Sunday, January 29, 2012

One Week in Winter

In Minnesota I dreaded the last week in January because of the bitter below-zero temperatures. The memory of starting my ice-cold car on such frigid mornings makes me shiver even now. Baku had blowing snow while I was there last week and it seemed so Minnesota-like - except for the poor snow removal and lack of salt or sand on sidewalks.

All week Peace Corps held a Mid-Service Conference for the AZ8's as well as our annual medical and dental check-ups. It was great to meet up with other PCVs, see some city sites, eat at real restaurants, and stay at a hotel. One afternoon I walked with another PCV through the historic old city of Baku where there is a fair trade shop, Enchanted Cottage, which sells items made in Azerbaijan.
In the foreground are buildings in the old city but the background shows one of 3 modern office towers under construction. The old city covers a large area with many shops, hotels, and restaurants within it's walls plus historic sites such as the Maiden Tower.
PCV Elaine and I stopped for coffee at the 5-star Meridian Hotel and took photos from the fifth floor restaurant balcony. We wondered if there was an effective historic preservation organization, since so many older buildings are being torn down or new facades added. It's one thing to have modern facilities, but another to tear down traditional and historic structures.
By nightfall, we walked to the metro station near the old city for a 10 minute subway trip back to our hotel. The entrance to this particular station appears to be a copy of the I.M.Pei design outside The Louve in Paris. No one stopped us from taking photos, and night time felt very safe.
But just to stay grounded about poverty in this oil-rich country, I'm adding a photo of a house across the road from my house in Digah village. The tarp is not a temporary fix; it has been there since last July. I personally think there are people in Baku who have no idea that their countrymen live in such conditions, Hopefully, in time, better education and income will help this family improve their living conditions. Inshallah - God willing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Talking to myself!

I know I've been remiss in writing for this blog, so during chores this morning I started telling myself about some possible topics. For one thing, I've come to appreciate washing machines and warm water. I'm trying out a new laundry soap called Persil which I'd read about in the NYTimes. It was developed specifically for washing clothes in cold water. I'll see if I can find the link to the article since I've come to believe that heating water is one of the biggest energy users, and I want to minimize that.

Then there's the story of destroying my tea kettle by forgetting it on the stove for over 2 hours. It isn't about losing my memory since one of my site mates reported doing the same thing the day before. We both were working on our computers and simply forgot that we'd left water boiling on our stoves. Here's a photo of the new one that I bought the next morning.

I wondered if anyone would be interested in my walking at night on a muddy road. Or that the full moon on a clear night brings out the howling dogs at about 2AM. Or that I went "guesting" at my neighbors recently and they walked me home in the dark.

I finally met the young married PCV couple who are assigned to Lankeran about 40 minutes away. We had a test of the PC Consolidation Action Plan, so they came to Sally's house Friday morning. It was done to determine how long it would take for 5 of us to gather for further instructions from PC. Best of all,  Sally made pumpkin pancakes for us for lunch.

In a couple weeks I will be in Baku for the annual medical and dental exam by the PC. It is part of the mid-service conference for the AZ8s. During that time, PC will also hold a lottery to set the dates for each of us to return to US. We can't all possibly have COS (Close of Service) on the same day so the dates are between Nov. 1st and Dec 15th. It's crazy to think about because sometimes it feels like I'm just beginning.

And here's a photo of the PCVs who came to my place for Christmas Eve 2011. It was a wonderful gathering of the "Southies."