My visited me over the past couple of weeks. I was naturally both excited and anxious for her visit. I haven’t spent ten days with my mom for years, so I knew it would be a bit intense. At the same time, I really wanted her to see me in my element over here, and share with her some of the wonders of Azerbaijan (which includes the good and the bad).
There were a few things that I think she had a hard time with: crossing streets one lane at a time, the garbage and pollution, and bumpy crowdedness of public transportation here. Aside from that though, I’d say she had a good time.
First, we did some site-seeing in Baku, (which I realized is actually pretty limited – outside the Old City, there wasn’t much to do) and then visited my old host family in Sumgayit. It was really great to get to show my mom where I first lived, and get her to meet my host mom, who is an incredible woman.
We made our way back to the regions and stopped in Ismayli so we could do a quick day trip to Lahij, a really neat little mountain town that hosts Tim, fellow PCV, who has to endure a hell of a bus ride to get to his picturesque community. The bus ride there is an hour and a half cliffhanger that offers some pretty amazing views. I couldn’t imagine going there in the winter.
After Lahij and Ismayli, we came back to Ujar, my home sweet home. My students seemed eager to meet my mom, and the teachers at school were really welcoming. One of the assistant principals, upon finding out that the lady following me around was my mom, went up to her and gave her a big hug, and then told her that she hopes I have a lot of children.
After classes, we went over to friends’ houses for dinner, where I think my mom was really blown away. Before I really get in to that though, I need to explain about Azerbaijani hospitality.
Azerbaijanis are very proud of their reputation as hospitable people. I don’t know how much the rest of the world knows it, but they feel they are famous for it. I go back and forth on how much I agree with this notion. In my circumstance, I feel like if I know someone, chances are they are going to go out of their way to help me. Even sometimes with folks I don’t know, I’ve found that some people can be very kind. One time I was walking down the street looking for a house, and this guy walked up and down the street with me until I found it. While not completely necessary, you wouldn’t find this kind of thing in America.
The places in Azerbaijani culture where hospitality doesn’t exist is where I tend to dwell. Taxi drivers (who are jerks everywhere) feel like they can pull a fast one on me because I’m a foreigner. Any concept of waiting one’s turn is shattered by a sudden me-first attitude that I still haven’t really gotten used to.
While I think my mom got a dose of both realities, I feel like she walked away with a strong sense that hospitality in Azerbaijan makes America look like a country full of selfish jerks. We would go over to dinner that featured spreads that would rival the size of a Thanksgiving dinner in America. They would sweat in the kitchen for the simple occasion of having us over for dinner. On our final night of guesting, which we decided to go to at the last minute, on our way out my friend Rasmiyya gave my mom som towels (which as I write, doesn’t sound like a lot, but it was a really sweet thing to do).
Finally, we made our way back to Baku, picked up a few carpets as souveniers, and that was the end of my mom’s Azerbaijan experience. It was fun, and the ten days with her wasn’t nearly as stressful as I thought it was going to be.
It also made me feel proud of what I’ve done here. She got to see me in my groove over here, which only a handful of people will be able to witness. Like she said, you can’t explain Azerbaijan. You’ve got to experience it to understand.
We were taking pictures with her camera, mostly. Here are a couple more pics I took with my camera, though.