Sunday, May 23, 2010


This entry of “derek and alicia in the ‘zerb” has been unusually difficult to begin. It is not a problem of knowing what to say, but where to start. Okay, so knowing exactly what to say may be a bit of a problem, too. First and foremost, these last two weeks have been daunting. Sabirabad city has still not flooded, but the surrounding villages have flooded again. The threat to the city is still looming, and because of that threat Peace Corps’ decision has been to keep Sabirabad closed to all Volunteers, PC vehicles, and Staff. We have remained with friends during this time.

It has been a game of “wait and see” in regards to the possibility of Sabirabad city flooding. So we have found ourselves in a weird and wearing situation. We have been in frequent contact with the PC Staff, and everyone seems to be in the same boat. No one can predict the future. At this point PC Azerbaijan is undecided on whether or not Sabirabad will be reopened. In the next two weeks we may be allowed to return briefly with a driver provided by the PC to grab the rest of our belongings, but will not stay.

On more than one occasion Alicia and I have talked about our future in Azerbaijan. It has been a long, and often, uphill battle. As we have talked about already in this blog, it has been good for us. We have learned so much. And for that, we are grateful. At this point we are waiting to for the possibility to go to Sabirabad and say our goodbyes. We are praying for closure on this, and never imagined leaving Azerbaijan under such circumstances.

To be clear, the Peace Corps had offered to relocate us to a different region in Azerbaijan. Most likely we would live out the rest of the summer bouncing from PCV to PCV, keeping what we could carry, and sleeping on floors and couches. We would essentially work with other PCV’s on their projects or camps, but wouldn’t have a home base. Before the floods we had decided to finish the school year and reassess our time here. The flood pulled us out of our community and put us in limbo. We’re using this time to see some other volunteers.

We aren’t sure about a time frame, but we will be returning to the States within the next few weeks. As I said we are waiting to see if Sabirabad will open back up momentarily so we can get our stuff and see our friends to say our goodbyes. Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and prayers for the people of Sabirabad during this time of difficulty. We also want to thank everyone for their support for us while we have been in Azerbaijan. I can’t begin to give you a detailed, or even a summary, of everything that we have experienced and learned. Just know that we are grateful for our time here and have learned life lessons that we will carry with us and learn from long after returning to the States. These last nine months have been a whirlwind of emotions and experiences, and we are happy to have shared a piece of it with you through this blog.

Our plans for the future are unsure. Our immediate plans involve returning to Alicia’s folks house where I will help on the farm over the summer. We’ll be bouncing around from Iowa to Missouri to see family and friends as well. We plan to, in time, relocate to Kansas City and will use Alicia’s parent’s home as a “homebase” to look for work and a home in KC, unless something else comes up. As I’ve said already, your support for us during our time in Azerbaijan is more appreciated than most of you will probably realize. Hope to see you all down the road and our next adventure. Cheers!

Derek and Alicia

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pray for Sabirabad

In this entry of our blog we want to inform you as to what is going on in Sabirabad, and to ask for your thoughts and prayers for the people of Sabirabad and its surrounding villages.

This spring has been unusually rainy. For a few weeks it seemed like it rained every day, if not all day every day. Sabirabad is located on the Kür/ Araz River that runs through the middle of the country. Due to all of the rainfall, flooding has been a problem. The situation, as it is right now, transpired quickly. It began in the outer reaches of the region, flooding villages and displacing a limited amount of people. Tents and relief shelters started popping up around Sabirabad City, and have consistently grown for the last week and a half.

To be clear, the Region of Azerbaijan, or “county” that we live in, is called “Sabirabad”. Sabirabad contains many individual villages and Sabirabad City. Think of it as Iowa, and Iowa City (only the size of a small county). According to the last reports most villages in the region are under water. The city has been saved thus far, but fears are that it is only a matter of time before it is under water as well. Six to nine feet are expected.

It is for this reason that the Peace Corps has had us leave Sabirabad. We are currently staying with friends and fellow volunteers in Göyçay, located in the middle of the country. I received a phone call on Sunday at midnight and Alicia and I were instructed to pack our most valuable possessions, some clothes, and leave Sabirabad by 10am Monday morning. Needless to say it was a little overwhelming due to the fact that we ourselves had no idea how dangerous the situation was. After our phone call our minds began to wonder about all the people in Sabirabad who, like us, had been told that the river has been controlled, and everything will be O.K. Suddenly we were packing our bags in the middle of the night, leaving in the morning, and hadn’t talked to anyone about this newest piece of information.

Since leaving we have received word from some of our Azeri friends in Sabirabad. Around midnight on Monday one of my students who I meet with individually called and told me that the river had taken his village, water was running through his house, and he was heading for his grandmother’s in Sabirabad City. Two days later, his house is six to nine feet in water.
Alicia has spoke with one of her English students who she tutors, and her family is waiting for the water to come before leaving. All roads going in and out of Sabirabad are closed except for one. This creates a bottleneck situation, and in the event that the city begins taking in water, we are afraid that the one road out will be heavily congested, chaotic, and dangerous. Our hearts are heavy for our friends and the people of Sabirabad because, unlike us, many don’t have family or friends outside the region to go to. Because families live together, and people usually stay where they were born and grew up, it quickly diminishes the possibility of finding safe haven elsewhere. Not to mention, Alicia’s friend and her family’s only income is a store built into the side of their home. This is the situation for many people in Sabirabad, and was the situation for many of the villagers who have relocated to the city. They have begun filling the schools and football fields with displaced peoples. Our worry is where the people will go, and how efficiently and safely it will be handled, if they must evacuate the city.

It is for all these reasons that we are asking for your prayers. We have been out of site now for four days, and from the looks of things, even if it doesn’t flood in the city, it doesn’t seem that we will be returning anytime soon. We aren’t sure what kind of a time frame we are looking at, but at long as the water poses a threat, Peace Corps has advised us not to return to site. On top of this, there has not been running water for a few weeks, and electricity has been spotty. These reinforce our reasons for staying out of site for a while. We are leaving Göyçay soon, tomorrow or the next day, and aren’t sure whether we will move on to a different PCV’s home, or head into Baku to meet with our staff and country director. Being in limbo has been frustrating and stressful for us. In the event of a flood, our first floor apartment wouldn’t make it. We are reminding ourselves that stuff is just stuff, and the focus needs to be left on the people, but we can’t help but think of our gifts for others and mementos from here and Israel that are, in their own way, irreplaceable. Our selfish human nature creeps in and gets us thinking about our “stuff”, so please pray that we are able to stay focused.

Today was our first time on the Internet in a couple weeks, so our first chance to update you all as to what is going on. It has been great to spend time with our friends Meg and Rikki here in Göyçay. They have been ever so hospitable and welcomed us whole-heartedly. They even took us to their local sports complex yesterday and Alicia and I were able to sponge a shower out of the deal. The water was hot and the pressure was good. It was a good day.
We’ll keep you posted as new information and Internet becomes available. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.