I made it to Azerbaijan! WOOT.

Once the plane landed in Azerbaijan, the Peace Corps took all 63 volunteers to a hotel for orientation. Our time became dedicated to language and cultural learning as well as getting to know the Peace Corps system and policies. After 3 days of orientation, I moved in with a host family where I will remain for the rest of the training period (Sept 28 through Dec 9). Meeting the host family was the first time the Peace Corps had let us out of the hotel grounds; good thing host family day came quickly, because volunteers had started to feel a little “trapped at sea.”

I arrived at my new temporary home in Cotej (15 minute drive from Sumgayit near the Caspian Sea) and knew how to say “hi! My name is Morgan. What is your name? How are you? I am fine. Nice to meet you.” Even though I had this basic preparation, I could remember very little of it when I met my host family. Nerve-racking? A little bit. They were very eager to talk with me, but I could not understand. I live with my host mom and dad. They have 3 children (2 boys and 1 girl) who are all married and have children of their own. Only one son, his wife, and their 2 children stay at a separate house on the same property.

We get around the HUGE language barrier in 2 main ways. The first is what I consider charades. We use words the other doesn’t understand while pointing, making various hand gestures, doing mock imitations, smiling, and nodding. So far, it was worked pretty well. This way of communication has allowed me to convey my needs (exercising, showering, eating), to understand some things that are allowed and not allowed, and to understand what is generally happening. What has also helped me to actually comprehend requests/concerns was the training during the 3 days of orientation. For example, you are suppose to take off your shoes outside of the front door and then when inside, girls should wear slippers. If I don’t wear slippers, I will get sick because the floor is cold and possibly become unfertile. A similar thing goes for drying your hair. I cannot go outside with wet hair because I will get sick. My host mother grabbing her hair and making a “BUZZ” hairdryer noise told me I needed to dry my hair before I left for work that morning. I knew why I needed to because the Peace Corps had informed us during training of this common expectation. So when my host mom was explaining in Azeri why I needed to dry my hair, my preparation helped bridged the language barrier.

The second way of communication is through my Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF), Sabina. She is my language and cultural teacher who also helps us orient ourselves, get places, and solves misunderstandings and communication problems. I can call her whenever and for anything. Another big help has been my host sister-in-law who lives on the property. She speaks some English that she learned at the university. When my host mom and I get to the point of complete confusion, my host sister-in-law comes over to sort things out. She has been a great asset!

Even though communication is hindered, I am having a fun time. I believe they talk about me a lot—what I look like, what I wear, how I act. I have no idea what they are saying, but I hope it’s all good.  We laugh at my misunderstandings and horrible pronunciation of words. It’s not easy, and I feel tired most of the time. But I do believe I am making progress. Today, my host mom told me I was getting better. Good encouragement.