Saturday, June 19, 2010

Summer Travels

Pictures! The Literature Museum in Baku, Me standing in various places around the country, and MOSQUITOES! Gazillions of them!

The pictures of were taken in Ucar, Şirvan and Şamaxı. The one in Ujar is in front of a new massive building they are construction in the local park. I don't know what its purpose will be, but knowing this country it will probably serve as a massive museum/monument to Heydar Aliyev, the former president. If this is the case it will basically become a gigantic waste of money and space intended to convince everyone that Heydar deserves a place at the right hand of Allah because of his extraordinary greatness. The picture in Şirvan is with PCVs Jesse and Derek, standing on a mountain overlooking the river Kür, which has experienced severe flooding this year and basically ruined the entire town of Sabirabad. Derek was initially placed in Sabirabad with his wife, but due to the lack of organization of both the Azeri government and Peace Corps he had to return to the states after the town was flooded. Finally there's a picture in Şamaxı, standing next to the Tombs of the Shirvan Shahs. For a long time Şamaxı was the capital of ancient Azerbaijan, until an earthquake ruined it and the Shah decided to relocate to Baku.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

News from "The Family"

Sorry to all I don't have new photos to post, although you can rest assured that you really don't want to see what it's like here right now. The rainy season has arrived, a bit later than last year, but equally as miserable. It's cold, rainy, dreary and dirty. There are weeds over six feet tall growing in my yard that my landlord has yet to come clean up because, well, it's raining all the damn time. Walking around in the streets is both gross and treacherous, and even the livestock wandering around town have a sort of depressed look in their eyes while they slowly ruminate and block traffic.

So, being the sharing sort of guy that I am, I decided to share the depression, in the form of this article. I know I've dropped a few hints about these sorts of dealings in corruption and such throughout my posts on the blog, but hopefully this will shine a bit of light on exactly how big and bad govt. corruption is here. I'm posting the article since I'm not technically allowed to say anything "bad" about Azerbaijan online while I'm here (silly US Govt. and their regulations...ugh!), so I decided to let the Washington Post say it for me. I have, however, linked the site on an Armenian website, which is by no means a breach of the limitations placed upon my blog, but a fun jab nonetheless. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

In the Rainy Season


(These pictures are from the beginning of February. A bit dated, I know, but it's hard enough to find a place with enough bandwidth to post at a reasonable rate, and I'm lazy. The one not snowy pic is from out March Mustache Madness/Ujar Fried Food Festival that took place during our Spring break. Rest assured, this is the first and last mustache I've ever grown, as I realize how ridiculous I look. Thanks to Dad for providing the wonderful shirt that topped off my award winning ensemble. The writing on my shirt says "My name is not English!", which I wear around town to let people know not to call me that, to marginal effect.)

Spring is here! Normally this would be cause for celebration. Flowers blooming, bees buzzing, critters running to and fro after a long winter slumber. And in a way, it is a celebration. In fact, here it's the biggest holiday of the year, Novruz. Originally a Zoroastrian celebration of the coming of a new year, the return of life to the Earth and all that good stuff, in Azerbaijan it has simply devolved into a mishmash of various ancient traditions combined with the two things Azeris love doing most: eating and drinking to excess. People jump over bonfires, sprout wheat in little dishes, cook pilaf and dolma, children collect candy from neighbors, men drink hurculean amounts of vodka, and generally a good time is had by all.

As for me, I had my own party, a reincarnation of a gathering I had last year known as the Ujar Fried Food Festival. Seeing as how I am one of only 4 or 5 volunteers from the South in this country, and the only one from Alabama, I felt it a personal duty to my fellow countrymen to introduce them to the best thing my state has to offer--namely, battering and frying pretty much everything. We had fried pickles, onion rings, chicken, and even some pork a thoughtful volunteer had the foresight to acquire from Georgia. We also had falafel, which I prepared for the wussy vegetarians who think that eating a huge pile of molten grease might not be "healthy". Bah! The way I see it, if eating deep fried yumminess is going to make my heart explode then clearly God intended for me to die young, otherwise he wouldn't have made it and me so wonderfully compatible. Throughout the day I kept getting various partygoers to help me in the kitchen, teaching them the alchemical arts of southern fried food, and after I got tired of cooking I did what any good chef does: I sent other people to cook for me. Despite making a complete wreck of my kitchen and nearly burning my house to the ground, they produced a passable example of fried goodness, and for the first time since I've been here I revelled in the wonderful feeling of teaching students and having them actually learn!

Adittionally, another gathering that had been planned for the same time was incorporated into my gathering, a fake holiday made up by another volunteer with impeccable facial hair and clearly too much time on his hands(pictured above wearing the big fur hat)--Mustache March. This is why, in the above photo, I am sporting a trash-stache that would make Kid Rock melt with jealousy. Since mustaches are the facial hair of choice for 90% of Azeri men (and about 10% of the women), my marriage proposals increased tenfold during the course of my anomalous facial growth. Alas, I got tired of looking in the mirror every morning and seeing a backwoods trailer park resident staring back at me, so I removed the offending hairs from my face immediately after the party was concluded.

So, is all this partying over a concept as simple as Spring really warranted? Here, definitely. That's because "Spring" really only lasts a couple of weeks here, followed by about a month straight of rain. The weather has been nice lately, but we had our first downpour yesterday, marking the beginning of a very wet, muggy, muddy, and generally gross month before summer. And once that ends, "Spring" is over, and summer comes right in with little regard for how I or anyone else feels about it. So in America, April showers bring May flowers, but in Azerbaijan they simply bring sweltering, overwhelming, inescapable heat. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I've loaded these last two videos to give a bit of perspective into the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, aka Qarabağ, between Armenia and Azerbaijan. While there isn't any real right or wrong answer to this whole mess, hopefully this video will at least give you some insight into how the conflict is viewed here. I take issue with some of the translations, as I know enough Azeri and Russian to know when they are simply making the subtitles fit the story, but despite that I feel this is a decent introduction to the conflict for people who don't know about it, or might not even know where it is. Don't hate on Al-Jazeera, them's good news peoples.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Older pics

A couple of scenes from Azerbaijan, a wedding, and a picture of me with my friends Sahib (standing) and Javan (sitting).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More New Year's pics

Some pics from New Year's in Tbilisi, including a picture of a sign on a khinkali restaurant, one of the national foods of Georgia. Check out the writing, the Georgian alphabet is really cool looking. I'm trying to teach myself some of it, so far I've got the alphabet down but the language itself is absurdly complicated. The big gold statue is of Saint George slaying a dragon or some other big evil lizard looking thing.