March 23, 2009


Recent Events

Work -
Work at the Ministry continues. From my point of view the Ministry of Economic Development does little perceivable economic development work. At the local branch level it seems only to write reports for Baku, monitor local prices for foodstuffs & building material, to review contract proposals for area government projects & to offer consultation on credit and a governmental business development fund. Tasks my language level leave me unequipped to assist in.

Further, I've learned that the local branches don't have any budget at all. If desks, computers and the like are needed it must be requisitioned from Baku. There is no company car. The price monito must use his own car to make site visits. Common office supplies like pens and paper must be bought out of pocket, as must expenses for necessary business trips to surrounding cities. They must then request reimbursement from Baku. Generally these requests are ignored. The office only recently received a printer/fax machine. Internet is required to do the work that our office does yet we don't have any connection in the office. Requisitions to Baku for this service have apparently not yet been answered. In order to access the memos/orders sent from Baku to the office, to e-mail reports & to complete research we must use a computer at the computer resource center offered by the anti-corruption organization, Transparency, at the office across the hall from ours.

Pay, though significantly more than mine, is extremely low. PCVs currently receive about 100AZN per month. I hear that government officials start at about 150AZN/month. Common part-time teachers reportedly start at more than 100AZN/month but average at about 200AZN + whatever fees they can charge for tutoring, etc.

I have been working increasingly with an organization called the Quba Marketing Center. It began about 6-7 years ago as the local face for some projects being conducted by the OSCE and USAID. For 4 years it was primarily responsible for conducting trainings, seminars, and consultation for local business as part of USAID's ABAD project. The ABAD project worked in 6-7 sites across Azerbaijan working threw local “marketing centers”. At the end of the project the marketing centers were all to be privatized and left to survive on their own. Only two survived. Quba Marketing Center incorporated as an LLC the other I believe registered as a non-profit and though ostensibly still local, its employees & directors all operate out of Baku. The QMC has been operating as an independent for-profit business for a bit over a year now, maintaining client relations and keeping up with market research but has had trouble explaining to area small & under-developed businesses why they would want to pay for QMCs services.

Back between Chrismas and New Year I helped QMC write a proposal to be hired as the local implementation partner for USAID's Private Sector Competitiveness Enhancement Project(PSCEP). PSCEP is a project that is funded by USAID, subcontracted to a development company called Chemonics, which will implement a program based in 5 geographical areas of Azerbaijan where local business development service organizations will identify areas of greatest growth potential, develop and conduct seminars & trainings on closing gaps in the value chain, creating associations between business, modern methods, technology, finance options, export requirements, etc, and to find local business which is open to bringing in equity investors amongst other things. We found out just recently that, subject to some final negotiations, our proposal has been accepted.

I could easily work on this project full time. But, I'm not interest in limiting myself to just one organization on just one project(no matter how large-scale and important it may be).
Some other irons in the fire include -

Working with other volunteers in the area to improve their skills in teaching English & leading conversation clubs.
Developing relationships with business & organization leaders in the area in preperation for running some focus groups & meetings to see what the locals think their community needs.
Helping the AZ5 YD Volunteer in my town create a practicum(internship/job shadow) program for local youth in a variety of businesses.

This last seems the most important. The concept of an internship is relatively unknown in Azerbaijan. While it used to some extent in Baku it is unknown in the Rayons(the regions outside of the capital). I will write more about this in another post.

PCV Life

PCVs in our “First Finger of Azerbaijan” been having monthly potluck meals. A food theme is selected and we all meet at someones house with whatever we could make for that theme. Currently every one is staying with host-families making this process very difficult. Some places are to small, others are just nervous to have too many foreigners in their homes, others freak out about having mixed groups of males and females. This last I'm still a bit fuzzy about, not sure if their worried about “what will the neighbors say?” or if they're concerned we will be a bunch of sex-maniacs or…..
So far we've had Chrismas, Mexican, Asian, and next week we're doing “whatever side dish you can make that doesn't need warming up because our house only has 1 burner, no oven and no microwave”. It's also Jake's(an AZ6 YD) birthday. Good food, good times, time to unwind and share experiences/advice(“reflection” is the hippy jargon keyword used daily at PST).

AZ6 was apparently the first group in this country to make it all the way threw training and Swearing-In without losing someone to either ETing or ASing(read ass-ing) or early COSing. ET = Early Termination; the Trainee/Volunteer decides to quit for whatever reason. Could be problems here, problems at home, disliking the job/country, could be getting a better offer, etc. Could be any reason. AS= Administrative Seperation; bureaucratic for “fired”. This can happen for gross incompetence(though that very rarely happens), obstinate refusal to adapt to the most important cultural rules(wearing shorts/halter top, smoking and drinking in your community if you're a TEFL) or most likely a rule violation of some sort. As always this last can be a matter of politics and personality. ASing doesn't happen very often, in the vast majority of cases you'll simply be asked to ET and thats almost impossible to fight. Finally, early COS= Close Of Service. COS usually happens at the end of the 27month contract but can happen early if one is diagnosed with health problems that can't be treated effectively in country(or within a month or two back in DC), if the country is evacuated(as happened in Georgia when the Russians invaded last August), or a few other rare reasons.
We were apparently the first group where everyone Swore-In. 61 people is a fairly large number of folk to do that. Well about a month after swearing in and moving to permanent site we lost one. Then in this last month two of my friends have left. It would be inappropriate to write about other folks personal decisions but one left due to family concerns and another because of problems at site and having a better offer back home. And then there was 58. Fortunately I am close enough to Baku that I was able to get to go and see them off both times. Good bye kids, ya'll are going back to a better place.

A few weeks ago I went to the 27th birthday party of a fellow who comes to the Transparency office fairly often. The birthday party was about 8 men sitting around the table with a few courses of food and lots of drinks. The women folk all partied and ate in the kitchen and from time to time the birthday-boy's mother would bring the next course. First was baked chicken pieces that are then placed in beaten egg & scrambled(a boneless version in Japan is called “oyako” = “parent & child”), then stewed mutton fried with greens, and finally “plov”; what we might call pilaf. Basically just rice cooked with some veggies or meat in it then baked so that the rice on the bottom of the pot turns a crunchy brown then flipped out onto a serving dish. And along side it all was the normal green onions & other fresh greens, fruits, pickled cabbage, peppers, tomatoes & cucumbers. All good stuff. The only woman that sat at the table and joined the party was Jill, the AZ5 PCV in Quba. Of the guests, only half of us were drinking. The birthday-boy isn't a drinker but his father offered frequent vodka toasts. Later the birthday-boy gave us a walking tour of his part of the village. Nugedi #1(there is a villiag on the other side of the river called Nugedi #2; the Soviets weren't very imaginative apparently) is a big, spread out, fairly well-to-do, farming village. Between the 2 Nugedi's there are about 18,000 people, the same as Guba City but the houses are all spread out even more so than in the US. Chickens, geese, turkeys, sheep, goats & cows wandering free with only one real paved road and plenty of mud and rock lanes. While there are a number of the usual ramshackle old houses and hovels that one usually finds in villages here, there are also a number of large stone houses, some new some old, some almost mansion sized.

Pictures to be added when I get to a faster 'net connection.

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