Thursday, January 21, 2010

Trip to Quba and Xachmaz

Jake and Bender in Xachmaz

red village houses...fancy

Quba is a mountain town almost straight north from Baku and close to the Russian border. In my opinion, Quba is one of Azerbaijan's nicer towns. The architecture is a little different from the rest of the nation and the streets are mostly clean. Quba is also home to some unique sites including an all Jewish village where people actually say "Shalom" instead of "Salam". Also in Quba, as you can see from the gruesome picture above, is home to a mass grave site that has been mostly unearthed. It was strange to go see so many human remains so unprotected. Azerbaijan is only now in the process of creating a memorial to those who died. These deaths were probably caused by Soviet soldiers, but some believe Armenians are at fault.
the gates to Quba stadium

Quba PCVs: Chris and Amy
The river dividing Quba from Quba's Red Village (Jewish Village)

Chanukah and Christmas Pictures. Very Christmasy.

Jake and his secret santa present (pink apron) and my bud charlie
amy helped me put together a recycled game of beer pong. classy. environmentally sound.

the inside of the sheki saray hotel

beautiful Sheki

backtracking: two sitemate birthdays: laura and sean

behold laura (right) and her shiny new azeri boots

laura's bday song from brandon

random pic from pizza night at my place. only the black cat is mine.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Grant 2, Stage 1: Complete

For the past two weeks I've been working on a SPA (Small Project Assistance) grant application for an English Language Resource Center (ELRC). SPA grants are actually USAID monies given to the Peace Corps to distribute to worthy applicants. Even though I spent a good deal of time on my application, there is still the chance it will get rejected. Usually, SPA grant applications are not rejected, but instead PC asks for improvements and changes. All in all, if I do receive the grant, money will not be distributed until the end of March.
Generally, creating English language resource centers is one of the most (if not THE most) generic grant a PCV can write. But does that matter? Since my second day of training in Philadelphia the PC has emphasized working on projects that HCNs (Host Country Nationals....a lot of acronyms?) want. Ideally, in a grant writing situation, it will seem as if the PCV merely facilitatesthe grant process and all the work truly comes from the HCNs instead. Well, the reason I wrote a grant for an ELRC is because my self declared Counterpart (CP) wants one. She is an Azerbaijani school teacher who recently worked as a staff member with PC training new volunteers ( i'm just including all the acronyms to be cute...or uncute really). I promised my CP that if she worked with PC (ha!) I would help her write a grant for ELRC. Well, a good PCV must live up to her word with a CP for the good of PC and USA, right? So, ELRC it is.
If the thing gets approved, then I'll post some of my grant writing on my blog for those who are curious.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

is it just me, or is there a religious war out there?

i'm reading the nytimes online today and i've already come across the following headlines:

-Churches Attacked in Malaysian 'Allah' Dispute
-Egypt: Suspects in Shooting at Coptic Church Surrender
-Anger Over Move to Bar Sunni from Iraqi Elections
-France: Imam Deported to Egypt
-Philippines: Fighting In South (Fierce fighting erupted between rogue Muslim rebels and an armed group believed to have been involved in the massacre of 57 people in the southern Philippines)

And this is just the obvious stuff. I'm not even discussing Israel vs. Iran or the United States for that matter. Not too long ago the Swiss (the SWISS?!) passed a law banning the building of any new minarets on mosques in Switzerland. Just so you know, minarets are historically where the call to prayer emanated from. They are basically tall pillars. They definitely add to the unique aesthetic of mosques altogether and in my opinion, they don't really differ from putting gigantic crosses on the top of churches.
So yes, there is a religious and cultural war going on. Worldwide. But....
I don't feel it here in Azerbaijan. I really don't. In Azerbaijan just about everyone is Muslim, but mostly this post Soviet nation is just excited about the prospect of religion. In other words, Azeris are not very open minded towards Atheists, but otherwise (from my experience) they love hearing about foreign religions. Well...monotheistic religions for the most part. They will listen to you talk about Hinduism and try to understand. I've never heard an Azeri actually criticize Hinduism, but then again knowledge about the religion hardly exists here altogether. Sometimes, I feel I disappoint Azeris by telling them I'm Jewish and not because of Judiasm per se, but because they seem so damn excited to meet Christians. But when I tell people I'm Jewish they treat me like I'm this special foreign object...but that treatment has been totally devoid of cruelty and aggressive bias. Perhaps they are silently judging? Probably some are. Why? Because, just as Azerbaijanis don't know that Americans speak English and that all English speakers are not some ethnicity called English, they don't realize that the Jewish diaspora is super strange in that it has a million different manifestations. I might be Jewish, but I'm not religious, I'm not a Zionist, and I'm not Israeli. Generally, I'd say that Azerbaijanis are not anti-Israel, but they absolutely worry for the horrifying Palestinian condition.
SO, back to the point.
There is a religious war everywhere....but somehow it isn't so present here. I recently visited a Jewish village in Quba where people actually say "Shalom" instead of "Salam". Also, for the first time, I recently saw a swastika on a wall near where I live. It sticks out. People have already tried to paint over it. When I show it to people they tell me: "Oh, I don't think whoever put that up knows what a swastika really is". Maybe they are right. After all, most Azeris do not know about the Holocaust and its association with the swastika.
All in all and if anyone actually still reads this blog, I just want to say this: peaceful Muslims exist in this world. I just hope we can continue to reach out to them before they too get absorbed in this world wide war. I guess what i'm saying is: hoooray peace corps. (i'm patting myself on the back).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

t minus 11 months

but hey, who is counting anyways?

right now i'm busy. i'm trying to finish a SPA (small project assistance) grant before january 15th, trying to write a grant for a community garden project, and trying to revamp the environmental committee website. also, i watched my sitemate's two cats for nearly a month. so i've had three cats for a month. i'm also getting some major reconstruction done to my apartment. as a result i have strangers walking in and out of my apartment at a minute's notice everyday. busy busy busy.

new years was great. i went to baku and lived it up with my friends. at this point, my group of volunteers are very close to one another. whether we ever wanted to or not, we know each other and far too much information about each other. so, we've all learned to love one another in some manifestation of the meaning of the word. i've never really experienced a small community like this before. as a consequence it is hard for us to meet the new volunteers because it feels strange to start all over or to be newly judged again. however, we'll all just have to get used to it, like everything else in the peace corps.

on a side note, i visited two new cities/towns here: Xachmaz and Quba. I will post pictures as soon as I get my camera back. I left it with another's looking at you amy.