Arming ourselves with cameras, water and our best smiles, Azeri and I set forth to conquer ‘The Factory’-a structure, somewhere between Baku and Ismailli that sports 4 stacks and look wretchedly out of place in the dessert that proceeds Baku-we both had been eyeing the beauty for most of the winter, and had finally set aside a weekend to tick a few items off our photography hit list-in context photographing anything in AZ is tricky-the numerous times I’ve been accused of being a spy, chased by yelling arm waving fat men, chased by pissed Xanims, been mobbed by street kids, have, all in all made creating a few pieces art not easy, sometimes dirty, sometimes scary and generally a challenge.

[Warning: Tangent!!! In fairness though, there have been several odd situations while photographing in other countries, take, USA and my hometown of MPLS-one night out wandering due to sleeplessness, I happened to be shooting a few long exposures of an old grain mill (original, huh?), was approached by a Rent-a-Cop (who make up for their utter uselessness by providing endless amusement trying to look tough and smart) who in one breath accused me of being part of a ring of prostitution /meth production, pointed to my tripod and asked “What’s that?”. Convinced of his stupidity (since old ripped jeans, an ugly tee shirt and a camera is the latest in MethHeadHooker fashion) I told him to leave me alone and go away-muttering under my breath as he drove away that if natural selection hadn’t already taken him, the recent event would guarantee at least an honorable mention in the DarwinAwards.]

So we set forth-as many things in AZ are, there is no straight path to anything, making our best guess we boarded a bus in hopes that it would take us in the general direction of ‘The Factory’ 20 min later we realized we’d gone in the opposite direction and were in an outlying suburb of Baku that, from our bus windows was mostly a collection of markets selling gas pipes, door/window frames, car parts and the occasional engine. With nothing to lose, we jumped off the bus at an old gate that was guarding a seemingly promising spread of old buildings. Too late we realized, that guarding the gate was a house turned guard shack, that was occupied by at least 3 curious police men (shown by 3 faces smashed up against one dirty window)-the pull of interesting buildings was too great and we marched up to the door, surprising the men with our boldness. It took a few min, of smooth taking on Azra’s part to convince the police we really just wanted to photograph the mosaics we had glimpsed through the gate. 15 min later we left the complex, mosaic pictures in hand, snickering helplessly-the 5 men in the shack were guarding an old, abandoned, and disused (since ’96) chicken farm.

 

The ‘NiceTaxiGuy’ dropped us off at the ‘The Factory’ gate and with a worried smile, asked if we wanted him to stay and wait-assuring him of our determination to see ‘The Factory’ we sent him back to Summie with many a ‘Yaxsi Yol!!’ and proceeded to look for an entrance. Lacking the tabbie boots/equipment usually required for such mad moves as vaulting ones self over a 13 foot high rusted gate/climbing a wall of corrugated iron topped with razor wire, we snapped a few photos through the gate hoping that, as it usually does in the AZ, someone would wander over to see what the ‘foreign girls’ were doing, and that person would happen to have a key. Call it fate, or just bloody good luck, that was exactly what happened, only it was 2 young men, who not only happened to ‘guard’ the complex, but who also happened to be incredibly bored out of their minds-as the day we appeared happened to fall in the middle of their 3 day guarding stint-a stint, that we later learned, was void of any form of amusement outside reading the Koran and bludgeoning to death the occasional snake. Initially suspicious, the young men, quickly realized that giving a ‘tour’ would likely make the next few house pass swiftly and lift the dull stupor of watching 25 acres of left over soviet factory slowly rot away. We spent the next 2 hours wandering around the factory-the guys telling us their life stories and throwing endless questions our way-to ensure we had no doubt as to their manliness, they also gave several dramatic accounts of heroic snake battles, in which they, of course were the victors. Since there are only so many ways to photo pealing paint and rust, we ended the day sitting around a small table in their painfully desolate ‘office’ drinking chy with the stern look of HA in a picture frame watching us-survey says HA would have approved. Eventually working up the courage, the young men shyly asked if we would pose for pictures-figuring that a portrait swap was the perfect way to build cross cultural relations/understanding (etc. etc) we posed for mobile portraits, flashing our best pearly whites. Azra and I have portraits of the 2 young men, they are 21 and 25, both had never met a German or American before, they look much older, they try to look stern, but eventually crack smiles-they beg us to not leave, but we do, to the sound of ’Sag ol! at our backs, we make a graceful exit that is nearly ruined by a banshee Kamaz driver…

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The 2008 !!!

June 6, 2009

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Jan-June ’08
Volunteer Youth Group from School #1 with the special needs children; at the HA Park.Peace Corps Insider did a story about the children. This was one of the first big projects I did with youth, and for a fresh n00bie it was a lot to tackle; the kids from school#1 were amazing and really committed a lot of time to help the children at the hospital. Story associated with this project: February 2008: Blue and Failure

The last night in Tbilisi, GA.
March ‘08
(there are no pictures left from this trip since my computer crashed…check out FB)
Spent the afternoon on the private rooftop patio of the presidential suite of a prominent hotel watching the sun set and dangling my feet 90+ feet above traffic. Set out on a wander to find the underground brothel turned restaurant and somehow (due to me) ended up discovering an abandoned metro/tube stop that was connected to a mostly abandoned underground shopping center with a few barely alive strip joints. Unfortunately the rest of the group lacked a sense of adventure/taste for the underground, but was overwhelmingly apt at stating the obvious as evidenced by this little gem uttered at the top of a stairwell: ‘Its dark down here and it smells like pee.’
*slaps forehead with palm of hand*
Resigning myself to a small tantalizing glimpse of GA possibilities, (vowing to return sometime) we carried on and eventually found brothel turned restaurant due to shortcut taken through newly found abandoned metro/tube stop. I spent the remaining evening gawking at the stunning array of fascinating characters collected in the Kinkali House. This place makes it on the list of top places to eat, 7 levels, (6 of which are underground) faux maroon velvet everywhere, floor to ceiling mirrors, the Alco/smokes menu the same length as the food and the waitresses getting high in the restroom!

Feb. BurnOut

Feb. BurnOut

Silliness
Feb. ‘08
In Baku at the now demolished Absheron, a seminal moment becasue it represents that Donny was out danced by someone (!!!) and was too tired to make it into bed. Found him at 7 am while out the door for a run. Its worthwhile to know that the both of us have been talking about/planning  a biking/hiking adventure (since waaaaay back in ’07) to foreign lands with possible hostile conditions. This is also noteworthy since I rarely talk about my friends, clearly showing that I am, in spite of my protest otherwise, a typical self-centered twenty-something.

 

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New Flat

Old houses, New Houses :Most of Spring, Summer and Fall of ’08
Was chased out of first house by crazy yelling xanim who wanted more money.
Ran for it and deposited myself in new yard house where life seemed better until the Landlady climbed up on the roof at 7am (To dry berries. Seriously.) and peaking in my window caught me doing yoga…in a sports bra and boy shorts. (At least her spying was rewarded)
Was kicked out of yard house by yelling Landlady and son, much to the amusement and general shock of 7 small children, 5 xanims, 4 old men, 3 housewives, and 2 taxi drivers who had gathered to watch the show once Landlady and Co. started yelling and my possessions appeared in a messy heap in the middle of Side Street 4.
Finding these types of things hysterical, I couldn’t help waving and blowing kisses to the audience as I drove away in a taxi.      Was officially kicked out the night before leaving on holiday, unsure if I’d have a place to live when returning, I was a bit keen on keeping my clothing… This was not only a stupid choice but also an embarrassing choice as the result was dragging around a Awful Bloody Hell Huge pack for 2 weeks in eastern countries and then 6 weeks of meetings after…then I gave up and threw away most of my clothes. Sometimes I’m a Low Slerner. (However, due to a great climbing buddy from MN, my clothing supply will soon be replenished to a PC level of excess.) With extra space/midget beds/pillows/blankets this means the flat has become the central hotel of ISM with a revolving door of scruffy PCV’s randomly showing up. This also means I expect a few of my more adventurous friends from outside the ‘Baijan to visit in the ‘09 before I leave. Make your reservations now.

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The summer photography class. L-R Back to Front: Salguk, Torgul, Farqu, Gunel, Titi, Lili, Narmine
What an introduction to inside lives of youth in ISM. It started as a photography class, but turned into something akin to The OC: ‘Summer in the ‘Baijan Edition. The essays were sharp (the youngest in the class was 15) and at times difficult to read due to subject matter. I’m not sure what’s more surprising, that the youth really threw themselves into the project (I had doubts if they would actually be interested in participating) or that they started to really talk to me about their lives. (And the lives of everyone else in ISM.) The teens in ISM have the same issues as the teens in America, they just manifest/deal in a different way. Shocking, huh? The summer ended in a bit of sadness, with half the class leaving for university in Baku and the other half reluctantly returning to secondary school classes.

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Istanbul, Turkey
June ‘08

Sitting on the edge of the Bospherus drinking Effs Dark with Rob, talking, laughing and just being; then hookah and an in-depth discussion of old boyfriends/old girlfriends…Talking shit to the confused hostel owner at 3 am, pissing him off and then not apologizing, of course (somehow I see a trend here…)  Rob and I share a talent for finding bad fashion, being inappropriate at the worst/best times, being mistaken for movie stars, being really really good looking and having a love/hate relationship with members of the opposite sex. I had not expected to miss my family; was surprised when I cried myself to sleep after saying goodbye at 3 am.

 

 

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GLOW!

July ‘08

A hyper mix of Azeri/American girls for one week at camp.  It could have been a recipe for disaster, but instead was a wonderful time of teaching teen girls how to be strong/independent/adventurous/caring/passionate leaders.  This project took up an enormous chunk of time and the efforts of around 20 PCV’s (just to acquire funding) which is entirely worth while when the girls, ages 14-17, learn new life skills.  For most Azeri girls, this is the first time they have been away from home with out their families and introduced to new concepts of ‘self worth’ and ‘individual abilities.’

 

 

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Aug. ’08 

L-R: Aching, Jody, Unkonown,Rikki, Sara,Kat, Jason, Colleen

In Laich, the day I rescued London Mark from the Clutches of  Wretched Sleeping Arrangements, Overpaying, and Language Innocence (by inviting him back to ISM and then spending 2 hours on the bus trying to teach him all the Azeri insults I knew.)  Unfortunately, we both left for adventures elsewhere in distant countries soon after his one night in ISM with 10 inebriated PCV’s, several sour bubbly 33’s and one smelly squat.

 

 

 

Aug. ‘08  (pictures on the way…)

Kiev/Moscow/Drains/WanderingAtNight/Hookah/Vodka-IronBru/HawtMen/Partical Colliders/VastIindustrialWastLand/Dirt/Gime/RedSquare/Happiness/JumpingFreightTrains/

DodegyUndergroundStructures/Best2Weeks/Metro/Indipendence Square/Nassssty/Dsankt/Siologen/Quantum-X    

 

 

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Sept. ’08

 Jason and I give Toy posing our best effort on his last night in the ‘Bajian before returning to Americastan.  Jody and I keep it hard core reprezenting the 4’s and 5’s!!  ‘I kess’es you, miss for you’ 

I hate saying goodbye. Kiev 179

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WinterPhotoClass 002Fall/Winter Photography Class

 (a few of the kid’s photos) 

These kids are from the Russian sector of School #1.  Most of the first 2 weeks of ‘class’ wasDec08 001all of us figuring out how to communicate, eventually, we recruited Lili to translate, the boys stopped being scared, the girls stopped giggling and the group started snapping amazing pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Current Location

The view out my kitchen window makes waking up worthwhile…if I actually fall asleep.

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131Summie WasteLand

Oct. ‘08(this is for you Steve, though apologizes; the picture is pathetic, yelling fat man wouldn’t let us get closer. I’m sure you remember this chyxana?)

Met up with a guy who had the paper, stamp of approval, signature, get out of jail free, VIP, Leet Ninja, hard hitting pass, approved by no less than an Azeri Government Branch allowing him free reign to go above/under/around/through Baku taking pictures.  Fortunately we were able to swap stories/tales/tips and spend 2 days photographing before he left for somewhere outside the ‘Baijan.153

 

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Toy

Oct. ‘08Kiev 238

The nails

The n00bs

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Ninja the Kitten as a centerfoldjan09 018

Nov.’08

I like small helpless animals. I do not however like feral crazy animals.  While Ninja made a good show, he is, at the time of this post….Gone.  While he did boost my popularity with certain male volunteers (!!), he was kicked out recently (last Feb.’09) due to complications with HouseTraining. (There is a follow up story to this involving my mostly toothless landlady)

 

 

 

 

FreshMeat   Dec. ‘08    (pictures on the way…)The addition of 2 hot new site mates has boosted my ISM social calander by at least 90%.  The AZ6’s hold promise, Marina has perfected her ‘I’m Disinterested, Hot and Board as Hell’ Toy Photo Smile and I have already trained Tim in the “Maxium Obatinium of Free Food from Individuals Helpless to Rresist your Good Looks” skill. 

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Christmas Joy

Dec.’08

In the SouthRegion of Lankeron with the lovely Katie, Nate, Jane, Tor, Whitney, G-Strap and Rache.   Mimosa and the gift from Jane of a sock animal to give me someone to talk to when she is not around .

 

New Years! (none of the pictures are blog safe. trust me.)

Madness, of course.  It started with a French Man, stumbling over train tracks, a package, hair dye, and climbing over a fence, it ended with a Belgian Pilot, counting down to New Years 7 times, a Blizzard, a coffee shop, 2 nights on the PCLounge Floor and dressing like Xanims from the clothing stash on the bathroom floor.

 

There are several topics that get maximum play in my daily conversations with the people of ISM; they are in no particular order of importance:

*That I do not eat any meat, YES, that includes chicken (Oh, the horrors!!)

*My proclivity for running at 6am in ‘sport costume’

*The apparent deafness of my left ear due to industrial piercing

*The occupation, salary of Bob/Dan/Jon/ the economist/programmer/photographer in UK/Belgium/South Korea (a.k.a ‘The Faïence’ a.k.a ‘Faux Dude’) and why he is not with me presently or whatever.

*Current fatness/skinniness. (For the record, this one makes me livid; my response:  ‘Oh!! [surprised look] I think YOU are fatter as well!!’ [toothy grin]

 

Depending on the day, I may have to give my standard answers to any or all of those related questions.  It always sends my head for a trip when I’ll be asked on consecutive days the SAME question, by the same person.

 

While most of the issues are resolvable, the running in ‘sport costume’ is one that continues to snag in conversations.  There is just no way, due to limited language and vast cultural void, that I can express the joy that running brings, and that it will in no way shape or form make me less female.

 

Anyway, the girls I work with started out horrified at my desire for ‘sport’.  Yes, they were in awe of my boldness, which I can somewhat get away with since I’m ‘American’, but they had generally never considered that they too could enjoy the benefits of running.  Which is why I’d like to champion one of my best friends in AZ; L.  She is in secondary school, (high school), likes punk rock, and Tokyo Hotel, will find any excuse sufficient to decorate her clothing with skull/anarchy sign/PUNK IS NOT DEAD/spider badges, hates boys (finally a 15 year old who isn’t boy crazy) and has made it her mission to do everything different because that’s how she is and popular opinion be dammed.  Needless to say, we have a lot in common, and have been hanging out a lot since I first moved here in ’07. (she is also the friend that was with me the day the XanimThrewDown)

 

But back to running.   March 5th is Sports Day in ISM (and maybe all of AZ…?) and there is a 1.5mile run held each year that starts in the (NEW) town center and ends at the Martyr Memorial.  Traditionally, meaning back to when Sports Day was first celebrated in ISM (a really long time ago.) it was only the boys that participated, the girls didn’t even watch, the mere viewing of such display considered highly inappropriate.  Fast forward to 2009.  L has, since last September, gone through the usual high school drama, with girls hating her on Mon, loving her by Tues., pledging BFF status by Wed. and then starting the whole cycle again on Friday.  Added to that, the boys-at once appalled and attracted by her bad ass attitude-spreading nasty (and that’s an understatement) rumors; its no surprise that by March L was telling me she hated school and was tired of her classmates ‘not respecting her’.  Weather it was a dare, or some past conversation that encouraged her is not known, but, L decided to run on Sports Day, not only as the first girl, but the first girl running specifically against her boy classmates.  The news, made the top gossip for at least 4 days-opinions varied, some (mostly of the adult category) were not pleased and found her decision to run the perfect time to address the decline of community values, the increase of bread prices and the mediocrity of parents everywhere (except themselves of course)-some, (mostly of the boy category) were simply happy to have another reason to tease her and some (mostly of the girl category) were in awe but questioned her true femininity.

 

Leading up to the race, L and I had many conversation about the tricky navigation of gossip, opinion, friendship and why doing things different was rough but likely good in the end.  While I take no credit whatsoever for L being a bold and amazing 15 year old, she said something the day before the race that made me happy.  “You are different, and you run and do sports, but you are cool and kind to us, you show us how we can be different and its OK, so I am going to run and be the only girl, why not?’

 

The morning came, gray, cold and typical March gloom-the runners assembled in front of the new HA museum, and L was there, dressed in white sports costume-the only non black clothing in the whole group of males-who were dressed in fashions that bounced from sport costume and wrestling attire to blue jeans and pointy shoes.   L was nervous, the boys eyed her with suspicion, a small group of girl had gathered near to watch-just close enough to see, but not too close, lest anyone think they were approving of L or even worse horrors checking out the boys.

 

Due to a work commitment that I was completely unable to cancel, I couldn’t watch the race, but sent L off with my best wishes and a final ‘Kick Ass’ command.

 

Of course she ran, of course she beat all the boys in her form, of course she made her point and of course she had a lovely 100 Megawatt grin that stayed around for a few days.

 

We debriefed later on in the day and L explained how she was very tried but didn’t let herself stop because ‘those boys weren’t going to beat me!’-the school ‘gym’ teacher even congratulated her and said (paraphrased) that she was only girl in the school who he thought could run and do well.

 

So I champion L; her courage, her speed, her boldness-may you have many peaceful moments running and in running and in life may you continue to kick the asses of all those who tease and doubt you!!

            Gray. Depressing.  Cold.  No shower.  Even though it was the end of February, spring was somewhere else.  Somehow, after falling asleep after running, I dragged myself out of bed for the second time. No sun anywhere.  Pulling on bag lady clothes I’d been wearing for 3 weeks, the temptation to not walk to the hospital was almost impossible to resists.  The hospital was only a 15 min walk, but the room in the Soviet bock would be only a few degrees warmer and smelly with bleach, unwashed hair and mold.  Deciding to hibernate later, I smeared on eyeliner (a necessity to prove myself creditable with various women) and quickly left the house carrying a plastic bag of recently purchased art supplies. 

The group of youth at the hospital before me; with the assistance of the cleaning lady they had already opened the door and turned on the petch.  It smelled awful, and the children hadn’t even arrived.  Greetings and smiles and cheek kisses.  The contents of my bag were unceremoniously dumped onto the low table; finger paint and glitter falling into a small heap that looked horridly bright in contrast to the dull table, the shelf of broken toys and the stained walls.  The large sheets of poster paper were rescued from the clutches of a greedy nurse (who had already pocketed various art supplies).  The children arrived.  Layers of coats, scarves sweaters removed, outside shoes exchanged for indoor slippers, hair smoothed, smiles fixed.  Tension and uncertainty.  Nervousness and worry.  Introductions were always awkward even though the youth and I had been visiting the hospital for over 2 months.  The children sometimes didn’t remember us; sometimes they would cower in fear at the face of someone they had met before.  These children had been categorized as special needs, hidden away, ignored, and treated as the manifestation of any sort of shame the family had in its past or present.  But the children were here; someone had agreed to let this room be used for ‘therapy and education.’  The assembled accouterments consisted of several mats, a low table, an endless pile of broken toys, dolls and educational tools designed to teach the children how to open doors, pull zippers and tie shoes.  There were a few new children this time; a brother and sister (with Down Syndrome) and a dark haired girl, who looked like she was 10 or 12.  She was just short of terrified, and immediately clung to my hand with a desperate mixture of fear and uncertainty.  We exchanged smiles, but it was several minutes before she would tell me her name; it was Kaməla.  It was several more minutes before she understood that we shared the same name, a revelation that produced a smile and an excited hug.  For the rest of the morning she would ask me what my name was, just to make sure, each time I answered, another smile, another hug.  (When I first arrived in ISM most people couldn’t pronounce my name, so I was renamed Kaməla, which I understand means, very smart and unusual)

Eventually, we were able to coax the children into low chairs, and showed them the bright palates of color.  The children, the youth, the parents, all looked at me; confused and unsure what to do next.  We had colored, cut paper, glued, but never finger painted.  I guided Leyla’s index finger first into water then into green and then onto paper; she scribbled wide dark lines across the paper, looked up and laughed at her audience.  The children looked questioningly at us, the adults and youth; then a moment later flew at the colors with happiness.  Each of the youth carefully tried to supervise a child, however it was quickly apparent that neither the youth nor the children had ever played with paints before, allowing neatness to be pushed aside by bold swaths of color.  Tural, age 7, decided after some experiments with yellow and orange, that black was best, and did his best to promote black all over the paper, adding small dots with his thumb.  Kaməla, age 14, tried each color, starting with orange, ending with green and then returned to and stayed with blue, scooping out piles of paint and using her palm to mix blue with every color on the paper.  The brother and sister (who names/ages I was never told) were fond of orange and thought it fun to first smudge the paper, then their hands and then the faces of their neighbors with watery color.

The youth and I visited the hospital almost every week throughout that spring.  Art piled up in colored heaps and we taught the children the Azeri and English names of their favorite color.

 

Tural: Black/Qara

Kaməla: Blue/Göy

Leyla: Red/Qırmızı

Gunel: Orange/Narıncı

Sadet: Green/Yaşıl

 

I returned from summer holiday, and decided to make a quick trip back to Ismailli in between the Baku meetings.  I was informed by 2 nurses that Kaməla had died from a cold.  No one really knew when she had died.  Someone had heard from someone who knew someone, who knew someone who thought that it might be a good idea to inform the nurses.  I had doubts about the ‘cold’ but didn’t have the heart to question the nurses further; they smirked at my look of confused sadness and shrugged their shoulders.

I left hospital.

 Sometime during the day I became quite angry at something rather insignificant, but it seemed justified; she had died and I wanted to care more, wanted to understand why, wanted to hate myself for failing to do a better job; wanted the reinforcement that maybe she had found some joy in playing with finger paints and being a 14 year old girl who liked the color blue.

It’s a failure in the grand scope.  The room is closed waiting for a bribe to open it.  The nurses want me to give them money.  The children are back at their homes.  The parents have vilified me for not writing a grant for something besides art supplies.  I have seen the brother and sister, who’s parents have taught them to garden, working in the HA park.

 

     

I am perhaps the world’s worst liar, when I try and lie, you know it. Take an already painfully awkward girl, times by 10, add in all the classic give aways of lying and there I am. I can’t do it.  I blush, laugh, act more awkward, shift eyes, knot hands, look to the left (or is it right?) shift feet, basically I do everything possible to let the person(s) I’m talking to know that I’m attempting a lie for some god only knows reason and that I feel rather bad/embarrassed about the whole thing.  (My childhood dream of being a spy has obviously been trashed)  This dramatically changed when I landed in the AZ and spoke none of the language; lying became frighteningly easy.  At first there were twinges of guilt (ok, huge piles of guilt) accompanied by all the afore mentioned signs.  I was sure in the first 9 months of AZ life someone would call me out on my ridiculous behavior.  No such luck, what I attribute to bad lying was covered by loads of cultural awkwardness and a language barrier that assuaged my icky feelings associated with lying about various personal life details. 

 

The lie of the fiancée, that stared as a knee-jerk reaction to being accused (within a week of arriving in ISM) of being a lose women (a mild term for what they really called me) has now grown into a monster.  At first I just told people I was engaged. But then as my language improved I couldn’t just say ‘I don’t understand’ everyone knows I reached a certain lever of competence with the Azeri language; they don’t let me slide anymore.  At first I developed a strategy of calling the FauxDude by random names that were, for lack of a better term, pulled out the arse at the moment.  This worked swimmingly until, in typical form I’d be asked by the same person what the fiancée’s name was and I’d forget and stumble around looking for a guys’ name that had lots of nicknames. (FYI Bob, Tony, Mike, Matt, Chris, Dan, have been reused favorites)  Picking an occupation was easy, there are really only a few professions that I can remember and actually say something about; these are limited to the following: Doctor, Engineer, Teacher, Computer ProgrammerDesigner, Photographer, Economist.  Problem is I’m too stupid to remember which profession he currently is engaged in, producing comic conversations that start with ‘Oh I thought Bob was a teacher?’ ‘Who is Dan?’  Once it’s established that Dan is in fact an Economist, the follow up question is naturally, ‘Where does Dan the Economist live?’  Originally my plan was to pick a state I’ve visited (NY, PA, S.Dak., Mich, Ill etc) and expound on that, which proved more difficult since the next logical question was ‘Why didn’t you get married before you came to AZ?’  (Canceling the whole point of lying and putting me back in the category of ‘lose woman’ since no proper man living in the states would let his woman travel to AZ alone)  Then I hit upon a brilliant solution, if FauxDude works in another country it’s the fail safe excuse for why we haven’t married yet, don’t have a date, and don’t really see each other.  (At all.)  I’d choose a country, at least 3 time zones away that I’d visited and knew a far amount about (i.e.; South Korea, Ireland, England, France) plunk FauxDude down in say, Seoul and then describe the country; a stunningly smooth diversion taking the spotlight off FauxDude.  The most difficult country to describe proved to be Ireland, which when pronounced in my wonky America/Midwest accent sounds like the way Azeri’s pronounce Iran-this resulted in one too many heated political conversations and near arguments, so I moved FauxDude to London, where to my knowledge he is now living a very happy life as an Engineer and misses me something fierce. 

 

If this sounds beyond ridiculous, it is. 

 

Since I’ve been building up this lie for over a year in hopes of being accepted and protecting my reputation, there really is no way of backing down now. Breaking up with FauxDude is even more scandalous than me clearly being a blithering idiot to 90% of the ISM population. Thankfully, no one has seriously called me out…yet.  What is most frustrating is that, at this point, I’m comfortable enough with my work/ reputation/language/people to just say that I’m not/never will/don’t want to be engaged/married/in a relationship/life partner.  The temptation is to just level with my close friends; admit that I’ve been lying for the past year and then eat crow.  Of course nothing is ever simple, and on top of the FauxDude there are a few other lies that make a nicely tangled knot of stupidity.  I haven’t decided what to do.

 

Anyway, lets face it, if your only interaction with/knowledge of American women was the shocking chicks of MTV music videos and  previous volunteers who made Mrs. Beaver look like a skank, and then suddenly, a 25 year old single woman, clearly not tall or blond, shows up in your town with a nose piercing and a 14g stainless steel bar punched through her ear, sporting trimmed eyebrows/trousers/skull shirts, and saying she is here to help your kids become better citizens…you’d jump away in fear and run for hills while tisking, but you’d be damm glad that some upstanding man somewhere was willing to bite the bullet and do society a favor by marrying her and protecting the rest of the population from her obvious ability to corrupt all males within a 10 ft. radius.

“Personally, I dislike lies” he said.  “I find that if you act them out long enough, you begin believing them.  You’ll find that lies are natural for people here.  Having a façade is normal, because being honest is such a hassle.  You have to decide what bothers you most-lying all the time, or the consequences of openness.”
 Lipstick Jihad Azadeh Moaveni

Retro: Jan-Feb

June 4, 2008

      I realized that I haven’t said much about last winter, namely the months January-March, when it was awful cold, very dark, and generally unpleasant.  That is not to say that nothing amazing, important, or interesting happened-in fact a lot happened, such as the holiday in Georgia, projects starting, a few conferences in Baku, and listening to Ram (The Indian) and Rob (The White Dude) rap at 3 am-but while there is a side of me that truly does like snow and snowboarding, the other side hates darkness, gray skies, low ceilings, lack of heat, and not showering; I have a dodged stubbornness that in this next winter in AzerBeeJay I wont be grumpy and will doing everything short of selling my first born (not that I’ll ever have one, but you get the point)to make it back to the states for a real family holiday.  Anyway, a few things might be amusing/interesting/funny.

 

January: Depressing, but productive, I read through 6 books, started the project with the special needs children, and caught up on pop culture by watching 24, Lost, Prison Break and various films that lacked any true substance but effectively turned off my brain.  This was also the month when I learned to knit and thus produced a pea soup green ‘scarf’ that looked like it had gone though a meat grinder/been run over by a truck; not one to be discouraged with a finished product that when wound around my neck looked as though an Alien life form was growing from my windpipe, I simply unraveled the mess into a bigger mess and started from stitch one-only to be stopped by my ex-host sister, who threw mw a look of utter disgust, grabbed the needles and in under an hour produced a decent neck wrap; at which point I completely lost interest in making a scarf and focused my attention on writing witty bubble captions for skanky chocolate bar wrappers.

 

 February:

    My dear counterpart celebrated her birthday in top Azeri style, with Corak, Veggies, Mayo Salad and enough sweets to make you cry (though, thank God, minus the gut burning vodka) and I was surprised to realize (like when you unexpectedly find a 20USD stuffed in an old pair of jeans) that we are somehow, in spite of my cultural stumbling, true friends.  I can say that like weddings, birthday parties are excellent but in small doses, there in a limit to the amount of Plov (uber buttery rice dish) that an American can consume, however, it was worth it to finally know that I was accepted by a certain group of people.

 

There was the infamous sickness that produced 2 days of projectile vomit and set new records for the amount of times a person (me) has puked in a 2 hour taxi ride-this is noteworthy in that thus far is the most miserable I have felt in AZ, and the only time when I seriously thought about going back to MN.  When I arrived at the house, I was on the verge of collapse, but was forced into the only heated room, pushed into a painful chair and expected to smile as I sipped hot tea while the ex-host family divided their attention between watching a overly melodramatic Turkish soap that thought the 80’s was still ‘IN!” and watching me, as I with an increasingly pale face, tried to limit my response to their queries with head nods or ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ as I feared that opening my mouth for any longer period of time would produce catastrophic fireworks of rubbish to fly everywhere.  At surprisingly consistent 15 min. intervals, I would jump out of my chair and tell them I would be back in a minute, and fast walking to my room would dispose of whatever my body hated, which at this point was everything and I calculated that if this continued, it would be a mere 2 hours until I died from puking.  I learned my lesson the hard way that I couldn’t actually tell the host family what was truly bothering me, even though I possessed the language skills to do so-in the first month in a horrid misunderstanding/confusing juxtaposition of words, I indicated to my host mother that I was pregnant [!!!!]only to set off a 2 hour long firestorm from hell and me trying to prevent my host mom from calling the local doctor-it wasn’t until later I learned that in ISM we don’t say “my tummy hurts” (which is what I’d said) because that means we’re pregnant[!!!]–and there after I ever only had allergies and my stomach problems were seemingly cured. (I would like the opinion of other PCV’s in this matter as I’m not sure if this is simply an ISM thing or one of those important pieces of information told to us during PST when more than likely my brain had slipped into a coma like state from the 42celcius heat?)  The point is that thankfully, my host family was already convinced that I was a blithering idiot, and always had the TV on ear splitting levels, so seemingly spastic trips to my bedroom were just an extension of my continually odd behavior-such as running at 6am, brushing my teeth more than once a day and taking my tea without the normal 6 tablespoons of sugar-after an hour display of supreme strength, discipline, and cunning, I had paid my dues to politeness and stumbled off to my room where I curled in the fetal position on my floor and tried to teleport myself to a non-third world country with proper bathrooms and friends who were a phone call away.

 

Additionally, I added the delightful (not) task of teaching English to my schedule and did my best to assist my sitemate in imparting the joys of speaking a civilized language to a room of ADD addled children.  Actually, I was scared s—tless, (standing in front of a group of people, regardless of age/size/intelligence is right up there with getting wisdom teeth pulled on my list of non favorite things to do) but prevailed, and now the kinds love me, my reputation points have increased by at least 10 (putting my total at around 30) and call me Misses Colleen-which makes me giggle for a reason I cant quite explain.

 

There was also, an astounding guesting experience that illustrated the wonderful way that life is always odd and unpredictable.  One cold night I found myself whisked into a Azeri style condo and given a light meal (which in itself is remarkable given the usual guesting fare which is hearty, greasy and not for those watching their figure) and then basically told by the women who was my host that she wanted to adopt me as her second daughter.  The benefits of being her daughter, she explained, included the following: servants,(who I had mistaken as family members and said hello to as I walked in) a car (actually a SUV-which I had the option of either driving myself or letting a driver cart me around), the run of the house (since she was a business women and was usually away and I could choose my own room), the total use of the big screen TV with cable (which had the benefit of a Turkish MTV channel!), and a flat screen computer (with internet hookup-ok it was dial up but I would be able to surf in the comfort of an over stuffed couch) There really was no catch other than I would have to teach her English. Hummmm, I pondered this arrangement for an adequate time; all of that at my fingertips, the ability to be warm, well fed, lazy, taken care of and driven around; one day depressed since there hasn’t been electricity for 4 days and the next with my own room and servants and AzeriCentral Heat…and then I politely declined, a decision I regretted one hour later when I was back in the house with no heat/electricity/water/privacy and thoroughly fed up with being treated like a child and facing 2 more months of seething irritation.  Oh well.

new place to sleep

May 13, 2008

Most everyone knows that I was required to live with a host family for at least 6 months; at the end of which, I would be allowed to move into my own house/flat. What everyone may not know, (and I didn’t know, but do now) is that finding a house/flat for rent is damm near impossible, and would bring me to the point of tears/yelling. I had been, in top form of American efficiency looking for a house/flat since last Nov. (and naively believed that my hard work would produce a place by mid March) but it wasn’t until April 22nd that I actually moved in to a new-ish place. Think about the atmosphere right before a thunderstorm, tornado, typhoon, or the second before you jump into a big row with someone you know-that was the state of things in the weeks leading up to moving out-and just to cover my bases, I’m quite sure 50% of that tension was caused by me. All the bloody details are not worth rehashing, the details would probably confuse you, I’m still in the dark on a few points, but the summery is that, I had let myself be miserable with the host family (instead of trying to make the best out of a bad lot) and then gave up even trying to remedy the issues, as it had reached the point where nothing I did was acceptable and my very living with them became a game of avoidance and since we (the host family and I) weren’t talking, avoiding was easy and it wasn’t until the day I moved out that I got my last proper does of being yelled at. So that is, on the surface at least, over.

My house is one kitchen, one room, (though really it more of a studio/flat in size, style, comforts, location) that shares a yard with a large house that is occupied by a family. I would like to happily note, that upon moving in one of the first things I noticed was that the chickens were kept in a pen, and stayed in the pen, and except for the rooster somehow managing to hop up on the nearby tin roof to screech at 5AM (if you got that far, why not just escape?) they eat, sleep, squirt, mate and lay eggs in the confines of the coop. This is glorious, as it means I will no longer have to clean squirt off my shoes or be ambushed by crazed foul when using the bathroom at night. That I find this noteworthy, shows just how thoroughly irritating and filthy a group of chickens running around ape-sh-t wild 24/7 is.

The walls in my little kitchen and bed/living/study/hanging out room are painted sea foam green, the trim around the doors and windows is white-the effect is that of a sea-side summer cottage in a warm climate, which is almost accurate, except for the months Nov-March and that the Caspian Sea is a 2 hour ride away. I ripped pictures out of my Paris calendar, and taped up the black&white photos in the kitchen, creating a space, that is “artsy’ as said by Jody but missing any personal work-I regret not bringing at least a few of the prints I had collected from various photographer friends last winter-but I do have 2 small framed prints of Hamms and Alpha as gifts from MG, one (completely stunning in its simplicity) print from Mike’s photo project as a gift from MP, and read through el Draino (for the 5th time-I miss drains) and ripped out a few good drain snaps
(Courtesy of Ds and Siolo); all of which shall soon be proudly displayed in some fashion-though jury is still out on where the SydHarbour and AZ topographical map will go up!

My one room has 2 double beds, with normal spreads, and while I miss my 80’s adult movie star faux gold satin coverlet, I prefer function over faux and can now use my beds as couches without danger of sliding off and bruising/breaking a body part (highly likely it would be a ‘battery’ or knee-both necessary for running, and therefore important to not incapacitate). The best part of the room though, is the bookshelf, which until I properly placed books on its shelves, had functioned in storage as a hotel for a ridiculously high amount of spiders-who were killed when I brilliantly sprayed Azeri glass cleaner, called ‘Venus-YENI formula!’ on them, something about the ‘crunch’ makes it gross to smash arachnids, while I’m not in the least bit scared of them. The bookshelf is wonderful, and now holds everything from comedy, (Bill Bryson and Klosterman), and old school classics (Passage to India, and Sister Carrie) to modern pieces of easily consumed fluff (Water for Elephants and Icy Sparks) and autobiographies (The Audacity of Hope and Africa in my Blood)

The kitchen stove is a set of 3 burners on a desk, (which is, I have no doubt, a relic from the soviet times, the tiny drawers hold the few kitchen accessories I possess) while the real oven/stove appliance sits, broken on my porch (I have a porch!), no refrigerator, one small table (doubles as a desk), one chair (until a day ago when I increased my chairs by 300% and now have 3 chairs), and I am in possession of the following kitchen utensils: one knife (very dull) one fork, 2 spoons (one big, one small-there is a ‘Scrubs’ joke in here somewhere)) 2 chy glasses, one plate, a saucer, a salt shaker, and a tea kettle; all of which fit nicely inside the afore mentioned desk drawers (except for the kettle which has a perminate home on a burner) It is actually a lot to own, considering that I hadn’t owned anything kitchen related until then, and it makes things creative in that I really can’t cook a whole lot (except for things that must be boiled in water) and therefore have had a very healthy diet of fresh veggies for the last several weeks-though there is a slight snafu when I have people over, the whole sharing forks and a plate game is a bit annoying and makes eating a pain. But, I have my coffeemaker, and most importantly, privacy, which is worth its weight in gold allowing me to finally possess the luxury of walking home after a hard day to turn on Band of Horses (current favorite chill music) and to savor being alone and the ability to act normal.

I knew, 10 min after landing in the ‘Baijan that I was walking target.  Unfortunately I had been lulled into thinking that they (the delinquent boys in my village) had gotten used to my weirdness (and the fact that I not only wear sunglasses, I also wear shades WHILE listening to my iPod.)  There I was minding my own business, reading a book, on a nice day, in an old park.; there were 4 guys who had been unsuccessfully trying to get the attention of my site mate and me.  What these guys lacked in creativity (the used such techniques as strutting by every 15 min while playing Enrique on their mobiles, climbing trees, sitting on near by benches while staring/yelling at us: soooo last year) they made up for in persistence, by stubbornly refusing to admit utter and complete rejection even after over an hour had passed.  Deciding that the benches where truly uncomfortable, we moved to a mini-pavilion and carried on with our reading. The tranquility lasted 30min and then, mid way through a memoir/essay/short story on homes and the ideas of space and time contained with in the idea of home (how exciting!) I was shot in the back by a BB, that was launched from a plastic BB gun made to look like a machine gun, that had been aimed at me by a snot nosed 10 year old boy, who was carrying out the dirty work of the rejected teenage boys who lacked the courage to actually shot the gun themselves (“look!!! An American girl, I hear its top season for them”) and were cowering behind a plastic slide waiting to see my reaction.  Being startled/surprised/angry/mad I threw my book down and ran at the boy, yelling, (choice cuss words) when I reached the boy, he tried to pass off the blame by pointing to a 7 year old boy (who wasn’t holding a plastic machine gun and had just innocently emerged from a tube slide and looked confused).  I stood there telling my self to NOT grab the gun and beat the shit out of the kid and NOT turn on the menacing teenagers as target practice for the instrument of doom replica -somewhere someone decided that making plastic BB guns that look like machine guns was a good/lucrative idea, I however strongly disagree with that person and am quite convinced that the inventor/ manufacture of said product had never interacted with/known a group of board-out-of their-minds-teenagers and a 10year boy, if they had, they would have know the likelihood of such a product being used for evil cruel purposes (such as harassment of foreign women in parks) was very high if not inevitable and furthermore placing such a thing in the hands of a boy is unleashing certain doom on various small woodland animals such as chipmunks, robins, rabbits, and the occasional squirrel (though I hate tree rats so I’m not so broken up about them, and besides they reproduce like a bad virus).  Displaying an astounding amount of self control, I simply yelled at the teenagers and the boys in a wretched mix of Azeri/English and while some cuss words may not directly translate, I’m quite positive the general meaning was perfectly clear.   After thoroughly making a fool of my self I walked away, though after 10 feet I wasn’t convinced that I’d made my point and for good measure (and to seal my doom of being a spectacle) turned an yelled something to the equivalent of “and take that you little beasts!” 

 

I really was quite angry.  And I was thinking, I can’t remember the last time (in the last 3 or 4 years) back in the states, or anywhere, that I was harassed or picked on.  I don’t consider the spectators at the Twin Cities or Boston Marathon yelling/cheering as a form of harassment, I wanted/needed people to cheer, and it wasn’t done because they didn’t like my clothes, or thought I was an easy women, they were actually encouraging me to run faster(although, if you’ve ever ran/watched a marathon, us runners do look pretty damm funny with short short shorts, race numbers, and sweat involved)  I understand those boys wanted a reaction out of me and were pushing to see how a far they could go and while I hate to admit it, I’m guilty of needling people as well; for some strange reason us mean little humans like pissing people off.  In my head, I’m of course able to justify my own bad behavior (for various reasons, such as thinking the other person deserves it etc), but fly into a tizzy when a dull group of raging hormone teenage boys are able to justify their behavior based on the face that I don’t belong, am American, wear sunglasses, and was very obviously asking for attention by sitting in a park on a nice day, (why else would I be sitting in the park reading?) [That was sarcastic]  I know that, more than anything else, I hate thinking/feeling that I have no options or ability to retaliate, and the situation in the park was one of those times; me against 6, the odds are bad, and really nothing would be gained by kicking their arises (though that’s truly what I wanted to do).  Its not so much the BB Gun, its that on a daily basis, I have to just duck my head and take the yelling, kissing/teeth sucking/tisking noises, rude gestures, nasty gossip, and shoddy treatment all while the general consensus is that, by being different, reading in the park, wearing sunglasses, I deserve it.  Now, it might seem logical to simply stop those things, but, the problem is that, weather I wear sunglasses or not, I’ll still get yelled at becasue it will be something else, or simply the fact that I’m a single American woman.  And, from my viewpoint, which I consider valid, even if I am being awkward, it doesn’t justify the bad treatment.  I  am aware that there are things I shouldn’t do to be culturally appropriate, but, but, Azeri women go to the park with their girl friends, and wear sunglasses, while because American women are perceived as being more ‘loose’ I can do the same things and its considered bad.  This is extraordinarily annoying, since on one hand, I can understand that perception: most of what the Azeri’s in the regions see of American culture and women in general is from music videos by Madonna, Beyonce (sp?), Rehanna (sp?) and various other pop/faux hip hop groups in which the women are over sexed (Madonna) or objectified (50Cent) and welcome the degrading attention of males.  So then, not only is this silly behavior seen as normal, its encouraged.  On the other hand, there is no logical way that how I dress and act can even be compared to the teasing of oversexed American pop stars,(not to mention my hair, which is almost always in a pony tail and unless I’ve been asleep for the past 6 years, pony tails don’t scream pop-star sexy in any culture) lest I be taken as culturally insensitive, I do act correctly and follow the rules, but, really, when the sun is blinding bright (as it already is in ISM) I’m going to wear my sunglasses, and when it’s a nice day, I’m going to walk in the park with a friend.  I was having this conversation with someone who I respect, and she made a point along the lines, that this was the only time in my life when people would like I looked like a rock star or model or Pamela Anderson and I better enjoy it while it lasts… (Though we can talk later about Ms. Anderson)   Now the issues is that by acting just like a typical Azeri women, the repressive treatment is encouraged, by acting like a free American, I offend culture and ruin my reputation.  And here I am trying to be a role model for the youth, and exactly, where do I find the balance between brashly flaunting my free American values and buckling/bowing to a system that disrespects and limits the freedom of women?   (Meh.  I know, I know, America culture isn’t innocent and Azeri culture is not all bad)   So that’s what I have to figure out on a daily basis.

 

 

 

 

So there I was mid tinkle and groggy when the door rattled and suddenly Mr. Burns (now the size of a fat kitten on steroids) ran between my bent legs and dangerously close to my exposed/bare naughty bits hovering above the trough. Being half asleep it took approximately 1.5 seconds for realization/panic to set in and then, (quite shamed to admit), I screamed/yelled/jumped as directionally challenged Mr. Burns scampered in circles (and across my foot 3 times) attempting to exit the 2ft./2ft squat (which is small enough to begin with and certainly not enough room for me and an over grown rat with sharp teeth and a host of disgusting diseases) the same way he entered, unable to execute the maneuver (his fatness getting in the way), Mr. Burns bumped his head against the door, and was momentarily stunned, this provided the perfect opportunity for me to kick him (it seems like a good idea at the time) however the spastic flinging of my right foot only dislodged my sandal and caused Mr. Burns to ran back between my legs (PANIC!) and into the trough, where his fatness (only his head/shoulders made it into the hole) once again prevented him from escaping the evil white goddess (namely, me, who was now hopping on one foot because I wasn’t coordinated enough to place the sandal back on.) threatening him with incoherent yells (which human ears would have translated into: BLOODYF__KINGHELLRATPIECEOFSHITNASSTYNESSIMGOINGTOKILL YOUF__KRAT!!)  

In between yelling/hopping/kicking I managed to un-hinge the door, my pants still down (which made hopping/kicking all the more funny/difficult) and at that precise moment, my host sister looked out her window, (alerted no doubt by my yells) to see me standing, looking for all the world (I like to think) like a modern day Venus rising from the depths of the squat, my hair tossed about, my arms holding the door completely open, curse words issuing forth (I’m sure my host sister never thought I would utter, or even know how to utter such choice words), and my dreadful white skin glowing against the darkness/light.  Unfortunately this non-contextualized display of yelling and lack of trousers caused my host sister to assume I had been molested by a hideous monster from the depths of hell (which is pretty damm close to what actually happened considering the proximity of Mr. Burns to my day glow white battery) which promptly caused her to collapse on the bed in a state of pure fright/shock and crying. In the 10 second from when I yelled at Mr. Burns to when I flung the door open to announce  my surprise to the entire ISM hood, my host mom (bless her heart, who I have never seen act or do anything in a manner that can be considered swift) made it from a reclining position on the divan watching a Turkish soap, out the front door, down the steps, across the path and arrived at the squat with a stick, (ready to throw down) and a look that would have stopped a raging bull and made it whimper.  What my host mom lacks in tact (she still calls me fat and lazy) she makes up for in a staunch and never failing concern for my well being and safety; when it comes down to it, you don’t mess with a mad xanim who thinks someone/thing has messed with her American (no matter how fat lazy, silly or otherwise that American (me) might be.)   

Mr. Burns flew out the squat door, and I can say with confidence he was scared sh-tless.  Seeing as the situation was bit stressful, I of course forgot all my wretched Azeri skills, but caught myself before I muttered ‘pomidor’ with only the ‘pom’ sound escaping from my lips (that’s for Donny) giving me enough time to remember the words for “BIG RAT!!!!’ which I tried to say correctly to my host mom, in-between snorting (yes, snorting) with laughter, gesturing with my left hand and trying to adjust my clothing (so as to not further scandalize myself).  I’m not sure if at that moment I was able to convey that Mr. Burns was actually inside the squat (which would offer context to my display of skin/yelling) however, my host mom, once she was convinced of my safety (my hysterical laughter helped) actually laughed, rolled her eyes, and ‘tisked’ me (to say wordlessly: “What is this crazy, incompetent, American girl doing in my house?  We were almost convinced she was an adult and then a rat?  A rat?  Seriously, baby, much worse can happen.  And you look pretty damm funny!) 

Now that the worst was over, I proceeded into the house to begin the task of calming poor host sister down, who was woefully confused by the laughter (mine much louder) of her mom and I.  There was 10 min of talking in Azeri/English/Gesturing and drinking of water and things had calmed down.  Host mom went back to Turkish Soaps, host sister laid back down, and I slinked back to my room, very embarrassed and trying (unsuccessfully) to not laugh…30 min later in an attempt to stop giggling, I tried to think of sad things and suddenly realized that I had thoughtlessly gulped the glass of dirty water host mom handed me.  This unpleasant thought was sobering enough to put a lid on the laughter and make me realize that I would quite likely be taking more than a few trips back to the squat the next day, and could in a few hours time be dreadfully sick with a water bourn disease.  And then, I just laughed even more, which means I slept very little and woke up today with a tummy ache and found a stalwart sick to be my companion, because I’m under the false illusion that a stick could possibly be a good weapon against a ROUS.

December: Iki

February 14, 2008

My holiday started out with me looking up mid motorcycle/moon boot zip up to see the chickens mating in my yard.  Fascinated in a ‘its so strange/weird/awful/wretched/awkward/funny that you cant look away’ way I remained transfixed for a good 30 seconds until my host sister walked out the front door and collided with my bent over ‘battery’ (my host sisters way of saying ‘Butt’) and nearly caused me to tumble down 5 steps to the yard.  Not sure if this was a sign of things to happen, or simply the naughty chicken’s way of saying goodbye, (either one being rather disturbing if you think about it) I finished zipping my boots and made all sorts of haste to the Avtovaqzal.  Safely on my bus to modern Baku, I was suddenly struck by the thought “Chickens hop when mating, weird, weird, WEIRD!!!!’ and then I laughed.

 

Considering the start, my holiday was free of anything abnormally strange.

I spent a nice Christmas Eve with Matt, and drank bubbly adult beverages.  Christmas was a combination of sadness (which I couldn’t explain then, I don’t want to be back in MN and want to be here, why be sad?  But which in retro was simply me missing the atmosphere of spending the holidays with my family and friends and not being on display) and joy (having a family in all of AZ5).  Christmas morning I sat with Matt in a coffee shop watching Baku residents stroll by (I’m perfectly fine with sounding cliché since that’s exactly what we did, and saying: ‘We reposed on sofas while imbibing warm café lattes while observing the diverse populace of Baku meander their way to various destinations’ sounds even worse) and then in the afternoon I was with Katie Amazing in an Azeri salon.  After much talking, a bit of yelling, and the help of Shams via mobile, both Katie and I were able to convey what we desired for our lovely locks.  I had red RED streaks put in my hair and Katie chose a combination of brown, blond and a bit of copper.  The color was simply gorgeous, however, while Azeri salons may have the hair dye down, (I have never seen so many shades of red) they are sadly stuck in BIG 80’s hair (think Metallica, Guns and Roses) when it comes to trimming ones mane.  I think the cut Katie received could be worked with; she however, was not convinced, voicing something about ‘layers all over and a long euro trash mullet.’  Christmas night was spent in the hotel lounge with the rest of AZ5, we listened to Christmas music, drank champagne, exchanged gifts, ate (real) pizza and generally acted like Americans far away from home who are letting their hair down a bit.

 

In all, showering (mostly) every day, being warm, talking with American Friends in English, and having time to think was so wonderful, I didn’t have time to be down and enjoyed the time to be/act myself/relax which included but was not limited to the following: talking with Donny about books,(Three Cups of Tea  is required reading for those of you who understand there is a purpose to your life beyond making money to buy things) cooking Mexican food with Maria, Kat and I smooching Ram, watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with Steve (and having Ram insert random facts about Indians), defending Coffee against Tea, wearing my favorite skull shirt (I look hot, alright.), talking with Siologen about drains, sending champagne influenced text messages to everyone at Azeri New Years, getting nasty sick in a Taxi, dancing with Mariko, winning the Horseradish Mustard Eating Contest, opening Christmas Boxes with Katie Amazing, hugging Joe (and providing band-aids)and sleeping as little as possible.

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