Site Visit

26 May

I feel like I just climbed out of a Margaret Atwood novel.

Today, I am finally back in my little Sumgayit apartment after visiting our future home for the next two years in Barda, Azerbaijan, and to say that I had thousands of small moments would be a gross understatement.

It was my first time traveling through the country on my own, and though I handled it (almost) like a boss (with tons of help), I just need to confess now that I am terribly needy and could never be a hermit, unless I was a hermit with a small group of people I know and we would occasionally have a few parties and meet our neighbors and travel a bit and always be together forever.  That sort of hermitage I like.

But since our programs had different site visits, I was fated to travel from Sumgayit to Barda solo, and, though I was dying inside for days, it frankly was not bad at all.

I really struggle to stay away from giving you the play-by-play of my adventures, so I will first just give a few small tidbits and follow up with a quick story I’d like to pass along.

  • We will live with a host family consisting of an aunt (I just can’t call her Mom), uncle, and their two teenaged children who study at the university. The won’t be home much, but they are amazing. I was nervous to meet them, but they are incredibly polite and intelligent. We played chess. How rad is that?
  • I visited my host aunt’s schools – she teaches five classes at a local school and two at an IDP school.
  • I attended both a wedding and a funeral in the span of three hours and both were nothing like I expected and a million times more fascinating.
  • I met with my colleagues (albeit very briefly) and was introduced to the building where I will work.
  • I had a LOVELY lunch and afternoon with some of the current volunteers at my future site. They are so sincere and helpful, they have already made the tough transition infinitely easier.
  • I can almost find my way back to our home if need be!
  • I learned how to make dolma and plov from scratch, as my host aunt has taken it on as her personal goal that I will “no longer be a bad wife” when I return to the states. So, that is progress.
  • In general, had a fabulous time with my host family, and look forward to seeing more of my work site and community.

One of my favorite moments, though there are many, took place the first evening. After my family let me settle in the house a bit and we ate dinner and tidied up, Aunt asked me if I wanted to head over to the neighbors’. Tomorrow they are having a wedding, she said, and we should go say hello and wish them the best.

They lived right across the street and as we went to meet them, I had the strongest recollections of visiting my grandma who lived in Florida. There was something about the way the gate creaked open; something about the quiet way we stepped out under the fruit trees and moved slowly in the charged evening air towards the lights and bustle of our neighbors that made me equally excited and mournfully nostalgic.

“Our neighbors,” Aunt said, “they are very poor. But sweet. I like them very much.”

A large group of men sat at a long, white table covered with ashtrays and remnants of the evening meal.

“Here,” said Aunt, “before a wedding, we eat an ox liver. They are busy now, wishing the boy good luck and eating together.”

We didn’t join the men, but moved towards the house where the women stood making meat-pie crust for the next day’s festivities. Immediately, I liked them too. I have been hugged and kissed by more strangers since coming to Azerbaijan than I could ever count, but never so sincerely. Each little woman pulled my face close, welcoming me and calling me their sweet daughter.  Thank you, thank you, nice to meet you –  it became my small chorus and smiled response to their all their attentions. Thank you, thank you, nice to meet you.

I was given a stool, and sat under the one yellow lightbulb watching young girls run in and out of the house, bringing water and moving dishes while their mother’s and grandmother’s and aunt’s talked of weddings past and how much work they still needed to do and my, wasn’t Fatima looking so much better these days and when will they ever paint that fence they keep talking about?

We only stayed a short while, hugging the bride-to-be and offering our help if need be. They couldn’t offer us tea, they said, as they had many pies to make and the gas would turn off at eleven so they needed to hurry.

And, just as I was feeling the most comfortable I have been since moving to this beautiful new country, Aunt told me we must be going.

And just like that, we waved and kissed and wished the couple the very best for the next day. We ducked back under the mulberry tree and crossed the motionless street, the last of the laughter dying away with the slam of our heavy gate.

And though I had a pleasant and encouraging visit, for some reason this very perfect and quick evening still remains my favorite, and I can still imagine the methodical flip of the pies and the smell of the men’s cigarettes in the distance.


Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun….there are millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand…. nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books, You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself. 
– Walt Whitman





One Response to “Site Visit”

  1. Judy Edwards May 26, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    I am enjoying your blogs so much, Liv! I can definitely see you writing a book some day. I will be looking forward to your next one 😊. Judy

    Sent from my iPad

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