Experiencing Azerbaijan

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Location: Kansas, United States

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Tea houses

Week two in Lenkoran has begun. This is Saturday and I had no teachers' meeting nor class so I had a formal break from doing nothing. Yesterday I asked if I could see the schedule. Ah. No schedule yet, maybe on the 10th. School begins on the 15th. School usually, always, begins on September 1. Government decree. This year, maybe because of the heat, the government announced school begins on the 15th. All schools. No one I have spoken with knows why.

The school is extremely poor. As I said before, the teachers earn $40 a month. The students, those who make it into college, do not pay tuition and in fact, are paid a small stipend. Students take a college entrance exam and based on that score, they are not admitted or are admitted to better or worse schools. My school is not a great school and I think it serves mostly locals and those from the southern part of the country. The cows that were grazing at the gate yesterday, technically, were not on the college property.

This has been an interesting past few days though. Throughout the country are thousands of tea houses where men pass their lives, and I assume, solve the problems of the country and discuss football--not necessarily in that order. Women are not allowed, although in the capital, women do sometimes go.These tea houses are so appealing...always in the shade and situated to catch what I think is the north-south breeze (I still don't have a sense of direction). We women scuff along the hot dirty streets, burdened with thin plastic bags of bread and tomatoes and cucumbers...sweat runs in rivulets down our foreheads, along our necks, down our stomachs...our feet are baking and our eyes are blinded by the sun. We pass countless tea houses where the men are stretched out in the shade. A waiter brings small glasses of tea and small plates of sliced lime or lemon. On every table is a bowl of sugar cubes. I can not tell you how enticing these tea houses appear.

In this setting, I had my new adventure.

Janet...and Kamal, and Baktiar and Hashim at the Tea House

I was scuffling down the above mentioned hot dusty streets yesterday, burdened etc...when suddenly one of the maniac drivers stopped beside me. I was startled into stopping. It was four men from the faculty of my school, including Kamal the director of my department. You will have to imagine four voices at once: two speaking French because since I don't speak Azeri and they speak French, they will try anything; one speaking Azeri but wishing he could speak English, and one sort of speaking English because, after all, HE is one of the English teachers at the school. But, all I heard was " you...tea house..."and I saw the shifting around in the car. They were inviting me to come have tea with them. I was deeply
honored. I was also deeply frightened because I was getting ready to get into one
of those cars. Still, one can not turn down such an offer, so I hopped in and
off we tore off down the street, tires screeching on the pavement. It was but a brief light year before we pulled up, tires skidding in the dust, at a tea house near the sea. Really. So wonderful. I said to Kamal that I thought they were very brave and he said, "We are colleagues." So, we had tea. After a while, I consulted my dictionary, came up with the phrase, "My house is near so I will walk home now," and I took off. They all stood up to see me off and Kamal again said, how healthy to walk! only all he could really say was...hhmmhealthy...

I asked them if I would be served if I went there alone and they said yes so I may investigate some day and I will let you know.


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