A Travellerspoint blog

June 2013

On the Road again: Visiting Tovuz

Once again we took to the road and decided to visit some new sights. We decided to go outside Baku and Travelled to Togruls families house by Tovuz, a small city located West in the country, only an hours drive from the border to Armenia.
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I'm again getting used to taking long-distance transport per bus, train or car. Since we were travelling in the night, we decided to take the train to Tovuz, the trip takes 11 hours and we were lucky enough to get the seats by the toilets (It was a bit of a smelly trip), but despite unappetizing odors we managed to sleep quite well through the night. And however we feel about the the trip was the days in Tovuz were definitely worth it!
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Tovuz was a new exciting experience (especially for all the internationals). We were staying in a village a few kilometers from Tovuz in picturesque surroundings. The house was surrounded by rolling hills with forested mountains a bit further away. The house was enclosed with a beautiful orchard with fruittrees and flowers. We spent most of the days in that garden talking, drinking chai and eating delicious home-made food!

The first day we got the chance i visit a spring named after Togruls grandfather where we had a bareque (goat which was butchered and skinned in our garden by the way). We also got to try homemade vodka, fresh springwater, dancing rollcalls with two kids in the minibus on the way back from the mountains,
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The next day we drove over to Tovuz center seeing a newly constructed park before going to the forest, drinking tea by the river. Our driver Sasha (Togruls cousin) was apparently infamous on the streets of Tovuz, not too bothered with following the speed-limit or rules. He proudly showed us the place where he smashed his car a few months before, but he apparently was driving nicely (after insistent calls from his father). Still this was not the rides we were used to; we were 7 people in the car (3 in front, 4 in the back), no seatbelts of course, driving 140km/hour down a dark country road. He closed his eyes, left the car at one point while we were driving. Exciting experience.

We were only there for 3 days, but it was a nice break from Baku. On the way back we stopped in Shemkir, a small town in which they are building a Youth Center. The center was incredible and we were invited to oversee the construction and talk about potential partnership with the organization.

I'm always enjoying seeing more of the country and look forward to traveling again soon.

From Baku!

Posted by CamillaS 20:36 Comments (0)

Leadership Gala - Official Takeover of the new Team

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Finally the rest of my team arrived in Baku; Togrul (Azerbaijan/Turkey), Sylwia (Poland) and Stasya(Ukraine) the three incredible people that will be in the national board with me.

We have had some nice days in Baku, having transition and spendibg time together. On Friday we had an important event; the Leadership Gala! The Gala is the annual formal takeover between the operational terms. The event was the biggest of its kind so far; 114 people (members, alumni, partners and supporters) came to celebrate the achievements of the past term and meet the new national team (us). Our partners were also present to show their support and give their wishes for the next term.

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The national team presented the annual report, reviewing what had happened in the last year, our achievements and development. After the reporting we had the official takeover from the old team to the new. We were officially instated as MC by having the old MC pour water on their Successors (AIESEC Style of election) and cutting the cake.

We also recognized and showed our appreciation of the most performing and talented of our members and teams by handing out the different awards.

Once the official parts were over we ended the evening with a celebration party. I must say its a different party than what Im used to, but we had a lot of fun. I love seeing that despite differences Roll-calls Unite AIESECers everywhere and if Tunak-Tunak gets put on everyone starts wiggling their fingers and clapping in sync.

This was a memorable night with a lot of new inpressions for my team and a beautiful start of the year ahead!

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Posted by CamillaS 11:30 Comments (0)

Seeing beyond Baku

Ganja - Sheki: Seeing more of Azerbaijan

Salam,
Over the past two days I ventured outside the have had an interesting journey seeing more of Azerbaijan. When an person is living and working in another country, they mainly live in the capital, but its easy to become stuck in the "Capital-bubble", not fully understanding the country and what builds up the mentality, traditions, culture and subtle gestures that is so important for understanding the country you are living in.

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In the Soviet Union Baku was a cosmopolitan city with a large number of Russian, Armenian and Jewish Populations. At one point there was only about 27% Azeris living in Baku. However after the collapse of the Soviet Union and release of the Karabakh war, these expats moved back to their native lands. This left a huge population void to be filled, and many Azeris moved from the country side in to the city. Now 90% of the population are Azeris, most of them being first or second generation Bakuvian.

The new Bakuvians bring with them the traditions, experience and culture from their own place, so even to understand Baku's urban population you have to understand where people are coming from.

Because of this I decided I needed to see and travel beyond Baku to get a fuller picture on the country as a whole. My first stop (9 hour train from Baku) was the 2nd largest city in Azerbaijan; Ganja. The city has a population of about 313 000, and is mainly agricultural based as well as having some industries around. It also has some universities, but many of the youth travel to Baku for university. Ganja also had a big armenian population, but they left when the war started.

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There are a lot of NGOs present in the city, and AIESEC is also represented, I had a chance visit to the AIESEC in Ganja and we had some trainings.

By the time we were finished with the trainings the last bus to out next stop had left, so we took a taxi (3hours) to out next stop; Sheki. We arrived it was late, but we found a hotel that was still open, and got a cottage to stay for the night. We decided to take a walk to see what was around. There were no streetlights on the street we were at, so the only light came from the cars that sped by in the night.

Sheki is a small city in the north of Azerbaijan, on the edge of the Greater Cacuasus Mountain range. There are some industries, but tourism is a big part of the economy. Tourist from Azerbaijan as well as foreigners come to relax and see the sights. Among other things the Caravansarai, an old "hotel", which was constructed by the Sheki Khans to house caravans as they passed through on the Silk Road to and from China.

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The trip was insightful and for me exposed me to some "exotic" new sights, like cows, chickens and sheep wandering the streets, 30 people crowding around the ATM trying to take out their salary, semi-desert landscape. I will definitely try to go out of the city as soon as possible again to see, learn and understand more.

Until the next time I will enjoy Baku.
Camilla

Posted by CamillaS 11:12 Archived in Azerbaijan Comments (1)

Welcome to Azərbaycan

When I first announced I would be living a year in Azerbaijan, I realized few people knew a lot about the country. And since arriving here I have also realized there is a lot I don't know about the country. So here is the brief introduction to the country.

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Azərbaycan is located on the west banks of the Caspian sea, with the Caucasus mountains to the North. The country is about the size of Portugal and its neighbors are Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey and Iran. The name Azərbaycan might stem from Āzar" (Persian: آذر‎) means Fire and Baijan was originally known as "Pāyegān" (Persian: پایگان‎) meaning Guardian/Protector. The meaning of Azerbaijan being the "Guardians of Fire").

To be honest I couldn't find reliable sources for this meaning, but I like the idea of this name origin, and it also builds on the next part about Azeri history. You see, Fire is a symbol that is important in Azeri tradition and in the first millennium B.C the religion Zorostranism was "fire-worshipers". The country also holds an interesting phenomena at Yanar Dag where a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula near Baku. To this day the country is known as the "land of fire".

The country has fallen victim to numerous invasions over the centuries among others Persia, Russia and Soviet. Azerbaijan was briefly independent from 1918 to 1920, and regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was also an important stop-point on the Silk Road between China and Europe. The culture that has bloomed in this meeting and mix of cultures and traditions is a unique one.

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The local language Azerbaijani is a Turkish language (Imagine Norwegian-Swedish similarity) , but in the capital most people also speak Russian stemming from the 70 years under Russia. English is up and coming as well, but I think I would be hard-pressed to get by on English alone. In terms of religion Shia Islam is the predominant direction, though 70 years of secular communist rule suppressed religious expression.

Another point to mention is that Azerbaijan is technically in a war with Armenia over a region called Nagorno-Karabakh, however the countries are under cease-fire for the past 19 years. Despite this cease-fire there have been several violent clashes by the border.

The Key Facts
Capital: Baku
Population: 9 million
Relgion: 95% Muslim (Mainly Shia)
Language: Azeri (A Turkish language), Russian

Posted by CamillaS 10:39 Archived in Azerbaijan Comments (0)

By the Caspian Sea

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Once again I'm starting up a blog to share my journey abroad with friends and family across the globe. This time I have ventured to the country located at the coast of Caspian sea, a land between Europe and Asia; Azerbaijan.

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Now how did I end up here? Well that started two years ago when I joined AIESEC, a student run organization aiming to have positive impact on our society through providing experiential leadership development opportunities. Now after having served for one year on the national team in Norway I will be leading the national office in Azerbaijan for the next year.

Today is already my third day in Baku and I'm starting to feel like home already, I have had a beautiful first few days, seeing the city and meeting the leaders I will be working with over the next year. Hearing the inspired voices of the AIESECers, sharing their vision and purpose. If the next 365 days will be as engaging and exciting as these, I know I'm in for the year of a lifetime. Of course, I have worked long enough with these sort of exchanges to know that I'm bound to suffer culture shock at some point, but as for now I'm enjoying the experience.

So far I have enjoyed the Azerbaijani hospitality given by the AIESECers and I'm starting to discover the city that will be my home for the next 13 months.

❤ from Baku,
Camilla

Posted by CamillaS 13:00 Archived in Azerbaijan Tagged living baku azerbaijan abroad Comments (0)

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