Well, it’s been a good week here in Baku. It’s getting awfully hot again, which is No Fun At All, especially as from what I can figure no one goes swimming in the Caspian anywhere I can walk to (although admittedly there’s a lot of oil in the water, so maybe it wouldn’t be so nice).
I got to accompany the assistant director of the office and the USAID director of civil society programs on a site visit out to Guba region on Tuesday. It took us about two and a half hours to get there by car, and it was nice to see some of the countryside, especially mountains in the distance.
We met with some staff from the regional office, and I got to hear a lot about what they’re doing, how they’re working to include women in the decision making process, and tasks ahead. The staff really are on the ball; if they could get a firm green light, they’d be able to do even more training the community to work with the government and grant-making agencies (like ours) to do more infrastructural projects.
We also got to visit some of the repairs to roads. One village’s road was asphalted, another’s re-graveled, and both made serious improvements in the lives of people there. Taking goods to market and getting to school became much less burdensome enterprises. At the graveled road we got to meet one of the female heads of a community development council (I think - some sort of NGO). She was pretty neat and you could tell is a force. She also gave us a massive bucket of delicious fruit grown locally. Guba is known for its fruit and nuts, and I’ve still got a peach or two ripening.
Here's a picture of the USAID sign. I didn't actually get the road in the photo, but it's asphalted and leads to the school, which is great because dirt roads + bad weather = poor school attendance.
All told, the folks doing work out in these small communities are impressive. They know what needs to be done and they’re committed to getting it done. Here’s hoping the work plans for the project get the full go-ahead so they can keep doing them and developing the regions. We also got to have lunch at a neat restaurant. Basically, they have a bunch of tables under small pavillions built at the edge of forest. The crickets (locusts? cicadas?) were large and loud, but aside from a few of their bodies around the pathways, none came near. It had a picnic feel which was quite nice, and I got to try lula kebab, which is basically a kebab from ground lamb - quite similar to the Balkan cevapcici I know from home.
My major project this week, aside from some editing, was recommendations on the Handbook on Access to Information. There’s been a translation and a retranslation and some confusion, but I’ve finally made what I hope is a useful contribution to that project. It has lots of information in it but its structure put the explanation of types of information and lists of what information is and isn’t accessible right up front. I’d be a little intimidated, and I spend my hours reading cases. So I wrote a report on how to make it more inviting and usable. Hopefully that will work.
I finally made it to the old town. There are some ruins of the baths, and you can see the old walls. Not much was going on; I think it’s a tourist-y sort of place to visit, but on a Sunday afternoon it was quiet. Also, there were some shops and stands, but I think the main thing is the buildings. My neighbor in Williamsburg told me that some people from Baku had been to see how Colonial Williamsburg does it. I don’t know if the living history museum path is the way forward, but a bit more showing the history would be neat.
Anyway, that’s it for now.