2008.06.07: June 7, 2008: Headlines: COS - Azerbaijan: The World: Jeff Bailey writes: Peace Corps moments in Azerbaijan

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By Admin1 (admin) (70.250.245.178) on Sunday, July 13, 2008 - 11:11 pm: Edit Post

Jeff Bailey writes: Peace Corps moments in Azerbaijan

Jeff Bailey writes: Peace Corps moments in Azerbaijan

The Caspian Sea reminded me of how far away I was from my old home on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and the call to prayer made me realize what that distance meant. Now, even though Iíve moved to a different town for my service, I hear the prayer from the mosque every day at sunset, and Iím still profoundly reminded of where I am. This kind of reflection also seems to happen when Iím riding public transportation ó a bus. Actually, calling a marshutka a bus might be a bit generous. A converted van might more accurately describe how I get from town to town. Riding in the van, which is filled to capacity (plus one, with chickens), has come to be an indispensable part of my Peace Corps service. The bumpy roads, crowded seats (which would fit two people in America, but somehow fit four people here), and the glimpses into the lives of others have all led to several Peace Corps Moments. The comfort factor alone makes me realize how far away from home I am. As we drive, I also get little snapshots of guys herding their livestock or of women washing clothes in their yard. I donít think it necessarily depicts life in Azerbaijan for the local people, but it does represent my place here. Iím here for two years and then Iím gone, as if I was just driving by. Whatever discomforts come with living in a developing country are only temporary for me, and anyone else in the Peace Corps, no matter what country we are in.

Jeff Bailey writes: Peace Corps moments in Azerbaijan

Peace Corps moments
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I find the moments that remind me that Iím in the Peace Corps to be fascinating. These times are what I call ďPeace Corps Moments.Ē They not only fit into the stereotype of Peace Corps service, but also seem like events that have come to define my service. I can turn to the volunteer next to me and simply say ďPeace CorpsĒ and they will understand exactly what Iím talking about. Iíve found examples that illustrate this, dating all the way back to the beginning of my Pre-Service Training.

I, along with the other volunteers, had just left our week-long orientation in northern Azerbaijan, and were taken to our host families for the first time around the end of June (2007). The mood was anxious and hopeful. As I was unpacking, I stopped for a moment to look out the window of my new room for a view of the Caspian Sea. The sun began to set, and as soon as it crept out of view, the call to prayer began to play from the local mosque. It was a hymn distinctly sung in Arabic, and could be heard at the far reaches of the town.

The Caspian Sea reminded me of how far away I was from my old home on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and the call to prayer made me realize what that distance meant. Now, even though Iíve moved to a different town for my service, I hear the prayer from the mosque every day at sunset, and Iím still profoundly reminded of where I am.

This kind of reflection also seems to happen when Iím riding public transportation ó a bus. Actually, calling a marshutka a bus might be a bit generous. A converted van might more accurately describe how I get from town to town. Riding in the van, which is filled to capacity (plus one, with chickens), has come to be an indispensable part of my Peace Corps service.

The bumpy roads, crowded seats (which would fit two people in America, but somehow fit four people here), and the glimpses into the lives of others have all led to several Peace Corps Moments. The comfort factor alone makes me realize how far away from home I am. As we drive, I also get little snapshots of guys herding their livestock or of women washing clothes in their yard.

I donít think it necessarily depicts life in Azerbaijan for the local people, but it does represent my place here. Iím here for two years and then Iím gone, as if I was just driving by. Whatever discomforts come with living in a developing country are only temporary for me, and anyone else in the Peace Corps, no matter what country we are in.

My last example happened last weekend. A fellow volunteer and I decided to play frisbee. As we tossed the disc around, some local kids from the apartment building next to the field came over and watched in bewilderment. They were probably just as infatuated with the frisbee as they were with the two Americans throwing it. They crept closer and closer to us, too unsure to simply ask to play.

For background, Iím extremely skeptical of young Azerbaijani boys. If someone is laughing at the American on his way to school, or not paying attention in my English class, itís probably an Azeri boy. So I was disappointed when a crowd of them started to gather around our little frisbee session. I thought the fun was over.

We tossed the frisbee to them and asked them if they wanted to play, and after a short learning curve and some initial reluctance they started to get the hang of it. As they started to reassess their lack of enthusiasm for something new and different, I started to think about the stereotypes I had built up about them. We had a great time playing all afternoon. When they asked us if we were going to come back tomorrow, it made me feel like I belonged to the community, instead of being simply the outsider who happened to live there. I turned to my friend, Matt, and said ďPeace Corps.Ē He nodded his head in agreement.

In these times that Iím reminded about my Peace Corps service, I pause not only to notice the moment itself, but also the fact that being here no longer seems strange. Iíve gotten so used to a routine. It all feels natural to me by now. Every now and then I need to be reminded of where I am and what Iím doing.

ó Jeff Bailey graduated from Marshfield High School in 2002 and maintains a web blog at www.northwestjeff.wordpress.com




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