Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Inerested in environmental issues?

Hey, everybody. Some volunteers in the city of Mingechevir are raising money for an environmental event. My friend Alexis works hard to address environmental issues in Azerbaijan via our environmental committee, and this particular event will include an environmentally themed art contest, mural, city clean up, and more. If you're interested in contributing to this event, check out this web page:

Adios, and thank you.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Will you take me to America?

13 March 2010

I’m not sure what I was expecting before I came to Azerbaijan. Well, I mean, considering the fact that I didn’t know much of anything about Azerbaijan before arriving, I guess I was setting myself up for anything, and part of that "anything" would be the set catalogue of questions many people, especially dudes, like to ask the foreigner.

Let me elaborate on one. Can you guess what it is? Wow, you’re good. Yes, it’s true. I come from America, the land of chocolate telephone poles and golden mailboxes. Opportunities out the gonads. I mean, geez, upon getting off the boat on American soil, you got guys swarming you, begging you to take their high-paying, perk-filled jobs. No wonder people wanna be taken to the Land of the Free, and what better escort than the Peace Corps volunteer who makes two hundred fifty bucks a month.

Alright, now that that stream of sarcasm is over, let me just say that this question, "Will you take to me to America?" would be fine if we were asked it, you know, like once a month, but that’s not the case. Heck, my landlord asks me it all the time, and even after repeated "no’s", he keeps asking. I’m not sure why.

First off, I’d like to know why you want to go to America. What would you do there? What would you see? Whom would you meet? How’s your English these days? Who's gonna look after you (An Azerbaijani friend of mine and Charlie's recently sent his wife to Canada to care for hit son who's studying there.)? It doesn’t look like you’re starving here, so what’s the big hurry?
Then I’ve gotten another response to my own questions regarding their desire to go to America: "I’ll ‘receive’ a wife there."

Um, yeah, that’s probably not going to happen. I can see you now, making friends and looking in your Azerbaijani/English dictionary and saying "I’d like to receive a wife." Wonder how that’d go over. It might make you the life of the party, with all the lovely ladies lining up like you’re at the "woman bazaar", but, then again, maybe not.

My next question is this: How are you going to get there? This is where my role in getting them to the U.S.A. comes in. In order to immigrate to another country, you gotta go to the embassy yourself and apply for a visa. If you qualify and receive one, you can buy your plane ticket and go. So where exactly do I come in in getting you to the United States? What, do you think I have visas in my back pocket? They don’t give us "extras".

"You know, you can just tell them I’m your guest."

"No, I can’t do that."

"Why not?"

"Because that’s not how it works."


"Because it’s the law."

"No, come on. Just tell them I’m your guest and take me to America."


"Why are you angry?"

Ha ha. Yes, that was just a random example of how the conversation might go, and I’m not Azerbaijani, so what kind of perspective do I have? I can say, though, that I live here, and I’m pleased by the curiosity people around here have about foreign lands. There’s a good chance you might be talking to a gentleman from Oğuz who’s never left the rayon, or another guy who remembers his military service in Siberia of wherever during the Soviet era and wants to wonder around the globe again. It does someone good to go somewhere else, wherever it may be, and I and many other volunteers can say that some of the best folks in this country are the ones that did the F.L.E.X. program, where you study for a year at a U.S. high school. They come home with all kinds of wisdom and optimism, and they’re a big help.

So, despite my seemingly cathartic portrayal of the lovely conversations I have with the local crowd, I still have to accept that where I am just ain’t America. One’s desire to "be taken to the U.S." may just be an expression of curiosity for a place he’s only seen on T.V. When you look at it that way, it seems pretty normal.

Some things you just have to accept as part of being here, as something you can’t fight or resist. You’re in a different place, and you’re a foreigner. If you try to contort it to fit your needs, you’ll lose.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

International Women's Day

9 March 2010

Alright, anyone who calls this an "international" holiday has clearly never been to the United States, as I hadn’t ever heard of this holiday before coming here, though I must admit it’s on my Peanuts one a day calendar for March eighth. But when I mentioned it to Mom the other day, she also said she hadn’t heard of it, but it’s no big deal. It’s really just a day when the men and boys show some appreciation for the women in their lives, which is cool.

I mean, I just gotta go into some detail here, ‘cause it’s pretty darn cute, about what some of the people do. You kinna feel like you’re going back a few decades. Either that, or the childish giggling you hear from the ninth grade girls sorta makes them seem more like fifth graders, but it’s a different place, here in Azerbaijan, and that’s fine.

Anyway, what am I talking about here? Oh yeah, Women’s Day. Well, one thing I observed as I was drinking my coffee and reading the Monitor last Friday, were the boys from a ninth grade class coming into the back room of the snack bar, where people have their çay, and leaving tea, cake, and presents for the girls. After they left, the girls came in with a teacher and enjoyed what the boys had left. It was adorable. I sat down with them as they sipped from their glasses and laughed giddily at the little noise making stuffed animals their classmates gave them. Their amusement tickled me to death. I mean, I was talking with Mom on Sunday afternoon, and I wondered what it would’ve been like with ninth graders in the U.S. What would they have been doing? How would they celebrate this holiday? I’m not really sure. We have Mother’s Day, but that’s just for moms. How would a bunch of fifteen year olds at, say, Wimberley High School in Texas do this? I really don’t know, but it makes me think.

It’s also nice to see boys, girls, men, and women interacting in such a way in a culture where gender relations are different than in the United States. When I see them getting along like this, it reminds me that Azerbaijanis are people just like Americans or anybody else. The "rules" might be different, but a young man might still be nervous about giving a piece of cake to a classmate, or a girl might anxiously look at a little gift and think, "Oh, that boy’s cute. I wonder if he gave me this." Can you avoid thinking like that, really? I don’t think so. Heck, at twenty-four I even still feel like a teenager sometimes.

So as I finish up this short entry at 3:05 in the morning I still contemplate those emotions, those thoughts and feelings, that we all relate to, giving some legitimacy to every cheesy holiday that makes us go out of our routine to give a Valentine to the girl we like, stand under mistletoe with someone we know likes us, or leave tea, cake, and presents for girls that deserve some appreciation. I’m okay with that.