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

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Summertime and the Living is Easy...Kind Of

First off - a little "hey, hey, hey" to my dad -- Happy, Happy Father's Day, Big Dave! We love and miss you so! Only 4.5 more months to go - then I'm counting on you to be my go-to Waffle House buddy!

KJ & Big Dave -- Thanks to Jennifer for all the Pictures...
Summer is officially is crazy hot, and things are busy. Summer camps are kind of a PCV's bread and butter in the summer time. We've got two under our belts so far - Balaken (a region on the northern border) Art Camp and Girls' Soccer Camp. This week, my Run the World club starts a girls' hip-hop dance camp. So - only a few weeks into summertime, and we're already exhausted. We're hoping to use July to unplug for a bit and do our last tour of Azerbaijan. Crazy...
Here are a few shots from our first two camps. Hope you enjoy them. See you soon!

An Azerbaijani Bank funded a soccer camp in the regions this past week for girls ages 11-15. It is very rare to see girls participating in any athletic events here. So, it was great to see these girls getting excited and physical - very cool. A few of the girls that came to camp live at a local shelter for children - families who can't take care of them due to death in the family, financial problems, abuse, etc. - The first day of camp, we were walking to the field, and two of the girls were walking with me, holding my hands. They were trying to get to know me and trying to make simple conversation in Azeri that I could understand. One pulled on my hand and said -- "Do you have any sisters?"so I said, "Yes,I have sisters." A few seconds later, a tug on my other arm - "Do you have any brothers?" ... "Yes, I have a brother." Silence...more walking. A tug from the other side, "Do you have a mom?"..."Yes, I have a mom." Right away from the other side - "Do you have a dad too?"... "Yes, I have a dad too."
At that point, both girls stopped in their tracks. Still clinging to my hands, they looked at me with shock in their expressions. "You are so lucky," they said, "you have everything."
Broke me in often I forget that I do have everything as long as I have the people I love...hoping I never lose sight of that truth.

A Few Shots From Balaken Arts Camp - Dustin brought his Environmental Club students to lead a session at the camp. At the end of the week, his My Mic crew came to lead a start-up in Balaken. Thanks to the Balaken PCVs for a great time!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

"I Know, I Know For Sure...

...That Life Is Beautiful Around the World" - Red Hot Chili Peppers

We just got back from a two week trip around the west coast of Turkey - Istanbul to Channakale (Troy / Gallipoli) to Selchuk (Ephesus) to Patara Beach. It's an amazing feeling to know the history that's lived just beneath your feet - Xerxes, Constantine, Alexander the Great...really incredible. We had a great time - it was a wonderful opportunity to sit back and re-evaluate where we are and where we want to be in the next few years. With five months to go in Azerbaijan, we're getting very excited about what's to come. Starting over will be a little daunting, I'm sure - but we're ready.
Here are a few shots from our trip - hope you enjoy them.
Love y'all!

Famous Iznik (Nicean) Tiles - Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
The Sultan's Library - Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

An Exterior Wall of the Topkapi Palace - From the Palace Gardens

The Hagia Sophia - Istanbul

A Mosaic Uncovered in the Hagia Sophia

View of the Blue Mosque from a Window of the Hagia Sophia - Istanbul

Inside the Hagia Sophia - The Church of Holy Wisdom -- First A Church, Later Converted Into a Mosque, Now a Museum...

Inside the Blue Mosque - Istanbul

The New Mosque, Near the Egyptian Bazaar, Istanbul

Stone Wall Outside of St. George Monastery, Prince's Islands - Istanbul -- The Wax Drippings Run the Length of the Entire Wall  - They Are All That Remains of Years Worth of Pilgrims' Prayers

Trojan Horse Replica - Troy

Ruins @ Troy
Ruins @ Troy

Poppies in the Ruins - Ephesus

Ruins @ Ephesus
KJ&D - Library Ruins - Ephesus

KJ&D - Ephesus
Amphitheater - Ephesus
Ruins of the Church of Mary - Ephesus

Ruins of the Church of Mary - Ephesus
Ruins of the Basilica of St. John - Ephesus
Ruins of the Basilica of St. John - Ephesus

Patara Beach - Exploring...
Patara Beach - The View From My Towel...Doesn't Get Much Better Than This...
Patara Beach - From the Cliffs

The View From Our Hotel - To Get to the Beach, You Walk Through an Active Dig Site - You Can See The Theater Ruins in the Background Here...

KJ&D - Patara Beach