Sunday, October 2, 2011

Oct 2nd - One More Year

Well one year, one month, and one week to be exact. This past summer I applied for an extension of service. That means instead of leaving in the next couple of months with the majority of my group, I have an additional year here in Azerbaijan. I decided to extend because I felt like my work was just starting to go smoothly. I has a couple projects that I wanted to do, but not enough time to do them in. First I'm working on opening an Internet club in my village. I just received my money this week so in the next month I'll be working on getting the building in shape and installing Internet. Second I'm hoping to expand my movie club to other regions of Azerbaijan. As a third goal I'm hoping to blog more often!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sept 28th - FLEX

I don't have an accompanying picture for this cause I don't have any pictures of Sheki or kids taking tests. Yesterday we got up at 7 and rushed down to the Zaqatala bus station for a trip to the city of Sheki. The occasion? FLEX EXAMS. FLEX is a program that allows students in 9, 10, and 11th grade to travel to the States to attend a local high school. While there they stay with a host family and learn about American culture. The test is devided into three rounds. Yesterday our students took the first two, and in five weeks we'll learn who will move on to the third! FLEX day is an incredibly stressful and emotional day, but also one of my favorites. Whether or not the kids pass they still have an amazing time getting out of school for a day, hanging out with friends, showing off their English, and traveling to a different region.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sept 25 - Movie Club Reboot

Movie club officially restarted this past Friday and we kicked it off with a horror movie. Horror movies are a welcome change from the comedies we usually, and much harder to edit. One of our first movies as a club was a horror movie about zombies, and the day we shot it was one of my favorite days as a volunteer. It was foggy, cold day in the middle of Novruz (a holiday I'll talk about later) and we spent the first part of the day just hanging out and putting on ridiculous make up. The rest of the day was screaming, running, and fighting, the good movie kind.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sept 23

Missed updating yesterday because we spent the majority of the day without internet and phone service!

I'm a TEFL volunteer, which means, aside from the wonderful, wonderful summer months, I spend a lot of my time teaching English in my school. I live in a small village and my school is equally small, around 250 students in a one story building. This is great because I get know all my kids, if not by name than at least by face, and get harassed significantly less than I might at a larger school. I can walk my halls with freedom and confidence.

The other great thing about my school is that only a year or two ago the whole thing was renovated. Everything's new! We also have really cool teachers that are all about putting up art and whatnot on the walls!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sept 21st

Continuing on the road from yesterday you end up here!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sept 20th - Car

How bout some background on where I live? Car (pronounced Jar) is a village right outside of the Zaqatala. This sign marks its beginning and similar style signs are outside many villages in Zaqatala. The word village is a little misleading. There are cows, sheep, and chickens, yes, but there is also an internet cafe, 2 schools, a doctor's office, a library, and about a dozen restaurants. On top of that many people have satellite TV and even internet access at home. Because of its proximity to the city I think of Car as a kind of unique suburb. Its uniqueness comes from two things, the people living there and the surrounding nature.
Car is an Avar village. The Avar are an ethnic group in the northern part of Azerbaijan with their own language and identity. I'll talk more about the Avar later on.
Car is basically one long road winding up a mountain with river valleys on two sides. In the summer the rivers are a hot spot for tourists and seasonal cafes will open up serving drinks and gutab. Eventually the paved road ends, but Car continues on for a few for kilometers along this road:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sept 19th - Kids of the Future 2

Movie club is my favorite club. We started it last March and have made 23 short movies since! A lot of the original club members are moving on this year, going to University, working in Russia, and one of them is attending school in America through the FLEX program. Kids of the Future 2 was our last major movie with all the original members. It is (obviously) a sequel to one of my favorite club movies, Kids of the Future, and both are about time travel via rock and roll. This picture is from our second day of shooting when we went to the Zaqatala fort to do our big musical number / escape scene. The green cloth my host brother is holding is used for special effects. Last month we opened a YouTube page here

The escape scene from Kids 2 is here

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Daily Picture - Sept. 18th 2011

To get this started here's a picture from EXACTLY one year ago. Nuts, mainly chestnuts and hazelnuts, are a major source of income in Zaqatala, especially in Car village. Every year in the fall people will take off time from work to spend the day gathering nuts in their yards and orchards to sell either themselves or to a middle man who will sell them in the bazaar. for hazelnuts you can gather the nuts off the ground and by shaking the branches of the small tress, but chestnuts are more of a process. After getting the ones that have fallen on their own you climb up into the tree using a ladder and hit the upper branches with a long pole to knock the remaining nuts down. People have been doing this for generations in Car, but in recent years trees have been dying due to the spread of Chestnut blight in Azerbaijan. I have a friend and fellow PCV who has been working on holding back the spread of the disease, something which I'll talk about in future post. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

one year later

October first of last year I arrived in Azerbaijan. A brief bus ride later I arrived the hotel where I'd be staying the next few days and signed onto the incredibly slow internet. The first email I opened was from my mom telling me that my dad had died that day.
This was not a surprise. The week before I was supposed to leave my dad was in a hospice program at our family friend's house. My dad had been (mis)diagnosed with FTD about two years earlier, and I spent all of September in and out of the hospital after he fell and hit his head the day before his birthday. Despite this deciding to come to Azerbaijan knowing it would be either right after or right before my fathers death was easy. It sounds cold, but Peace Corps was something I knew I wanted to do, and more importantly I knew it was something my parents wanted me to do. While in the hospital my dad would wake up worrying that I was missing my flight to staging, and even with all the other confusion, 'Mike is going to Azerbaijan' was a constant.

One year later I can say this: Today, October first, is just another day. I woke up, went to school, taught classes, got frustrated, talked with friends, laughed, played some games, listened to music. That's not to say I don't think about my dad. I still have bad dreams and am perhaps a touch more sensitive (which is saying something), but as time has gone on its gotten easier. I was worried that today would bring it all back, that it would be like starting from square one. But its not. Its just October first. And if I remember this day for anything, its going to be for whats helped me the most in the last year: being in the Peace Corps. I think if I told a lot of my friends this they would laugh, but I love being here. My work isn't easy, but its introduced me to some the best people I have ever met. I spend my days walking through a mountain village that resembles the Shire. I teach classes and have clubs with amazing, talented kids. There are challenges, but every one of them is trumped by the fact that this has been one of the best years of my life. And I can't wait for part two.