Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday in Baku

Major discovery...white sliced bread....dang, I can't believe I actually said that. The bread here is wonderful and cheap..but I've found nothing that makes reasonable toast...until this week...and guess what the white thick sliced bread is called TOST. And, the screens seem to be firmly in my windows now...

Took photos of their Symphony Hall (the yellow building) and City Hall....

Friday, May 29, 2009

Janice and her barber's

Here's a picture of me and the barbers...the gent who cuts my hair is cutting someone's head in the rear of the photo....they are so funny now that whenever I walk by the shop...the want to take pictures.....

this was taken today at lunch time....

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Republic Day May 28th

This is the day the Azerbaijan first declared independence in 1918 at the collapse of the Russian Empire but the Azeri Republic (the first in this region) only lasted two years before the USSR reinvaded and occupied for 70 years. At the fall of the USSR in 1992, the country decided to start celebrating the date again, so it's a national holiday. I'm off from work.

Photo is a fancy mall that I visit the restaurant every Saturday for a cup of filtered coffee..yeah, and a free read of the Azeri newspapers translated into English.

Oh, news that I heard today...did you know (bet you didn't) that Levi Strauss has a huge manufacturing plant in some town (too hard to remember the name) in the Ukraine where production of jeans is at 110% level...beating corporates expectation...800 people are employed so the industry is crucial to the town, etc....well, the leaders in San Fran headquarters for Levi..just announced the closing of the plant (bet you didn't hear this in the US) and the town is the Ukrainian economy is barely holding on anyway....the world is truly flat.

Bet the label on your 501's (and mine) don't say made in the Ukraine...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

104 degrees


just found out that the average temperature in August is just that...and those in the know says it's worst than DC in those of you planning a summer getaway to Baku better think October or May...I'm gonna be miserable...hence, the big deal about screens. Oh, yeah, the screen guy is supposed to replace the blown screens tomorrow...Inshallah!

I'm off tomorrow...yippee...I don't think I've ever worked so many days straight in my life. And now my two week count down to meeting Tammy and the kids in London starts and then home to Carlisle for another ten days....

But before that what have I learned today....China gets 59% percent of its' oil from Azerbaijan...can you believe that. At the same time looking to partner in building a HUGE, HUGE natural gas pipeline to southern Europe...the Europeans really depend on Azeri gas....

It's easy to overlook what's happening in the US..but not with the family..Sierra hit the game winning shot in her club BB game, Dakota is proving he is still quite the talented goalie, but he hates it....Tammy is getting ready to turn 45 on June please send her a birthday wish...

Tamara Storey 448 N. College Street Carlisle, PA
A card would be nice but if not, send her an email...since I'm not there she's a little bummed..but shhhh...I have a surprise planned...and luckily she doesn't read janiceinbaku.

I would appreciate the shout out to her and I KNOW she really would..

Many thanks,

Monday, May 25, 2009

You're not going to believe this know the battle I've been having to get the screens installed on my windows and terrace doors. Well, the screen guy came back on Sunday night (yes, they work whenever), installed the three window screens and then realized that he measured the doors wrong and the screens don't fit. He'll come back on Tuesday night...fine.

Fast forward to Persian the word Baku is translated to mean bad kube or city of winds. Forget the Windy City of Chicago, when I say the wind blows off of the Caspian is crazy!!! It stops me in my is amazing and it blows periodically all year around...So I woke up to howling winds on Monday am...go to work.

Come home Monday night..the window screens he installed...blew away! Off of my 9th floor windows...I can only hope they didn't hit someone...and I looked out the windows but can't see them lying anywhere..

I'm not making this stuff up....

Hope you had a nice Memorial's Republic Day here on Thursday...(think 4th of July)... maybe I'll have screens soon..Inshallah (means in Azeri...when God is ready)....I guess I will have screens and gas...still no gas either...


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lahic and Chernobyl

Oh, I forgot one thing I wanted to share...for those of us old enough to remember the world's worst nuclear reactor accident...think Russia and think Chernobyl. We know that's it only been in recent years that the Russian's really have begun to disclose the full details and human suffering from this accident. Azerbaijan was still under Russian control at the time of the disaster and I've heard so much more about the effects and real human toll.

There were several English speaking young men in Lahic who told us about the Russians taking the able bodied men (only married men) to work at Chernobyl to cover the reactor's core with tons of soil and cement in the attempt to prevent the radiation from escaping. These men worked two hours a month (to limit their exposure--yeah, right) pouring tons of soil...well, after the work was completed they were sent back to Lahic..and told they would live only ten years...many have died....we met one who remains cancer free. Today, the Azerbaijan government still gives them a pension....

Dang..communism really did a number on this country...


Trip to the Countryside and my head is still spinning

For the most part very few Azeris travel around their own country since they live where they were born and it's the exceptional young person who lives both home and their village. Everything is called a village except Baku, the capital, and the largest cities Sheki, Lenkoran and Ganji. Everything else is a village...I joined two professors from the US who are here on Fulbright awards on a day trip to a village high in the Caucausas mountains and known for it's copper smithing..copper dug right from the surrounding mountains. It was a round trip of 500 miles, (sh**), all uphill on one lane, no asphalt roads...(double sh**) and swerving past herds of sheep, cattle, chickens, burros and horses for 4 hours there and 4 hours back. I have never gotten car sick before in my entire life..but this trip, well, let's just say I turned a new shade and left presents all along the dirt roads. Oh, yeah all the other presents along the road "fresh meat"..stop pick out your dinner from any of the herds and it's dressed for you while you wait..the crates of bunnies did me in..

I know I eat meat but I'd rather see mine in cellophane in the freezer section.

The village, Lahic...okay, it was pretty and quite amazing..worth the ride?...nah. And, if this is how an adventure might be ...I'll get postcards...and nix the driving. But did get a few photos..

The mud volcanoes...seeping gas from deep below the earth ...creates these oddities found around the country. These are small versions..I hope to see larger ones later this summer.

And, cobblestreet...the only street in Lahic...

My head is still I'll finish my peppermint tea and holla more next time..

Friday, May 22, 2009

Damn potato salad never tasted so good!

Okay..I went to the BBQ..and I met the other 20 or so Americans here in Baku, including again saying hello to the US Ambassador Anne Derse who was in attendance. Grilled chicken..guess there really is no BBQ sauce in town, but didn't matter. Standing in the charcoal smoke actually felt refreshing. Also, now I know where the elite about serious gated, but it could have been in Arizona, So Cal, or the burbs of VA...kinda of scary that all those communities look the same.

Saturday I'm joining two Fulbrighters on a drive to a rural village..pop. 1800 ..known for I'll be sure to take photos...and post them. Oh, yeah, this was kinda of cool the Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke to the new graduating class of young diplomats...I've met him before last fall and he made a point of saying hello to me again. I guess the equivalent would be to meet US Secretary of State...Clinton...I had my Obama First Family t-shirt on today...he smiled...yes, they all like Obama here!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Quick update 5/21/2009

Okay, I gave in and I'm going to the US Embassy today for a BBQ for the Fulbright Scholars and Dept of State folks leaving this weekend. Kind of a drag, since some of these folks have been the only other US citizens that I've met here. I guess a new group may arrive in August.

My window screens are still not completely installed...ugh. Inshalleah...means "when God is willing".....or the darn screen guy comes back...

And, I'm supposed to go on a day trip to the north about 3 hours away to visit a region where coppersmithing is the big thing....looks interesting and this will be Saturday. Hopefully, I'll take some pictures and post them to the blog.

Bye for now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Spell check

please forgive my spelling and type's hard enough just managing other things...

Screens installed today

I will spare you the details of what it took and continues to take to get window and door screens installed in the apartment...think waiting for the cable guy, air con repair, and plumber all at once for two weeks...and you will feel my pain.
However the worst pain is the sight of these freaking giant flies that hover around the city and find their way into any open for now the screens are well worth the weight.

Didn't make it to the Norweigian Constitution Day (waiting for the screen guy) but I am invited to the US Embassy (seems harder to break into than Fort Knox) for a BBQ on Thursday...inspite of my best effort I may actually have to go...oh well.

I'm enjoying my paid tutoring job helping a surgeon here with conversational English. That's two hours a week for about $30 bucks it will pay for all my groceries...most food is fairly cheap...but some things (that's not typically enjoyed by Azeris) are balsamic's nearly 10 buck for a small bottle...and brie and honey...all very expensive but way too heavy for me to carry in a suitcase here.

i must say i've never enjoyed a box of cheerios so much as the box i brought from if i could only find a dove ice cream dark chocolate bar...yummy..

Until next time..

Sunday, May 17, 2009

If only you knew how much of a curiousity I am here

Sunday...well it was hot today...probably the warmest day so far this year (even though I've been here since March). I decided to just sit in a park for a couple of hours, reading a book, listening to my IPod...and I came to realize a couple of things:

1) Not everyone who stares at me is doing it with distain, in fact, I accept the fact that most have never seen anyone who looks like me...and it's not just the black thing, american, western look, I think it's the androgynous thing...since this is such a male dominated're clearly either a boy or a girl...and i think i just upset their sense of things...

2) young folks (yes, azerbaijani young people) have to be on the streets, with friends, with lovers, with family...because...they have no where else to go or to be. since many live in multi-generation households...with lots of folks sharing very little space...they have to be in the especially see the couples (boy/girl) cuddling, holding hands, etc....there is no where for them to go...

3) i am starting to wonder how much pollution, chemicals, etc. the eggs have? Nix the cholestrol, I'm starting to become more nervous about the veggies that I brought back from the US in April are almost gone...can you imagine me nursing my three bags of baby carrots for over a month...i'm saving the snow pea pods for a very special day...

4) oh, yeah, the's a photo..I thought the fountain would be on..but I think city turns on fountains at certain times of no flowing water this time.

5) oh,yeah, one more thing and more on this next time....there is no such thing as personal space here...especially in public...maybe this goes back to my item #2.

the highlight of this week...i've met the Norwegian Ambassador to Azerbaijan a few times..and now i've been invited to join in the celebration of the Norwegian Constitution Day...a special concert and a reception....i'm betting there will be veggies there...maybe i can slip some in my think...


Friday, May 15, 2009

The week that was

I've admitted and rejected my first Azerbaijani applicants this week. I must say they don't handle rejection well...of course, no one does but these young people have never been rejected from anything before...just like they don't pay for any education, including college BA or MA.
I've been urging my boss that part of the job of admissions is to deftly handle the rejected folks as well as you handle the accepted. Let's see how many show up to bitch to me on Monday...good thing...when they are very excited they tend to yell loudly in Azeri (as does everyone I work with) I won't understand what my frustrated rejects are saying anyway.

Also, I've come to the conclusion that my psychological and physical tolerance seems to begin to wane at the 3.5 week mark ...this cycle has repeated itself. I am looking forward to meeting Tammy and the kids in London on June 11th..

Oh, yeah, I'm now teaching english to a surgeon two hours a week...not bad..he's the bro-in-law of one of my co-workers...he wants to spend three months at the Cleveland Clinic learning a surgical techinque...he travels 30 miles each way to meet with me....better him then me..

Have a nice weekend...I'll update soon...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tough Day at Work

Okay, I knew it was bound to happen...tough day at the office...but still not nearly as gut wrenching as a similar day at work in one of our US law schools. I'm trying very hard to get the inaugural class for the masters degree program admitted but since my employer, the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, is relatively new player in the educational paradigm of the country...the wheels are turning fact, too slowly if they really want students to enroll on June 18th!

I don't know how useful the knowledge I'm gaining about the workings of the AZ State Students Admissions Commission (SSAC) (think ETS or LSAC with supreme power to decides which kid goes to which college or graduate program)....but that's what my day was like following the national holiday. I'm sure I'll get through it...since I'm on get the job done, find and train someone to take my place...and get back to Tammy, our kids and our pets!


Monday, May 11, 2009

Victory Day --a National Holiday

Well, Monday, May 11th here and it's one of the Monday holidays that seem to be universal. This part of the world celebrates the end of WWI and add the birthday of the first President following Russian rule in's a day off. Last night there was quite an impressive display of fireworks...the first booms stared me...since I had no idea it was happening and it was nearly midnight.

In honor of Victory Day, I am sharing a photo of the statue that is only two blocks from's called Freedom Woman or Female Emancipation...depending on describes it to you. As I've stated before AZ is the largest muslim country where women are not veiled and in fact, they are quite proud of this fact. As am I, otherwise, I don't think I could be here. This statue is in front of the building that oversees their version of Social Security..called Social Protection here.

The avg pension is about 70 USD a month, so it makes sense that families live in multi-generational households...I'm also starting to see more woman with children asking for money on the streets...I now have my regulars that I give too..including the cat lady. Just as in the US...they are invisible on the street, in the alley, going through the dumbsters, also there are children playing plastic flutes asking for change...I'll have to ask what region or what other country they might be found. You can see a facial difference..and it fact, folks from Uzbekistan are easily recognizable...more Asian here's to Freedom Woman! She is removing her veil!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Recycle vs. Azerbaijani Employment all know (and many of you probably share my feelings about the need to recycle) but here's the issue...I've come to realize that in many of the larger shops it is someone's job to actually give you a plastic bag for your items and it's likely that they had to make some payoffs to get the job...either to the store owner, manager, or even shift they need to give out those bags to make their job count....whoa....okay, so now if I don't take a bag you place an employed Azeri at risk..

The avg monthly income for professional about 200-300 manats (their dollar) per month..this is equivalent to about 250-350 USD a month...that ain't a lot of it only serves to reason why the underground economy has to thrive here, or people live with generations of family. Their Social Protection (think our Social Security system) pays the average pensioner about 56 manats a month. So most all Azeris live in multi-generational households..otherwise, they could not survive...but with the avg life span not reaching 60 years in some places of the country....what's to save and plan for..

So though I take the plastic bags, I have started buying water (remember you can't drink the tap water) in 5 gallon bottles delivered of course, so I don't have nearly as many plastic bottles stacked in the corner...and the 5 gal jugs..they pick up when they bring new ones.

Hope everyone is well

Monday, May 4, 2009

One of the world's most polluted places

Azerbaijan defies description sometimes, most of the time. Since at one time this country provided the USSR with over 60% of the oil, the Soviets really didn't care or were not consicous of the environmental nightmare they created and sustained during the occupany for 70 years...they drained the land of oil, natural gas, and manufactured other petro products, pesticides and other bad stuff. So it is not surprising that this country rates among the most polluted places on earth.. Those are abandoned oil rigs including the oil pumps we often see in the southern areas of the Texas, southern Cali...the

Well, I got to see some of that destruction this past I joined a road trip with three other Americans (yes, there are some that I've met)...unfortunately, they are all leaving with the next month to return to the US for good...anyway, we drove south east out of the city to Abseron Peninsula...about hour outside of if you can imagine driving for an hour with nothing but scenes like these photos....takes your breath away....and it's no wonder why this country has one of the highest infant mortality rates and birth defects in the world along with high rate of neurological damage...

Also along the way...see top photo, we stopped at a site where natural gas flows from deep inside the earth and the flames have been lit since the late '50's just burning night and day...adds the perversity of the place...I'm trying to exercise, eat as healthy as I can and will avoid travel to these locations except when visitors want to see it for themselves.

Please recyle today for me....


Saturday, May 2, 2009

My Apartment

Hey..many of you have asked.."how are you living"..well, here's a couple of photos of my apt. It's a two bed room furnished..and I guess it could be worse but "style" here is something to be desired...much of it is over the top as folks are driving to catch up following the Soviet departure at's the apartment...