“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Over the weekend I had the interesting experience of eating both green cheese and green ice cream. The former was pesto-laced and absolutely delicious, and the latter I’m still trying to figure out, although I suspect it to be pistachio. Only in Baku...

My new cleaning lady began today. Wow! What a lot to get used to! I do believe she rearranged my entire home. I haven’t found a single cupboard that is in its original state. The control-freak Virgo in me is itching in aggravation—I am not a messy person by nature and there wasn’t a whole lot wrong with where I had it! My jeans shrunk in her 90 degree wash, and I’ve somehow managed to spend $25 on three bottles of used cleaning supplies. She threw out my one week old sponge and dish cloth, but the place is spotless. I will admit that many of her rearrangements were ingenious, but it does bug me when she begins to go through my fridge and throw out the floppy cucumbers, no matter how much it needs doing. Here goes my over-independence rearing its head. I hate to think that I can’t take care of myself, and she really isn’t helping!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Movement of people

I'm finding the ethnic diversity here in Baku absolutely amazing. There are people from all over the former Soviet Union who call this place home. Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Poles, Ukrainians, etc, etc. Most of them now have Azeri passports, and while I haven't really gotten into the culture enough to know how the true Azeris feel about this (I remember in Uzbekistan it was very contentious), surely because they have Azeri passports, they have become Azeri and accepted in most senses. Most speak only Russian, as opposed to Azeri, but they truly consider this fascinating place home.

This was an interesting cultural event, really. I know it happened in several waves. It must have been at the turn of the century when the oil was peaking, and then again in the 1960s, although I'm not a hundred percent certain. What is true is that when they were moving, they were moving within the same country, just as an American moves from the east coast to the west coast, yet their cultures are quite distinct, just as the American South is from the North or from the Midwest. Here they are probably more distinct, and it makes for such an amazing polyglot of people--blondes with curly curly hair to Arab-looking men with long conservative beards. They all call this place home!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Baku settling in

I've been in Baku for just over a week. Things have been super hectic as we've had meetings, groupings, partnership work and other classroom preparation. I'm not at all close to being ready to teach yet as MYP is really quite a complex system, but still have two days of orientation to go. I still want to add pictures and other blogs to this, but it will have to wait till I have time!

I'm really loving Baku--it's such an interesting city! For fear of sounding like a guide book or a tourist promotion agency, I'll try to tone it down!! The Old City is beautiful. There are typical medina type winding cities like across the arab world. The majestic walls with renovated turrets line the edges, and the buildings range from being decrepit (and picturesque) to new and fashionable. At the bottom side is the Maidens Tower and a maze of layers of old ruins. Expensive restaurants with interesting red lamps and rooftop views shine across the courtyards.

Outside the old city are the turn-of-the-century oil boom mansions, and other buildings no doubt built by Russia in it's wealthy hey days. They've had a century of neglect, but are being slowly spruced up to look very majestic in their cream stone and carved awnings. I live downtown in a shabby but quaint appartment on the pedestrian Nizami Street, quite near to Fountain Square, where in the evenings, dressed-to-the-nines couples, families and many young men strut around to see and be seen, in front of the McDonalds and other foreign imported shops.

I'm absolutely appalled by how expensive everything is here! Everything has to be flown in, no doubt, and the price reflects it. Can you imagine it being normal to pay $1 for a normal plastic coat-hanger or $100 for a simple metal rubbish bin? These are just two examples, but it does seem as if everything is overpriced. Even the little stall on my street selling Chinese handbag knockoffs are overpriced, and they're the cheapest thing in town. Thankfully, right now (before Ramadan), it's the middle of sale season, so everything is marked down to 30, 40, 50, 70 percent off, which thankfully, brings things back to more realistic (but not really cheap) prices. The internet is costing $300 just to connect and the satellite TV is at least $150. Is that overpriced or have I been living in dirt-cheap South East Asia for too long and I've lost the sense of reality?

If that's not bad enough, I think the local boys use my stairwell as their urinal, and it annoys me very much. The cleaner spent three days last week cleaning it up from the last incident, but I really would rather not have to get a combination lock because that would be such a hassle for all in the building as well as myself! At least I have a light there now and don't have to use my torch to go up the stairs! That probably sounds really horrifying, but you must understand that it's characteristic of all formerly-Soviet countries that a stairwell should be the most horrifyingly-ugly, phobia reaction-inducing places in existance.

The thing I have to say that I love the most about Baku, though, are the cats. Not just the fact that they are here, but the fact that everyone in Baku seems to be a cat lover and they really take care of them. I have to smile when I see a little old lady reach into her handbag to pull out a little fish for one! It was like it was a cartoon. There is always a little tub of water and cat nuts sitting in a pile around every corner, and none of the kitties look malnourished. They are friendly and cuddle up to me often (which I just love). I'm tired of skittish cats than run away from a pet and a hug, but these ones just climb into my lap and purr! I just don't know yet if I want one of my own...

Monday, August 11, 2008

From Baku

Am sitting here with a free evening after days and nights filled with events! Things are going very well here--I'm amazed at how fast timehas flown!

I had a crazy flight over through Belarus. At Gatwick, I was unfortunate enough that they weighed my two handcarry bags, so I had to pay 50 pounds in excess, but really that's not bad for all the flying I've done this summer, and they did want me to pay 170, so I was lucky. Minsk doesn't really know how to deal with transit passengers that are not Russia or Belarusian, so when I arrived and had asked several people where I should go (and they had passed the buck by telling me to wait in hopes that someone else would deal with me) I was escorted upstairs to wait by myself in the tiny departure lounge (where not another soul joined me, and not a single shop nor restaurant was open (though they weren't open when I departed a week earlier, either)! Nearing departure time I was herded through the airport because I had no visa but had to re-check-in. My handcarry was given back to me to avoid further excess baggage charges!! I then managed to somehow arrive into Azerbaijan without getting a visa, bizzarely. Wondering about it, I was told we'd worry about it the next day (as it was already 3am and we all wanted to just get to sleep). It was later sorted out, so I am not here illegally, anymore.

I like my new appartment alot, but when others complain, it's so easy to add your own woes to the pile, minor though they may be! The best thing is that I have a lovely balcony overlooking the main pedestrian street right in the middle of central downtown. It's going to cost $250 to connect to the internet, which is not so good, but that's just how it is here. I found a dialup card at the phone card shop today, but it's a bit slow!

All the new singles bar one live in town, but divided into two groups, E and W of the central fountain square. E typically have views, but W are closer to central downtown. I'm in the W. I'm interested to see what will happen as the year progresses. Everyone is quite concerned about the situation in Georgia, but I really don't think that it will have a big impact on Azerbaijan unless the pipeline is greatly affected.

Haven't even been in my classroom for more than a few seconds as we haven't had time to blink because things are happening all the time. Time is absolutely filled with workshops, meetings, and other things like getting an official BP ID card!! In the evenings we are wined and dined across town! It's a very long orientation (almost two weeks), but still haven't done heaps, so I suppose it'll be just enough. Hopefully we'll open a bank account tomorrow, and get some time to sit and get things in order. No sign of a car yet!

Am loving the city--it's grown and developped a lot from what I remember from being here in 2004, but am still recognizing the main landmarks. I keep thinking of more things the more time I spend here! There's lots to explore. I look forward to having visitors in my first ever spare room!

Anyway, must go and do some school work and catch up on all that I'm way behind on! Will send more news soon!