Here we are, beginning of September, and I haven’t written since June 25th. Wow. Dad, I’m sorry for not updating this more often. I’ll try to be better about that during this school year. Eh.
Oh, my. I don’t even know where to begin. It seems like this summer has flown by in a blur of activity and travel and trying to remember it feels like straining to recall a dream a few minutes after waking up. You know it happened. You can vaguely remember it, but every time you try to get a grasp on something, it slips away. This is how I feel about the majority of my summer. I find myself asking, “Where did all that time GO? What did I even do?!” I’ll try to recall events in a somewhat chronological order, but I can’t really make any promises. We all know my tendencies to rant and my affinity toward never really editing a post before publishing it.
Well, starting where we left off… Shortly after my last blog post, I celebrated my birthday. Twice. On my actual birthday, I invited a few friends in my community to the Turkish bakery for cake and tea. It was nice to spend some time with the friends I’ve made here and enjoy some good conversation. I even got some gifts, which I definitely wasn’t expecting. I received two pairs of earrings (I guess people everywhere notice my love of jewelry pretty quickly…), some delicious chocolates, and a not-so-subtle hint at moving along in the marriage game in the form of a statue from my counterpart and another English teacher friend. It is a gold statue of a beautiful man’s hand carefully placing a sparkly silver wedding ring on the delicate woman’s hand, ever so gently brushing the glittery roses below them. I guess 25 is too old to continue to be single. Who knew.
That weekend, I headed to Baku to meet two friends for an evening of good food, drinks, dancing, and whatever else we felt like doing. We had a delicious dinner at a restaurant recommended to us by another friend and then went to a market before heading to the next phase of our evening. As we were waiting in line at the market, I spotted something in the cooler. What was this? The nectar of the gods just sitting there with no fanfare, as though I hadn’t been missing this for nearly a year. Yes, sitting in the cooler was…a can of Dr. Pepper. I made some high pitched and startling nose, much to the annoyance of the other shoppers in the market, and seeing how this effected me, my friend graciously offered to shell out the 2 1/2 manat to buy this for me. It may or may not have been the sweetest birthday gift I could have asked for. Unfortunately, we went to a pub after the market where they wouldn’t allow me to bring in the Dr. Pepper, so rather than savor this, I was forced to stand outside and chug it. Oh, well. At the pub, we met up with the brother of one of my friend’s counterpart. He is studying in California, very close to where she is from. He and his friend offered to drive us around Baku to see the lights and to a beach party where there would supposedly be a live band by the sea. Unfortunately, after driving for an hour trying to find this place, it turns out it was closed due to severe wind earlier that day. I was pretty disappointed we wouldn’t get to see a band, but we still had a great time seeing the city and we ended the evening laughing and talking over tea with our guides and some of their friends. All in all, it was a pretty good evening.
The next morning, though we were pretty tired from staying up so late the night before, we woke up early to go up to Nabran, a sort of resort town in Azerbaijan. Another PCV friend lives in Xudat, a town only about 20 minutes away, so a group of about 10 of us were meeting to go to the beach and then to the water park. This was probably one of the most fun things I did all summer. We spent the day swimming, going down water slides, and playing on giant pool toys. We all stayed with my friend that night and then went to Xachmaz the next day (a city only about 45 min away from Xudat) for an amazing July 4th celebration. The volunteers in this city have a great community of English speaking Azeris, who were all invited to join in the celebration. We had a pot luck with a lot of traditional American picnic foods, like bbq chicken, pasta salad, watermelon, and corn on the cob. (Although I will say…nothing quite beats Nebraska corn.) All in all, this was pretty amazing weekend, and a birthday that I’ll surely remember for years to come.
A few weeks later, I headed out for Georgia, part deux. One of the girls had gotten sick the first time we went and asked if I wanted to go back with her and another girl so that she would have a chance to actually experience the city. Again, we didn’t really do much sightseeing, but we went to an art bazaar and heard quite a bit of live music. This few days made me realize how much I miss having the arts constantly in my life. I don’t want to sound like the arts are completely lacking in Azerbaijan. People here really do love music and dance. However, it seems to only be in certain settings. I haven’t really seen any street musicians here or people just getting together to jam. Art is taught in schools, but it doesn’t seem to be something of paramount importance in the society. (Perhaps I’m wrong about this and I just haven’t found my way into this community yet. I hope that’s true.) I about lost it more than once at the art bazaar. Just to walk through an area plastered with creative expression completely moved me. What I think effected me the most, however, was the spontaneous music we were fortunate enough to experience on this trip. On our first night there, we met a group of street musicians and exchanged a few words with them after listening to them for a while. Shortly after, we decided to go to this bar a little off the beaten path and have a beer. We were the only tourists in the place and a group of local Georgians were out to celebrate one girl’s birthday. As we were sitting there, they spontaneously broke into Georgian folk song. (If you don’t know much or anything about traditional Georgian music, much of it is A Cappella and is the oldest form of polyphony known, pre-dating Christianity. Kind of awesome.) It was amazing to sit and listen to these spontaneously sing together, without a care as to whether or not they’d be bothering anyone or disturbing the peace. And of course, they weren’t. Other patrons started dancing or came over to join in the song. After they sang for a bit, one of the guys who could speak English came over to talk to us. After chatting for a few minutes, he asked if we’d like to sing with them, to which we eagerly agreed. In the style of music they were singing, the group sings a drone while a soloist sings the melodic line. One of the other men held up his hand to show the notes for our drone line and we started to sing. Experiences like these are just part of why I love travel. I feel so lucky to have been there for that. How many people can say they sang traditional Georgian music with a group of locals in a pub? Not many, I should think. What an incredible experience. But our spontaneous music making would not end there. The next night, we went to the same area to sample some good Georgian wine and ran into the street musicians we had met before (as well as an expat we had met during Georgia, part one), but this time, we were accompanied by a new friend from the hostel. He is currently living/volunteering in Georgia with the teach2learn program and was in Tbilisi for the weekend. After talking to these musicians, we went to leave and one of them ran after us to ask if he could join us. We agreed, and he handed me the guitar he was carrying so he could go get the others. I started to noodle a little on it until our new friend said, “hey, let me see that!” I handed the guitar over to him and, as it turns out, he’s a pretty incredible guitarist. The musician came back with another friend as well as another guitar and drum, saw our friend playing, and sat down to start jamming with him. This all culminated in us making up blues and improvising in the middle of the street, not caring that we were singing and making music in public. It was so…freeing. Not only did we get to experience so much music and art on Georgia, part deux, we also met a lot of really interesting people staying at our hostel at the same time. Really great weekend. Just really great.
As I left Georgia, I headed to Zaqatala to help out with an arts camp for a week. The volunteers in this community are doing excellent work. This camp was run primarily by Azerbaijani counterparts with the PCVs there only acting as support. I had a great time in Zaqatala. Not only is it a gorgeous city, but the students at this camp were wonderful, creative, bright, and happy children. I enjoyed every minute spent with them.
After returning from Zaqatala, I enjoyed a few days at home before a minor confusion led to making some amazing new friends. My counterpart’s family has a summer home in Novxani, a district of Baku that is right near the beach and filled with large houses, complete with swimming pools. They had invited me to the house and when she called to ask when I would come, I told her I would go the first Friday in August. Unfortunately, through phone communication and language confusion, she thought I had said I would go on Friday, just two days later and only 2 days before I had to leave for GLOW, the nationwide girls camp I was helping with. After some confusion and arguing, I agreed to go just for an overnight before going to GLOW and was a little annoyed at having my plans changed so quickly. As it turns out, though, I ended up having a really great time there. This family is very interesting. They are always laughing and joking. The daughters do yoga and are studying to be doctors. They have one house cat and three yard cats that they’ve named (with people names, something Azeris don’t usually do) and take good care of. With all the stress and frustration of actually getting there, I think it was just what I needed. One overnight of no internet, no worries, good company, and laughter.
Whew. Looks like I’m at about 1900 words and not even into August yet. Thanks for sticking with me. I promise I’ll try not to drag this on TOO much longer.
The next week was spent in Qebele at GLOW camp. This was one of the most incredible projects I’ve had the privilege to be a part of. At this camp, 40-50 high school age girls come together to learn about leadership. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the girls and watch them go from timid strangers to best friends. It was also quite amazing to watch the Azerbaijani counterparts lead the camp and see how much the campers learned in just one short week.
After the week at GLOW camp, nothing particularly notable happened besides having a few friends come to visit me in Shirvan and a very strange health scare. (Weird rash all over my body which has since gone away and returned, fever, nausea, other weirdness. Still haven’t figured out what’s going on. I’ll update on that when I find out more.)
After months of waiting, the week I had most looked forward to finally arrived…I was going on vacation to Amsterdam for a week with Doug and Ricky. In my overnight at my counterpart’s family’s summer home, I had talked about my upcoming vacation and they offered to drive me to the airport for my very early Friday morning flight. So my counterpart and I headed to Baku early on Thursday to do a little shopping before going to the summer house to relax for the day. Unfortunately, the day before, I had been stricken with food poisoning (I swear Azerbaijan is trying to kill me), so I was still a little queasy and tired. I thought it would be difficult for me to stay up until 2AM, when the car would come to take me to the airport, but excitement got the better of me and I was wide awake when it was finally time to go.
The week in Amsterdam was so incredibly amazing I just don’t even know what to say to do it justice. Not only did I get to see my brothers, who I miss dearly, I also got to return to something familiar. It was interesting to think how different it is for me to experience Amsterdam now than it would have been if I had come from America. From Azerbaijan, it’s like returning home and being somewhere more familiar. If I had gone from America, I think it would have seemed so much more foreign and exotic. I was awed and inspired by the beauty of the tall, Dutch houses on the canal, the art museums, the cute cafes, the espresso, the endless bikes, the people walking their dogs… It was almost overwhelming. In fact, I was so overwhelmed in the Frankfurt airport at being back in Western culture and seeing things that looked familiar that I almost burst into tears at seeing a recycling bin. Anyway, after I have another week or so to process the trip, I may write another blog entry entirely devoted to that.
I guess that takes us to now. I’ve had a fairly lazy past few days, filled with reading, guesting, and episodes of The Wonder Years as I prepare to go back to school tomorrow for planning and then begin classes on September 15th. I’m looking forward to this school year. I think I will be VERY busy! Not only will I have my classes to prepare and teach, but I’m also planning on continuing English conversation clubs for students and teachers and starting a FLEX preparation group, games and arts clubs, and a theatre group. In addition, I was just voted one of the co-directors for GLOW, the nationwide girls camp I mentioned before. So I think that will also be a lot of work for me. To top this off, Lauren posted a whole list of new TV shows coming on this fall, and I found 4 more shows I want to watch. I’ve also made a fall reading list of 9 books, completely doable I should say, but another thing to add to a busy schedule. I think between school, clubs, books, TV, yoga, housework, and guesting, I’ll find myself without a free moment until Christmas. I’ll be sure to add “update my blog” to that list of things I need to do every week.
OK, I suppose that’s all for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through my rather eventful summer. I’ll leave you with my fall reading list. I feel like I will be more inclined to get through the whole list if I publish it for everyone, almost like the world is holding me accountable.
1. Riding the Bus With My Sister, by Rachel Simon
2. The Elegant Universe, by Briane Greene
3. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
4. Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson
5. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
6. The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
7. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
8. Gwenhwyfar, by Mercedes Lackey
9. Thus Spake Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche