Some Lists

First, the countdown:

  • 2 weeks left in Oguz
  • 8 days of school
  • 19 days left in Azerbaijan
  • many difficult goodbyes to say
  • 2 final parties to throw for my kids–Halloween and a slumber party for my awesome girls
  • 2 bags to pack
  • 9102983 things to give away/get rid of
  • 4 days of farewell partying in Baku with PCVs
  • 2 visas to obtain
  • 1 plane to catch

Then I’m off to HINDUSTAN (हिंदुस्तान) (India)!!! for an as-yet undetermined amount of time.

Things I’ll miss about Azerbaijan

1. Pomegranates, which are at the height of Awesomeness right now, so I’m eating an average of two per day

2. Living very very close to everything I really need for daily life

3. Guesting, hanging out with my host mom

4. Playing Frisbee and baseball with my kids

5. Obscene amounts of free time/freedom

6. Wearing the same thing to work every day for a week

7. Neighbors and friends who take care of me like their own child

8. Good times in the classroom (both of them)

9. Fresh local produce. Cheap.

10. Being comfortable in a second language

11. Hanging out with PCVs, smoking hookah, playing games, sharing poop stories, making other expats uncomfortable

Things I can’t wait for in India:

1. Pretending like I’m in a Bollywood movie and that Shahrukh Khan will come and sweep me off my feet at any moment

2. Gaining a thousand pounds by eating as much amazing food as possible

3. Living on <$15 per day

4. Yoga, meditation from the source

5. Masala chai, every day

6. Wearing a saree

7. Finding a rich computer engineer (or doctor?), winning the approval of his mother (I’ve been practicing my roti-making skills!), marrying him, and bringing him back to America where we’ll live happily ever after in a mansion with an Indian cook who makes me food every day. (And also my life will be a Bollywood movie.)

Things I’m excited for in America

1. FOOD

2. Having a washing machine

3. Chilling on the farm for a while, helping my parents with the garden

4. Being able to take a shower, whenever I want, as often as I want.

5. Picking up the fiddle again

6. Going skiing, backpacking, rafting, hiking, biking, kayaking in my beautiful beautiful West Virginia hills

7. Driving

8. Finding the rest of my wardrobe/belongings

9. Seeing all my little cousins who have been born/become real people since I left

10. Buying a juicer and making tons of juice

: )   Life is going to be crazy for the next little while   ( :

oh, right!

My blog! Oops!
So, it’s August…in 3 months (and 5 days), I’ll be done with my Peace Corps service. Forever.

…well, forever, with the official part of it. The thing is, although it isn’t yet over,  I can already say that this is experience has been and continues to be a few things:

1. far and away the hardest thing I have ever, ever done

2. with the same fervor, the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done

3. a catalyst for change, growth, introspection

4. an eye-opener about myself, and the world around me

When I  saw my parents this summer (maybe I’ll write a post later about my incredible trip!…but probably not), they said that I don’t really seem to have changed. This surprised me, because I feel  like a completely altered person.

Being in the Peace Corps has turned me inside out–taken all my walls, torn them down, shaken my feelings and dreams and thoughts out onto the floor, stirred them up, and tried to fit them back into a shell of who I once was.

And it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

I see the world differently. Can I explain HOW? Probably not.

I feel emotions with more fervor and more passion. My happy is happier, my sad sadder, and my anger….well, actually, my anger has softened out into a strange acceptance of the Way Things Are.

 

I have 3 months left. Oguz summer camp is around the corner, then some traveling in Azerbaijan. Loose ends with my amazing kids and well-meaning counterparts to be tied up, but I feel like I’m standing at the end. It’s a strange, strange view backward, and a hazy unsure view forward.

Peace Corps is weird.

 

Winding down

As of next week I will have 6 months left in this country. Which mostly just feels really weird.

My time here has flown/is flying.

I have less than 4 weeks of school this year, which means I’m basically done in the classroom. Although I plan on going to school next year, I will be focusing mostly on sustainability with my counterparts and doing teacher trainings, so the X amount of classes each week with class X and teacher X schedule probably won’t be a huge part of what I’m doing.

This summer is going to be a rush of travel, my parents’ visit, vacations, camps, touring Azerbaijan, and then all of a sudden school will start, new PCVs will arrive in Azerbaijan. Then all of a sudden I’ll be finished. Woah.

How do I feel about that?

Weird. And….ready. I’m in a weird lull right now–shifting gears between starting projects and winding down, finishing up the things I am working on.

A friend and fellow PCV Josh described the current status of AZ8 volunteers as being like Seniors—and like Josh, I can say I’m suffering from a serious case of senioritis.

Oh hey

My computer cord died in a power surge a couple weeks ago. I was lucky that it was just my cord and not my computer–my neighbors had TVs that died.
Anyway, the replacement has arrived (thanks Mom and Dad!). So I’m back on the internet and all that jazz.
Spring is in the air but I’m still lighting my peç.

Work update

Some of you over in Amerikastan might be wondering, ‘so what is Lilli actually doing in Azerbaijan, other than being really cold in the winter and taking photobooth pictures of herself?’

Today, I thought I’d give a little update on just what I am working on at the moment.

Winter’s a hard time, because the winter blues don’t just affect PCVs…they take over this entire nation. The sun comes up late, goes to bed early, and with this year’s extra-frigid winter, no one wants to be out more than necessary. As a result, it’s remarkably difficult to get teachers engaged in classes and kids to show up for clubs, let alone get a project off the ground. I’ve taken advantage of this time to a) waste a lot of time watching movies, but also b) get a lot of the planning done for a big project I’m trying to start.

I’ve mentioned my English Teachers’ Resource Book before, I think–a collection of no-prep interactive and communicative activities that can be applied to the English curriculum easily by Azerbaijani English teachers. In addition to in-depth explanations of activities and sample lessons, appendices will also include photocopy-able worksheets, game boards, flash cards, alternative texts, and ideas for creating visual aids.

Eventually, this book will be the basis for a series of weekend teacher trainings I want to hold (or, possibly, a 6-day course I’ll do this summer…still messing with ideas).

For me, it has been a really good place to put my energy for work here, as the classroom has not been the most exciting place to be of late, and club attendance is so low that I often have to cancel. I get a new idea for the book every day, or think of something I want to add, so the project is continually growing and changing. Best of all, some of my counterparts are excited about helping me.

Today, I reached a milestone: I printed rough copies of the Activity Guide sections of the books, “Teaching Grammar” “Teaching Texts” and “Teaching Vocabulary.” These three sections are the meatiest core of the book, and their compilation was the reason I started the project in the first place. Each section lists 9-12 activities with detailed explanations. Although they are nowhere near finished-quality, I have printed off one copy of each section for each of my 5 counterparts. Ideally, we will now start using these guides in our lesson-planning and during classes. Then, when my counterparts know how to do all of the activities, they can help me explain them when the trainings begin.

You know, inshAllah.

So…that’s what I’m into at the moment. : )

Look, a real, tangible product of my work! (But hopefully, I’ll be able to call the independent use of these guides by my teachers the product of my work!)

Also, note: my hair is the longest it’s been in 4 years!

It’s cold.

Mostly, this is just a short, complain-y update about living in a developing country with cold-as-crap winters.

I’m cold. Although I’m insanely lucky to have a small apartment and a warm gas stove, I still feel like I’m cold most of the time. We’ve had snow on the ground here for two weeks, and weather reports are calling for another storm tonight.

My pipes are frozen, and because of the soviet-style engineering of my apartment building, I can’t figure out where the pipe that brings water into my apt actually is, so I can’t take a hairdryer or boiling water to it.

I trudge about 3/4 mile through a snowy field to work and back twice a day for class and clubs…where I work in a building with laughable ‘heat’ (that gets turned off at noon anyway).
The sun hasn’t shown its face in about 2 weeks, and regardless of the vitamin D I’m taking, the lack of happy sunshine and prevalence of gloomy fog is bringing me down. At school, teachers don’t want to teach, kids don’t want to learn, and no one wants to be there when the weather is all shitty, so it’s hard to find inspiration.

Trying to keep my head down and trudge through the next month or so with plenty of vitamin D, a fully-stocked hardrive with TV shows and movies, a really high gas bill that I’m NOT going to feel guilty for, and plenty of warm tea and comfort food (you know, when I have water).

Gahh, winter blues….

Resolute

I can’t for the life of me figure out why everyone I know is so dang against making New Years resolutions…it’s almost like it’s uncool for members of my generation to make goals for themselves; or at least, to stick a ‘start’ date on them. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had regarding NY’s resolutions in which my peers say that they’re just not ‘into’ making them, or that if they have a goal, they would just start working toward it whenever it came to them.

Well, here’s the thing: I think New Year’s Resolutions are awesome. I’ve made them every year of my young adult life excepting one, (because of peer pressure regarding NYR’s lameness) and I regretted it that year. In fact, I had 6th and 7th formers make them today in class!

Sure, if I have a goal or mission or change in my life that I think of in November, I’m not going to wait till January to start it…and I don’t use them as an excuse to binge or be lazy or financially irresponsible or whatever for the last couple months of the year (I use the holidays as my excuse for that).

Instead, I think that starting our lives in a new year is a pretty big deal–the whole timeline of our lives is run on the passing of years. So I don’t see any shame in taking the New Year turnover as a time to reflect on the past year and pump up for the next. For me, that includes making some goals and examining some ideas about changes I’d like to make in myself.

So, without further ado, here is a list of things about which I feel resolute for the upcoming year:

  1. Focus less on what I want to be or might be or was or will be, and more on what I am. Many of my anxieties and falls in inspiration are often rooted in my fixation on actions in the past, worry about the future, wishing I were something I’m not, wishing I weren’t something I am…so my goal for 2012 is to become more aware of, in tune with, and accepting of who and how and what I am in this moment in time.
  2. Continue a few healthy practices that I’ve been working on now for almost 2 months: Running (4-5 days per week), Yoga (at least 20 mins daily), and Meditation (currently at a humble 15 mins per day).  I cannot describe fully how much my mood, my mind, my emotions and my spirits were lifted when I reintroded these habits to my life…and I don’t want to sink back to where I was before then, either. At the same time, however, I’m going to do my best not to get burnt out by running, like I did this summer when I pushed myself too hard.
  3. Drink more water! I have been half-heartedly trying to do this for some time…every time I get serious about it, I just get annoyed at how often I have to pee. But, I want to get my mind and body over that and keep myself hydrated better.
  4. Study for, take, and do well on the GRE; hopefully in May. (Since I’ve decided to not worry so much about the future, I’m not writing: and apply for Grad schools, Fulbright, and other post-PC plans)
  5. Start learning a language other than Azerbaijani (TBD: whichever I’m least intimidated by on Rosetta Stone. So far Arabic and Mandarin have both scared the shit out of me…)
  6. Finish the English Teaching Resource Book that I’ve started working on without hurrying it, half-assing it, or giving up on it. Then, get it printed/distributed and host a series of teacher trainings in my region based on the project.
  7. Bring some of the pizazz that I had in the classroom a year ago back into my teaching…my teacher-y inspiration needs a boost, big time.
  8. Inspire and be inspired : )

Yeah!

1 Year in Oguz

This week I passed a milestone – 1 year at site in Oguz. For me, this is a bigger deal than 1 year in country (which happened in September), as I now reach the real half-way point of my service: a time to reflect on how I’ve spent the last year, and to lay the framework for my second and final year in Azerbaijan.

On one hand, I feel there are things I’m still just getting into–my teaching and work at school is certainly not where I expected it to be at this point, nor in many ways is my community outreach. On the other hand, however, as my friend Joe put it, I feel generally a lot more ‘comfortable’ in Azerbaijan than I did a year ago. The cultural differences, worries about crossing lines, and hesitation to break boundaries never go away, but I am quite at home with my place as an American woman living in Oguz.

I heard from many AZ7′s (members of the group before mine that have now finished their services and are on to new adventures) that the first semester at school  is one of learning where you are, what you’re doing, and how you can be effective at site… for me, it turned out it was the first year. But, I now have another year in front of me, with a lot of ideas, inspiration, and a deep connection with many students, teachers, and members of my community.

In retrospect, here are some things that I believe went really well during my first year of service:

1. working with and within my community; learning about community dynamic and where my role lies

2. developing working relationships with my counterparts at school–laying framework for effective skill transfer

3. summer clubs – I was able to reach a large number of kids in developing their English abilities, and was able to see a huge improvement from the beginning to end of summer

4. Oguz summer camp – although this wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be (what is?), I consider the camp one of the biggest successes of me and my sitemates

5. fostering involvement of a couple of fantastic and promising young girls in Oguz–these are the girls who will change the status of women in Azerbaijan

Not a bad list. Here are some of my plans/goals/hopes for the upcoming year:

1. to work on more direct skill transfer with my counterparts with teaching methodologies

2. to develop a series of teacher training workshops with English teachers in Oguz and surrounding areas who are interested

3. to implement a few larger-scale projects that go beyond the scope of teaching English and gain community attention and involvement

4. to work more with pre-teen and teenage girls – especially programming focusing on education, health, and leadership

So, at the cusp of on-the-way-in and on-the-way-out, I have hope for a more effective second year of service, for implementation of my many ideas, and a big dose of motivation to get me through the upcoming winter months.

 

On a non-service related note:

The last two months or so have been my hardest yet in country, but the last two weeks have been really positive. I have begun running again, an endorphine-boosting cure-all for my physical, emotional, and spiritual woes.  I am also practicing yoga regularly and generally trying to take better care of myself as I head into the cold winter months. Many thankyou’s to those who have supported me in this rather difficult time.

I’ve also begun studying in earnest for the GRE, with the possibility of entering graduate school in the fall of 2013.