We 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:
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?’
‘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.
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.
She also took us to her family’s summer house.
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!
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.