Well, the summer is coming to an end and pretty soon it'll be time to go back to class! Overall, spending the summer in Azerbaijan was certainly an interesting experience. The Azeri countryside really is stunning. Forested mountains with picturesque villages in the north, dramatic and hilly scrub-dotted desert in the middle; there's so much potential here for tourism. Unfortunately, getting around the Azeri countryside is quite a pain in the popka. Crowded mini-vans outfitted with tiny stools with broken springs rumble across the terrible, rocky Azeri roads at breakneck pace, barely avoiding other speeding old Soviet Ladas. But it's all part of the adventure, and I loved exploring this gorgeous country. I met some neat people along the way too. From my outspoken, revolutionary officemate to the charming Jewish school boys who gave me flowers and a tour around Krasnaya Sloboda to the friendly farming family in Xinaliq that stuffed us with homemade cheese and yogurt. Meeting new people is always the best part of any journey!
But like most experiences in life, this one was a bit trying for me as well. Sure, it was hot, the mosquitos were brutal, I didn't receive nearly enough work at my job to fill the day, and my boss was frequently hard to chase down. But these were minor frustrations. What really was hard for me was the general attitude towards women and foreigners that I found all over the country. As a foreign woman, I felt like I was constantly a target. Just being stared at everywhere I went was fine, if it had stopped at that. But the nonstop harrassment was a little hard to take. And sometimes it took on a rather threatening tone. Too much unwanted touching, too many catcalls, too many times being followed into restaurants and having strange men plop down in the seat next to me. This could be fixed by travelling with a male friend, but that just presented a different problem. Then I suddenly became invisible! Men would talk only to my friend, never to me, even when I was the one asking the question. I became a ghost, someone who wasn't expected to even be part of the conversation. And for me this was just a taste of how stifling life must be for Azeri women. But the whole experience has certainly given me a greater appreciation for the status of women in this country. It sounds sappy, but I really do feel lucky to have been born an American.
And pictured below are some of the many lovely mosques I visited during the summer. The truth is, mosques, despite my original expectations that they would be filled with conservative Muslim men hostile to female tourists, were almost always effusively welcoming to me. At the first mosque below, the men there were so excited that I was interested in their mosque, they ushered me in and even started praying so that I could take pictures of them.