeatist about corruption and bribery. why think creatively about how best to run organizations, governments, and institutions if those on top of the hieirchy will stymie your efforts? the people at the top feel they have nothing to gain from the change. So why think creatively if it will not be properly valued?

passivity: from my experience, azerbaijani culture is rather passive. one reason for the passivity might be that azerbaijan is a geopolitical hotspot...people always seem to be invading or parceling the land off. people here don't really confront one another when there are problems. instead there is a lot of qualified speach and passive aggressive behaviour. a lot of behind the door judgments. on the one hand, azerbaijani culture is incredibly hospitable and welcoming. on the other hand, that doesn't mean the welcomed guests are not being judged thoroughly.

well, those are just my honest thoughts. sorry if they are offensive...especially to any azeris who might read this blog. just please know that of course this does not apply to everyone. not every single person in any one culture is the same. these are just my overall cultural impressions.