Friday, February 13, 2009

Casual Dining

Yesterday, 12 February 2009, was a day that will be marked on my memory forever. It was one of my favorite days in Azerbaijan thus far. First, I must give a bit of a background story.

After the last post I wrote, I traveled to Zaqatala, one of the northernmost regions of Azerbaijan, and one of the farthest away places I could have traveled while staying in country. However, about 40 of us met up there to celebrate the inauguration and to listen to Obama's speech, so of course I went! On the trip back (about 14 hours total) my iPod and wallet were stolen on the bus, and my friend Amy's cell phone was stolen. And to add to that, Peace Corps almost kicked me out because I happened to be traveling after dark. My country director had mercy on me, thank God. So, lesson #1: Do not break PC policies. The good thing is, I'm okay and I'm a merciless optimist and I didn't let this situation set me too far behind, although it has been a huge pain in the ass, and I am now accepting donations for iPod's. My iPod was my outlet. boo.

Okay, so yesterday, Amy and I had to go to Salyan (where the robbery happened on a break) and report to the police the theft that occurred, 3 weeks ago. Yes. 3 weeks ago. 1.2.3. That's just how AZB works. I don't question it.

So, we woke up early in the morning and caught a bus to Salyan (about 2 hours away) to meet with Jeyhun, our Safety and Security Coordinator, who is fabulous, and then subsequently the police of Salyan. Jeyhun and the PC driver, Perviz, came to pick us up and we headed straight to the police station in the undeniably recognizable PC vehicle. With Jeyhun at our side, we waltzed right into the police station, completely cocky like. (I was loving this already)

We were then escorted upstairs, well more like reluctantly let in to find the office for ourselves. As we were drawn in by the smell of about half a dozen burning cigarettes and the sound of water boiling (presumably for tea), we easily found the office. We walked in and greeted each other- only the men actually touching/shaking hands- and we could not begin the meeting without having tea prepared for us, complete with sugar cubes and chocolate covered sunflower seeds.

Anyway, the meeting began and continued. There were three men from the Salyan PD, Jeyhun and us. As they began to write the report, I noticed that the room was pastel pink. On the walls were two pictures of the past and present Presidents and a TV played some foreign movie dubbed in Azeri, for our viewing pleasure.

Back to business.

It began with the Chief of Criminal Investigation writing my version of what happened and then Amy's version after that- they were the exact same. It was hand written, and pretty straightforward. It took about 2 1/2 hours total, and the best part of it all was the conversation that happened in between all the writing business. The other two men, observers, I suppose, were asking us all about the US, our families, our sites here, about our Azerbaijani wedding plans, why we didn't move to Salyan to work and live...everything! Then, after everything was over, we were invited to lunch (!!!!), something we culturally could not refuse. They asked what we would eat and Amy had to break it to them that she was a vegetarian, to which Jeyhun replied, "REALLY!?!?," in a response I will not soon forget. When the Salywan PD people found out they were instantly worried, fearing for her health, and maybe even her life. But the subject was dropped... for now.

We finished up at the office and left immediately for lunch at a roadside restaurant. the Chief of Salyan Police, the Chief of Investigation, 2 other investigators, Jeyhun, our driver and us were shown to a private room where we had lunch, all the time acting like it was a totally normal business practice for women to eat with the high ups in a public-ish restaurant! It just does not happen. Period. Jeyhun had to remind them again that Amy doesn't eat meat to which they replied (in Azerbaijani) "don't worry, we have a beautiful turkey for her" HAHA! No, no, really she does not eat any animals, "but it's qeshenq (beautiful)!" Finally they got past the not eating meat idea, but were stumped as to what to give her. So, eventually I just listed things she could eat to which they settled on making her a big-ass omelet with greens and a TON of small grilled potatoes. People in Azerbaijan think vegetarians must always be starving since they don't eat meat. They also swore she wouldn't have to wear glasses is she would just eat meat.

After lunch, one of the policemen drove us to the bus station, found us a bus and even payed our way. They were incredibly hospitable and helpful, and made sure we knew to find them any and every time we came through Salyan.

Although i don't think anything will ever come of my wallet and iPod , I can say (almost without cringing) that yesterday's incredibly unique cultural experience was totally worth the material loss!

**On a different note, I have 2 English Conversation Clubs starting on Monday! I'm so nervous, but equally excited. I have been meeting with some of the teachers at my school to practice speaking English and to review some of the basics. Things are happening, and there has been an awesome response to anything that I have offered so far. More to come later on! **