I’ve talked about Azerbaijan in a lot of posts, but now I am going to devote an entire post to the county which was my home for a year.
Azerbaijan is roughly the size of Maine, but feels much larger. It was part of the Soviet Union and gained independence in 1991. While it is a fairly young country, the culture is thousands of years old. It has been part of Persia, Ottoman, Russia and has evidence of dating back to the Neolithic age. All of this has created an interesting, diverse cultural environment. Most people in Azerbaijan are Shiite Muslims, but a very secular brand of Islam. I think this is because of the time they were part of the Soviet Union and practicing religion was forbidden. Women don’t often cover their heads and it isn’t unusual for them to work outside the home.
In Azerbaijan, people speak Azerbaijani. Azerbaijani is mostly a Turkic language but it also takes words from Persian, Russian and Arabic. While we were learning Azerbaijani, we weren’t sure which words were from which language family and it was been fun to meet Russian, Turkish, Persian and Arabic speakers and compare words with them.
Dancers in traditional costume
There are lots of different climates and elevations in Azerbaijan. There are also quite a few natural resources. There are barrels of oil in the Caspian Sea and in Azerbaijan as well as large amounts of natural gas. There have been a couple oil booms over the past century and a half and oil is still the biggest money maker for the country.
The people of Azerbaijan is really what make the country beautiful. I’ve already written about a few of these people and they are just a drop in the bucket of lovely Azerbaijanis.
Caucacus from Sheki
For the first 9 or 10 weeks of Peace Corps training we lived in a little village called Sumqayıt Station. It was a 10 or 15 minute marshrutka ride from Sumqayıt. From what I could tell it was the old train station for the city and people just sort of built houses around the station. I remember very clearly being dropped off at Sumqayıt Station. We were on a bus with a few other ‘clusters’ – groups of PC Trainees who lived together in these small villages around Sumqayıt. We dropped the first group off in a little village near the Caspian, the next group in a green village full of trees with a breeze coming off the Sea, the next group had a similar sea-side hamlet. Finally it was just us, The Station Girls, and another cluster going to a town called Tuq Zavod (which translates to ‘The 30th Factory’ or something with equal squalor). We were huddled in the back of the sweltering bus watching the landscape get drearier and more dreadful. We turned onto a dirt highway and passed broken down factory after broken down factory. We went over a perilous overpass and down into Tuq Zavod. I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of the Tuq Zavod trainees. Their faces said, “Well… I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again…” Then we drove on to The Station. I can’t say it was any better than Tuq Zavod. No trees, one street, one market, lots of concrete and lots of dirt.
As it turned out, I loved my cluster of fellow PCTs. We were all girls (except Jesse, obviously, but he walked over the Tuq Zavod every morning for his Azerbaijani lessons). All my cluster-mates were perfectly positive and lots of fun. We would eat watermelon at each others’ houses while we sat in front of the fan. They all liked to keep up with the drama at our house (until we had to be swept away in the middle of the night… that story will come in a later post…) and were always excited to see what “Drunk Uncle” and “Pregnant Uncle” would be doing next. They all had wonderfully sweet host families who were generous enough to let us cook and eat in their homes. We had some lovely meals together. That’s what I remember most from The Station.
Me, Jen and Greta staying cool
It turned out that Sumqayıt was the petro-chemical capital of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russians left all their factories and plants overnight. No one was ever able (or willing, perhaps) to clean them up, so they are just sitting there oozing poison into the ground. Every now and then we would drive by a factory that had caught fire. It would eventually burn itself out, but there was a constant smell of burning tires in The Station. It’s a terrible situation that has no end in sight. People live in those conditions their entire lives.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Sumqayıt Station this past week because it’s been so hot here. The Station was impossibly hot. It was often over 100 degrees before 9am. We felt deliciously cool when the temperature would drop to 90 at night.
Corvallis is a lovely little town in the heart of the Willamette Valley. It is where Oregon State University is located, and I lived there for about 5 years. I really, really, really love Corvallis. I have a lot of good memories of walking around, going to the parks, driving around with the windows down, eating lots of good food (the best Chinese restaurants in Oregon), and just being youthful in Corvallis.
I suppose there isn’t anything inherently amazing about this little town other than the fact that it holds so many memories of friends and falling in love with my husband. Jesse and I love to head up the valley for a day or even a couple hours in Corvallis.
(I stole all these photos from the Internets...thanks Internets!)