I’m a Real Volunteer!
Featuring all the big shots in Azerbaijan, we had our Peace Corps Swear-In Ceremony last night! I’m officially a volunteer! Up until now, I’ve been a trainee, hanging out in the purgatory of Peace Corps service, Pre-Service Training. Now we get moving on to our permanent sites and start saving the world like we planned. I’ve negotiated an extra day before I head out to Lǝnkǝran, so I can travel there with a volunteer who started last year, Jaclyn. She’s in town, so we’re going to meet her at the Baku bus station, and let her lead us home to Lǝnkǝran from there.
Some highlights from the Swearemony include speeches from three government ministries, the head of the Sumqayit executive committee, our Peace Corps country director, and the Charge d’Affaires from the US Embassy (there is currently no US Ambassador to Azerbaijan). It was all very exciting, cameras everywhere, certificates and pins galore, and then we walked across the stage. Following that was the real treat: three speeches from our class of trainees. The first two were delivered by Jeff and Stephanie, prepared and delivered in Azerbaijani (impressive!), and the last was given by Peter, an American originally from Kenya, who spent years in a UN refugee camp, and then came to the US and has now completed his studies at the University of Florida. While the first two speeches were great, Peter’s was a moving testimony. By American standards, Azerbaijanis are quite racist, and anyone who isn’t white can’t be American. Therefore, Peter and the volunteers with non-Caucasian heritage couldn’t possibly be American. Of course, this is ridiculous. Yet, Peter’s speech was powerful because it made a clear statement about his American-ness.
Following that speech, we concluded the ceremony with refreshments, pictures, and mingling. And then we retired to a çayxana to have a celebratory beer. All in all, an excellent way to wrap this up. I’ll be meeting with my organization, Araz Credit Union, when I get to Lǝnkǝran, and I’ll also meet my new host family. And I get to do all my introductions over again–except this time only in half-broken Azerbaijani, instead of completely broken Azerbaijani.