Saturday, August 29, 2009

My favorite art in Azerbaijan

I hate to say it, but there isn't much art on display in Azerbaijan. There is a lot of nationalistic art and it all usually likes alike. There are different types of national music, like mugham, and it doesn't really creatively develop over time. Instead, Azerbaijanis work hard to preserve what they consider a tradition. The visual arts don't really exist from what I can tell. Every city has a museum devoted to Azerbaijan's first president, Ilham Aliyev, and the art inside is almost always representational of nationally approved scenes from Azerbaijan: fields, national landmarks, etc.

There are a couple of surprises. One surprise is the now defunt and currently decomposing ex-Soviet bus stops all over the country. I'm having a hard time finding research on the subject...why it is that the Soviet Union spent so much time on its bus stops. Azerbaijan is not the only country to showcase elaborate mosiacs and random statues seemingly in the middle of nowhere just to highlight the existance of a bus stop. Bus stop art is all over the Soviet Union. Anyhow, I have posted some pictures of bus stops I found with two other friends, Colleen (Azerbaijan PCV) and Azra (German ex-pat working in Baku). All these stops were found between two cities close to one another, Goychay - Adgash. Actually, the second is hardly a city at all.

soviet somethin sumthin again...

soviet bus stop art 4

soviet bus stops 3

soviet bus stop art 2

soviet bus stop art 1

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

tools for learning, grant received, computers installed

The day finally arrived: Bev and I's SPA (Small Project Assistance) grant came through and due to our hard efforts five new computers and one new printer-scanner were installed. We wrote the grant in order to improve upon an already in place computer lab for women. It is taboo for women in Azerbaijan to enter most internet clubs because they are usually overrun by young boys playing video games. Thanks to centers like ours, women can feel free to come, use the internet, and educate themselves on a myriad of computer programs and internet resources.

Monday, August 24, 2009

wonka wonka bonka

is that my skin suctioned up in tiny jars? um, the answer is yes. azerbaijanis use rubbing alcohol to sterilize the jar and then place them on their backs as a home remedy for almost anything. from research, i've found that azerbaijan is not the only culture to practice this sort of detox:

those things really suction! i've got bruises all over my bank.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

2 surreal moments

1. Holding $3,454 in my bag while watching a video made by the woman i'm giving all this money to. this video is of her incredibly recent religious pilgrimage to iraq (she is shia/shiite muslim). she is pointing out all the tanks and american military posts she passed along the way. the money is for women's education.

EXPLANATION: Today, my sitemate, bev, and i received the grant money. finally. it was for $3,472, but the bank took $20 off the top. don't ask why. the money is for bev's counterpart, kuraman, and bev's organization, the mingechevir women's computer center and lab. the money is for five new computers and one new printer. anyhow, after a whole day of hullabaloo we finally had the american dollars in hand. while waiting for kuraman's neighbor to arrive and give us a ride to our next destination (the computer ordering destination) kuraman shows us videos she recorded on her cellphone during her recent journey to important shia muslim spots in iraq. something about it...for me...was surreal.

2. Realizing my Azerbaijani friend, who is leaving for America in 3 days, has never heard of either the Nazi party or the holocaust. Therefore, I'm explaining it at his goodbye party.

EXPLANATION: What can I say? At the goodbye party were 7 americans, one british dude, and Elvin, our main man who is departing for a year of American university. Was I surprised he had never heard of either? yes and no. The Nazi aspect of WWII is important to Americans and Europeans, but I'm not surprised the importance does not hold up world wide. The sad sad unforgivable truth is that genocide is no longer uncommon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

the good. the bad. the ugly....and a new project

i'm going in the order of the good, the bad, and then the ugly...just because i said so.

the good:
first of all, Bev and I finally received the SPA grant money for new computers. Soon we will be buying up 5 computers and 1 printer. This also means I will become increasingly busy as I live up to my end of the SPA grant bargain: I need to train the trainers and evaluate how the classes are run. Work!
Also, I will be putting together a bookkeeping training for farmers in two different cities. Each session will last about 5 hours (only one session per city).
Two of our (Mingechevir PCVs) best Azeribaijani English speakers/friends were offered jobs by the Peace Corps!! This is an amazing feat. They were offered jobs to be Language and Cultural Facilitators (LCF) to trainees in the fall.

The bad:
One of our future LCFs might not be a future LCF. There is a sad sad practice in Azerbaijan where teachers have to pay bribes to teach. You read that correctly. People are not just employed, they have to pay bribes for their positions. Similarily, kids pay for grades. Yeah.....So, my friend might not get to be an LCF, which is incredibly important for future schooling and job opportunities, because her school director won't let her without firing her. This means she'll lose out on the bribe she already paid and she would probably have to pay a new bribe to get a job again. Sometimes it is REALLY hard not to get frustrated.

My landlord came over yesterday evening for an unannounced visit. Just to be clear: she is not the person I made an agreement with to move in to her place. We work through a middle man who actually lives in Mingechevir, whereas the apt owner lives in Baku. Anyhow, the middle man guy, Ilgar, is fine. I have zero problems with him. He has generally been very helpful in every way. This landlady, however....well...there are many words I would use, but as a peace corps volunteer i'm supposed to self police. SO, let's just say we don't see eye to eye. Made for one hell of an evening. To make a long and super annoying story much shorter, I blurted out to her that I will be moving come September 1st, which was true anyways. Um, so I'm moving apartments in less than a month. I should also mention that during last night's catastrophe my Azerbaijani friend, Elvin, came over to help with translations (and he really really defended me! thank you Elvin). It is Elvin's apartment I will be moving into come September 1st. Where will Elvin be? He got a one year's scholarship to study in a U.S. University. He is one smart young man. I can't wait for my 9th floor views of the mountains :)

The Ugly:
I have some sort of infected bug bite on my arm. It sucks. So far it appears that my limb will not fall off. I also don't think I will die from this. But it sucks none-the-less. I might have to travel 12 hours within a 24 hour period just to get proper care for it. BOOOOOO. infected spider bite/mosquito bite? Why do stupid things such as these happen? WHY?

on an entirely different note, Bev and I are working on a new grant. This is our project description thus far:

Detailed Project Description:

The overall mission of RSSED is to empower Azerbaijani women through education. To accomplish this mission, RSSED will three main services: vocational training, legal counseling, and community building. The first two services, vocational traning and legal counseling, are RSSED’s primary focus, however RSSED will also provide a community space for Azerbaijani women to network, communicate, and socialize.
The vocational program is a year long and offers courses on a variety of subjects related to employable office skills. RSSED offers computer courses on Microsoft Word, Excel, internet research and database development and use. Additional courses include bookkeeping, customer service, data management, time management skills, and marketing for small businesses. Students also participate in a lecture discussing the legal rights of women within Azerbaijan.
Although the vocational program is comprehensive, women can elect to participate in parts of the program instead of the whole. In other words, if a student only wants to participate in computer courses, then she can opt to do so. However, completion of only computer courses will result in a different type of certification that indicates the student did not complete the entire vocational program. This difference will impact the RSSED’s job placement services for students, because the center will differentiate between the student specialities when looking for appropriate employers.
Also, RSSED hopes to start a small sustainable business through which vocational students can gain real work experience. The small business can also double as a source of income for the RSSED as a whole. With grant money, RSSED plans to expand in this manner and to scope small business or production opportunities within the community. We are currently researching markets within our community, Mingechevir, to determine our best course of action.
RSSED’s legal counselor primarily works with individual women on individual legal issues. However, general lectures or two hour courses will be offered regarding Azerbaijani women’s legal protections and marriage registration. Almost every Azerbaijani couple fails to legally register their marriage. Consequently, most women are left without legal recourse if their spouse becomes estranged. This situation is a common in Azerbaijan due to the prevailing cultural norm of rejecting women after wedding them if the new husband suspects the bride of not being a virgin due to a lack of hymen. Legal counseling for women in Azerbaijan is a highly needed resource for a number or reasons, but it is critical that this counseling is free because the majority of married women relinquish all their income to their spouse. Also, it is culturally taboo for an Azerbaijani women to seek legal counsel without her husband’s permission or knowledge.
Lastly, RSSED is a community center for women in general. Non-vocational activities at the center include conversation clubs, cooking and nutrition courses, and film watching. Through these activities, RSSED is provides a space for Azerbaijani women to share their ideas and like-minded concerns in their own language.