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.