Thursday, October 13, 2011

Settling In

Settling in and getting used to a number of things:  feel pretty confident about using the marshrutkas—the small busses/large vans which are a crowded but reliable mode of transportation here.  First day of school, we rode the bus/marshrutka to school; when I realized it was only three stops away, I decided from then on to spend the 15-20 minutes walking instead to and from school.  Besides, it’s difficult to tell where the marshrutka stops are (there are no marked stops), though I believe I could just flag him down most anywhere along the route.  To stop, you shout “saxla” and he let’s you off.  It costs about a quarter to ride.

The walk to school is interesting.  I walk along the highway that links Masazir, with the next town, and it is an exercise in diligence.  The roads are rough; the drivers are fast and by our standards, take many chances.  Pedestrians can expect to be honked at if in the way, but pedestrians do not seem to have right of way, even in marked cross walks.  The other day I spotted a local cow meandering across the road, and another day, a scrawny gray horse.  The drivers seemed little bemused and raced on by.  Interestingly, I found out about the garbage system—the highway is dotted with small green dumpsters.  People on their way to work in the morning stop by the side of the road, near such a dumpster, and throw in their trash from home.  There are no lids, however, on the dumpsters, so much gets blown around in the breeze.

Last week we observed English lessons in our training school.  It was interesting to note that most of the lessons are conducted in Azerbaijani!  They can’t be expecting that from me, and that is I guess part of the point—a native English speaker.  Moreover, most lessons are reading and translation, so some creativity may brighten things up a bit.  We’ll soon find out.  Soon I start teaching on my own, so I must spend nights planning lessons now, as well as practicing Azerbaijani. 

Home improvements have been made, and my host family is quite proud.  The father installed a water tank above the toilet bowl, and now we have a regular flush toilet—no more need to flush with a bucket of water from underneath the sink.  In fact, that bucket now too is gone.  He also hooked up a pipe leading from the sink drain to the sewer system, so we now also have running water leading to an outside drain.

We had training one day at a very nice, new, and modern school in Xirdalan.  It is too bad that our school in Masazir doesn’t even have running water inside the building.  To use the latrine outside on the playground must be quite a challenge come winter!

With luck I’ll post some photos of my house, my road, my school.

I’ve received some mail from home!  Thanks so much!  It makes my day!  My internet usage has briefly picked up recently, but is still very iffy…so a letter in the mail is a treat, and something I can keep re-reading.

We’ve had some cultural lessons, including even some dancing, so that when we get to go to family wedding (a big deal) we can participate in the festivities.  We talked some more about the roles of women, and how by our standards it may seem that they are very limited here.  But not all societies value personal independence in the same way we Americans do.  In fact, in some parts of the world, the American attitude of individualism and “everyone pulling for him/herself” is viewed as somewhat selfish and self-centered.  In this culture, for example, family bonds and loyalties are more important than individualism; and women in the family are highly respected and valued.  To allow female family members to get into an uncomfortable situation (like harassment) and do nothing about it would be a disgrace for a male family member.  Likewise a woman has the responsibility to uphold her own reputation, and thereby the reputation of the entire family.  Women in this society seem to appreciate the protection and respect afforded them, and it serves to uphold the family cohesiveness, which is more greatly valued than our American individualism.  It is important to recognize this in order to understand and appreciate the culture of this region and this society.  Some of our American ways are not necessarily what they want for themselves, nor are they representative of their value-system.  Understanding that we Americans have our values, which have advantages and inherent disadvantages, as well as understanding that this and other societies appreciate their own value-systems, with their own advantages as well as disadvantages, goes a long way in learning to live together in harmony across cultural divides.

Meals in the family often consist of bread and potatoes, with some pickled cabbage or cucumbers.  But last evening we had a feast:  stewed chicken with fruits (plums and apricots), rice pilaf with golden raisins, bowls of cut up tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and piles of green herbs—dill, cilantro, parsley, green onions—and of course copious piles of various breads, including flat flour tortilla.  Several of the neighbor children came to eat with us, friends of Ajtac and Aysel.  They are all most interested in helping me with my Azerbaijani lessons…but I feel like a pretty poor student—this is not an easy language to learn.  Besti cooks the meals in her kitchen which does have running water and a sink, but only a 2-burner gas cook-top; there is no oven, so bread comes from the baker and everything else is either raw or fried or boiled.  Oh, and lots and lots of chai—tea!  We also had cherry juice with our meal.  I have yet to see any alcohol consumed, though in some of the host families of other PC volunteers, this is common, and in one case, even to the point of problematic.  Below:  my house, road on which I live (behind the wall, green door # 33), mother in kitchen, father (an artist) painting portrait of former president, Ajtac and Aysel with neighbor children, in front of school, school-yard with latrines (boys and girls), highway I walk to school, view of Masazir, playing street games with the neighbor kids—no store-bought toys—ball made out of duct tape, ‘bowling pins’ out of plastic water balls…

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