Friday, May 28, 2010

building a library from scratch

I've been working quite a lot recently. I wrote a grant for an English Language Resource Center and received approximately 3,000 US Dollars from USAID. And now that the money is in hand, Gulshan (my Azerbaijani friend/work partner) and are creating this resource center (ELRC) from scratch.
What does this require? Well, written into the budget of the grant is a laptop computer, flash carts, headphones, a projector, blank DVDs, English resource books (dictionaries, instructional aides), fiction books for all different levels of readers, furniture (hired a carpenter), etc. Last week, Gulshan and I traveled to Baku to purchase the majority of these items and haul them back to Mingechevir. This might sound simple, but it isn't. In the US we comparative shop by going into different stores and looking at different prices. Heck, we can comparative shop from home via the internet. But, obviously, Azerbaijan is different. Azerbaijanis bargain...a lot. So, comparative shopping is a little funnier. For example: One computer store would sell us a 855 Manat (AZN) Toshiba laptop for 800 AZN and would throw in a computer case and mouse for free, whereas another shop would sell us the same model computer for 780 and would throw in a free mouse, but not a free computer case. So which one is cheaper? Depends on the computer case, right? Also, which location/seller do we trust? There is a Toshiba one year warranty on our laptop, but so many things in Azerbaijan are counterfeit and I confess, I don't know all the ways counterfeit products can be added to my Toshiba, e.g. software programs etc. Of course, all of this dialogue takes place in the Azerbaijani language, but luckily Gulshan could handle all that dialogue. I'm positive if I attempted to purchase these items on my own I would of been charged an extra 100-200 on the price. After all, I don't have a feel for how much to bargain for various products. I bargain for fruits and vegetables, but computers are different.
Also difficult was the transporting of all these goods. We couldn't pay for a many taxis, so we had to be clever about how to get a ton of books from one place to the next. Unfortunately, Azeris also get scammed sometimes. Our bus driver forced us to pay an extra 2 AZN for our luggage...which was unnecessary and abnormal. Gulshan said she thought we were scammed simply because I'm a foreigner. Well, this isn't news to me, but its all a new experience for Gulshan. That is, Azeris don't realize how much harassment and unfair treatment we receive on a daily basis just for being foreign.
This brings me to another point: How much both Gulshan and I have learned thus far...a lot. This is the first time I've written and carried out a grant entirely on my own. My last grant was co-written and I did not write the budget. Also, my last grant required very few purchases. Going through this process has made me realize to what extent budgets can diverge from expectations. For example, Gulshan and I didn't realize that a better, newer computer would mean it wouldn't have a dial-up capacity. This means we have to buy either a much cheaper computer or an external modem. Decisions, decisions.
Overall, the work for my grant is just beginning, but it has been a very worthwhile experience. It is nice to see the excitement of teachers' and students' faces. It is nice to know that you contributed to the curriculum. For example, we bought ten versions of the same fiction book. Consequently, kids at the school can now read the same book at the same time and work on projects related to their shared reading. Previously, this wasn't a possibility.

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