Things are beginning to be fun again in Azerbaijan. For me, nothing is fun in the winter because I don’t like cold weather. You can’t be inside and pretend it isn’t cold, like you can in America. There is one heater in most homes and when you are not near, it is cold. Stores are mostly unheated, although my workplace has central heating, which is rare.
For a week, my office is closed for Novruz. This is the spring holiday and it is great. Compared to this, the one-day holidays in America just don’t make it. For almost two weeks, families get together, massive amounts of tasty food and cooked and eaten, people dance, party, and build bonfires. It is all about spring coming, new beginnings, forgiving people who have wronged you, and welcoming everyone.
I have spent the first three days visiting my first family in my training village. Azerbaijani hospitality being what it is, I was welcome everywhere, ate a meal at every home, got caught up on everyone’s lives, and enjoyed being with everyone. I didn’t speak English for all three days. My family accepts my broken Azerbaijani for what it is, just grateful that I can speak at all. When I arrived to their home in September 2008, I could say hello, goodbye and thank you.
Now I am at the Peace Corps office in the capital city of Baku waiting for my night train, which leaves at 11:05 p.m. It will get me home by 7:30 a.m. tomorrow. The compartment sleeps four and the other three will be strangers, as they were when I boarded the train to come here.
The trip usually goes like this: I get on and find three people, usually a family group, putting away their bags. They realize I am not Azerbaijani, look very surprised, say hello in Russian. I tell them in Azerbaijani that I don’t speak Russian and we have a conversation. It is usually about me first—they want to know what I am doing here, how old I am, why I came, how much money I have, why I abandoned my children before I married them off, how much my pension will be. Once I answer enough questions and parry off some others, I find out about them—they are usually traveling together to a family event and want to talk about that. Then the porter brings our fresh bedding in bags and we make our beds. Some of us change into jammies (not me) and everyone goes to sleep.
In the morning, we are awakened by a porter banging on the door for us to get up and in the next half hour we get our things together and talk again. They invariably invite me to their homes for tea, a meal or to stay as long as I want at any future date. They give me their phone number and we hug and say goodbye.
This week, without a job or regular activities to go to, I will visit people I already know in my town to celebrate the holiday, visit other volunteers, catch up on some work for when I get back, wash clothes and clean. And I will think about next month, when I can wash clothes without ending up with frozen fingers, be inside without a heavy sweater and not hunker down next to the furnace all the time.