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Jun. 15th, 2009

My travels by train, taxi, bus, marshutka/dolmush, boat, plane and foot.

To begin with, my travels through Georgia and Turkey were great! So let me start at the beginning. After we finished our Close of Service (COS) Conference in Baku Jill and I hopped a night train to Tbilisi. The night train takes about 16 hours, but that includes about 2 hours at the boarder when security goes around to all the sleepers to check and stamp passports. I thought this was really a good travel choice. I slept through the majority of the travel and just chilled and ate breakfast while customs did their thing. In Tbilisi, we stayed with my friend Ian.

One of the first things we noticed in Tbilisi was protesters all along their main road which goes in front of the parliament building. The protest mainly consisted of these “cells” that were set up on the streets labeled “cell 543” for example. They were maybe 5 by 5 foot boxes wrapped in cellophane. People were sleeping in them. However, when we were walking by them I noticed how few people seemed to inhabit the area. So on we went to Ian’s place. Ian served in Peace Corps Kazakhstan and visiting him for a bit was his former site-mate Jessica. So we went to dinner with Jessica and inquired about the cells. The protest was to get their president to leave office. However, there is no opposition party with viable candidates and they are not willing to meet and talk to the incumbent president. Even more infuriating we found out that these protests are sponsored by Russia and whoever sleeps in the aforementioned cells gets 20 lira a day. Now in Georgia 20 lira a day is not bad, I barley spent that and I was on vacation. So that’s the summary on the protests.

The next morning I took Jill to all the main sites in Tbilisi that I had already seen but she hadn’t. It was fun to see them again in the summer since it was winter when I had last gone. We also wandered a bit and saw some great new sites and parts of Tbilisi. We also did the Turkish bathhouse, a first for Jill, she was very brave. We ate great food and had the most amazing ice cream everyday. On May 26th we had tickets to Batumi on the night train. We arrive on time and find our coupe and begin to wait. About 5 minutes before we were scheduled to leave we heard a mass of people approaching. All of a sudden there were THOUSANDS of people walking alongside the train. The media was covering the event; there were lots of camera and bright lights. The people were knocking on the train… this lasted over a half hour. We found out later that they all walked to the parliament building. At the time we had no idea what was going on but the train wasn’t leaving as we just figured it was because they were alarmed by the mass of people. So we sat and waited. Then people started getting off the train and we had no idea why. No one speaks Azeri or English and we obviously don’t speak Russian or Georgian so we continued to sit. About 3 hours later the train still hadn’t left and a train worker came to our coupe and pantomimed “train no go.” So we went to the beginning of the train to find that about 15 protesters decided to sit on the tracks. So we had to find our way back to Ians at 1am because of 15 hooligans. There were rumors that this protest would be duplicated all throughout the country and transportation stopped completely. That never happened; the only transportation stopped was my train.

So the next morning we woke up early and took a 6 hour marshutka to Batumi. It was nice because we got to see Georgia’s countryside but it was uncomfortable and long as all marshutka rides are. We continued on to the Turkeys’ border. Since we lost a day we were moving forward with our travels. As Americans we were treated very well at the checkpoint and were able to get through relatively quickly and a ride to the nearest city, Hopa. At this point it was late and we decided to stay in Hopa for the night. There is not much in Hopa. We ate, went to an internet café, and checked out the black sea.

The next morning we were up early and off to Cappadocia. The planned rout to Cappadocia we planned on was not the most efficient we were told. After much negotiation we ended up on an overnight bus leaving at noon. However, the upside was we would wake up in Cappadocia. The bus was a nice big bus but nothing can prepare someone for 18hours on a bus; especially after being on a marshutka all day the day before. The bus stopped a lot picking up people and taking breaks and for gas. Every 20 minutes we stopped for the first 8 hours. It was insane. Also, there were boys being taken to military service so when we picked them up their entire families would be there to see them off. Then when we left, they would all hop in their cars and follow us to the end of town, honking all the way. Just when you thought it was over we would pick up another boy and it would start all over again.

We got to Cappadocia!! I had pre-picked a hostel (in turkey they are called pensions) called the Shoestring. Here we would stay in rooms carved out of a mountain aka caves! A little info for your brain: “The Cappadocia region is largely underlain by sedimentary rocks formed in lakes and streams, and ignimbrite deposits erupted from ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago (late Miocene to Pliocene epochs). The rocks of Cappadocia near Göreme eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms. The volcanic deposits are soft rocks that the people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out to form houses, churches, monasteries. Göreme became a monastic center between 300—1200 AD. First period settlement in Göreme reaches to the Roman period from Christianity. Yusuf Koç, Ortahane, Durmus Kadir and Bezirhane churches in Göreme, houses and churches carved into rocks till to Uzundere, Bağıldere and Zemi Valley carries the mystical side of history today.” From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cappadocia

Cappadocia is spectacular! We booked a tour for the south area and I booked my hot air balloon ride both for the next day. So we decided to walk around Goreme, the area where our pension was, and find ourselves a hike. We walked about an hour until we found the entrance to Rose Valley. As we began to head down the mountain Jill tripped on some rocks and sprained her ankle. We had no idea how bad this was going to be but she couldn’t walk so I assisted her back to the road and we had some locals call a taxi. By the time we got back to the pension her foot was very swollen. We decided to relax, use the free internet, ice, elevate and wrap her foot. Neither of us had had any real sleep and my morning started at 4am the next day. Also, the pension was having a Turkish barbeque in the main area so we decided to eat there.

The hot air balloon ride; quite possibly my favorite part of the entire trip! It’s really hard to explain the experience. As we were slowly floating in the air I had a spectacular view of a unique landscape, tons of other hot air balloons, and a sunrise. All I could do is take pictures and be quiet just taking it all in. So then I went back to the pension for breakfast and to be picked up for our day tour. We began with the Derinkuyu underground city. I liken these tunnels to ant tunnels!! They went about 3 levels deep, they were connected by narrow tunnels, but it was in fact a complete city. I REALLY enjoyed this as well. We had a tour guide telling us about all the history which I loved. I had taken a lot of pictures but later in the journey they were eaten by a computer virus. Jill has some pictures, but I am super disappointed I can’t show you my vision of this amazing place.

On we went to the Ihlara Canyon, which was a beautiful site to hike. Jill was a champ and totally kept up. We had lunch in the valley and then back in the van. Our next stop was, I think, a last minute add-on. We were told it was the set of the original Star Wars movie. I’ll admit the landscape did look like a distant planet. These pictures were lost as well. Continuing on we went to Selime a mountain carved palace and church. The end of the tour they took us to an jewelry store which showed us how they carve and shape onyx. They then proceeded to try and sell us jewelry. We were strong and didn’t buy anything and instead got a mountain top view of Rose Valley. This was a very long day and we were beat! It was the best day of the vacation for me!

The next day we decided to hike pigeon valley. This was not a great idea for Jill. I thought it was going to be an easy hike. It turned out to be a very steep and narrow trail, when there was a trail. We got lost… but I don’t see how anyone could find there way through it without a guide. Luckily, we found an old man who lived in the valley and was tending to his garden with his 10 dogs and 10 cats. We didn’t understand him, nor him us, but he proceeded to lead us out. He walked with us for I’d say over an hour until we were near an area where we could get out. I thought the entire thing was a hilarious adventure. I’m sure Jill would tell a completely different story. I did hear her say “pigeon valley can suck my ass” about 897449867 times. So we went back to the pension and took care of her foot. At this point we knew we did not want to take the bus back from Istanbul to Batumi so while we had free internet we booked a flight. We also found out that our couch surfer in Izmir was not going to be able to host us. So we changed plans a bit and were headed on a night bus to Seljuk, just south of Izmir, also on the Aegean Sea.

The main site for in Seljuk was one of the Seven Wonders of the World in ancient times, the Temple of Artemis. This was a famous place of pilgrimage for centuries. Anatolia has always had a fertility goddess: Mita to the Phrygians, Cybele (or Kybele) to many other Anatolian peoples, Artemis to the Greeks and Diana to the Romans. I really enjoyed this stop, Jill kept telling me “more piles of rocks, come on kat!” What can I say, I love history. We also visited the 6th century basilica of St. John the Apostle, İsa Bey Mosque built by the Seljuk Turks in 1375, the cave of the seven sleepers and the Grand Fortress. Towards the end of the day we went to the beach and dipped our feet in the Aegean Sea. We also did some shopping around the more modern area of town.

The next morning we were off to Bergama, just north of Izmir, which was a tiny town. We had limited time so I had to choose 1 outta 2 archeological sites, as a compromise to Jill, to visit. I chose the Asclepion (Asklepieion) of Pergamum (now Bergama) which was perhaps the world's most famous ancient medical center founded by a man named Archias, the Asclepion of Pergamum became famous under Galen (131-210 AD), a local physician who pursued his medical studies in Greece and Alexandria (Egypt) before settling here as doctor to Pergamum's gladiators. Starting around 300 BC, the cult of Asclepius became increasingly popular. Pilgrims flocked to Asclepieia to be healed. They slept overnight and reported their dreams to a priest the following day. He prescribed a cure, often a visit to the baths, the theatre or a gymnasium. I really enjoyed this site as well… I could strongly feel good energy there.

Next stop, Istanbul!! We took a night bus into Istanbul and arrived at 5am in the main bus station out of town. We were determined not to be ripped off by a taxi so we walked out of the station asking people were we could find a bus into town. Much Ado later we found a bus that started running at 6am. We took that bus to another bus station were we were instructed to get on a second bus. We were headed to my friend Marina’s hotel. Marina was visiting with her mom and we agreed to stash our stuff at their hotel and spend the day together. The second bus dropped us off in the area of Marina’s hotel and we then wandered around asking people for another hour. We finally found it at about 8am. With hindsight I wish we would have overpaid are taxi to take us directly there! Regardless, we had breakfast with Marina and Barbara (Marina’s mom) and made plans for the day. As we were eating it began to rain. Still, we head out to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. The Blue Mosque was quite a site, really an extravagant and unique space. The Hagia Sophia was really crowded and expensive to go into so we decided to get outta the rain my going to the Grand Bazaar. This was a few hours of listening to really interesting sales approaches and bargaining for some good buys. We all tired of it at about the same time and to our delight the rain had stopped.

Marina, Barbara and I decided to check out the fish Market as Jill took a nap at their hotel. Barbara is a marine biologist so for me to be able to go to a fish market and ask her questions was really fun and cool. We also walked along the water and found the fishermen fishing. After our little excursion we went back to pick up Jill, grab our stuff, and check into our pension. We had a nice dinner with Marina and Barbara and parted ways. They were renting a car the next morning to drive down towards Troy.

The next morning Jill and I decided we would take a fairy ride to see the sites on both Istanbul’s Asian and European sides. The fairy ride was about and hour and a half both ways with a stop at a touristy island for a few hours. The fairy itself was very relaxing and we got to see a lot of great sites. There was a tour group by where we were sitting so we eaves dropped and got to hear all about the history of the area and sites we were seeing. When we returned I convinced Jill to eat on the ?? bridge where there are lots of great fish restaurants. On our way back to the pension we stumbled upon a music festival in an ampere theater. There were Turkish singers with a live band. A group of young local guys got up and started dancing in the middle of the area traditional Turkish style. This was pretty awesome to get to be part of.

The next day we decided to do Lonely Planets walking tour of Istanbul. I had done this with Kelly in Tbilisi at new years and really enjoyed it so I convinced Jill we should give it a shot. It turned out to be very interesting and generally a success. However, I thought I could find our way back from were we started taking a different route and got us lost. We did stumble on the ancient aqueduct which I liked. We ended up walking around a different more “real” side of Istanbul for a few hours. When we found our way back we went to the new mosque and the Spice Bazaar. When we got back to the pension we met this really rad British guy that was staying at our pension and ended up spending the evening out on the town with him.

The next morning we were off to the airport, back to Batumi. We arrived safely and went to go buy our tickets on the night train that night to Tbilisi. We walked around town to a park and sat on the rock beach. We ate some delicious Georgian food at a small local restaurant. And while waiting for our train bumped into some Azerbaijan PCV’s also traveling on our night train back to Tbilisi and were able to get our tickets changed so we shared the same coupe.

Back in Tbilisi the plan was to relax, do laundry in Ian’s washer and dryer and I was determined to get a Georgian Tattoo. This is my first time speaking of this to all my friends and family back home! So you, my blog readers, have the inside scoop!! I got a Georgian tattoo that says in Georgian script “magic is everywhere.” There are pictures below!

We went to the Georgian Peace Corps office and met the staff and country director. Everyone was really nice and the office was really big and amazing. Jill had the doctor look at her foot and ended up getting x-rays. It was just a sprain and she will be ok. We hung out with some more Azerbaijan PCV’s on vacation and had a great relaxing time before we had to get back to Azerbaijan on June 10th.

I got back into country and went straight to Mingetchavier to pick up Mo. We were both really happy to see each other. I visited with the Ming folks for a day before I headed back to Goycay. So that’s it! I’m home and about to be really busy during my last 3 months of service. If you read this entire blog I applaud you as it is the world’s longest blog post I think!

Love you all sooooo very much,

Disclaimer: “The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

May. 12th, 2009

So much to do, So little time left...

I have not written for quite a long time. For those of you that check my blog regularly I apologize. I guess it’s just been business as usual here and so I haven’t felt inspired to write. The past two weekends I have been going hiking in the Goycay foothills with my site mate Kelly. The weather has been amazing and it has been nice to get out into nature. I have been traveling a lot and working on various projects. There have been a bunch of birthdays that I have gone to celebrate in the regions. I also attended AZ6’s In Service Trainings (IST) both in Baku and Gange. In Baku I was there giving a training session and in Gange just to get to know the AZ6’s a little better. It’s nice to see what the “fresh blood” is thinking about and helping them move forward on their projects. One thing I was approached about was how to compost. I have been composting in country since I moved into my own place and have become well known for it. Mainly because I’m on the environment committee and I try to support environmentally friendly initiatives among volunteers. So, I sent out an email inquiry about who would be interested in a composting tutorial and had over 30 people respond including a Peace Corps Volunteer’s (PCV) host organization. So I will now be bringing composting tutorials into the regions; which I am very excited about. I am also pleased to stay that my porch garden created with my composted dirt is thriving. This is new to me as I am horrible at gardening. Yet, I will be having fresh zucchini and parsley this summer! I will also be going to help out at other PCV’s camp projects throughout the summer.

As for my internet café for women, it has been slow on progress. Basically, we have an internet café with no internet. You can see how this is a problem. In the mean time we have been giving courses on Windows and Microsoft Office while struggling with the ministry (the local government offices) to get us a DSL port. At the moment it has been promised to us for June. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. My organization also been chosen to participate in the Human Rights Summer Film Festival again and will be beginning preparation for this. Last year this was an excellent project and a lot of fun so I am excited about doing it again.

As for the immediate future I am preparing for my Close of Service (COS) conference. This is where they will tell us everything we need to know about re-entering the USA, now only 4 months away. As well as what we have to do to finalize our work here in Azerbaijan. The most exciting part of this conference is that it will be at “Aqua Park” which is as close as we get to a fancy hotel with water slides! It will be a good chance to spend some quality time with all the AZ5 PCV’s who made it the full two years. We plan on having a slide show down memory lane as well as many other shenanigans I’m sure.

Right after COS I will be headed off to Georgia and Turkey for my final vacation. My friend Jill and I will be taking trains and buses from Baku to Tbilisi and throughout Turkey; including Cappadocia, Izmir, Troy, Istanbul, and Ankara. I’m really excited for this trip. Turkey and Azerbaijan have a lot in common and I should be able to get along ok with my Azerbaijani language. I will for sure write a blog when I return about my explorations through Turkey.

That’s all for now; sending lot’s of love back home.

Disclaimer: “The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

Feb. 24th, 2009

“The Edge...

...there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” - Hunter S. Thompson

What a great vacation I had learning to snowboard the on the Alps. I went with my friends Katie and Jim. Katie is a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer in my group and Jim is an Ex-Pat working and living in Baku. Katie has been snowboarding for 13 years and it had been a life long dream for her to snowboard the Alps. So I decided to go with her and learn to snowboard. We began our journey on Valentines Day at 2am when we were off to the airport. We flew to Istanbul, we only had an hour layover and our plane arrived late so we literally ran threw the airport with the fear that we were going to miss our flight. This was a real “amazing race” moment. On top of that Jim left his ski boots on the plane and had to go back on the plane to get them and then run to the gate that Katie and I promised to do our best to hold for him if we made it there on time. Luckily, we all made the flight to Zurich, Switzerland. When we got to Zurich we had a taxi driver waiting for us. It was a 3 hour drive through the mountains to a small ski village called Ischgl on the Austrian side of the mountains.

We arrived to our hotel which had more of a bed and breakfast feel to it. It was midday so we put our stuff in the room and went walking through the town, looking for a place to have lunch. The town was quaint, even though every building was a hotel. All looked like houses/bed and breakfasts with restaurants at the ground floor. The Alps surrounded us and there were ski paths that came right into town. After lunch we went to rent our equipment. I needed snowboard boots and a board, Katie helped make sure I had the right fit. We then went back to the hotel to relax, shower, and get ready to explore Ischgls’ night scene. There were many bars that were packed with a great diversity of nationalities. The music was also in all languages and it made the whole experience so much more fun. I have several songs that I still can’t get outta my head that are completely in German.

Ok to the first day ok snowboarding. We got up to the lift really early as our jetlag made us 4 hours ahead of everyone else which was very nice. I went to go sign up for classes, wanting morning classes, but they were all pre-booked. I was able to get a 3 day package of classes from 1:00-3:15. So with time on our hands Katie decided to try and teach me the basics. Walking around with a snowboard is incredibly frustrating as you have one foot locked in at an angle and a large board trying to slide which ever way is down. The other foot is on whichever side of the snowboard feels better to you and you walk like this very slowly wobbling like an oversized penguin and well for me falling a lot. So we looked at the maps and Katie decided to take me on “B1” which is a beginners’ run, not a bunny slope. We got to the top, strapped in my other foot, and I began to try and stand on my board. Needless to say, I fell, I rolled, and I tumbled down the mountain. I figured out how to get up on my board by rolling over and getting up from behind. A few times I actually slid down the mountain while standing but `that was purely accidental and ended in me crashing into the snow fast and hard. Katie stayed with me for a while cheering me on, but I felt bad after about 30 minutes having only gone down the first slope. I told her to go enjoy the morning and I would get down this run take a break and go to my class. It took me about an hour and a half to get down B1.

There were a ton of people waiting at the snowboard class flag at 1:00 and I was worried that there would be so many people that I would really not get the attention I needed. However, about 5 snowboard instructors showed up and separated us by language into groups of 8. I had the sweetest British instructor that was sooo cute and a really great teacher. I’m not going to explain the basics of snowboarding but he was really great at breaking it down into steps. I felt strong at the end of the first class and had techniques to practice the next morning. So the next morning I practiced and was a very diligent student. Katie and Jim went out to the bigger runs and even snowboarded/skied into Switzerland. The second day of class I found myself a little bit behind the others in my group. Sam, my cute British instructor, gave me one on one time and really helped my confidence. I had by the end of that day learned ¾ of everything I needed to know. The next day it was snowing pretty strong outside.

I went to my normal practice area and Jim and Katie went to a new run. When Jim and Katie got to their run they realized that there was no visibility and decided not to snowboard/ski and went back into town. I however, did not know this and pushed myself a little too hard. At this point I feel I need to explain the difference between a “Tbar” pull and a lift. A list is something you sit on and it takes you up the mountain in a chair with your board dangling in the air. This is what you normally see when you see people going up the mountain. A Tbar is a piece of metal that goes between your legs and is attached to a pulley rope that pulls you up the mountain with your board on the ground. The Tbar is used mainly for the bunny slopes and is terribly hard to master. On the normal days I fell off the Tbar regularly. With that said, I spent the morning trying to practice and being constantly thwarted by the snowstorm. When trying to go up my slope with the Tbar my snowboard became buried in snow throwing me off balance and thus making me fall off the pull area. I fell so many times that the pulley worker who puts the bars between your legs yelled at me. He said; “stupid American just stand up!” with no compassion that I was having difficulties more so than I had had the previous to days. I waited on the mountain until my 1:00 class trying to practice on and off and becoming incredibly frustrated. Class time finally came and Sam had hurt his knee the day before so we had a new instructor in his place. Again I tried to get up the Tbar during class and could not do it. The snow was in my face, I couldn’t see 2 feet in front of me and I began to cry on the slopes. The new instructor was incredibly patient and was very encouraging but after my long day of failing I just left about an hour into class. When I got back and realized that Katie and Jim didn’t even board in this snowstorm I felt a little better but was so worn out physically and emotionally. So that night, as we did every night, we went to the bars. Stress relief dancing and drinking which I really needed. That night while walking threw town after drinking Katie taught me the last technique of snowboarding, turning, that I had missed by leaving class early.

The next morning was gorgeous and Katie decided to come practice turning with me. We again went on B1. This time however, I was ready for it and was going down the slopes fairly smoothly. She told me how impressed she was at my improvement in just 3 days. I was snowboarding! At one point I went down the slope super fast and ate it at the bottom, stopping is still a bit of a challenge for me. I landed face first on my stomach very hard. Now I had been sore all week from falling a lot but this was different. I bruised my rib I think, it hurt when I breathed or stretched. There was this big slope up with an airbag on the other side for people to practice jumping. So we went there and I rested as Katie did jumps into the airbag.

The next day I was extremely sore, especially my ribs, but decided to try and practice. I tried for about and hour but the pain was too much. I spent the day relaxing, taking a bath and using the internet. I felt good about my progress and didn’t want to push my body to hard. That night we went tobogganing. This was a special event every Thursday night. None of us had been tobogganing before let alone at night but its sledding so we all were down to try it. It was way harder than it seemed but just as much fun as it sounds. We took a run that went down into town that I could not do with my snowboard yet so it was really fun to go on a new run. At one point however, there was a super steep hill that I went down super fast and flew off my sled about 4 feet. I flew into the barrier, threw the barrier actually where my head and shoulders were dangling off the mountain. Somehow with my adrenalin I got up went back for my sled and continued to the end.

The next morning it was snowing again and it was the last day of snowboarding. I was in a lot of pain from both the week of snowboarding and the night of tobogganing. I decided to return my board and boots, as I was not going to try and practice in the snowstorm again. It was a nice day; I got a refund for my equipment that day and had a much needed massage in the early afternoon.

We awoke bright and early the next morning to catch a taxi to the train station and a train to Zurich. We planned on spending the day there but the train was late and we ended up only having 2 hours to walk around town. Still, it was a really nice city. I wish we had more time to explore. Then began our long journey home; the hardest part of this vacation. I am still very sore especially in the ribs but it is defiantly getting better. My legs are both very black and blue all over. However, I had an amazing time, learned a new sport and plan on doing it all over again.

Much love,

Disclaimer: “The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

Jan. 6th, 2009

It was snowing and I had ice cream almost everyday!

New Years in Georgia, what a wonderful getaway! Firstly, my friend Ian who used to live in Baku and recently moved to Tbilisi lent me and 2 of my friends his apartment. He was in America while we where there so this was especially nice of him. He has a very nice computer with DSL and a webcam so we all got to talk to our loved ones in America. Not to mention having a warm place to rest and as many hot showers as we wanted.

So what did we do? Well the first priority was getting some delicious Georgian food and wine. Georgian food is really rich and flavorful. It was nice to drink some quality wine as Georgia is known as “the birthplace of wine.” We made a plan to do Mark Elliot’s walking tour of Tbilisi with Kelly as our tour guide. We woke up bright and early and were off. To my surprise nothing opens until 10am or later, except churches. So we began there. It just so happens Tuesday is the day Georgians go to church so as we entered we encountered some amazing singing in three parts. We quietly wandered slowing trying not to disturb anyone, it was a unique experience. We walked to other churches and statues, the Turkish bath area and slowly made our way up the mountain to the botanical gardens. Now it is winter so the botanical gardens were not as impressive as they could be. However, it was a nice hike in a quiet, serine place that could not be experienced anywhere else in the city. The botanical gardens led up to the Mother of Georgia monument; then eventually around and up to the Narikala Fortress. We were not sure the way and ended up climbing up the side, not on the beaten path, and sliding our way back down. We did eventually find the official entrance and explored that as well. Then we went down the mountain to Saint George church and through town to the Basilica.

At this point we were starving and decided to go to the movie theater that shows and English film at 4pm everyday. The film of the week was “The Day the Earth Stood Still” which got mixed reviews in our group. We then had dinner and met up for drinks with the other group of PCVs and friends who had just arrived earlier that day.

New Years Eve day we took a day trip to Gori, the birthplace of Stalin. It was about an hour and a half marshutka ride there then a 30 minute taxi ride to the mountains. Our destination; the Uplistsikhe cave town. This decision was a brilliant choice on our behalf and defiantly worth the ride. These cave dwellings date back to the 8th century BC and were created by native pagans. They had a theatre, bazaar, pharmacy, places of worship, wine making areas, dungeons, community areas and of course homes. People inhabited this area for many centuries eventually converting to Christianity and modifying the space. What is left is only 7% of what it once was. We had a guided tour in English accompanied by a great group of dogs. It was snowing all day and had been the day before so it was a challenging mountain climb slipping and sliding everywhere. Needless to say for me this was the highlight of the entire trip. The history and the view were breathtaking. On our way back we drove by the only Stalin statue in Georgia and his birth house, which is tiny.

Back in Tblisi we ate rested and got ready for new years festivities. We met up with the entire gang and went to get our faces painted. We wondered the streets eventually arriving at freedom square where the fireworks would be. There was a huge concert event and we were all in a mashpit-type crowd. Amazing fireworks! We then all made our way to a nearby bar and danced the night away. The next day we stayed home. I left for about an hour to go to the store and see if anything was open. After a night of drinking, we just wanted to rest and eat.

So day five we woke up bright and early to go to the Turkish bath. A Turkish bath is always a different experience. We were there at 8am when nobody else was so we did the communal area. We tried to communicate the best we could but we kept on being shuffled around by staff. Eventually we got to the bath which was a shower with hot sulfur water streaming down. We washed ourselves waiting for someone to come. We thought this might be it and so after a bit we went back out and were shuffled back in to get our scrub down and massage. The scrub down and massage hurt!! I couldn’t tell if I was just sore from all the walking and mountain climbing or if she was just being too rough. However, after all was said and done it did feel really good. We went to lunch and realized the roads were all iced over. We called Peace Corps to find that others were detained in Baku because of the danger of traveling on these roads. So our vacation was extended for a day to let the roads thaw. We went souvenir shopping around town and at an outdoor art bazaar. We went home and rested and decided that we would have Chinese food for our last night.

The ride home was long. The roads were still kind of bad and it was very cold. What a trip though! I put some pictures below of highlights.

Happy New Year,
Kat Zig

Disclaimer: “The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

Nov. 30th, 2008

“On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence.” ~William Jennings Bryan

I had much to be thankful for this year. So much in fact I celebrated Thanksgiving twice. My first Thanksgiving was on the 22nd in Barda. Barda is where my friends Mere and Ryan live and since Mere came to Goycay last year it as my turn to go to her this year. The new Barda volunteers were doing their site visit so I was able to meet them and we all spent a little time together on Friday. We also went shopping and to me and Meres’ delight we were able to find a small 11kilo frozen turkey! This is very rare as we have been told you could only buy live turkeys and they are very expensive. Not wanting the time consuming task of killing, plucking, and cleaning the turkey we had resigned ourselves to not having one. Things were looking up for our Turkey Day (turkey included)! Mere was up at 9am and put the turkey in the “oven,” I however slept till 11am. At around noon we began prepping the dishes that could be made a little early. The menu included:
• Turkey
• Mashed potato’s
• Biscuits and gravy
• Stuffing with fresh cornbread
• Peas
• Mac-n-cheese (Scooby Doo style)
• Pasta salad (spicy)
• Rice a Roni (that’s my peoples treat!)
• Cranberry sauce
• Banana nut bread (with craisins baked in)
• Chocolate pudding
• Boxed (already bad) wine and coke (Jesus-juice)
• Scrubs season 6 and Weeds season 4!
It was a great day of cooking and after that relaxing in our food coma while watching TV.

On the 27th Kelly and I invited our dearest Azeri friends to come and let us share thanksgiving with them in Goycay. Kelly and I spent the afternoon together cooking up a storm. Unfortunately, there was no turkey this time, but we had expected as much. Instead we had two little chickens marinated up the wazoo (literally!) Me and Kellys’ menu included:
• 2 Chickens
• Mashed potato’s
• Biscuits and gravy
• Stuffing with onions and mushrooms
• Peas and corn
• Green bean casserole
• Carrots sautéed with crushed peanuts and honey (better than yams!)
• Cranberry sauce
• “American” Apple crumble
• Azeri Champagne
This thanksgiving was fun for a different reason; because we got to share it with and explain it to our Azeri friends. In trying to keep with tradition, we went around the table and told what we were thankful for this year. I was most thankful for the people sitting around the table and the work I was able to accomplish this year.

All in all it was a great thanksgiving! Below are some pictures of the 2 meals!

Plump and delicious,
Kat Zig

Disclaimer: “The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

Nov. 17th, 2008

Nar Bayraminiz Mubarek! Happy Pomegranate Holiday!

Goychay is known for its long history of growing the “worlds best” pomegranates, certainly the best in Azerbaijan. So every year, for the last three years, Goycay has had a pomegranate festival. This year with a new local government the festival was a bit different. There was no biggest pomegranate contest or fastest pomegranate eating/juicing contests which disappointed me a little. However, there was plenty of fun to be had. We had a clown, tight rope walker, wrestlers, karate kids breaking boards, and a school orchestra. There were a few displays for the local pomegranate juicing companies on big truck flatbeds. They had tons of juice and pomegranate products but would not sell us anything. Luckily, we are American so we could convince them to give us some free juice. There was also a parade with horses and a huuuuuggggge Azeri flag carried by over 30 Azeri boys. The local government walked in the parade and the police let me and my friend, Tor, walk up to the front to get a good view. After that there were some speeches and then as the festival was ending it began to rain.

I had quite an eclectic group come to enjoy the holiday. There was a good amount of PCV’s that came from the other regions. As well as 3 PCV’s that just completed their service in Kazakhstan and 1 who just completed her service in Uzbekistan. There were 3 “couch surfers” visiting from Europe that joined our group as well. All in all I think we had about 15 people. We all wondered the festivities taking breaks from the crowd at my house when needed. It was a really good time. Below you will enjoy lots of pictures that will speak more for the festival than I can.

Still Kickin’
Kat Zig

Disclaimer: “The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

Oct. 31st, 2008

“I wanna be a lion tamer…”

Kelly and I just had a crazy Halloween day. Together we had a Halloween party at and for her school. We designed 6 activities: bobbing for apples, pin the tail on the black cat, what’s in the box, candy jar guessing game, fortune teller making, and mask making. Before we began we told the participants, approximately 50 kids, about Halloween. We explained how all Americans wear costumes like Kelly and I had on. We explained how we make jack-o-lanterns and what trick or treating is. We had our girls’ club members there to man stations for us and help translate.

In the first room was bobbing for apples, which is exactly what it sounds like, except we made it a relay race with teams of four. The first to get all the apples out of the bucket wins. Azeri’s don’t like to get dirty/messy and so sticking their face in a bucket of water was quite a feat. Also along the wall there were 3 boxes with holes in the front. They were labeled: cobwebs, worms, and blood! The kids would see the labels and then feel for themselves. None the less, pin the tail on the black cat seemed a little more approachable.

In the second room there was only arts and crafts for mask making and fortune teller making. We encouraged them to be creative. We had a great assortment of elaborate masks. For fortune tellers we taught them to make the paper fortune tellers you might remember from your childhood. They are the square ones that you hold with both hands and count pointing front and back then left and right revealing different numbers. They wrote their own fortunes and instead of colors on the outside there were witches, ghosts, pumpkins, spiders, mummies, monsters, and cats.

After all the kids had spent time at each station we got together for Kelly to tell everyone a ghost story, during which she screamed, and accordingly the entire room screamed with her. We announced the best guess of the candy jar guessing game and awarded the winner the jar of candy. Finally as everyone left they stopped by Kelly and me and said “tick or treat” and we gave them all candy.

It was quite an event that I’m proud to have been a part of. I think these kids understand Halloween a little better and more importantly had a good time. Below are some pictures of the event.

Happy Halloween!
Kat Zig

Disclaimer: “The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

Oct. 8th, 2008

“These are the times to remember…”

The AZ6’s have arrived although I have not met any of them yet. However, this weekend 4 AZ6’s will have a region visit to Goycay hosted by Kelly and I. I am very much looking forward to this visit. I have been reading some of their blogs; which makes me feel rejuvenated as I reminisce over my first year and how much I have changed and grown. It is also a testament to what a person can get used to. As I read their blogs I remember the things that were shocking to me and that bothered me, things I hardly notice now or that have become anticdotal. I will also be going as “staff” to lead sessions on organizational development and grant writing for the CED trainees.

I have had a good month. It is starting to get rainy and colder. I took two students to apply for the FLEX program (http://www.aifs.org/aya/flex/) and one student graduated to the second of three phases. The FLEX program sends students from Eurasia to America to live with an American host family and go to high school for a year. This is free of charge for the student and her family but they have to prove a certain level of English proficiency and open-mindedness to a different culture. My star student Husniyya is both of those things and I have only high hopes for her. For example, when you ask a girl what she wants to be when she grows up, you usually get one of three answers: teacher, doctor, or housewife. These are the culturally excepted jobs for women and coincidently the lowest paying jobs as well. When I asked Husniyya this question she said; “I want to be an Astronaut!” She then explained how her parents disapprove and how she is afraid to tell people of her true dreams. I do nothing but encourage this “out of the box” thinking and truly hope she gets a free year in America. If she does I will of course commit to visiting her wherever she is placed and perhaps even flying her to Berkeley to visit me and to see more of America. No matter what happens I am so proud of her!

I also found out today that my internet café for females was approved as amended; with slightly less computers as an initial investment. I think this is a progressive project and am very excited to begin its implementation. I continue to work on my marriage registration seminars. They have been going well with strong turnouts and good discussions.

That’s what is happening with me at the moment. I know I update this blog very irregularly and I am trying to be better about that. Below is a picture of Husniyya!

Much love to all of you,
Kat Zig

Disclaimer: “The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

Aug. 10th, 2008


So what have I been up to?? Where do I start!?!?! I have been so busy with work. Since I got here I have written 8 grants. One of which I have gotten and have begun work on, one that I just got word on Friday we were approved for, and one that is in the final stages of review, but looks very positive. Who knew I was a grant writer? Not me that’s for sure. I thought I’d only talk about the one I have begun work on in this blog.

So the project is basically informing women about the Azerbaijan Family code funded by the Norwegian Embassy. To briefly explain if women get divorced here the law states that the husband gets 100% of everything. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was or who asked for a divorce (which in this culture is only men anyways.) Women who have experienced divorce often have to orphan their children and move back in with their parents. This is because they don’t have money to support their children and a divorced woman is “spoiled” and will never be able to be married again. It’s a very tragic situation and although taboo happens much more often then people would like to believe.

Our project aims to reach over 150 young women from Khachmaz, Mingachevir, Zagatala and Lankaran regions on the Family Code and incite discussions of this issue within the regional population. We are doing this by conducting seminars and having informative discussions on talk shows on regional television stations. We talk about family and marriage explaining the juridical aspects. We inform these women about Family Code and Marriage Contracts. By using regional TV as a resource we hope to attract broad audience to have discussions on this issue. We hope this will lead to participation in the restoration of the violated women rights and create sense of self-confidence among women. Ultimately, our goal would lead to the prevention of women marrying without state registration. With this registration they will before marriage arrange what would happen to them in the event of a divorce.

This is a very difficult topic as people in America don’t like Pre-nups you can imagine how hard it is to have this discussion in a culture where divorce is so taboo and essentially ruins a women’s life. We have done a seminar in Balakan (a small city outside of Zagatala) as well as had a discussion on Zagatala’s "Ay-Gun" Regional Television station. I am of course not on TV, but I go to the seminars and watch the filming of our segments which are in all in Azeri language as they should be. So far I think this project has gone very well and I am enjoying the process. I am more involved with making sure the seminars run smoothly and are interactive and enjoyable.

Another project I have been working hard on is the revamping of a group of resource centers located in various regions previously run by the National Democratic Institute (NDI). Currently we are submitting documentation to create a new NGO (non- Government Organization) which is similar to a non-profit organization in America, that these resources centers will be members of and that NDI will grant fund. My counterpart will be the director and founder of this new NGO putting him in charge of all 7 resource centers. However, each resource center has a director and assistant full time staff of their own. Each resource center also has at least 2 computers with internet (free of charge for the community), daily/weekly newspapers from all over Azerbaijan (free of charge for the community to read), and a large meeting space.

The problem with these resource centers is that they don’t always function as they should. I have been to all the centers and they all vary in size and community activity. I am working on having Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) in the regions with the centers to use them and make sure the centers are open and see if they are being used. Just by you supporting them PCV’s will increase their activity. The idea is that these become truly Azeri run and owned resource centers as oppose to NDI owned and ran. This has proven to be a big job but I think it will also make a big difference in the Azeri community. The scope of this project is huge!

On top of that I am working on an English Language Resource Library that my ex-site mate Erin was unable to finish before the end of her close of service. I am creating a dewy decimal system for our books and creating a system and schedule for librarians. I also have my usual conversation clubs 3 days a week and my girls group once a week.

I have been told I’m the busiest volunteer in my group. I’m not sure if that is true but I rarely have time to myself in which I am not sleeping. In the time that I do I have I find myself learning/experimenting with cooking and becoming quite the chef. I have also adopted a kitten from another PCV’s cat. I named him Mo and have grown attached. I think for me “pet therapy” is a real necessity. Having Mo has made me much happier n my home life. I always knew I needed animals in my life, the difference in quality of life with a pet (for me) is remarkable.

I also went on vacation with MB and some family in May. We went to Italy and I had a great and relaxing time. It was a nice break from my busy schedule.

Below I have some pictures from my seminar in Balakan and one of MB and I in Italy.

Much love to all of you,
Kat Zig

Disclaimer: “The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

Jun. 30th, 2008

Ohhhh this one goes on the mantel!!!

Much love to all of you, I’ve been super busy! I’ll try and write something soon.
Kat Zig

Disclaimer: “The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

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