Monday, December 21, 2009

A Play in the Dirty, Dirty South

21 December 2009


Hello, again. After a little absence, I’m getting back on the wagon to tell you about the trip I made this past weekend. It was a goodun’.

For some time, one of my old friends from our “cluster” in Ceyranbatan had been advertising a performance, in English, of The Wizard of Oz. This volunteer, Jordyn Ginnity, studied theater in high school and college and has had a drama club going on at his site for a while. Considering his expertise, I thought it’d be worth making the long trip to check out the play. Not only could I witness a creative endeavor for a T.E.F.L. volunteer, but I could also check out a part of the country I hadn’t seen.

So I set out at eight o’clock Saturday morning from Oğuz to hopefully make it to Neftçala, a rayon about three hours south of Baku, by three that day to see the play on time. The dispatcher at the Oğuz bus station recommended I take a Baku marşrutka from a town called Xaldon, where people catch a lot of rides going every which way. On the road from Xaldon to Baku, there’d be a place I could get off that would be a straight shot, more or less, to Neftçala.

I did just that, but, according to the marşrutka driver, I’d just have to ride all the way into Baku and catch a ride to Neftçala from there. Oh, well. So I arrived at the new Baku bus station, took an hour-long city bus across town, and finally got on a van bound for Neftçala. I ended up getting there at around six o’clock, a ten-hour trip, more or less. Thankfully, there’d be another performance the following day.

It was interesting to go from the Greater Caucasus, where I live, to the Really Flaticus, where Jordyn lives. It’s like you’re driving along the Gulf coast of Texas, except there aren’t as many F-150s on the road. There was a great deal more oil equipment to my left as we were traveling south, and despite what many would call a less aesthetically pleasing ride along the Caspian coast, I felt a sense of peace as the sun was going down. Maybe it was the change of scenery. I don’t know.

When I finally made it, Jordyn greeted me and took me to his host family’s house. He lives in a nice place with nice people, and, better yet, he and the fam were making pizza that night. You gotta admit it’s pretty cool to make pizza with your Azerbaijani host mom, not to mention one that really knows how to prepare the dough.

After a nice evening of good food and conversation, we eventually hit the sack and rose the next morning for breakfast and a tour of the rayon. We, however, were derailed upon arriving at School #3, where Jordyn serves, by some concerning news. Jordyn’s director told us that the director at School #1, where the play was being held, wouldn’t allow the performance to happen that day because there was supposed to be a meeting. This was alarming, considering it was written, in black and white, that the play was to be held for three days, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Despite what may be on your work agenda, you can’t just tell a hundred spectators there’ll be no play due to a “meeting”. So Jordyn and I walked over to School #1 to figure things out, and, like Jordyn’s director told us, School #1’s director insisted there couldn’t be a play that day. Considering what was agreed upon at the beginning, this pissed Jordyn off, and he and the director got into a verbal altercation, culminating in the director trying to physically throw Jordyn out of the school.

This didn’t make either of us happy, and I’d be damned if I was gonna travel ten hours and not see a play. We marched back to Jordyn’s school and assessed the situation with his director. We tried to figure out where we could have the play that day and decided we could have it in the School #3 auditorium, which was a bit more…rustic…than School #1’s auditorium.

However, School #1’s director called us back over, so we rolled up our sleeves and headed back there. He told us we could have the play, just as long as we’re out of there promptly and clean up after ourselves.

This was a huge relief, and Jordyn could pat himself on the back for standing up. Clearly he got through to the man. I got there an hour early so I could meet the actors and actresses. They were all nice kids and were excited about what they were doing, and with good reason. The play was very well done, with great costumes and scenery. It was also very entertaining, as it kept the one hundred some odd people’s attention. I was impressed with Jordyn’s direction and the students’ performance. You could see from how they acted that they were doing something unique that they were proud of, and that’s huge in our work.

It’s really lovely to be able to take kids off the beaten path a bit. Whether it be teaching English a different way to having them perform The Wizard of Oz, it’s great to see them shine in something they aren’t used to. It gives hope for all people.

I also got to hang out in the east Texas of Azerbaijan, and that’s pretty cool, too.