Finally at my host family in Masazir, a suburb of Baku, the capitol. They live, like many in this part of the world, behind a brick wall on a small, narrow dirt and rock-filled road. Today it rained, and it was a sea of mud, but I made it to school—good thing I brought those rain boots with me! The family is very nice; the daughter Aytac is 11 and Aysel is 10, and they are learning some English, but when we try to communicate, it is a little bit like the blind leading the blind—and much use of dictionary, but I am making some progress and expect in another month, I may be able to say more than my name is…. The mom Besti is 42 and also tries to communicate with me, and mostly we end up laughing and smiling. The father Bey works long hours, and knows a few English words—hello, goodbye, good night, etc. It is funny, but they are very kind.
The first thing I did was give them the gifts of calendars (of Seattle, Space Needle, etc.)-- and then the jazz CD from Tim. This turned out to be a very good gift, with significance beyond what I could have imagined!! In this society, as in many others, it is expected that a widow will be honored, respected, and have her best interests looked after by the brothers of her late husband and her brothers. For them it is a matter of family honor, and so greatly expected, that to do otherwise could mean personal failure and family disgrace. Jazz musician Tim Koss is my brother, by giving the family the gift of Tim’s CD, I implied that my brothers not only approved of my going into the Peace Corps and coming to AZ, but that my brothers were placing their faith and trust in this family, especially the father, to be always looking out for my best interests. By American standards this might seem less than egalitarian, but they view it differently; for them, a woman may be free to do or be what she wants, with the support of the males in her family, because it means she will never be taken advantage of, OR ELSE!! A woman in the States who may have been betrayed in business (hit glass-ceiling, or discounted by co-workers/bosses, etc. because she was ‘just a woman’), or betrayed in other relationships, might be able to understand. It is this society’s attempt at gender equality, at least on a certain level and assuming sensitivity and compassion on the part of male family members. Women here are viewed as “free” from harrassment and mistreatment, because they will not be taken advantage of, if a woman’s male family members have her back. For this reason, as a form of protection, women also usually do not go to certain internet cafes or chai (tea) cafes, typical male hang-outs—they could be insulted or mistreated; one of my fellow volunteers did go to such an internet cafe and found out! Never again, she said… Anyway. Tim’s gift implied that I had my brothers’ approval and support (now that my husband is passed away), and my host family is going to accept that trust. What an endearing concept, and they do treat me so nicely!!! So thanks Tim and Noel for all your support, and now Bey is taking up the mantle of honoring your trust in him, especially since I am widowed. The other gift, which made a big hit, were the small Space Needle salt and pepper shakers—and they now occupy a special display place behind glass, next to fancy glassware.
Their home (concrete block construction, metal roof) has a small garden in front (which today flooded with mud), and they have small fruit trees and some herbs and even a couple of rose bushes. Out back is a big empty field, which seems to be a place to toss trash, since, in addition to poor drainage system, there is no recognizable garbage pick-up. So the people have to make do. There is a cow out back, too. The house has four rooms, 2 bedrooms, and I believe I am taking what would normally be the girls’ room. One sleeps now in the parents’ room, the other in the living/dining room on a day-bed/couch. There is a small TV, which we can watch when the electricity is on—it seems to go off grid fairly regularly, especially considering all the rain today. Built into the garden wall towards the road is the out-house, which actually has a ceramic squat toilet. But in the house, next the kitchen is the indoor bathroom, with a shower (and I hope to get to try it out soon) and a toilet bowl sitting over a hole in the floor—no seat. The way to flush it is to use the bucket underneath the steel sink in the corner of the bathroom, screwed into the concrete wall. The sink drains only into this bucket, no piping, and in a very resourceful and recycling manner, after washing hands, this bucket water is dumped into the toilet bowl to flush. How clever—but I had to have it explained to me the first time! No toilet paper, but a hose for cleaning—we actually had some lessons on this during orientation, but basically no big deal, once you get used to it. I am so lucky to have this indoors, some of the others only have the outdoor versions. But then there are a few volunteers (younger ones, too!) who have all the amenities of home, including wi-fi—we all want to become their best friends and get invited over to use our computers! Ha!
My room is blessed with a heater for the winter—yay!!! The family is so nice, and just hope to be able to communicate soon in a better manner with them. They loved my photos from home, and were so impressed that so many, many people came to my Bon Voyage Party—again, culturally important, because it signifies that most of my family and friends really support me in this endeavor. They especially liked Robby photos in his hockey gear and Christina figure skating. For them it is unusual that a young woman like Christina would live on her own—and in such a nice house, too! They were also impressed with my photos of the Oregon Coast and Big Gertie—the VW Camper Bus. And of Seattle and our home.
I’m about a 15 minute walk to school, and today, like all others I started out, but found that the roads are so flooded by the rains, that passing vehicles splashed all over me, and I arrived like a drowned rat—which didn’t help the cold I have picked up. We get language lessons for 4 hours per day, 6 days per week, and technical training (how PC wants us to do the job) for another 4 hours, with a lunch break. I don’t get home until after 6:30, pretty much exhausted, but I am learning sooooo much, it is all so worthwhile! The school only has a ceramic squat toilet outside on the play ground, with a hose, and little way to clean hands—no running water inside the school building. The only facility is sort of like an outhouse, but with no seat, only place to put your feet to squat. Everyone gets used to this at such an early age, even if they have more amenities in their homes, that people don’t give it a second thought. The first day, we met the principal, and he told us that he has received citations from Peace Corps for his ability to support and fulfill PC goals and expectations. I am so fortunate to be experiencing all of this and having this opportunity.
Our 4-day orientation *week* was held at a new hotel on the Caspian Sea. The beach was golden, made of millions of crushed shells. You could see the oil rigs out in the ocean, but they were so far away. On our way to my new town, we drove past all the oil fields that get blown up in the Bond movie, The World is Not Enough…oil fields as far as the eye can see! The last evening in orientation we were treated to national Azerbaijani folk dancing, which is unlike any other I have ever seen, and very lovely and interesting; it incorporates elements of Russian and Cossack dancing, ballet, Indian, Middle Eastern…and then, of course, I was brought up on stage for the obligatory dance with the professionals—what fun!