Experiencing Azerbaijan

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Location: Kansas, United States

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Arriving in Azerbaijan

I have arrived in Baku, Azerbaijan, and at the moment I can not remember any of the details I have been noting for my first emailed report. I left my apartment this morning to find the bank, got lost, but finally found myway back. I passed several bakeries and came home with about 10 pounds of bread and sweets. After lunch I resisted a nap and Elchin came in mid afternoon. Elchin wanted to make me one of his favorite lunches: bread, salty cheese and watermelon--a little bite of each, chewed together --very healthy according to him. I shopped with him for the ingredients
and practiced saying "What is that?" Bu nadir? Every clerk laughed at me and I was pleased to bring a little joy into their sober lives.

After that bracing lunch, we faced the afternoon sun to find the bank and a book store where I changed money and bought a map. The clerks in the book store also laughed. Elchin says they think it is funny that I am a foreigner trying to speak Azeri instead of Russian. Azeri language, because of the Russian occupation, is sometimes considered the less intellectual language so the clerks think that not only is my pronunciation comical but it is also slightly silly that I try to speak Azeri.

Last night, Elchin, his friend Moshvin, and I went for a walk along the promenade on the Caspian Sea. We stopped for tea and Elchin (a real taskmaster) made me order: Bir chai va murepe--one pot of tea and jam. The unsweetened tea is served in a pot and we put a slice of lemon in a small curved glass and pour the tea in. Tea is served with a bowl of raisins and nuts and even more delicious--jam. The jam is blackberry or black currant maybe and I think it is flavored with lemon and mint and sugar but Elchin says only sugar. The jam is served in very small bowls and we eat a
spoon of jam then take a drink of the tea. The funniest part was the waiter did not want to take the order from me. He told Elchin that it is the man's place to order not the woman. They explained to him I was practicing Azeri. Then they told me that the waiter is from the region where I will be going--Lenkoran/Lankaran. They knew from his accent and later confirmed it with him. I had read that the area is conservative and this incident seems to confirm that.

The currency here is the manat and 5,000 manat is about $1.05. It is a terrible shock to buy anything: I bought raspberries from a sidewalk vendor this morning--7,000 manat. WHAT!!! A can of coffee--55,000 manat. WHAT!!!

That is all for now. I am a puddle of sweat and sticky hands...airconditioning is rare. In my next installment, I will tell you about Elmira, Afet, Elchin and Janet in Elmira's bathroom.

I am well, the food is quite good, the apartment is comfortable, the weather is hot but pleasant in the evening, the Caspian Sea is a 10 minute walk away, I miss my family and wonder if I am a little or a lot crazy.


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