After a couple of weeks travelling and enjoying some downtown with my old Peace Corps buddies, it was finally time to get back to work, alas.
I found my way to the office fairly easily. It was in an old palace that had long ago been coverted into a bunch of stores and offices. The entranceway takes you through a dirty courtyard strewn with garbage and teeming with stray cats. There were several older men hanging out there, just smoking and chatting away, but at least they were able to direct me towards the right office. Once inside the ABA office, it's lovely and quite modern. I share an office with two Azeris, Parvis and Narmin, who are both usually quite happy to answer my questions and help me find my way around. While it's tiring walking up the stairs to a top-floor office everyday, my office does have one of the few remnants of this palace's former glory - a beautiful, ornately carved ceiling. While my officemates aren't sure when it was made, it's clearly Islamic-influenced, with quotes from the Koran written inside some of the designs. So far, my tasks at work haven't been too strenuous: editing and compiling reports, reviewing Azeri news stories, researching judicial corruption. Certainly I'm getting a better sense of how the Azeri legal system works and what kinds of things western organizations can do to try to improve it. Next week I'll be going with the Traveling Lawyers program to Barda, a town in central Azerbaijan. Many Azeris outside of Baku have never met a lawyer and have no idea how to go about getting their rights enforced, and these roving clinics give folks a chance to have a free legal consultation. I was shocked when I learned that Azeris have no legal aid institutions at all; outside of this, the only way to meet with a lawyer is to pay for one, and that's money that rural Azeris certainly don't have.
I also moved into a new home! I'm living with a host famly, a very friendly and mothering woman named Lilia. She lives with her husband Namik, a daughter, Alia, and Alia's 3-year old daughter Gina. Alia is married to a Frenchman and may not be staying with us for long, but for now it makes the little apartment quite full! Especially with Gina there - she's a rather spoiled but adorable (and loud!) little tyke who is endlessly curious about my belongings. I do have my own small room, so Lilia insists that I keep the door closed to help keep tiny prying fingers away from my suitcases, which helps a little. While I miss having more space and privacy, it's a pleasant place with nice people, and an easy 20-minute walk to work, so I really can't complain!