First Weekend and Second Week of Work| July 1, 2009
My first weekend started off with my introduction to the Ultimate Frisbee scene in Baku, a group called the "Baku Evil Eyes." The name is based on a local symbol meant to ward off evil spirits. Every Saturday morning a bunch of people, mostly Ex-Pats and a few locals, get together to play a pickup game of Ultimate Frisbee at a local university. Dave jokes that the locals come to find spouses. In the past two years, two couples got married who met at Frisbee. This week we played inside since it was so windy you could barely walk outside. Afterwards we went downtown to have lunch atop Nargiz Plaza, in accordance with Ultimate Frisbee tradition.
At Frisbee I met Irina, an American in Baku for the past year on a Fulbright Fellowship. She is leaving next week so she invited me to her "going away" party at Dave's house that evening. Dave has an amazing apartment in the Old City with a rooftop terrace that overlooks the Caspian Sea. I can see why everyone wants him to host events. Many of the people from Frisbee were also at the party; the Ex-Pat community is pretty small. I also met people who work for the US Embassy, other NGOs, or are in the PeaceCorp. We spent the last-half of the party playing Catch-phrase, a word association game. It was a ton of fun, especially when played with non-native English speakers.
I spent most of Sunday just lounging around at home and becoming a bit more settled in the apartment until I received a call from Chris, the PeaceCorp Volunteer I had met the night before. We met up to grab some dinner at a tiny, local Egyptian restaurant that ended up having amazing food. While hanging out with Chris he also showed me around the Nizame area, showing me a few places Ex-pats frequent and other local secrets, which is how I found out about Hong Kong Harry's, one of the few places you can buy English language DVDs (they are also cheap, which is a plus).
My second week of work started off on Monday with the weekly Monday staff meeting in which everyone just updates Dave and the rest of the office on what they have been working on. At the meeting Dave assigned me to work with Jessica on her project. Jessica is a Fellow from Georgetown Law who has been here for the past 10 months working on a Guidebook for Freedom of Speech and Expression to help Azerbaijani Lawyers in bringing cases to the European Court of Human Rights. So far I have been cite checking the chapters she has already written, however after I finish I may help write a few chapters.
Since Chimnaz, the office cook, does not cook on Mondays, I went to lunch with Narmin and other Azeri lawyers from the office. Having Azeri food was a pleasant experience. We had "salads" as appetizers, which tend to be mayonnaise-based, unlike U.S. salads (think chicken salad). We also had three types of Gutab, which are like small quesadillas filled with different things like lamb meat, pumpkin and "greens" which I am told is a mixture of herbs.
That same night, my landlady, Elmira, came by to pick up rent and to show me how to work the washing machine / dryer combo and gas oven. Even better, she brought me a internet card which would allow me to use the phone line for dial-up internet. Hey it's better than nothing!
Most of the working week was very slow because most of the office was in Prague for an ABA CEELI conference and the Internet was out most of the week. It was only the support staff, Jessica and I in the office. I planned to work on cite checking the guidebook until the Internet randomly went out making it impossible to cite-check. On Thursday the Women's Bar Association, an off-shoot of the ABA office in Baku hosted a press conference with General Tracy Garret, the commanding officer of the Marine Corp in Europe and Africa, who talked to the women about the difficulties they faced in a male dominated career field. On top of the Internet outage, it ended up being a short week since the office was closed Friday for a holiday. I would tell you which holiday but it seems there are many national holidays in Azerbaijan, offices close for them and no on really knows why.