Wednesday, November 12, 2008

sheep etc.

I know what I want to be when I am done in the Peace Corps. I want to be a shepherd. Seriously. There are flocks of sheep all over my neighborhood, from about 10 sheep to about 30. The shepherds are either men or women who walk around part of the day with the sheep looking for grazing spots. The rest of the day, she sheep are resting in their outdoor enclosures, basically a small fenced area with a water trough and a partial roof. The shepherds mostly handle the sheep themselves although some have a dog.

There is a sheep enclosure right outside my classroom window. When the sheep are there, they look quite happy. Once in awhile, a couple of sheep will head butt each other but otherwise nothing seems to stress them out. We have some sheep cheese and milk in the markets here, but I also know that they are eaten in Azerbaijan. The wool is used to stuff mattresses too. It doesn't appear to be the kind of wool used ror clothing.

Walking around with a dog and a flock of sheep--what a great job! I watched a shepherd and a dog direct about 30 sheep across a major road last week. The drivers can be crazy, but the flock waited, then at a break in traffic, the shepherd and dog quickly directed the sheep across the road. Of the man, dog and sheep, no one looked worried.

When I think about the ways that Azerbaijan and the US differ, time is the major equation in many of the changes. Here are three of the ways that the passage of time is the factor:

Environmental and Safety issues--There are no mandated pollution controls or safety features in vehicles or consumer products that I know of. The air in areas with a lot of traffic just smells bad and sometimes my lungs just hurt. The mini buses that I take around town are mostly very old and in poor condition. The standard seat cover on these mini buses has a logo of "Titanic" on it. Apt description, but curious.

Gas water heaters, furnaces and stoves don't appear to have safety features either and are a true fire hazard. The Peace Corps has given us smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for our rooms. Trash bins are not common in my neighborhood and trash is strewn around the streets, beaches and the perimeters of apartment complexes, where dogs, cats, cattle and horses eat it. I walked around an open manhole cover recently on a crowded street. No one seemed concerned.

I remember the time in the late '60's when environmental controls and seat belts were added to autos and later when child safety seats were mandated. Most of the poplulation seemed to vociferously oppose them as government interference, too costly and not necessary. Also, I remember seeing the mass introduction of trash bins being criticized as too costly to pay for and maintain pickup. I remember the commercials in print and broadcast about "don't be a litter bug" as most people just threw trash on the ground as they walked around. And in the case of the open manhole cover, I remember people saying if people would just take responsibility for themselves, we wouldn't have to have the government responsible for our safety.

Manners and Conduct--Azeris are more formal than people in the US. Older people are shown respect in the way they are spoken with and treated. Homes are orderly and neat, with nothing on the floor. You must remove your shoes in the home and put on slippers, which are kept by the door. Clothing is neat and pressed and shoes are dressy and polished. Guests are treated in a very special way and always feel welcome. Children run around outside the school and act crazy there and between classes, but once in the classroom they are quiet, obedient and respectful. Male teachers wear a suit and tie and female teachers wear skirts and blouses or suits.

All this occurs in homes that may not have running water and eat a lot of potatoes and bread becaues they can't afford anything different.When trying to remember all the rules in Azeri homes, I finally came up with a guideline. I remember the way my grandmother expected me to act in 1960 and how she kept her home. By acting the way Grandma would want me to, I can stay out of trouble. Although I still miss running around the house in bare feet.

The Status of Women--Azerbaijanis have told us that Azerbaijan gave women the right to vote before the US did and Azeri women can change their names when they get married or not--no pressure either way, apparently. However, the status of women here is a few decades different than ours. Some of us took part in a showcase debate with young Azerbaijani college students on the status of women. We drew the pro side that women should have a more flexible role in society. The young people in the debate and some other Azeris I have spoken with use the same arguments that used to be heard (and in the case of Phyllis Schlafly and her Eagle Forum still are heard) in the US: Women should be protected, girls are not really interested in playing sports, why would women want to act like or look like men, the family will suffer, divorce will increase.

We are rapidly coming to the end of our training, December 10. We will then disperse to our permanent training sites. I will tell you more about that later. Trainng has been a wonderful experience with many very impressive and talented people (mostly Azeri, with some Americans) helping us become Peace Corps volunteers.

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