The Big Day arrived and site announcements were made, our permanent assignments; I am very proud and happy that my original Peace Corps nomination is being fulfilled at the University in Mingəçevir!!!! Yay!
We had more practicums last week. Some interesting differences exist for schools here. For example, several weeks ago, when I was in Mingəçavir, the school assembly honoring Azerbaijan Independence Day was very impressive, and truly worthy of local news coverage. However, the local TV station (interestingly enough known as “MTV”!—Mingəçavir TV) did not come. Apparently there wasn’t enough in the school budget to get the local TV station to send a reporter and film crew to cover the story; the school usually pays the local station to get the TV news department to come to do a news story about the school. Another difference is that most school teachers do not teach the entire school day; they receive various class assignments from the principal, and the more experienced ones usually get more classes to teach. But the pay is not sufficient, so most teachers also work as private tutors after school, to supplement their incomes. During the school day, many teachers do not have assigned classrooms, and in some schools the classrooms are also are not numbered. So, when the bell rings between class periods, students and teachers alike scramble the halls, with the teachers looking for spare or empty classrooms in which to hold their classes, and students following, trying to find and keep up with their teachers. For practicum, it was at first a bit of a challenge to figure out this system and find the rooms in which we were to teach (or if the classes had been cancelled, which can also happen). But everything is so well worth it—these are students very eager to learn, interested and excited to be able to participate in class. It is a LOT of fun!
This week is a school holiday for Gurban Bayram, a holiday commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice of a sheep instead of his son. On Sunday there were ritual slaughters of sheep in some families, with the meat being then shared with neighbors, especially the poor. My host family was the recipient of such a gift of meat, which we then ground up and filled home-made raviolis, which were then steamed in a broth, making one of Azerbaijan’s national dishes, düşbərə. What a treat. And it was quite a family production to make it all, by candle light no less, since the electricity was out all day. The hot plate in the kitchen, though, is gas, so we could still cook. We warmed up after dinner in the kitchen by huddling around the small wood stove in the corridor, which the father in my host family set up for just such rather frequent occasions; the power grid here is frequently overtaxed, and we are often without electricity. And since our heat is electric, we really do need it; it can get very cold. It has already snowed once, and the schools also are not heated well and also frequently without electricity. I am making good use of every bit of warm clothing I brought, and am coping well by following what everyone else does here to make the best of things, including doing my homework by candle-light or karosene lamp. After dinner we even had a rousing game of dominoes around the hot wood stove: America versus Azerbaijan...I did my best, and America won one round, but Azerbaijan won two. What fun! My language skills are slowly but surely improving, though I think I mainly amuse and bemuse rather than inform or converse every time I try to speak...oh, well. For the holiday my host family gave me a gift, too—a ring to match a pair of earrings I frequently wear. The family refers to me as a member of their family, or alternatively, as their “honored guest.” They have shown me enormous hospitality. These experiences and getting to know such wonderful people are the things I love most about being in the Peace Corps, which goes by the motto: “the hardest/toughest job you’ll ever love.”
Last Saturday my training group was able to go into Baku, and what a fascinating and interesting place! Hope to get back again soon, to explore more of the walled old town and other sites.