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.
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.