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 in..you'll feel my pain. But at least I know how to say a few things..including Bahadir...which means "that's too expensive"...it 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 Child...you 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 Dogg...so 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 today...you 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 USD...so I only took one picture.

What struck me...is that the carpets or at least many of them remind me of cloths and patterns found in many of the works during slavery ...you 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 me...it 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) ...an 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 suite...it'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 expensive...so anyone who was thinking about shipping...one 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.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tears of Joy--building pictures will have to wait!

If you've followed my pain and agony about the postal situation here...you will join in with me on this one. The post office lady Mehriban seemed have gone poof on me..which was a bummer since I had been tipping her quite nice to ensure that I would have mail to and fro from US.

Much to my dismay when I returned to Baku in early September she was no longer at the counter replaced my a grumpy guy...I lamented on the blog and to Tammy as I had not received any of her letters even from July.

Yesterday, Mehriban called the office here...she's back and I GOT MAIL!. I rushed right over and it appears she's been on vacation and decided rather than trust anyone else she held onto all my delivered mail until she got back...SO I GOT LETTERS...I also gave her a box of lemon tea bags that I brought from TJ Maxx in Carlisle...but I'm gonna slide her some $$ tomorrow.

But this doesn't mean run out and write me...I don't think I'll be that lucky. I'll post photos later..

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Photos at Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

I realize that I have not really posted any photos of the facility, me at work, the students...heck, you all must think I'm like Martin's pal Tommy..do you really have a job. So this week, few words but I'll try to post some photos every day of work, students, etc.

Here's the sign...one side written in Azerbaijani and the other side in English. Oh, yeah, I'm finally starting the Azerbaijani language courses the Academy is offering.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Urban Renewal, Gentrification, or call it what you will

we all watched the opening ceremonies from Beijing and where amazed to see what 1 billion people advised to work can do. Well, Azerbaijan doesn't have the population of China but it is able to mobilize and direct a work force for infrastructure projects on an enormous scale.

I guess this is a good thing. Puts people to work but since independence, the country is clearly trying to shake off any signs of the former occupiers, the Soviet Union. This includes tearing down the crumbling buildings that house multi-generations. (Azeris live in small apartments or houses with families that include grandparents (both sets perhaps), and other immediate or visiting relatives.

The government can tear down buildings in record time by having hundreds of men (no women construction workers here) with hand tools, in flip flops with no safety equipment. In place of the apartments they build highrises of 15+ stories. This is exactly how my 15 story building came into being four years ago. I wonder about the people being displaced..but I'm told "oh, don't worry they are paid"...yeah, but where do they go?

So I tried to capture some of this renewal that is happening less than 200 yards from my windows. The guy in the photo is a scavenger...trying to reclaim anything that he can from his former dwelling...Oh yeah, check out the bags of cement mix that's sitting in my lobby...Azeris never finish a building before letting people move in...so many floors in my current building are still being built.

And, yes, I know urban renewal continues in the US...but it ain't quite like this.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rather than be bummed

I've talked about the feral feline situation here many times before and my prediction about the birthing cycle is starting again. However, I've decided that rather than become bummed and sad about the conditions the cats and kittens live in. I starting to take pictures of them for a calendar that I plan to produce and all sale proceeds will go to a vet clinic here in Baku that does it best to help them.

Can you believe it I've actually found a vet here. I thought about volunteering to help but I really think that would break my heart and anyway, I shouldn't fall in love with a critter that I would have to leave behind when I return stateside.

You may recall one of my early photo of my neighborhood cats...I still see him wandering the block...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fashions here in Baku

I can't recall if I've commented much on the fashion here. It is quite interesting and now, that fall is coming (yes, Baku does seem to have four seasons) I am really curious about the psyche behind the dressing.

What is fascinating to me is that for men, the classic styles with straight lines, tailored look, classic colors can be found. The very, very upscale male shops and men...wear the French, and Italian classic good taste male styles. Yet, but men, especially young men...12-40 wear t-shirts that our two sizes to small...tight, tight, like prevent you from breathing tight...and they AIN"T GOT NO MUSCLES....I know my boss...hates this look .

And, now for women, the tighter the better and higher, shorter too. Yet, you don't see any women wearing what I would say is the Brooks Brothers, Ann Taylor, Jones...look..except me. My white bucks really stuck out.

In fact, without coming across as sterotyping or be negative...the women dress like they are working girls..and I don't mean the 9-5 working girl style. Ladies of the evening...if you get my drift.

I really would like to just take photos of the unbelievable heel height. It's crazy...but I'm sure if I suddenly starting taking pictures of women's heels I would end up arrested or something..so nix that. But today while sitting in the park (updating my resume) I was able to snap a shot of this poor woman who was taking to someone...BUT CLEARLY HER FEET ACHED...(having trouble posting photo..will try later)

Oh, yeah, some theories abound that since the country has been independent from Soviet Union, where there was no expression of self-style through fashion, the women are just now buck wild with dressing as provocative as possible.

I still hope to ask my Azeri colleauges about it....

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Richard L. Armitage

To some of you his name may sound familiar but to really get a full scope of his activities...you need go no further than the Wikipeidia site for his bio..even if you don't have faith of truth in Wik..in this case it won't matter so much.

Anyhow, Ambassador and former US Deputy Secretary of State and you can only imagine the other job titles and dutities he has had during his long history of service as a military, government and public servant.

Fascinating...he is considered nearly God-like in Azerbaijan, mainly that he was the only person in the US govt speaking on behalf of this region (what did he know and when did he know it) following the fall of the Soviet Union and it's subsequent abandonment of Central Asia. Not only did he encourge then, President Bush 1 to consider the geopolitical importance of the region but he also was responsible in securing humanitarian aid for the country in the opposition of the very powerful (I know this now) Armenian lobby in the US, esp. the political vital state of California and Massachusetts. The war continues with Armenia and there are nearly 1 million IDP's
(internally displaced persons that are Azeri).

Having personally been introduced to Amb. Armitage just yesterday and hearing him provide a global overview of the world's hotspots...you can just imagine this barrel chested US Navy grad '67, paratrooper serving our country in some clandestine capacity. If you saw the movie "Taken"...think of her father...you would rather have him on your side than on the other team.

Inspite of all this...I'm rather star-struck..and hope to get a picture with him today....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Universal Smiles

In Azerbaijan, today, September 16th is the first day of school for all from kindergarten to college. The apartment (I still have a hard time calling it my apartment) and the Academy are located very close to a elementary school. Just like in the US, the kids are dressed up for the first day, carrying new backpacks, some crying and some running into the building. It made me smile to see them.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Inflation in Azerbaijan

As I understand the inflation rate on average every year is about 25% but the official rate as reported by the government is about 10%. What does this mean in terms of actual purchasing power. For me using US dollars (USD) $1.00 equals .80 AZN (they call cents qepiks.) So here are some prices I pay for things:

Stick of butter: 1.50 AZN or $2.70
Lb of ground beef (but I don't buy this any more): 4.50 AZN or $8.10
Bag of Lays Potato Chips: .20 AZN or $1.60
Can of spray starch: 8.20 AZN or $14.76
Bottle of Corona Beer: 2.60 AZN or $ 4.68
Quart of Milk: 3.50 AZN or $6.30
My monthly Gym Membership: 40 AZN or $72
My monthly Internet Access: 45 AZN or $81
5 Gal Jug of Water: 6.17 AZN or $11.06
Stamp for Post Card: .60 AZN or $1.40
Hair cut: 20 AZN or $36

Sunday, September 13, 2009

You probably guessed that our news is incomplete

For me the news junkie that I am...being outside of the US during such interesting times permits me to see how the US is actually portrayed and also how limited the information we receive really is. No offense to NPR ....I'm a regular listener and supporter. But having the opportunity to watch BBC International, EuroNews and Arabic (yes, in English) stations really shows how shallow our news reporting is in the US. There are far more events that occur that we, as Americans are just sheltered from.

For instance...you may recall the bombings of the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar El Salam that left nearly 260 people dead, nearly all citizens of Kenya and Tanzania, in August 1998. This came after an American reporter was invited to interview Bin Laden just 10 weeks before...during this interview Bin Laden told him that he had declared war on Americans and vowed to begin killing both military and citizens. The US Ambassador Prudence Bushnell to Kenya...wrote then, Secretary of State Albright warning her that the the embassy was at high risk....but Albright never replied. Following the bombing, Albright called Bushnell to express condolences, etc....Bushnell asked "didn't you get my letter"....Albright was silent and then replied "no, I don't recall". Bushnell then went on to say before hanging up...."we have been warned".

You know the US taxpayers have spent 700 million dollars in search of Bin Laden....this doesn't include spending on the wars...just looking for him. It is horrific to see the injuires that the Kenyans who were working at the embassy as drivers, housekeepers, landscapers...ordinary people trying to feed their family...suffered. And, our government was asleep....caught up in the Monica Lewinsky drama...yes, it was at this same time that Clinton utterd his famous statement..."I did not have sexual relations with that woman"....but if you had kept your pants zipped..maybe September 11th would not have happened.

Sometimes, I worry that I'll be the victim of a terrorist attack...it won't be Bin Laden...it would be Armenian, Georgian, Iran or someone from one of the 'stan countries.....I haven't been to the US Embassy here yet.

Finally, guess who performed to sold out audiences in Beirut last week...Snoop Dogg...perhaps he'll be sent to talk to Hezzbolah too.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Finished Unpacking and Post Office Lady Meriban

Okay..been here four days now and just finally finished unpacking. I came back from the US with nearly 30 lbs of food for myself. The funny thing is except for the cereal, peanut butter, and chocolate, it's unlikely that I would eat much can veggies back in the states. But check out my spread and you'll know that I'm going to work hard to avoid anything that might give me intestinal distress.

Also, it seems to be confirmed my friendly postal lady is gone. It couldn't have been because of my payoffs...I hope not but I'll never know....

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Barber and the Post Office Lady

You may remember months ago I posted a photo of the barber, Navin, who cuts my hair. Guess what he called my Azeri cell phone today and without being able to understand each other, I knew he was calling because I have not stopped by the shop for a month (I was in the US). That was sweet of him...plus, I think I'm his best "tipper" ever. Here's a picture of Navin

Anyway, eventually, I had a co-worker tell him that I went to the US and I would be in the shop in the next week for a cut. That's the good news...the bad news...I went to the Post Office today to mail a letter and give my Postal Lady Meriban a small token from the US. DRAG...SHE'S NOT THERE...when I asked...Meriban? I got some answer that means today, tomorrow, whenever...NOW WHAT! AM I SCREWED AGAIN WITH MAIL! I can't even begin to get stressed about it...will I have to make payoffs to another new person...bummer!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Weather in Baku

When I left Baku in early August for my visit back to the US, the heat was blazing and the humidity thicker than anything I've felt in the southern states. I was hoping that returning in September things would begin to moderate downward....and yippee! Now the weather is somewhat like I left behind in PA, cooler mornings, warm days and foggy nights (oh, yeah, that's the smoke from burning garbage). Nonetheless, it's delightful...yet, it's odd not knowing what the weather will be like with a long term forecast, 24 hour coverage on the Weather Channel and unlike us Americans (we seem to be fixated on the weather)...Azeris aren't hypeattentive to the weather. Perhaps farmers in the regions...but not the city folk.

I did bring back a wool coat and a down jacket with me..since I recall how cold it was last March when I arrived. I am told that I should expect snow fall in January.......I'm ready but no eating snow for this ex-pat.....I wonder how white the snow will be.

Janice is back in Baku

After nearly 15 hours of flying time, I arrived back in Baku on Tuesday night and back to work the next day. Jetlag hasn't hit so bad yet, but I expect to begin to feel it in the next day or so.

Can I just talk about the flights....flying to Baku you have limited options...especially if you originate in the US. So out of Dulles International you can fly via Frankfurt or London Heathrow and make the connection so as not to overnight in Europe. Flying to Germany or the UK does not draw any stares, however, I just love the looks I get from the airline employees and the other travelers while waiting to board the flight to Baku. You don't see too many individuals who look like me, in fact, I have yet to see another very dark skinned person aboard any of my Baku bound flights. And, I think everyone is even more surprised to learn that I have a year long visa.

My apartment was fine...and since I kept the windows all closed during my absence the level of dust was only about 1/8 of an inch high vs. the usual 1/4 of inch (how does this stuff still seep in).
No gas explosions, cable still works, and water, surprisingly, not brown. All good signs.

Finally, I have returned to Baku, not necessarily refreshed, but more resolved than ever to complete my task sooner rather than later, and get back to my family, our pets, our home and my country. America with all its' faults and warts....is truly a grand place. I can say that and appreciate what it means.

Thanks for checking in on me!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

OMG---the time grows near

As you may have learned from my last posting...I've been home in the Pennsylvania for several weeks..IT HAS BEEN ABSOLUTELY DIVINE! I have had a great time and I think everyone (especially Tammy, Sierra, Dakota, and our furry family Bailey, Scout and April) have been happy to have me here.

I can already feel some angst about returning to Baku...but somehow, I am also feeling much more prepared for my food consumption. I am stocking up...never was a fan of canned veggies, microwavable soups or Beefaroni...but I have a suitcase filled with this stuff now.

I'm also optimistic that it won't be blazing hot still...or at least I hope!

I'll be busy once I return as our fall application process starts on October 1st...and I'll be doing presentations (in English) at several of the colleges and universities...and it's likely that I will also travel to neighboring countries too...don't tell Tammy...no need to stress her just yet and she doesn't read my blog.

I fly out of Dulles International (DC) on Labor Day evening to start the ardous nearly 7000 mile trip back to Baku. I have four hour layover in Frankfurt. The hardest part about the trip back is the days it will take me to adjust to the 9 hour time zone difference. It often takes me nearly 10 days (they say one day for every hour)...but since this is Ramadan...I will have two days off on Sept 21-22.....it will be interesting. Since the country is 98% Shiite Muslim...everyone will be fasting and I'll be enjoying my canned meats...no Spam...I'm not that desperate!

Cheers and thanks for following me....