Life in Baku:
Life in Baku is not unlike life in most major cities. I live in a nice apartment situated two blocks from the office. It is easy to walk to several high-end shopping areas. Fountain Square & 28 Mall both consist of high end shopping, restaurants, and large food markets. Culturally, the differences between a grocery store in Baku and Richmond are slim. Shopping for other items has been somewhat challenging, as it is not easy to find many stores with a Google search. Electronics, for example, are a bit harder to shop for – it took a bit of searching to find a toaster oven for the apartment.
The food here is incredible, rich with sumac, saffron, and an abundance of other local herbs & spices. Their location in the world offers a wonderful influence of both Mediterranean and Central Asian cuisine. My favorites so far are Dolma, Plov, kabobs and tons of fresh honey, creams, jams, and butters served alongside fresh-fired bread. My first real Azerbaijani meal was in the northern country was a garden breakfast of cheeses, creams, and honey alongside eggs and fresh bread. Later that day, our host treated us to a restaurant in Quba that served us huge trays of lamb, beef tips, chicken along side a board of fresh bread, garden vegetables, and cheeses. French fries are strangely quite common here and already I have had better fries than in the US.
Long days and late sunsets allow for plenty of time to explore the city and fit in an evening run after work. Running is not the most common thing for a person to do here. However, it is not too unsightly to be seen jogging along the waterfront at Park Boulevard. Park Boulevard is a long strip of gardens, outdoor restaurants, and walking paths that run along the coast of the Caspian Sea. Vendors at the park sell ice cream cones for 1AZN (about 1 dollar) and many tables along the water offer beer, light snacks, and hookah.
Work in Baku:
The first week with SEDA was certainly an interesting experience. The majority of my time spent in the office was centered around orientations and learning materials.
SEDA is an organization that works with government institutions and other non-government organizations (NGOs) to help develop citizen-participation in socio-economic development initiatives. What does this mean? Well, in the US, if a county, city, or town wants to initiate a public work with state funding – local officials are able to utilize political and bureaucratic channels to accomplish their desired project. In Azerbaijan, the concept of local authorities establishing the prerogative for state funding is still relatively new. The goals and priorities of the state and regional institutions often cloud and diminish the concept of local citizen-participation. SEDA and other like-minded institutions have helped developed and push forward legislation to require certain levels of civil participation, facilitate these public work projects, and to create a heightened level of transparency and citizen awareness of government work.
While SEDA does a lot of work at the state level, one if its major components is to assist and train citizens at the local level through the completion of a public work program. I was lucky enough to arrive in time to accompany the team to Gam-Gam, a small village in northern Azerbaijan, to oversee the completion and opening of several bridges that SEDA helped the community there initiate and complete. The trip was a great way to see what the end goal of SEDA’s work is (and a wonderful way to see the beautiful northern mountains).
It appears as if there will be many more opportunities for trips to the nation’s various regions to assist in the organization, implementation, and completion of SEDA projects. In the office, I will be working on quality control of English documents, legal procurement, and project development.