Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas from Azerbaijan!

Hello everyone!
I just want you all to know how thankful I am for all of you! Your phone calls, emails, blog comments, texts and letters keep me going here, especially during the holidays. So I hope you can all feel the love and best wishes I am sending your way for Christmas and New Years! And, obviously, I hope Santa brings you all that you asked for. So eat lots of food for me and think of me when you read "The Night Before Christmas!"

As for things in my new home, I am learning my way around here one day at a time with the help of the AZ6's and the other AZ7'z around me. This past weekend a few of us explored Ganja, the biggest city next to us. We found a lot of good places to eat, an old Russian Orthadox church, a carnival, a zoo, and santa. In Azerbaijan New Years Decorations some what resemble American Christmas decorations.

One of Santa's reindeer got lost in the Ganja Zoo.
I'll be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day in Tovuz with most of the other PCV's around this area. New Year's we will all be in Baku together and after the New Year Holiday I will start actually teaching at my school. I'll let you know how things go. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. I miss you and love you all.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's Official!

As of last night, I'm officially a Peace Corps Volunteer!!! I'm sitting in the Baku Peace Corps office right now, waiting to take the train out to Qazax (aka my new region!). Last night we had our swearing in ceremony-- our host families and some of the current volunteers (AZ6's) came to see as we were presented certificates and pins by our country director and the US Ambassador to Azerbaijan. The life I have come accustom to in Azerbaijan is about to change drastically, but I am ready for the challenge. Shakira and Mo, I appreciate your support about Gilbert-- he was a good friend. And check out my name address! Yaxsi yol, we'll talk soon!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I Waited Too Long To Update My Blog

I don't even know where to start right now. My life as been full of adventures in the last few weeks. Ups and downs--laughter and frowns. So I'll just try to update you through pictures of what has been making me smile.

My younger host sister and I have found magic in the garden. Colorful flowers have become pieces of art, confetti and even snow.

This was the chicken feed I told you we were going to have. I needed the fun time in the garden with my sister before this :) (PS I didn't eat any chicken)

Beauty can be found in any situation. We spent one of our off days explore the beach of Sumgayit.

These are most of the other English teachers that will be living around the same area as me.

And THIS is Khayal. He is the coolest!

I have had the chance to explore Baku a few times now. I met Amanda (on my right) the AZ 6 who will be my new site mate. This is at Martyr's Lane.

Maiden's Tower in the Old City of Baku.

And finally our Thanksgiving.

I told you my cluster was practicing for the Turkey killing on Thanksgiving...

I stuck to peeling potatoes.

But the meal turned out wonderful and I have to admit, I ate the Turkey and it was good.

And obviously no Thanksgiving is complete without an Azeri dance party.

I hope you have some sort of random idea of what I've been up to. A week from today I will official be sworn in as a volunteer! And then its off to my new rayon. I am pretty excited for the change, though leaving the friends I've made here and my host family that I have grown so close to will be hard. Thank you for all of the messages on Facebook and here--you keep me going. Miss you and Love you all!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Day I became A Vegetarian

Today my cluster and I set out to find two chickens to purchase. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and my cluster wants to kill a turkey to eat for our celebration. Of course, in order to do this right they need practice, hence todays chickens. We knew of a place near my teacher's house that had a crap load of turkeys and chickens in their yard, so we started there.

They willingly sold us two chickens-- but first they had to catch them. This really didn't take the owners very long (I'm sure they do it all the time) but it gave me enough time to make friends with both the group of turkeys and the shy chickens hanging out in the corner.

After befriending these little gems the cries of the two chicken we bought made me that much sadder and as all my friends walked back to my teachers house to do "their business," I walked home. We are having the chicken feed tomorrow-- I might bring myself an eggplant. Now some of you might think this is really cool, as does the rest of my cluster, but if you know me at all, my reaction most likely doesn't surprise you, and so today I came to two conclusions: one is that I will become a vegetarian (of sorts-- I don't eat that much meat here as it is and I guess in reality I might keep eating the little bit that I do) and two, that turkeys are totally the most awesome things ever! They make such a cool noise and they look so funny when they don't have all their feathers puffed up in defense. I definitely took a video of them today, and all these pictures!

Besides the sadness at my new friends' loss of life (just so you're not totally confused, I mean the chickens), Mary, one of the AZ7 group of trainees had to go home, back to America, yesterday. She had been battling a bad case of bronchitis basically since we got here and it just turned into serious asthma. You see the air quality here isn't necessarily the best (I know what you are thinking, I am fine-- I came prepared). It happened so fast, she went to the doctor, they decided the best thing for her health was for her to go and then she was gone! A bunch of us got together the night before and the morning that she left to say our goodbyes. Its crazy, even though we have all only been friends for a little over a month we have already gone through so much together and it was really hard to see her go. If you're reading this Mary I miss you like crazy and love you!

Life is good. Wednesday the 18th I find out where my permanent site will be-- get your maps out people, we'll have to look it up together! Sag ol- talk to you soon :) Mom, Linda, Linnea, Grandma T, Aunt Debbie and Melissa, thank you so much for the letters! I'm taping them all up on my wall and it makes me smile whenever I look at them :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Streets of Chocolate Milk

OK. Sorry for the lame post Sunday, I just wanted to let you all know that I’m still here! I just haven’t had time to get to the internet cafĂ© for a while; I just got over the flu (typical Jessi move, having some kind of illness, I know) and it just gets darker so much faster so finding the time to make it to Sumgayit to the internet just gets harder and harder. But here I am now, ready to give you more of an update and hopefully more explanation of the pictures I just threw up on Sunday.

When it rains in Azerbaijan, which seems to be more often now, the streets turn to chocolate milk. My walk to school slows down to avoid the creamy stains on all of my dark colored clothes and while there may have been great debate over to bring or not to bring my north face coat, it has in fact shown its face many a time by now. The paradox of weather here is hard. Streets are made of dirt, therefore turn to mud, and when I say mud I mean wet clay, when it rains and this obviously gets all over your shoes and flips up onto clothes, you get it. But it is very important to be clean here and even at school there should be no sign of the chocolate milk that you just had to fight your way through on your clothes or shoes. We have found this to be impossible, but therefore have had to put up with sometimes more then just funny looks at our somewhat stained professional fashions here in AZB.

While learning how to manage the weather of AZB we have also started to do practice teaching, so many new experiences at one time! The picture from Sunday of Lori, Beka and I with our scarves on our heads is in fact not only the first day of rain for us, but also our first day of teaching. As I said, we were not prepared for the weather and the scarves were our only possible attempt at keeping our teacherly domineers from dripping away in the rain. As it turns out the school was not prepared for us either, so we ended up killing time drinking tea and playing word games at Mike’s house, hence the next picture below of us lined up on the couch. Eventually we made it to school, through the flooded streets and thunderstorms to try our hands at teaching English. I was scared out of my mind to get up in front of those kids, but it ended up OK, and by the end of the week I could envision many fun ways of teaching that I could do with the students. I guess the point of this little story is that even in the rain the laughter has kept on coming, sometimes laughter is all we have here

On Halloween we had no power so the night of pumpkin carving and bobbing for apples that was planned did not pan out, but we improvised with the one flashlight and battery powered ipod speakers we had to have a makeshift American Halloween in Azerbaijan. They do not celebrate Halloween here, but a lot of people, at least around here, knew what it was and knew that it was in fact a national holiday in America J That same weekend is where the candle light tea party picture comes from. The day after Halloween my sisters had a get-together with their friends at my house. We ate a beautiful meal outside that my mom spent all day preparing and then moved inside to chat and drink tea by candlelight. Mary, another volunteer, got to come because her host brother is a school friend of my sisters. The two of us had a good time trying to understand all that was being said and just experiencing this younger generation of Azeris.

This week brings on another set of teaching practices in actual classrooms and the usual language lessons, among many things that I could never predict, as everyday does here in Azerbaijan. My focus is on getting better because I really don’t want to get the flu again and on figuring out one-how to say cornstarch in Azeri and two-where I would find it. Miss you all and appreciate all of your letters, messages and support- it keeps me going here!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fast Hello

I just wanted to touch base with everyone. I haven't been online in a while and want to make a quick post (its getting dark and I need to go home so don't have much time)! So here is a quick picture look at my recent life.

Day one of teaching local English classes for practice. It rained so hard and the streets flooded! We were not prepared and didn't have any coats. This is Lori and Beka.

So we all sat inside at Mikes house for a while, avoiding the rain until we had to go to teach.

This is how we catch the bus. Stand on the side of the freeway and wait for it to stop. We also have to run across the freeway frequently to get where we need to be. Oh Azerbaijan.

This is my family. My mom and sister and my mom's sister and her daughter. Jenny is another volunteer who lives with my host aunt.

And the last week we didn't have power for a while so we did everything by candle light. I just thought this picture was really cool of our candle lit tea party.

Sorry I didn't really get to do an up date or explain these things better, I promise I will later this week. Just know that I am good and continuing to live my life one day at a time and to the fullest!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Muddy Adventures

This weekend our entire Peace Corps group did a little Azerbaijan exploring and we went to Qobustan, where there are petroglyphs from around 10,000 BC. They are covering these rocky hills that are eventually part of the Great Caucasian Ridge and are absolutely amazing. Carvings were all over and consisted of men, women, animals and boats. This area is fairly close to the Caspian and offers a great view, but in the time that the drawings were done the Caspian Sea, which I learned yesterday is the biggest lake in the world and has had over 70 names, was bordering these hills. As insanely awesome as the carvings were, probably the coolest thing about Qobustan was that we spent the afternoon hiking through the rocks and finally made it all the way to the top where we were able to rest and take in the view. The sea on one side and sheep grazing in the hills on the other side. It was one of those magical moments where you just feel like your life is pretty amazing and you can't believe you are actually doing what you are. Of course then we had to get down, I suppose we could have climbed down how we came up but we had made it to this area that had a ladder for doing just what we were doing so we decided to use it. That might have been one of the scariest things I have ever had to do! This latter went straight down for a very long time and moved around while you climbed on it. I did make it down, obviously, but I might not do it again.

Then from there, we moved on to the mud volcanoes. It was just this flat land that had all of these tall mounds of dirt on it. When you got to the top of that mound there was mud just bubbling out of it! The mud looked like it was boiling, but when you touched it, it was very cold. I definitely stuck my whole arm inside of one of the volcanoes and the mud just kept going! It was really crazy and everyone was getting muddy but then, Tim, who had not been playing in the mud, was innocently trying to take some pictures and fell into one of the holes! He went all the way up to his waist before he somehow made it out on his own. At first it was a little scary, but Tim is a good sport and pretty soon we were all laughing, even Tim. How could you not as this boy is walking across this desert-like place completely covered in mud up to his stomach. Don't worry, he is totally fine.

After this day of exploring I got to go to my second Toy! I did more dancing at this one and even got in on one of the traditional circle dances they do around the bride and groom, it was very cool. This morning I went with my mom to another settlement where her sister lives. Her sister is hosting another volunteer, Jenny. Our moms taught us and another volunteer Amanda to make dolma, which is one of my favorite things here. It was very awesome, but don't expect me to be able to make it when I get home ;) Life is good in the AZB. Thanks for the letters mom, grandma T, Chrissy, Linnea and Cote! I'll write you back soon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Salam dostlarm! I'm hanging out in a fun beach town in the south of Azerbaijan right now. We went on site visits this week to see what it is really like to be a volunteer. Five of us came here to stay with the two girls that are posted at this site from the AZ 6 group (group here before me). Its been a really nice and relaxing girls weekend; we've watched movies, painted nails, had Mexican and Chinese food, chocolate cake! and spend time walking around the beach and cute city area here.

This is the street that I've been staying on this week. Its been sunny and hot here and there are so many tropical looking flowers blooming everywhere!

Lankaran has a high quantity of Mosquitoes, so sleeping in a mosquito net is necessary and princess like at the same time.

The beach is just a short walk from Rachel's house (the PCV I'm staying with). Mary, Jess and I did some beach exploring. There were so many fishing nets like this around, some of them used old plastic water bottles as buoys which made me feel good since they weren't just throw on the ground.

Like I said we ate Mexican food two of the nights- Here Rikki and I are preparing for burritos and maybe being a little ridiculous with the tomatoes.

Living conditions are different in Azerbaijan then at home, but beauty is everywhere. I thought that this iron gate on someone's balcony was really cool.

This is Lankaran's city center with the Azerbaijan flag flying in the background.

I had to add this picture for you mom (and grandma). Walking around in the Bazaar I found this hardware store/stand. The stand keeper is sitting in the middle with all of these faucets and wires and whatever else hanging around him- Azeri Hardware store.

I got these awesome Talish (an ethnic group that lives close to the board of Iran) socks. They are hand woven from wool and so cool. I've had such a blast here and am really looking forward to actually beginning service. Tomorrow is back to language class and learning how to be a teacher. I'm not going to be able to put pictures up for a while now so I wanted to try and show you what things have been like so far (so scroll down cause I added some where they weren't before). Love you all- talk to you soon!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Life in the AZB

So I'm sitting here sweating in this Internet cafe. Who knew it would be so hot in the middle of October? I came here expecting it to be cold- oh well. I'm continuing to appreciate all of the blog comments and facebook/email messages you've all been sending me! Sorry if you haven't heard back from me yet, I have limited time on the Internet every week, but they mean a lot to me! Morgan Rost and Katie Clark-I loved you updates on life with our friends! And Liz thank you for the pictures they give me a good laugh every time!

Life here is still going really well! Earlier this week I got to go to my first Toy (wedding) with my family! I was the first one in my cluster to get the chance and everyone was very jealous of me. You see, Toys are one of the coolest cultural events you can go to (I guess I don't have another event to compare the Toy to yet so it may not be the coolest, but they are pretty awesome)! In preparation of the Toy I put on a fashion show for my family and one of the cousins that was over the night before. I tried on many different outfits and multiple pairs of shoes before finding the perfect dress and high heels to wear. Once the outfit was found I did a celebratory can-can dance in the kitchen, obviously, which sent some goods laughs and hugs my way! The next day on my hour and a half lunch break my sister took me to the salon to get my hair done! It was exactly what I imagine getting your hair done at a salon in a small town would be like, lots of gossip and women coming in and out- if only I knew what they were gossiping about! My hair ended up very curly and was quite the hit at the salon, at home and among my friends! The women at the salon couldn't believe my hair could get so curly! The Toy itself took the cake though, weddings here are very different from ones at home.

People rent out these rooms that are made specifically for weddings and are set up with fancy tables, chairs, confetti blowers, TV screens on the walls and a live TV crew at all times. Once you walk in you immediately get to start eating (Toys=1 point; weddings=0) and the food never and I mean NEVER stops coming. When the bride and groom come in together everyone claps, but you still get to eat. They say something like saying vows at a wedding and then the dancing begins! I learned how to dance the night before and got to show off my skills on the dance floor many times. I'm not saying Toys or weddings are better, but I had a lot of fun!

Over all, things are going really well here and I'm just trying to take it all in one day at a time. I have more good stories but you'll have to wait til next time!

Saturday, October 10, 2009


First off let me just say that signing on to my blog for the first time in a week and seeing so many comments made me very happy! Thank you, you keep me connected to home!

So here I am in an internet cafe in Sumgayit (second largest city in AZB), if I walk down the street a little I run into the Caspian Sea... what!? This really is an adventure, I'm feeling pretty lucky. Things are going so well! I live only about a fifteen minute bus ride from Sumgayit, and my host family is amazing! I have two sisters that speak English and a mom that takes good care of me and is always teaching me new words and then quizzing me. This is a good thing because language class is hard, so I need the extra practice. But yesterday I told my mom and grandma that pomegranates are my favorite fruit in Azerbaijani- I was pretty pleased with myself, and I could see that they were happy too (you see my mom did not teach me this saying).

My dad works a lot but is always home for dinner and is extremely loving of his family and me. Dinner is always fun at my house, there is a lot of talking that I can't understand but try to listen to; a lot of teaching me new words that I soon forget; and mostly a lot of laughter! My favorite is when I can somehow make my family laugh- always a small accomplishment. I feel so welcome and comfortable in their house, I really am part of the family! I have my own room that is very comfortable and a garden full of nar trees (pomegranates), grape vines and many fruits and vegetables. I feel like I'm living the life over here! And yes, nar are my new most favorite thing ever! I eat them as if they were sour straws! You know what that means, my family sometimes calls me nar girl and tells me soon I will have nar growing out of my hair!

Monday thru Saturday I have language class from morning til lunch time. Then three or four times a week all the English teaching groups get together at one school to have TEFL sessions (basically learning how to be a teacher). Sunday is our day off to hang out and relax with each other, so that is what we are doing now. It has been very sunny and warm here, but today, of course it is raining. Still life is good! I miss you all and love you lots! Next time I can use my own computer I'll add pictures, I have a lot of beautiful things to share!