For quite a long time, it has proven very difficult to sit down, reflect, and write - about feelings, about my service, about difficulties, about everything. Honestly, it’s much easier to come home and turn on a TV series, workout, or otherwise distract myself than to sit down and seriously think about my life here.
In the time I have spent reflecting, however, I have noticed that the longer I live here, the harder it is for me to make blanket statements, generalizations, or even cool-sounding blog posts on the culture of Azerbaijan or life as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
So, here I’m going to try and express what I actually do on a daily basis without trying to attach an explanation. All of the below experiences came from the past couple days.
I dream in Azerbaijani.
I talk to myself in Azerbaijani.
I walk down the street with Azerbaijani middle-schoolers, mostly boys, who are the closest people to good friends as I have here (save my Peace Corps buddies I sometimes see on the weekends).
Students ranging from five years old to teenagers hail me on the street and as I make my way into my school building, saying my name, “teacher”, and “how are you” in English – the result of 18 months worth of such walks.
I teach kids how to play softball: how to catch a fly-ball, how to snag a ground ball and get it to first base, how to hit, when not to hit, how to be a good sportsman.
I tell kids not to call other kids “weak” when they don’t play as well as they do or are losing in a game.
I have conversations in English with my host sister about whatever we’re feeling that day. It might be American culture, world history, how I think our village is conservative…whatever is on the docket.
My host mother asks me what I’ve eaten, when I ate, and what I want to eat in the future.
My host father walks in with watery eyes, gives me a hearty “hello, how are you?” before settling into vodka and salad for lunch with a male teacher at my school who asks me, as I’m on the way out my door, if I can cover for his absence by telling whoever asks that his lesson is covered. His lesson is, in fact, not covered, simply because vodka took precedence over teaching sixth graders today.
I call and talk to fellow PCV’s about projects we’re involved with – a national boy’s camp, a English course for hotel staff in the region center, or an exchange program for Azerbaijani youth.
I exercise with heavy pieces of scrap metal in my backyard.
I gratefully eat a PowerBar sent from the States post-workout.
My host family is absent from our compound, another funeral I think - somebody important, a relative perhaps. I’m hungry, so I look under the lid of the solitary pot on the stove and it’s pasta. Good, old, plain pasta. Thankfully, I’ve still got a couple cans of chili leftover from a recent care package that I’ve been hoarding for moments such as these. That and some parmesan cheese does the trick quite nicely.
I get to take a hot shower and life is good again.
I watch a half-season of whatever TV show I’ve got on my hard-drive. There aren’t too many good shows left that I haven’t already devoured in the past 20 months.
I practice handstands.
I shuffle through a dictionary, writing down new Azerbaijani words in a small red journal.
I make five scrambled eggs, every single morning.
I sit and observe my counterpart as she struggles through another lesson that she has not prepared for. She tries to think of good questions to ask our students as I sit at the front of the class and look at the faces of our fifth grade class, children who want to learn but will instead simply memorize facts, paragraphs of history, and math rules for the next six years.
I drink cheap wine, imported from neighboring Georgia, with my Peace Corps buddies while we stay the night at a friend’s house and tune out the outside world.
My host brother asks me where I’m going as I walk down the street to buy some milk. I’m buying milk not particularly because I want milk but because it’s my midday meal.
While scanning documents at the village internet club, I chat with the owner about what America is like and how I miss sandwiches.
My host mom sticks her head in my room to tell me that she’s doing laundry, and that she knows I’ve got some in my room because she hasn’t seen any socks come through in a while.
My mentally disabled host aunt smiles at me and calls me “Angloosh” as I walk out of my door in the morning. She’s sweeping the courtyard, and playfully swats me on the back with her broom as I walk by, earning her a quick rebuke from my host mother. She asks me when I’m going to America, so I can pick her up some Marlboro cigarettes. She doesn’t understand that when I leave I won’t be coming back.
The cat walks into the house as I eat breakfast, meowing for table scraps.
My counterpart passes me on the street and smiles at me, asks me how I am, and continues her mile walk back home in three layers of clothes, in 85 degree heat.
I stand outside on my back porch and look up at the stars at night, the village sky big and bright.
I tell my students I’m leaving town so no softball practice Friday, getting a chorus of complaints and “what will we do without softball” as my answer.
I think about my life back home and what I miss.
I think about my life back home and what it’s going to be like when I return.
I realize that this is normal life for me now, and I am scared to go back.