Azerbaijan: A Land of Contrasts
Well, our trip to visit with Jake is now over. Part of this was a holiday outside of Azerbaijan, but part was a view into the country and into the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). We are grateful to Jake, his other AZ8 and AZ7 PCV’s, and their Azeri friends and counterparts for their hospitality and insights.
First, all who know a PCV should thank them. They work hard, sometimes in difficult and mind-numbingly frustrating situations, trying to make a difference. They do this not one project at a time, one task at a time, or even one person at a time. They do it one personal interaction at a time. Assimilation into the community begets trust which lays the foundation for small changes; small victories. The sharing of new, sometimes threatening but exciting and progressive, ideas. Boys and girls can play sports together. Girls can become leaders. People of diverse cultural backgrounds can work cooperatively.
Azerbaijan itself is a land of contrasts. It is truly a developing country, not a developed one. There seem to be extraordinary extremes of wealth and poverty; haves and have nots. Oil revenues seem to make some quite affluent, while many simply subsist. Baku on first glance appears to be a progressive, outwardly glistening, modern, somewhat “westernized” city. But much of that is superficial: a physical façade with access to the greatest resources for the elite few. But, people are people. The BEST part of Baku was Xirdalan; make that Jake’s first host family in Xirdalan. The love and warmth of that family for Jake was something to behold. And we rode right in on his coat tails.
Balakan was as different from Baku as one could imagine. There was a true sense of community, a true sense of personal pride, and our son’s friends and second host family treated us as if we had known them forever. The children, teachers, and site counterparts welcomed us with curiosity and warmth. But, the area is trying to develop; not there yet.
Being in a developing country was a new, and at times difficult, experience. Communicating through an interpreter (Jake) was at times difficult and frustrating (and I am sure exhausting for Jake). Thank you Jake for all of your hard work.
Being in a “fishbowl” in Balakan was difficult, as had been anticipated. I am soft. I like western world creature comforts and the security of familiarity. I am glad, howevere, to have stepped out of and expanded my comfort zone. I am thrilled to have seen Jake and shared in a little piece of his Peace Corps experience.
With PCV’s like Jake, Trey, Matt, Marie, Stephanie, Lori and Bailey; with Azeris like Farid, Elvin, their families, and Samira, one has to have hope that the world can get better one jar of delicious honey, one great meal, and one baseball game at a time.