December 23, 2008

SITE VISIT - Quba without Qastro

Luckily I live next to the highway that runs straight to Quba and 5mn from my
house is the marshrut stop. From this stop a direct marshrut to Qube runs
whenever it gets full. I left my house at 10:30am and the marshrut left
within 30mn. Perfect timing. Theres alot of construction on that highway now
so it took about 3hrs. When the construction is done it will be a fairly nice
2 lane highway and the trip should take less than 2hrs.
Imagine a minivan running as fast as its 4cyl engine can take it down a 2lane
slab of concrete with no shoulders, passing every car, semi, and dumptruck it can.
Playing chicken with the oncoming traffic wich is doing the same thing.
Both sides swerving back into their own lanes at the last second.
Periodically we passed the wreck of an accident and we saw 2 large lorrys
that had fallen of the side of the slab and tipped over onto their sides
because theres is a 1 foot drop down into a shoulder of loose sand.
The countryside reminds me alot of South Dakota near the Badlands; dry, dusty,
with some rocky cliffs and hills - though not quite mountains. Much like the
area surrounding Beijing though greener. Not many trees but lots of shrubbery.

Within 30mns of Quba the scenery changed alot. The highway was lined with birch
trees and farmers booths. Some selling veggies but most selling the local
specialty, apples. Every variety and color of apple imaginable available.
It looks just like northern Wisconsin if you replace our forests with their
mountains. Good country.

Soon we arrived in the center of Quba. A pretty place, much cleaner than
Tagiyev or Sumgayit, with a comfortable small town feel. I got off the
marshrut called my counterpart and waited for him to arrive. Just as I was
about to find the nearest convenience store a very curious police officer
came over and inquired about my welfare and interests. I thanked him for
his interest and told him all was well, that I would be working with the
government in this town and that my friend would be coming for me soon. My
Azerbaijani still isnt very good...indeed, I would be hard pressed to argue
with a 4 year explanation seemed to concern the officer and he,
most graciously, insisted I come to the station with him to meet his commander.
Much as I would have loved the opportunity to network with the local
constabulary I thought it important to meet my counterpart as planned so I
called my friend the PC Security Director again to help translate. As they
chatted with each other my counterpart and the Direktor of the Ministry of
Economic Development - Quba/Xachmas arrived. They all chatted for a few
minutes and it was decided I really must take a rain-check on the officer's
nice offer.

Turns out the direktor is a cool old guy who had lived/studied in China for
3 months so he speaks a bit of Chinese that he likes to share. He is fluent
in Azerbaijani and Russian and also speaks "Lezki", the language of a local
ethnic group. Not to mention some Arabic and Farsi, some of the local version
of Hebrew because he lives in the Jewish quarter of Quba, and his English
is atleast equal to my Azerbaijani.

I'll be homestaying with a family that had a volunteer stay with them before.
Indeed the previous volunteer stayed with them for his full 2year tour so I
suppose they must be fairly good folk. Theyve a big 2 story house with plenty
big cast-iron gas fireplaces(pech) that keep the place warm. A big screen tv
with sattalite. I can watch FOX News - Turkey wich is a bit strange....still
waiting to see a voiceover version of Bill O'Reilly. Ive only found two
stations with English language news; AlJazeera and "Supreme Master"....
AlJazeera first - forget what youve heard this is a fairly quality news station.
Far less slanted and more hard news than FOX. No "missing pretty white girl" stories
like CNN. Interesting, unlike MSNBC. And everyone has a smarmy British accent like
"Supreme Master" is a religious station. Not Christian or Muslim but......Vegan.
Yes, Vegan isnt a religion but Veganism, love of animals and nature,
and absolute reverence of "The Supreme Master ???????" seem to be their only tenents.
The Supreme Master seems to be a Formosan(Sri Lankan?) woman, who grew up with a
mix of Buddhist and Hinduism, moved to Florida sometime around 1990, and has created
a religeon with branches across the world. They seem to be especially big in Germany.
Anyhow, her TV station runs 24hrs a day running plays of her books, or shows about
global warming and the health/eco benifits of Veganism(Did U know that it takes
330gallons of water to make a single meal of beef, 2XXgall for a chicken meal, but
only 98gall to make a vegan meal of rice, tofu and veggies?....then they show
glaciers and ice caps melting....seems a mixed message to me.), and they play the
happy news from around the world. They dont show anything sad or talk about problems,
they just talk about success stories, political prisoners being freed, happy international
agreements. The coolest thing about all of this is that its 90% English but more
importantly they have subtitles for a minimum of 10 languages translating
everything at all times. From top to bottom its usually Mandarin & Cantonese
Chinese, Korean, English, Vietnamese, Azerbaijani/Turkish, German, French,
Portugese, Spanish, Malaysian, Arabic, Farsi, and others from time to time.
Its fascinating to be able to read that many languages all saying the same
bullshit all at once.

Forgive the tangent, moving on. They have a small garden area with one persimon(?)
tree and 2 chickens. Probly some space for a few veggies in the summer.
All in all its quite nice. My only complaint is that they have an outhouse
squatty-potty. Its not the squatty that really bugs me its that from my room
I have to walk down the hall, down the stairs, threw the family room(were folk often
sleep in the winter cause its the warmest room in the house), and go outside
to the potty every single time I wanna pee. When you drink as much tea as I do
this can be a bit exasperating. Especially since there is a toilet and sink that
have been installed in a corner next to my room but the tank hasnt been installed
on the toilet and the water is turned off to the sink because its so cold in that
part of the hallway that the pipes would freeze. Oh, and they havent been walled
off yet so evry time I gotta make a potty run I see that toilet laughing at me with
its gapping toilet seat grin in the corner of the hall.

The family are all good folk. The father, R, is a music teacher and owns his own instrument
shop. He has a workshop in the shed where he spends much of his time repairing used
instruments; accordions mostly. He speaks a few words of English & German, not to mention
being fluent in Russian and Lezgi. The mother, X, is a housewife. She does all the
cooking, cleaning, etc. She is master of all things inside the house. The sister, G,
is a high school student whose favorite subject is math and understands a bit of English.
She hopes to go to the Economics University in Baku. The host brother is also my counterpart.
He is in his latter mid 20s. Works at the Ministry of Economic Development and is partner
in a marketing firm. Works constantly on economic research projects that have him
running around town and the region almost all day. And there is another brother who seems
to be married and I dont seem him very often.

During the site visit I went to my office a few times. Was introduced to all the folk
there. I was also introduced to all the staff of the Transpaerncy-Azerbaijan office
accross the hall from the Ministry. The direktor there is a cousin of my host brother
and they all get along quite well. The AZ5 volunteer in town does a number of
conversation classes at the offices there and theyve invited me to do work there.
Best part is theyve got hi-speed(256kbs) internet with 2 computers free for public
use and which I can hook my laptop up to. Thinkin I might talk to them about
hooking up an old wi-fi box and creating northern Azerbaijan's first hotspot.
It wont help most folk because most dont have laptops with wi-fi but it'll help
both our offices alot. Ive also met the direktor of the marketing firm my
host-bro works with and hope to do some work with them. They also have nice
offices and internet I can use. Was introduced to some people who work at a local
micro-finance institution. Who knows where those connections will take me.
Was also introduced to a few local lawyers, some students, and most importantly
(to my stomach) the owner of the best doner resteraunt in town; best doner in
Azerbaijan according to the notoriously inaccurate Lonely Planet(dont get the LP for
AZ, get the book by Mark Elliot.


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