I guess I’ve reached the halfway point of my time here in Baku.  My next goal is to make sure I get to more of the sights around town.  As it is, despite the last two weeks being short (a holiday in each) it’s been rather busy.  I’m still muddling through the handbook I discussed last week at work.  It’s taking longer than I expected.  

I have had two rather out of the ordinary experiences this week that just need to be recounted.  I know it was very, very boring in the U.S. this past week, so I hope these liven up your day. ;-)

The other day when I came home, I saw a bunch of ladies in a fenced off yard in my little neighborhood.  I said hello, and they started chattering back.  When I apologized in Russian, I was very quickly asked how much I’m paying for my flat, to which I said excuse me and sputtered.  Luckily, up came another fellow I hadn’t seen.  I think he’s Rasim’s friend.

Daniel guessed half the countries in Europe for my nationality before I finally told him (and really, Italian?  before Ukrainian?  I don’t look Italian in the slightest).  We somehow then added up in a protracted conversation.  He’s 72, and from Azerbaijan but I think is of Jewish ethnicity (making his friendship with Rasim interesting).  He has a daughter who lives in Germany but for some reason he can’t visit her.  He also would like a son.

That last fact led me to discover the strategic laugh.  What is a strategic laugh?  It’s what you do when you’re not quite sure which side someone’s leaning to on the border between joke and serious.  After statements that he wanted a son and wanted to get married, and wanted to get married to a younger woman because he wanted a son... I think you can guess.  I thought it was a joke at first, but it kept going on and on, and eventually I had to deploy the strategic laugh.  Whether it was a joke or not, he had cover that it was a joke and laughed along.  

Actually, he was fun to talk to and a nice fellow... it’s just that when certain kind of joke goes on too long it can be a problem.  


The other excitement was that I managed to shock myself, but avoid creating an electrical fire.  I’ll call that a win.  On Sunday I found that the washing I’d thrown in before church hadn’t gotten fully washed, and wouldn’t be, because the outlet or adaptor was unpredictable.  I tried unplugging and re-plugging, etc., but since I’d gotten all my clothes clean I left it for the moment and figured I’d ask my landlords about it when they got back from vacation and see if letting it sit would reset the machine or help the plug hold a charge.

Then this morning I hit upon the brilliant idea of simply swapping the plug to another outlet.  After moving the fridge’s plug over one (and crashing a bottle of oil in the process), I tried to get the adaptor out (I don’t know what kind of plug this is, but it’s not European or American..).  That was a mistake, as I managed to give myself a decent shock, spark the plug, and blow a fuse.  

At that point, I decided I needed to talk to the landlord, so I tidied up and wrote out in Russian as best I could what had happened, figuring I’d talk to my landlady and she’d explain to my landlord, who doesn’t speak Russian as well.  But he opened the door so miming and describing, he got his tools, flipped the fuse, and then changed out the plug (I was nervous for him with the fuse having been flipped already, but nothing happened), replaced the adaptor (which also should be possible for me to remove without such difficulty/shocking results if the outlet’s still unreliable).  I hope that it's not some overall fault in the wiring; there's a lot of know-how around here, but I'm thinking there probably isn't a lot of up-to-code-inspecting.  I was impressed by his skills, but then, my landlady had said he’d built, if not their whole house, the upper level - so, he's clearly handy. 

This experience confirms, I think, my theory that this whole neighborhood is an abberation for city planning.   Unlike in the U.S., the street numbers often apply to a number of buildings, and those may not be visible from the actual street (in Moscow, one of our main schools required taking a tiny alley up some stairs and into a courtyard to get to it, even though the address was the Moscow equivalent of 5th Avenue).  And really, my flat is too new and too oddly placed to be from a formal system.  So I’m wondering if at a certain point people just needed housing so much that they started squatting in courtyards, or the government gave people the land and let them built.   

The collection of buildings here is fascinating.  None of them really match up, but they cluster.  Some have yards.  My landlords’ have a second story (rare) and a balcony.  Some are completely fenced up, and some look like something out of a post-apocalyptic novel from salvaged materials.  Mine is nice inside (although air conditioning would be lovely) and quite new looking.  The more I think about it, the more my initial impression of this place as a shanty town of sorts (albeit a nicer one) has some merit.  I think I’ll ask the ladies at work about this, to see if it’s a common phenomenon and what’s behind it.

Anyway, happy Independence Day to you all back home.  I haven’t been in the Cradle of Liberty for the 4th of July since 2009, so watch the Pops on CBS for me.