Week One (Actually ½ of a Week)
My first full day of work started on Wednesday June 17th, which also happened to be my birthday. Another birthday spent abroad, I think my mom is going to kill me if I'm not in the states for my birthday in the next few years.
It seems like I came to Azerbaijan at exactly the right, or one could say wrong, time. The office had a meeting with Robert Gray, an ABA representative, and most of the work I have been given to work on has to do with new draft Non-Governmental Organization legislation. The new legislation will affect almost all, if not all aid organizations operating in the country. The draft legislation states among other things that foreigners without the right to permanently reside in Azerbaijan may not found NGOs; an NGO must also have $50,000 authorized capital (an extreme amount for most Azerbaijani people); No more than 50% of the property of the NGO can be from foreign sources (which includes funding $) and in order to be considered a national NGO it must have branch offices in 1/3 of the countries regions.
This legislation is very controversial and most of the International Community has been outraged. The Milli Mejlis, the Azerbaijani Parliament, tried to push this new legislation through in a special session within 10 days, which just so happens to coincide with the European Council's representative being out of the country. Representatives of the Parliament who sponsored this bill has stated that the main goal of this law is to deal with certain elements of terrorism, however most NGO's do not feel that this is the case.
The new NGO legislation is not the only controversial legislation. Recently the government eliminated term limits for President, which many outside Azerbaijan believe to be a step backward for democracy and paves the wave for the current President to be elected for life. The government has also passed new legislation regarding rights of the media, which might be used to curb freedom of the press. It has certainly been an interesting time to be in Baku.
After returning home from my first day of work I was disturbed by a phone call on the landline that I didn't know I had from the Hotel Azcot, the owner of my apartment. They wanted $180 manat ($216) for three days. I called Sabina (our Office Manager) and learned the owner now wanted $800 per month for rent instead of the agreed upon $500 per month. Looks like I was looking for a new apartment in the morning.
The next day, I went with Sabina and found a new apartment. It happened to be much closer to work and right next to Nizame, the pedestrian street. While it was not as big as the first apartment, rent was only $600 per month and, unlike the first apartment, it didn't have bed bugs. The worst part about switching apartments was lugging two suitcases about ¾ mile on roads with more potholes than asphalt. After moving, my office-mate, Narmin, showed me a much cheaper grocery store. I was saving money all around!
Friday - NGO Vote Day
On Friday, June 19th, Parliament was due to vote on the new NGO legislation, however, international pressures caused the government to re-think the legislation. We received word that the legislation was last on the agenda and not likely to be voted on until June 30th. My boss, Dave, had a meeting with the Parliamentarian who sponsored the legislation, where he learned that the new legislation was based on parts of NY not-for-profit law. I bet you can guess what my next job was: I had to compare New York's not-for-profit law with the English translation of the NGO legislation. I'll let you know how the vote goes.
Today was my first day experiencing lunch at work. It is common in Azerbaijan for offices to have a cook and eat lunch together. It was also a great way to save money as eating at work will only cost about 1 Manat ($1.20) a day. It's pretty awesome to have a chef four days of the week (the cook isn't there on Mondays).
At this point, I'm getting into the groove with my job and assignments and also starting to get accustomed to the area. I think it's going to be a really good experience.