Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

It seems I haven't posted in a while. We'll fix that, believe you me, but in the meantime, I'm going to leave y'all with a short and hopefully sweet "Season's Greetings". Or should I even say "Season's Greetings"? Is that legit? My buddy Charlie tells me it's a generic phrase made up my Hallmark (no offense to Hallmark. I like their cards) or the like. Perhaps I should just stick with "Merry Christmas". I mean, Charlie did go to Kenyon, so he must be good with words.

Okay, here goes: Merry Christmas! I hope it's a blessed one!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Leaving Your Hat On A Marshrutka

What. This has never happened to you?

Okay, while it’s fresh on my mind, let me recount what “went down” after I stepped off the marshrutka in Ceyranbatan, although the title might’ve given it away. Whatever.

Hold on. Perhaps I should give you the “low down” on what a “marshrutka” is. There’s a chance you’ve never heard of such a thing.

Marshrutkas are some of the greatest things ever.

Wait. That wasn’t good enough? Okay, I’ll describe them in more detail.

“Marshrutka” means “minibus”. Perhaps you’re getting a decent mental image now, but let me tell you. It’s more than just that. They’re inexpensive, speedy, van-like vehicles that transport folks from one place to another. It might be to the next town, within the town, or across rayons of Azerbaijan. They’re about as convenient as you can get, and who can argue with a four-hour ride for seven fifty (That’s in dollars.)? In the states, a ride that long could cost thirty on the Greyhound, or maybe more. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

So what did happen as I dismounted the marshrut (That’s the shortened, casual form of the word.) in Ceyranbatan (Just pretend the title of the entry is something else.)? Well, I left my sweet, blue, Rocky style (as Shep would describe) cap in the freakin’ vehicle, and I, of course, realized it as it was driving away.

So…what did I do? I ran. Then I ran some more.

I thought the marshrut made its final stop just up the road. It didn’t. It just kept rolling along, and I just kept a runnin’ down the road in the dark. The marshrut would stop for a second. I would catch up a little. Then it would keep going again. I’m sure the local folk were wondering what this white dude was doing running down the road in his corduroy jacket and scarf. I mean, Hell, they’re curious enough when you’re running in athletic gear. I almost tripped and fell at one point, too. It was one of those “almost trips” when your foot kicks back suddenly due to a groove or something on the path. Then your friend says something like, “Whoa! Better watch your step there!” or something smart-alecky like that, which just pisses you off more.

Eventually, I realized, with the size of the town being what it is, the marshrut would just loop around, so I ran back the other way, and, lo and behold, it showed up. I got on the marshrut, again, and fetched the hat. No problemo.

Okay, why the heck am I writing this? I mean, am I the only person who’s ever left his hat somewhere? Surely not. Maybe this is just a piece of advice to the kinds of people that leave stuff (You know who you are.). If your hat happens to have been left on a marshrutka, run after it. Don’t just stand there. Hold on. Scratch that. Okay…if your hat happens to have been left on a marshrutka, stand there. Don’t run after it. Just wait ‘till it comes back.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Military Service

Here’s something you hear about all the time. Back in the U.S., many, many people join the ranks and serve the country, sacrificing a lot but gaining a lot as well. What would it be like, however, if everyone had to serve?

Well, in Azerbaijan, that’s not the case either, but just about every male serves in the military for a couple years. I learned a little about military service one day as I was walking down the road with my friends in Ceyranbatan.

My host family just so happened to be riding in a relative’s car, and they stopped and yelled for me to join them. No wasn’t an option. So we jetted out of town towards Baku, and I wasn’t sure where the heck we were going. Let me also add that at this time, I could speak barely any Azerbaijani, but I did have my dictionary. My host dad took it and flipped through the pages. He eventually said, “military service.” In Azerbaijani, the word is “əsgərlik”. That didn’t help me too much, though. You begin to think weird things when you’re riding in a car, you don’t know where you’re going, and somebody tells you “military service”. Oh well, what the heck was I going to do? Jump out?

So we arrived at our destination. As I could’ve expected, it was a military post. We got out of the car and greeted Elhan, my oldest host brother, whom I’d never met. Ah, I got it now. We were just visiting Elhan. We walked into the mess hall and sat down. Unfortunately, the electricity was out, so we sat in the dark and chatted with him. I, however, did more listening than chatting.

Whatever the case, it was interesting to observe. Elhan’s about twenty years old, three years younger than I am. No doubt military service ain’t a picnic, and here was this man, sitting in the dark, talking with the folks from home. It can’t be easy, but he seemed to have a good attitude.

I’ve wondered why countries have required military service. I imagine it’s to ensure the country’s protection, but I can see there being an advantage for those doing the service. It seems to me that if there was one way to jump-start a person into manhood, it would be this. If I had done military service before college and all that, there’s a chance I would’ve been a stronger, more mature man. I mean, it’s not a guarantee, but there’s a chance. It would’ve also been good to know that I was needed in my country, regardless of what came out of my service, although that doesn’t make me or anyone else exempt from making his/herself counted.

Su yox

Few things irritate you more than approaching the sink, turning the knob, hearing a slight suction/gurgling sound, and seeing no water flow from the spout. Dang, Man, I was really looking forward to washing my hands / taking a shower / cleaning the dishes (although I don’t do much of that in this house) / having a drink of water / etc. / etc. You also can’t help but get perturbed when your sweetheart host mother looks at you and says, “Su yox!” (“no water!”). What do you mean we don’t have water? And why don’t we have water? And when are we going to get the water back? These are the thoughts that enter your head when you’re in this situation, and they aren’t completely unjustified.

But then you have to think a little bit. First, it’s not your host mother’s fault. It’s not like she called the water company (or whoever’s in control) and said, “Eh, we just don’t feel like water today.” Secondly, let’s get real here. At least we have running water. Drinkable running water is there pretty much all the time, and that cannot be said everywhere. I thought of that as I was on my way to the school this morning and saw people filling up large receptacles with water. Okay, so they had to go and fetch the agua from there instead of turning the knob at the sink in their homes, but in several places that’s every day, whether they like it or not. I once heard from a woman who lived in the Gambia that, in the place where she was living, the water would be delivered. It could be anytime, day or night, and the people would have to come out and get their water that way.

Alright, look. I ain’t no bleeding heart lecturing martyr. I like my hot water. I like my glass of H20. I like my instant coffee. But it’s important to remember that water doesn’t just come from nowhere. Making the water hot isn’t always as simple as turning the knob. What we need isn’t always at our fingertips, and, well, there’s just no harm in knowing that.

The Amazing Electric Box

If there’s anything that’ll make you feel like you’re in a vintage science fiction movie, it’s this little (or, should I say, not so little) mechanism in which I plug my electronics. Yes, it’s true. We’re advised to use one of these “voltage regulators” if we value our laptop computers. Seeing as I got mine the summer of two thousand six, I’d prefer to hold onto it for a while, and unless I’d prefer it get fried by a less-than-even electric current, I was recommended to utilize this contraption.

However, would others agree when I say it might not be necessary? Don’t get me wrong. People use surge protectors and the like all the time, but just look at this thing. It costs thirty-five manat. That’s roughly forty-three dollars and seventy-five cents. Not chump change, especially on my salary, or whatever it is we receive as payment. Let me also add that Josh Weil, an administrator, told us at a hub day that these machines could very well be superfluous expenditures. Now, granted, he’s the one dishing us our money regularly, but we won’t hold that against him.

Oh, right, and don’t let me forget this. My laptop holds a charge for about, oh, forty minutes now. Oh, how fantastic. I’m glad it’s been in good hands. That’s not to say explicitly that the regulator I bought has failed, but, hmm, there’s a chance. And if that chance just so happens to be true, then what the Hell is this clunky contraption doing on my floor with my computer plugged into it (as I type this, might I add)? If this thing actually hasn’t protected my computer from harm, then it would better serve as a doorstop, or booster chair, or one of those blocky things short people use to reach the urinal.

Alright, I will now shove all bitterness aside. Whatever the case, I’m still unsure of this thing’s effectiveness, and instead of pointing a finger and throwing the regulator out the window, I will hold onto it for the duration of my service. Rather than scoff at its large size and weight (And, really, why is this thing so heavy? What’s going on in there?), I will embrace the blockyness and accept it as, if anything, a novelty of my Azerbaijan experience. I mean, really, what’s a few extra pounds when you can add some fun to the mix…and perhaps protect your computer as well?

Monday, December 1, 2008

A.T.M. Machines

Okay, folks, as I sit here again in the Internet café, I wanted to write a quick note about something I experienced, in its fullest form, just a little bit ago.

Yes, anyone who has been serving in the Peace Corps in Azerbaijan knows what I’m talking about when I create a web log entry with the title “A.T.M. Machines”. It’s an experience just about any time you approach an International Bank of Azerbaijan A.T.M.

You see, many folks in Azerbaijan have a different style when it comes to these fancy machines. Anyone with a checking account in the United States has become accustomed to the “wait in line for your turn” method. I mean, it works okay, but why do that when you can swarm the machine, crowding around the civilian who’s taken on the role of “operator”, so you can hand him/her your card and he/she can do it for you? Oh yeah, let’s not forget that if, for some reason, you’ve brought multiple cards with you, you can stand there as said operator punches in your PIN number and withdraws your desired amount of cash. Honestly, it was really something to stand within the cluster and watch A.T.M. cards get passed up to a lady who was doin’ the withdrawin’ for folks standing by.

Okay, let me back up a little. This is not a criticism of how A.T.M. machine etiquette works in Azerbaijan. I mean, heck, as long as you get your money, it’s cool, and let me also mention that I don’t hand up my card like others do. I don’t take it that far. I just wait my turn, whenever that is.

It’s really just interesting to see how people deal with certain kinds of technology in different cultures. You’d think things simply follow a set standard, but then you get surprised. Truth be told, a lot of Azerbaijanis receive pension money, and there’s a chance many of them have never operated an A.T.M. before. I guess they figure a more communal technique to pulling out cash is perfectly fine, and I can’t blame them. I mean, what if you all the sudden had a bank account and an A.T.M. machine dropped into your town? You’d have to figure it out, and, for them, this is what works. I’ll just try and not approach the automated teller machine on pension day.