First Days in Baku

Salam from Baku! I’m writing this from my little space in the International Department’s office at Azerbaijan State Economic University. Currently working on getting wifi in my apartment, which is why this blog has been neglected. But I’ve been here….six days – is this REALLY only my sixth full day here?? It’s amazing how staying busy and adjusting to new environments can make time move by so quickly yet laboriously slow. Ugh. But here we go, let’s get caught up with each other about what I’ve been up to!

Getting There

To get started: the journey to Azerbaijan. Originally, I was to leave on September 4th mid-morning. My first flight from Memphis to Chicago was delayed SO badly (weather, I guess) that I couldn’t leave until the next day. Now, this would normally be fine except for two things: 1) I was so ready to meet Azerbaijan. Talk about a let-down; to be starting a dream one year in the making, to be full of anticipation and hope….NO, NOT TODAY. Tomorrow. Tomorrow? Why? Why must I wait one more day? 2) My parents’ home is one and-a-half hours from the Memphis airport. So after waiting in line for well over an hour to reschedule my flight, I called home (choking back some frustrated tears), knowing full well that my parents were back in Jackson trying to enjoy their Thursday. My beloved father not only came back to get me, but he happily drove me back to the airport the next day – a total driving time of 9 hours over two days – so that I could get to Baku.

Once I was able to get going, it was pretty much smooth sailing. I had my last cup of American Starbucks coffee in Newark, enjoyed Frankfurt airport’s free wifi, and landed in Baku on September 6th around 10pm. Between the 24 hours it took to move my person from Memphis to Baku and all the time zone changes (Azerbaijan is 9 hours ahead of MI; 10 hours ahead of TN), I was slightly delirious. I mean, I could totally function and take care of myself, but I was loopy. I was one of the last people to get my luggage – speaking of which, look at all that I brought with me:

Yeah....it was a lot. The huge black one weighed 80 pounds. Oops!

Yeah….it was a lot. The huge black one weighed 80 pounds. Oops!

I wheeled all my stuff out to the main entrance of the Heydar Aliyev International Airport and met one of my main contacts from the university, Zaur. He and his cousin helped drag my things to the car and we whizzed off into the city. Bright city lights flashed by (traffic is pretty crazy here, I would say not as bad as Ankara, but laws are still mere guidelines) and, in my semi-delirious state, I talked with Zaur about everything from my trip to his job opportunities, and asked him to explain all the interesting things that caught my eye.

“Oh!” I suddenly interrupted myself, “Do you know what I’m doing at your university? Like what my job is? No one has told me and I’ve asked several times.” He laughed at my spastic conversation skills and said that I’ll do a lot of what the ETA did last year, including run conversation clubs for the staff and the students. I also found out that I’ll have my own little space in the International Relations department, and serve as a resource for professors and staff – basically, perform English teaching assistant tasks.  (:

A few moments later we arrived at my apartment. Zaur’s cousin took a couple sharp turns and drove into a short alleyway. My place is situated above a women’s beauty salon, and the stairway is located at the rear of the building (pictures to come!). In true Azeri style, there are no lights in this stairway, and I started laughing at how ridiculous my situation was: two guys dragging my outrageously heavy bags, and me fumbling after them with my carry-on luggage in utter darkness.

The door was opened, I was handed the key, and shown about the place. “It’s so beautiful!” I half-jogged through the living/dining room with my arms stretched out (remember, this is Hayley in a semi-delirious state). I was shown how to turn on the water heater, the AC wall units, and how to get out to my little balcony. I made arrangements to meet with Zaur the next day right before they left:

“1 o’clock, I will be here at 1 tomorrow,” he began.

“1? Okay, great – I’ll be here.”

“Actually, 2 – make that 2 o’clock.”

“Oh, sure, that’s fine too.”

“Well, between 1 and 2.”

“Now, when you say 1 or 2 o’clock,” I started to clarify, “Do you mean this like American time or Turkish time?”

He laughed, “You are in Azerbaijan, so Azeri time.”

“But will you really be here between 1 and 2, or is Azeri time like Turkish time so you’ll be here at 3?” I half-yelled the last part of my question down the staircase and I only heard more laughter from the guys. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow, I shrugged to myself, but I’m going to bet that Azeri time is more like Turkish time. And with that, I threw on some other clothes, turned off all the lights, and collapsed onto the sectional in the room adjacent to my bedroom (I was too tired to make my bed – sofa it was!).

Day One (September 7th)

I had a rather fitful night’s sleep. Actually, most of my sleep here so far has been that way. For some reason I’m just not adjusting well to the time difference. But my first morning I made myself get up by 9:30am to start unpacking. Plus, I really needed to shower. Talk about gross. Zaur met me at around 1:30 (literally between 1 and 2!). With his help I converted money, got a SIM card for my phone (so far working without a hitch, which is amazing because technology is NEVER this nice to me), pre-paid gas for my flat on a nifty machine, and took a quick tour of May 28 mall (largest mall in Baku, I believe, and a short walk from my house). This was all accomplished within two hours because I was running on crazy levels of adrenaline and efficiency, plus, I didn’t want to take up too much of Zaur’s time on his day off.

I had Zaur take me back home to help get my bearings, and a little later I met up with another Fulbrighter who lives about a 20 minute walk north of me. Back to the mall I went to meet Madeline and we shopped in the grocery store in the lower level. I stocked up on as much as I could carry (I still have a couple trips to go before I get all the staples and basic supplies, it’s these moments that I really miss my car!), and we visited each other’s flats. Conveniently, I walked right by the U.S. Embassy, which is right in between our places:

Looks forboding from this angle, but the courtyard is quite nice!

Looks forboding from this angle, but the courtyard is quite nice!

And that basically sums up my first day: getting the job done, exploring on the side. Boom.

Day Two (September 8th)

Before he left me to my own devices on my first day in Baku, Zaur extended an invitation, “The staff at the university really want to meet you, please come and visit us tomorrow.”

“Oh, yes, I would love to! What time should I arrive?”

“10 o’clock. Eh, make that 11.”

I laughed, “How about 10:30?”

So Monday morning I ventured, on my own, to Azerbaijan State Economic University (ASEU). I called Zaur to get me from one of the many entrances because I didn’t know which way to enter, which was probably a good thing anyway because I doubt the guards leading into university grounds would have let me in on my own.

One part of this gorgeous building. I believe this was built in the 1880s.

One part of this gorgeous building. I believe this was built in the 1880s.

Entrance alleyway.

Entrance alleyway.

Goal: learn how to say university's name in Azeri.

Goal: Learn how to say university’s name in Azeri.

I spent the majority of the day at ASEU meeting people (countless people…endless), touring the building (which is beautiful), and just establishing my presence. My colleagues took me out to lunch, showed me my own desk space, and kept me busy with talking – talking about myself, why I chose Azerbaijan, what they want me to do here. I was also informed how pretty I am; that I have a “bright face,” a “very sweetie personality,” and “big, blue apple eyes.” Overwhelming, yes, but what a warm environment!

Day Three (September 9th)

Tuesday was the briefing/informational day for us Fulbrighters at the U.S. Embassy. We had different meetings that dealt with our role as ETAs, general security, health, and a Fulbright alumna from last year paid a visit. She was actually offered a position at Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy (ADA) after her time there as an ETA, so it was great hearing from someone who was in our shoes not too long ago!

Our time at the embassy concluded with a trip to the American Corner, located a short walk away at the Azerbaijan University of Languages. An American Corner, I learned during the pre-departure orientation in DC, is the public face of a U.S. embassy/presence abroad. An embassy isn’t open to a regular citizen for him/her to learn about American culture or improve their English, but that is exactly what American Corners do; they are public spaces open and free to the public. This one in Baku hosts a multitude of conversation clubs, movie showings, classes, a kid’s corner, the list goes on. By the end of our time there on Tuesday, I had volunteered to facilitate an introductory academic writing course. More details on that to come – this post is too long already (and the details are still being ironed out)!

Days Four, Five, and Six (September 10th – 12th)

So the last few days have mainly consisted of me spending time at ASEU, getting to know the people, meeting more people, and trying to figure out what my exact role is here. Honestly, it’s been nice and I’ve enjoyed working on small projects, brainstorming ideas for my conversation clubs, and waiting for the dust to settle. My desk is the first one people see when they walk into the department office, and I can’t tell you how many times students and other faculty have thought that I actually work here and speak to me in Azeri! Entertaining.

On Wednesday, I totally got lost on the metro. That story deserves its own post, which will hopefully come soon.  (:

I’ve also been cleaning my flat, concentrating on the kitchen mainly. It’s not completely hopeless, but I haven’t wanted to cook in it yet. It’s actually been a good project for me, taking it a little bit at a time. I’ll post some pictures of my place eventually…eventually.

That should sum it up. Yes, I am alive. Yes, I am well. No, I am not married to anyone here (so no more worrying about that!). The adjustment, honestly, hasn’t been too bad. I’m expecting it to hit me later, maybe in a few weeks or months. But right now, is it weird to say that being in Baku, surrounded by disorganized city life, and constantly hearing Turkish/Azeri feels like home? Still mulling that over…

I hope everyone back home is well. Seriously, drop me a line – some of you haven’t contacted me since I’ve been here!

Until next time…  (:

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4 comments

  1. I love love love reading this sort of detailed account. Thank you for taking all the time to write it down … and when you read it again in 40 years you will be so happy you did. You do sound right at home. Good for you. Going ‘back’ (OK, so it isn’t really Turkey but you know what I mean) is so much easier than the firs time. I look forward to hearing more….like the metro saga.

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