Thursday, January 27, 2011

20 Yanvar Memorial Day

January 20th is a National Day of Remembrance in Azerbaijan. That is the date in 1990 when Gorbechev ordered Russian troops into Baku to quell a gathering of protestors, and resulted in the deaths of 130 civilians. The people of Azerbaijan were shocked that the military rolled into the city with tanks, and the victims are considered to be martyrs in the cause of AZ independence. A beautiful memorial was erected in Baku called The Martyrs Walk and I was able to visit there last Fall.

Many changes were happening in the Soviet Union at that time, and I think this tragic night will also go down as a milestone in the demise of the USSR. While many remember the downfall of the Berlin Wall, this date was also important as the Azerbaijani people began to choose a new direction for their government. Even Gorbechev has said that sending troops into Baku was the biggest mistake of his leadership.

Because this tragedy happened only 21 years ago, there are many Azerbaijanis who readily recall the events of this date. Many know stories of individual acts of bravery and heroism. The most repeated story is of the newly-wed bride who took her own life after learning that her husband had been killed in the street. 

Schools were closed for the day in Azerbaijan and each major city has a martyrs' memorial where hundreds gather to pay respect. I attended the memorial service in Masalli, added a red carnation at the site, and took several photos of this day. My host mother told me that previously red carnations were given as a symbol of love at weddings. But since January 20, 1990, red carnations are placed on the memorials to these martyrs.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Celebrating a birthday

Site mate Sally and I discussed a few differences in children's birthday celebrations as we ate dinner with 9 other adults invited to Layig's 9th birthday party Friday night. That was a difference right there as it was dinner for adults while the invited children were 2 cousins and 3 younger children who lived in the same building. No school friends were invited.

Host mom cleaned and cooked for 2 days including a huge chocolate cake in the shape of a bear. An extra table was added to the living room so that all 18 of us could be seated. As in America, every available chair and plastic stool was put into service and the youngest sat on laps.

Of course Sally and I stick out like sore thumbs, but those invited had already met us on other occasions. We managed a few pleasantries in Azeri, but also kept a quiet  commentary going about the evening. And there's nothing like a table full of food, to break down language barriers.

One thing we noted was the invitation to Sally. HMom Konul told her about the party but did not specify when to come over. As we reflected on this, we surmised that everyone already knows the time to come for a dinner party. However, when I pressed Konul to tell Sally what time, she said she didn't want to offend Sally by telling her the time! Apparently Sally should just feel welcome anytime - proof of Azerbaijani hospitality, i.e., you are always welcome! To tell someone the time to come over is just not done.

Other differences: men sit at one end of the table and women at the other. Gifts for Layig were opened by him apart from the adults. Happy Birthday was sung in English, but the line where we sing his name was changed to "We love you." (There is no liking someone here. Students tell me they Love me. Liking is for things not people.)

One darling little cousin of Layig's captured our hearts with his outgoing personality. He lives in the family compound with Sadig's musician parents and came to the party with them and his mother. The photos are of Layig and his mother (my host mom) Konul, the children with Layig's grandpa, and another of darling boy who was tired but insisted on playing playing the piano by rolling his hands over the keyboard.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Starting to Teach English

There were only 3 days of school this week, but I met with most of the English teachers and went over my expectations for co-teaching with them. Since the school requested Peace Corps Volunteers, there are certain conditions they must meet. For one thing, each co-teacher must agree to meet with me once a week to prepare lesson plans for the coming classes. Those lesson plans will be written in a specific format with objectives and activities for a 45-minute class.

This morning (Saturday, Jan. 8th) it was rainy and cold - probably 3 or 4 degrees C. I dressed warmly and went to school, but the new building had no electricity or heat when I got there at 9 AM. The Director rang the bell at Noon and told everyone that the school would close due to the cold and many absences.

For one class, I was able to present "pair work" as a new teaching method. The English teachers usually have 2 students reciting in front of the class but this way all students are productive. I pair every student with another and they practice speaking with each other at their desks.  It takes a bit of instruction and practice, but it pays off with 12 students practicing English instead of just 2. 

I went over the directions, did a demo with the teacher, wrote the instructions on the board, then distributed to each pair an 8-line dialog between a doctor and a patient. I think it went well because every student was participating. The proof will be when these 15 year olds show up again for classes next week! I think the teachers will find it too noisy. 

On an added note, I walked home from school in the rain wearing my colorful "garden boots" from my Minneapolis Ace hardware store. They are pretty eye-catching and I did get quite a few looks. Alas, my host mom told me when I got home that they are boots that farmers wear when they shovel manure in the barn. IMHO, no Azerbaijani farmer would wear boots like this, so I won't be deterred from wearing them.