Friday, June 5, 2009

Azerbaijan Softball

Hey, y'all. I'm going to take a minute here to tell y'all about an ongoing project in Azerbaijan. For years, volunteers have been organizing softball teams all over the country, giving them an opportunity to teach Azerbaijanis about the game and have some fun.

This year, they're working hard to gather the necessary funds to keep the project going. They would love a donation from anyone willing to give five dollars or more. You can visit this website for more information about the project and how to donate:

I, for one, am a big fan of this project and hope it can achieve the same success it's experienced in past years. If you're interested, please take a look at the link, and any donations would bbe greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Curious Little Kid

29 May 2009

Today, I’m going to touch up on a couple topics I’ve mentioned before. I’m going to kind of combine the two, and we’ll see how it works out.

I’ve written to you all about my little host brother, Rustəm, a really good kid. I’ve talked about his creativity and letter writing, and I’ve also said a thing or two about the simplicity of village living.

Well, this village, where generations of Mahmudovs (my host family’s last name) have lived, is the perfect place for a kid like Rustəm. I thought to write about this after hearing him carelessly sing to himself in the hallway and playing badminton with him after lunch. He enjoys my company as a playmate, but he beautifully goes off into his own world as well, and what a setting for such behavior.

I’m pleased as punch to see him nearly every day, wandering about the trees and rivers, running around aimlessly, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. He loves when I ask what he’s up to, so he can show me. An example is when he rigged something up with rocks that would hold a vine back so he could swing farther on it. Like I said, he’s very creative, and all he needs is what’s laid out for him around Qumlaq.

Sure, this is a small village, smaller than any community I’ve lived in, but its simplicity is satisfying. I wrote before about how people just walk around town, and when I ask them what they’re up to, they say, “Nothing.” I wouldn’t say “nothing” implies “We’re being worthless,” though. Rustəm may say “nothing” when I ask what he’s doing, but, in reality, he’s enjoying his childhood, emulating, according to my Azerbaijani teacher, Sevil Müəllimi, how his father, Firuz, acted as a child.

So there may not be a bunch of bells and whistles to entertain us around Qumlaq village, but I can say that people – in partucular, young people – are content with what they have. When I see folks cheerfully greeting their neightbors or Rustəm curiously wandering around, that comes to light, and it inspires me.

28 May

27 May 2009

It’s interesting to look at the next couple days’ progression of events. As all teachers and English education Peace Corps volunteers in Azerbaijan know, this is the last week of school. After Friday, the summer and, basically, whatever we feel like doing ‘till September, will be ahead of us, which is a nice thought, unless you’re like Charlie and me and are afraid you might get a little bored. We’ll see how it goes. Anyway, I’m kinna getting off the topic (already).

With that said, Thursday is a holiday. Wow, what a convenient time for one. What’s it celebrating anyway, that we’d be off from work and school on the day before the last day of school?

Well, it’s celebrating the day Azerbaijan became an independent republic in 1918. Now, hold on. Isn’t there a lot of other stuff that happened between then and now? Yeah, plenty happened, but let’s take a look at Azerbaijani history around this time.

We’ll start over a hundred years before 1918. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Azerbaijan was ruled by several independent Persian khanates, or small regions under the control of a khan, or ruler. In fact, the diverse culture of Azerbaijan’s present rayons can be attributed to this era, as several of these khanates corresponded with present day rayons, such as: Shirvan, Ganja, Quba, and Shaki.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, Russia became a big threat in the region. By this time, the area of present day Azerbaijan had been conquered by Agha Muhammed Khan Qajar. This khanate declared war on Russia but was eventually defeated, and, in 1813, Russia controlled the territory. The Persian Qajars submitted to a final settlement, the Treaty of Turkmenchay, in 1828, which established the present day Azerbaijan-Iran border.

During this period of Russian rule (not to be confused with the Soviet era, which came along a century later), petroleum was discovered and exploited, and Azerbaijan experienced great prosperity (for the rich, at least) and growth. This was extremely important, not just in terms Azerbaijan’s economy, but also its society.

But why? The great disparity between rich and poor as a result of this exploitative economy brought on the emergence of an Azeri nationalist intelligencia that sparked quite a discourse in the region. It took a stand against poverty, ignorance, and extremism, and called for reforms in education and the rights of dispossessed classes, including women. These may have been unprecedented values, as present day Azerbaijan, throughout its history, had been ruled largely by oppressive outside forces.

These values clearly stuck as Russia lost its grasp on the area as a result of its involvement in World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917. And on May 28th, 1918, Azerbaijan became an independent democratic republic. It was the first democratic republic in the Islamic world.

Of course, this was short lived, as Azerbaijan became a Soviet republic in 1920. Nonetheless, May 28th deserves great recognition. It doesn’t merely celebrate the brief Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan established in 1918, but the triumph of freethinking. While being passed from one ruling power to another, a movement emerged that recognized the solidarity of the Azerbaijani people. When I look at Azerbaijanis today, I see very nationalistic people, people that are proud of their heritage, and that may have a lot to do with this independent thinking that prevailed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, giving great relevance to May 28th 1918, when Azerbaijan first became it’s own republic.

Go. Come. Sit. Stand. Eat. Drink.

26 May 2009

I admit that’s kind of a weird title for an entry, but it’ll hopefully make more sense in a moment.

I’m fascinated by the Azerbaijani language. It’s different than any language I’ve ever heard, and with good reason. It’s part of a family of languages with which I wasn’t the least bit familiar until coming to Azerbaijan. It’s interesting what goes through your head before coming to another country whose language you don’t know. I can remember running around the neighborhood in Driftwood, Texas the weeks before coming to Azerbaijan, thinking, “Yep, I’m going there for two years. I’m going to learn the language, although I have no idea what it sounds like.” Then, I remember learning my first Azerbaijani sentence: “Mənim adım Condur (My name is John (Remember that “Con” is pronounced like “John” in Azerbaijani.).)”. Wait. Where’s the verb? What’s with the upside down ‘e’? What’s with this crazy language?

Well, like other volunteers, I got the hang of it. I can pronounce the words okay and tag the verbs onto the ends of the sentences. As you start to get it better and better, you notice certain trends in how people talk. The command form of the verb is used a lot. Let me give you some examples:

Example 1:

John: Hey, first host mom, I’m going running.

First Host Mom: Run!

Example 2:

First Host Mom: Eat!

Example 3:

First Host Mom: Drink!

Example 4:

Random Group of Dudes at the Çayxana: Come. Drink tea!

Example 5:

Second Host Mom: Come. Eat bread!

Example 6:

Second Host Dad: Come. Eat Bread. Afterwards, sit. Write.

Do you get the picture? This is how folks talk a lot of the time. It’s funny when you think about it, kind of a style of talking that’s, in a sense, encouragement through bossiness. I mean, it sounds bossy, but it’s really just their way of getting the message across in a short-and-sweet fashion. When you tell the passerby, “Come. Drink tea!” that doesn’t mean he has to sit down and have a glass with you. That’s just your way of inviting him. When my host mom would tell me, “Run!” it was to send me on my way. She could’ve cared less if I run. The same goes for lots of scenarios.

Languages are funny, and the more you learn about a foreign language, the more you understand the people’s difficulties with English. For example, an Azerbaijani may tell you, in English, “Give me book,” which sounds rude to us, but, well, that’s what they would say in their own language. Similar trends occur in other languages, as well. I tell ya. It’s interesting stuff.