Business Dealings...and many photos...
Living on my own has introduced me to a few more new things about doing business in Azerbaijan. Every apartment dwelling and home has an electric meter box, with a small padlock. To ensure that you always have electricity hooked up to your place, you must load a credit/debit-type card with money, unlock your meter box, and stick the card into a special slot, thereby electronically adding funds to the account associated with your meter box. This sounds simple and easy, until you actually try to load the money onto the card.
First, you must go to the post office, where everyone gathers and crowds around, trying to get money put onto their cards, too. There is no such thing as standing in line or in a queue for anything in Azerbaijan, and so it is also at the post office. You just try to work your way eventually to the front in order to reach the counter, where you hand the clerk your money and your card. On a very old, slow dot-matrix printer, she prints out how much money you paid, and hands you back your card and the receipt. Then you go to another part of the post office and crowd around yet another counter, where you can eventually hand this second clerk your card and your receipt; he then records everything (by hand) and lays your card on a small indicator machine, which records onto the magnetic strip how much you paid, and loads that amount onto your card. Then you can take your card home and insert it into your meter box. It is not a very expeditious system, and I understand that in Baku there are now some kiosks in market stores, where you can do this automatically. Interestingly, this seems to be the main function and purpose of the post office. No one here has a mail box, there is no home delivery, and in fact people in general do not send mail or use the post office for anything other than paying utility bills. All the mail I receive here I pick up myself from the post office; I stop in every few days, just to see if I have any, and have gotten to know the man in charge of keeping our mail until we call for it—he wants me to take him to America when I leave! Many Azeris don’t really even know their own addresses or how to write it, because it is unnecessary to know—you never record it anywhere, because mail is not used for communication (cells phones are), nor for paying bills. Gas bills, too, are paid at a bank or post office. The utility bills, other than electric, are stuck on your door, so you know what to pay and when. Everything else, like these bills, is paid for in cash. There are some places in Baku that accept credit and debit cards, but in Mingachevir, as in all other regions of Azerbaijan, this is basically a pay-in-cash-only society. Crowding around in the post office or bank to pay utilities, though by our standards time-consuming, suits the way of doing things here—never in a rush, always taking time to chat with neighbors and friends—so none of this is seen as a nuisance, but simply the way things are done! Besides with very high unemployment, most men spend their days sitting with friends in the Cayxana (tea houses) all over town…chatting away, playing nard, taking it easy—life in a rush or on a set time-table is not part of how business is conducted here.
Several weeks ago, I had the honor of interviewing finalists in Baku for the SUSI program for Azerbaijani university students to spend six weeks in America, to learn about democracy, civic engagement, leadership, social responsibility. Supported by the U.S. State Department, this is a wonderful opportunity for Azeri young people to learn first-hand the kinds of things necessary for them to help their developing country continue to move forward. I was thoroughly impressed with their enthusiasm and the command of English of most of the applicants. I wish them all well. Again I marveled at the sights in the center of Baku and its old walled Icheri Sheher (Old Town); I enjoyed another concert at the Filharmonia and an ice-cream sundae at McDonald’s—just like home. Then it was time to climb back onto a crowded, worn, stuffy and hot marshrutka for the bumpy ride back to the ‘real’ Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan where Peace Corps works. But it was good to be back home in Mingachevir and the job at hand. I’ve held some more well-received training sessions and traveled with my friend Gulnaz to Sheki to visit a colleague—productive times=good times.
Conducting a Training Seminar
Scenes from Beautiful Baku
Around the stone-wall fortifications...there used to be a double-moat, one filled with oil, which could then be set a-fire to turn back invaders--I bet it worked!
The Filharmonia...concert hall
The opera and ballet theatre
Rural life...and rural road 'jams'
Scenes from Spectacular Sheki...the old caravansarai--the hotel/stopping place for Silk Road caravaners.
Sheki halvasi--their special baklava
On the grounds of the old caravansarai
Typical road jams