Monday, February 1, 2010

Turn Off Your Fridge

I write a lot about what I am doing and what has happened to me. This time I will write will more about what other volunteers are doing.

Some volunteers in different cities are running a baseball league. No one plays baseball in Azerbaijan except kids who have been taught by Peace Corps Volunteers since they started coming to Azerbaijan in 2003. Everyone is welcome and some of the kids who have been coming for a few years are becoming skilled. Girls come in some cities. Besides practicing in their own town, the kids travel to different towns to play two or three times a year. This is great because most kids haven’t traveled outside of their town.

Some English teacher volunteers are planning summer camps in their villages, towns and cities for their students, most of whom have nothing to do when school is out.

There are also two leadership camps, one for 13-15 year old girls and one for boys the same age. Volunteers attending the camp can choose 3 kids to attend with them. This is very exciting for the kids, because this is often the first time they have been away from home. They work on planning, teamwork and goal setting, play a lot of games and do a community service project when they get back.

We have a quarterly newspaper that the volunteers write and use to share tips and entertain each other. This quarter, Bill wrote about how to make a construct a holder for compost out of little more than chicken wire and also how to make pickles. My family doesn’t compost, so I wrote about what my host mother does with leftover food:
“For those who don't compost--my host mom helps homeless dogs all year. She has a small bucket in the fridge and puts food waste in it, such as pieces of old bread, old soup, vegetable pieces, stale baked goods and milk. She mixes in a little fat or oil. When she sees a stray dog outside that she knows, she puts a something from the bucket outside the house and they always eat it.”

In the winter, many people turn their fridges off. The temperature in the refrigerator is often the same in the winter whether the fridge is plugged in or not. So people save money by unplugging it.

My volunteer friends Denney and Linda are married and retired. Denney is 60 and jogs around his town. Azerbaijanis don’t jog; most people are unaware of the practice. Also, it can be difficult because the pavement is rarely level. Denney says “I am lucky to have lots of pavement and parks, one of which is about 3km long. I always wear long, athletic pants, never shorts. When I first arrived and talked about running, my co-worker was very encouraging, but said shorts were forbidden!

“The dogs are not a huge problem, they only strongly confronted me once. Before we came, there was a wild dog elimination program, (comment from me: they are shot) so there were few on the streets. I see a couple of dozen every outing. In one area, I always carry a good-sized rock for my protection, but have never had to throw it. Once, a pedestrian helped me with an excellent throw that scared away a pack of three.

I have the usual physical and emotional health benefits of exercise, but the social benefits surprised me a bit. Almost everywhere I go in my town, someone smiles, makes jogging motions with their arms, and says “Salam! (Hello!) One day, a rather large man followed me into a store and asked how old I was. I replied 60, he hugged me, and he is now our butcher.”

Azerbaijanis love Lady GaGa. The volunteers who came when I did don’t know much about her because she wasn’t famous when we left. But people ask me about her all the time. She is on TV and magazine covers. The other thing we didn’t have when my group arrived here was Twitter. From the sound of it, I won’t like it.

My group—50 percent of the volunteers in the country-- has our annual meeting next week. The exciting part is three nights in a hotel with hot showers and better heat. I will take daily showers, which seem excessive to me now in the winter.

I wash my hair every 3-4 days and it looks okay. Actually, I got a haircut today—just about an inch cut off. It looks different now, a bob, about an inch above my shoulders. This is considered short hair. Most Azerbaijanis think short hair on women isn’t appropriate. I got some strange looks from people I know when I returned from the haircut. They just don’t understand why I don’t want long hair.

I think many Azerbaijanis feel that American women are not attractive because they are too masculine. We tend to like short or medium length hair, tailored clothes, comfortable shoes, and have an aversion to lots of make-up. Sometimes we even dress for sports. Most women here over 21 are married or looking to be. Some see the mostly single PC women and think we decided to come here (or were “sent” here by our families) because we can’t find a man.

The Peace Corps gives us all kinds of tests when we are here a year—mostly medical but also a language proficiency test. So I have good news and bad news. The good news is I improved to an “advanced low” ranking on the language test.

The bad news is that I have intestinal worms. Actually, I HAD them because I have already taken anti-worm medicine. They are the kind that are the size of earthworms. They are very common in Azerbaijan and most people don’t know they have them. Like most people, I had no symptoms. I think I have changed a lot since I got here, because the news didn’t really bother me. According to volunteer gossip, over 50 percent of the group that left in September had worms.

More gross stuff—one of my fellow volunteers in this town peed on a rat last weekend. He was using his squat toilet, which is basically a hole in the group surrounded by a porcelain frame. A rat came out of the hole, was hit by the pee and ran back in. I can tolerate intestinal worms, but a rat coming out of the toilet is where I draw the line. I am not using his toilet.