Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays

Hi All,

Wishing you a very happy holiday season! All is well and it's divine being home!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tailored Made Suit in Baku

Okay...when I find something to shout about being here I promised myself I would. First, you all know how much I love my barber...Navai...

Now I have a new love...a tailor named Ghrmud (I think that's how it is spelled)..not pictures of him yet..he's very modest. A co-worker a German South-African (he's a good guy) Attila, who is married to an Azeri woman, and has a black South African daughter (I think from a previous marriage)...turned me and Ton (the Dutch co-worker) to a tailor that makes suits. So now I have this fab hand made Turkish wool suit. Picked it up last night...looks stunning..and the price...absolutely shocking...I might have my entire wardrobe remade...

I wish I could get everyone's measurements and have suits made...I'll try to post pictures after I get my second suit made in January.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2010 Cat Calendar

Did those of you who ordered calendars receive them? I have learned that unless I actually write Par Avion/Air Mail on everything mail to the US can take weeks otherwise. My brother in Arizona just received a letter that I mailed to him back in mid-September. I don't even remember what I mailed.

If you ordered a calendar and HAVE NOT received it let me

I must say...the calendar came out rather nice and I love the photos I took.

My Barber

Went to get a haircut and my barber Navid, who gives me an amazing scissor and straight edge razor cut, inspite of our mutual inability to speak the same language, he and the other barbers let me know they saw me on the tv show. Here's a picture of him in case you forgot...

After cutting my hair, they insisted I stay and have multiple cups of tea and sweets...I hung out and like any barber shop in the US...or hair was a hoot. I wished them Happy New Year, likewise from them and bid them goodbye for a few weeks.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ESPN International is off the air here!

Oh, man I am really sports fix (football, American that is; rodeo riding, futbol, drag racing, cheerleading contests, basketball, Ali fights, poker, bowling, strongman, strongwoman, alpine racing, cycling, yacht racing, deep sea fishing, log cutting, log rolling, all the fabulous stuff I've grown used to seeing...gone!

The cable company doesn't know when it's coming back...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Building Construction and Otis Elevators...

The head spinning rate of construction here is mind-blowing. But that does leave the question regarding safety and building construction. I actually want to know the rate of on the job injuries..since you see these guys in flip-flops scaling up scaffolding 15 stories high. Speaking of 15 stories, that's the height of my building and I'm on the 9th floor. I've already accepted the fact that if there is an earthquake and I'm in the building you can kiss my ass goodbye.

Bet you never knew how safe you would feel in an Otis Elevator...well, I refuse, REFUSE, unless I have luggage to ride in the substandard elevator in my building...even though it looks brand new...shakes, doesn't stop level with the floor, sometimes the doors open sometimes not...I avoid them (yes, there are two). So I walk up and down the 9 flights of stairs routinely...and since I do it so frequent ...I now can feel the differences in the various some are deeper than others, some are narrower than others....but I would rather be on a collasping stairwell than trapped in an elevator....

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hungarian Embassy and Church

Went to a reception at the Hungarian Embassy in Baku...the Ambassador welcomed everyone but other than that nothing else...but the food was tasty. I goobled down as much meat as I could since that's what I miss the most. I've been a vegetarian here for the last few weeks...which is good for everyone who wants it..but give me a steak!

Decided to visit the church today. I say the church since I have not seen another symbol of Christianity here at all..and even this church has no crosses, no nothing that suggests it's a church other than the building, tower, etc. It was a German Lutheran Church that for whatever reason it was not destroyed during Soviet occupation. Now it seems that various faiths rent it out for services. It is just by luck that I happened upon it last spring.

The service is conducted in Azerbaijan, translated from the pulpit in Russian and usually there is someone seated in the audience (us, ex-pats sit there) who then translates into English. As you can imagine most of what is going on is "loss in translation".

What I'm most in awe with is the hundreds of attendees. Remember this country is 90% Shiite muslim, though wonder how anyone who actually believes in Jesus Christ as their savior makes it here....I guess like me...they have faith in something to get them through each day.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Aren't I lucky that the US Government has my email

On Friday I received the following blast email from the US Embassy here in Baku

Embassy Baku
Warden Message
December 11, 2009

The Azerbaijani press is reporting that an Azerbaijani citizen, Azer Misirkhanov, was killed in a U.S. missile strike in Afghanistan. Misirkhanov was said to be the commander of a paramilitary gropu in Afghanistan that was engaged in fighting U.S. and Afghan forces, and was also alleged to be a leader of a radical religious group in Azerbaijan. In addition, a trial of 31 of Misirkhanov's followers, accused of plotting a series of terrorist attacks, is scheduled to begin in Baku on December 17.

The U.S. Embassy is Baku does not have any evidence of a specific threat against Americans in Azerbaijan at this time. However, due to the high-profile nature of this news and the upcoming trial, we would like to take this opportunity to remind all Americans to monitor media reports, maintain a high level of vigilance, and to increase their security awareness, such as varying times and routes of routine travel.

U.S Embassy in Baku is located at Azadliq Prospekti 83, tel (+994 12) 498-03-35. Duty personnel are also available for emergency assistance after hours and on weekends and holidays at these telephone numbers....

Friday, December 11, 2009


Yeah, it's been a long week...and a nice way to end it and start the weekend is with the Christmas Party I am attending tonight at the Hungarian Embassy. I won't have my camera but I'll be sure to report on the event later...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Love Affair with the Azerbaijani Media

The media coverage of both the Academy, me personally and my role with the Academy has been overwhelming the entire time I've been here. I understand, heck this is a relatively small country 8 million, with the majority living here in the capital-Baku. There are several public, state owned and private TV stations, internet new agencies, newspapers and magazines all eager to get "the breaking story". Yes, the breaking story consists of the innovative and very different education the Academy is offering, but also the person behind (or in front) is also a breaking story...especially, if they are a woman, American and African-American, with gray hair. So I have done my fair share of interviews, press conferences, and article writing...but last week was a first for me. I was on their morning talk show...think Good Morning aired lived!

My assistant and our admissions counselor Gunay (it was her wedding I attended back in August--see that post), who is an amazing simultaneous translator accompanied me. It was fun and I remembered to keep it light and fun as the anchor played with her hair....following the segment I asked to take a picture with them..Mehman Mediyev is on my left and Gunay (very popular name here) Nazarova is on my right.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

We're coming home for the HOLIDAYS too!

Hello friends....well Janice has finally let us post....AND WE'RE COMING HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS TOO...

Lamb Chop and Platy

More photos from Istanbul

I haven't been to all of the world's major cities..who has? Though Istanbul with its' beautiful waterways, slight hills, ancient building and bustling full of definitely high on the list as evident by more pictures...but for sheer beauty I still must believe it is Cape Town. I was there last September and Table Mountain, the meeting of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans...well it is down right breathtaking....any way more of Istanbul

Monday, December 7, 2009

Free Market and McDonald's

Okay...I'll admit I was near desperate...went to the McDonald's here in Baku for fries and coffee during my lunch hour. Not only is it fully decorated for Christmas even with the tree and ornaments...the music blasting over the speakers....I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, Santa's coming to town, Sleigh was way too freaky for even my American sensibilities!!!!

But you know what made me even more freaked out...I've decided THEY CAN'T POSSIBLY TEACH ANYTHING ABOUT THE WORLD BEYOND THESE BORDERS IN THE K-8 SYSTEM....

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Authoritarian Government

Authoritarian.....of or pertaining to a government or political system, principle, or practice in which individual freedom is held as completely subordinate to the power or authority of the state, centered either in one person or a small group that is not constitutionally accountable to the people.

Azerbaijan has never held an election that has been considered fair and without election fraud.

Elections are going to be held on December 23rd. I doubt if their dubious honor of recognition by the UN and other global elections watchers will change.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Still great pictures from Istanbul

Okay several mores pictures from Istanbul..beautiful stained glass windows inside a mosque and an LED board in front of another mosque announcing the daily teachings...I thought that was rather interesting
Also if you've been following my adventures you know of my post office goings on...but my brother in Arizona just received this week a letter I mailed to him from here back in September...slowly but I guess it works. Anyhow, the post office lady, Mehriban, my friend, called me on my cell phone this morning. Though we don't speak the same language, I gathered that there was a letter for me...she calls when something arrives for me since actual door delivery doesn't really operate here. I went there this afternoon and it was not one letter for me but months worth of mail for the Academy....oh well....

Friday, December 4, 2009

Few more pictures from Istanbul

The thing that is so striking about Istanbul is that it's a mixture of Europe and Asia, of Islam and where is it more pronounced in St. Sophia the ancient basilica built by Constantine the Great in the 4th century and reconstructed by Justinian in the 6th century. When the Ottoman Empire ruled it was converted into a mosque and now it's a museum/tourist site.
During many of the renovations, mosaic panels were discovered. One in particular is quite spectacular. It is the Virgin Mary between Justinian, who is presenting St. Hagia Sophia and Constantine presenting a model of his new city.

The next photo is a marble jar (standing nearly 5 feet tall) made from one single slab of marble from the Peragamon area of Turkey. The jar was presented by Murad III who was the Sultan ruler from 1574-1595. It is quite an extraordinary piece and there's two of them.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


The persimmon trees are in heavy with fruit here. There are several types here. The one I enjoy the most is extremelly hard, with very hard seeds inside...but it is sweeeet.

They also have the type most often found in US...soft and fleshy. I understand that Azerbaijan is very well known for growing this fruit. Along with pomegranates, persimmons are among the country's leading exports.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More photos from Istanbul

Istanbul has somewhere between 2000-3000 mosques depends on your tour guide that day. Nonetheless, the mosques are impressive sight...especially the world famous Blue Mosque.on the right. The thousands of tiles that adorn the inside of the mosque are blue...hence, the name. It was build in 1616 and is an architectural marvel the large dome is not supported by walls but the columns inside. The other building with four minarets (three in my photos) is the St. Sophia built by Constantine the Great in the 4th century and reconstructed in the 6th century. It was a church, then mosque and now basically a museum. Inside photos didn't come out so great...but enjoy...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Istanbul, city of 14-16 million people in both Asia and Europe

Istanbul was/is an amazing city, it sits as a link to Asia and Europe divided by the Bosphorous Strait which was filled with enormous tanker ships. I was really struck by all the historic and ancient sites...we're talking thousands of year old. There were lots of tourists from far away places Brazil, Italy, Hawaii....yes, I met all of them on the tour bus (it was the easiest way to maximize my time and money there).

My first stop was the Obelisk and Hippodrome area, where horse races where held 3600 years ago. Though the actual Hippodrome sitting area was destroyed in an earthquake in the 1400's you can still image the oval track, the people cheering and the sound of the hoof beats...

Monday, November 30, 2009

70 Days since the end of Ramadan

This means that it is the Quryan Baryabmi holiday, the sacrifice of the animals, though several years ago I understant the president of Azerbaijan asked people to donate blood instead of shedding the blood of sheep. I decided that if I couldn't take the cats, I knew I would have problems with the dead sheep so was able to travel to Istanbul for the long weekend. More on Istanbul and photos in upcoming posts.

So if you could image on the way to the airport Friday, small herds of sheep were about town with their faces turned away from the slaughtering rack. I guess they have an aversion to seeing one of their brethren butchered and skinned. Who wouldn't?

Arriving back into Baku today, now there are bags of wool all over town....ugh

Sunday, November 29, 2009

More from Tbilisi and then on to Istanbul

It seems like the last month I've now visited Dubai, Moscow, Tbilisi, Northern Azerbaijan and now Istanbul. More on Istanbul later. Traveling back to Baku was by bus crossing a land border between Georgia and Azerbaijan. I don't think the border guards had ever seen a US Passport, especially one belonging to an African-American before. I was a little nervous but I crossed with an Azeri male student Elshad from the Academy.
He speaks excellent English and completed his military service (it's mandatory unless you can bribe your way out of service). Being with Elshad made it easier but nonetheless the guards gave me more than just the usual once over. I was able to sneak a photo of a bunch of young privates (Army) just hanging out. They all came to look at the

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More on Georgia and Tbilisi

The South Caucasas countries are Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Inpsite of some of their shared recent history, all former republics belonging to the USSR, they are quite different countries today. Of the three Georgia is and always has been more Christian and more European, Armenia (don't think of the large Armenia diaspora in the US which is larger than the current population of the country), and Muslim Azerbaijan.

I can't travel to Armenia from Azerbaijan, the war between the two countries has been a ceasefire for years but sabers are rattling again..if the shooting starts, I'm outta of here. Tbilisi feels much more like a European city, very tourist friendly and much less repressed than Baku and Azerbaijan.

Here are a couple of photos...more later

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia

Traveled to Tbilisi on an overnight train from Baku. A train ride of 16 hours, which included an hour of stopping for passport check at the Azerbaijan border, then two hours at the Georgian border. Just last August Georgia and Russia had a five day war, the resulted in the deaths of many Georgians and the occupation of some of the Georgian land. Heard a lot about the reasons and current relationship between the two countries.

One of the main reasons for the war and something that you really don't hear much about in the USA, but Russia, as a country, is a severe decline. Their economy has tanked even much more than the US decline, their birth rate has dropped with no likely increase to come, and they are literally drinking themselves to death. All of these things combined have their population hovering around 140 million which is less than half of the US. The Russian leaders want to "expand their sphere of influence". Georgia, on the other hand with about 4 million people who consider themselves more European (and trying hard to become a member of the Europeann Union), is the front door to the entire Caucausas, to Russia easy pickings...especially prior to a new incoming US president. They knew Bush couldn't do anything to stop them nor would any other western country....okay enough of the international politics...but all of this is so meaningful to this region of the world.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

McDonalds and Me

Okay..this sounds really crazy but those of you who have traveled abroad for any length of time or even those who haven't where's the cleanest restroom that you can find...Mickey's D's

I'm standing in front of the McD's at Red Square in Moscow only a few feet from the Kremlin. Oh yeah, I'm freezing my butt off...and the other photo is the McD's at a central square in Tbilisi, Georgia.

I am continuing my traveling adventures...four day weekend and going to Istanbul. It's a 2.5 hour flight from Baku with a two hour time difference (behind)...looking forward to getting out of town again. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday, November 23, 2009

more pictures from Moscow and still in Tbilisi

a few more pictures from moscow and my three days in tbilisi is nearing an end...more on that later.

during the trip to moscow, i had an opportunity to hear the moscow state university choir....quite an amazing group. their performance was amazing...they even performed "oh shenadoah"....when i went to take a photo of them following the performance, the conductor gestured "no, come join us, let someone else take the picture" there i am in the middle of one of the best amateur choirs in the entire world.

also the university has a small historic library that I found fascinating especially the images of individuals important to the school's history who "looked like they had negro facial features"...check out those photos...

photos of tbilisi in the next few days...i'm just glad (and surprised that the hotel in tbilisi had free wifi)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Moscow, more photos more thoughts

Alright if I don't write a book about my experiences in Moscow and in fact, during these days in this part of the world...I might be forced to visit Red Square again and see know he's on displayed in all his dead glory still..but you can only see him 3 days a week and 3 hours a day...guess they have to keep in iced to continue to preserve him.

Compared to Azerbaijan, Moscow was civil. No spitting on the street, no erratic driving, no pushing (well there was some serious pushing to get onto the train to the airport in Moscow)...nonetheless, very different from Baku. I'm in Tiblisi, Georgia for four days...this city feels much more European than Asian, Islamic or Turkish...I'll post photos from Georgia in a few days but I want to share more of Moscow first...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Back from Moscow and onto Tbilisi

I didn't take my laptop to Moscow...and OMG, OMG...thankgoodness aging and working in Azerbaijan has given me the patience of Job. Nix the blog, I definitely have to write a book about my three days in Moscow....more later but taking overnight train to Tbilisi in a few hours...I will take laptop...but here are a couple of pictures from Red Square.....

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finally, finally a legal documented worker in Azerbaijan

After, several months of being an illegal alien...I am finally have the Azerbaijan State Migration Service legal I received my Temporary Resident ID Card...(that's what they call it).

Sorry the best I could do was take a picture of it and post it here. It's valid for one year and permits me to leave and return to the country.
If you can see the mug shot, I decided that it was inappropiate to smile, in fact, they would have thought I was crazy if I had smiled. I went for the "hard ass American"...I'm sure they loved it....oh, joy now I'm in their system for real.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Oil and Azerbaijan

On Friday I tagged along on a field trip to Sangachai Oil Terminal, the largest outside of the Middle East. The Azeris like to say that the first oil rig was installed in the world here in Baku in 1849, before it was drilled for in Pennsylvania in 1853. During WW II, Azerbaijan supplied Russia with 80% of their oil...thus, contributing the the Allies Victory...they also like to report. Hitler had made plans to capture Azerbaijan and the oil but was foiled...lucky for them.

If you want to know the big US and Western players in the oil industry...and think of this as you fill up...BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Hess and Exxon Mobil....but also Japan, Norway, Turkey, Iran, France and Russia are deep in the mix too.

The pipeline that feeds and fuels most of Europe is the BTC Pipeline..Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan...1098 miles...than on tankers in the Bospouros Strait in Istanbul, then on to markets in the EU.

Two pictures that I thought says it all...the first from the early turn of stood chest high shoveling oil...and the other a platform...think oil city floating in the water...hundreds in the Caspian of the reasons pollution is so bad...water, air, and death rate of workers....but ....

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Back in the apartment

Shockingly, the repair to the building's electric generator has been repaired in less than 24 hours. I think one of the reasons is that at the college we were supposed to host all the ministers (think presidential cabinet) including the minister of emergency services (think homeland security and FEMA)...but without electricity and water we had to cancel. So everyone is in agreement that's why things were fixed in record time for Baku.

In the meantime, I spend the night (courtesy of ADA) in a nearby "nice enough" hotel. I was on the 15h floor and thought I would share some window view photos. The photo of the hole in the ground is actually the footprint of a high rise being built where the original building collapsed. It is not unusual for building to fall down here since construction, building codes and materials, along with pay offs results in such tragedies.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Little early morning excitement

No, it's not what you might think. This morning around 3 am Baku time, my heating system cut off and just from the sound I thought blown fuse in the apartment or electrical black out (which does happen occassionally here)...I got up immediately, threw on some jeans and thought grab my passport, emergency cash fund, cell, laptop and exit the building. I stopped to look out the window (I'm on the 9th floor of 15th and there are three similar highrises in my complex)...the doormen/security are running through the courtyard, parking lot. I have never seen these guys even walk fast so I knew something was up. I could see flames reflecting off the ground floor of the windows on the building opposite seems that a fire occurred in the main generator room...I would rather not see that wiring system.

Electricity, water, including toilets were off ....and since the Academy is on the same power grid...everything was cancelled there today...ADA put me up in nice local hotel for the evening maybe two, maybe three depending on how look it takes to to get the services back....the little food that I had in my freezer...all those wonderful blanched carrots and stringbeans...bummer...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Free Speech

I have been following this event including the trial from outside news sources and I am shocked but not surprised that they were found guilty. This really chills the purpose and hallmark of what I'm supposed to be doing here. The bottomline is you can not be critical of the government at all.....

Not a good week

Sometimes it is not easy being so far away from home....missing the family, Tammy, the kids and animals....I think this is one of those weeks....bummer

Plus my status as an illegal alien (which has been promised to be resolved next week) is making me more than crazy....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Violence in America

I know this week as been a particular violent one back home...horrible shootings at Ft. Hood and Orlando...of course, it's been fascinating and upsetting watching the global news coverage here. Even conversations with my Azerbaijani colleagues...they don't understand the level of gun violence and the ability to have a gun. I had a lengthy discussion about the "right to bear arms"....and to their credit that understand how these simple words written by founding fathers have both benefited Americans and at times created tragic outcomes for Americans.

I might get violent...cabbage is returning to the vegetable stands...cabbage, carrots and potatoes..the winter food stable here...and back! Thank goodness for my canned spinach, aspargus, and string beans....

Monday, November 9, 2009

Who knew it was so difficult to visit Russia?

I've been invited to attend a conference on get this..."College and University rankings in Central Asia". I guess US News and World Report wants to find new markets. The conference is going to be next week in Moscow.

As an American citizen, coming from Baku, I am only permitted to be in Russia for two days, which is fine given that's how long the conference is. I have to complete two major applications, two photos, proof of insurance, and list all the countries I have visited in the last ten years and a list of all organizations including charitable that I belong to or donate to. Also, the names of my last three supervisors including phone numbers. If this wasn't enough, the two day visa is $250 USD.

Oh, since I'm still technically an "illegal alien" here in Azerbaijan, I have to get legal first, this may happen this week....we'll see. But I guess even with all these hurdles I will try my best to go, since I doubt if the chance to go to Moscow will EVER come again...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The weather is changing in Baku

Compared to the heat of Dubai...winter is beginning to take hold here in Baku. Rainy, cold, this seems like what it will be for the next few months..some snow is predicted and likely for late December and January.

The streets are incredibly all the dust and debris that I experienced all sprint and summer is now mud. Trash receptacles have mysteriously appeared on the block. Ah, the President of the country, Ibraim Aliyev is supposed to visit the Academy later this month. I gather when ever the President visits anywhere an amazing facelift happens just before, so I guess the receptacles are just the beginning.

Friday, November 6, 2009

More photos from Dubai

The photo on the left is a scene of the dwoks (wooden boats now with diesel engines) that tranverse the Dubai inlet to the sea that separates the city. The fleet of dwoks are part of the Dubai transit system (yes, that have billion dollar fully automated metro system too). However, the dwoks are the best way to move around...the photo on the left is the original home of the Sheik of Maktoum, he was the leader of the Bani Yas tribe that settled Dubai in the 1830's. It is his sons that have ruled the kingdom since and his original home is a historic site...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Another photo from Dubai

Here's a picture of the largest mosque in Dubai. All the mosques were quite impressive, of course, as a female and non-Muslim I wasn't permitted to enter. Though there are specific mosques just for women.

One thing that was interesting to me are the robes worn by both men and women. Men wear all white and women all black...many women had their faces covered. There was a warning in the guide book suggesting it was not wise to take photos of them in their traditional garments.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Back in Baku, Dubai will take your breath away

Along with my colleagues, I flew back from Dubai this evening. First, like always I can't believe I'm back in Baku. And, as usual the comparison to Azerbaijan and most of the world is shocking but not surprising. More on that later but for now....Dubai.

The world's tallest building is opening there next month..165 stories. Longest automated metro system in the world and they must have more building over 50 stories than NYC, Chicago, LA, Dallas/ Houston and Miami combined...

And, like Azerbaijan...the Sheik and Prime Minister have their faces splashed all over the place.

Monday, November 2, 2009

In Dubai

Here in Dubai..and if the world has suffered a global financial crisis you would never know from being here or rather what was this place like 2-3 years ago. It is American consumerism on heavy duty steroids.....UNBELIEVABLE. The best and worst of the western empire on display here.

I can only describe it as glass skyscrapers of Dallas, the glitz of Beverly Hills, the cars of the Hamptons, and the malls of every urban city...multiple this by 100 and add heavy steroids and you'll get a small taste of what Dubai is like.

Internet services are not free and I'm using the conference center server to update blog..but I hope to post some photos when I next log in before I leave on Wednesday.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Emma and her cats

Here's another image from the 2010 calendar collection...this is Emma. She's brings fish heads and sausages to her friends. She speaks a little English and asked me where I was from. I said the US, she immediately asked where. I was struck by this as it suggested she knew the US. I told her Pennsylvania and she said..."I know, I know". I asked had she ever been to the US, she said "vox, vox"..(which means no). I thought okay, "so how do you know PA"? Emma smiled and replied "I study map of US".

I look for her and my other cat lady friend (who I now realize is nearly mute) every Saturday.

2010 Baku Cat Calendar is at the printer!

I met with the local printing coming today and the calendars will be delivered to me next Friday. As you know I've been simply devastated by the sheer number and condition of the cats that live (barely survive) in the streets here. Trying to turn my tears and heartbreak into something positive my idea has been to have a 2010 calendar printed with the photos of them I've taken and hopefully, convince my friends and family to purchase one with the majority of sales going towards a local group working on opening a shelter.

Needless to say I've learned a great deal about the Azeris and their feelings about animals, especially cats. They are basically indifferent to them...unless, (here's the stereotyping going on here) they have some Russian genes....seems the Russians cared more for animals than people.

So I've befriended two older Russian women that I make a point of visiting every weekend as they spend their afternoons feeding and caring for their respective street cats. I took pictures of them and today I went to give one of them the photos (here in the blog). She let out a huge laugh and an even bigger smile when she saw the photo..and for once, for once I walked back to my apartment with the biggest smile and warmest feeling that I've had in my heart since I've been here!
And just a reminder I leave for Dubai on November 1st..I'll blog and post photos while I'm there for a couple of days.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Yes, it's confirmed...going to Dubai

I leave for Dubai on Azerbaijan Airlines (nix the pretzels) on Sunday morning November 1st.

I checked out the flight plan...I fly directly over Iran....ummm. I'll be sure to waive and keep an eye out for the uranium production plants.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


First, Dubai...well I've been asked to join the team of staff from ADA going to Dubai to meet with the company that will be building the software platform for school's long term use....So before you I'll be in a Holiday Inn Express Hotel for three days in a conference room for six hours a day and even if I dare venture outside it's 90+ degrees there right now....

I'm supposed to leave on Sunday morning and back on Wednesday evening.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Marsalis Concert

Even though I not a total jazz maniac, the concert last night was good and change of pace for me.
It was nice to also see some other black Americans, including the 18 year drummer, who was just a phenom. You could see that even Branford admired and cheered on his playing.

The audience was interesting and even with ticket prices steep by Azeri standards, I paid 30 manats or 45 USD, for lousy seat in front of a column there is something fundementally lacking in civility. Perhaps this is why there was no encore...which REALLY surprised me.

However, walking the 25 minutes from the Academy to the concert hall....several things struck me that I will elaborate on more in the future...but I discovered or I should say realized this place reeks of the THREE C'S....cigarettes, cologne and car fumes.....

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gosh do I need some cheering up

Okay, looking forward to the concert in a few hours...but in the meantime, I just spent two hours in a meeting discussing "i'm not sure what". One of the key struggles here (for me and for the Academy) is "building an institution from scratch". And, not just from scratch but from the wheel has not been invented here.

As a career administrator in higher education, I thought it might be easier but again my reality is overwhelmed my expectations. I acknowledge no one is really at blame but unfortunately, or unfortunately....the outcomes are a hodgepodge of the varied experiences that my Azeri colleagues have had in the US as students or visitors.

I'm still stunned that the colleagues here are insisting on knowing someone's disability status and if they have HIV.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Branford Marsalis

Maybe this will cheer me up....tomorrow Branford Marsalis Quartet is in town playing at the Concert Hall...within walking distance....I got a ticket.....

Looking forward to the show! Oh, yeah, Daylight Savings Time ended here at least it is lighter in the morning now...and how 'bout those Yankees!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Undocumented Worker

That's what I'm officially known as since I still have not be able to get the Temporary Residence Card from the State Migration Services. In fact, I had an interesting conversation with the folks at the US Embassy as they too are complaining about the logistics of get the Card for any person. It actually made me feel better to hear that "my government" is also having problems getting the proper registration for staff, etc.

So sometimes I look but not too directly at Polis (that's the police here) since I could be stopped, fined, and deported...or worst, they will ask me for a bribe to be released.

I hope to get this situation fixed this week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

You would think I would become a vegetarian

Sometimes I wish I wasn't so much of a meathead...and I bet Tammy says the same thing too.

The red meat here is always a mystery. The cuts are something you've never seen before, usually in just hunks and nothing is labeled. You only know if red meat vs. say chicken. Since this is a Muslim country and they also killed what few pigs they had here to prevent swine flu, yes, you tell them pigs aren't the problem.

Well, today I finally figured out why the red meat I've been buying I have never liked and often end of tossing it after one or two bites....IT'S SHEEP!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Race (and I don't mean like the kind you run)

I must say one thing about being here is that I can count the number of times on two fingers that I have had "race conversations" with co-workers. Since it seems to me that whenever I walk past a group of testerone filled, young smoking boys/men, say ages 14-17, one of them seems to always mutter something under their breath.

So my assistant Gunay, I decided to ask her with all candor and not to be sensitive..."are there words, derogatory words, that can be uttered at me because of my skin-color"? I don't know why I was surprised to hear this...but there are no words in Azeri...yes, there is the word for the color black, but it's not used for people. Okay...that's great...but here's the rub..

Russians are by nature very xenophobic and in fact, Russians call Azerbaijanis a very degrading fashion. Actually, I'm told that Russia is not a place I should visit....the skin-heads and racially motivated violence is a common practice there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Photos from the Academy

I hope this works but one of the on-line news agency's here in Azerbaijan posted from photos from their visit to our facility. You'll see me in two photos...look in the front row of the auditorium shot and you'll see my grey head. I think I'm more grey than ever.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Going to US Embassy on Friday

I might have mentioned that I was invited to join the Fulbright Selection Committee for Azeris seeking to study in the US. On Friday of this week and Monday of next week I'll be at the Embassy as the committee will be conducting interviews. I can't believe we're interviewing 10 people each day with 20 minutes allocated per interview.

It should be interesting and after nearly a lifetime of working with international students in the is definitely interesting to be on the other side of the equation/ocean and see how the process works and also what drives the student applicants.

I'll surely blog about it more...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Azerbaijan and Birthday Celebrations

I guess in the scheme of things I understand why the concept of celebration is so strong here, weddings, funerals, and entrance exams too. Celebrating is the way to go.

Maybe because next to the Ambassador, I am the next oldest person in the entire Academy...with probably 20 years between me and the next oldest at some point the magnitude of birthdays might lose some glitter or being not with your family, friends or familiar surroundings just diminish the celebration for me.

But let me tell you...the birthday parties at ADA are considered a serious affair. This is how it works:

1) HR manager send an email announcing an upcoming birthday and asking for 5-10 mants (which is $7.25 -$12.00) per person.
2) You are instructed to bring the money to her office. I usually have been giving 5 manats.
3) If you don't make the trip to her office, later that same day or the intern appears at your door with the list of all employees asking for your money.
4) Last week, since I had not been paid, I only gave 3 manats....later the HR manager came to me, saying "what's wrong you usually give 5"
5) The party includes a rather tasty but caloric laden fancy sheet cake and a gift (men get shirts, ties, and/or belts) and women (jewerly, necklace, ear rings, or crystal)...
6) Can I avoid the birthday thang!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Professor from Harvard here today

I went to an interesting talk this evening presented by a big time Harvard guy but he was quite good and spoke so even I (a non-economist, non-international affairs major) could understand.

His position basically was that in order for a country to be prosperous it has to have a diversified economy and both export and import products that people want. He was specifically speaking about Azerbaijan since at some point the oil and gas reserves will run out and if this country doesn't began to broaden its' product based...they will be up a creek by 2050, if not sooner.

It's so clear to see since they don't really make or grow things...which is one reason why the neigboring countries need to open markets...Azebaijan needs to sell things to Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Iran, Israel and the 'stan countries....we'll see.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cash Society

It's so easy to take for granted how transactions are conducted in the US....debit, credit cards, checks, money orders, electronic payments, etc., etc....but here this is really considered a cash society. I'm not sure how much the average person uses banks...other than to receive their salaries...but immediately withdraw all the can always tell pay days because the lines at the ATM are off the hook.

I have not meet anyone who uses checks....but things like the cable, electric, water, have to pay and I mean go to the business to pay. I try to pay in advance, i.e. which means having a sum on account, so I don't have to walk there every month to pay something.

Oh, yeah, I'm expecting a package from I tipped Merihban at the post office yesterday...hopefully, my box comes early this week...


Saturday, October 17, 2009

National Feral Cat Day--Oct 16th

Okay, figures there would be a day and it's not even set by Hallmark...nonetheless, I think I'm beginning to live in my brain and heart but the good news is just as I was making my regular Saturday trip to give money to one of the Cat Lady's and take Tammy advice to treat myself to fries at Mickey D's...I bumped into one of the US Fulbright student's I met last spring. Funny, she too was on her way to get a cheeseburger. So we both entered the mayhem of the fast food fixture here and enjoyed our meals.

Amy is her name..and she's doing her doctoral degree on 19th Educational Policy of AZ...she's from Minnesota, blue eyed and brown hair...I can't tell you how refreshing and validating it was to hear her talk about the stares, the guys who toss cigarette butts in her path...interesting...I think being black generates more stares but the men have not been nearly as confrontational with me as they seem to be to her. No man has blocked my path like has happen to her.

Sharing experiences I think helped both of us..she's here for another three months and we promised to try to meet more often. Unlike me she has not been back to the US since she arrived in April. Oh, boy...I think I'll offer her one of my cans of green veggies.

Oh, so what does the National Feral Cat Day have to do with this...when I walked out of the courtyard this morning..two little kittens (probably not more than 6-8 weeks old) were sitting right out in front...I just bursted into tears....

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thank God it's almost Friday and the education system in AZ

What a tiring week! Grades came out for the students mid-terms and for the most part this first group of MA students, some did really well, most not so good and a few really bombed.
And, it broke down along international and Azerbaijani students...all international doing better and AZ students not good at all.

So there's lots of discussion going on at work and I think my colleagues (remember they are for the most part all educated abroad--US or UK or Germany), are failing to see that the college education that most Azeris receive here in the country is not preparing them for a western-style multi-disciplinary education.

At least the consensus is that Admissions has done all it can in admitting the best they could. Thank goodness for once the US News ranking doesn't come into play.

PS..I also got paid. Can you believe that my compensation has to go through and get approval..first, from our CFO, then the Rector (he's my boss and former Ambassador), then to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then to the Azerbaijan Treasury, then to the National Bank...which finally does a wire transfer to my bank back in Pennsylvania. All this takes 10 days from start to this sucks!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Map of Azerbaijan

I thought I would post a map just in case you've never had a chance to really see where I be.

Baku is on the on the penisula jutting out into the Caspian Sea. I have been to Lagich (where the copper makers are--it was the four hour sickening car ride), south on the penisula is where the dead zone is as a result of the Soviets more management of the land and resources. Gobustan is where the mud volcanoes and the natural fires coming from the mountainside are.

The war (but ceasefire since 1995) with Armenia is over those light blue areas, called the occupied territories. The border between Turkey and Armenia is currently closed and if it is to be reopened, Azerbaijan wants its' territories back.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This is not a good sign

Now that I've been here for a total of 7 1/2 months (to be technical a total of 5 months, if you minus the time I've spent back in the US)'s weird since the "tourist" factor has left me...and I now feel somewhat oppressed by the society and norms here.

I mean like...people for the most part don't take pictures...of taking pictures seems really foreign (no pun intended) to me now.....any ability to express ones' self seem constrained..tho' I am sure my colleagues would tell me that this is not the case and they feel very free. And, they would be correct compared to their parents' generation (which was under Soviet rule).

When I saw a young man last week with his hoops in his ear and a long pony-tail, I wanted to ask him if he was Azeri..since I've not seen that at ALL. But I didn't...he might have been Czech...

I guess when I do leave here it will be interesting to check in over the years and see how this current generation of 20+ years old...will change and address the crucial issues facing the country. I can already predict that one day the desire to have real elections with multiple parties will receive a groundswell for change..

Monday, October 12, 2009

Today's Ah Moment

You never see or hear the word "God" here. It is a Muslim country. So today while reading an essay for the Fulbright selection (yes, the US Embassy asked me to serve) I was a little taken back when the writer said "hopefully, God will give me the opportunity to study in the US".

So I asked one of my colleagues did this mean the writer was a Christian? Or, actually a asked...when would an Azeri use the word God vs. Allah?

And, the reply from my colleague...."what's the difference"? God is Allah and Allah is God.

I thought ummm....that sure wouldn't fly in the US...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Armenia and Turkey sign a deal under the watchful eyes

Hope you caught the news as I suggested about following Secretary Clinton's travels with her first stop in Zurich where she faciliated and witnessed the historic signing of a protocol between Turkey and Armenia. This signing has huge implications for this region, the gas and oil pipelines, and energy reserves, US bases able to supply the region, and a whole bunch of other stuff that includes the "frozen conflict" between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Plus, the final issue might be the 1.4 Armenia who live in the is yet unknown how they will respond to the signing. You might be able to let me know.

It will be interesting at work this week...Azerbaijan is not necessarily happy about the signing...I'll let you know what the chatter is "around the water cooler"...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

How Desperate for Sports Can One Be?

You know I paid extra to have premium cable channels....I mean like greased the wheels to the installer let alone extra for the premium package. But as my friend Terry says.."you want to be right or you want to be happy"

Well, after sitting through an hour of the Stihl TimberSports Collegiate Challenge..I'm questioning my wisdom. What is the STCC (I can't deal with suffering anymore by writing it out). If you're not familiar with Stihl..they are the world's largest producer of chain saws. TimberSports are those things like chopping wood like 19 inch logs, running over logs in water, tree climbing with two axes, are you getting my drift?

This is a big deal at the collegiate level ....who knew and who got to watch!

Clearly, my 50 DVD collection is not enough.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Interesting Week ending with Nobel Peace Prize

By any means Obama's be selecting as the recipient is quite extraordinary. I've just heard a report on BBC and the reporter suggested that sometimes the Selection Committee likes to take a stand on the potential achievement of the selectee. And, he clearly has taken the visibility and the sense of purpose of the position of US leadership to new heights around the world. This has changed the tone of how people view the US...that we are no longer the superpower with the hammer..that here's a US President who is trying to change the way the world sees America.

The other big news has to do with this region. In fact, I encourage you to follow Secretary Clinton's trip abroad (I understand she is visiting Europe and Russia). She will be in Zurich to witness the signing of a historic agreement between Turkey and Armenia. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at war (though there is lose ceasefire) for nearly 15 years...and the implications of this agreement is HUGE for Azerbaijan. It is difficult to know how the leadership of the country, the people and/or the opposition in Azerbaijan will react.

Let's hope things continue to be peaceful or you can bet I will have my black ass out of here on the first jet to London or Frankfurt...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


The photo is Tavis and his Lada (Russian 1980's)
He has become my go to taxi driver..he speaks English a bit--a enough for me to get around. I've been using him since June when Tammy came to visit. The car is are all Lada's..but it works for me. Most foreigners have drivers with much fancier cars Lexus, Chrysler 300 (yes, they are here), Range Rovers, etc..I like my local guy.

National railway system is trying to make a come collapsed after the collapse of the USSR..but the tracks are horrible and it takes hours and hours to ride anywhere to the country side. There is a metro (underground system), when Baku was the 4th or 5th largest city in the USSR was can tell it was quite elegant..with all the socialist type worker scenes in mosaic tile...but the system needs a good scrubbing, trains with AC and heat. Finally, the US Embassy does not suggest Americans use it...I've been on it once with co-workers..but there was a bombing in the '90's..Armenia terrorists...and you can imagine with only one exit at each could be a death'm adventurous..but no thank you.

There are tons of public buses (most made in Korea and China) but except for the new models I have avoided them too...people literally hang out of the doors when the buses are crowded.

So I'm very lucky to be able to hoof it just about everywhere I need to go.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Me with some of our graduate students

Ah, the globalization of my right is Julio from Mexico, to my left Veronika from Czech Republic and Idriss from Kenya.

We're sitting in the loung/atrium.....

Monday, October 5, 2009

No photos of US Embassy

Oh, yeah, I was not permitted to take can't even take photos of the building from the street.

I kinda of figured this was the case.

U.S. Embassy in Baku

Finally, I had a chance to go the embassy here in Baku. I'm assuming the complex was built sometime in the mid-'90's...basically, just series of cement but the center court yard is serious oasis! Since Baku is pretty arid and need to have extensive water year round to have such clearly that's not lacking there.

The security was tight to enter, not surprised but it makes me imagine what the security is like in real "hot zones" around the globe. In addition to logging in my passport, they asked for my driver's license (but that's not something I typically carry around with me), they took my cell phone and backpack. So all I could enter with a piece of paper and pen (I needed to get asnwers to some question) and an ID Badge they provided.

I still don't think Obama has appointed a new ambassador to Azerbaijan..the previous one Ann Derse, her term ended in July and she was appointed to Lithuiania.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What's unusual about this water fountain?

The mayor of Baku is obsessed with water fountains (ummm) so there are lots of them all around the city. I've posted photos before to show you all some of them. Walking past my Saturday morning park spot...I realized that the one thing lacking so typically found in public fountains in the USA...guess?

Coins at the bottom...and it's not because people climb into the water to retrieve the coins....Azerbaijanis WOULD NEVER TOSS ANYTHING INTO THE FOUNTAINS. They just don't do things like, with lots of people living by any means necessary. Tossing even one qapik (one penny) into the water would be unheard of.

And, oddly enough..much to my chargin...the garbage is literally all over the place here...but cultural norms (and Soviet sensibilities or the consequences of being sent off somewhere)....prevent people from littering in the parks....but they will do it everywhere else.

Imagine the limb of a tree stuffed with plastic soda I thought the clean bottom of a fountain was worth posting...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Plans for Cats of Baku 2010 Calendar

Plans are moving right along for the publishing of my "pet" project. If you read one of my earlier posts you'll recall that I've talked about the massive and unrelenting feral cat situation here in Baku. Most of the streets, (except where the government has "eliminated the official problem") there are cats various conditions.

So my project is to photograph photos of the cats that have entered my Baku life, publish a calendar and donate 100% of the proceeds to a shelter here in Baku. I'm excited about this and have a goal to raise a minimum of $500.

I expect all readers of my blog to purchase one.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Identity Struggles for Azerbaijani Young People

In some parts of my brain I'm feeling like...look out America...the world is coming...and it wants to surpass us and likely will in the years to come. I know we're all aware of the re-rise of Islam...and it is difficult for us in the west to separate the religion from the regimes. But if can just for a minute...Islam is the world's fastest growing religion. In no better place is it clear to see what's happening is right here at the epicenter of Christianity and Muslim worlds.

Anyone born before 1950 and was educated during the Russian occupation is very anti-religious..any religion. The Russians did a good job of suppressing religion. If you were born from're more likely to be closer to your Shi'ite Muslim faith as you were trying to distance yourself from the oppressive Communist regime. And now if you are born after're likely to be much more willing to embrace more fully Islam in search of your identity as an Azeri.
I was stunned to see the writing on the world a couple of blocks from my apt. One, you NEVER see graffiti, and two, some writing about GOD...whoa.....I'll be surprised if it is still there when I walk on this street this weekend.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 1, 2009

I can't believe I've opened the 2010 admissions process today. Unfortunately, the vendor who provides our on-line application is located in San Francisco...and I/we neglected to tell them to turn the link on at 9 am Oct. 1, Baku time..instead I'm waiting for Pacific Coast time to kick in...

These little the uncooked chicken juices....ummmm

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monday night football on Tuesday and Azeri class

I've always been a football fan...but I have new appreciation for televised games, when you can watch the Monday Night Football on ESPN in Baku on Tuesday night....pure joy.

Azeri language classes..okay, I've had two lessons now...OMG...I guess those who understand Cyrillic based languages with a little Russian, Persian tossed'll feel my pain. But at least I know how to say a few things..including Bahadir...which means "that's too expensive" a word to use when bartering.

I got a request from my pal Romona (NYC) to talk about the transit system. I'm going to try to hold off and do that this weekend...when I will have a chance to get some photos too.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Chitlin' Circuit

I guess Baku is on the Chitlin' Circuit...for those who don't know what that is...look it up...but seriously, next week Kelli Rowland (who she) and Timati are performing here. Kelli, I'm sure you'll recognize her name...she was a member Destiny's know Beyonce girl group...and Timati...well, I don't really know who he is but Sierra tells me that he has sang some some songs with Snoop I guess that makes him a rapper with tattoos.

Anyway, they are doing a show here in Baku next week on the 8th...if the tickets are reasonable I'm going to try and go...should be interesting..and if nothing else to just see the crowd. Hip hop is definitely alive and well here...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Azerbaijan Carpet Museum

Went to the carpet museum have to remember with all of the ancient and recent artifacts in the country....70 years of occupation by Soviets, destructive earthquakes and general lack of preservation...doesn't leave the riches you might expect to exist here.

Nonetheless, there are niches of cultural life that one can experience.

Today I went to the carpet museum...yes, the Azerbaijanis have a rich history and tradition of weaving carpets, distinctive to the various regions and villages. Many carpets are displayed in the museum...I would have taken more photos and perhaps on a return visit I will...but in addition to the entry fee, there is a charge to take photos...2 manats each or $3.60 I only took one picture.

What struck that the carpets or at least many of them remind me of cloths and patterns found in many of the works during slavery know..with the hidden messages for the Underground Railroad...I wonder what some of the Azeris were saying about their existence or their future in their colors and patterns...check out this pattern

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I got a box ....I got a box...I got a box...I got a box

After two trips to the post office, I was finally able to pick up the box Tammy sent to only took 16 days exactly. I forgot I needed my passport and then I had to pay money...the official person (not my postal lady--tho' she was there) charged me the equivalent of $12.60 USD..supposedly custom fees.

It felt so damn good to get something from home...I started crying right there in the post office.
Tammy sent me Frito Multi-Grain Chips (who cares if they were crushed), a bunch of my favorite snack..nut clusters, some chocolate bars (and they were melted and rehardened this time) opera CD (I like opera) and a book on how to get published...(I gotta get something out of this experiences) and finally a fleece warmup's starting to get cool here. I was very thankful to get the box....and now that I seem to have "greased the wheels" Tammy will send me something monthly.

The down side..and please take this to heart since I know many of you asked about shipping things to me...the price to ship the box to Azerbaijan was crazy anyone who was thinking about word....DON'T.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Photos of the Academy

Here are a bunch of random photos of my building..currently, we have only 23 students in the MA program but nearly 50 in continuing ed courses for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The building is quite nice, three floors, most Italian furniture and marble..I'll try to post more photos next week...that's a photo of the current President of the country Ilham Aliyev in the lobby...and the other photos are all the ministers of foreign affairs, including those during Soviet days. These are photos of the common areas, I'll post picture of my office, classrooms next time.