Mən xariciyam. Man azərbaycan dilini bilmiram. Başa düşmək. (I'm a foreigner. I don't know Azerbaijani. I don't understand.)
After my trip to the regions, I realized that my Monday language lesson needed to be on how to tell people I’m not Azerbaijani and I have no idea what they’re saying. Little did I know when I set out for the regions, I would discover my long lost ancestral roots in the mountains of Şəki…or so I’m told.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Two weekends ago, I traveled with the Human Trafficking Project to Ağdam (the green line on the map). Ağdam is a border town after the Nagorno-Karabakh War split the town in two (in fact, just last weekend, 8 troops were killed in cross border attacks in Ağdam). The town felt somewhat like a ghost town as we traveled through but there was a good showing for the training. Azerbaijani group interactions takes a slightly different form, as you might expect, than what we are accustomed to in the U.S. but I was surprised by how engaged and lively the group was during the training, which focused on signs of human trafficking and ways to intervene.
The content of the meeting was ‘translated’ in summary form and was enough for Bob and me to get a gist of the programs. One highlight for me that got the group a bit riled up was a discussion about where and how to draw the line between arranged marriages, a somewhat common practice in the regions, and human trafficking. The message of our staff was that the emphasis must be placed on the purpose on the arrangement – namely whether it is for marriage or for gain (e.g. dowry, bridal gifts, prestige, etc.) – but views of the group were varied. I also enjoyed how the meeting concluded. A group of women asked if the instructors could wrap things up before their chickens died of starvation.
This last weekend I traveled to Qəbələ, Oğuz, and Şəki with the Disability Rights Program (the blue line on the map above). This region of Azerbaijan is probably one its more famous areas both culturally and visually with ancient buildings and soaring mountains. The trip was beautiful and we were able to get in some sightseeing between the various trainings. Again, I was impressed by the knowledge and participation of attendees at the trainings, which focused on disability rights and employment of disabled persons.
The first meeting was a town hall format and from what I could gather via translation, the group was rather pro-government and didn’t understand why our expert (a professor at Baku State University Law School) was focusing on just the problems and not all the good things the government does. During one quip, though, it was pointed out that the government does pay an allowance to disabled persons who are unable to work, but that allowance is only a 1/3 of the minimum cost of living in Azerbaijan.
The second meeting was a round table and the crowd was quite different than the first. Although a number of members of local government were present, the group was very frank about the challenges facing the disabled community and the sorts of changes that need to happen. The third meeting was an all-day training and all-in-all went quite well. The highlight of the day came from a blind attendee who shared a poem that she wrote about her life in the dark and how she had found the strength to keep going.
Throughout our time in Şəki, I was commonly spoken to in Azerbaijani with varying results in reactions. Since I was part of a mixed group of Americans and Azerbaijanis, people that we encountered who could speak English would address the Bob and Marie (a legal specialist) in English but I would get addressed in Azari with our drivers, staff attorney, and legal expert. Of course this was amusing to everyone, myself included, but not always to the person talking. At various points I likely setback diplomatic relations among Azerbaijanis such as when one woman called out to me repeatedly wondering why I was ignoring her and not bringing my foreign friends to her museum or when a group of kids didn’t understand why I was being so rude and not talking with them.
This next week is transition time in the office with the legal specialists leaving and the D.C. staff arriving next Wednesday for a week. Friday is a national holiday, Salvation Day (for when the former president returned to Azerbaijan and saved the people), so I’m hoping to spend my first weekend actually in Baku exploring and taking pictures for the next post.