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