It’s time to get this blog thing started. It’s not the first post, but this is the first post I’ll make from Azerbaijan (I know–three weeks late. I blame jetlag, culture shock, sickness, and any other excuse one might come up with for a slow start in a new country.) Let me take this opportunity to set the scene.
We had our first sessions in the hotel in Philadelphia. Met some folks and frequented some local establishments with our fellow Peace Corps Trainees who are now in Mozambique. They had to leave Wednesday morning at 3am. We had the good fortune to be able to leave at 7:30.
Fast Forward: after losing (and then finding) one of our group during a 6-hour Frankfurt layover, we took off and were soon cruising into Azerbaijan atop the snow-capped Caucasus mountain range. After having flown into Salt Lake City atop snow-capped Rockies, these blew me away. They were gorgeous, ancient peaks.
Entering the Baku, AZ airport was like stepping into the 1950s. The smoky air and the pale yellows and greens made me think I should put my watch back about 50 years. Even on the televisions by the baggage claim Charlie Chaplin shows were playing. We only lost one bag among the 60 of us (Poor Jackie–but it showed up 2 days later before there were any serious issues). We we’re greeted by the Peace Corps country staff and a few current PCVs. An excellent welcoming committee. They ushered us to the Neapol Hotel, outside Baku and provided us a bag dinner which included a Snickers bar! The hotel was very nice (hot showers!) and we commenced orientation week (3 days) the following morning.
My roommates were Joe and Tim. Joe is taller than I am, from Detroit, and has spent the last few years in real estate, sales, and billboards. Tim has a strong interest in economics (I saw a Milton Friedman book in his bag) and also really enjoys using video and music editing programs. He was in a documentary that aired on PBS, called Roadtrip Nation. There were 57 others, many of whom you’ll meet through this blog (but not this post!)
Orientation was a pretty tame event, so I won’t to go into it very much–here’s just a few nuggets. We met fellow PCVs to give us a glimpse of their experiences and some nuggets of wisdom. Language classes started on the first day. Much of what we covered was acculturation to Azeri society (women don’t drink in public, men hang out and express a lot of man-love, staring is a common interaction) and some Peace Corps goals. The two topics that competed for the most time were language class (at least a few hours a day) and discussion of how to approach the bathroom situation (from every angle, position, and viewpoint). In short, the bathroom situation is a learn-as-you-go for nearly everyone. We wrapped up the 3 days with distribution of cellphones and water filters, and then headed to our host family sites.