Thursday, July 30, 2009

Am I fine?

Okay...feeling slightly better...the physical outpouring as result of intestinal distress has at least subsided for the moment. We'll see...I have finally decided to stop providing polite and routine answers when asked by my co-workers. You know the universal chat in the morning..."how are you, did you have a good weekend"...normally, as a matter of dignity...."oh, I'm fine, thanks for asking".

Well, I'm not fine...I'm sick of my bowels leaving me, my tired of my screens blowing away, and now, yet again, just this week my cable has blown away, I'm tired of being viewed as an oddity on the streets and finally, I can't even get a freakin' letter, or a package from home.

I am not fine....

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Still no mail delivery

Tammy sent me a small box and six letters on July 16th....almost two weeks to the day...still no gettem mail.....

So folks it's not about snail mail to is beyond snail mail. It is forgetaboutitmail!

Jesse, would tell me "keep hope alive".

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's the beef!

It has got to be the beef (or at least I know it's not pork, chicken or lamb) that is causing my stomach such whoa... I have gotten into the habit of making a big pot of spaghetti on Sunday's...freezing some for meals during the week..and it never fails that Monday morning at home and at work I am miserable.

Yes, I boil the pasta in bottled I think I'll toss out all of the frozen stuff and next week, just cook pasta. It's a drag since the ground beef I have to walk a mile for to the British Indian supermarket and it cost nearly $15 USD for a pound...but I'm sick and tired of intestinal distress!

Or is it the strawberry bottle juice....dang!

Sunday, July 26, 2009


One of my buddies asked about crime here and if I go out at night. Interesting and a extensive answer would take more blog space than I have. The short story is under the Communist regime, if you committed a crime even a mild one you would like imprisoned and sent to some re-training camp. And, now with independence, Azerbaijan with it's sorta-pseudo democracy...I think the same mindset and reality exists. But, unlike America with our "shoot them first since I'm packing" mentality...our love affair and demand to bear arms, does create a different atmosphere vs. a country like this were it is illegal to own guns.

Since I don't really have access to or knowledge of the language, it is hard for me to determine what goes on but I feel safe on the street. I think people tend to be so shocked at seeing me and I also carry myself with an air of confidence...that seems to keep strangers away. I must admit I am growing very weary, not of the daily stares, but when the Azeris react to me not with the understandable curiousity but when their actions make me feel like some animal on display.

I hate it when they do that...and I now find myself grown completly annoyed and weary by their actions to the point I'm snapping back in some colorful English...whether they understand, I don't care.

I think it's the only way I can keep some sense of my true existence and not let them diminish me further....

Finally, I may have mentioned that I am basically an undocumented worker here...the process to legitimize my employment is crazy....they have no privacy laws here and I'm starting to feel like I don't want this government to know so much about me since I'm only working for a limited time period....

Sorry if I sound negative's been a rough weekend....and as you know my window screens blew out...damn mosquitos are like F-16 fighter jets...hopefully, the screen guy will come tomorrow...oh, yeah, I don't go out at night...the streets and roads are so bad...and without street could easily break an ankle or get hit by a I'd rather stay in watch BBC, CNN, ESPN and Skype Tammy and the kids...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hopes of the family

Acceptance to a university or college in Azerbaijan is strictly controlled by the State Students Admissions Committee (SSAC) which is authorized by the President to administer the national entrance exam several times a year. This system was set up shortly after independence in 1991 to eliminate corruption (you just paid the dean or some college official).

Today in a school near my office, the last of the tests was held....what is remarkable to me is the number of family members (parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) who escort and patiently wait for their test taker to finish. I'm talking ....hundreds of people....gathered around waiting...and it just so happened that I was returning from getting a bite to eat just as the test let out.

I had to stand there a few minutes and watch the scene unfold. I am sorry I didn't have a camera but I bet the police directly the traffice would not have appreciated me being a photographer, nor would the crowds of people. Nonetheless, to know that the family members waited in the heat and sun for nearly 6 hours, knowing that the hopes of the family depend on the outcome of the test takers performance.

Those who score high will get into public colleges...considered the best...and if they score high enough..they will go for absolutely free. So you can see why the "hopes of the family" is so crucial.....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Screens and Payola to Post Office

Now that I've stopped screaming about the screens...the Screen Guy's phone number has been disconnected...bummer number two.

And, now bummer number three...even with the pay off to the post office lady..the 4lb box of DVDs and other treasures that Tammy send has not arrived. According to the US Post Office tracking number, the box arrived in Baku sometime this week. If nothning else works in the US, what do we say..."neither rain nor shine....etc" some times it is really difficult for me to wrap my brain around the fact THAT THERE IS NO REAL POSTAL SYSTEM HERE.

But people really don't send mail, receive mail or expect mail...that's just how it is.

I have not taken pictures in a while but on Sunday I hope to go to a street fair in the Olde City...maybe, I'll trip over my box on the walk there....

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Screens blew away today!!!!

#### @@@ ******

I can't even think of anything polite to say.....the freakin' screens blew away AGAIN!!!!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A change of pace

While reading the NY Times on line today, I read this column and for some reason really related to this tale. Maybe it is because of all the scars on my body the most profound one remains as a result of my donating my left kidney to my older ten years ago. Or maybe is it the deep gash still evident from the driver who opened his car door (and sped off) as I was passing by on my remains nasty thirty years later.

I bet nearly all of us have scars that chart our's a chance to revisit yours...

Cheers and hope you didn't keloid....

Monday, July 20, 2009

Carry over from the Communist Days

Azerbaijan has only been independent since 1993 or so...and it's pretty easy to encounter remnants of by-gone era especially when dealing with older (over 40 year olds). They all were educated/indoctrinated in the USSR way of doing things. I don't know if I can actually cite specific examples..but you just feel it all the time. And, I don't even know what it feels like since it wasn't my system...but trust me...there is a way of doing business that makes me go ...huh? and at other just want to cringe!

Here's a good one...I'm supposed to get immigration papers and one of the items is a health/physical exam. Well, not only would it cost me 85 USD but also they want to do a chest x-ray and draw blood...NO WAY AM I DOING THIS!

So my option is to "solve the problem"....I will just pay 25 USD for a certified and stamped approval that I had the exam. I asked okay who gets the money...the doctor and the lady who stamps the form....

In Azerbaijan..."solving the problem" is part of the language...yet, words like "competence" have no translation in Azeri.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Solution

The issue of the feral, starving, sickly cats all over the place has pained me since my very first visit to Baku last year. So you can imagine, (and I've described in previous posts) how difficult it is to just see the number of cats on the street. My guess is that this fall there will be another abundant birthing period and the cycle will be even worse as the kittens freeze in the weather...

Well, a colleague from Italy shared with me his "coming to terms" with the cat situation...he walks around with cat kibbles in his bag for adult cats and tuna for kittens....starting tomorrow I'm going to do the same thing. So I'll continue to give money to the woman on the street who feeds cats but I'm going to start feeding them myself.

I discussed with Ton, my colleague, if we could somehow start a neutering project...but most of the cats are so sickly...taking them to a vet would be hard, especially since I have not seen or heard about any vets since being here...

So for now..I'll start feeding them...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Little Exhausted

Geez, am I the only person sweating in this country. The temperature has been 85-95 the last few days, with the humidity nearly as high. Thankgoodness the AC in my apartment works and in the office too. We have had some "brown outs"..but everyone is running AC everywhere.

Plus, the other exhausting thing but I finally given in...the society here is really what you would describe a cash culture. Since they don't have the US proliferation of loans, credit cards, lending, etc...everything is cash. This also makes the corruption, underground market and pay-off system so much more effective and widespread. I've decided it will help my "being in Baku" if I tip the post office lady, always carry small bills, and recognize that most folks here don't make they all have a hustle thus, I should be willing to help them hustle as it will help me.

Tammy just mailed a box of CD's and other things to me....let's see if the tipping at the PO helps.

Oh, yes, members of the USA Olympic Wrestling team are here in Baku for a tournament this know you're desperate when you plan on going and chanting "USA, USA".....maybe I'll get an autograph.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Azerbaijan in today's New York Times

Hey, it was brought to my attention that an article appears in today's on-line edition of the Times...don't know if it made the print paper...but since I am not able to follow the news here I was not aware of the donkey issue. Check it out..and also check out the video on YouTube..I think it is funny
but I guess the Azeri government doesn't agree.

There have been other instances of government broadcasts eliminated from Europe and BBC and arrests of protestors...though you don't hear much about it..and most people even the progessive here at the Academy support the government.

Sometime all the more reason for me to keep a low profile. PS..this is what the US State Dept says....

Azerbaijan Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports, May 2009
Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions
Azerbaijan is a republic with a presidential form of government. The president dominates the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The government's human rights record remains poor and worsened in some areas in 2008. The government restricted the public's right to peacefully change the government in the presidential election, although there were improvements in some technical aspects of election administration. Torture and beating of persons in police and military custody resulted in three deaths in 2008, and security forces continue to act with impunity. Prison conditions, despite improvements in infrastructure, generally remain harsh and life threatening. Arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of individuals considered by the government to be political opponents, and lengthy pretrial detention continue. The government imprisons persons for politically motivated reasons. There is pervasive corruption, including in the judiciary and in law enforcement. Restrictions on freedom of assembly continue. Restrictions on media freedom and political participation worsened in 2008, notably through the removal of Voice of America, Radio Liberty, and the BBC from FM frequencies. The government imposes restrictions on the activities of some Christian and Muslim religious groups. Cases of violence against women have been reported. Cases of trafficking in persons continue, although the government has taken some modest steps to address the problem.

Zoo Market Part 2...Danger, danger Will Robinson!

This spring I wandered into the local bazaar and was surprised by the Zoo Market, which I described as a small store that had critters of all types cramped into cages for sale. I was particularily horrified by the Huskie that seemed to be mis-shapened from the obvious confinement in such a tiny, who volunteered at animal refugee centers and sends $ to animal rights orgs....I quickly had to exit the place. That was in March.

I can't begin to explain the feral cat problem on the streets of Baku...but briefly, in the spring tons of pregnant cats, they disappear and give birth, and in June..kittens (adorable, of course), in can see the results of "survival of the strong"...sickly, malnourished and dehydrated kittens stumbling to death...I can only try avoiding them and try not to be haunted at night.

If that's not enough...and trust me it is....last Saturday, I wandered back to the bazaar in search of a extension cord (yes, they sell everything there) my shock the Zoo Market has expanded and now spills out into a courtyard, etc....where dozens and dozens of cages with dogs, cats, monkeys, baby ducks, baby rabbits, chicks, pigeons, (there may have been more) but enough was enough and I fled.....

I think for someone like me and anyone with love and empathy for furry, feathered, scaled creatures....this is a hard place to be...but don't get me completely wrong...I have seen an occassional dog being walked who clearly is cared for...but that is the exception.

Monday, July 13, 2009

DVD's and cooking gas

Well, finally, finally, the gas hook up was completed today and I now have gas to cook with. I see how easy it is to take gas lines and safe hook up for granted. But here gas explosions have been quite frequent and of course, the police, the government, building owner and a dozen other people were involved in getting the hook up today. So I was able to boil some water (bottled) for pasta tonight. Yeah. I am firmly in the mindset that the "sun never sets on American culture". When Tammy was here, she noticed a sign English DVD's sold here...and I promised her I would check it out. You'll never guess what DVD I purchased there for 1 manat = 1.25 USD...MADEA GOES TO JAIL...yes, a bootlegged Tyler Perry movie....can you believe it! And, it was (I watched it yesterday) a better bootlegged copy than I would find anywhere in the US....

MA to the D E A!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Shout Out

This is a shout out to L P...who is studying for the PA Bar exam...kick ass L

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My apartment

Well, way back when I first arrived I posted some pictures of the apartment...and in fact, during the course of looking at apartments for our international students, I came across an apartment that I thought was just wonderful. So much so, that I asked our HR person to inquire about renting it for me....further away but a great balcony that had a wonderful view of the Caspian Sea, and the landlord was in fact more generous in that he covered the gas, water, building maintenance fee and the rent was actually lower than what I'm paying now. So it would have been a win-win situation for all...but he wanted six month rent in advance...crazy. The max my government employer can pay is three...anyhow, after debating this back in forth for nearly two weeks...he opted to rent it to someone else. And, I say GOOD. Why?

I've actually become familiar to people in my neighborhood (well, afterall it ain't hard to do...I stick out like several sore thumbs). I wave hello to the cleaning ladies (they are everywhere), I know the guys who grunt at the gym and they sheepishly nod their heads when I go by, the folks at the 24 supermarket on the corner, and finally, the lady at the post office (who I just tipped--only took four months to realize that might be the best way to get my mail sent to US).

I guess what I'm saying inspite of my moaning and bitching about certain things (and read on) I have a 'hood in this dusty, humid mega-city of 4 (who's counting) million...and it's about the best I could hope for.

Today's bitch....cable wire still cut...okay....but just this week the building announced that the GAS would be finally turned on. Well, the gas man and assistant arrived promptly at 9 am...they just left a 7 pm ...and still no gas. Maybe Monday, if God wills it...


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Azerbaijani-Armenia Conflict

In earlier blogs I've briefly touched on the geo-political issues that are abound in this part of the world....if you just think about the "neighborhood" that this country lies'll understand the dynamics here...and also think of the massive oil and natural gas reserves sitting under the Caspian Sea...(don't eat sturgeon).

I thought this article might be of interest...and it just adds to the numerous pressures that Obama is facing....The article is titled: Obama Push for Caspian Energy Routes Imperiled by Refugee Clash appeared on

Check out the pictures...and you'll see why this place is one of the world's most polluted...

Tammy, Intestinal Distress and Cable Wires Cut Again

Hey Friends and Family,

Sorry I've been off line for the last few days. Tammy just left today..she told me say "she hated it here" but truthfully, I think she was right of center on all things Baku. Understandably, since as I've stated before...for those cosmopolitan types..this isn't Paris, London or even Kansas.

Here's a couple of pictures...and I'll (and likely she will too) have more to say on her visit in future posts...

But check this out...once again I'm dealing with THE CABLE issue...on day two of being back in Baku, Tammy and I expected to follow more news on MJ's death...blank took me all of two minutes to realize...the FREAKING CABLE WIRES have been cut again. Now for those of you new to my will find several weeks of cable drama in the archives...I just can't believe this has happened again....and I'm paying for this lack of service.

Second, earth shattering or toilet flushing drama...I've never really talked about this as you know we, Americans are rather tight lipped on scat stuff...but during my months here I have been prone to (and I'll say it politely) intestinal distress...I just chalked it up to "whatever". But Tammy so distinctly pointed out to me the flaw in the chicken roasting apparatus where I have routinely purchased a whole cooked chicken for 5 manats ($7)...the cooked chickens are placed under the currently cooking chickens, thus, enabling the drippings to drip downward on the chickens to purchase. I guess Whole Foods, Wegmans, and even Wal-Mart reverse the stacking order to spare the consumer from samonella, etc.

So now I know.....I guess I'll be avoiding the roasted chickens from now on...bummer.....

I hope everyone is well...and thanks for checking in on me and as always keeping me and my family in your prays....


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Back in Baku....July 1

Well friends....back in Azerbaijan...wonderful trip to London (see photos) where I met Tam and the kids, Sierra and Dakota. We had a great week there, once the kids got over the jet lag, and then we all flew back to Pennsylvania. I got a wicked viral infection, thought it was H1N1 and after a serious dose of antibiotics gave me the strength to be in the garden..poison ivy...not so great.

Tammy and I arrived in Baku yesterday and I head back to work tomorrow. I'll update you all later...hope everyone is fine...