Back from Azerbaijan

IMG_5179We got back from Azerbaijan late last night. Although jetlagged and tired, I feel alive with impressions and memories from the trip. We left on a short notice and stayed for nine days. Here’s what springs to mind when I think of our trip:

  1. Conversations.

30 minutes into our trip, I witnessed a remarkable conversation. My brother picked us up from the airport and we were stuck in a heavy traffic. The road was blocked for a good 5-10 minutes (probably to ensure that there were no hold-ups while the president went to work). While waiting, a lorry driver next to our car addressed my brother:

‘How much does this car cost, brother?’ My brother named how much my mum paid for it.

‘What year is it?’

‘2012’.

‘How much do these cars cost now?’

‘Don’t know. I haven’t enquired lately,’ my brother replied politely.

Can you imagine asking someone random about their car and its price? Only in Azerbaijan…

Then the next day we were in a big shopping centre on the Caspian sea front. I needed to breastfeed my baby girl. Given that breastfeeding in public is not common, I asked a female security officer whether they had a suitable room.

‘Let me show you,’ she said. We walked for three minutes. Most of the time she admired my daughter and got lots of big smiles from her.

‘I have two boys, but I always dreamt of having a girl. When I was giving birth to my youngest, I was convinced that it was a girl. My mother died recently and when I was sorting out her belongings I found a suitcase full of baby girl clothing. She dreamt of it too, I guess.’

I was touched at how open people can be. Here I was walking to a baby-changing room and this complete stranger told me her dreams and hopes.

2. Generosity.

Azerbaijani generosity is notorious in the region. Take this flat. A woman I had met three times only gave me the key to her mum’s flat. It was our home during our time in Baku.

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She also took us to her family’s summer house.

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If we were available, she would have taken us to a restaurant, as well as host an evening in her own flat. There simply was not enough time!

3. Connections.

I’m amazed sometimes that I can return to my hometown and pick up friendships exactly where I’ve left them. My schoolmates met me at the airport. They picked us up when we needed and waited for hours until I paid my visits to friends, aunty and cousin. We talked and laughed at old school anecdotes till late night, and sitting around a table in my family home felt rich and memorable. I even reconnected with a friend I haven’t seen for over 20 years. She visited every day while I was in my hometown and called me in Baku. On an impulse, she joined us on a flight to Baku to have that extra 40 minutes chattering away about our youth.

4. Fear factor

I’m afraid not everything was rosy and fun. I was reminded of some unpleasant and triggering aspects of living in Azerbaijan, especially when I was in my hometown. Fear is used as the main method of regulating children’s behaviour.

As a child, my grandma used to bathe me on Sundays. She had had a special glove that exfoliated skin. It was rough and she wasn’t particularly gentle. I absolutely hated it. My resistance evoked one key response:

‘There is Baba Yaga up there. If you don’t behave yourself she’d come and snatch you away,’ she told me. The fear of an old evil witch snatching me away was enough to let her rub my skin until it was red and burning. For many years I believed her. Going into a bathroom filled me with terror.

Now I saw many more versions of that:

‘If you don’t stop jumping around, I’d have to make an injection!’ (there was even a syringe ready in one household to make the threat more credible).

In another household, the threat was even more disturbing. A six-year old girl has developed a phobia of cough. She runs away if someone coughs near her.

‘Sit still or I’ll cough!’ Her grandma threatened her time and again.

Seeing this filled me with sadness and sense of helplessness. Not much has changed since I was a child…

5. Nothing’s in half-measures

While in my hometown, we had thunder storm and lightning so loud, it was as if a bomb exploded a few metres away. On a warm day, the sun was unbearable and we hid away indoors. On the day of departure the wind was so strong our car (filled with several heavy suitcases) felt unstable.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with more stories and impressions.

22 thoughts on “Back from Azerbaijan

  1. Goodness, I’m delighted that you are home and away from your former home. It is interesting how various cultures treat children. My mom threatened to hit me with her hair brush, her hand, or a small limb from a tree. I truly did not like my childhood! I feel so sorry for those children that live with those awful threats.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too, Gwynn, I’m sad you didn’t like your childhood and had similar experiences.
      I felt shocked, sad and helpless to change people’s attitude in two I spent there. I talked to my cousin at length about damaging effects of fear. It seems the only way they expect children to obey is by terrorising them. No wonder I always wanted to grow up quickly! Many thanks for reading and commenting here.

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  2. I’m so pleased you’re back safely Gulara and Welcome Home! 🙂 🙂 🙂 I admit I was concerned knowing that the Caspian Sea is very close to where you were in Azerbaijan (I looked it up on an atlas) – I also wanted to know how far/close the Caspian Sea is from Syria, and interested also in the Caspian Sea being land locked. And the missiles from the Caspian Sea hurled by Russia over to Syria … so I am EXTRA delighted to know you are safe ….

    It sounds like an amazing trip – let those wonderful exchanges you say about, be your abiding memory …

    Re parents and grandparents using fear as a motivating factor for good behaviour – I guess we all carry those wounds in some way and it takes much inner work to separate the gap between a good girl and the way one really is, in adult life … at least we know not to pass this on to or offspring. We owe that to them …

    Right now the heat where I am is unbearable. I heard this morning at art circle that we’re expecting 40 degrees next week … I promise you, I’ll expire if this is so –

    Maybe I sld do a rain dance …

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    • You put a big smile on my face with the rain dance image 🙂 Where I am, Susan, one doesn’t need to dance for rain to come. There is too much of it 🙂 I hear you, though, I remember I used to find +40 utterly unbearable. Now even reasonable +25+30 feels like too much heat.
      Caspian Sea was lovely, we walked on the sea front pretty much every day, and felt safe. You’d never guess that we are fairly close to Russia and Syria. In fact, the most dangerous place there are roads! People still drive like maniacs… And, yes, agree about not passing those old patterns on.
      There are so many things I want to share from this trip. Alas, need to get myself ready for the dental surgery on Monday morning (not that I can do much in the way of preparation, apart from shaking like a leaf)…
      So lovely to be back and in touch again 🙂 I’ve missed my blogging family.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Welcome back. Glad to hear your visit went well and that you finally made it despite all the obstacles. Too bad fear is still used like that. I’ve noticed it used here too, but luckily only by grandmothers, which hopefully means Polish parents are more thoughtful in their parenting. Travelling is so wonderful in that it teaches us to look at what we’ve been brought up with, what we know, with a critical eye.

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  4. I have been away temporarily from reading blogs, because I have been self-centered with fear after a doctor told me I would not long from now need a knee replacement. The problem of arthritis becomes more active as age advances, and for the benefit of your older friends and relatives I have liken to share useful and credible information about how to heal the knee joint using alternate oriental medicine. My self-educating has so far been encouraging and my comfort level grows better, self-evidenced by my need to take less pain medications! On the Google page of the internet, simply enter “electric clouds and arthritis.” On the very first page of the Google results, you will see HOW DO THE CHINESE TREAT ARTHRITIS, by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, May 13, 2013. I printed this item and it comes to 7 pages, very logically presented by a man who is highly regarded world-wide.

    My thoughts about Aberbaijan and closeness to the Caspian Sea bring to my mind that this may be a region where the weather pattern might promote arthritis to young and old, but more rapidly to the old people, such as grandmothers. Is it possible that when a whole population of aging people have arthritis pains there is more irritability and suffering, and the stern and insensitive treatment of younger children becomes a national pattern? Now, I am off to a more enjoyable topic!

    Dear Gulara, my heart warms me that you have had so many lovely experiences, possibly with those who are in your age/ generation level. I am also so immensely pleased that you are back in good spirits and able to continue doing everything you love to do, writing, taking care of your lovely children, and more!

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    • Dear Joseph,
      I’m delighted to hear from you. I was wondering how you are as I haven’t heard from you for a while. But then again I haven’t been writing much lately either (my kids got chicken pox in September and then we were away). How’s your knee now? Knee operations can be painful. I’m so glad you are looking into oriental medicine. I read the article and I agree with those methods whole-heartedly. I used to do Qigong for many years and I love its impact on the physical and energetic body. I see an amazing acupuncturist on a regular basis. And I tap pressure (or acupuncture) points on a daily basis. The results are amazing and I’m so glad you are taking less pain relief.
      As to climate in Azerbaijan, my hometown is on the other side of the country, away from the Caspian Sea. I’ve never thought of the connection between ailments and people’s temperament. Who knows?
      Thank you for your warm note. I greatly appreciate your kind words and pleased to be back in touch.

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  5. I really got a good idea of how your trip went by reading your post. It’s amazing how time and distance makes no difference to true friendships and that you can pick up where you left off even if it was years ago.

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    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Regina, yes, those friendships are very special and I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends. It was as if we were connecting to young parts of ourselves so whatever went on in our lives in-between didn’t make much difference.
      There’ll be more posts about the trip soon – it was rich and action-packed 9 days 🙂

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  6. I am happy to see that you are back after a nice trip to your former home.
    That lovely story with your daughter and the woman pouring her heart out, made me all happy. Especially after what you had said about your grandmother’s absence of a reaction when your daughter was born. Girls are important and wanted, just not for and by everyone, I guess.
    I sometimes see corporal punishment around me and it makes me wince, but the extent is far less than what you tell here. I hope that things are going to change for the better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I do flinch in response to corporal punishment too. it’s used routinely back in Azerbaijan, and sometimes in England. At least my husband and I are committed to ‘no punishment’ policy with our children. It can be so damaging… Thank you for commenting here, Solveig, it’s lovely to be in touch.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a public statement.
    Your smile in your blog photo cheers me up! I am a relatively recent follower of your writing, and my daughter also loves to visit but has not yet entered the commenting phase.
    I imagine that those visiting your blog site are also cheered up by looking at your photo.
    I think your long-time visitors feel this as well, but see no need to mention their feelings about your photo these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Joseph, what a sweet-sweet note you’ve left here. Thank you so much for your kind words, I truly appreciate them. And I am very happy my smile cheers you up. I’m grateful for your and your daughter’s interest in my writing. I feel blessed to have people like you following my blog. Thank you so much! Many blessings.

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