Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The End...

Not sure if anyone is still reading this, but I thought I'd check in one last time for a little closure. After twenty-seven months and a lot of hard work - we're back in the US of A. We're rebuilding our American life and trying to hold on to all the amazing truths we learned during our time in the Peace Corps. We've been floating between our families in Austin and Houston until we figure out the next step. We just got home from a week-long trip to Georgia - the state this time - to visit all our old friends. I got the chance to give a presentation about our Peace Corps service to my former students - freshmen when we left, seniors today - crazy weird. At the end of the presentation, I got to tell them a few of the lessons I've learned. I couldn't think of a better way to close out the blog than that. So, here it goes.

I've learned...

-To appreciate the chance I have as an American to question, to criticize, and to have a voice…
-To balance that criticism with a respect for the system that gives me such freedom…
- To “see myself as others see me”… that humility is not weakness but wisdom…
- To appreciate the rights I’m guaranteed as a woman and to fight for those around the world who are       denied those same rights…
- To take myself less seriously…
- To remember that “control” is an illusion…
- To  embrace who I am, not who I am “supposed to be”...
-That we all have the power to create and destroy – with our words as well as our deeds…with our actions as well as our failure to act…
- That the labels we use to identify ourselves often serve as nothing more than a wall to keep others out…
- That life exists beyond my dot on the map…

Here are a few shots from our time back at home, our trip back, and our last days in Azerbaijan.
Thanks for checking in on us. Here's to the next adventure.


Christmas Shenanigans on the Motor Bike 
The nieces - Lots of Sass Happening In This Shot...
Sunset in Beaukiss, Texas - Doesn't Get Much Better Than This...
The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
Best Graffiti Ever, Near Doolin, Ireland
Dingle, Ireland
Stone Fences, Near Dingle, Ireland
Ruins Near Dingle
Ireland, Near Dingle
The Sea of Galilee
Ruins at Capernaum 
The Salty Shore at the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea Up Close
Dustin Looking Over the Valley Below, Masada
View of the Dead Sea From the Top, Masada
On the Way Up, Masada
Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem 
Down The Via Dolorosa - A Shocking Mix of Old and New
Looking Over the Old City of Jerusalem from The Mount of Olives
In Tbilisi - The Cure for the Common...Anything!
The Best View In Tbilisi
In Tbilisi With My Girl!
Some of My Favorite People On the Planet - Who Runs The World? These Girls Will...
Saying Good-Bye to My AZETA Counterparts
The GABA Family
Best Cake Ever...
Dustin's Azeri Dance Steps At the GABA Farewell Party

Friday, October 5, 2012


Hello, Friends...
We are fast approaching our last days in Azerbaijan. Crazy talk.
We're painting over the words on our walls, throwing out our threadbare (and slightly brown-tinted) clothes, finalizing travel plans, and booking flights. Again...absolute crazy talk. I cannot believe that it's almost here. As many of you know, there were days when I did not think I would make it...the historic Rat Wars of 2012, for example. But here we are...and the better for it.  
Our days are now spent filling out piles of PC paperwork and trying frantically to make sure the projects we started here don't nose-dive once we're gone.  And maybe they will..and maybe that's okay. We did what we could with the time and resources we had and that's that. I just hope that's enough.
So, the big question is - what now? Since I don't know...I thought that I'd use some resources that the PC sent out to help us with "the next steps"... personality profiles, career aptitude evaluations, etc...that are meant to match us to our best career pathway.
Here are my results: Literature Teacher (thanks, magic computer), Funeral Director, Aerospace Engineer,Corrections Officer, get ready to don some black and dance your way into custody...and space...while I tell you a little bit about a crazy cool cat named Walt Whitman. Good Grief - I'm screwed.
I don't feel too bad...although Dustin's actually got a plan...a goal...a future...all that good stuff, he took the assessments with me. Here's what he got: Solid Waste Management Supervisor (so close), Botanist (not far off, mushroom hunter), Casino Pit Boss, Border Patrol Agent, Art Therapist. Really?? Really personality profiler?? I'd like to meet the person that created these algorithms or whatever-the-crap is matching us to our destinies and tell them that  they may need to re-think a hyphen or a bracket or whatever goes in an algorithm.
Who knows...all I know is that we're coming home in a month. Amen.

Here are a few shots from the last few weeks of summer and the start of fall... Enjoy.
See y'all soon!!

Recently Had a Promotional Event for RTW at the City's New (and Only) Cinema - 56 Girls...I'm With Some of RTW's Leaders Celebrating After the Movie
In Our Yard...So Pretty
Super Cheap Summer Favorites
Peace Corps Summer - Kiddie Pools and Cook Outs - Not Too Shabby
We're Big Fans of TED Talks (Check 'em Out)...and Dustin Helped Some Ganja Students Plan Their Own TED-X Event!
A Little Media Attention...
An Old Watchtower - Qax Region
Dustin's Main Counterpart Invited Us To His Family's Home in the Region of Qax - This is Their Backyard - Incredible
Dustin Took a Trip Into The Regions To Consult With Farmers About Funding / Small Business Grants - This Is One of Many Stops ... He was fed honey at just about every stop...and a spoonful of local pollen to go with it.

And Another...Can You Guess What He Ate Here?

Dustin Organized a Bird-Watching Trip For Local Youth With a Guide From the Azerbaijan Ornithological Society -- For Those of You That Know Dustin Well, You Know That This Was a Big Day...
Binoculars and All, Friends

The Bird Watching Crew...
All I found was this Turkey... 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Environmental Protection through Illustration and Action

Azerbaijan is at a critical junction and ripe for environmental investment. The 2010 Human Development Report, a United Nations publication, ranked Azerbaijan 67th out of 169 countries which indicates that food, industry, and security are at adequate levels to allow for attention to turn to environmental concerns. Although the general population in Azerbaijan recognizes environmental problems, trash on the ground, the sour smell of burning trash, and sediment and litter filled water ways, they have very little information or knowledge about what they can do to change these conditions. This project aims to not only educate youth and community members in Ganja about environmental protection, but also to illustrate a behavior change through relevant and realistic action that will lead the community towards accountability. The illustrations will provide an example of how to take control of their future and create self-help possibilities. After seeing the benefits of recycling, both economic and social, and learning about the importance of environmental protection, the community’s behavior towards trash will start to change.

Goal: To Increase Environmental awareness and accountability in the Ganja Community through, illustrating plastic recycling, water management, and environmental education.
-After 2 months, 20 project members will be trained on environmental protection and prepared as trainers for further training.
-After 7 months, 1000 kg of plastic will be collected from NGOs, restaurants, and community organizations.
-After 6 months, 600 youth (from 20 schools and community organizations) will have been informed about environmental protection, the project goal, and project planning through project member presentations.
- After 4 months, drip irrigation and environmental information signs will be installed in Ganja’s Nizami Monumental Park.
-After 6 months, a video will be created by project members documenting the project and sharing the projects message and accomplishments

A few pictures from one of our trainings....

Saturday, September 1, 2012

To My Brother...

There are things I fight for and things I fight against...
I fight to remember the contours of your face, the lilt in your voice...
I fight to hold tight to memories that are already wearing paper-thin...
I fight to find you in smells and sounds and sensations around me, a world away from you...
But I fight against turning you into a legend, a fictional hero, a snapshot of fleeting perfection.
You were flawed in brilliant and beautiful ways - and that's what the world fell in love with.
It is our imperfections that make us...that made you...authentic, original, breathtaking.
I fight to hold on to the reality of you, to the simplicity and goodness and brokenness that made you ours.

Always Fighting for You,

"Nothing is as it has been,
and I miss your face like hell,
and I guess it's just as well,
but I miss your face like hell."
                              - The Head and the Heart

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Little AZ

Happy End of July!! Congratulations to all of our friends expecting and bringing home little ones - we can't wait to meet them!
We've had an incredible month...exhausting, but incredible. Here are a few shots from the last month or so. Hope you enjoy them.

A "Ki├žik Toy" -- A Circumcision Party...Don't Ask
Top Left -- Momma Natavan and the uh...Lucky Boy
Top Right -- Kelly and Shahla
Bottom Left -- The Spread - They Don't Play Around
Bottom Right -- Kelly, Humay, and a Clown...Yep, There Are Clowns
After almost two years in Ganja, we're still discovering new things. The next three pictures are from a culture center hidden away in an old building on a side street near the government buildings. The mural is huge, but each image depicts a different traditional story. Pretty cool...

Mural Image, Culture Center -- Ganja, AZ

Mural Image, Culture Center -- Ganja, AZ

Mural Image, Culture Center -- Ganja, AZ
Summer tends to slow down in Ganja for a few reasons - one, most of our students are in university and many of them travel to their home regions during the summer time - and two, since the weather is usually crazy hot, many families leave the city and spend time in the mountains to get a little relief from the weather. So, that gave us a bit of time to do a little traveling of our own. We tried to take advantage of this lull and support a Peace Corps program at the same time. PCVs in AZ have set up a Community Based Tourism (CBT) program. It is an attempt to get tourists out into some of the most isolated but beautiful spots in the country. It's a great opportunity to have a truly authentic cultural experience. I've included a map to give it a little scope as well as pictures from most of our stops.

The Green Line = Our Summer Trip

Stop #1: Guba -- Our Friend, Joey, Leads Nightly Sing-Alongs in His Neighborhood in Guba, AZ

Stop # 2: Laza, AZ -- The View From Our Porch, Sheep and Waterfalls

Daisies in the Stream, Laza, AZ

Greater Caucasus Mountains, Laza, AZ

Hillside, Greater Caucasus Mountains, Laza, AZ

Laza Village, From the Hillside
KJ&D -- Greater Caucasus Mountains, Laza, AZ

Rock Formation, Laza, AZ

Stop #3: Sumgayit, AZ -- We stopped in Sumgayit to visit our host family from training. Lots of changes, but same incredible family.
Baby Muslim - Not So Baby Anymore - He's a Big Brother Now to Sister, Ferida

Dustin, Kama, and the Caspian Sea, Sumgayit

Monument in Sumgayit

Stop #4: Lerik, AZ -- Talysh Mountains

Dustin Getting Some Roadside Life Lessons From Our Hosts

Granite Formations - Talysh Mountains --  Lerik, AZ

Washing Hands at the Bulag (Spring) Before Heading Back to Town For the Night In The Old Lada -- Lerik, AZ