Adventures in Peace (Corps)

You Can Take the Girl Out of L.A…

But you can’t take the L.A. out of the girl.

When I first arrived in Sumgayit, and was getting to know the area, I would walk past this four-story building called the Diva Spa. This peaked my interest, but not enough to go in until several weeks ago, on one of my walks in the hood, I passed the Diva Spa, looked up to the third floor and through the window saw a woman walking on a treadmill. This excited me because exercise has been a bit of a challenge here in AZ. Most people don’t exercise, and if they do they don’t do it in public like we do in the States. You never see people walking or running for exercise and though I obey most cultural differences and absurdities, I could not obey this one and many times have put my iPod on for some vigorous exercise on the streets. This, of course, brings a great deal of attention to me. If I’m not being stared down by women walking in high heels and pencil skirts, or old ladies in babushkas, I’m being talked to by young boys who want to practice what English they’ve learned in school or heard in movies. For example, it is not uncommon for these boys to say, “Hulloi, how old are you? My name is Ramesh. I love you baby!” Or, men driving cars will pull over, reach over to open the passenger door with the expectation that I will get in the car. I kid you not. This happens at least one time every time I am out walking for exercise. It never happens when I’m just walking as a means of transportation though the stares don’t stop. Now I know this sounds scary and dangerous, but it’s not. It’s kind of amazing that it even happens. Maybe some women do get into the cars of these men, but not this woman. I just ignore them and keep walking.

At the end of one of my walks, I passed by the Diva Spa and decided that I would finally go in and check it out. When I walked in, I was greeted by the receptionist who after discovering that I spoke three words of Azeri called the manager to come down and meet me. Fidan, the manager, is a gorgeous 21 year old with a knock out figure. She is wearing tight shorts that end just above her knees (women here don’t wear shorts), and an off the shoulder shirt that fits her form perfectly. She has beautiful long hair, all of her teeth (having all of your teeth at 21 is a big thing in AZ), a beautiful smile, and she speaks English, not well, but well enough. She greets me and asks how she can help me and I tell her that I’m interested in learning about the Diva Spa. So, Fidan brings me upstairs for a tour. They have an aerobics room with some free weights, hoola hoops, exercise balls, another room with a stair master, elliptical machine, treadmill and the like. There is a hair salon, a place to get mani-pedis, massage, threading, steam room, and a Jacuzzi tub that looks like a space capsule, and on the top floor there is a really nice restaurant. The only thing that’s missing is clients. The place is almost empty. There were three women there using the gym, and no one is in the very plush and well decorated restaurant.

Again, this is a four-story building that is solely occupied by the Diva Spa. I can’t imagine how they are paying their rent, let alone making any money. After the tour, I asked Fidan about the prices. She explains that I may pay 30 manat (remember there is $0.80 to one manta), which will allow me to take an aerobics class, and use the machines for 30 minutes, and 40 manat for a yoga class. My jaw dropped to the floor when she told me this. Who would pay that amount of money to work out at the Diva Spa? Even if I was millionaire, I couldn’t see paying those prices. Fidan noticed that I was stunned. I explained that I practiced yoga in Los Angeles with some of the best teachers in the world and the most I would ever pay for a class is $20. As a Community Economic Advisor for the Peace Corps, I felt it was my duty to let Fidan know with great sensitivity that perhaps the reason there was no one in the spa was because their prices were RIDICULOUS and that maybe they should reconsider revising their pricing structure to accommodate BUSINESS!!! She said that she would consider it.

The next day, I told the story to my cluster mates. My friend Elaine went to the spa to see for herself. She met Fidan, who asked about me, gave Elaine the tour, and the two of them sat down to discuss pricing. Turns out that not only don’t I understand Azeri, but apparently I don’t understand English very well either because the prices Fidan gave me were for a membership for a month, which makes much more sense. Last week, Elaine and I made an appointment to have tea with Fidan. Elaine got her hair cut, and I got my eyebrows threaded, which hurt so bad it made me sweat, and a massage, which was possibly the worst massage I have ever received in my entire life. It was 30 minutes of this woman’s feather light touch and constant jabber in bad English. Luckily it only cost me 10 manat. Today I joined the spa and for the first time since I’ve been in Azerbaijan I got my heart rate up. It’s amazing the effect a little exercise can have on a person’s perspective. I love the Diva Spa. Too bad I didn’t join a month ago, but better late than never.

Tomorrow is a big day. We find out where our permanent sites will be. There is a lot of excitement and nervousness in the air. I am not feeling either. As long as I’m not stuck behind a desk all day and I’m not going to be in Sumgayit I’ll be fine. So, stay tuned for an exciting new blog post!

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10 responses

  1. stacey

    Before I would let ANYONE thread my eyebrows I would definitely inspect theirs first….

    November 9, 2010 at 1:31 am

  2. Sharlene Basch

    I had to ask Stacey what eyebrow threading is. I hope the person doing it knows how to sew. If you need a tweezer I’d be glad to send you one. Sounds like torture to me.

    November 9, 2010 at 5:24 am

  3. Sharlene Basch

    I hope wherever you are going you will be in a place where you can e-mail and blog to all of your family and friends.

    After reading all your blogs and everyone’s comments, it would be sad if we couldn’t communicate with each other.

    November 9, 2010 at 5:39 am

  4. Lori

    Yeah, what exactly is eyebrow threading? Just the term sounds painful. Do they put your eyebrow hairs in needles? Do they braid your eyebrow hairs? Do they do this all over the world? Is the whole world of women doing this except me? How did I manage to go through life not knowing of this particular female grooming technique? Really Mom, I think you missed something here: “take the curtains out of your face!” – “put on a little lipstick!” – “you are of an age where you can’t go out without makeup on!” – “why are you wearing that schmatta?” – “for god’s sake get your eyebrows threaded!”
    Your blogs are terrific! I laughed out loud when you wrote that apparently you don’t get English very well either (LOL). But I think that now that you are fluent in Aziri you are merely getting your languages confused!
    Love you. Keep on keeping us “posted” – Lori

    November 9, 2010 at 8:11 am

  5. lisa

    You are funny. Hoorah for the Diva spa!

    November 9, 2010 at 8:28 am

  6. Hah! And you were concerned about loneliness. With so many boys saying “hulloi” and professing their love, you’ll never have to be alone ever again. By the way, though I’ve never mentioned this to you before, I find it annoying how often women drive by when I’m out, roll down their power passenger-side window and want to engage with me; so I commiserate with you when AZ men expect you to get into their car just because they open the door. What are those men and women thinking?! Jeez.

    Once you finally understood the gym’s pricing, I’m still curious why they charge what they charge when the place is empty. It may be affordable by LA standards, but you gotta take LA out of the girl if you join.

    Ahh, and about Fidan… what can I say….

    The PC is going to give you a desk job – but it’ll be at the spa where you’ll have the chance to run it like an AZ business ought to be run. Will you take it?

    Seriously, I hope the posting turns out as close as possible to your dream post.

    Keep those cards and letters coming.

    November 9, 2010 at 9:07 am

  7. Josh

    Let’s see, we got pictures of dismembered hooves, sheep heads, chicken blood trickling down a tile floor… How about a picture of Fidan?
    Good luck with the site assignment.

    November 9, 2010 at 5:23 pm

  8. Hi: I heard about your blog from your brother, Mitch, since he’d heard I’d been nominated into the Peace Corps. So I just wanted to take a look and say, hi. I don’t know where I will be going exactly yet – they’ve just told me French speaking west Africa. Don’t know what country, or even what I will be doing except something with NGO Development. Hopefully I’ll get more info. And who knows? Guess they could change both the region and the job! If you’re interested I’ll keep you posted. In meantime, I’ll read your blog and hope that you continue to have great and magical adventures in AZ. Cheers, Karen

    November 9, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    • Hi Karen. Yeah, the process is quite long. It will be a while until you find out where you will be going, so keep on living your life until you do find out. Keep me posted and yes read my blog. In my experience, it was reading people’s blogs that kept my enthusiasm up while waiting to find out where I would be going. Good luck to you!

      November 10, 2010 at 10:11 pm

  9. P o E

    LOL! you’ll have to ask karen about threading, too… she had her LEGS done! she said it was horrible and took forever! we were in vietnam and she didn’t understand exactly what the woman was going to do the hair on her legs… well… now YOU know!

    OK, SO I’M WAITING!! DID YOU FIND OUT???? xoxoxoxoxo! won’t be home until later tonight, but i’m going to try to remember to turn on my skype at 10 tomorrow night!

    November 11, 2010 at 5:48 pm

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