When I left my training site to go to Ujar, my last day with my host family was spent overstuffing my suitcases and bags will my stuff, so I could actually make it to site in one trip. I remember my host mom standing in my doorway and watching me try to get everything straightened up before I left their house for good. Since I had displaced my host sister by staying with them, I turned to her and jokingly said “Hey, at least now you’ll have your room back.” Immediately, she started to tear up and said to me, “You are my son. I love you and we will all miss you.” Soon after, I finished packing and she and a neighbor helped me carry my bags to the bus that would eventually get me to Ujar. This was September 12th, 2007.
It wasn’t until this Thanksgiving weekend that I got a chance to go back to visit them. This year, they are hosting a new trainee, Kathy, and after a hub day, I went back to my hold house in Shirvan, and got to catch up with Frangis, Evas, Sevinj, and Gunay (mom, pop, and two sisters for those of you keeping score at home). Kathy had mentioned to me how they would always talk about me (which I would find totally annoying) and that they would really love to see me.
I had a great time catching up with them. It couldn’t have gone better. Not only was it nice to simply see them and just sit around in the old house, but it also gave me a chance to realize how far I’ve come in this journey.
The most obvious difference between me when I lived there and me now, is that I can actually speak Azeri now. I felt like I was alright with it when I left training, but it’s a totally different story now. I remember the first time I sat down in the kitchen and had tea with my host mom and host dad. I couldn’t say a word of Azeri besides salam, and we struggled through our introductions with a poorly-informed dictionary. This time, I could not only express my ideas to them, but we really got into some of the intricate differences between our cultures.
One conversation I have pretty frequently with Azerbaijanis is the fact that it is common for Americans to move out of their parents house around the time they finish high school, but before they get married. Often times, it is difficult for people to understand that you can love your parents but still want to go out and live on your own. At the same time, a lot of people have simply said “What mother would allow that?” This conversation came up with my old host mom, Franges.
She told me, “But if my children aren’t here, and they are off doing whatever they want, how will I know they are safe and not getting in to trouble?” I mentioned that in America (and here too, but not in the same way at all) people try to show their kids what is right and what is wrong, and after a certain point, what they do is up to them. “Also,” I mentioned to her, “if I had to stay with my parents until I was married and couldn’t live anywhere else, I never would have come to Azerbaijan and met you.” She saw the point, and we agreed to disagree.
Along with how nice and generous they were toward me, it also made me realize how uncomfortable and uninterested me host family in Ujar was. Every family is going to be different, and of course every situation is going to present its own share of problems, but I realized how my old host family really was great people. It’s the kind of relationship I’ll always remember, and I hope they will remember me for a little while, too. Still, visiting them and seeing a glimpse of the life I used to live made me reconfirm a couple beliefs that I think were pretty strong anyway: They are a great family and I’m glad I live alone.