Friday, September 9, 2011

Notes from the Field: Ba-ba-baku!

I'm excited to bring another edition of Notes from the Field for this weekend! Our friends transfered earlier this year to Baku, Azerbaijan - how is that for exotic? They're still getting their bearings so the top photo is from them directly, while the others I've scouted out to give to help a sense of landscape and place from other places.  Happy weekend!


Diplo-mat or Diplo-spouse?  Diplo-Spouse

Current Post:  Baku, Azerbaijan 

Three words to describe your current post:
a bit exotic, dirty (as in pollution and general filth everywhere), bright sunshine with little relief

Best thing about your current post:  Small close expat community

You have visitors in town for the weekend at current post, what does the weekend look like?
Dinner out at Georgian or Azerbaijani restaurant, drive out to local village in mountains (maybe Alti-Agash, Besh-Barmaq or mud volcanos in Gubostan).   Walk around winding streets of Icheri Sheher (old city), Maidan's tower, Shirvanshah's palace.  Maybe stroll down Park Bulvar and Fountain Square or, instead, through Teze Bazaar to get a real local feel.

If you’re in current post, you must try:
I've only been here 5 months, but we loved going to Alti-Agash and Cennet Bagi (old resort, restaurant in the mountains).  The drive is intense but really beautiful through Candy Cane mountains.  The restaurant is great in the summer, you can eat outside in little gazebo-like huts up on the hillside and then take a 10 minute hike up to the top of a great look-out tower to see the valley.  Also just went to village of Laza on Russian border of Azerbaijan, stayed at stone mountain cottage resort called Suvar.  The views and hiking were outstanding, I swear we were transported to Ireland or Scotland.  Just breathtaking.  

(see picture above for the view from Laza)

Most difficult about living in current post:
For me, the food.  I find the meat to be unacceptable, as well as the produce most of the time.  The produce has gotten better in the summer months, but I dread the winter.  I hear pretty much only onions look appealing...  I do need to get out and explore some more bazaars though, maybe I just haven't hit the jack pot yet on this.

Biggest adventure at post?
Driving!  Or even being a passenger in a car.  We have a driver, but soon we'll get a second car which will mean I can start venturing out on my own.  The traffic circles are definitely the most scary to me.

When did you realize you were far from home?
When I had to drink water from a distiller installed in my kitchen as well as scrub and soak all of my produce. 
What’s the most important thing about re-creating your home at post?
For my 2 young children, their toys and bedding.  Our iPod and sound doc help bring familiarity too with our favorite tunes.  We bring wall stickers and pictures that we hang up for them as soon as possible to make the surroundings look familiar.  In our previous post, we did not bring any of our personal furniture and I found it hard to get settled.  To Baku we brought all of our personal furniture, including our nice leather couch, and it makes our living room feel like home to me.

Three things you can’t live without at post?
I bring for myself and my children all bathing products from the US (facial cleaners, lotions, shampoos)
Free and clear laundry detergent and hand soap (the scented stuff over hear is insanely strong)
Trader Joes' kids snacks!  (I have friends on a rotating schedule sending me our favorites!)

One thing you thought you couldn’t live without but have had to?
Green space.  It's few and far between here.  The school's play ground is kind of just a big sand pit.  There are a few nice parks that are really great, but it is against the rules to walk in the grass.  We have a huge private residence, but we have only a very small courtyard that is mostly stone tiles.  We've hired a gardener to try to grow us some grass in the two small little garden plots that are currently there but haven't been able to with 100 degree (30 plus Celsius) summer so far.  Can't believe I went a whole summer with no grass for my kids to run in.  Thankfully we escaped to my parents in the US during August to swim everyday and run around in the grass.  I think this will be a must every summer we are here.

You’re having guests over on Saturday night, what’s on the menu?
Gosh good question...  We barbecue alot, shashlik style meats, tendir bread (big naan style bread but thicker baked in a cauldron-like oven), simple salads of tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, walnuts, bulgar wheat, azerbaijani cheese (called pendir, like salty dry feta).  Maybe some grilled zucchini, eggplant.

Dream post for next assignment? Why?
Vienna. Why?  Why not!!  :)  After living in Moscow for 2 years which is borderline 3rd world, and now Baku which is definitely 3rd world, I'd like to live someplace that is uber clean, ordered and where modern amenities are available.  Plus Austria is just lovely with its mountains and lakes.  Easy trips to Prague, Italy, the Balkans.  Of course, I'd take the usual first picks too... London, Paris, Rome, etc etc.  Although I have to say I'm a still intrigued by Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

Parting thoughts?

The diplo-spouse life is a bit of a roller coaster at times, but to me worth the ride.  My husband and I chose this life not only because we love adventure, but we wanted our children to grow up seeing the world.  I feel as if I face many of the same everyday stresses and challenges about my children and my life that other state-side Americans do, but now I get to figure out how to deal with them 9 time zones away from home.  Clearly there are pluses and minuses to being so far away but I'm starting to feel the pluses more and more.  I also get to face other challenges that I wouldn't have ever dreamed of.  I get to redefine what "home" means for myself and my family.  I'm proud to be living this life and accepting the challenges that it brings.  And every once in a while, there are things to experience that are so memorable and so special, that I remember why my husband and I chose this.  I hope to show my kids through example that life works best when we welcome and accept its challenges.  I also hope that they can build lots of happy memories from around the world as well as experience how wonderful people can be regardless of culture or religion.

 Image via National Geographic. 
Image via Trek Earth.

US Ambassador, Matt Bryza, jumps the fire for the Nowruz Holiday -
how's that for a day in the life of? Image from the Diplo-pundit via US Embassy, Baku.

All remaining images via Welcome to Baku.

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