January 19, 2009


This is the story of Flat Rachael.

Flat Rachael is a paper girl who was made at school one day by my cousin's daughter, Rachael. Rachael's class made lots of little flat children who could travel to far away places and send back pictures and stories.

Flat Rachael was very brave and traveled all the way from Wisconsin to Azerbaijan in a big envelope. Azerbaijan is a small country between Russia and Iran.

It has lots of oil and natural gas. It also has lots of sheep and pomegranate trees. Even though it's very small it has mountains, forests, deserts, big lakes and the Caspian sea. In the north the weather is cold like Wisconsin but in the south the weather is hot and humid like Florida. Azerbaijan even has mud-volcanoes! A mud-volcano isn't hot like lava-volcanoes. Mud-volcanoes are places where gas in the ground mixes with the dirt and water and makes mud bubble up from the ground.

Flat Rachael came in the fastest envelope she could but it took more than one month before she arrived in the capital city, Baku. It took so long she had to spend Christmas Day alone in her envelope! But on December 31st, New Year's Eve, she finally arrived at the Peace Corps office where I was able to take her out of the envelope and introduce her to some of the other Peace Corps Volunteers.

On New Years Eve it snowed so hard that the buses stopped running and we couldn't go back to my home. Flat Rachael had to stay with me and the other volunteers in the office! I didn't think it was very comfortable but Flat Rachael said she liked it better than her envelope. We watched lots of movies, played games, and Flat Rachael made lots of new friends.

Finally, after 2 nights at the office we were able to go to my home in the north-east of Azerbaijan. I live in the city of Quba(spelled 'Kuba' on the map). I live in a house with a host family. They are very nice people. My host-family was very happy to meet Flat Rachael. Here's a picture of Flat Rachael eating dinner with them.

After spending so long in her envelope, meeting so many new people at the Peace Corps office, a 4hour bus trip to Quba and then eating a big meal, Flat Rachael was very tired so she took a long nap in my room.

The next day Flat Rachael and I went to work. I work at the Ministry of Economic Development. Azerbaijan is a poor country so we try to help people start new businesses, make better businesses, give trainings and lots of other things. There Flat Rachael met the director of the Ministry, Matlab. Matlab is a very smart man who can speak more than 5 languages! He can speak Azerbaijani, Russian, English, Arabic, Chinese and a little bit of Hebrew and Leski.

Behind Matlab and Flat Rachael you can see a picture of Ilham Aliyev on the wall. He is the president of Azerbaijan. He was elected president for the second time last October. Before him his father was president and some people think his wife will be president next!

In the afternoon we went to an office called Transparency Azerbaijan where some of my friends work. Transparency is an organization that tries to stop corruption and make life better for regular people. They also have free internet for people who want to study and another Peace Corps Volunteer in Quba teaches about America, democracy and English there. Flat Rachel talked to the students in the class and showed them where Wisconsin is on the map. The students were very surprised to learn that Wisconsin and Azerbaijan are almost the same size!

For the next few days Rachael stayed in Quba. She met lots of people, did lots of things with my host family and learned alot about Azerbaijan.

In Azerbaijan people eat lots of bread. Bread is so important that the word for 'bread', 'CHOREK', is also the word for 'food' or 'meal'. My host family bakes their own bread in an old stone oven. They usually make flat, round loaves of brown bread that looks kinda like a pizza crust. It's very good and much healthier than the white bread you get at the supermarket. Here is a picture of Flat Rachael helping to make the bread.

She also helped my host mother to make a traditional food called 'dolma'. Dolma is rice, meat & spices wrapped inside grape leafs or sometimes cabbage. It is our favorite food in Azerbaijan.

One day she taught my host sister English and my host sister taught her Azerbaijani. She learned that 'Hello' is 'Salam' and that 'thank you' and 'good-bye' are the same word, 'sag olun'.

Another day she visited an old graveyard and discovered that in Azerbaijan, when somebody dies, they often engrave a picture of that person on the gravestone.
She also found out that until around 1920 the Azerbaijani language was written in Arabic. But then the Soviet Union took over so everyone had to write Azerbaijani in the Russian alphabet. When the Soviet Union fell apart about 15 years ago everybody changed to Latin letters that look like English. In an old graveyard you can see gravestones written in all those ways! If you look close you can see the old brown stones are written in the Russian alphabet but the new ones on the right are in the modern Latin alphabet.

Next to the cemetery she visited an eternal flame memorial for the people who died here during WWI. It's a sad place but it was nice to get warm next to the fire on a cold day.

When we got home she was cold again so she spent the rest of the day sitting in a chair next to the heater drinking hot tea. Tea is called "chai" in Azerbaijani.

Another day we went to a seminar with some other Peace Corps Volunteers and talked about our jobs and how to teach English. Peace Corps Volunteers have many different jobs. Some of us do business work or community development (like President Obama used to do in Chicago), some do youth development and others teach English in the schools. Flat Rachael talked to one of the Volunteers who teach English and she was very surprised to learn that most kids in Azerbaijan only go to school for half a day. Some children go in the morning and some go in the afternoon! Flat Rachael wanted to go to school here but then she found out that most schools don't have heaters or air conditioning, most don't have clean toilets, and if your a naughty child the teacher can spank you with a stick!

That night we went home and made spaghetti for the host family. The stove in the house doesn't work very good now so we have to cook on the patio on a 'gas-bubble'. A gas-bubble is a burner on top of a steel can of natural gas. Its kinda like camping.

Later she went out to the garden in the backyard and made a snowman. A “gar adam” in Azerbaijani.

People of many different religions live in Azerbaijan and they have freedom of religion here. In Quba there are more than 10,000 Jewish people; more than anywhere else in Azerbaijan. But, about 95% of Azerbaijani's are Muslim. Christianity has three major groups; Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox. Islam also has 3 major groups; Shi'ite, Sunni and Sufi. Most Azerbaijani's are Shi'ite. This year January 7th was the Shi'ite holiday of Ashura. Ashura is a holiday to remember the death of an important man when the religion was just beginning. On Ashura Flat Rachael saw many, many people going to the mosques and she could hear the music and singing all day. It was very interesting. Outside one of the mosques she met a nice boy named Bagr. Bagr taught her many things about Ashura and Quba.


One of the things she learned is that Azerbaijani people don't like to smile in photographs! See, Bagr wouldn't smile in this picture no matter how many jokes we told him. Even in wedding photos nobody smiles. People here take pictures very seriously.

But when Bagr took a picture of Flat Rachael and I both had big smiles.

Well, thats the end of the story for now. Flat Rachael is going to travel around Azerbaijan for a little bit longer and she'll tell you more stories and pictures of her adventures. If you have any questions for Flat Rachael and me we would be happy to answer :)

Until next time,

Sag olun!





ma said...

you done good kidlet!! i sent word & .pdf files of it to both rachael and her grandma along with the link to the blog. thank you!!

Jenni said...

This is really sweet, thanks for posting!