The Eve Before Departure

If I could summarize the emotions, ideas, and level of inner-intensity I’ve felt the last few days, it would be through this song, Cəngi (transliteration something like JENG-i), by the fantastic composer Üzeyır Hacıbəyov*:

Yeah, I’ve been feeling flurried. Antsy. Anticipating. Slightly crazy. To illustrate, let me outline a few thoughts bouncing around in my head; brace yourselves (or skip this post) because I might start ranting:

If you would have talked to me at the beginning of my semester abroad in Ankara, and informed me that almost exactly two years later I would be venturing to Azerbaijan as a Fulbrighter, I would have laughed in your face. First, I would pretend to know where the country was and then I would deny that I had any chance of becoming a Fulbrighter – that I could be in the running for a nationally-competitive fellowship. Plus, why would ANYONE want to go to a place as obscure as Azerbaijan?? Oh, younger me…never say never, I suppose!

So, I leave tomorrow, September 4th, and land in Baku on the 5th. The 5th happens to be my birthday (as well as my younger brother’s – cheers!), and I’m turning 24. I’m revealing that detail because it suddenly hit me: Azerbaijan and I are almost the same age; at least modern-day Azerbaijan. Actually, my arrival into this world is sandwiched between two huge events in Azerbaijan’s (and the greater Caucasus’) modern history: 1)  The start of a war with Armenia in 1988 (grave, genocidal atrocities committed by both sides; this will doubtlessly come up in the future), and 2) Its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. I sense that Azerbaijan, barely in its twenties, is “finding itself”: How do “the crossroads between east and west” continue that heritage while also assuming its own identity? To what extent do Persian, Russian, and Turkic cultural histories intermingle or separate? How do Azerbaijani citizens identify themselves in such a context? Azerbaijan’s liminality really appeals to me, perhaps because that’s kind-of how I feel about my place in this vast world.

Now that I think about it – people talk about the possibility of traveling to “unknown places,” and the potential within those places. This can mean a multitude of things: finding a new galaxy in outer space, unearthing a new species from the deepest depths of an ocean, coming across “undiscovered peoples” in a jungle. When I was born, I wonder if my parents/family considered the chances of their daughter traveling to unknown places – of me venturing to a country that did not exist on September 5, 1990. I wonder about what the world will look like 20 – 25 years from now. With all that is occurring in the Middle East, I wonder how many “unknowns” will sprout up as wars continue and end, as entire ethnic populations migrate, as new political entities come to the fore. How many borders will be re-drawn? What areas will flourish, what will be abandoned? What will people think of their history? Will a place like Iran or Iraq, shut off from greater America today, be opened to programs like Fulbright in just a few decades? In a sense, today’s Iran or Iraq is yesterday’s Azerbaijan; there was little hope of its survival circa 1991 and now look at it! History tends to repeat itself, so….never say never, I suppose!

And there you have it – my words of glorious insight (or insanity) on the eve of my departure. Thank you, everyone, for your support thus far. Hopefully things will only go up (with the occasional hiccup, it’s to be expected), and I’m happy to call you all my companions as I venture to this new corner of the world!

Until next time…. (:


* Üzeyır Hacıbəyov. If I were to say that Hacıbəyov’s musical and cultural importance is to Azerbaijan what Tchaikovsky’s is to Russia, that should explain his importance. I’m still learning about him, but one of his accolades is his opera, Leyli and Majnun, the first opera produced from a Muslim country. He’s also known by composing the current anthem of Azerbaijan, but (perhaps more interestingly) he composed its anthem when it was a Soviet republic. If you care to learn some history, here are links to both: Current Anthem; SSR Anthem



  1. Sound like time for taking a deep breath. And then another. Arrival in Azerbaijan has to go less traumatically than arrival in Turkey. You have a better idea what to except, better command of language, of culture. In other words, you have grown up. :-). (From student to semi adult… Maybe at 25 we will call you adult). Happy flying…surviving the long flight is test #1. Oh, and happy birthday.

  2. Hi Hayley, Finally, spelled your name correctly. Happy Birthday and know that your skating family is wishing you the best. Enjoy your time. We know that you will be a good ambassador to Azerbajan, not spelled correctly. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

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