Friday, April 23, 2010

a little dialogue while i'm bored.

Right now, I am in Quba waiting for a typical Azerbaijani-American conversation the end. Many of these conversations are political in nature and reiterate how great it is that soft diplomacy between our nations are happening. Eventually, we usually hit a wall somewhere along the line. Peace Corps Volunteers, by the very nature of what they travelers...tend to look into both domestic and international events. Many Azerbaijanis in the rayons, especially those who have not left Azerbaijan, just aren't as informed on world politics and history. This is not to say that Americans know more about international affairs than Azeris...because Americans don't. I am going out on a limb and saying that many (but not all) PCVs are more aware than the average citizen of international events because, heck, we have to live outside of the US in what the US has deemed a "developing (?)" country for 27 months. PCVs are considered abnormal...or not the norm in this sense. So back to the wall: Azerbaijanis have suffered their fare share of national tragedy. After all, they are in a stalemated war as we read/type. However, a lot of Azeribaijanis are unaware of other national tragedies and this, unfortunately, creates a skewed sense of international affairs. For example, nearly none of the Azerbaijanis I've met have heard of the Khmer Rouge, the WWII Holocaust, or Sudan. And so, when Azerbaijanis tell us of their national tragedies, I think sometimes we come off as unfeeling. It isn't that we don't care or don't see violent loss of life as the sad event that it is, but we know that it isn't limited to Azerbaijan...and this is a critical thing to know.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Teaching Abstract Painting to Laura's Kids

Laura, my sitemate, is an English teacher (as part of PC's TEFL-teaching english as a foreign language-program) at school #17 right next to where my host family lives. Laura and her counterpart, Ulvia (Andrea's host sister), teach classes together and run an after school art club Wednesdays after school.
Laura was nice enough to invite me in for painting day. We looked at a couple of my pieces and asked the kids to try to paint something with no objects. I expected this to be very difficult for them, but they were just great. Amazing, actually. It was a lot of fun.

This is Laura :) I swear she is painting her wallpaper...she has amazing wallpaper.

Agdam Rayon School # 52

In this first picture are three of the six girls Katie (my new sitemate, also CED) and I teach and internet course to. I'll be honest: I'm really not sure what all the millitary stuff is going on at this school. But, that is just a sidenote anyways. I was introduced to this school through my counterpart at Finance for Development (FinDev, most host organization). The director at this school is wonderful to work with because he speaks slowly and clearly, follows through with his word, and lets volunteers do any project they want at the school.
Teaching this class has been interesting on a number of levels. We already know this, but MAN do class sizes matter! I had to kick kids out of my class just so I could get around to the actual teaching part. And, I'm a wuss. I didn't even do that the last time I taught at this school. But, it paid off this time. I really enjoy introducing these girls (and teachers) to the basics. I'm helping them to make email addresses. I'm trying to teach them some basic internet english like: username, password, send, reply, inbox, compose mail (why the hell do we say compose instead of write?), email, world-wide web (that was the most fun to teach...I mean, how would anyone know what www means anyways?) and so much more. The class is extrememly slow..out dial up speed is atrocious at best. But, at least it is happening.

Monday, April 12, 2010

scenes from the week

beast cat with her ultra yellow eyes
teacher (me) in a gas mask?

why do these children have gas masks...well, children in Azerbaijan are taught military classes and a part of those classes include gas masks, group marching, etc. I have a video of children marching, but my internet connection is too weak to post it now.

couple of recent paintings


Friday, April 9, 2010


I had not realized how professionally frustrated I am. I figured it out through a couple of recent conversations with those close to me. How did I figure it out? Well, firstly I was in Baku and had no desire to 1. return to Mingechevir 2. work on humanitarian projects 3. speak Azerbaijani. This is hard to explain, but I also felt somewhat numb to events. Whether or not an Azerbaijani kicked me out of my home, failed to follow through on a project, or treated me with disrespect, I felt somewhat numb for a while. As in, unfazed. I was bothered more in a distant realm of knowing I should be bothered, without really feeling it. Or so I thought.
When we first enter the Peace Corps, we enter our service country with a lot of expectations. We know those expectations will be mostly crushed, or morphed in one way or another. Some of us prepare for this, for some of us this is the struggle we deal with for our entire service. Most frightening and disappointing to new volunteers, however, is sometimes the more veteran volunteers. The older group of volunteers (which I now am) just seem plain if they should go home already. New volunteers vow to themselves that they will never become like that...become so angry. Although we vow this to ourselves, some people change without much reflection. They just become bitter and forget their previous promises. These people sling acerbic insults around without care. Some never become cynical. This is kind of rare, but it certainly exists. Some sort of go through cycles of being bitter and understanding. I think I'm this last category. However, I didn't realize how frustrated I was because I did not want to admit it to myself. I don't want to be the bitter old veteran.
However, disappointments happen and we should be allowed to mourn them. When it comes to my housing situation, I'm seriously disappointed for a number of reasons. Listing them here could actually get me into more housing trouble, but I've decided I don't care. This is my blog and I won't live in fear of who reads it and their potential vindictive behavior.
I live in the apartment of an Azerbaijani who is my friend. Granted, he is much younger than me and so, by nature of his age, inexperienced in regards to some issues. Before moving into the apartment, I was promised a bunch of things of which none ever panned out. Firstly, the landlords wanted a cat. So, when my sitemate's cat became pregnant, I took on one of the kittens and moved into their home with the idea that when I left, they would care for the kitten. I love this kitten (beast). I think she is amazing. So much so, I've continuously tested the commitment levels of the landlords while bringing up the cat. I was constantly reassured that they wanted the cat and that they would love her. Well, one of the landlords decided she wanted to buy a prettier cat from somewhere else. Forget the fact I took in the kitten she personally choose from the litter. Now what am I supposed to do with Beast? Who could possibly care for her for the duration of her life? If I give her to another volunteer, that only safeguards her for the next year. Cats live for 10-15 years. Do I take her to the States? There are a series of issues related to this option as well...not to mention the cost. I'm bitter that this promise, after I asked time and time and time again, was rescinded. And I'm bitter that I primarily decided to move into my current apartment so as to help the landlord with the process of becoming a pet owner and they backed away.
In the very same day one landlord promised me that I could stay in the apartment, the other landlord came over and tried to kick me out as soon as possible...with no empathy towards my situation. She just wants the space to myself and dislikes the fact I have PCVs over to the apartment. However, I explained to the landlord prior to my moving in that I would have visitors. After all, my landlord worked for PC and so had real knowledge of our needs. I had already guessed that I would need to move out in June (landlord one returns from the States then) and planned on it...despite their continuous promises. So, I demanded to stay until June. How much of a pushover will I really be? The problem is, I don't have any real power. One of the landlords even accused me of not trusting them because I asked about my living situation so often...well....DUH.
Other little things: promised to fix my water and phone line problems. Never did. Said I'd have hot water. Never have. And these are my friends.
Recently, I co-wrote a grant with my closest Azerbaijani friend. This grant is for an English Language Resource Center in a school at which she teaches English. Only after our grant was accepted did she point out to me that she probably wouldn't be able to run the project as we discussed for another half year or so because she wants to return to her work at PC. I completely understand that she needs to do what is best for her professionally. She should go back to PC. I just feel...used. When you are a PCV, you are supposed to be flexible all the time. Well, sometimes we are denying (or really, I am denying) the fact that this is frustrating. It makes it difficult for me, right now, to want to do things for and in the community. It makes me want to just focus on whatever I want to do at any given moment. The frustration fuels a desire for selfishness.
I should also say, that on the previous grant I wrote, the receiving organization basically lived up to NONE of their promises regarding the requisite trainings attached to the grant. This all basically adds up to a lot of lying: Yes Alexis, we will do this. Yes Alexis, we will do that. But they haven't.
But, as I've come to realize how frustrated I have become, I feel ready to move on. I'm not disliking and hateful of all things and people Azerbaijani or anything of the sort. I am not afraid to say that I have legitimate reasons for being frustrated. This is part of the process of being a volunteer in Azerbaijan. And I still don't think I'm at the level of pure bitterness I've witnessed from others. I think I'm just learning.