"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow."
I was lucky enough to be starting and ending the year back home, but most of the days in between were spent on different journeys. I got to spend my days with wonderful people, exploringing new countries and trying new experiences. After a good break I'm soon going back to normal life in Baku. Last years created a lot of memorable, exciting and new stories and new friendships were formed.
Time passes fast and I'm quickly approaching my 6-month anniversary of arriving in Azerbaijan. That day will also make the start of the december advent time, and we can already see the stores are starting to get ready for Christmas. The approaching festivities make me think back on the more special days I have participated in over this time.
In these 6 months I've seen and experienced many things, so I thought to write a few notes on some holidays and celebrations I've experienced. The most noteworthy must be the exciting wedding I got to be a part of!
So, In September I participated in my first azerbaijani wedding, I was thrilled to get to experience this as wedding was on the top of my list of what I wanted to experience. Joining a wedding in any country is always a special event, but especially seeing foreign wedding traditions is a great memory.
The event we joined was "the girls wedding", so it was just the first part of the wedding of sorts. Let me be explain, there are two "weddings" in Azerbaijan: "The girl wedding" is actually an engagement party, it makes the engagement official, but the couple is not living together yet. Then some months later the "boys wedding" is the real wedding and the couple is husband and wife with all that entails.
The wedding started at the girls house, where aunts, grandma, mom and friends (and me!) were hanging out with the (slightly nervous) bride-to-be. The mood was giddy with excitement and relatives in other countries Skyped to participate by long-distance. People were chatting and hanging out while we waited for the boys family. After some time someone burst in saying that tha car had arrived, and nervous laughter and last minute make-up checks were done before the family came carrying baskets of sweets. After a photo-shoot the couple were escorted out to a waiting car, and we quickly followed as we went off to the wedding palace. All single girls (me included) were carrying the baskets of the sweets as we drove over to the celebration place. (I suppose to wish us luck or encourage us to find a man soon)
The wedding palace is elaborately decorated halls with circular tables filled to the brim with food and sweets. In the middle of the room on a "stage" the couple sits in front of a dance space. After a bit of waiting for everyone to arrive the couple entered the room, cameras were fixed on the couple as they entered and the ceremony where the couple put the ring on each others fingers. The ceremonial part of the wedding was over, but now the feast started! New, delicious dishes constantly came to the table and I got to try dolma, plov, kebabs and many Azerbiajani dishes. The waiter noticing I was not from Azerbaijan took special attention to me, bringing me two of everything, so I came home stuffed to the brim after that.
The couple is quite young, so the music was a mix of modern (English, spanish, french, russian) and traditional azerbaijani songs, which of course we were dancing to! Now, I'm terrible at dancing, but to everyones amusement I was dragged onto the dance floor several times (dancing my awkward version of azerbaijani dance, but having even children outdoing me).
I finally got a long-awaited visit from my parents after 4,5 months of living in Azerbaijan. When you are moving to a different country or environment, you undergo a initial culture shock and discovery. The first few weeks are thrilling exciting and full of new experiences where even taking the bus can be an exciting new adventure. (I remember my huge challenge in China; figuring out how to buy fruit). But as time passes you find your own pace and place in the new environment
So now that I've been here a while it was an especially interesting exercise of reflection to see what they reacted to and thought of my temporary home . country. These are some of the things that my parents took a notice of during their weeks here.
Beep BEEEP Norway is a quiet country, small cities, its even illegal to honk the horn unnecessary. So coming to Baku and seeing a totally different traffic picture left memories. First of all its the honking, the drivers will not think twice about hitting the horn as if the drivers feel the need to let everyone know that they are coming. The traffic is definitely a lot more audible than Norway. But even when the car is not in motion it brought a shock, because the parking is all over the place. Imagine a "unblock me" game and you have the parking norms, who cares about the guy that is parked is blocked in by 2 cars on all sides. That's his problem! I guess because I've never had a driving license I don't notice everything about the traffic picture, but this is obvious to anyone that its not a good solution.
Oh Baby I knew before coming here Azerbaijan is a family focused culture, but it was my parents that pointed it out for me just how much the city has for kids. Going to the center or a park in the evening and you will find families with their kids playing around. And there is a lot of things especially equipped for children, the parks has trampolines, toys, electric cars and other activities for the small ones. I guess its not that Norway is not focused on kids (Norway is infamous for spoiling them), but rather we have more of these things at home, and many use their own gardens or playgrounds around their house instead. But its not just this practical aspect, there is also a bunch of stores focused on the kiddies. The country adores their little ones that's for sure.
Taste of Azerbaijan One of the first things people asked me after I arrived (after "did you like Baku?") was "Did you try national food? Azerbaijan has the best cuisine". I have since tasted Azerbaijani food several times of course, (best be when home-made). Food is an important part of the culture. Let me tell you my parents loved the food here! And not just the local ones; we went to Azerbaijani, Georgian, Lebanese, Japanese, Turkish, Chinese and more. The diversity of food you can get here is amazing (They even sell Norwegian salmon!) In the edible section you can find just as much diversity here as you would in Norway, and when it comes to products in stores perhaps even more diversity. You can get danish cookies, norwegian water, Ukrainian chocolates and french wines. Its perhaps a novel thing, but having the opportunity to get the types of products you get in your home country really makes a difference when you are living abroad. Anyway it also says something about the diversity of people living in Azerbaijan(well Baku) these days; its an international crowd and ever expanding.
This was perhaps a bit of a short list, but I don't want to drag it out. My parents liked Baku a lot, thought it was a beautiful city with good food and many fun experiences.
]Its already late October, but my sense of time and space is not really hanging on. Since June I have been in an seeming ever-lasting summer with 30-40 degrees. Coming from a temperate climate of Northern Europe, my perception of time and months was quite connected to the seasonal changes of the nature, but here the seasons are so different, so I've lost these reference points.
Now the climate has definitely changed a bit though, and it proves the eternal sunshine has been replaced by clouds, wind and even a bit of rain. I've been quite acclimated to the warmer temperatures though as I now wrap myself in a scarf because of cold in 17 degrees! Haha.. Autumn has also brought some new flavors; fresh fruits like pomegranates, feijoas, tangerines and apples from all over Azerbaijan are entering the market.
We have also had some important celebrations these last few weeks; Gurban Bayram (Eid al-Adha) a muslim holiday was celebrated last week. Gurban Bayram is the "feast of sacrifice", and its the second religious holiday of the muslim year (first being Ramadan). It honors Abrahams dedication to God when he was willing to sacrifice his own son to God. At the last moment God intervened and told him to sacrifice a lamb instead. The celebration is normally a meal with family and friends and giving to the poor is an important part. My family happened to be visiting me at the time, and luckily we got the chance to see the celebration. So for the first time we got to celebrate a muslim holiday with home-made Azerbaijani food in my friends house a bit outside the city.
Some views from the city these days; autumn Boulvard, spices at the market, apple-filled cars. These days you can see old cars filled to the brim with apples they sell dirt-cheap in the cities; 1AZN (7,5NOK) gives you 3 KG apples.
I decided to make up for lost time and write two blogs today to account for the 40 days in between my last blog update and today.
I spent 12 Days in Sharm el Sheikh for International Congress 2013, AIESEC's biggest international conference held annually. Many asked me why did I go to Egypt at that time, why did we host it there, with the political unrest in the country. But first of all we didn't notice any instability in Sharm where we were. Secondly hosting IC in a country that is undergoing such dynamic is also a powerful statement of the organization; we want to be a part of the powerful conversations. It allowed hundreds of youth all over the globe to come together to discuss the challenges and needs of our societies and how we can develop the youth that are aware, engaged and have the skills and will to have a positive impact on their societies.
After the conference I spent 2 days in the sunny beach resorts lazing around. I'm skeptical to Sharm because of the total lack of anything genuinely Egyptian, but the relaxation was lovely no matter what.
Upon returning to the Caucasus I spent a few more days in Georgia to sort out my visa. I took the speed train to Batumi and got to see a bit more of the scenic countryside nature in Georgia!
By the end of August I was back in Azerbaijan. The trip back was lovely, I stayed with an Azerbaijani family. For the first few hours we didn't talk much, then we spent a few hours at the borderchecks, and something wonderful happened, as soon as we were over the border their Azerbaijani hospitality kicked in, they had food and we ate dinner together, talking about Azerbaijan and Europe. It was funny how immediately upon entering Azerbaijan my companions seemed to suddenly adopt me and embrace me in family hospitality. Since coming back I've spent my days in Baku, its colder now, though in this case that is wonderful words; its now 23-27C on average, still sunny, so finally I can get by a day without the AC (air conditioning) on 24-7. The wind is picking up and some leaves are falling, I guess autumn is coming, but we're still clinging on to the remainders of summer. I have had reunions with friends, been to an wonderful Azerbaijani wedding (well engagement) ceremony! [/float] Finally the students are also returning, running a student organization in the summer is a bit... lonely (as everyone is away), now we've had some lovely days at the seaside and in Baku. Over 100 Days since moving to Azerbaijan... Can't wait for the next 100!