Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Not All Glitz and Glamour

Upon returning  from Albania, I stayed in Baku for a few days for work. Through her work, my sitemate Bailey has made a lot of really great contacts in the capital city, where most NGOs and IOs are headquartered and do a majority of their work. (Side note: Peace Corps is one of the few IOs that does not place any volunteers in the capitals. In every Peace Corps country, we only work out in the regions, the smallest, most desperate places with the fewest resources.) Anyway, some of her contacts at the UN Department of Public Information had read about our arts summer camp. They were apparently very impressed by our work, especially given the small size and remoteness of our site. They invited us to attend a youth event at the SOS center in Baku and present to the children and guests. It was a spectacular success. All four of us met and were driven to SOS’s center on the outskirts of the city. There, we made a collage with all of the students where we prompted them to draw pictures of how they could change the world, or if they were to meet a world leader, what they would say to that person. After, we toured the SOS facility and listened to presentations with the likes of the UNDPI, Save the Children, OSCE, and UNICEF. It was nice to celebrate our success as a group, all four of us being recognized for our work together, especially in the company of so many great IOs. 

I digress, this is not the point of this post. Occasionally, as is clear from above, I must go to Baku for work, either to Peace Corps headquarters or to meet various contacts that I work with but that are stationed in Baku. When I go to Baku on official business, my travel and lodging is paid for. When I am there for my own work, like this trip, I must pay myself. I am too poor to afford a hotel room. Luckily, I have made some expat friends, and they have opened their home to me and many other volunteers whenever we need it. They have a beautiful two-story apartment equipped with a real guest bed, air-conditioning, and hot, unlimited showers ANY time of the day or night! It really is a treat to visit them. Oh ya, they are also great people and I really enjoy their company!

So, although the trip is long, when I am in Baku I tend to be a little spoiled. It’s comfortable, almost feels like a real, western city, and I can go out to eat and drink. Although I always wind up spending too much money and spending the rest of the month at site nearly broke eating oatmeal for every meal, it can be very soothing to spend a weekend there. This developing metropolis has a lot to offer, especially compared to my wonderful little town of Balakan. However, as this New York Times article reports, it’s not all glitz and glamour in the capital.

I will reserve judgment and keep this blog neutral and PG so as to not piss off any governments. However, after reading this article, you’ll see why the Azerbaijani government is probably not too pleased that this was published!
I don’t see the need to go into this any further, the article speaks for itself. Also, as a Peace Corps volunteer and a foreign national in a country like Azerbaijan, there’s nothing I can do, nor anything I should do; I’d just get myself into a lot of trouble. It’s just important to note that there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than we usually notice or care to notice, and not just in Azerbaijan. In developing countries especially, but maybe even in your own backyard, many times it’s worth taking a second look, because it’s not all glitz and glamour.

Marie and I at Martin's (expat friend) birthday party 
My Program Director Tarana and I (Tarana is leaving Peace Corps at the end of this month)
The event at the SOS center

Our collage
Envera (Head of UNDPI Azerbaijan) being interviewed in front of our collage
An advertisement for fish sandwiches in Baku!

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