Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Early December Updates and Swearing In Day

- Post written on December 14 -

Lots of changes since my last post.

As of last Thursday I am now officially a Peace Corps volunteer and have moved to my permanent site of Mingacevir! (Photo is from our swearing in ceremony and is of me, our Peace Corps Country Director Macie, and my LCF Mahira).

Our swearing in ceremony was held last Thursday afternoon in Baku (the first swearing in ceremony to be held in the city so that was pretty nice). We wrapped up our lessons earlier in the week, had our final HUB days on Wed and Thurs and then it was the big day. The ceremony was very nice with representatives from the Azerbaijani Ministries we will be working with (Education, Youth & Sport, and Economics), as well as the US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Matthew Bryza. Following the ceremony we had a short reception where we could chat with each other, Peace Corps staff, current volunteers who made the trip, and our families who were able to attend (due to limited space at the hotel venue we were each given 2 invitations). It was a really nice ceremony and I have to admit that I did tear up at the speech of one of the other volunteers host dads. The sentiment he expressed was just so genuine and heartfelt that it really touched me.

A group of us grabbed an early dinner to celebrate and we then headed back to Ceyranbatan to make our pre-dark curfew. Once in town it was the round of goodbyes and thank you’s to a few of the families that were so hospitable to us over the weeks. I hate goodbyes so this was not the most fun for me, but we tried to keep it light. Then back to my home where Mahira came to help me with my thank you to my family. Again I hate the goodbyes, but it was certainly kept light by the kids when I gave them the gifts I had purchased (I had hit up the Ali and Nino bookstore in Baku the week prior for anything Ben 10 and Spiderman so there were stickers, coloring books, markers and puzzles flying around). Then it was time for photos with my family, some final packing and a 5am wake up call to be ready for my 6am pickup. The morning came too quickly, but I was seen off in the darkness by my host Mom and Grandma and Mahira (who again went well beyond the call of duty to arrange my ride and see me off). Two stops to pick up Rachel and Mary in neighboring towns and then on the road with the three of us and one incredibly packed car full of luggage. Car trouble hit us up in Yevlax, but after an hour or so delay we were back on the road and arrived in Mingacevir around 2pm or so.

It is kind of a funny feeling being transported in situations like this because you are pretty much flying blind into it. People are kind enough to make arrangements for us and we just go with the flow knowing that we are in good hands and all is taken care of. So once we arrived in Mingacevir we knew we were here from the welcome sign into the city, but not much else. We then pulled to the side of the road where I figured we maybe were having car trouble again. Our driver got out and was chatting with two men in cars and a minute later the car door opened and one of the men peeped his head in and said hello to Rachel. It was her host dad who she had met prior so we started unloading her stuff. Then the other man asked who I was and sure enough he was there to get me. So we said our goodbyes, I loaded my stuff in the car and we were off. Some very small chat in the car and after an intro I realized that this was my host Dad (see the part about just trusting that someone has done everything for you:). We then made the few minute drive and arrived at our house where I was welcomed by my Mom, Nana, and youngest brother, Ayxan, and shown the house. Ayxan speaks some English so it was really great to have him be able to help us communicate with each other and accelerate the getting to know you process.

It is now almost exactly four days since my arrival and it is very strange because I already have such a level of comfort with my family that I feel like I surely have known them much longer. They are just so welcoming and hospitable that I already feel like a part of the family. They watch out for me (Dad drove me to work this morning to make sure I knew the way), scold me when I do dishes (I secretly think they appreciate it though), share whatever they have with me (sunflower seeds, mandarins, pomegranates - if one person has one, it is offered to everyone), and make me smile a lot. They really are amazing.

I also started my work assignment yesterday and again I lucked out. Everyone is just so nice and they go out of their way to make me feel welcome. Yesterday at lunchtime, Ramis, who I share an office with asked me what I was doing for food since I am new to the area and he knew I didn't know anywhere. He then invited me to his house to have lunch with him, his wife and daughter. They could not have been nicer. I was also very touched when at one point his wife was chatting with him as she hurried to get everything together. He then translated for me and told me that she had asked him why he did not tell her earlier that he was bringing a guest home so she could have been more prepared. He then said, "I told her you, but you are not a guest, you will be coming over a lot now that you live here". Just lovely. Such a warm welcome to the community.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

One week until swearing in...

We are now one week away from finishing PST (pre service training), and this time next week we will all be official Peace Corps volunteers. When I think back on the time it certainly feels like much longer than ten weeks ago that we all met. You develop a certain familiarity with people as a result of spending so much time together, and I sometimes have to remind myself that we haven't known each other longer.

I have mixed emotions about the next 8 days. Part of me is so excited about moving to my permanent site and starting my work assignment, but another part of me is really bummed to be leaving. I feel like things are just starting to get to that comfort point here. The past week or two has just been really good - I am understanding more as the days pass and that is just the best feeling. One of the really nice things also is how much Azerbaijani's appreciate the attempt at learning their language. Most people seem genuinely happy to hear an American speak a few words so that is a pretty nice confidence builder.

I have also just gotten into a very comfortable routine with my family. They now know me and have become accustomed to my daily schedule and habits (even the ones that are likely very weird for them). I don't even get the lecture anymore when I leave the house with wet hair each morning (once outside though all bets are off - it is the inherent right of any older woman on the street to let me know that I will in fact probably die:)! It is also the nicest thing ever when I go to grab my perpetually muddy tall black boots from outside each morning only to see them now clean and in our hallway. So very thoughtful. After school and nighttime entertainment for my brothers has recently been provided courtesy of YouTube on my laptop and most nights find us watching at least a little Spiderman, Batman and Ben 10 in my room. It is always a fun time, until it ends in tears eventually, as all things must with four little boys in a house:)

My family and people in town even find it kind of amusing that I have bonded with the two stray dogs in our neighborhood. They are a cute male and adorable female that I give my chicken bones and any scraps I have to, and in turn I get an escort whenever I leave my house. School, a fellow volunteers house, the market, bus stop - no problem, they are up for it. We had to go to a neighboring town yesterday for a "hub day" with all PC trainees and had to leave here at 7am, which is considerably earlier than my usual day. In the still darkness of morning they were ready to go by the time I was out my gate, walked me to the highway and then waited next to us until our bus departed. They are very sweet and I will definitely miss having them around when I move.

All in, it has been a really good ten weeks and I am excited for the next two years.