Cuttino's Georgian Life

A journal of my Peace Corps service in the Republic of Georgia, 2006-2008.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Azerbaijan, Part 3--"America Day" in Lankaran

After Sheki, I traveled with some other Peace Corps Volunteers to a town called Lankaran, a town on the Caspian Sea just north of the Iranian border. Its quaint by Azeri standards, with a nice black beach and a lighthouse. One of the tourist "sites" is a large, cylindrical prison that once held Stalin. Legend has it that Gori's favorite son escaped to the Caspian through an underground tunnel. Nowadays, the site is abandoned and crumbling.

Lankaran's main square.

The first night in Lankaran, it was pouring rain and the power was out all over town. I had gathered with a group of PCVs in one of their homes, trying to keep dry. For dinner we had lavangi, a dish most famous in Lankaran. It is basically a whole roasted chicken stuffed with walnuts which you are supposed to eat it with your fingers. So here we were: sitting in the dark, soaking wet, hunched over whole chickens and tearing the meat with our hands. Is this what Peace Corps does to a man?

The PCVs in Lankaran were holding an "America Day" the next day and fortunately the weather had improved by the morning. America Day is an ongoing project in PC Azerbaijan in which a large group of PCVs descend on a town and treat 50-75 Azeri students to a day of activities and games about American culture. Since it was May, the theme was Memorial Day and the 4th of July. The students were first invited to see some skits and presentations about the holiday and then were taken out to the sports field to learn how to play softball.

Explaining the symbolism of the American flag.

An interesting thing happened during the presentation on the 4th of July. In order to explain the significance of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution, we put together a brief skit...150 years of history in 10 minutes--from Jamestown to Philadelphia. During the section on the Boston Tea Party, we had decided to use to use some tea boxes and throw them to the ground as a visual illustration. When the first box hit the ground, there was a collective gasp among the students. Getting a little carried away, one of the PCVs stomped on one of the boxes. A few people groaned, some turned away. This is how I learned that in Azerbaijan, tea is sacred. I can only imagine what would happen here in Georgia if I desecrated a bottle of wine, but I never realized that people could get so upset over tea! Fortunately, a few slapstick moves released the tension, we decided that the second time we would be more careful ("This was a protest. It was symbolic. It really upset the British. Understand? Understand??"). I'm not sure if I can look at a box of Earl Grey the same way again.

Final update: Baku


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