About the Blog

I recently accepted a position from Teach and Learn with Georgia, a Georgian Ministry of Education program designed to bring native speakers of English into classrooms around the country. I will be moving to Georgia in August of 2014 to begin my assignment.

Before this latest adventure, I studied at Bogazici University in Istanbul Turkey and at Azerbaijan University of Languages. I speak English German Spanish, Turkish Azerbaijani and Uzbek and am currently trying my hand at Georgian.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The View from the fortress in Sheki

Lahic as the sun sets

A street in Lahic

Well Friends, all good things must come to an end including a CLS summer in Azerbaijan and my travel blog about it. Seeing as I have now been back in the States for 2 weeks, I feel as though I should probably wrap this up since I must now return to school work and what is generally referred to as "real life". Though goodness knows Holland MI seems unreal enough. I went into a butcher shop the other day and was so disconcerted by the fact that it smelled good. I couldn't quite figure it out. Anyway, I thought a good way to end this would be a couple of choice stories from my trip to Sheki, Lahic and Basqal. I had considered doing a sort of Top 10 list of do's and don'ts for Azerbaijan but then I remembered that I still have no idea what the do's are so it would be best not to give advice to budding travelers. I will let you figure it out for yourselves because Azerbaijan is one of those places that cannot easily be fit into a box of "pretty/historical/adventure/eco-friendly/ridiculous-type tourism". It defies definition and boxes. It kicks off the fetters of understanding and categorization. Perhaps they got sick of the Soviet attempt at order. I find it more likely however that all the successive waves of invasion, domination, and assimilation into the culture now called Azerbaijani left the nation too distinct, unique and quirky to be contained in a single glib paragraph in a travel journal. You could fill volumes and still not quite explain the nuances of the nation. Luckily I will spare you the volumes and just get straight to work.


As with all good Azerbaijani road trips, we (the students, teachers and administrators of CLS Baku 2012) got off to a late start from the random park where we were holding class one last time. The bus we took had enough seats, so long as you used the fold down ones which turned the center aisle into not an aisle. Then we put our stuff in the rest of the pretend aisle. I do not think that fire and safety regulations hold much sway. Then the Azerbaijani pop got put on and the singing/dancing/finger snapping began. No quiet roadtrip for us. We were going to do this the right way. And so the Americans put in their ipods, turned the volume up and tried to pretend that we were on an American roadtrip where everyone is anti-social and sleeps unless they are driving. A couple of hours in and we reached the region of Samaxi where the hills on either side of the road were conscientiously decked out with Heydar Aliyev quotes about the region. I think it adds a nice flair to any road/park/underpass/billboard/mural/public space. Then we stopped for chay, because that is what you do. We went into the garden of the chayxana rather than staying in the front, (seemingly) male-only section. They seemed to have a good number of healthy looking dogs milling about and we drank our chay, ate the proffered cold pizza and mused about the derelict and ever so slightly creepy looking building just beyond the long table we were sitting at. We chatted explored and stretched our legs before once again boarding the bus to continue the adventure. Once in Sheki (6 hours after setting off) we had a short class and some adventure time in our hotel which was a renovated medieval karavansaray. Its many nooks and crannies made for fantastic views and the manicured garden in the center provided a lush and somewhat idyllic backdrop to the whole evening. Luckily the water heater was such that I didn’t get a hot shower, because too much perfection can and will spoil a place. It’s like how every piece of art, whether it be a painting, carpet or quilt should have an imperfection in it, to make the whole all the more beautiful. I feel the same way about places where I live and stay. It is the difficulties and frustrations that highlight the truly good, lovely and joyful parts of an adventure.


The next day in Sheki we spent hectically running from one place to another, going to the Sheki Xan Sarayi (The Khan’s Palace) the history museum, which housed some of the best Soviet kitsch I am ever likely to see, the ethnographic museum, an artist’s workshop where they still make shebeke by hand. Shebeke are a type of Azerbaijani stained glass windows where between the pieces of colored glass pieces of wood are used rather than lead. It is exceptionally intricate hand work, especially since no nails are used in the windows. I would have the patience to do it for about 30 seconds. I admittedly lost my patience for a short while after our visit to the History Museum. In Azerbaijan it seems as though it is impossible to see a museum without a guided tour. Since we were with the program this meant that the tours were all in Azerbaijani. I do not mind that they were in Azerbaijani. However, I am not a good tour group member. I wander off. I like to go at my own pace and have the tendency to spend inordinate amounts of time in museums, especially history museums. Being raised by two historians has this effect on a child. Show me something from the bronze age and I start to salivate. So I was done with the whole guided tour thing and I was also getting pretty dehydrated from the whole adventure. And then we made it to the 18th century room and the tour kind kindly explained to us in Azerbaijani how to use a flintlock musket by saying that they were very slow and difficult to use. I was almost ready to break the glass in the case, take one of the muskets off of their rack, and show her how to use the thing for real. I kept the urge in check seeing as I thought this might be frowned upon but something just snapped because I was so sick of people assuming I was ignorant and not that bright due to my speaking ability in Azerbaijani. Also, I missed my musket at home. Sometimes a girl just needs her gun.


We also visited an abandoned fortress on the outskirts of Sheki that day. We wandered through an Istiharet Merkezi (relaxation center or type of resort common in Azerbaijan where people hang out, sleep eat and drink chay on holidays) and then wandered down this long road, got to another, less ritzy Istirahet Merkezi from which a young man offered to show us to the fortress because we were obviously lost. He took us up the trail which wandered through a restaurant where we picked up a small dog we called Rufushka that accompanied us for the rest of the hike before getting to the real trail which consisted of scrabbling up a hillside devoid of vegetation and keeping from falling off by clinging to tree roots. I do not know who could have possibly wanted that hillside quite so badly but they would have earned it by the time they reached the top. The view was spectacular though. The whole structure was grandly crumbling on its mountainside. The deep walls had now become steps for the adventurous to climb up and look over the entire valley that encased the town and look out over the mountains and deserts beyond. It was a place meant for contemplation, where you could sit in silent companionship with your fellow students, soldiers or pilgrims and contemplate whatever it is that comes to your mind in those quiet moments between the frenetic thinking and doing that accompanies any era. For as much of a pain as it was to get to, I was glad that we had gone. It reminded me that our group had reached that level of intimacy that words weren’t necessary when we were together. Sitting together was enough.


Then we get to the bulk of our story. Because the next day we went to Lahic, my own personal paradise of Azerbaijan. We took the road from Sheki to Baku but after 3 or 4 hours we turned off onto a dirt track that was at its widest perhaps a lane and a half. It clung to the side of mountains precariously but also without fear. Local mashrutkas (buses, though to call some of these vehicles buses is to be extremely generous) and trucks where the open back was filled with men and women riding to the next destination, wherever that may be, lumbered along, blithely ignoring the enormous drop-off that awaited them within 2 feet of their wheels. At one point one of the American students asked what the Azerbaijani word for “guardrail” was. When the question “what is that?” echoed back he decided that it didn’t exist. Always a comforting thought. I was more afraid that the engine of our bus would overheat (it seemed exceptionally close at times to doing just that) and that we would have to get out and push it. We were spared any type of catastrophe though and after a solid hour of driving along more and more remote but spectacularly beautiful terrain we pulled into Lahic and stepped into a fairy tale. To get to our hotel we had to cross a small stream and trek up a cobblestoned hill. However since this is Azerbaijan and everyone is the most agreeable person that you have ever met some of the young men waiting with pack horses for moving supplies in this region without true roads obliged another student and I by taking us up the hill on their horse which sported neither saddle nor stirrups. We arrived in style but not without almost falling off into the stream. We spent the afternoon wandering the streets of this unapologetically photogenic and touristic town.  We wandered past a blue wooden mosque at the top of a hill and went beyond to a pasture outside of town and watched the sun dip lower in the sky and horses grazed and men a short walk away dug a fresh grave for a resident. We sat in the grass and stared out over the town, its sluggish river and the majestic Caucasus Mountains towering over us not to cause fear but more in a motherly protective manner, reassuring us that they were still there, looking after us and keeping us within their fold. In Lahic the children did not find me terrifying and responded to our “Salams” with joy. Most Lahic residents speak both Azerbaijani and Tat, a language related to Persian and so our poor Azerbaijani and fairness seemed not to spark any special interest. We purchased some Georgian pear flavored pop and wandered down to the river to watch as people rounded up their cows for the end of the day and brought them back up to their family compounds. We waved at all the vehicles that passed us, and one man pulled his ancient jeep up and opened his door to chat. He asked about who we were and what we were doing in Azerbaijan. We sat on a retaining wall and he nestled comfortably in his car. He moved only to get off the road so that a mashrutka could pass him on the one lane gravel road. I listened for a time and then turned my attention to the man’s face. During our conversation the topic of age had come up and I had learned that he was 26 and had lived in Lahic for all of his life. But as I studied him closely I noticed the deep lines that crossed and recrossed his deep mahogany-colored skin. His skin was loose and in places shrunken, his teeth could have used the work of a good dentist and orthodontist and there was certain age old weariness in his eyes that bespoke of sorrow, profound exhaustion but also a truly full life. He was in his own way as beautiful as the landscape where he had lived in his own life. He was not conventionally pretty, in fact those who did not look closely might have said he was not attractive at all. And he had his own manner of problems, obvious and unspoken but carved into the contours of his body and face. His life had not been an easy one: that was evident. Yet he invited us to come and spend a night in his home with his family, to get to know them better and to share his bread. We were half a dozen foreigners sitting on a cement wall in a river bottom, communicating in broken Azerbaijani with a man about our own age but who seemed decades older. He would have taken us with him to, had we agreed and wanted to go along with him. We thought about it too, spending time with Azerbaijanis is probably one of the most enjoyable experiences of my entire life. They want so badly for you to be happy. But you can only take so much from a country and a people. I took so much this summer, drinking deeply from the culture, hospitality and love of the people of this land. Sometimes you must realize that your appetite has been sated and stop despite the fact that it just tastes so good. And sometimes you must stop and leave something for your host. Or perhaps it is just that you want to leave something to come back to for the next time, whenever that time may come along.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Well friends, these last few weeks in Azerbaijan have been quite a whirlwind—I’ve been out of town traveling on the weekends and trying to cram in the last few shreds of knowledge vocab and grammar as well as running around like a chicken with its head cut off doing cultural activities and seeing Baku. I will give you the highlights as I see them and let you decide for yourself.

Qax is a beautiful town nestled in the Greater Caucasus mountain range of Azerbaijan near the border with Dagestan Russia and with a significant Georgian minority. Two weekends I went with friends Rhianna and Ryan to check it out for myself. We took the night train again which is always in and of itself an adventure. This one included everyone trying to find food etc for the trip and almost missing the train (hey we had 3 minutes or so to spare when we boarded) and then spending the evening eating, drinking talking and taking in Azerbaijan and its countryside through the dirty window held open by half empty water bottles in either corner.  We discussed what Azerbaijan had been for us so far and what we were going to do post-AZ summer. We saw the outskirts (slums) of Baku on the way out, with homes and neighborhoods that were single story concrete with corrugated metal for roofs while huge blocks of high-rises were being built nearby. Unless those high-rises are seriously subsidized no one in those neighborhoods will ever live in one. Fires burnt in the lanes and courtyards and you could catch glimpses of faces from the people who inhabit this section of Baku. While I may joke about where I live I have seen a very very privileged part of Azerbaijan while I have been here. My host mother is University educated and her daughter will be too. The entire family speaks Russian and Azeri and Nigar my host sister speaks English. Their home has running water all the time, electricity, gas air conditioning and internet. They own a computer. I live less than an hour by public transportation from the Bulvar and Tardova, the center of this city. I live exceptionally well as compared to many in this country. I have seen a very specific slice of Azerbaijan while living in Baku. And I have gotten lucky.

Homes faded from view to be replaced by oil rigs and gas flares and eventually my eyes decided that they were done. I climbed into the top bunk and was lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking motion of the train that I was on. I got cold during the night as we climbed higher into the mountains and due to the open window. It felt really good to be cold. It hit a hundred in Baku today so anytime when I shiver has become the most pleasant feeling in the entire world. Wearing a jacket is like Christmas. The problem with the heat is that it leaves you with a profound disinterest in doing anything. Like say, going to class, learning Azerbaijani, doing homework or visiting museums. It has become a problem. I have started napping in the afternoons to try and get rid of the hottest part of the day but this requires a half hour commute home and no matter what I do half of this is an uphill walk. Let us reiterate. Hundred plus degrees. Carrying heavy school bag. Uphill. Let us say that I glisten when I get home. A lot. I no longer wonder what the smell is because me is usually a good bet. As a group we have named it the CLS stench. My idea of what clothing is clean and or wearable again based upon the smell test has changed dramatically over the summer. For those of you who will have to deal with me after my arrival I apologize. I will probably wear clothing that should have been washed 3 times already. And I will think it is fine.

We got to Qax after an 11 hour train journey and discovered that the train station in Qax is a half hour taxi ride from the town of Qax. Hooray! We ended up having an exceptionally unpleasant taxi ride with a driver who almost took off before I was in the cab, only my loud and exceptionally annoyed “Oy!” stopped him from taking my leg off via a taxi-ectomy. He also insisted that there was no need for seat belts since he was such a great driver. It is still fairly common for drivers to take it as a personal affront to their abilities for riders to wear a seat belt. In my personal opinion he was a bad driver, going far too fast careering around blind corners, passing everything on the road, barely missing several herds of village cows, flying around mountains in a country where there is apparently no word for guard rail (we asked later on, nope, if the concept doesn’t exist why should the word).  He also refused to take us to the hotel that we wanted to go to, saying that it was bad. We insisted that he stop and take us back (all of this is in Azerbaijani with me leading the charge as the best speaker and the driver looking to Ryan because he is the male in the car). He turned around and took us to a different hotel, apparently assuming that since we were foreign we were total idiots and wouldn’t notice the difference. Oh we did and he then had two very angry and liberated American women jumping down his throat telling him to take us to the correct hotel which he then pretended to not know the location of. We were forced to give him directions and then he insisted that we pay him more since he had given us a tour of Qax. We got out of the car barely managing to not kill him though I think we were all ready to. On the plus side I now know how to yell and have a pretty extensive argument in Azerbaijan. I even got real world experience and have a standard dialogue to work from.

After this excellent intro to Qax we went with Peace Corps Volunteer James on a stunning hike up a shepherd’s trail to the pasture on the top of the tallest mountain in the vicinity. This was a 3 or 4 hour hike in total, intensive and tiring. We followed the trail (kind of) by the red markings that ended where James had stopped the day before and then looked for traces of the shepherds’ cows as evidence of the trail. The air got thinner, the forest more primeval, our stomachs hungrier and water bottles emptier. We were all sweaty, tired and ready for an actual view (since trees obscured it most of the way up) and then all of a sudden we were at the top of the mountain. The trees opened up in an almost fairy tale like manner so that we were looking out at open skies and land once more. We were in a meadow covered in a thousand wild flowers of varying shades looking out over the valley below us with a river winding through and more mountains beyond it.  A single tree stood on a ledge ahead of us and we sat and got a spectacular view of the same valley further up, looking at a small village stretching itself out comfortably along the banks of a gently winding river. The bugs were thinner, the air cleaner than anything I have ever experienced in Azerbaijan and I wanted to dance with pleasure at being on a mountaintop in the Caucasus with friends and far far away from the mundane and everyday world that I normally inhabit. We continued following the thin and winding trail along the steep meadow and as we stepped around the next corner a shepherd in army boots and a t-shirt approached us carrying a beverage bottle that has been in use since the invention of plastic filled with sweet spring water. He handed it to us and we drank deeply. He then motioned to take the pack from Ryan’s back that contained our food and other supplies. He politely declined and the shepherd took off again, giving us the chance to slowly approach the shepherd’s hut which consisted of three walls of a fascinating combination of twigs and blue tarpaulin.
 They were Georgian shepherds and they had other Georgian friends visiting from Tblisi with the result that a pack of Georgians who spoke as good of Azerbaijani as we did were waiting for us to arrive. They chatted with us, a young woman in the group spoke amazing English and asked about who we were and how we had gotten there. Then we were invited in for chay, another bottle was decapitated so that it might become two glasses for the Georgian wine they had with them. The wine is traditionally drunk in one swig, with the arms of the drinkers intertwined. Ryan lost his chugging contest and had to kiss a scruffy shepherd on the cheek much to our amusement. Then the pork kebab came out. It was fascinating to hang out with Georgians rather than Azerbaijanis and get a feel for their interpersonal relations. They were loud and brash (and I think drunk) but the women had no fear and no submission towards the men. They drank openly and the men seemed at ease with us American women. They climbed the mountain which told me that they were not afraid of hard labor and intense exercise. And one shepherd had the nicest teeth I have seen in a long time. Not a gold one in sight. To celebrate our arrival the shepherd fired their shotgun, something that I suspect would belong in a museum in the states, a double barreled percussion cap affair to complement the machetes that they each wore in their belt. After the lengthy affair that refusing any type of hospitality or food is in this country a shepherd took us the last couple hundred meters to the peak of the mountain, through his herds of cows and charging up the steep hills like it was the easiest thing in the world. As he was smoking a cigarette. I want to see the lungs of the shepherds in this country. It would make for the most fascinating combination of destruction due to personal behavior and incredible strength due to lifestyle. He looked down quizzically as we huffed and puffed and finally arrived breathless only to have our breath stolen yet again by the view. We had 360 degrees of beauty before us.
 On every side the land dropped down beneath our feet to reveal untouched mountains (purported to be the Russian border) a few snowcapped peaks, the town of Qax and the vast low valley that covers the center of Azerbaijan. We stopped to take photos and think and try to catch our breath. The shepherd made a call on his cell phone which still worked despite our removal from civilization. And yet that is not true because we were at the height of civilization, where we were greeted like long lost kin and showered with generosity and kindness despite the fact that our conversations were stilted and punctuated by exaggerated hand gestures meant to convey human emotion. It was with great sadness that I took my leave of that mountaintop for I could have sat and watched the world go by for the rest of my life from that place. But I suppose that it is better this way for it will never become ordinary to me. That place with always be preserved in my mind as extraordinary, indescribable and just a little bit magical. If Azerbaijan is a world apart from America then that mountain was a world apart from Azerbaijan. I felt both incredibly at home with those shepherds and incredibly foreign in my shorts and t-shirt with my odd accent and penchant for hiking and my inability to keep pace with the young men who inhabit those hills. I can see what it is about this place that had drawn explorers and adventurers since the beginning of time and how places could become so isolated that the languages here are unrelated to those anywhere else on the planet. I can see how each small village could preserve its own dialect and specific way of life and how despite its size Azerbaijan has the dazzling array of accents in its native tongue. After the heat and stench and noise of Baku Qax and that mountain, which is so normal and every day to the people there that it seems to lack a name, made me fall back in love with Azerbaijan. I admit that my energy has been flagging; I have been tiring of class and routine and being unable to communicate. I have tired of the misogyny and the constant staring and questioning and feeling as though I must represent not just America but women as well. Qax tired me physically to the point that I could hardly stand upright but it refilled my spirit and brought me back to a place where I needed to be. I needed to be in love with this country and the people here. I needed to feel at peace and at ease with my Creator and His creation. And I needed to leave this country happy with it, not angry resentful spiteful and ready to see its back. I want to leave with the magic of this place in my heart. It is there now.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Well guys, I wish I had a more creative excuse for my absence than, "I've been really busy" but, well, I've been really busy. Life here in Azerbaijan continues to move at the speed of light and if you want to keep up than you had better hold on for dear life. Last week was a roller coaster if I have ever been on one.

Classes continue ever forward, day in and day out. At this point I'm just finding them monotonous and I know that I'm not taking in nearly as much as at the beginning. My brain just seems to be shouting "enough" as I keep trying to shove more vocabulary and grammar at it. I wish that it would keep up but I hate to abuse it. It has been very good to me up to this point in my life so I prefer to keep it happy. I do not know if I will look back and think, I should have worked harder at learning Azerbaijani but at this point I feel as though I am doing all that I can. Physical, mental and emotional exhaustion are not things to be played with. I am fortunate enough to already know pretty well at this point in my life the limits of my own abilities. When I reach them I need to take a break, breathe and decide how to proceed. Yes, this means I am not always throwing myself into language study and reading for 6 hours a day. However, it also means that I will be a mostly functional human being upon my return to the States. This makes me more useful than an exceptionally talented but crazy Azerbaijani speaker. Or so I tell myself.

Enough with the inner musing, let's get down to what I've been up to in the land of fire. We learned how to make shekerbura, the national pastry, on Monday of last week. When I say we I mean the girls of the group. The men were uninvolved up until we started eating. I really wanted to become the little red hen from my feminist childhood and tell them that those who don't help with the kneading of the dough, the grinding of the cardammon, the forming of balls and rolling of the dough, the filling with walnuts and sugar, the formation into half moons with fluted edges and placing of proper national designs on top, (yeah you get the idea, super labor intensive cooking process) do not get to eat. I then decided that this was too much effort. I think what bothered me was that no one of authority seemed the least bit concerned that the men were not involved in this required cultural activity. Time and again the girls get their hands dirty cooking, dance like fools at every vaguely party type activity and that we have generally get involved and the guys sit it out. And this is fine. The expectations for men are just so different than they are for women. The men in class are far and away the favorites and then they are not expected to perform. I have found myself increasingly frustrated by the double standard that everyone here holds me too. I was chatting with my host mother and a friend of the family the other night, being told (again) that I should find an Azerbaijani husband. I replied that I would do so if I could find one who could cook and help with the housework. They laughed hysterically and then told me that this would be difficult to find. My mom surprised me by saying that if American men knew how to do that they must be the best men in the world. That comment makes me suspect that I am not the only one who finds the double standard frustrating and annoying but that Azerbaijani women seem to be unsure as to how to change the status quo. I wouldn't know how to go about such a task myself but someone needs to do it.

Wednesday it managed to hit 43 degress here in Baku (this is about 109 for the fahrenheit crowd) and so like any sane people we decided that pollution or no pollution we were going to the beach. At least we would be cooler when the extra limbs started to grow. Our merry band of Americans took first the metro (which was stifiling) and then a taxi to get to Bilgeh, one of the few public beaches near Baku. Granted it is not really supposed to be public. There is an impressive gate with guards at the front. And so everyone walks around to the side where there is a massive hole in the wall and gets to the beach that way. We took the slightly less than legal route and ended up on the beach with a pretty small bunch of humanity, purchased the rights to a table chairs and umbrella for 2 manat each and started slathering on the sun screen. We did get into the water, which was murky, salty and a little oily if I'm honest but it was also much colder than the air which was all I really wanted. The Caspian is purported to be the most polluted body of water on the planet and so we were pretty careful about things like our eyes and open wounds but no one seems to have had any ill effects and it was a fun experience to sit on the beach and watch the world go by for a little, chatting, eating our snacks and turning down the vendors selling corn on the cob and peroskies, which are mashed potatoes covered in dough and deep fried. Someone needs to export them to the American South because they would be an instant hit.

After class on Thursday we went to an ethnographic musuem, which is essentially pottery, mock homes stone carving and animals set up outside. I did not get it at all and it was also about a million degrees outside so I wasn't really feeling the whole open air thing anyway. Also the fact that it was an hour drive each way from Baku. On the way back I was able to purchase train tickets for my weekend adventure though which was quite the experience seeing as we waited in line like good Americans forgetting that this is Azerbaijan so of course no one waits in line, having multiple tellers go on break while in the middle of buying tickets and then finially getting some and having the woman selling them look like she wanted to rip out my throat with a butter knife throughout the entire process. I cannot say much for the customer service at the train station in Baku if I'm honest. I did manage to buy tickets for the correct, day, train, number of people and berth without much mishap though so I was glad that my Azerbaijani had progressed to that level. Plus train tickets are dirt cheap in this country, with a one way 11 hour train ride to Qax costing 9 manat or less then 11 dollars. Plus you get the very weird experience of riding a train in Azerbaijan which is worth 10 bucks in and of itself.

That evening I had the chance to go to one of the jazz clubs in Baku with a good friend. I got dressed up for the occasion and then took the subway there. I attracted more attention than usual and I could tell that the stares I was getting were not the "who is the foriegner" type but the "who is that woman" type. I refused to react though and got to the 28 May station (the city's main metro station) without mishap. Leaving there I got the funniest cat call I think I will ever experience in my life. A man passed by me on the street and without meeting my eye said "Gesheng gesheng-sheng" (gesheng means beautiful or pretty). I wish I could better express the strong emphasis on the second sylablle of the word and the way he slowed on the last sheng plus the up and down tone of his voice. When I got to the club I told my friend and we both laughed at the ridiculousness of life sometimes. I actually haven't gotten many cat calls here in Baku but I had to give this guy points for originality. I then spent 3 hours sitting in a comfy chair, feeling pretty in my cute heels and dress, listening to good jazz and chatting with a wonderful friend. It was calming, soothing, relaxing and everything that jazz should be. I could not have been happier when the evening wound to a close and I headed home in a taxi, not even having to give directions to the driver.

The realization that we are going home soon has started to hit me. It's such an odd thing to think of. I haven't really thought much about America because it feels so far away. I know that I am in the one in the foreign country, but sometimes seeing banal comments on facebook or reading my mother's emails makes me realize just how far away I am. I forget about things like driving a car, since I ride the crazy public transport everywhere here, or chatting with large groups of people, because the group of people who understand my mother tongue and who I know here is limited to about 15. I am going to get home and make comments about things that make no sense and reference places in a country that most Americans have never heard of. And I will want to speak a language that very few understand. I think the reentry might be more rough than I expected. In the meantime I have started compiling lists of everything that I still need to get done in this country (they are ponderous these lists). Hopefully I will accomplish all the things on my lists and if not, well, I can kind of speak the language so I can always come back.