The Peace Corps tells us that we will experience culture shock coming to our country and culture shock again when we go home. Part of the shock is getting used to a new environment and customs, part of it is the different way that people see the world and part of it is dealing with the “national personality”.
I realize that I will not be the same when I go home. For example, I now feel that the American way of providing food is not a good one. The average food item in a US grocery store comes from over 2000 miles away. It may be several weeks or months old. This is expensive, not sustainable, the food is not fresh, not good for the environment and probably has a lot of nasty stuff sprayed on it.
The food I am eating now comes from nearby and is beautiful. I eat things that grow this time of year in Azerbaijan. So now it is lots of cherries, apricots, beans, spinach, garlic, fresh herbs, new potatoes and berries. If it is not in season, we don’t eat it because we can’t get it. Very little pesticide is used and the fruits and vegetables are beautiful and tasty.
Luckily, Azerbaijan has more climate zones than any other country and in winter there are many citrus fruits and a lot of apples as well as all kinds of root vegetables and delicious dried apricots, figs and dates. Freshly baked bread is sold on almost every corner. People know where their eggs are from because they probably buy them from a neighbor or get them from their own chickens, which even in the city are everywhere. The yogurt is out of this world. Kind of like the difference between cardboard and a home-made ravioli.
Some of the culture shock comes from realizing things about your own country that you may not realize until you leave it. For example, after being here, I realize there are a lot of great places in the US that I haven’t seen, so I want to see a lot of different sights in the US when I get back. Another example follows, but first I need to say that there aren’t a lot of old sites, buildings or artifacts to see in Azerbaijan because they have been destroyed over and over again by invading armies. Throughout history, if a city or tribe resisted an invader, their city was burned or otherwise destroyed.
Azerbaijan history seems to be one invasion after another with different tribes taking over one after the other. During WWII, unbeknownst to most Americans, one of 6 Azeris died.
Whenever Azerbaijan has been involved in a war, it has taken place on its own soil and in a country of 8 million people and in which all men must serve in the military, war is a very serious problem. In the past 25 years, war has resulted in part of the country being occupied by Armenia, including about a million initially homeless refugees (who currently live in parts of schools and buildings set aside for them by the government) and people with awful tales to tell of villages being burned and residents, including children, being shot, burned and stabbed to death.
My moment of culture shock came when my host mother asked me why US parents don’t seem to care about their children going off to war and being killed and injured and about the devastation of a long war, such as the Iraq and Afghan wars.
I thought about it for awhile and did some quick math. Then I told her that since the Civil War, we have not had a war on our soil. We always have been involved only in wars in other people’s countries. Also, we have so many people in our country, that if only 1.5 percent serve in the military, we have enough people to fight two wars. So it is not a big decision to go to war for us. The great majority of us would not fight in a war and if we had to, we wouldn’t want the war anymore. The same goes for paying for wars. If we had to vote to raise our taxes to have a war, we probably wouldn’t want the war either.
We know our land will not be a battleground and most of us don’t know anyone who has been killed or injured or whose town or large area of their country has been destroyed. So if we are angry enough or if our leaders tell us we should go to war, we usually do and for most of us life goes on. We don’t really understand what it is like for the country we are invading. The part that I didn’t say, but thought, is that many of us think that if we don’t feel safe, it is okay to destroy another country..
We are not here to get involved in politics or in controversial topics. However, in answering questions, sometimes it is very difficult to avoid any controversy. If we don’t give our opinion, we look like we are being censored. We do say that Americans have different opinions and our opinion is just one person’s opinion. Azeris are always surprised when they find out so few people join the military and how big our country is and so was my host mother. Many Azeris discover from living with us that everything seems easy to us—travel, buying expensive things, saying and doing what we want and being able to start wars while knowing that the battleground will not be anywhere near us. She told me that she felt that if Americans know so little as to think the fall of the Soviet Union was welcomed by most people in the Soviet block countries, that we are not in a position to make the decision to go to war anywhere but in our own country.