Tuesday, March 31, 2009

School? On Sunday?!

30 March 2009

Can’t say I wasn’t a bit perturbed about this piece of news, merely a day after my arrival back at site near the end of the Novruz holiday. I had been hanging out with friends in various places in Azerbaijan, enjoying the two weeks of “tətil” (vacation) that we had. I got back to my host family’s on Saturday, and I was looking forward to a relaxing day in which I could plan for the week and enjoy my newly arrived issue of The Christian Science Monitor. I was lying in bed at about seven o’clock Sunday morning, and I got up to ask Firuz if he could turn the volume down in the T.V. in the dining room.

He responded, “You’re not going to school?”

“What? School?”

“Yes, school. There’s class, class.”

“It’s Sunday.”

“Well, there was vacation, and now we’re having class today.”

“But it’s Sunday.”

“Yes, it was a holiday. There’s class today.”

This little piece of news wasn’t taken with a whole lotta gratitude, if you can imagine such a response. I was mystified and, well, pissed off. To my own criticism, Charlie had informed me the night before, “They’re making me go to class tomorrow!” At that time, I thought, “Surely they must be mistaken.”

Well, that morning, with me still in my sleeping clothes with no lesson plans, the joke was on me. I headed out the door in a hurry and met Mrs. Adilə for class. It really wasn’t a bad day, as it was Friday’s schedule, which is just two eighth form classes. I tried to find out, though, from my counterpart, why we were having class on Sunday, and I got the same “It was a holiday” response.

What the heck is that supposed to mean?

Is this to say that, because we had a two week holiday, we have to make up for it by having an extra day of class, on freaking Sunday?!

Now, I’m no stranger to different cultures. I can deal with stuff. I’m okay with the A.T.M. crowd. I like tea. I can live with not crossing my legs when I sit down or not putting my hands in my pockets when I walk around, but school on Sunday is pushing the limit. Not only was it an unpleasant surprise, but it also got my days turned around. It made Sunday feel like Monday, and today, being the actual Monday, I approached some students to talk about English club today, and they responded, “You mean Tuesday?” “Aaaggghhh!” I thought, “What the heck day is it?!”

Oh, well, what can I do? This work can’t be on my own terms. Heck, if I was a teacher in the States, I’d have to attend those mysterious “teacher-in-service” days while the students ran free. This is just another reality of what I’m doing, and I’m cool with that.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Peç

6 March 2009

I don’t know if any of you have extensive experience with one of these things, but for the inexperienced among us, it can be an…um…somewhat frustrating process.

My source of heat in my room is a little contraption the Azerbaijanis call a "peç" (pronounced "pech"). It has a boxy, rectangular shape, with a large, metal tube leading up above the roof, where the smoke comes out. It’s cool to see the outside of the school building here in the village, where every room has a peç, and the many tubes protruding from the walls, with smoke billowing out. To get it going, you put logs into the "box", get ‘em lit, close the little door, and voila, your room is "isti" (warm) before you know it.

Well, hmmm…Anybody here have much experience with fires? This guy doesn’t. In fact, I’d have to say that fiddling with this peç has been my first experience with starting a fire on a regular basis. I knew I should’ve joined the Boy Scouts.

Now, I probably could ask my host mom or dad every night if they could light it for me, but what self-respecting Peace Corps Volunteer would do that? Nope, I was determined to get this right myself, every time.

Yes, good thinking, John. I mean, I had seen them light the peç for me before, and it didn’t seem like any big deal. Basically, you take a few logs, maybe some paper, pour a little "neft" (some kind of lighter fluid) on it, strike a match, and, like I said before, "voila", you got a warm room.

That’s at least what I thought, but why would it be as easy as that? That would be no fun, right? So I went through the same protocol I saw Firuz and Aybəniz do, and, of course, things look good at first when you got the "neft" on the logs. They flare up in a lovely glow, and I close the little peç door, brush off my hands, and say "Glad that’s done."

Wait a minute (And that’s all it really takes. About a minute.). As I walk away from the peç and go about my other business, I no longer hear the roar that the flames were making earlier but the pathetic pittle of one little struggling flame, destined to go out soon. I then say, "What the heck?" and stick my face down into the peç, to see nothing more than steamy logs and a little smoke, but no fire. "Crap," I think, and go for desperate action, that is, doing it over again.
So I go through the process of sticking a little paper between the same, now hot to the touch, logs, pour a little more "neft" on ‘em, and light it up. Ah, another heavenly glow, and I stick around to inspect it a little longer this time. It appears the logs are starting to redden and create the "coal" effect, which is another good sign. I decide not to leave the peç’s side this time around, but it’s not like that helps too much, because, as I sit there looking in, I can clearly see that the flame is, once again, going out, and the logs continue to just sit there, now red, hissing at me. "Dangit," I think. "What’s the deal here?" It’s time for more drastic action.

What exactly constitutes drastic action? The inclusion of fast-moving air. That’s what. If there’s one thing that helps get a fire going, it’s blowing air onto it. So I go through the same process, get the fire lit, let it sit for a minute, and as it starts to die down again, I’m ready with lungs full of CO2.

So I blow, then again, then again, harder and harder, and it works…somewhat. The flames get going again, but the logs, all laid down parallel in the "box", have all been, more or less, "hollowed out" from being lit that all they do is simply flare up for a moment and die down again. Being the genius I am, though, I decide it’s a good idea to blow even harder, because surely that’ll do the trick. Mind you, I’m beginning to get a little angry at this point. I mean, come on. All I was is a warm room at night. I blow so hard and with such frequency that I begin to feel quite faint and have to take a rest. I lay on my floor to see, once again, that the stupid thing is still not lit. "Aaaagggghhhh!," I loudly groan in a Charlie Brown-esque exhalation of frustration. Okay, now I’m mad, but still determined, and I continue to poke around at the logs and check out what’s going on with this confounded peç, quietly (or, at least, trying to be quiet) cursing it and my own incompetence. At this point, Aybəniz can hear me clanking around in my room, and she knows just what I’m doing. She comes in and asks, "You trying to light the peç?"

"Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Thanks (Go away.)"

"Alright, let’s take a look here."

She peers in and assesses the situation, placing a coal or two here and there. Telling me to move a log this way and that. Then she tells me to blow on it a little, and a flame goes up.

"Alright. We’re cool," she says.

"Really?" I think, "Is that all it took?"

Yes, that’s all it took. The logs slowly kindle up, and the peç, slowly but surely, is going strong. "Great googly moogly," I think.

Well, like so many things in life, lighting the peç is all about trial and error. I eventually learned the ins and outs of getting it going well, and, now, I can get it on the first or second try, just about every time.

I also must say there’s something just lovely about the thing. As the sun goes down, the day done, it’s finally time to relax, and lighting up the warm peç has almost come to symbolize that relaxation. Living in a small village, the nights are peaceful and quiet, and as I sit there in my room with the peç going strong, writing or reading a good book, all the anxieties and frustrations of the day seem to go out the window. It’s a good feeling.