Saturday, November 27, 2010

How I keep it together!

Just a short blog this weekend since I'm spending more time studying for the Language Proficiency Test next Saturday December 4th - followed by some kind of birthday thing. I really need to kick it up to understand Azeri when natives speak it, and also learn more vocabulary. In Masilly I'll be staying with a host family where the mother is an English teacher. I'll have to make a rule so that I learn more Azeri because I'm sure she'll want to practice her English with me!

Had a totally delightful Thanksgiving Day here - way ahead of the USA, so hope you've enjoyed my picasa photos. Here's one of the trainees I spent it with.

Here are a few thoughts that popped into my head on Thanksgiving about how much more connected I still am to MN/WI and the USA due to technology. Sometimes listening to my iPod can make me homesick, but mostly it continues to amaze me that I can enjoy some of my favorite radio and music programs.

Here's what I do: Listen to the MN Orchestra. Via iTunes and $9.99 I have Beethoven's 2nd and 7th symphonies played by the world's best orchestra conducted by Osmo Vanska. What an incredible treat to pretend I'm in Orchestra Hall! Friends, we will be going to a concert or 2 together when I get back! Can someone send me a postcard of it to show my students?

I also subscribed to free public radio podcasts of Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, This American Life, To the Best of Our Knowledge, The World and PBS' Newshour (I usually only get the Friday night broadcast with Brooks and Shields.) I can't begin to tell you about the first time I heard the theme music here. It'd been over a month since I'd heard it and it gave me goosebumps. Guess I'll have to become a member now!

That' me making pie crust for a pumpkin pie. Also made Apple Crisp for Thanksgiving with trainee friends. One other little thing I've done is create an old-fashioned sachet made of an orange stuck with cloves. This is a holiday aroma for me and consider making one for yourself this year. Cloves are very inexpensive here, but one orange cost over a dollar.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Site Assignment: Masilli

As of December 10th, I'll be living in Masalli - a city in the south of AZ and highly regarded here for its sightseeing - especially ancient mausoleums and burial mounds, mineral springs, local lore museum and mosques. The population of Masilli is about 185,000 located along a main highway about 230 km (7 hours by bus) from Baku. A national park and wildlife refuge is situated between Masilli and the Caspian Sea which is about 15 miles east. To the west of Masilli are the Talish mountains - home to an ethnic minority known to live past 100 years of age.

The climate is subtropical - I did ask for a warm place.

The school I am assigned to has nearly 700 students with 73 teachers. Five English teachers expressed interest in having a Peace Corps volunteer, so I will be the one they get! I will observe classrooms for 2 weeks in December, then choose which teachers and classes. I will co-teach a minimum of 15 hours per week which does not include time to prepare lesson plans with my counterparts. That means developing classroom materials and activities based upon the textbook. There is a one week holiday and classes resume January 6th, 2011. One additional enticement: the school has internet!

I will be near 2 other AZ8s, Sally and Alicia, plus there are several other PCVs who will be spending their 2nd year in the area.

The Peace Corps housing coordinator has already found a host family for me. I will be staying for atleast 4 months with mom, dad and their 2 children - 10 and 8 years old. The father works in a cultural center and the mother is a teacher. Their home is listed as very good and I'm not sure what that means.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weddings in Azerbaijan = Big Business!

You may think that the economy here depends on the oil under the Caspian Sea. But if you drove through any of the main thoroughfares in the larger cities, you would know that weddings (called toys in Azeri) are the real business here. For example, along the street to my school there are 5 relatively new "wedding palaces" - buildings whose only business is hosting weddings every day of the week. Weddings are so important in this culture that there are 2 weddings for each couple - the bride's wedding and the groom's wedding. (Yes, they attend both weddings together.)

Weddings are a cultural practice, not a religious one. Since weddings are so important in a family-focused society, it is not surprising that wedding palaces have sprung up as separate entities. Name anything in America related to a wedding, and Azeris have it 10 times over!

Wedding dresses: many look right out of Barbie but I've also seen photos of a Muslim bride in a beautiful white hajib. The bride has 2 dresses - a colored one for her wedding and the traditional white with veil for the groom's wedding.
Jewelry: the bride can hardly lift her hand there are so many rings - with matching earrings and necklaces of course.
Makeup and hair: Beauty salons specialize in wedding parties, i.e. glamour.
Gift baskets: these can be huge baskets of candy, toiletries, food etc delivered to the bride or grooms home.
Furniture: It is expected that the bride provide the furniture and the groom provides the home. All that money given at the toy is expected to pay for home furnishings.
Car decorations: don't get me started on tulle-covered Humvees. I've seen 'em.

A wedding palace offers all the amenities that any family would want for a wedding. They prepare the invitations, the ceremony is held there, food goes on for many courses, dancing for many hours, and toasts. Of course all of this must be captured on video and still photos and a wedding palace provides the emcee, limousines, the band, the food, the photographer, the decor. That's the business of wedding palaces and you'll be reminded of them every time you watch your 4-hour wedding video.

What really intrigues me is the expectation that those who attend contribute a specified amount of money at the end of the evening. In fact, the amount of money is written on the invitation and there is a clerk who records who gives what amount. Money is given instead of a wedding gift.

There is much more to the culture of weddings, but I only mention the industry that surrounds it. As a PC volunteer, I expect to be invited to many toys. However, we do not contribute money to any weddings - we are guests of our host family. And sometimes the attendance of an American can turn into a separate side-show since we are expected to dance along with the other guests. I can't wait!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

School in Sumgayit brings on a nasty cold

It was cold and rainy last week and I started 2 weeks of practicum, i.e. student teaching and lots of contact with  children. I began getting a cold Friday (Oct. 29) and I'm still coughing and blowing my nose. The sinus decongestants and lozenges just aren't working. (I'm not one for taking OTC, but thought about Tylenol Cold something - daytime, night-time, whatever, I could use some.) 

I called the PC doctor so yesterday he arranged to have a car pick me up and take me to Baku 45 minutes away for a physical exam. My complaint is that it has become painful for me to cough - lower left side hurts. Yes, they sent a car to pick me up and drive me to Baku to see Dr. Fuad. He was very thorough. Health and safety of PCTrainees is utmost.

My lungs are clear and it seems I just coughed too hard and that is why my left side is now tender. He gave me some Mucinex, but thinks it really will be several days before it starts to taper off.  I also got vitamin/mineral supplement since recent meals have been mostly potatoes and rice and bread.

IMHO, I really need some rest. We start at 8 in the morning for classes, bring a lunch from home, have 2 hours language class, then go home to study and prepare lesson plans for the next day. It is a grind and I'm not the only one to think so. So I skipped Thursday's afternoon language session and went home and slept. That's when I started feeling better.

My host mom really looks after me and actually counts the layers of clothes I'm wearing before I leave the house. She also kisses my forehead to see if I have a fever! Glad there is always tea on, but the soups can be oily. The host dad delivered a "petch" which is a small natural gas heater and that seems to take the chill out of the house.

I will add that teaching is quite the learning experience. The classes are 45 minutes long and I was assigned to prepare and co-teach 12 - 7th and 8th grade English classes for the past 2 weeks. There are never more than 12 students in a class. One PC teaching objective is to get children to think their own thoughts even if it's just saying their favorite color. 

No photos to add this week. Too bleary-eyed to bother. But I'm working on a blog about the business of weddings in Azerbaijan! Next week - Inshallah!