I have written about things that annoy or inconvenience me in Azerbaijan—lack of central heating, closets, competent repairpersons, intermittent lack of electricity and water. On the other hand, there are some things that to me are better.
Azerbaijanis don’t see the point of having a tree on their property unless it gives fruit or nuts. So throughout the summer and fall, fruit and nuts are everywhere. Now it is mulberries and apricots and cherries. Later it will be plums, other berries, peaches, figs, pears and apples. Best of all is pomegranate—they are everywhere. In the southern region of Azerbaijan, people have tangerine, orange, lemons and grapefruit.
Although we only have one tree of each, my yard has many more mulberries and cherries than we can eat, so we are canning, giving fruit away and feeding some to the chickens. Azerbaijanis don’t seem to fertilize, use insecticide or prune their fruit trees, but they do just fine. I like the idea of trees producing something instead of just being there.
Another things I admire about Azerbaijan is that there is reliable, frequent public transportation almost everywhere and towns and cities are compact and walkable. Good, cheap public transportation in Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia is seen as necessary for the country to be successful. The capital city of Baku has new, clean, frequent buses going everywhere for the equivalent of about 25 cents a ride. They also have a good subway, with new stations being built. Many of the foreigners in Baku and wealthy people don’t want to take public transportation, however, and there are many SUV’s there.
Smaller cities have older buses and vans that are sometimes pretty dilapidated, but they run. People who live in the country can travel on these older buses and vans for work or visits to relatives. Things are more pleasant because people walk and take public transportation instead of having to buy a car. And the poor are not at as much of a disadvantage transportation-wise.
As I meet Europeans and travel around this area, I hear comments and realize how much more violent America is than most other countries. I feel much safer from crime here and even in the capital city of Baku. When my daughter was in Berlin as a 13-year old, I wondered why the teacher allowed her and one other student to wander around by themselves for hours. She explained that Europe is overall much safer than America.
Many Americans feel safe in their own neighborhoods because most of the crime and violence happens in neighborhoods where the poor live. And that is one difference between America and some other countries in which crime is lower—the poor do not live in neighborhoods by themselves. They are able to be dispersed to live with everyone else. The opportunity for poor children to be surrounded by people with jobs, decent schools, a safe environment and city services helps them to become productive citizens and not repeat the cycle.
Which leads me to the final thing I like about Azerbaijan and living in this part of the world. Azerbaijanis don’t think they have all the answers. They think they can get some good ideas from people in other countries. Maybe I am cynical from reading all the bad news that has happened since I left the country in 2008. But I do know that no other country thought going to war in Iraq was a good idea.
We are the only developed country that still executes people and somehow we still have by far the highest murder rate of all—execution doesn’t seem like a deterrent. And our teen pregnancy rate and infant mortality rates are much higher than other developed countries, but we don’t seem very curious about how other countries do so much better than we do. Canada’s banking system is doing just fine—they have good regulation so did not have unsafe mortgage instruments and did not allow the type of financial products that led to our collapse. But we don’t seem to know how they did it or even that they are okay up there.
Now I will go back to eating mulberries.