My camera was left at home, so we practiced with Dan’s camera and had super results!

We ate Chinese food until we burst and then Dan ordered a mountain of  fried Carmel Bananas.  There was much “Waddling” happening.

Then the Extreme Lunging started….

Even the American’s got involved!

Kill Fish Bar to start…

Metro Acrobatics by a talented small person…

..and her slightly taller companion.

Found Dan’s Dodgy Facial Hair Brother on the cover of a Russian book.

First ancient depiction of a bad breast job. Also found at Russian Metro Book Store.

The Men give some posing sass.

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Last minute tickets to a hockey match landed us at a new metro stop, where we found a posh street dog outside the arena…

 

 

…and a dodgy spandex covered fan posing up a storm.

 

In between the 3rds we posed for photos and drank more beer!

 

 

 

Introduction of the teams.

 

Fight!  FIGHT!

 

 

 

It’s just past Thanksgiving- I’ve lived in Baku for 3 months and not once have I actually felt the desire to visit Ismailli. Harsh perhaps, but, Baku with its busyness and grime and smog still has its appeal after 3 years of calm and living at a slow pace.

Teaching: There are several things that I have realized since starting work mid September. I’m once again very glad I don’t have kids. My job, when it comes down to it, is basically corralling and taming 15 5 year olds and the odd group of rampantly hormonal teenagers. As if I’d want to return home to corral more little ones? Not that I don’t like ‘my kids’ as I call them, in fact, I adore the little ones (and teens) I teach. I just like having the separation between work and home to stay that way. Although, nothing says happy like finger painting with kids and having them create fantastic monsters. Second realization is that I actually do *gasp* like teaching. In fact, I’ve taught all my 5 year olds that the proper way to greet me is ‘Hello Ms. Colleen’ followed by a knuckle bump. This has worked swimmingly well (and confused all local teachers) until the other day I realized that due to the height difference between a 28 year old woman and a 5 year old, I had basically taught a group of toddlers to give the Black Panther Salute every time they saw me. Ooops?!

Besides teaching: The 3 months of living here have been an exercise in reorganizing my life and basically trying to do everything I missed out on while in Ismailia. For example. I’m still obsessed by the availability of hot water. All. Day. Long. Please note that the last flat I had in Ismailli only had running water for 1 hour each day. Yea, that means I NOW shower a lot. Just because I can. This has also carried into the acquisition of Wi-Fi in my flat and the presence of a wash machine. Basically it comes down to me doing ALOT of laundry and showering and faffing about Facebook/RandomNoobUberXtremeExploreSite. Thankfully, I have it on good authority that being excited every time you turn on the tap gradually wears off, that wash machines lose their glitter in a few months and that Facebook/RandomNoobUberXtremeExploreSite is highly dull once you’re done insulting people. There is always hope.

I love my flat. We managed to find digs that somehow combine high ceilings/old architecture with new appliances/wiring in a wicked location-on one of the main streets in Baku, just outside Fountain Square. My room has a balcony that overlooks an Orthodox church court yard-the other balcony over looks the main street. There are 3 yard Pshiks(cats) (collectively owned by all residences) that live in our courtyard and are without doubt the fattest, happiest Pshiks in Baku. Names for all have yet to be bestowed, but in honor of the ‘Georgian Adventure’, I have named the fluffiest black/white one ‘Mishka2.0’. 🙂 Recently we held a housewarming party with enough win on several fronts to not only receive the declaration of ‘You are so hipster’ (correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the declaration of such, a negation of the compliment?) but also fund the renovation of our courtyard liquor store (who says Baku doesn’t cater to the customer? We have our shopkeeper well trained to stay open until 4am and keep Baltika9 in stock), break my bed again (Please see Mike’s statement of crushing disappointment in regards to Soviet bed construction) and restock our empty liquor cabinet-this has led to obvious cooking adventures(in honor of my favorite Frenchmen now living in Londontown): How many shots of straight gin can I take while making Hummus?(answer: I can’t count that high) How long does it take 2 people to polish off ½ bottle of tequila while eating cheese-[wait, that wasn’t cooking?!] – (answer: less time than we thought)

Since being chased by a random dimwitted gob in Ismailli last October, I’d stopped running in my town-instead running when ever I went to visit other volunteers in other regions. Now I’m back to tearing up pavement and doing my best to get back in fighting form. I found 2 running partners who regularly kick my ass damm near every morning at 6.30-the view from the Eternal Flame at 7AM never fails to make me unreasonably happy. Against my better judgment I now run/imbibe with the Hash-and as such have acquired an unsavory nickname, the ability to chug a 33 and enough mad skill to generally dodge buses/cars/chalk wielding British men. I’d forgotten how simply wonderful running is-the endorphins are indescribable (on par with climbing) and it has helped satiate my adrenalin rush addiction.

Though that is still a slight problem. During the recent construction (clusterfuck) on my street all the manhole covers and rings were pulled up and new shiny smooth, non-crusty ones were installed. There was about a week when, along the street every manhole was wide and gaping-the Sewerfresh was everywhere-alas the smell was a tease-trust me, I peered down nearly every one (much to the amusement of all pedestrians) only to discover that the RCP was too shallow to allow anything bigger than a rat further than the shaft. Fail. Though, in my runs I’ve noticed several possibilities of underground tastiness and have heard the rushing of drain water. Let’s hope they deliver. Baku has yet to be cracked, shameful after living in this country for so long…A year without drains/underground is like… (You witty types come up with something and there might be a t-shirt in the deal) Lest you think I’ve gone legit and upstanding: while Baku might not offer up her underground, she has offered up her heights, and such lovely heights they are! (standby for the required ‘Im so hardcore gangsta sign throwing, ill posing, adrenalin spewing’ snaps that couchtoppers drool over!)

A (my partner in all art crimes) and I gave our melding of artistic genius one last airing. Leaving our fine men behind-safe in the confines of a flat, surrounded by a Zombie TV show, with no chance for making out/fights-we unleashed our last collaborative set of public art-more savvy this time ‘round, we avoided awkward 2am phone calls to security personal, mortifying sound bites from my mouth, and being hit on by Baku’s (non)Finest.

The transition from volunteer to working was/has been a tad more difficult than I had thought/anticipated. Unfortunately there is a stigma associated with being a Peace Corps Volunteer. I’m tired of people referring to me as the ‘no-longer Peace Corps now working in Baku’. Hell, just say I’m a teacher and get on with it. People expect me to be bitter about PC or to have a complex. Maybe I do, maybe not, I don’t know. Besides having an epic books worth of ridiculous/asinine/shocking/horrifically funny stories, I haven’t quite sorted out how I can use my PC experience to advantage in my next adventure. What skills have I acquired: Ability to Battle rats? Check. Evade police? Check. Survive without water/electricity/heat? Check. Cuss words at the ready in 5 languages? Check….

Hungry…

October 8, 2010

…stay away from the Baku bars: crusty  hookers, too much smoke and piss awful beer.  Instead try a bear, or two…or three, hell while you’re at it, try a dozen. I hear there are so many in Azerbaijan,it could be considered a plague.

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A very informative piece about some of the issues/challenges women face in Azerbaijan. For perspective, to date, 3 of my students have been married at age 17 to men who are 7-10 years older-these men found my students by hanging about at the school gate when the day ended, snapping mobile photos and following the girls home.

Novruz landed in AZ with armies of pavlaka, gogal and sekelbura-formidable advisories of the health conscious, they launched their sugary, buttery goodness with precision, taking no prisoners; for the those lacking will power, they left a wake of calorie comas across the country. Having experienced the cooking/preparing/indulging last year-this season witnessed an epic influx of my favorite usual suspects from Baku and a few new partners in crime. Opening the door, I was greeted by no less than 9 Europeans. It was the largest concentration of non-American foreigners that Ismailli had ever seen-the reaction of ISM people was both surprisingly nice and laughably odd-take for instance B, who’s dreads were petted and fondled on numerous occasion by a enamored water at the TeaHouse-who, we guessed was thrown into confusion deciphering B’s gender and thought him to be a 6+ foot tall species of killer fembot. After returning from a short wander around the elegant town center of ISM, K wanted to know if I had taught the children the following phrases: ‘Ohhh, Myyyy, Gooooodddtt’, ‘Ello my name is!!!!!’ ‘Marry Me’ and ‘F*&% Youuuu!’. –as the sight of 6 foreigners had sent the young population of ISM into uncontrollable yelling spasms.

One day found the lot of us descending upon Nic to photograph the abandoned Christian churches and partake of pork kebabs-again, its certain that our entrance was epic-as we received no harassment only unmasked curiosity in the form of unwavering stares with people going out of their way to say hello (nicely) and ask if we needed help. One man, in charge with guarding a lovingly restored place of worship even went so far as to transport, in his tiny Lada, our 10+ packs to a resting area, allowing us to enjoy wandering around unencumbered. He refused payment, asking only that we give accurate accounts to the outside world of the history of Nic. The small market offered little else but frosty cold bubbly piva (luxury!); cans in hand, wandering down dirt roads in afternoon light, the elusive contentment of life was bit nearer. Taking over a roadside cafй, we settled in for a feast of pork kebab. I had heard tales previously (from the group of archeologists I had spent several days with in this region last fall) of the absolute superiority and medicinal power of the locally made Zoqal Vodka and indulged in a sizable bottle for the picnic. The group toasted several joyous rounds, the drink not disappointing and being quite honestly the best vodka I’ve had! Sedated and happy and with the assistance of a newly made friend, we found cars to drive us through the stunning glacier carved valley between Qabala/Oquz on the way to Mincivicher. This stretch of road is perhaps my favorite in Azerbaijan, on a clear day one can stand at the lowest point and see the foothills and higher Caucuses Mountains, a vista that even for those weary of landscape, is breathtaking. The little story of how I first visited this area with an archeological team will make its way to the blog eventually.

Energy draining, talking, tea drinking, frustrations, stress; characterized the countdown days to certain homelessness. Oh, there were options, yes. A xanim showed me her kitchen, and promised ‘you can sleep here whenever you want, when we are not eating, only 60AZN each month.’ It seemed irrelevant that said kitchen lacked a bed. A man showed me a shed whose previous occupants (I was sure) had been of the barnyard kind. The selling point was the shed possessed a telephone line. (Smart cows, yea?)

March ended one morning with my entire flat packed up and sitting near my door in 4 boxes, 2 small suitcases and a backpack. Moving house due to getting the boot is one of my least favorite pastimes-right up there with visiting the dentist, dancing at Toys and explaining why I don’t have babies. Later that day, I learned that, alas, my landlord, in a supreme display of chain yanking, had just decided to not kick me out-for now. I stood looking at the pile realizing that, while I had too much stuff, I was, at that very moment, living the clichй of all packed up and nowhere to go.

…it must be true!

  Baku AZ, makes the list as a great party city!
Clearly in making such a decision to include Baku, the writers gave washed up oil workers, prostitutes, the filthy rich, and the morally corrupt their due 15 min of fame. Or they interviewed tipsy volunteers. Or maybe they took the mirrored elevator to the top of the TV tower and paid 35 AZN (43.59USD) for tea and a depressing view of the slums. Either way, if they had actually spent more than one night in Baku (which was certainly in a vodka/cigarette induced haze) they likely would have realized that once one has played  ‘count the prostitutes’, ‘insult the sleazy businessmen ‘ and ‘whinge with the volunteers’ there is little else to do in and around the Baku clubs and ‘nightlife’. In fact, I truly wish they would have taken a camera, or gathered a few stalwart fellow writers/travelers/photographers and wandered the areas outside Fountain Square, hell, maybe they could have even spent a day in Mardekend-and seen just how bad the divide is between those who enjoy the hedonistic lifestyle and those who suffer because a good chunk of those partying are siphoning money from NGO’s, public works and aid packages.

Retro: Kiev

February 6, 2010

No fuss. Back from the Amerikastan, rested, clean, in top fighting form, ready to take on another 9 months of adventures in the AZ-I’ve been writing a bit to ward off the freezing (literally) night. While the present tales of hot showers and holiday and cute boys are being cleaned up; rescued from the depths of my hard drive, a few retro stories from the past year or two.

Kiev Style ’08:
An entire day was devoted to underground goodness of the kind that gets Siolo all hot n bothered, makes me long for the Lab, and causes Qx to suddenly remember (and sing purposely off key) all the bad music from the last 50 years.
We donned ‘Himza’-the steroid pumped bruther of regular hip/thigh rubber, the smallest pair was big enough to engulf most of me up to the chest region and required a sling/beanier to stay up-swiftness/agility was reduced to negative numbers, Ds just laughed at my expense- on loan from the Kiev crew, which consisted of several guys and 2 amazing bad arse ladies, (who over the course of the day and into the night showed how the ladies roll style through the drains )and dropped through a manhole into our first Kiev drain. How fresh: my first time after a year of drain drought, the stank of mold with dead leaves, the echo of cars over grates, the rush of jumping blind into the dark, the odd acoustics of a group of people moving though RCP; being underground, and suddenly realizing that I had missed caving/draining/tunnels and all the good memories associated with it. Funny that a year can make you nostalgic for concrete tunnels and p00 laced water.

The Kiev crew bounded through the drain, leading us to a drop shaft where we signed the guest book, while taking hits of mysterious liquid that tasted of carrots/spices/rum/drain water; my contribution was ‘Bomba’! (One of the first Azeri slang words I learned) Heading towards the exit, Siolo may have taken it upon himself to explain the deep meaning of Sewerfresh, though in-between Qx singing, me falling, and Tatiana talking/laughing while she watched me fall, it was a bit difficult to decipher if he was talking drains or cars or women.

Making a good exit we had a few moments break before executing several ninja moves (dodging cars) across a busy highway,(with Qx and I providing the comic relief of running while holding up Himza and looking as though we were on audition for the Miss US Bottom Heavy Competition) and found ourselves in Stalin’s Tunnels. Wading through 3 km of tunnels (which seemed longer due to the hauling of 10 lbs of rubber around my arse) the boys managed to leave T in tears of laughter at their silly/dirty goofiness. Discovering what has been aptly named the ‘Loleller Coaster’ we indulged our immaturity and took turns careening wildly down the tunnel on a rickety wooden platform-which was surprisingly resilient given that it could hold 2 Ukrainians an Aussie and an American (all Himza’d up) with out breaking. Reaching the end of the tunnel, we were presented with a climber’s underground Holy Grail-a several story high ventilation shaft of rusty honeycomb walls, dripping water, haphazard platforms and moldy smell. The small beam of light at the top beckoned. We heeded its call; challenge intoxicating adrenalin pumping, and head torches beaming. Reaching the top we scrambled through a window and fell out the rabbit hole of a Soviet wonder into the late afternoon sun-this exit also ripped the seat of my pants, rendering a gleefully scandalizing perma-moon. Besides the endless jokes and a few pats from the Aussies, the perma-moon was unremarkable on the metro, where we wisely stood next to a man who was sporting leopard print hot pants-the idea being that his spandex nod to caveman couture would out-horrify any observers.

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