“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Iran December 2008


This December (2008), I had some free time so decided to check out the skiing scene in Iran. There are several ski fields near Tehran: Shemshak, Dizin, Darbanshar, Touchal. I also decided to try out www.couchsurfing.org as a surfer instead of a host. Great way to see the real Iran!


Skiing:
I took a tour --at 6am a bus picked me up at the house I was staying in North Tehran. It's a good thing I wasn't sleepy as the loud boppy music that was coming out of the speakers was young and vibrant, just like most of the people on the bus. I would say what a way to meet gorgeous Iranian men -- ride the ski bus, except, oh well, they were all under 20! The bus driver was clapping and energetic (singing) bus and sometimes it seemed as if the bus drove itself --alarmingly, we passed two accidents!

The ski fashion was interesting. In most of the world, everyone is wearing snowboarding fashion, but in Tehran, it didn't matter if you wore ski racing gear from the 70s or now -- it's all fashionable and costs money! Ski suits I haven't seen since my childhood were common.

Half way, of course I needed to go to the loo. Have you ever tried squatting in ski boots? I wasn't impressed.

Many people asked me what the condition of the equipment was like. Well, it wasn't like Georgia. The lifts look they were built in the 1970s - no wonder they shut down one day a week for maintenance! The conditions were fabulous (at first). A beautiful sunny day with lovely powder and no trees, just like NZ. However, they also don't feel it necessary to supplement their feelings of inadequacy by having a million snow makers. They say there's never not been snow, so no worries! There were a few too many pomas, though, and I have quite forgotten how to ride them! I guess I'm just being lazy and not challenging myself. When did I become so cautious?

Anyway, with cheap prices and beautiful skies, how can I complain. However, after lunch, the weather moved in, and even in the antique cabinas -- it snowed inside! Door were held shut, but barely. I was amused to see how the snow stuck to all the hair gel on the men!! I guess where it's an expensive sport, it's about fashion and not talent -- perhaps like the japanese were in Queenstown when I was learning to ski. For example, I was quite impressed with the fashion daring of the ski suit that was all white with checkers and white with alternating colored stripes! However, the conversations I had were interesting: One handsome young thing said: How long are you staying? Another: Don't ever go shopping by yourself. Another: I want your blonde hair and white skin (sad!), etc, etc!

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One of the best experiences I had while I was there, however, was the night of the winter solstice. In Iran it's called 'Shab Yal dar' (longest night/milod birth). It was so interesting to discover that their calendar is solar and based on zodiac (12 Angels of Ancient Iran). I also discovered that when I insisted on pronouncing Iran as the sound in Arabic, I was actually wrong. Iran = Ayran = not Ir but ay.

Anyway, the wonderful opportunity to go and spend the longest night with elders and recite poetry was truly magical. I was shamed in the lack of poetry I have memorized. While they are reading from ancient Farsi scripts (sometimes even in a competitive game where the end must be beginning of next quote). It was so amazing to also discover the historical connections. Farsi = there is no 'p' in arabic so it was actually parsi = Persia = Persepolis. The Parsis in India were the Zoroastrians. Iran included Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, so all speak Parsi in some way, so I was delighted to hear some of the Azeri on the street: e.g. beli (yes), yeni (new). They also don't call it Armenia but 'Armentistan'.

Iran was wonderfully cosmopolitan with French, Swiss, American, Turkish and other connections becoming immediately apparent. They are incredibly educated, and have a strong heritage. In the family I visited, 4 in family of 15 spoke English: how many in my family could show the same variety by speaking another language or more than one? The 94 year old uncle quoted me poetry in English and I couldn't even remember one poem from high school!

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I did a little bit of touring in Tehran as well, because the weather wasn't so hot for skiing after all -- I went up the ski field that overlooks Tehran and was half way up when the wind increased and they asked us all to go down again.

There were some interesting old photos in Golestan Palace downtown. I was fascinated to see the Armenian women with tall hats and mouth/nose covers -- not just a Muslim tradition? Especially amazing was the photo of the Zoroastrian tower of silence with decaying bodies inside. What an amazing practice! There were also lovely images of musicians with neat shoes, and elaborate clothing all trimmed neatly with hats and traditional women making butter in a skin.

I took the metro everywhere, usually going into the special women's carriage. I thought it was interesting to imagine that Tehran in it's essence, seemed to me to be a cross between Syria and Korea, or maybe I was just imagining it!? However, in neither of those places did I have to wear the frustrating cloaks and layers that Iran requires! Then again, why is world so fascinated with jeans, anyway?

I ended the day with a trip to the Gem Museum. Never have I seen so many gems in one room. If you wore them now, many people would think them gaudy, ostentatious and over the top... I don't even buy fake stuff that looks like that, but I suppose to have the gems and look rich was the whole point.

Photos: The decorations at Golestan Palace. Me with the topled Shah's boots at his old palace. Views of Tehran from ski field.
NB: I finished writing this on January 5, 2010.

Monday, December 22, 2008

From Tehran

And wouldn't you know it.... Facebook is blocked in Iran. Why am I suprised? What I'm pissed off about is that because I've been out of the "controlled" zone for 6 months, I've forgotten all the web proxies to get around it! Oh well...

What a great place this is! As I always do, I've been debating back and forth about whether I'd like to live here, but of course there are too many reasons on both sides, it would have to be for fate to decide!

I would love: the welcoming, friendly Iranians, the gorgeous Iranian men, the majestic Taborz mountains on the skyline, the sheer size (many places to explore), the four ski fields within driving (or taxiing) distance (FOUR!! And two go from telecabinas within the city!), the four seasons, the chic modernity, the well-dressed locals, the eternal search for good shopping, the narrow windy streets, exotic places like Persepolis, Shiraz and Esfahan within travelling distance, the fascinating Persian history and language.

I wouldn't love: the aggressive men, having to be bundled up all the time (I thought I wouldn't mind, but after whole days wearing a headscarf, I just want to TAKE IT OFF), the lack of cafes and restaurants, religious prudishness, having to search for the shopping, the sheer size of the city, the traffic, the narrow windy streets, that I've already exhausted most of the interesting muesums, the tiny international school (only 100 or so kids!) and the lack of many nationalities, the one hour trek to the airport, streets and streets of bland rolling suburbia, the insults towards Arabic as a result of the overt nationalism.

Um... and probably lots more but I can't remember them now.

I'm going to sign out now because it's time in the internet cafe, and I'll write more later! (Lots to say!)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Myanmar: To go or not to go?

http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/dirty_list/dirty_list_details.html

'The Dirty List' was published this week with a list of companies that have relations with the Myanmar junta government. It's an interesting assortment of companies, large and small, predictably with many from China and Thailand, but other big companies as well. While I don't really want to comment on companies and corporations going to Myanmar, other than to say that they are certainly in many other disreputable places without receiving criticism. Practices of corporations may not necessarily be good in their home country, and may well be very good in their host country and it is not good to generalize them all.

One interesting criticism that Myanmar travellers often receive is that they should not travel there because travelling there is helping the Myanmar junta. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is one advocate of this argument.

First of all, I honestly believe that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for so long that she may not necessarily be the best expert on matters in her own country, and she is certainly restricted in seeing the full picture by her advisors and the government.

Secondly, I think the advice not to travel is very limited. I think that needs clarification. I wholeheartedly agree that the large tour agencies that offer package tours where the tourists see nothing but their tour bus and 5 star hotels (which are very government influenced) are not advisable. However, I truly think that cutting a country off from foreign witnesses allows the problems to prevail. Independent travelers are a necessity in a place like Myanmar. Getting to the out of the way places means that people are seeing and witnessing and contributing in ways that get directly to the people.

I lived in Myanmar for three years as a teacher, so all those axes that should fall, will. But education, regardless of whether it is the poorest villager or the richest businessman's son is about awareness, and if we are to ensure that future generations of Myanmar leaders are not the corrupt madmen of the present day, then we need to make them aware, not only of their own country, but of the world, and human nature, and people and compassion.

I would never want to sanction the Myanmar government in any way. However, the situation is far more complex than the black and white that foreign groups often portray it. Many of the so-called "government-owned" properties are in fact owned simply by rich Asian businessmen who may have made deals with the government for permission (and this is done everywhere). That doesn't make me any more willing to put money in their pockets, but it does affect the overall issues. Yes, the people of Myanmar are some of the poorest and most needy in the world, but politicians will be politicians wherever they are, and corruption exists in most places, so it will never be eradicated. What areas can we improve on and affect? Health, education. The UN chooses to have a presence in Myanmar to aid the people, and we can support the people through them. Yes, the Myanmar government charges ridiculous prices of foreigners for its sights, but so do many places in the world. Yes, there are fees and charges hidden into many costs in Myanmar, but for just as many fees you pay to the government, you are at the same time contributing to a real person's need to make a living and support his/her family.

I have felt sad when friends or associates of mine have chosen not to visit Myanmar for fear of aiding the government. Every one of them would have been independent traveller, and would have maintained their contributions to the junta's pockets at a minimum. Thankfully, very few people that I know would come on a package tour, and I recommend all those that are considering that to look elsewhere for such pursuits. It is a truly beautiful country with a long-suffering, gentle, welcoming, friendly Buddhist populace. I cannot recommend experiencing a trip there, and meeting and helping those people that you can, any higher.

Court Documents via Facebook??

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10548377&pnum=0

The world is constantly evolving!! Apparently it is now legal to find someone on facebook and issue them with a court order and it is binding if other methods of contacting them have failed. An Aussie couple that were avoiding their house payments and court dates, were told they'd lose there house.

When I first read the headline, and I was disgusted with Australia (but it was a bit sensationalist and written to shock), but now that I've read the article, I actually agree. If someone is being difficult by not leaving a forwarding address and ignoring other contacts, then they deserve to lose their rights. Of course if there is a legitimate reason for their being out of contact, then it should be able to be appealed, but that's quite unlikely if they're using Facebook constantly.

What next in this modern evolving world??

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Iran, Dubai, Oman and beyond!

This Friday, I'm flying to Tehran to try and see what the skiing scene is like in Iran! I've heard it's good and cheap, and honestly, how many people do you know who say that's what they did for their weekend? It's quite exciting. I have to remember to get some ID photos taken that have a scarf, and let's hope getting a visa on entry is hassle free (and possible)! I'm not sure how well I'll deal with skiing in a skirt, but hopefully the dress code is more lax on a ski field! Lovely Iran - here I come!!

After that, I'm going to join my family in Dubai for yummy Christmas dinner! On Boxing Day, we'll pile into an SUV convoy and drive over into Oman. I'm excited to see the turtles, the beautiful canyons, the desert, the cities and of course the warmth (it snowed in Baku this morning!). I'm probably going to go down to Salalah if I can for the last week, then have a couple of shopping days in Dubai at the end. What fun!

Scotland

I spent our long weekend last week on a very quick trip to Scotland to visit Sam. I only had four days, and one of those was spent entirely in travel. Still, what fun!!

I arrived at noon and Sam patiently waited while I spent a small fortune in the super Glasgow shops! We spent an evening on the town going to places like her local pub The Islay, ABC Club, Buddha Bar, but missed out on Nicensleazy and other exciting places! What great live music! What delicious cider! :)

On Sunday, I made poor Sam get up early so that we could catch the train up to Loch Lomond (1 hour away). Thankfully, the entire time I was there I had spectacular (if crisp) clear weather. Loch Lomond reminded me so much of Central Otago! I can see why the Scots felt so at home there! The beautiful tree-less mountains of brown tussuck-like stuff, covered in a nice dusting of snow was just like the hills behind Cromwell, not to mention Cecil Peak across from Lake Wakatipu! Gorgeous! They even had their own 'Maid of the Loch' steamship just like the Earnslaw! We missed the train back by seconds, but enjoyed some country time. Sunday night saw us in the church that has been converted into a bar/nightclub. The founders must be turning over in their graves, but it was wonderfully modern and a sense of today! Great use of space!!

While Sam prepared for her presentation on Monday, I took the train 1 hour to Edinburgh to explore that majestic touristy city! I spent pounds on Princes St, wandered the Castle, had my ears split open by the 1pm cannon, admired the Scot crown jewels, and wandered the Royal Mile! A lovely last dinner in the Islay with Sam's mates that was supposed to be Christmas Dinner, but needed pre-ordering!

I love the bookshops, the clothing, and the amazing thing was the Scots themselves!! I never really thought about it, but they look similar. There really is a typical 'Scot' look, and now that I've seen it, I recognize it in my Scot students here in Baku. It's hard to describe, but seems to be wide high cheekbones and large eyes, but there is also a smaller narrow-face, pointy pixie look. An English colleague mentioned that she can often tell a regional English as well, such as Cornish. Because I come from such a poly-glot NZ/Aust/USA background, everyone is distinct, but it is just fascinating to see a place with a 'typical' look!!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Reading the news

I was reading The Economist on the plane home today and it had an article about Iraq ('Well, is it victory or humiliation?' Nov 29-Dec 5). It talked about Iraqis deciding for themselves when America would leave. They mentioned that America would not be getting the bases it wanted. I never even thought about them wanting that, but of course there have interests in the area and that would be a perfect way to protect them.

As for America invading Syria and Iran from Iraq, I don't doubt that they have done that but they will do that while they have control of the area. It's all about multiple agendas. I don't know if I agree with them when they say that the Iraqi Sunnis have rejected al-Qaeda but they seem to think so although they do say that Iraq 'remains violent and fractious'.

The most interesting part however, was when they mentioned the connection or non-connection with Iran. Although Shias are close to Iran, Iraq's Shias and Sunnis share an identity as Arabs that may encourage them to resist an Iranian takeover of their politics. When America departs, a lot of Iraqis will want Iran to butt out too. Very perceptive! It's so easy to focus on the bad that America is doing that we often forget about the other parties to the issue. Poor Iraq!!

I often think that if Myanmar didn't have such a lazily corrupt government/dictatorship then it might descend into similar sectarian violence. Purely hypothetical of course, but it does make you think.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Baku news

I can't believe that I haven't posted anything in over a month. I just don't know where my time goes, but I certainly don't have any of it spare. Tonight, of course, I need to be doing my grades and it's only when I have something important to be done that I get all the other little things done (like on Sunday, I finally hemmed my pants from my September trip to Dubai!!). I certainly need to finish blogging about my trip to Pakistan, not to mention the summer holiday! There are CDs to burn for Andrea and Dennis, and of course many books to read. Anyway, here's a little blurb about some of the things I've done in the last little while.

Here's me a Sue's housewarming party with Sue and Cath last weekend.














This is at the St. Andrew's Ball with Ashi and Chris (who was at ISM in Manila for years!), which I absolutely loved. Too many of these types of functions have half-hearted dancing, but this one was great--very active and enthusiastic! I do wish I'd taken highland dancing as a child... I think mum wouldn't let me because I already had too many things going on.






An official photo from the ball complete with pipe band. The pipe band missed their flight because they had such a long night...
This is at the Rugby ball with Sally and Jojo -- not the best ball I've been too, but a wonderful kiwi parent at school was lovely enough to think of me when she had some tickets. A life for future All-Blacks: speaking at balls in random places like Baku: Former Springbok Kobus Wiese was the speaker of the evening. Apparently last year it was Sean Fitzpatrick and a guy at my table gave him a really hard time!!





My taxi buddies: Jo, David, and Liz outside the front of the school one morning.

This is us wandering along the "Boulevard", the Caspian Sea-side Nefchilar Avenue. We've had fantasticly warm weather for this time of year, really!

At Neila's halloween party with David. I finally wore my mermaid outfit--to rave reviews!! :) And yes, this is just something I happened to have in the closet...
So I won something at a bazaar two weekends ago--this was my lovely prize. It's entitled "Azerbaijan Oil and Gas" and I think it's god-awful... one of my charming homeroom students decided it would make the perfect gift for her dad for Christmas!! :)



My soccer team winning the championships! Considering we actually had only 3 practices, I shouldn't really take any credit!! I don't know if I'll coach next year. I don't think I make a very good coach because I just wish I was playing all the time.



This is during spirit week, and these are my homeroom students with spirit!

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So that's it... for now anyway!! I'm going to see Sam in Glasgow next weekend--yay!! It's supposed to be cold, but I've been told by several people here that it's a fun party town with a great historical center, so we shall see. Then there's only a week and a half beyond that to our Christmas vacation! I'm going to go to Iran to see if I can ski for a couple of days (after all, how many people can say they did THAT?), then will join the family in Dubai for Christmas where Aunty Helen's family is also coming, and we'll go to Oman for New Year's together in a car convoy --I hope I get to drive!! I have a week extra just for me, where I have to decide if I'll stay in Oman and travel down to Salalah on the bus, or come back to Dubai for a week or go somewhere else exciting. I wanted to go to Socotra in Yemen, but there are no flights from Dubai of course. Someday, I'll go there.
I really must go and write some more of my million and one comments for the report cards and finish marking all the material for them. I can't wait for tomorrow to be over because I'll finally have a clean slate after being bogged down and behind for so long.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Taxila

Taxila is a site that's just out of Islamabad and it's got everything from all eras.

The site of taxila is an archaeologists dream! It must have been so amazing to 'discover' it in the the 1920s. There are amazing finds such as statues of Athena and Aphrodite... Proof of Alexander the Great's far conquests. There are tablets in Aramaic. Even the every day articles are amazing... From chairs to keys, to door pieces, to horse fittings, to surgical instruments, to scales, to the requisite arrowheads and chisel and axes. Whole wheels and oh, the most amazing beads! Even carved heads and statues.

Of course, the museum doesn't look like it's been modified since the 1920s right down to the painted list in the curator's office and the leather-metal-button seats. I exaggerate of course, but it was ridiculous to see the carpet being swept!

At Julian, the only way to see the relics was to go with the guy who had the key. He was the only 'guide' I tipped, and when I gave him 100 rupees which is half the ticket price, he called me cheap! I was indignant. Hell, I shouldn't have to tip anyone when I pay an exorbitant entry fee compared to locals. 200 for foreigners and 200 again for the museum. That's western price of $4 which I suppose isn't much, but still, the fact that that is the minimum and I'm expected to pay more in tips is unfair. The locals pay 10 rupees to get in by comparison. He also wanted to know if that was the only place I tipped, and it was, which I suppose means I'm stingy, despite all the other obliging but unwanted 'guides' (ticket checkers/caretakers). I wonder what other nationalities/travellers refuse to pay.

Then, to make me feel even more sad, a souvenir seller asked me as I was walking down the path if i'd like to buy real relics. I told him they belonged in a museum. How self righteous of me!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lahore 2

There's nothing like a new country to throw your beliefs and life into turmoil. Being in Pakistan is like being in Myanmar all over again, but without the acquired apathy. The poor are so much poorer here, and the people are so much more aggressive. Mum called them 'bolshie' and it absolutely fits. They challenge me. They make me take a hard look at what I believe, what I do when I encounter challenges, and how I respond to people in general. I really am such an awkward defensive person when I first meet people. I'm abrupt and rude and want my space.

Tonight I left a friendly guy and a rickshaw driver on the street while I went up to dinner all alone. Upstairs there was a lovely Canadian girl who invited them to share her plentiful meal. I felt so ashamed of myself. I would have loved the company and I can certainly afford it so it's not that. Sure I don't want to be the sucker providing the free meal but they turned out to be very generous and helpful although of course grateful for the free meal. A contradiction. Why am I so defensive? I remember meeting an amazing lady in Morocco who said she cannot fear people... Why do I? Am I being cautious? Where does cautiousness end and snobbery begin?

Men talking to me constantly, hooting everywhere I go, rickshaws stopping and blocking my path, begging to take me, even for free. One man followed me, and everyone looks at me! Like the jolt of going over a bump on the wooden seat of a rickshaw. Bump! Think! React! What do you think! What do you believe? Which prophet do you believe in? What do you think of Pakistanis ? Are they aggressive., welcoming, nice, obnoxious? Etc etc. I love this... I love to be forced to look at myself.
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There are some amazingly interesting people in the dorm I'm staying in... Moroccan, Swede, Slovak, South African, German, French. Amazing people!! The Swede was excited to buy porn, which is just as sickening as Lonely Planet writer I met in Myanmar who was excited to get a photo of a monk giving the finger.

One was a cyclist living on $150 a month, and who lived on less than $1 a day in Africa. These people are doing things with their lives. Sure it doesn't help humanity but it does challenge themselves. What do I do? I live in Baku where the biggest challenge is which bar, which restaurant. I should learn Russian. Will I meet a nice man? I am so superficial... We all are. I want to do more. I want to be more. I know I inspire some people, but I want t to do more. I want to leave a legacy... Then again,, I am also quite satisfied with my life and if I died tomorrow and I will be okay with it... As Zeeshan says... He cannot live in fear. Fate is fate and you can live smart but life happens. I want to be an amazing person. I know I am an amazing person, but I know i'm not even close to my potential. I want to be more!
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Everyone is so religious here. The religiousness surprises me. Speaking of beards... is it a real sign of conservatives or not? Malike said it was a sign of avoiding hassle... of convenience for them. There was a movie on bus... a big shoot em up... but it was also followed by a documentary of young mullahs and conservatives. Two women had prayer books and chanted the whole bus ride. Women ride only at the front of course.

Lahore

Lahore's a fun city! It reminded me a lot of Yangon, which I suppose is evidence of their history and economic status! In Lahore, I wandered around like I've been warned not to in Islamabad, and that was so freeing! I was feeling a little bit stifled, but I suppose it's all wise if you live here. [This pic is the Pakistan Monument in Islamabad]

I went to Cookoo's restaurant high above the fort and the Badshahi Mosque for dinner, then wandered back amongst all the street stalls and squalor. Shady men followed me and I did my best to deter them by entering shops! Autorickshaws are aplenty, and several were happy to take me home, even for free because I'm such a novelty. Poor Pakistan to be so desperate for tourism. [View from Cookoo's]

After a fitful sleep in a very cheap hostel ($2 a night! Backpacker style!) I explored the Old Fort - an enormous rambling monstrosity of palaces and eras. It was tragically in very poor repair, and many of the more interesting areas were, of course, blocked off. Particarly memorable were the elephant's walk (where a special giant staircase was constructed so that they could waltz right into the palace with the numerous royal ladies on their backs), the hall of mirrors (just beautiful! it was what I imagined the hall of mirrors at Versailles was like, but wasn't).

After some brief rains, I walked through the thriving, modern old city, with it's confusing narrow streets and bazaars and mud everywhere! The crumbling Mosque of Wazir Khan was stunningly derelict, with beautiful mosaics and a lovely deserted courtyard. [This photo is from an ancient city near Islamabad]

I ended the afternoon by a wander around the tombs of Jehangir, Asif Khan and Nur Jahan. A huge, 180 room, single-level Caravanserai split two of the tombs in an enormous courtyard filled with lovely gardens and trees.
For dinner, I ventured into the newer part of town, MM Alam Road, where all the rich and no doubt expats, too, do their dining away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

What an alive place!

Buses in Pakistan

On Tuesday, I took a fancy Daewoo bus from Islamabad (Rawalpindi in actual fact) to Lahore. Wow! What service! Headphones, snacks, drinks, newspapers, movies. I suppose when you're paying almost $10 for a 4 hour ride, which is so above local prices, you have to get some bang for your buck. The security amused me incredibly--a man got on the bus just before departure, and filmed everyone's face with a video camera. I suppose this is so we know for sure who's on the bus if it gets blown up - for the sake of both perpetrators and victims!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Islamabad sights

On Monday, I did the royal tour of Islamabad. There isn't really a lot to see since the city was only created in the 1960s. It's a pretty beautiful city however--broad, green, empty avenues, but I must say that does make it pretty unexciting! It almost has a bit of a provincial feeling... it's certainly small and unlike other Pakistani cities! The shops remind me a bit of Kuwait in their small town-ness!

We started the day searching everywhere to find a money changer that would be open, and after that, Iqbal drove me around past the forbidden places (the ones I'm not supposed to go to because they're so dangerous!), the Red (now very white) Mosque (unremarkable building, really) and Melody Market. Sure, lots of people in the streets, but otherwise, nothing unusual. I didn't get out of the car, however...

I did some shopping as well, buying way too many bed spreads and other things I really don't need!

I went to the Heritage Museum pretty early on. What fun! We had a power cut while I was inside, and too bad about the rest, because it was pitch black in there, and it was all I could do to find my way to the exit. Too bad about the 200% foreigner price that I paid--it's gone, and you have to pay for the toilet too! It was pretty interesting though... enormous halls filled with rather scary looking papermache dummies, and the random odd squirrel thrown in to ensure the taxidermists had something to do! There was an interesting Azerbaijan section in the middle of central asia... obviously the Azeri embassy here felt it necessary to promote themselves with a donation of tourism books, although the carpets were a nice touch!

We then drove up to the new Pakistan Monument. Reminded me a lot of the Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan, although I'm sure they'd be horrified at the similarity! A large, rather ostentatious white and red marble monument to the creation of Pakistan and their provinces. It did have a lovely view over the city however!

I tried to find the Beni Imam shrine, but of course the entire area is around where the Marriot blast was, so it is completely blocked off with police checkpoints and blockages.

We drove past the huge Faisal Mosque (which I was amused to read had spurred several rumors of the CIA checking out the bomb-shaped minarets in case they were real bombs!). I didn't feel like going in, but I was astonished to discover that women were walking in with bare arms although they hadn't covered up their heads at that point either, but didn't have anything that could possibly cover their arms either!

We drove into the Mullah hills for a quick dinner of Chicken Tikka and lovely sunset views. What an amazing road!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Load-shedding

In Pakistan, when the power goes out, it's called load-shedding. In the Philippines where it was always sticky and warm, it was, appropriately, a brown-out, while in New Zealand and I think other places, it's just a black-out. What a colloquialism!! What a stupid idiom!! At least there is something here that's organized about it--each district gets exactly 6 hours off, but not all at once. For example, Cathy's house has it off from 1 to 2, 6 to 7 and 10 to 11, both morning and night. Unfortunately, you only get to know your own district....


I was at the Islamabad heritage museum, which is really quite extensive, though bizzarely organized. Half way through, of course, what happened? Load-shedding time! It was pitch black inside except for the cracks under the doors to the outside.

In Lahore, they have load-shedding every hour, so one hour on, one hour off. Of course Islamabad is better as it's the capital! This season's not too bad, but it must be unbearable when it's hot. They're also saving on the electricity, so the beautiful night lights at the mosque weren't running!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Islamabad

Arrived in the dead of night to an expectedly packed airport - lines of tangled groups towards distant immigration lines. Saw one family of Afghans with Canadian passports, all born in Kabul, the son confused as to whether his nationality was Afghan or Canadian. Huge crowds around the bag carousel and outside--my friend the only pakeha face in the lot. Lots of people for such a late night, but it's like Baku in the sense that everything comes in at the dead of night, so is to be expected!

Went aroudn the city a little bit yesterday - some brief shopping then lunch in a local restaurant (this is a rare thing to do since the Marriot blast). The city is a rolling campus of trees and greenery and wide, divided roads with (so far) very few cars on them. Since it's a designer city, it's in large square quadrants, with a little local set of shops in each. Haven't seen any high rises yet, or even any crowds, but am venturing out today! I have been given a list of places that I'm forbidden to go. The hills in the distant are brown and mottled, but add a lovely touch to the city--oh, to be so close to such walking trails!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Darling Samila? Samira?

Here's the lovely Dubai cat that comes when called, cuddles all night, but is righteously still a cat and will tell you off if you pet her too much. I love the fact that she climbed into my suitcases, but at least there was no ham to be eaten there like friends who were stocking up to return to Kuwait! Kitty, I'm coming! I'll be there on Friday night!

Walking home from work


So these images are on the walk home, very close to the school grounds in the garbage heap that is the empty lot (in fact, you can see the school in the background behind the long wall!). Take a look closer and see how many animals you can find foraging for food. It was crystal clear when I took it, but somehow they blend in very well. Lets see, I can find: 2 goats, 2 cats, a chicken and a dog (somehow, I remember there being more).

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Added photos below.

I've just added some photos to my Belarus posts below. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thoughts

Over the weekend I had the interesting experience of eating both green cheese and green ice cream. The former was pesto-laced and absolutely delicious, and the latter I’m still trying to figure out, although I suspect it to be pistachio. Only in Baku...

My new cleaning lady began today. Wow! What a lot to get used to! I do believe she rearranged my entire home. I haven’t found a single cupboard that is in its original state. The control-freak Virgo in me is itching in aggravation—I am not a messy person by nature and there wasn’t a whole lot wrong with where I had it! My jeans shrunk in her 90 degree wash, and I’ve somehow managed to spend $25 on three bottles of used cleaning supplies. She threw out my one week old sponge and dish cloth, but the place is spotless. I will admit that many of her rearrangements were ingenious, but it does bug me when she begins to go through my fridge and throw out the floppy cucumbers, no matter how much it needs doing. Here goes my over-independence rearing its head. I hate to think that I can’t take care of myself, and she really isn’t helping!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Movement of people

I'm finding the ethnic diversity here in Baku absolutely amazing. There are people from all over the former Soviet Union who call this place home. Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Poles, Ukrainians, etc, etc. Most of them now have Azeri passports, and while I haven't really gotten into the culture enough to know how the true Azeris feel about this (I remember in Uzbekistan it was very contentious), surely because they have Azeri passports, they have become Azeri and accepted in most senses. Most speak only Russian, as opposed to Azeri, but they truly consider this fascinating place home.

This was an interesting cultural event, really. I know it happened in several waves. It must have been at the turn of the century when the oil was peaking, and then again in the 1960s, although I'm not a hundred percent certain. What is true is that when they were moving, they were moving within the same country, just as an American moves from the east coast to the west coast, yet their cultures are quite distinct, just as the American South is from the North or from the Midwest. Here they are probably more distinct, and it makes for such an amazing polyglot of people--blondes with curly curly hair to Arab-looking men with long conservative beards. They all call this place home!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Baku settling in

I've been in Baku for just over a week. Things have been super hectic as we've had meetings, groupings, partnership work and other classroom preparation. I'm not at all close to being ready to teach yet as MYP is really quite a complex system, but still have two days of orientation to go. I still want to add pictures and other blogs to this, but it will have to wait till I have time!

I'm really loving Baku--it's such an interesting city! For fear of sounding like a guide book or a tourist promotion agency, I'll try to tone it down!! The Old City is beautiful. There are typical medina type winding cities like across the arab world. The majestic walls with renovated turrets line the edges, and the buildings range from being decrepit (and picturesque) to new and fashionable. At the bottom side is the Maidens Tower and a maze of layers of old ruins. Expensive restaurants with interesting red lamps and rooftop views shine across the courtyards.

Outside the old city are the turn-of-the-century oil boom mansions, and other buildings no doubt built by Russia in it's wealthy hey days. They've had a century of neglect, but are being slowly spruced up to look very majestic in their cream stone and carved awnings. I live downtown in a shabby but quaint appartment on the pedestrian Nizami Street, quite near to Fountain Square, where in the evenings, dressed-to-the-nines couples, families and many young men strut around to see and be seen, in front of the McDonalds and other foreign imported shops.

I'm absolutely appalled by how expensive everything is here! Everything has to be flown in, no doubt, and the price reflects it. Can you imagine it being normal to pay $1 for a normal plastic coat-hanger or $100 for a simple metal rubbish bin? These are just two examples, but it does seem as if everything is overpriced. Even the little stall on my street selling Chinese handbag knockoffs are overpriced, and they're the cheapest thing in town. Thankfully, right now (before Ramadan), it's the middle of sale season, so everything is marked down to 30, 40, 50, 70 percent off, which thankfully, brings things back to more realistic (but not really cheap) prices. The internet is costing $300 just to connect and the satellite TV is at least $150. Is that overpriced or have I been living in dirt-cheap South East Asia for too long and I've lost the sense of reality?

If that's not bad enough, I think the local boys use my stairwell as their urinal, and it annoys me very much. The cleaner spent three days last week cleaning it up from the last incident, but I really would rather not have to get a combination lock because that would be such a hassle for all in the building as well as myself! At least I have a light there now and don't have to use my torch to go up the stairs! That probably sounds really horrifying, but you must understand that it's characteristic of all formerly-Soviet countries that a stairwell should be the most horrifyingly-ugly, phobia reaction-inducing places in existance.

The thing I have to say that I love the most about Baku, though, are the cats. Not just the fact that they are here, but the fact that everyone in Baku seems to be a cat lover and they really take care of them. I have to smile when I see a little old lady reach into her handbag to pull out a little fish for one! It was like it was a cartoon. There is always a little tub of water and cat nuts sitting in a pile around every corner, and none of the kitties look malnourished. They are friendly and cuddle up to me often (which I just love). I'm tired of skittish cats than run away from a pet and a hug, but these ones just climb into my lap and purr! I just don't know yet if I want one of my own...

Monday, August 11, 2008

From Baku

Am sitting here with a free evening after days and nights filled with events! Things are going very well here--I'm amazed at how fast timehas flown!

I had a crazy flight over through Belarus. At Gatwick, I was unfortunate enough that they weighed my two handcarry bags, so I had to pay 50 pounds in excess, but really that's not bad for all the flying I've done this summer, and they did want me to pay 170, so I was lucky. Minsk doesn't really know how to deal with transit passengers that are not Russia or Belarusian, so when I arrived and had asked several people where I should go (and they had passed the buck by telling me to wait in hopes that someone else would deal with me) I was escorted upstairs to wait by myself in the tiny departure lounge (where not another soul joined me, and not a single shop nor restaurant was open (though they weren't open when I departed a week earlier, either)! Nearing departure time I was herded through the airport because I had no visa but had to re-check-in. My handcarry was given back to me to avoid further excess baggage charges!! I then managed to somehow arrive into Azerbaijan without getting a visa, bizzarely. Wondering about it, I was told we'd worry about it the next day (as it was already 3am and we all wanted to just get to sleep). It was later sorted out, so I am not here illegally, anymore.

I like my new appartment alot, but when others complain, it's so easy to add your own woes to the pile, minor though they may be! The best thing is that I have a lovely balcony overlooking the main pedestrian street right in the middle of central downtown. It's going to cost $250 to connect to the internet, which is not so good, but that's just how it is here. I found a dialup card at the phone card shop today, but it's a bit slow!

All the new singles bar one live in town, but divided into two groups, E and W of the central fountain square. E typically have views, but W are closer to central downtown. I'm in the W. I'm interested to see what will happen as the year progresses. Everyone is quite concerned about the situation in Georgia, but I really don't think that it will have a big impact on Azerbaijan unless the pipeline is greatly affected.

Haven't even been in my classroom for more than a few seconds as we haven't had time to blink because things are happening all the time. Time is absolutely filled with workshops, meetings, and other things like getting an official BP ID card!! In the evenings we are wined and dined across town! It's a very long orientation (almost two weeks), but still haven't done heaps, so I suppose it'll be just enough. Hopefully we'll open a bank account tomorrow, and get some time to sit and get things in order. No sign of a car yet!

Am loving the city--it's grown and developped a lot from what I remember from being here in 2004, but am still recognizing the main landmarks. I keep thinking of more things the more time I spend here! There's lots to explore. I look forward to having visitors in my first ever spare room!

Anyway, must go and do some school work and catch up on all that I'm way behind on! Will send more news soon!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Huge Apologies

Just wanted to say sorry to those who get aggravated when I post many things at once... I just posted three weeks worth because I've been camping in the wilds and had no electricity nor internet. I tried to get it up earlier this week but of course blogger wouldn't work for me. Will post more soon and get the pics up to match!!

Right now, I'm off to the Belarus State Museum of History and Culture.

P.S. I'm sitting in a cool internet cafe under Lenin Square!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Natalya Posted July 31

You'd think that being in the land of Natalyas, people would finally
start getting my name right instead of calling me Natalie or Natasha.
It's ironic, though, how ingrained one name is to a language, and so
because the Belarusians have both a Russian and Belarusian form of
their name, the fact that my name really is Natalya escapes them. I am
consistently called Natalie, which to me is the most bizarre form of
cultural exchange. They think: she is a foreigner, therefore she must
have a foreign name.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Belarusian Weekend 2 – Berezinski Biosphere Reserve Posted July 31

For the second weekend, we hired a van to drive us to the nearby
Bjarezinski Biosphere Reserve to stay in a hotel there and enjoy some
civilization (mainly in the form of hot showers). A tiny little
village yielded all our entertainment – it was great to bike around
and see storks in chimneys, cats asleep on benches outside the
beautifully painted houses (which is quite a new phenomenon, but
certainly a lovely one). The small zoo had a beautiful European Bison,
a very sad looking bear, some wolves, deer and other small animals in
the expectedly small enclosures.

After an afternoon of simple "insideness" and electricity (i.e.
computer usage for me), although the hotel did offer to rent us
skipping ropes and hoola hoops, I went to explore the "magazin" shop.
Everything here is still bought across the counter (such a complicated
procedure with no knowledge of Russian!), and I was quite amused to
have my baked sweets priced by weight. I am missing the ability to buy
non coke drinks—everything, even water, is carbonated! We really are
in a relic of the past, but what is quaint is that people have not
demanded the changes you might have expected elsewhere, such as in the
Baltic. The hotels, even the new ones built in the last 15 years, all
look like the spartan boring Soviet Intourist ones, with long hallways
with artificial carpets and serviceable but certainly not fashionable
furnishing.

The museum across the street has to be one of the best museums I've
ever seen—for taxidermy. It was extensive, but I do find it incredibly
ironic that in a biosphere, the museum with the biological species are
all dead ones! It's certainly not politically correct to have such
places in the west, but here in Eastern Europe it is a perfectly
acceptable form of education. Personally I can't say that I have a big
problem with it because it's certainly quite handy to see examples of
all the wildlife without disturbing their habitat! The outside was
beautifully decorated with the traditional totem-pole like carvings
that are quite common in the villages around here.

--------
I washed my socks tonight. These are two pairs I've been wearing for
most of the past two weeks. The water was black for three washes. I
turned them inside out and scrubbed my hands as if with sock gloves, I
twisted and turned and scrubbed and squeezed, and even after four
thorough washes, they're still black. This was the point where I
decided that I'd had enough washing, and despite still having a faint
whiff of sweat and dirt, they would do for another week, at which
point I will have to ask dear mum to reinstruct me on how to use
bleach. God, I miss a washing machine!

Pics: Bison, Train, Museum statues

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Week 2 of Dig Posted July 31

The second week of digging commenced relatively uneventfully, but we
certainly can't seem to get any decent weather as "Wednesday" (it was
actually Sunday) was a day we spent the whole day at camp instead of
at the site because we had so much rain. It was my cooking day, and so
I made burritos—yum. Several people asked what's needed, and here's a
brief description of why it was so special: Tortillas need flour,
water, oil, and a pinch of salt, but also it is required that they be
rolled with a beer bottle that has had the label rain cleaned. Flies
and dirt are optional but certainly make extra seasoning. For the rare
Vitebsk bought beans, they must be campfire cooked (so including ash,
yellow river water, whatever strange seasoning the shop had – reading
labels should not be attempted) slowly next to the rice (a whole,
packet, why not??), also on the fire. Sticks must be used as pot
holders and if the pot is not covered with burnt charcoal dust then
they will not have that delicious taste necessary for a true camping
feast. Don't forget the sour cream!

We did some more drawing this week, which is really quite prescribed.
I found a fantastic fish knife with a hole in it, which we are not
sure what the true purpose is for, but there have only been one or two
other similar items found anywhere in the region. We also found a
couple of really cool teeth pendants, which are easy to mistake for
just teeth (which I still find just as cool) because of the caked
dirt. Lots more flint scrapers (to the point where we don't even find
them interesting anymore), and I must say that I am quite sick of
pottery clusters (i.e. pots that have fallen in one place and broken
into many shards). They are tedious to brush off, and slow down the
process enormously, plus they are so completely delicate that getting
a complete piece out is a trial. But seriously, it's a joy to be
finding so much—I feel honored to have found the most field objects of
anyone, but that's simply because I picked the busiest square.

When a new volunteer arrived for the "weekend" (read, the real
weekend, but our mid week), he brought with him a volleyball which he
proceeded to blow up and invite all to play with him. Luckily, the
machines and men clearing the fields for hay had flattened the area
surrounding the campsite that very day. Honestly though, when we went
out at dusk for a casual pass around, I spent more time swatting
mozzies than hitting, and I swear I killed as many of the apparently
genetically inferior beasts (so easy to kill) as I passed the ball.
Miserable pests, they are! Whoever invented those was obviously in a
bad mood.

After all the crazy rain of the past few days, we discovered our
"bridge" has now become submerged. Still, crossing the precarious
structure saves us at least 20 minutes, so we are still game to cross.
On Thursday, it was my turn to make a sacrifice to the rain gods—I
fell in. I guess I was getting too cocky and crossing too quickly, but
the wooden logs rolled and I was in the water up to my waist before I
even realized I was falling in. Luckily, I had on my quick dry pants
so I had cleared every drop by lunchtime—just in time for the walk
home and a humble apology to the bridge and rain gods again!

The highlight of our week, though, has to be the shop on wheels, the
"auto magazin" which plies the villages with produce a couple of times
a week. We line up for our chocolate bars, bread, pickles and other
odd items, and of course, the archaeologist's staple item: beer.

Pics: Shop on wheels.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Belarusian Weekend 1 – Polatsk and Vitsebsk Posted July 31

Multiple Lenin Statues!!


The first major outing from the site was on the "weekend" (calendar
days Wednesday and Thursday, but it's easy to forget that when you
started the week on a Friday not a Monday). Five of the foreigners and
one lovely Belarusian lady, Sasha, piled onto several buses to reach
Polatsk, the most ancient city in Belarus (first mentioned in 862).
There, we were met by a local archaology professor and many of her
hospitable students, who took us on a walking tour of town. We passed
the center of the world monument, another monument to the letter "w"
(the only letter that Belarusian has different from Russian, and I
suppose when you lack a strong identity, it's important to grasp at
anything to be proud of!), the town's Lenin statue, the place where a
cathedral once stood, the ancient riverside street (which reminded me
of Arrowtown, a riverside town in New Zealand), and the ancient
cathedral. We saw the merging of the river Dvina River and the Polata
Creek, and admired the ancient Pagan stone upon which the lovely
ancestor Prince Boris decided he needed to mark with a cross (but
which is still sought after for fertility blessings). They took us to
see the university (which reminded me a lot of Akhawayn in Morocco
because of its newly renovated-ness) and their dig next to a
fascinatingly decrepit deserted house.

The next day (after getting an internet fix, and discovering all sorts
on financial pains in the arse), we headed in the rain to the next
town of Vitsebsk, another ancient city, which also happens to be Mark
Chagall's birthplace. We tried to find his art museum, but ended up at
his old house instead. It was barely two rooms, and certainly a
wake-up call to the living standards in this area. I find Belarus'
history quite fascinating. How can such a huge place (half the size of
Poland!) exist that so few people know about? It was the area where
almost all of the Russian Jewry came from (as they were restricted to
this area), and has passed hands from the ancient Rus of Kiev, to the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania, to Poland to Hitler to the Soviets and now
independence! It really is right in the middle of Europe. The two
towns we visited were actually part of Russia, yet with such large
Belarusian communities, so they were added to the new Belarusian
Soviet Socialist Republic when it was created in the 1920s and 30s.
Amazing!!

Pics: letter w monument, lenin statues-beshankovich, vitsebsk,
polatsk, learner sticker, decrepit house, Chagall statue
This is an interesting "learner driver" sticker.... required everywhere!

Quick news from Belarus

I've been out of touch in a campsite in rural Belarus for the last week, and I'm heading back there this afternoon, and I don't have much time to tell all about what I've been doing but wanted to send a quick update!!

I'm on a dig near Beshankovich (between Minsk and Vitsebsk) where we're looking at a stone age peat bog site. On the first day I found an amazing Amber pendant and another digger found a flint axe. Very exciting! We've had crazy thunderstorms (thankfully, my tent is just superb!). Also interesting are the microflints, arrowheads and other cool stuff we've found. I'll try and post more soon, but internet is nowhere near the site, so it may be three weeks or so!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bombs Posted July 31

Did you know there were two bombings in Belarus a month or so ago? It
probably didn't make big news, although when my mum saw it she had to
ask me why something dangerous always had to happen in the places I
went to! Belarus has had nothing happen for so long, and then I decide
to go there. Anyway, it was on independence day just before I arrived
here. The government has blamed the opposition groups, but of course
they are certainly not inclined in that way, or even that well
organized, united or so well-equipt, but that did not prevent several
arrests from various (of course, random) factions. This led to several
protests against the arrests, where the protest leaders were beaten.
When the leader took it to court, the police argued that of course
they didn't do it, and he beat himself up. All this because elections
are scheduled for the autumn. What a complicated way to dictatorship!

Camping Posted July 31

When was the last time you went camping? There's something lovely
about going to sleep with the cicadas and seeing the sunset from a
tent. While cooking's a hassle, clean water's a nightmare and let's
not even talk about the showers, I must say the worst thing for me are
the Belarusian bugs. They jokingly said at the campfire that while the
1 ½ year military service does nothing but build homes for generals
now (or maintain their gardens), they don't really need a standing
army because the mosquitoes will do their job for them.

Snuggling in a sleeping bag, with 2 extra blankets and even a
mattress, in my warmest set of clothes got me through the second night
of misty cold. We have delightfully social communal meals and the
campfire is always lovely. The environment is disregarded as we bathe
in the river with soaps and chemical shampoos, and I've already
mentioned that the only thing that isn't burnable waste is a tin can.
It's amazing how I can have two so completely electricity-free
experiences in a year (after all, the beginning of this summer had no
electricity or running water in my home after the cyclone!).

Asaviec Posted July 31







On "Tuesday" I wandered into the local village where we get our fresh
milk and well water from. It's about 20 minutes down the road, and has
the most amazing quaint painted houses with decorated windows. I
managed to disturb every dog in town, and alienate every snobbish cat,
although one skittish new mum let me pet her and her kittens. One lady
extensively invited me in for tea, and one lovely old man wanted to
give me a ride to the next village on his hay cart pulled by his
recalcitrant horse (which I was happy to refuse as it would have meant
a longer walk home, and I watched how the horse stopped half way and
refused to continue). I saw a dead grass snake and a live one, a dead
mouse and several other live farm like animals in the idyllic summer
existence, but I was horrified at the thought of the isolation that
must occur in winter, despite the twice-daily local bus to take
passengers into "civilization" (i.e.Beshankovic, the one shop town on
the main road). With snow piled several feet high, limited clearing of
roads, poverty, winds from the arctic, simple wooden cottages and
nothing going on, it must not be a fun season. Still, it is pleasant
to live a simple life, giving and getting directly from the land.

I took several photos of the beautiful windows they have here, and
have shared a few.

Pic: painted house, windows, outhouse

Friday, July 11, 2008

Belarus and week 1 of the dig Posted July 31




After a very quick turn of Minsk, I have arrived at the dig site of
Asaviec 2 2008, near the town of Beshankovic (which translates to
'crazy town', while Asaviec is 'place of horror') on the highway
between Minsk and Vitebsk. So far the digging has yielded a fantastic
amber pendant and a small flint axe simply from the top soil. It looks
very promising! The dream is to find figurines. We are digging a 12
square meter trench and going down in 10cm increments. The site is
smack dab in the middle of a huge field of stinging nettle, so I have
reacquainted myself with the joys of nettle stings, which I'll have
you know, are strong enough to sting through pant legs!! The
mosquitoes and other vicious biting bugs are also good friends with
the site, so I lather myself with spray every time I go out. Oh, how I
wish I had my mosquito racket with me now! I do hope it survives the
journey to Azerbaijan, as it has been hell living without it. Several
campers also discovered ticks sucking on their juicy flesh, and after
removal were then sent to the doctor for testing, as we're in an area
of tick-borne encephalitis.

The foreign volunteers are a much more international bunch than those
in Romania, and the dynamics are quite different. We have one
Lithuanian, Mantas, one Dutch, Aulky, one Brit, Toby, myself, the
kiwi, and four Americans: Maureen, Lee Ann, Alec and Sam, not
forgetting Olya, the Belarusian-Canadian! Almost all are affiliated
with archaeology in some officially academic way, except me, of
course, and many are in the process of masters, so overall it's an
older group, and we all get along well. There are also two Belarusian
State University archaeologists on board: father and son, Michael and
Max, many Belarusian volunteer students, and the Belarusian
"first-years" many of whom are history students as everyone in the
entire department is required to complete a dig. Their English levels
vary and overall, they are a welcoming, friendly, social bunch. We had
a friendly campfire introduction early on this week, and sang songs
with the two guitars!

Camping has added another interesting element to the trip. The last
time I went camping was when I was still in NZ, so it's a been a long
time. I bought a camping shower because cleanliness was the thing I
was most worried about, but after one attempt, I have abandoned it, as
I got more bug bites than is seemingly possible, in all sorts of
unpleasant places, and finding a tree high enough to hang it from was
quite a trial! In terms of food, we have a rotating cooking schedule,
and without a fridge, this has led to interesting concoctions! Sour
cream plays a big part. Trash is interesting, and the idea of
environmentally conscious rubbish has flown out the window! We have a
burn pile and for a while I actually wondered about what I should and
shouldn't burn—aren't burning plastics a big no-no? Not here!
Everything goes on the pile! I have endeavored to keep the compost pit
free of plastic bags, which has been mostly successful, but I will
draw a personal line at attempting to keep the ladies from throwing
their pads in our dug toilet. Too much of a communication confusion,
not to mention cultural exchange!

The walk to the site from camp is around 20 minutes in the morning,
and we wander through a field of yellow flowers, which are apparently
used for some type of oil fuel. The Belarusian students built a bridge
across one of the small canals that was dug in the 1970s to drain the
peat bogs so that we can get to the site more easily. It's an
impressive structure of 4 logs! We also had a visitor this week—a mole
decided to dig a narrow trench through our trench.

I must say the rain here has been insane!! Why have I managed to take
this bad weather with me for so much of my trip? We had a huge series
of thunderstorms on Sunday evening, where at least 7 rounds of
whipping lightning-filled gargantuan storms passed over the camp
soaking us all and shaking every tent to breaking point. (I never
realized that you could repair a tent crossbar so many times, although
I have to say that the person who rigged an entire plastic tarp tent
on top of their other one has to have the best idea!). We also had a
quick hail storm and amazing fog drifting in on what proved to be a
freezing night!


Pics: Campsite kitchen, Hail, campsite in fog, bridge, dig site 2791,
yellow flower field