And the winner is…
Xacmas, or Khachmas, or Hachmas…however you write it, after December 10th this will be home for the next two years. Xacmas is located in the northeast about ten kilometers from the sea, and about 30 minutes by bus from the mountains in Quba (pronounced Guba). Apparently Bakuvians flock to Xacmas and the northern resort city of Nabran to escape the oppressive heat of the summer. According to my guide book (thank you seeeeestooooor) the population is 66,000 people. For this big city girl, that’s a pretty small city, but it’s one of the bigger cities in AZ.
A couple of volunteers went to Xacmas for their site visits. I’ve received positive reports about the city from them. It’s nice and clean, and thankfully it is not reminiscent of Sumgayit at all. There are a couple of new parks lined with fake palm trees that light up at night. Doesn’t that sound dreamy? I’ve also heard rumors that most of this county’s produce is grown there. This includes a wide selection of stone fruits in the summer and some produce in the winter. Fake trees, real food…at least they have their priorities straight.
I will be living with a large family for the first four months, after which time I may move into my own house/apt if there is something available. I’ve also heard that Xacmas is expensive because of its close proximity to the coastal resorts. First the Diva Spa, and now the resort town of Xacmas. Does this sound like the Posh Corps to any of you?
My new host father is Afqan, he is 45 years old and is an engineer. My host mom is Arzu, she is 40 years old (yes, I am older than my new mom), and is a house wife. They have three children: Hikmet is 17. I think he is a boy and I’ve heard that he studies at the Oil University in Baku. The two girls are Samira (15) and Nasiba (11). There is also a grandmother, Pelver, she is 78.
I am taking the place of an AZ6 volunteer who will be leaving at the end of this month. She works for an organization called UAFA, which doesn’t translate into English, but basically stands for United Aid for Azerbaijan Xacmas Family Support Center. This center supports families who have children with disabilities. I’ve already written about how AZ does not offer many opportunities to people with disabilities. This organization is one of the few in the country who serves this population. It is a very green organization, and I know that Jessica, the volunteer I’ll be replacing, has had her challenges in mobilizing and organizing the parents and the director of the organization. Though she’s had many successes one of her most notable is a cooperative business she helped the parents plan and implement for youth. These youth designed, sewed, and hand painted patterns on fabric tote bags which they sell at an Azerbaijani handicraft store in Baku. The proceeds go to supporting this program for youth and the youth also receive a portion of the sales for their labor.
Jessica also helped to start a women’s business center. She wrote a grant to USAID and received funds from them for this project. The center teaches women computer skills, as well as other business skills. I believe she’s also helped women start cosmetic businesses like Avon and Mary Kay though I have not heard this from her nor did I read it in her legacy report, so I cannot confirm this information. Jessica and I will be meeting before she leaves AZ back to the States, and I’ll be able to get more details from her then. I think I am very lucky to be taking her place. Every volunteer I’ve talked to says that progress happens at a very slow pace, so if I can pick up where Jessica left off, hopefully that means I can build on top of what she’s already started.
So, I’m happy about my placement. I think there’s some opportunity for some interesting work, and who knows what will happen, what I will find on my own, and what projects/opportunities will present themselves to me. There are a couple of other volunteers, one who lives about an hour from Xacmas, and the other lives in the south near Iran (don’t worry mom, I will not be going to Iran) who have collaborated on opening an ecotourism business. The business in the south will launch in the spring. There may be a way for me to hop on board with their project too, but we’ll see what happens.