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

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...

1 comment:

Rama said...

So, what you're saying is... when I come to visit, I shouldn't expect to buy a lot of trinkets?

No, you haven't been holed up in cheap SE Asia... that is expensive.