Friday, February 26, 2010

Wind Whistling Through the Kitchen

I won’t have to file taxes this year as taxable income will be under $300. My living allowance, which I pay to my host family isn’t taxable.

Sales taxes in Azerbaijan aren’t added on to the price of an item, they are included. Whatever an item is priced, that is what you pay and the storekeeper pays sales taxes out of the price of the item.

I live on what the Peace Corps gives me except for (of course) exceptions. They are the occasional vacation trip, US expenses, such as gifts, and unavoidables such as dog food. The dog food I have bought lately is for the dog I wrote about in my Starfish post a month or so ago. This little dog that lives outside my door had five puppies. My family and a couple of neighbors feed her scraps, like old bread, but I figure she needs the nutrition to feed the pups. I still hope to find a good home for the mom and now with the pups . . . . . ? My sister is coming in April. I really hope she will return to America with a dog.

Tangerine season is coming to an end. A kilo--2.3 pounds is 1 manat—about $1.20. Sort of sheepish to admit, there are days I have eaten a whole kilo.

The winter weather has not been cold for very long—usually milder than St. Louis and no snow once. But inside, you know it is winter. The gas heater that the family has does not keep the house anywhere near comfortable everywhere. It is okay within 15 feet if you are dressed warmly. Until the first part of December, there was no heater, so I am grateful for what I have.

Sad to say this winter I have watched more DVD’s than I watched in the US. I can recommend the first three seasons of Mad Men, the 1960’s era show. It is as absorbing as The Sopranos. I also liked Julie/Julia with Meryl Streep. Not sure if this and Season 3 of Mad Men is available in the US. All of the DVD’s sold here are pirated, so they come out quickly, but without bonus material. Earlier I said that I use my own money for exceptions. Each DVD is about $3, so a season of Mad Men is about $15. I can’t afford that on my living allowance, so I buy them with my own money.

Kids rarely drink milk and many families have very little yogurt and cheese. No one seems worried about kids’ bones. Anecdotal evidence tells me that this may be okay because I don’t see any more bent-over old women here than in the US.

It is surprising how many times clothing can be worn in the winter without washing it. I wear jeans 10 or 15 times. Wool cardigans can be worn on and off for two months. I have a wool coat and no dry cleaner. So I use a stiff brush on it and the coat is actually quite clean. I’ve started thinking how much water is wasted and chemicals are used to clean things that aren’t really dirty. And if you avoid white clothes in the fall and winter, the number of outer clothes you wash after each wearing or two is minimal.

Tte other night when I was in the kitchen cooking potatoes, I could see my breath. One burner was on, so the kitchen was getting some warmth. I am not sure why our water pipes haven’t frozen this winter. I started to feel sorry for myself until I thought of a fellow volunteer who is older than me. Her family’s kitchen is outside. Yes, in the yard is the gas stove,counter and sink. Inside is the refrigerator.

Her family washes dishes, cooks and prepares food while the wind is whistling through the yard and she does too when she wants to cook for herself. But this setup is pretty appealing in the summer.

The laundry is another matter. I have found that even when the clothes are frozen stiff on the outside clothesline, they still lose some water somehow. But on non-sunny above-freezing days in the winter, the clothes get to a clammy level and stay there. So then they must be brought inside and draped on furniture to complete the drying process.

While I was in the kitchen seeing my breath and cooking potatoes in the near-dark, my family—grandma, mom and two girls—were gathered around the gas heater looking at the People Magazine my sister sent. It was the annual Sexiest Man Alive issue. FYI the SMA for 2009 was Johnny Depp. They can’t read English but of course, it is totally not necessary for this issue.

There are over 100 fabulous-looking men in this magazine. When I returned shivering with my cooked potatoes, they were arguing over who is better-looking, but complained that there were no Azerbaijani men in the issue.

After hearing some of their arguments and giving my own opinion, I went upstairs and brought some of my clothes down from the line. They were frozen into strange shapes. I hung them on different pieces of furniture in my room, ate my potatoes and read a book.