It's amazing to think I've been in Baku for one month already! I'm certainly much more used to the culture and things (and getting fit! from walking a mile to work, a mile back, and carrying my groceries/water jugs half a mile and up 12 flights of stairs every other day to my apartment!), and I am really enjoying life in Baku. Last weekend I went to the beach in Bilgəh with some friends, where we had a picnic, went for a boat ride, swam in the wide open sea, and watched the sunset on the beach. It was wonderful! Afterward, we visited a friend's "garden house" (like a summer home, near the beach, but the father lives there all the time, and the mother lives in the city with my friend), and ate fresh fruit from the trees there. To my delight, there was honeysuckle growing along the wall! I'm not sure what my plans for this weekend will be, but I have off work on Monday for National Day of Salvation (I have been told it is the equivalent of July 4th in the US).
At work, I've finished working on the first draft of the irrigation rehabilitation system scoping statement, and the environmental manager "traded" me the scoping statement she had been working on, so that I could review it and prepare it for final approval (while she added to/edited the irrigation statement). That project was for construction and repair work at three schools in different regions throughout Azerbaijan. I am enjoying this work; it is interesting to read and review the details and specifics of each project, to learn the concerns of the villagers, and to examine the environmental legislation that requires additional measures to be taken for the projects. Because SEDA is funded by both USAID and the Azerbaijani government, there are extra measures and laws that our projects need to comply with--each government obviously has different and/or additional rules to follow. I also edited a printing contract for a major order of the Handbook on Access to Information, created by SEDA and ICNL--there had been some miscommunication with the printing company in the past, so I made sure the language was clear and the necessary details and clauses were included on the amendment to the contract (thanks, Contracts class!).
I met with Dr. Anar Valiyev, Associate Provost and Assistant Professor at ADA (Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy) University. Dr. Valiyev was so hospitable and friendly, and the campus at ADA is very beautiful. He offered use of the research facilities at the campus, and I met an environmental science professor that day as well. The staff is incredibly friendly (and English-speaking), and students, professors, and researchers there come from all over the world--it would be a great place for a study abroad or research trip.
Today, I attended another event--this was a roundtable discussion event on the recent changes made to Azerbaijan's Law on NGOs (non-governmental organizations). This was different from the training I went to last week--more frustration, explanations, examples and concerns were expressed by the participants about the changes to the law. Many noted that the changes to the law (along with stricter enforcement of rules that had been in the old law) made it more difficult for NGOs to operate and avoid penalties from the government for failure to follow specific procedures. The biggest concern seemed to be that only a very small number of NGOs actually knows about the changes to the law and what this means for the planning, reporting, finances, and operation of the NGO. A lack of education about the requirements will result in expensive penalties for failure to send in the required documentation at the required times. There were many problems the attendees had experienced with delays by the Ministries of Justice and Finance, misuse of the law by banks, and difficulties with keeping track of documents submitted (i.e., the unexplained disappearance of submitted documents). Many participants emphasized the importance of continuing this discussion and training about the law in the future, as well as the importance of the submission of suggestions and comments to the government (specific suggestions and other concerns were discussed in detail--I'm giving you the super short version). Like the training event I attended last week, this discussion was in Azerbaijani, so I had a translator. I never really thought about it much before my trip here, but listening with a translator is very exhausting! It is especially difficult to understand someone with a very strong accent who is speaking in a whisper (so as not to disturb the discussion), as others continue to speak. I can imagine it was exhausting for her as well!