The End of Training and the Daily Life of a New Volunteer

Davachi Travel Blog

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The upstairs living room. Most cold nights I am in here huddled next to the heater.

Now that the official Peace Corps pre-service training has finished, things have settled down quite a bit.  The hustle and bustle of long mornings studying Azeri and afternoon teacher training sessions, mixed with drinking sessions at the dove statue in Sumqayit whenever time limits, and travel restrictions, allowed, is now over.  Excuse the boring content of this particular entry, but it is December 16th and I feel like reflecting.

I am now a volunteer instead of a trainee.  This came with a ceremony, some free food and more media exposure.  I was even on TV, so I am told.  According to at least 100 students and four teachers at my school, I was on national TV waving at someone.

A great example of a typical Azeri home. In pretty much every city you will see houses like this.
  Don’t forget that this is the second time I’ve been on Azeri national television.

To any and all who are interested in what a Peace Corps volunteer does on a daily basis, this is what I personally do:

I wake up around 9:00, since I don’t have any classes to observe or to teach until later.  Every morning when I go to the bathroom, I do so to a huge mural of the former Azeri president set in a backdrop of the country’s flag, his head perfectly framed in the bathroom window right in front of my face.  His picture is everywhere, so it is of no surprise that I can see one from that angle.

At this point in the day I try to study the language, learn some new words, etc.

Daily I eat breakfast to a chorus of the same questions.

Shower on the left, toilet straight ahead.
  “Did you sleep well?” “Was it cold in your room?” “Is it cold outside?” “Are you cold?” “Do you like bread?” The question “are you cold?” is given to me at least 100 times by various family members throughout the course of the day.  Sometimes I tell them the truth, that yes I am cold but that it doesn’t bother me.  Sometimes I mix things up and tell them that in fact it is really hot this time of year.  The questions seem to stem from the fact that I don’t wear four layers of clothing like they do and that I would rather sleep in a cold room by myself than in a warm room with the rest of the family.

I walk to school in a chorus of “allo!allo!” being screamed at me from all directions by the children.  It is especially funny when some kid from the third floor window of the school will yell “Vat is yor name!” I know if I were a student, I would find it extremely funny to yell something like that at a person from America.

This is the backyard. In the spring these trees have plenty of fruit on them.
  The great thing is that it distinguishes the respectful students from the disrespectful ones.  If some child asks for a name from a third story window, that child is mocking me and I can pay no heed.  If a child comes up to me, shakes my hand and asks me my name, then I can expect a pleasant conversation.

There are more students who yell “allo! allo!” at me than those who actually have a conversation with me, but the latter tends to stand out.  I try to ignore the former.

After classes, I walk around town or I read some books or I watch some movies.  I try to spend some time with the host family in the only warm room in the house.  I’m very new to the community so there isn’t much to do yet in the evenings.  This is sure to change as I integrate, make friends, develop projects for the afternoon, etc.

This dog hates me right now. Slowly we are making friends.

Walking around town is one of my favorite things to do, even though it is very cold here.  For example, today while walking to the market in a quest to buy a plastic water bottle, I passed a huge trash pile.  There were a few dogs and a flock of geese scavenging there.  The geese were hissing and generally making a scene because one of the dogs, which couldn’t have been older than a year, had wandered close to them looking for food.  The geese were freaking out, but the dog was completely oblivious to the geese’s presence.  It was very funny and I wish I had my camera with me.

I start getting tired around 9:00, start thinking about sleeping at around 10:30.  I fill my nights with my usual hobbies which consist of books, video games, writing and watching movies.

This cat, however, loves me

Davachi itself doesn’t have any public internet places.  My country director was right when he told me that Davachi is a big town, but it acts like a small town.  Modern conveniences, such as public internet, aren’t necessary in this part of the world, despite the fact that 30,000 people live here.  As such, I have to travel to Siyazan to use their internet.

The family here is both good and bad in many ways.  Sure, the host mother and sister do my laundry and cook me food.  They clean my room too.  I am convinced that the entire family genuinely cares about me.  That is why I get mixed and confusing feelings when they do things like ask me for a loan, make me buy my own blankets, not provide a lock for my door and, as the boy in the family does, laugh at me whenever I talk.  The host mom talks so much, without ever allowing me a window to speak myself.  It is almost funny when she rapid fire asks me three questions, and then before I can even answer the first remarks under her breath, or to another family member, about how I can’t understand her.  She is constantly telling me what to do (for example, open your room door, don’t take a shower, etc), and I have to negotiate almost every decision I make.  She will ask me, sometimes 10 times a meal, if I like the particular food is good or not, and then not believe me when I tell her.  It is emotionally draining to want to show gratitude to her while at the same time wanting to scream whenever she is around.

Sometimes it can get quite comical in the house here in Davachi.  When I am around the family, every movement I make is narrated by the host mother, but she uses commands.  For example, when I walk down the stairs I hear “come, Corey, come.” Walking into the room, I usually look for a seat to sit on, and when I do sit down, she says “sit, Corey, sit.” Mind you, she doesn’t say this before I take my seat, she says it while I am in the action of sitting down.  It is in every aspect, except perhaps grammatically, a narration.  If I take a bite to eat she frequently chants “eat, Corey, eat.” When I drink some tea she will announce “drink, Corey, drink.” When I leave, I leave to the soft sound of “go, Corey, go.”

Occasionally, several family members will also chant in chorus.

Today I got angry during dinner.  The food was great, but with every bite they would question whether I liked the food.  Every act I would take was narrated via commands, and they kept on putting more food on my plate.  It might have been okay except for the fact that they had made me eat 30 minutes earlier.  They had bought some chicken sausage and for some reason wouldn’t let me read my book till I had eaten two of them and a big piece of bread.  During dinner, two more pieces of sausage were put on my plate, which was fine because I wasn’t full yet.  Then, when I was almost done, the host mother picked up the plate and put it right in front of my face.  “Eat, Corey, eat,” she pleaded with me.

“Right now, I don’t want any,” I replied.

“Eat, Corey, eat.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Eat,” she said as she picked up the sausage and put it on my plate.

I lost my temper.  I didn’t shout, I didn’t swear, but I was visibly angry as I picked the piece of sausage up, off of my plate, and put it down on the table in front of me.  “I don’t want it,” I said, enunciating slowly.

At this point I was trying to calm myself down, preparing for the inevitable “are you angry” that was sure to come my way.  I would have accepted any variation on that, including something like “God damn it, don’t you talk to us that way.” I was ashamed.  I would have deserved it.  Instead, I looked around at the family and saw that none of them stopped, not even for a second, to look at me.  They kept on eating.  The host mother kept on narrating.  Absolutely nothing happened.

Perhaps it is the culture that accepts outbursts like that, perhaps the family finds it normal.  Perhaps they are so used to foreigners and our crazy mood swings that it doesn’t bother them, though I doubt that since it boggles their minds to no end that I want to do things like shut my bedroom door occasionally.

The reality, in my opinion, is that this is just some culture shock setting in and that I shouldn’t take much of it seriously.  I need to realize that if at all possible, I need to keep my wildly shifting emotions in check, to not make hasty judgments of anything in this country yet and to not take out any frustrations on real people.  Luckily I have convinced them that I like to be alone a lot and I can deal with things in the privacy of my own room before walking downstairs, hearing the narration of my every move and presenting a happy face to a family that is trying their hardest to accept a foreigner in their lives.

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The upstairs living room.  Most co…
The upstairs living room. Most c…
A great example of a typical Azeri…
A great example of a typical Azer…
Shower on the left, toilet straigh…
Shower on the left, toilet straig…
This is the backyard.  In the spri…
This is the backyard. In the spr…
This dog hates me right now.  Slow…
This dog hates me right now. Slo…
This cat, however, loves me
This cat, however, loves me
photo by: cbstevens