This was a much-awaited moment for many of us, or, rather, all of us. Nothing says “exciting” like meeting the host family with whom you’ll be living for two and a half months, and all you can say is, “Hello,” “My name is John.” “What is your name?” “I have a brother.” “Do you have a brother?” “I want food.” On second thought, “exciting” might be the wrong word, but I can’t think of anything that fits the description just right.
In fact, as we were all sitting in the meeting hall at the Sheraton in Philadelphia, one of my final questions to a returned volunteer was, “How awkward is it going to be?” That question was followed by much laughter. Frank, the returned volunteer, even laughed a bit, and we all understood that it would be plenty awkward, which in itself is amusing.
As we all got on our respective buses (Some were marshrutkas, which will be explained another time.), it was as if we were cattle, wondering around like idiots, waiting to be carted off to be slaughtered. In fact, we’ve noticed thus far that the host family experience is much like being a large, two legged animal living in someone’s house. We wonder around with minimal communication skills, can barely iterate anything to our hosts, and wait to be fed. You can thank my buddy Charlie for that observation.
Whatever the case, we rolled along from the Aqua Park (wherever that was) to the area around the city of Sumgait. Sumgait will be our hub city for training (After that, God knows where we’ll go.). During training, the sixty-one of us will be divided into “clusters”. That is, small groups of us (about five, more or less) will be in various towns around Sumgait. My cluster is one of two that lives in Ceyranbatan (Pronouned Jay•rahn•bah•tahn. In Azerbaijani, c’s are pronounced like j’s.). We are Ceyranbatan Two, while Ceyranbatan One lives across the highway (which connects Sumgait with Baku, the capitol).
Anyway, one by one, each person that would be training in Ceyranbatan (One and Two) was dropped off at their host family’s house. It was fun to help the trainees with their luggage and see them off at their new homes. We have trainees with various living arrangements, from large, nice houses, to apartments.
My time eventually came. In fact, I think my house was the last one. We soon discovered, upon arrival at the house, that the “ana” (“mother” in Azerbaijani, pronounced “ah•nah”, with the stress on the final syllable) was not there, but it was okay, because she works at the school (not as a teacher, though. She lets people in the door and cleans around. I’m not sure of the job title.). She soon arrived and let me in. She showed me to my room, and as I unpacked my things (I was fortunate to be able to unpack my own things. That’s not the case in every household.), she offered me, as we all could guess, çay (pronounced “chai”, “tea” in Azerbaijani. This is a very important word.). I of course said yes, and she promptly brought me a pot ‘o çay with candy. It’s important to note that, in the Azerbaijani eating process, tea and candy come before the meal…and after…and maybe in the middle sometimes too.
And, as expected, she then offered me a meal. “Yemək” (yee•mach. The ‘ə’ is pronounced like the ‘a’ in “apple”. In almost all Azerbaijani words, by the way, the stress is on the last syllable.) she said, with her empty hand motioning toward her open mouth. I accepted again, and food was brought.
I took a break from unpacking and took a seat in my new room. As I was unpacking, a small table was moved from the middle of my room to the wall, and I sat there with my food and çay in front of me. It was a typical meal, soup with potatoes and chicken, with bread. My room is quite nice, about the same size as my room in The United States, with two pretty rugs covering the floor. For some reason, as I looked around and thought about this new arrangement, I began to feel emotional. In fact, I could easily have cried right then and there. Fatigue could have had something to do with it, and the fact that I had had plenty the night before.
As I was eating, my host mother came back into my room. She got on her knees in front of me, the way one does when they want to speak earnestly with someone, and we had a conversation. During orientation, part of the first few days of language training we had consisted of learning how to tell about your family back home. I understood why now, because she wanted to know. In my terrible Azerbaijani, I was able to say that I have a sister, brother, mom, and dad.
Soon after, she made it clear that I, the mysterious guest in her home, was now her son. That’s not to say she was stealing me from my American parents, but what’s important to note about our host family experiences in this country is that, as long as we’re in their houses, we are their children.
My host family consists of four people: Ata (“Dad,” I don’t remember what his name is.), Ana (Melahet), and two brothers, Nerman (12) and Maharab (17). These are some of the finest people I’ve ever known. Ata is a good man, works construction (as does Maharab). We’ve also had plenty of vodka together. Ana is one of the sweetest people I‘ve ever met. She loves to talk and teach me as much Azerbaijani as possible. Nerman is twelve and going to school, and he is also a fine young man. At any given time, he will make sure I have something to eat and çay to drink. Maharab is also a great guy. At seventeen, he is already working, although he is off to military service in about two months. I forgot to mention that I have a third host brother, Elhan, who’s currently doing his service.
I’m very pleased with the host family aspect of training thus far, and with good reason. They’ve been great.