Sunday, May 2, 2010

Closets, A Party and Wars

I had a party Sunday. There were 12 guests at a sit-down meal. The party was in honor of the Azerbaijani husband of a Peace Corps Volunteer. The young man just got his visa to go to America with his wife. Guests were split between American volunteers and Azerbaijanis.

The couple met when she arrived as a volunteer, survived his being gone for a year for compulsory military service, and a few months after his return they were married officially in Baku and then had a traditional Azerbaijani wedding in his hometown.

The bride extended her service a year to accommodate all of this and they will go to America in October. The groom is 24 and his wife is 27. He spent one year of high school on an exchange program, living in Florida. His English is excellent, he is a very intelligent, kind and interesting person.

My host family set the table like a wedding, with beautiful china and table decorations. Even poor Azerbaijanis have nice china. In Soviet times, china was priced so that an average family could buy it and apparently, most did. As in America, it is handed down.

I made different salads and side dishes while my family fussed about the lack of Azerbaijani food. They wanted to spend the day cooking but I told them they were guests. Why no Azerbaijani food? Well, when you invite Italians over to dinner, do you cook Italian food? Of course not, because it will not be authentic. Afterward, just when my family was ready to attack the dishes, some of the American guests began washing them. I had warned the family that this was an American tradition for some families, but they were still dismayed to see guests rolling up their sleeves and washing dishes. Our kitchen is outside and the day was unseasonably cold, which made it more interesting.


The primary way that Azerbaijanis receive their news is through the television. Apparently, some American soldiers shot a group of Iraqi civilians, the incident was recorded on tape, including narration by the shooters as they shot, and is on YouTube. The tape is also being played here on the news with questions from my family and a general level of disgust from those who have seen it.

My family keeps asking me if Obama said he would stop the wars, why hasn’t he stopped them? Why is he allowing the murder of innocent children by American troops? Why do people still support him if he is not stopping these things? I always try to stay away from political talk with Azerbaijanis, both about American politics and about Azerbaijani politics. On the Azerbaijani side, obviously Azerbaijan is not my country and it is really none of my business. On the American side, I am not here to discuss American politics. But I don't feel I can ignore persistent and pointed questions.

If Azerbaijanis know several Americans, I usually tell them to ask all Americans they know because they will get different answers. My opinion, I tell is them that presidential power is different in America than it is in Azerbaijan and that Obama can’t do a lot of things by himself without the support of other branches. And also that we are supposed to be mostly out of Iraq later this year. They reply that Bush did what he wanted, why can’t Obama? My next answer is that when Americans are angry, some tend to think of using force for three reasons:

One is that Americans don’t understand what it is like to have a war on their own soil.

Another is that Americans don’t have to fight the wars. Our military is all-volunteer. In Azerbaijan, all males must serve 1-1 1/2 years.

The third is that Americans feel they don’t have to pay for wars. Taxes are not raised when wars are started. In fact, with these two wars, taxes were lowered.

This is one I didn’t say, but thought about: Americans feel they can prevail against terrorists by using force. I was reading something awhile back that said that there was not an instance of a powerful country defeating terrorists in the past 100 years or so. I am not sure if this is true or not, but I can’t think of an instance in which America prevailed over terrorists, probably because they are so much more committed than we are. And of course, in our own version of terrorists, we didn't win against the criminals in the Prohibition area and are not wining the war on drugs.

In Revolutionary War times, if the Brits had beaten us, I doubt we would have given up and happily accepted being part of Britain. I think we would still be fighting them.

So I explain that in my opinion, if Americans are angry, they can invade another country for free and send people they don’t know to fight it. Then they can change their minds about being there when it goes badly and leave without having anything bad happen in their American lives.


I don’t miss a lot of American material things—a few that I do miss are central heating, having inside bathrooms in houses and nice showers with instant hot water and a good spray . Another amenity I miss is having closets. I thought most people had closets. I have have yet to see a closet in Azerbaijan.

Clothes are kept in chests of drawers, or wardrobes, some with a small closet area. I fold my clothes or hang them on a coat tree. So that they don’t get wrinkeled, I have hangers on the coat tree, which leads to crossed-up hangers and not much room for coats.

Most Azerbaijanis have few clothes, since they are expensive. Wearing the same blouse or shirt for a few days is not unusual. One of the women who lives in my home has one sweater. For the first 15 days I lived here, she wore it every day. That was excessive, in my opinion. Then she washed it and wore a robe for two days while it dried.