Well guys, I’m back for more. Sunday was probably the most chill day I have had here in Baku, which means that at home it was still pretty nuts. I got to sleep in for the first time in weeks which was a beautiful moment. I had forgotten what waking up not tired feels like. It’s awesome. You should try it. I did homework in the morning and studied my vocab some since I had two tests on Monday. I tried to help my host mother in the kitchen and was rewarded. I am now considered competent enough to pulverize mint with my fingers. I am moving up the ladder baby, watch, I’ll be slicing cucumbers by the end of the program. She talked to me for most of the time and I understood but it was really difficult to respond sometimes. This was not just because it was all in Azerbaijani but also because we were talking about things like how rocking life was under the Soviets. I have very little to say on the matter seeing as I come from the arch enemy of the aforementioned power and also was born after the breakup of the USSR. My responses therefore consisted of head nods and appreciative noises when she talked about the lack of wealth disparity, having jobs for everyone and friendly relations with neighbors of various ethnicities. It’s so hard to sort fact from fiction especially since I know I come from a place where a very different bias exists in the people, media and history books. It’s very difficult to know what to think. Azerbaijan is so old and so chock full of national pride you can’t really tell what’s going on. I have come to expect cynicism and sarcastic comments about all manner of things from my American compatriots but that doesn’t seem to exist here.
Getting back to Sunday, I went with my host mom sister and aunt to an outlet mall of sketchy amazing. It was really empty and prices still seemed super high to me. About half was still under construction but it was an exciting car ride to say the least. My host sister had a gigantic fight with my host mom about buying an item at another store and cutting off the tags when she got home because she liked it and her mom didn’t (nor did I if I’m honest and I was asked you can be assured). I want to tell her, pick your battles sweetheart. One jumpsuit is not worth this. Save it for something big. I suppose I fought a lot with my parents at 18 but I also knew that I was heading out soon and would get freedom at college. That doesn’t seem to exist here until you get married. I’d have a long wait. I then went to the local park and wrote in my journal for a bit while they duked it out. When I got home all was settled and I had time to do some writing for this and other applications and to study some more. For dinner we had amazing plov, one of the national dishes which consisted of rice, lentils, dill, chicken, egg, potatoes and garlic yogurt on top. There seem to be about 6000 different types of plov, all of them tasty and labor intensive. We’re learning how to make it on Thursday. Considering how well I usually do cooking plain rice this should be awesome. After dinner I announced my intention of going for a run. My host sister decided to come with. She wanted to go right away and after several wardrobe changes (no long sleeves aren’t good when it’s still 75-80 out, no jeans aren’t good either you’ll want to be comfortable, no I’d skip the flip flops your feet will die) we set off. I tried to explain breathing rhythm and going slow but I don’t think it set in. As a result we went an average of 50 feet before stopping to run in place or catch some breath depending on who you were. I made it a super short run due to my fear of killing her and she was shocked when we went home so early. She asked why it was so short. I didn’t even try to answer.
Tonight I met up with a friend from MSU, friend meaning I facebook stalked him after reading in the State News that he was from Azerbaijan and cajoling him into a coffee date. Luckily I did not creep him out too badly and so we met up and went to the bulvar and then out bowling. It was so much fun to chat with someone about the country and get real feedback about why things are the way they are. I can’t express the kind of questions I want to ask in Azerbaijani and often I find that answers aren’t in fluent enough English for me to fully understand. Ergo this was lovely. Also, he made a fantastic host. I have yet to meet an unkind Azerbaijani. They might stare at me all day long but they are unfailingly polite, friendly and pleasantly surprised when I tell them I’m in country to study their language. I think everyone is pleased when people learn their native tongue but with less commonly (with Azerbaijani read: never) taught languages, people seem especially pleased. My conversations aren’t complicated but I did get to turn down a proposal today. Sorry guys, here to work on my Azeri, not an Mrs. We all laughed though and when I can make people laugh at my words for reasons other than me being incomprehensible I’m pleased. This week we went to Qiz Qalasi (Maiden’s Tower) as well as the Nation History Museum. Yes there were cannon for those of you who know how they haunt my life. They remain in the picture. The view from Qiz Qalasi was stunning though and the breeze was fantastic. We also learned how to sew miniature hats and listened to a lecture about gender relations in Baki about which I was highly skeptical. I’m sorry but I just I don’t think that the Soviets “solved” problems. They repressed them to the point where they could pretend they didn’t exist. And now everyone is surprised when these practices come back into being. Suppression is not a solution. It reminded me why I want to go into public health, since so many people still see simple regulation as the answer. People won’t stop drinking if you make it illegal. It’s been tried. Also the lecture seemed to look down on people from the regions as very backward and on women who wear the hijab as the same. If it’s her decision I don’t know why it’s so backward. Hot yes. Also the use of the word “traditional” makes me cringe due to all the anthropology training. I’m off on a trip to the regions (rayonlar) this weekend. I’ll be in Lenkeran which is near the Iranian border (I promise, no backpacking) and hopefully we’ll crash a wedding. I had a great day today, one of those I-love-this-place-where-I-am-living type days. I’m starting to feel much more at ease at class, with the people around me, with the language and with so many aspects of Baki. I walked around by myself, spoke Azerbaijani, took the metro and gave directions to a Turkish tourist. I’m telling you, life is good here in Baki. Plus I got my Resident Card today which means I am super legal and legit living here in Baki. I do love an ID card with a photo shopped picture. But that’s Azerbaijan, it makes you either want to shake your head or laugh at loud. You may as well do the latter. That’s my plan at least.
About the Blog
I recently accepted a position from Teach and Learn with Georgia, a Georgian Ministry of Education program designed to bring native speakers of English into classrooms around the country. I will be moving to Georgia in August of 2014 to begin my assignment.
Before this latest adventure, I studied at Bogazici University in Istanbul Turkey and at Azerbaijan University of Languages. I speak English German Spanish, Turkish Azerbaijani and Uzbek and am currently trying my hand at Georgian.