Posts tagged ‘Baku’

Life in Baku

Over a month ago I wrote about the scarcity of foreign workers in Azerbaijan. According to today’s news Azerbaijan’s current labor migration quota is 10,700 people, but only 7,091 foreign citizens worked in 912 companies by 1 July 2010. These foreign workers held citizenship in 87 different countries, including Turkey (3,225 people), the UK (1,350), Georgia (312), India (244), U.S. (198), and Russia (176).


Apologies for neglecting this blog for so long! I’ve been busy and really unenthusiastic about writing about it. Although i promise to post some pictures from my last two trips to Lerik and Xinaliq!

I have new flatmates. There is a French girl who’s an intern in the French embassy, a German girl and Ph’d student who came to Baku for a seminar, a Swiss guy who’s an intern at an NGO, and starting from yesterday an Italian guy who’s also an intern. We also have guests and couchsurfers often. Last week my friends Dmitry (Moscow) and Isabel (Belgium) visited me. Our flat is really wonderful, genial & gregarious.

Stairs up to Shahidlar Khiyabani (Martyr's Cemetery) in honor of the men, women and children killed on January 20th, 1990 by the Soviet forces.

Watch meykhana on youtube.


July 23, 2010 at 4:22 am Leave a comment

Existential migration

I came upon an interesting concept last night called “existential migration,” conceived by psychologist Greg Madison.

Unlike economic migration, simple wanderlust, exile, or variations of forced migration, ‘existential migration’ is conceived as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about existence by leaving one’s homeland and becoming a foreigner.

Some interesting tidbits:

  • ‘Existential migration’ is conceived as a chosen attempt to express or address fundamental aspects of existence by leaving one’s homeland and becoming a foreigner.
  • These ‘existential migrants’ discover more about themselves and feel more alive when confronting unfamiliar cultures. These individuals move cross-culturally, sometimes repeatedly, in search of self-understanding and adventure.
  • The importance of trying to fulfil individual potentials, the importance of freedom and independence, openness to experiences of the mystery of life, and the valuing of difference and foreignness as a stimulus to personal awareness and broadening perspectives are consistent themes amongst ‘existential migrants.’
  • Among this population there is a marked preference for the strange and foreign over the familiar or conventional.
  • Most ‘existential migrants’ leave their home cultures because they never felt ‘at home’ in the first place. For some, the choice to leave can eventually result in not being at home anywhere in the world, leaving these individuals to live within a sort of ‘homelessness’ that includes a complex mix of inconsolable loss as well as perpetual adventure and self-discovery.
  • The ‘feeling of home’ arises from specific interactions with our surroundings that could potentially occur anywhere, at any time. This is in contrast to the usual definition of home as geographical place.

Is this me?

July 23, 2010 at 4:07 am 4 comments

Update 3

Read my third update to the Kiva fellows blog here about the history of Komak, the credit union where I work, as told to me by the director Aydin.

June 11, 2010 at 3:28 am 1 comment

Loneliness in Baku

Just another charming house in Baku.

According to an article published yesterday in an Azerbaijani newspaper, there are only 7,000-some foreigners working in the whole country! And this number includes people from Turkey (who to be blatantly honest are not really “foreign” in Azerbaijan despite their different nationality). Cambodia on the contrary probably had more than a 100,000 international workers from Europe, America and Australia, plus another several hundred thousand tourists every year! (I can’t find exact statistics)

This meant that in Cambodia there were establishments that catered to foreign tastes such as restaurants, pubs and dance clubs where meeting other foreigners was easy. It’s not that Khmers didn’t patronize these places, many did (especially Khmer women), but the style of service and general demographic was such that a western girl traveling solo felt comfortable being there, instead of guarded and insecure.

Azerbaijan’s low number of expatriates and tourists is a major reason why living here feels so damn lonely. It’s not that I am devoid of company. I work with good people and I live with 3 (European) roommates. But I feel stuck. Whereas in Cambodia, there was a variety of places I could go and find expats and travelers, in Baku there is a much smaller group of people… most of whom I don’t even know how to meet! Sometimes I am approached by an Azeri men who wants to be my friend, but most of these men don’t even speak Russian. I’m not disparaging cultural exchange, but I’m not interested in being courted by Azeri men who can’t communicate with me, dress like dolls and adhere to a bunch of irrational gender formalities.

I want to go dancing. My body craves movement and music. Where should I go? And with whom?

Mardakan beach, 40 km outside of Baku, where I went on Sunday alone

Mostly men? Yup.

June 8, 2010 at 7:15 am 7 comments

Kittens and stupid American cinema

The other night as I was walking home I found a very tiny kitten. Deciding that she was too young not to get hit by a car (she was after all walking on the street and there was a car coming) and unsure of whether a mother cat was around, I grabbed her and took her home.

My roommates are either allergic or against cats (or both) so I couldn’t keep her, and my original plan to bring her to my office courtyard to join the two other kittens down there was thwarted by my fellow Azeri employee who told me “you can’t do that!” After a 3 hour sleep, a kitten bath, flees, diarrhea, feeding attempts and a kitten with a face covered in egg yolk (what was I suppose to feed her???), I took off trying to find someone to take her.

Baku is cat city. There are felines everywhere. Though not all people are indifferent to them, people here do not see cats as “little babies” worth much attention. They are more like a background. Even cars receive more attention (with the constant washing).

My first stop was the corner store which refused to take the kitten. “We already have one” was their reply. “Just one?” I thought, starting to rationalize that if each store cared for at least 3 cats, their living situation would be much better!

A middle aged woman shopping in the store took interest in my kitten and after 15 minutes of looking her over and explaining that she was unsure, let me follow her back to the communal apartment where she lived and deposit the kitten there, who quickly pranced away from sight. The woman wanted a kitten for her 12 year old son and promised that regardless of whether she ended up keeping her or not she would not throw her back on the street. “At least not until another month when she’s old enough to fend for herself” I said.

The woman knows where I live and I hope that she doesn’t come knocking on our door with the kitten ready to return to me. I never told her about the diarrhea…

Yesterday, my co-worker and I went to the movies. And what did we see if not one of the most culturally insensitive American chick-flicks dubbed in Russian? Before we arrived at the cinema, I explained to my co-worker that reviews of this film that I read described it as being “anti-Muslim.” After seeing the film, I explained that this film was one of the reasons religious fundamentalists hate Americans and that instead of carefully bridging the gap between America and the Middle east, it exacerbated it by parading these vapid, materialistic, barely-clad, insensitive women around as symbols of America. The film isn’t about individuality, self expression, or self realization – the America we should be sharing with the world – but about the obnoxious and sheltered existence of Americans. Nevertheless, my Azeri co-worker liked the movie.

See this very true and funny review.

June 5, 2010 at 2:44 am 1 comment

What I hate/love about Baku (list)

Often Azerbaijani people ask me what I think of Azerbaijan. I can’t really tell them what I think, so usually I say something stupid like “It’s hot” to which they reply “Oh no it’s not! Just wait until summer!” So here’s a truthful list of what I think about Baku (not Azerbaijan, since I haven’t been anywhere but the capital yet) after 2 weeks of being here.

Things I hate:

~ The constant smoking and complete lack of awareness that it may bother the foreign girl sitting beside you!

~ The aggressive drivers that never give pedestrians the right-of-way.

~ The lack of side-walks, forcing pedestrians to compete with drivers for space on the street.

~ Male fashion. The pants that are so tight, you can see not only the shape of his buttocks but also that of his cock. And the tight polo shirts. And the fancy shoes. And the macho gait with which many young men here walk, their legs flip-flopping side to side.

~ The low standards of hygiene for food preparation. I keep finding dirt and hairs in my salads that I order in restaurants.

~ The oily water that makes my tea unpalatable and my body feel slimy even after I shower.

~ The lack of a couchsurfing community in Azerbaijan that would make it easier (less expensive and more fun) to travel to other regions and would expand my network of friends in Baku.

~ The difficulty of obtaining a visa. If you’re staying longer than one month or not arriving by plane, you need a letter of invitation or hotel confirmation (in which case they date the visa to be valid only during those days that you have your hotel booking making it difficult to just travel by the moment).

~ The littering by children & adults alike.

Things I love:

~ The delicious and fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs available at every produce market in Baku (which are basically on every block). These taste even better than organic produce in NY! However, the selection is seasonal, so there’s not much variety.

~ The delicious 30-50 qopik (approx 40-60 cents) tandir (Azerbaijani bread).

~ I can try on almost any clothing item in the stores and it will fit perfectly (size 6). But I sympathize with larger women who probably have a lot of trouble finding clothes in this city.

~ Hearing the Koran recited all the way from Old Baku in my apartment five times a day (if I am home).

~ Speaking Russian. I am really glad that so many people speak Russian in Baku and I get to practice my language skills as well as form more meaningful relationships with people because we share a language.

Things I love & hate at the same time:

~ The wind. Nay because it blows dust everywhere so that even clothes drying on the third floor balcony get dirty overnight (not to say anything about how dirty my feet get just walking in the city). Yay because when it’s hot, wind acts like a natural fan.

~ Cats. I love seeing these beautiful animals everywhere, but in Baku they look so scrawny and miserable, that is also makes me sad.

~ The constant construction. On the one hand, the new buildings look really good and it creates an optimism for the future of Baku, on the other it makes getting places inconvenient because sections of streets are blocked off.

June 2, 2010 at 8:49 am 5 comments

Oily tea in Baku

The Kiva regional coordinator for Central Asia / Eastern Europe is visiting Azerbaijan. She doesn’t speak Russian so during her interaction (or interrogation) with the staff of my MFI I got to act as translator. Translating is like having a lively conversation without having to think for yourself, all that’s needed is concentration and articulation. Usually, I zone out several times during a conversation, but being the messenger of the conversation made me a lot more attentive. And it was relaxing and fun. My Russian, to my surprise, was not as weak as I expected. Besides several dozen business terms like наблюдательный совет (board of directors) for which I used ‘google translate’ I was able to translate efficiently and correctly (okay, maybe sometimes a little crudely).

I didn’t drink my tea this morning and left it to wait for me, covered, on the kitchen table. By the time I returned home 5 hours later, it looked like this. I was told that my neighborhood is one of the only ones with safe drinking water, but even boiled water here is unappetizing.

Young Azeris (or maybe just Azeri girls) are obsessed with Eurovision, an annual song contest with origins in the 1950s. It seems that most of Europe goes into a frenzy during each Eurovision competition, yet I’d never heard of it until last week. The judges are the audience who vote through text messages that cost about 60 cents to send. In this year’s contest, Azerbaijan won 5th place. Germany’s 19 year old Lena won 1st. My favorite contestant, Peter Nalitch, won 11th.


May 31, 2010 at 7:12 am 1 comment

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