Friday, November 5, 2010

Coming Soon to the United States: Linda and Denney Rives

We have tried to keep up with the election process. We voted absentee and have reviewed the results. Even when we are in the minority, we definitely have an even greater appreciation for our democratic process. We can feel confident that our votes are counted.
The parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan are this Sunday November 7. There will be a few hundred international observers to view the process. A few long term observers are here now and have observed the pre-election procedures. We have had the privilege to meet two of the long term observers from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). They have observed elections in several countries and their experiences have been enlightening to hear.
We have shared dinner with them on three occasions. Linda prepared fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and we shared our cherry cheese cake. We know they will never forget us after having had basically the same meal or two for almost 6 weeks.
We are so fortunate to have all our freedoms in the United States, but freedoms bring responsibility. We want to be even better citizens and we certainly will be more grateful for the American way of life.

We are within a few days of our return. And the photos are of good-byes.
Maybe it is time to come home when:
It is easier to see through your underwear than the water.
You dream about a good bed.
You wake up at 2:00 a.m. 2 weeks before you are leaving to think about what to pack.
You have said your goodbyes to dear friends.
You have to get to know your 2 new daughters-in-law.
You have only 1 roll of toilet paper left and you will not buy more.
You have ½ tube of toothpaste and you will not buy more.
You have 1 day of crackers and cheese.
You have less than ½ jar of peanut butter.
No more mayonnaise, eggs, milk, dish wash detergent, clothes detergent, any way you get the idea.

We will be sharing about our Azerbaijan experience at the Archie, Missouri Community Thanksgiving Service on November 21. During the time after our arrival, we will be sorting through pictures, remembering so many experiences, and most of all reflecting on how this experience has impacted us.

One thing Linda and I have agreed on is that we have much more confidence in our ability to adapt. We feel that going into the future we will be able to adjust to all of life’s circumstances. We don’t know exactly what the future may hold, but we will be looking for ways to serve.

See you soon.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Always Learning

Last week we had the opportunity to a Fall Harvest Holiday. There were about 25 people gathered together to sing, celebrate and pray. The woman playing the guitar is quite a talented musician. Just like in the United States people ask me not to sing along, but just listen and enjoy.
The menu was a delicious salad with beets, potatoes, onions, carrots, and mayonnaise, and the main course being plov and chicken. Plov is the national rice dish, which often includes dried fruits and other ingredients depending upon the chef. There is a religious tolerance with limitations that any religious group must register with the government. The regulations within the registry eliminate any extremism.

Today is our last Saturday night in Shirvan. In one week we will go to Baku for rest and final Peace Corps processing before we depart on November 10. We certainly are looking forward to our returning to family and friends, but the difficulty in leaving people who have been so kind to us has become a reality.
My counterpart asked me what I might like for a good-bye present. I started telling those around that I did not need a purchased gift because they have given me the greatest gift of their friendship. As I got to the last portion of the sentence, I felt the emotion welling up within.
Linda and I have prepared a short thank you note that has been translated for us into Azerbaijani. Below is each:

We have lived in Shirvan for 2 years. We have met many good people. You have been kind to us while we were here. We want to thank you. We will always remember the wonderful people of Azerbaijan. We hope you will also remember us. We leave for the United States on November 10.

Denney and Linda Rives

Sirvanda biz 2 il yasadiq.Burada biz cox yaxsi insanlarla tanis olduq.Biz burada yasadigimiz muddetde siz bizimle cox mehriban oldunuz.Buna gore size tesekkur etmek isteyirik.Biz hec vaxt azerbaycanlilari unutmamayacagiq.Umid edirik ki,siz de bizi hec vaxt unutmayacagsiniz.Biz noyabrin 10u Amerika Birlesmis Statlarina gedeceyik.

Deni və Linda Rives
We will pass out the notes to taxi drivers, store owners, friends, and many people who have been so kind to us. We have special thank yous for our counterparts, neighbors and very special people.

We continue to have those Peace Corps Moments. Recently I was in a village near Baku for a teaching computers session, and I needed help getting back to Baku. One of the Language and Culture Facilitators, Ravshad, accompanied me to a familiar area. As we were riding the bus I asked how he became an LCF? Ravshad’s family had hosted an AZ7 during training. The AZ7 was Sharif, one of the most talented and outstanding Volunteers I have met. Sharif had encouraged Ravshad and helped him prepare. Ravshad has become a great LCF.
Sharif went to a village replacing an AZ6 who had early terminated. I was so happy that Sharif had been assigned there. The village deserved a good Volunteer. The AZ6 had not served the people, but had been extremely negative. As I shared my appreciation for Sharif and how the previous Volunteer did not give to the people what they deserved, Ravshad opened my eyes and heart. Ravshad said that the AZ6 had done good because she had been willing to come. Just being willing to make the choice to serve makes an impression on people. Ravshad said that Azerbaijani people had told him, “If I lived in America, I would not leave to come to Azerbaijan.” Ravshad said, “It makes me think I should do more for my country and other people.”

Drop by drop a lake is made.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

About a month ago I wrote that our plan was to lose 5-10 pounds before returning the United States. We know we will gain weight upon our arrival since our first stop after the airport will be Hereford House Restaurant in Zona Rosa. Linda will order a filet, baked potato, salad, and flambé bread pudding for dessert, and I will have a KC-Strip, baked potato, Cesar salad, and share her bread pudding (not that we’ve thought about this or anything). Now I must write the plan is to lose 20 pounds after returning to the United States. We have begun baking our own bread. The evidence is the hotdog.

Last year my brother, John, sent 23 photos from If you have not seen any of photos from this website, please go there immediately and view. Jay Leno uses photos from that site during his “Headlines” bit on Monday nights. Anyway, I laughed out loud when I viewed them. Now, a year later, that is my life.
In Azerbaijan there is a practicality with disregard for appearance or long term affects. In one of my conversation clubs I used John’s photos and I thought they would provide laughter, but instead the comment was “that is a good idea.” The second picture is a good example of the approach to repair or installation here. That is the electric line going from the pole taking a ninety-degree turn into the house via a tree. No knew pole needed for installation.

I never checked under our kitchen sink to notice exactly how the plumbing worked. Oh, when our sink would fall off to awkward angles I checked to determine how I might steady it. Note the cabinet door to the right – it was just the right size. The small 1” board to the rear I put diagonally a pipe and the sink, and the 1” board to the far right with Duck Tape was fitted from a hole in the wall across and under the drain pipe and then Duck Taped to the post on the left. However, that was inadequate. After a year I was washing dishes and water started covering my feet. I quickly surmised that there was a leak under the sink. My Duck Tape had finally given way and there were several joints that allowed water to flow freely instead of going to the drainpipes.
If I had been ambitious and smart, I would have noticed that the design of the drainpipes is to have a removable collection point for solid waste, which should be cleaned out on a regular basis because of the lack of garbage disposals. Instead the result is style with gratitude to those who sent us CARE packages in those boxes.

That is my Casio watch, and it only has to last 2 more weeks, and I can buy a new watchband. I started repairing with Scotch tape, and then a clear plastic tape bought locally, and finally now the best result is the handyman’s best friend, Duck Tape.

Finally there is the miracle of the running shoes. I brought those shoes new from the U.S. I put off using them until after we moved to site, 2 years ago. Normally a pair of running shoes last me 6 months at best. My pronation causes a severe wearing on the right foot outside portion of the heel. However, these shoes will last me 2 more weeks. I know that does not qualify for a miracle such as Hanukah where the 1 days supply of oil burned for 8 days, but it is as close as I will ever get. The soles are still good, but the uppers are a bit worn.

We received our final confirmation that we will leave Shirvan on November 7 for Baku, and then November 10 for the United States. During the three nights in Baku, we will rest and reflect. Since receiving that word, we have been busy allocating our possessions that will be left in Azerbaijan, planning our packing, and throwing away worn out clothing and utensils.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Forgive my ramblings

This posting seems to be rambling thoughts.
This week I had the privilege to go to village of Khirdilan to assist in the Pre-Service Training (PST) of the AZ8’s. It was a joy to see 14 men and women preparing to serve the people we have come to love. It is a difficult and trying time for them as they learn the language and are exposed to the cultural differences. I was quite impressed by those I met with their dedication and desire.

The first photo is from our training days. The first week of November the Trainees receive their site assignments to where they will go after their swearing-in ceremony. Linda and I are pointing at Shirvan on Azerbaijan map. Two years have passed since those training days. Little did we know what all lay ahead of us.
Now that we are looking towards the date of November 10 when we will return to our family and friends, we spend a lot of time evaluating our Peace Corps experience. I always like to ask other Volunteers, “If knew then what you know now about what you would go through, would you do it?” Others like ourselves answer with a “Yes!”
I worked with my Program Manager to present a session on Teaching Computers in Azerbaijan. I basically offered what I had observed. Everyone knows computer skills are important for future jobs. However, basic computer skills are not taught in the schools. In the United States teaching the keyboard begins in the earliest grades. In Azerbaijan it is not taught at all. It is laborious to watch a bright student with a hand written document enter it into a Word document. My cousin Melissa who teaches 5th grade wrote me that her students’ interest in using the computer potential was proportional to their keyboard skills.
One of our PCVs counterpart has translated a basic typing course into Azerbaijani and sells the books for 5 AZN. We have purchased these books for our counterparts to examine and use. We encourage everyone to use computer keyboard learning programs, such as Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. The students enjoy the games used in the program, but don’t take time to learn the basic finger positions which the games reinforce.
The good news is that IREX is also offering training in using Facebook, Youtube, and blogs as social journalistic tools.

When I went to Khirdilan, I took a taxi, and was scared to death during the ride. Drivers are either accelerating or breaking. In Azerbaijan in an 8 month period there were 539 people killed in motor vehicle accidents with the primary cause was speeding. In that 8 month period there were also 199 pedestrians killed, and another 350 injured.
That seems like a lot to me for a population of almost 9 million, but less than half of the families own motor vehicles.

The second photo is a photo of one way we were felt to feel welcome at our host family upon our arrival in Shirvan. It is a salad with the red color provided by beets, and the “Welcome” being cucumbers.

The third is a pumpkin. While staying with a host family in Khirdilan for one night, I was served a delicious rice and pumpkin dish.

The fourth is of a pomegranate still on the tree. Now is pomegranate season, and they are tasty and cheap. Linda does not care for pomegranates because they are messy for her to eat and she does not like to eat the seeds.

Lastly is a note about souvenirs. When we shared with our family that our invitation from the Peace Corps had come from Azerbaijan, my brother said that he envisioned a tee-shirt which read “My brother served the Peace Corps in Azerbaijan and all I got was this lousy tee-shirt.” I hate to tell him, but he isn’t even getting a tee-shirt. When we pack to go home, we are 2 years older, and we will bring only what we can carry - which isn't as much as we would like to think. There is no souvenir which will be able to fully represent our Azerbaijan experiences. We will not bring souvenirs for our many friends and family, but we will bring our memories.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

One Month to Go

Tomorrow will mark 1 month to go, so it will be a Diet Dr. Pepper day for Linda. My cousin, Melissa Williamson, sent Linda 6 Diet DP’s and for that we are very thankful because we’re absolutely sure Linda can make it to the finish now!

Second picture is of Matt and Parvaneh Daneshmand who will be Mr. and Mrs. Matt Rives very soon. They called to give us the news last Sunday, and we couldn’t be happier. We will have 2 daughters-in-law and Linda will no longer be outnumbered 3 to 1, but it will be 3-3.

The third picture really needs no explanation other than the Peace Corps does not allow Volunteers to operate any motor vehicles in Azerbaijan, but sometimes temptation is just too great.

The fourth photo is three sheep in the backseat of a car. Not an uncommon site. Automobiles outside of the major cities are used as all purpose vehicles. I have observed men cutting grass and then stuffing it into every available space of the 4-door Lada for later use in feeding cattle. There are automobiles loaded from ceiling to floor with apples, watermelons, and any local produce. Often building supplies, furniture, refrigerators, and local luggage are on top of an automobile. In regards to the sheep, it really isn’t too expensive if they split the taxi fare 3 ways.

Linda and I just returned from Peace Corps headquarters in Baku completing our medical and dental exams before closing our service. We will be covered by Peace Corps insurance for 1 month following our departure from country. If there are any later complications caused by our time in Azerbaijan, including mental health issues, we can they apply for treatment from the government.
While in Baku we saw 2 tourist attractions. One is a Zoroastrian Temple. Azerbaijan has always been known as the land of fire. Zoroastrian worshipers used fire in their cleansing ceremonies. The temple is built with five walls to resemble a star. In the center of the temple is a flame which was once natural gas escaping and a natural flame (now piped in due earth quake damage). The flame is housed under a square roof with a smaller brick square like a chimney on each corner. Each corner represents one of the four major elements, earth (soil), water, wind, and fire. It was quite interesting and we had a very good guide. It was an important site because it was on the Silk Road from India to Europe. Many Indian Zoroastrian followers and priests came to this site. There are 26 small rooms in the outer walls for worship and meditation.

The second site was the “burning stone” near Baku. The natural gas fed rock has been “on fire” for centuries. The heat was amazing, and such a site. I thought of the burning bush of Exodus. (We were not anticipating this opportunity and did not have our camera.)

Another Peace Corps moment to relate from our day in Baku; we were returning to our hotel via the Metro (Baku subway system). As we made our way from the train to the surface, we ran into Rauf. Rauf is one of the most computer savvy people I have met in Azerbaijan. He was the Director of the IREX IATP (Internet Access and Training Program) at the Central Library from 2001 – 2005. Rauf always concludes his conversations with me with “How can I help you?” My reply is always, “Nothing now, but just to know that I have a friend as you is enough.” Linda and I told him we were finishing our service in a month and would be returning the United States and 2 new daughters-in-law. He congratulated us, and then added, “Thank you for what you have given to Azerbaijan. Thank you for your service.” Rauf’s spontaneous gesture warmed our hearts on a cool evening.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Unique Restaurant

These are the final pictures of our adventure in Ilisu. All 9 of us were walking from our hotel which is just outside the actual village through the village to a restaurant which is famous in the area. The first photo is of a side passage in the village. Ilisu is very old and is a good example of village life.
There were a few small markets and one nice market which we decided to stop at on our way back. We continued through the entire village and had not reached the famous restaurant. Linda, Leslie, and I were ready to quit, go back to the store and buy a few things to eat. But, the group had the better wisdom, and also flagged down a car and asked the driver how far was it to our desired location. Only 1 kilometer was the answer! We trekked on and found the most unique restaurant we have seen in Azerbaijan. The castle look, the bear, the camel, and the horseless carriage were all there. They gave us our own room in a castle tower (second floor), and the food was as good as the atmosphere. Now, one may ask, how much to eat in such a fancy place? The answer is 9 AZN or about 12 dollars each for grilled meat (lamb and chicken) grilled potatoes, drinks, bread, and a few small side salads of cucumbers and tomatoes, pickles, and mushrooms.
Needless to say, it was a great end to the hour and a half journey. We relaxed, talked, and refreshed – good thing, we still had the hour and a half journey back (now uphill). We stopped at the fine store and bought snacks in place of supper that evening. We were going to hire a taxi to take the food, and a couple of the group back to the hotel while the rest of us walked. The driver wanted 5 AZN which is what we paid for from the city 15 KM away. We shot back 2 AZN, he said 4, we stuck with 2 and ended up carrying all our groceries back up the mountain (formerly hill). By the time we were almost to our rooms we were huffing, puffing, and I was sweating profusely as I carried my load. Bill said, “the 4 AZN sounds like a bargain now”!

On to cultural adjustments we have had to make. In Azerbaijan there is little sense of personal property. I was discussing this topic with my best conversation group, and I said this is my computer, and they just laughed. No, in Azerbaijan, anything in public is ours. If I lay out my materials for a conversation club, someone will come into the room, even a library employee, and just pick up anything, look at it, examine, put back somewhere different than where I had organized my presentation. Pens and paper are just picked up or someone will say to me “give me a pen”, “give me your pen”, and never say please or return it promptly after use. If I leave sheet of paper with writing on the top half, pieces are torn off to write down information, phone numbers, web sites, etc.
In the schools chalk and erasers are not provided. Students are asked to bring chalk. When no one has any chalk, they always turn to Mrs. Linda who keeps chalk at ready supply along with an eraser in her purse. If Linda ever forgets to take the chalk or eraser with her, and goes back to get it later – oh, well, you can guess – never there.
There is no sense of a line or queue when using the ATM or at the markets. I will wait patiently to purchase something, and a man, woman, or child will walk in front of me and start to talk to the clerk or pay for something they want to purchase. At the post office it is the same situation. People gather, push, and never consider others as they are only focused on what they need. I mentioned this at a conversation club, and the result was a discussion of the topic and the video which you can watch at
Please note the faces of those who observe people waiting for an ATM in an orderly line. The video is a group of students who went to an ATM and formed a line to demonstrate a fair and good method of using an ATM.

All in all we are always learning patience and flexibility as Peace Corps Volunteers.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mini-Switzerland - heavy on the mini

Last week Linda and I traveled to the village of Ilisu in the region of Qax. We were just a few kilometers from the Russian border. It will be the final traveling within Azerbaijan except for our necessary excursions into Baku for Peace Corps requirements.
We met the other mature Volunteers and said our farewells, and enjoyed one last adventure together.
Leslie from Salyan spent Thursday night with us, then we left about 10:30 for Hajacabul to catch a bus for Qax. I had gone to Hajacabul that morning to find out what time the bus would leave for Qax and was told 11:00 a.m. and to be there by 10:45 a.m. We arrived via taxi to the bus stop around 10:40, and the bus to Qax arrived at 11:15 and we were off.
Traveling in Azerbaijan is always exhausting for us. It is the worry about making sure of the times and destinations with our limited language skills. The bus was very nice, 55 passenger, about 10-15 years old with working air conditioning. We stopped once for a break and made it to Qax about 4:30 p.m.
We were immediately met by a taxi driver willing to take us to Ilisu and our resort, Ulu Dag. The other Volunteers had already arrived and were in their rooms. The taxi driver drove at about twice the speed that would have been sane, and somehow we made it safe and sound.
Ilisu is called mini-Switzerland by the Lonely Planet travel book which is a bit overstated. The views were lovely. We hiked about a mile to a waterfall and were greeted by workers harvesting shale. The workers were from Georgia, and they were taking the stone for walls. The truck was to travel back down the trail and all the way to a coastal city in Georgia. They say Georgians are very optimistic people.
I will share more about Ilisu next posting, but we did have an interesting experience while hiking on Sunday. We were told to bring our passports, because of the proximity to Russia there are soldiers in the area. We started out hiking along the trail parallel to the river to visit some hot mineral baths in the area. (note: Linda and I were along for the hike only.) We had proceeded about a kilometer when we were stopped by 2 soldiers who asked to see our passports or documents. Now, Linda and I had faithfully brought our passports from Shirvan and they were safely tucked away in our hotel room. 5 of the 8 had their passports. One soldier radioed in our names, and told us to wait for the soldier in charge. Sure enough in about 10 minutes 2 more soldiers came walking up and wrote down a few names, examined documents, asked a few questions. Then they told us it was too dangerous and we must not go that way. We had seen many local people walking the trail which is why we ventured out. The resort personnel said if we were Azerbaijani, it would have been OK, but they were being protective of the Americans.
This experience was the first time we had been asked for our passports outside of the airports. It was a bit unnerving in that the soldiers looked like such young men. They were very polite and friendly, and we never feared anything, but just a little nervous. It is too close to the end of the adventure to be calling the Peace Corps security officer for help.
We are under 50 days, and have scheduled our final medical exams for the first week in October. Our dreams are filled with home, and our memories are filled with our dear Azerbaijani friends.