Saturday, July 24, 2010

We've gotten used to you.

Now, you see, I have Internet in my little abode, which’ll make writing web log entries more convenient, or I’ll at least be able to upload them as soon as I write them. Oh joy.

But I must admit I’m not entirely pleased with the purchase my parents so kindly made for me when we were in Baku together. They were, of course, generous to buy the Azercell DataKart, to make my Internetting easier, seeing as every time I needed to send an email or upload a file, I had to hitchhike to Oğuz, a real crapshoot of a task that could take as long as an hour each way. Yeah, I know, I’m a crybaby, but now I can be…eh…more productive in the comfort of my own “həyət evi” (“yard house”).

But I was expressing my dissatisfaction, see. With regards to the hardware itself, it works fine. You plug it in a U.S.B. port, connect, and you’re on the Web. However, I was informed, as I was putting cash on the “kart” in Zaqatala, that “pul çox gedir” (“Money goes fast.”). Wonderful. So, exactly how fast? Well, judging by my Internet connection records, I burned through ten Manat after about six and a half hours of Internetting. That’s about a Manat fifty per hour. What the f%*#!! Seriously? I can use a computer at an Internet club in Oğuz for forty qəpik an hour. Not only that, but the equipment itself was fifty-nine Manat. Oh, those corporations and their crooked games. Clearly they’ve learned that us consumers are too awed by their flashy bells and whistles to take into account how this will effect our two fifty monthly allowance.

Nonetheless, I’m still happy I have this thing. It saves me the trip if I wanna send a quick email, look up an idea for lesson planning, check out a news story, or upload a web log entry.

Of course, that has nothing to do with this entry’s topic. Nope, I just wanna review a funny line I heard from an old teacher in Qumlaq. Her name’s Cahanə Müəllimə, and she teaches…something. A unique characteristic of this “müəllim” is that she drives a car. Now, female drivers are commonplace in richy rich Baku, with plenty of shade-sporting ladies cruising along the Caspian in their S.U.V.’s, but in the rayons, like Oğuz, pretty much only dudes drive. That’s why I get a kick out of this elderly woman puttering around the rayon in her red Lada. It isn’t like she’s a trendy young dame, pushing the limits by wearing stylish clothes and borrowing Dad’s Mercedes every now and then. This woman wears ankle-length dresses and headscarves, and judging by her passengers, you’d assume she’s driving her closest friends to the next bridge game. Life is full of things that make you smile.

So I was walking down the Qumlaq road one day, like I always do on my way to Oğuz, hoping a car would come by, and Cahanə Müəllimə came by and picked me up in her red Lada (whose design, by the way, hasn’t changed since 1974). A friend or relative was in the back seat, and they were also heading to Oğuz.

I sat next to Cahanə Müəllimə and had a pretty casual conversation: “How’s it going?” “What’re you up to?” “When’re you leaving for America?” “How’s Azerbaijan treating you?” Then she asked, in her nearly gone voice, something about Qumlaq and how I found the people, and I responded that I liked them, of course. Then she told me, “Well, we’ve gotten used to you.”

I kind of laughed at that response and didn’t think about it much until later. What exactly does it mean to “get used to someone”? I mean, I must admit, I’m sure the Qumlaqians had to shift their weight around a little to get used to me, the weird dresser, the runner, the coffee-drinker, the walker-to-towner (though I don’t really do that anymore, due to high river water levels.), the backpack wearer. I’m not sure how many outsiders these folks’ve gotten to know. Around Qumlaq, at least, Azerbaijani is pretty much what you get, a united “millət” (“nationality”), a people who drink çay and who all know the latest on the Turkish soap operas, who enjoy sunflower seeds and watching musicians play their national music on a grassy knoll in Qazax. Yeah, these folks’ve gotten used to the American.

Now, I mean, it may seem like an unnecessary adjustment. Why should they have to “get used to” me, like Cahanə Müəllimə said? I’m just here to help. I just want some respect and a comfortable house. You don’t need to bend over backwards.

But what about the folks who don’t get it? Any volunteer knows what I’m talking about. The dudes who yell ugly words at you on the street, who are so unfamiliar that they stare. My own mother felt conspicuous in Sheki, where grown men peered at her from the fronts of markets, clearly not used to what they saw.

The hardest thing for me at the beginning of service was trying to explain myself, in my broken Azerbaijani, to people who clearly didn’t understand me. I didn’t know if they liked me or not. It kept me up at night, even. “What if I leave, and they speak badly of me?” I thought. It was hard to bare, until, of course, I got used to them, and they did likewise, as this older teacher assured me. I guess it was a two-sided deal. You adjust. I adjust. If any party doesn’t do so, Peace Corps doesn’t work.

But aside from Peace Corps, how many times have you had an ugly encounter with folks who didn’t “get it”, from people ignorant to you and your needs, who didn’t understand you and where you came from? How ‘bout the other way around? You ever look back on a time when you alienated an outsider, refused to let him in? We all might be a little guilty, and that’s what’s made this experience so important. I never really knew what it was like.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What's all that scratching?

7 July 2010

Man, it’s hot, and I don’t even live in the hotter, considerably flatter part of Azerbaijan. Here in the rayon of Oğuz, we’re right by the mountains and rivers, a little ways uphill from the steamy cities of Mingechevir and Ujar, to name a couple. But still, I can’t deny the fact that I’m sweating my ass off at every corner, except for my bedroom here in the house, with the fan on high, blowing against the back of my Tennessee Titans shirt (You didn’t know I was a fan. Did you?). I was just in class with one ten year old girl who I’d suspect was thinking, the whole, you know, ten minutes we could stand to be in the classroom, “When the heck are we leaving?” We jammed out way early because her cousin was left alone at her house. Azerbaijani’s like to stay close to their guests. None of us wept at the change of plans.

But it’s a small price to pay for summer vacation. I mean, I’m from central Texas, where July days surpass a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. I’d still run and sweat in the midday sun along the hills of Sierra West and not give it a thought. To be honest, I kinna liked it, and I still don’t mind it too much around here. Let’s consider the alternative, or opposite, if you will:

Would you rather…

-Walk around on a July day, your wet t-shirt sticking to your back, dying to get in the air conditioning?


-Freeze your butt off in the January coldness, carrying the dishes out to the yard faucet, your hands getting numb from the icy water?

Now, don’t cheat. Human nature dictates you’ll always choose what you’re not in now. At first glance, plenty of you would choose the latter. However, if you were in a bustling crowd of polka dancers in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on Groundhog Day, you’d choose the former (“Better put on your booties, ‘cause it’s cold out there today.”). The truth is we naturally want what we don’t have. That’s why you get a crush on that girl who used to like you. Okay, this entry needs more direction.

As if the sweltering heat weren’t enough, these peaceful days are disrupted, from time to time, by mysterious scratching noises coming from, literally, inside the desk in my room. I don’t know what they are, and I can’t see a trace of evidence. All I know is that if I pound on the top of the table like this: BOOM! (Sorry, you couldn’t actually see or hear that.), the scratching stops for a minute and starts back up again. It’s like an invisible man is clipping and scraping out his toenails within the thin, wooden piece of plywood that supports my computer and nearly empty can of Nescafe. It’s annoying and concerning. What the hell is it? Any ideas? Termites? Ants? Evil spirits? Flesh eating bacteria? The rotting wood? Though this isn’t a horribly dire concern, knowing would be nice, and I’d appreciate your help.

Then again, I could just ask my landlord.