Thursday, December 30, 2010

Holiday Greetings from Masalli, AZ

I got wonderful help on Christmas Day while in Lenkeran from PCV Clarissa who set up my Google Video and Google Chat. I actually talked to my mother for the first time since Sept 24th and also saw Anton for the first time since I left. It was 8PM AZ time but only 10AM MN/WI time. I had a dose of homesickness when I came back to Masalli. Technology makes everything so quick and close - almost too much sometimes.

I'll write a bit about some things that are particularly different for me here. Since there is really not much for indoor heating systems (other than small stoves or electric heaters) I have resorted to the following attire for teaching: my pink thermal underwear underneath black leggings. I wear 2 pair of socks - a knit pair underneath black knee-highs since black seems to be the color favored by teachers. I always wear a skirt to school so I alternate between a grey suede one and my black AZ skirt (very geseng, i.e. very nice). I wear either a black turtleneck or black cotton top with a grey sweater underneath my pink fleece jacket or my red jacket - which you can see on just about every photo so far. I plan to go to the bazar in a few days to get another turtleneck sweater (with silver or rhinestone trim) and maybe another black skirt or warm dress. Then I put on my black raincoat and a black scarf and of course black thinsulate gloves! I am really down to a few basic clothes. Can you tell I'm already looking forward to warmer days in March. Oh please I hope this doesn't mean a hot hot Summer!

Shoes are never worn in the house - so they are left outside or near the entry where I put on my own pair of house slippers. Whenever I leave the apartment, I change from my slippers into either my black loafers or black wedge shoes. I timed my walk to school and it takes about 25 minutes - I think it is about 1.5 miles. To the best of my knowledge, there are no geese along the route tho' that may change when Spring comes.

In the morning, I often get a ride from my host dad since he drives host mom, brother and sister to nearby school. Their school starts classes at 8:30 and mine starts at 9AM, so that gives me time in the teachers' room to figure out where I'll be and what I'll be doing for the day. I feel so welcomed and wanted, and the other teachers want to practice their English with me. Of course, this is no way for me to learn Azerbaijani if they keep talking in English.

A big fat thank you to my friends who sent care packages that arrived Wed. Dec. 29th. I'll be able to have peanut butter with fresh tandoor bread every morning. I especially appreciate the many things (lotion, notebooks, granola bars, hangers, mascara remover! candy kisses) that I have taken for granted. You are all so kind and thoughtful!

I am looking forward to teaching English to eager Azerbaijani students in the coming year. Best Wishes for a Happy New Year to All!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My favorite meal in Masalli - so far!

Let me describe this particular traditional Azerbaijani meal. First notice that there are no large plates on the table but several small plates nested at each place setting. There are no knives, only large spoons and forks, and small glasses for fruit juice. A large platter of plov (basmati rice) is the centerpiece and it can be made in different ways such as plov with raisins, apricots, and dates. The most desirable part of plov is the brown crusty rice from the bottom of the cooking pot. This is scraped from the pan in several large pieces and placed on top of the mound of rice. 

The plov platter may also have several portions of chicken added to it. Plov is served by spooning it onto the largest plate and it is eaten with a large spoon. If plov includes chicken, that is also placed on the same plate. At most plov meals, it is eaten first but it can also be brought to the table last as the highlight of some celebrations.

A plov meal may have numerous side dishes including a separate chicken dish which has a yellow color. Chicken always includes the skin and is so well cooked that the meat readily falls away from the bone. It is acceptable to use your fingers to eat the chicken. (Try not to think that this chicken was outside in the yard only yesterday.)

Dolma (stuffed grape or cabbage leaves) may also be served with plov, although dolma can be a main meal in itself. Other small plates of tomato and cucumbers are typical and an added treat is pickled tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant. Fresh yogurt may also at each place setting in individual glasses. Of course, there is always bread at the table and here in Masalli there is an abundance of tandoor ovens providing fresh bread for every meal.

After the table is cleared, a bowl of fresh fruit is brought out and a woman will peel and cut apples, bananas, pears, oranges, and kiwis into bite-size pieces. Black tea is then served along with sweets. Many enjoy drinking hot tea by first placing a sugar cube on their tongue and then drinking the tea to melt the sugar cube in their mouth.

People I've met usually ask me how I like the food in Azerbaijan and I can say that this is my favorite so far. I expect to taste many other national dishes in the months to come.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Traveling to Masalli

I am happy to report that I arrived Friday December 10th in Masalli to a sunny and warm welcome by both my teaching counterpart and my host family. There are 2 other Peace Corps Volunteers in Masalli, plus 2 more PCVs in nearby Billosavar. We hired a marsrutka from Sumgayit and traveled with all our worldly possessions for about 5 hours. The school director in one Masalli village accompanied us and treated us on the way to tea plus another stop at a restoran for borscht. It feels so good to be welcomed and wanted.

A bit of confusion initially about who I was living with because I believe my teaching counterpart expected me to live with him and his wife. In fact another volunteer Sally will be living with them so that we do not spend our entire lives with the same teacher at the school and then go home and live with them too.

My host family and living quarters are great - English teacher mom plus Masalli Cultural Center dad and boy 8 and girl 10. They have a 3 bedroom apartment up 5 flights of stairs with many conveniences including TV. I won't worry about getting enough excerise. Mom and children walk to nearby school where another PCV Sally will be serving as an English teacher also. As with many of my posts, I will not post photos of my host family or housing to insure their privacy. I may include other general photos of the area.

I plan to describe more as time goes on, but I have one first impression that will make many laugh - especially my siblings who remember a particular incident that happened to me growing up on a farm. I noticed on arriving that there are many geese along the streets in Masalli.  Years ago I came to fear geese because they can be downright mean. When I was about 12 years old one actually chased me, bit my butt and hung on to me as I ran into our farmhouse! 

Here in Masalli, I will have to think to myself: you've come this far and you're not gonna let some old goose stand in your way!

I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer

Swearing In Ceremony

Peace Corps has been moving so fast that I didn't have time to write or post to my blog for several days. Of course the most important day was the swearing-in ceremony December 9th conducted at the beautiful Sumgayit government building. Our host families and friends were invited to the afternoon program which was followed by a reception. My host mother and my 25 year old brother attended.

Television crews were there from several stations in Azerbaijan, and since I was seated at the end of one row, I did have 2 seconds of fame that night on one AZ news channel. My host family was thrilled that I got on TV.  But even more moving was the singing of the Azerbaijan and US anthems by one of our own - a trained opera singer accompanied on the piano by another who is a pianist. It was awesome and made us all so proud. My host family talked about that more than seeing me on TV.

My gray-haired friends and I headed to a local restaurant before going home to finish packing. Friday, my host family got up early to see me off at 9AM and there were many tears. I had TLC while living with people with limited resources. I gave them a photo album with half dozen photos that I took during my stay, plus a pair of magnifying eyeglasses for host mom so she can read the little AZ history book I also gave her.

They gave so much of themselves and I will always remember my short stay with them.

My Birthday in Sumgayit

My birthday celebration sorta (new English word) began Friday night December 3rd when I attended a huge toy (wedding). Very elaborate and important cultural event in a wedding palace with 4 other PC trainees invited. Got home late and fell asleep in bed with my study cards for Language Proficiency Test Saturday-birthday.

Studied until 2PM, then walked to school for 15 minute recorded discussion in Azeri with PC language coordinator. I did awful, but not so bad that I won't be sworn in. After I walked out of the test room, my 5 cluster mates presented me with 2 huge chocolate bars.

Then when I got home, my host family fed me dolmas with fresh yogurt followed by a gift of a beautiful red and black silk scarf (very teacher-y). Then we all enjoyed a beautiful birthday cake made by Ilhame, the daughter-in-law.

Later the host family had a pleasant visit from family cousin Eunice. While I'm getting ready for bed, I got a birthday text message from Anton who also mentioned 8 inches of snow in Minneapolis. I laughed. No snow here; hasn't even dropped below freezing.

So next Thursday I plan to be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, age 67!