Random things that happened to me and my son; he visited Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey with me for three weeks:
On our first day together, we were in Istanbul. Due to unfortunate circumstances we only had one card to use to get cash. Most of our transactions needed to be in cash. We went to an ATM and pulled out some money. We forgot to wait for the card to come out of the machine. As we walked down the street a Turkish man chased us down to return the card.
Weeks later, in Azerbaijan, we bought a small handmade carpet in Baku. We went into a restaurant and left without the carpet. The waiter chased us down the street to return the carpet.
To minimize the culture shock, I planned to start with him in Istanbul, work our way through Turkey, then less-prosperous Georgia, then to rural Azerbaijan. We later visited the sophisticated capital city of Baku, but at the border, the vibe was very rural. After we crossed the Azerbaijani border, Dave could tell he was not in America or in Turkey anymore. Our bus was actually a beat-up van with homemade seats. A chicken was sitting placidly in a bag next to us. As the driver shifted gears, the shifter broke off. He looked at it contemptuously and threw it aside. After that, when he needed to shift, he reached way down to the floor to a tiny nib that remained.
Shortly, the engine sputtered and died. The driver rummaged around the back of the van, emerged with a two liter soda bottle and dumped the contents in the gas tank. I had to inform Dave that this was normal—spare gasoline in two liter bottles is even sold by the side of the road.
Earlier on a van going from western Georgia by the Black Sea to the capital city of Tbilisi, I asked where we were. To my surprise the driver said “South Ossetia.” It looked pretty bucolic.
Neighbors can be strange in Azerbaijan as they are in America. But a different kind of strange. A week later as we prepared to take the midnight train from my home to Baku, my host family was entertaining guests and we walked in and out of the gathering. A man suddenly appeared with a bouquet of flowers. My family introduced me and my son to him—he was a neighbor that I hadn’t met. As he handed me the flowers, he spoke to me in halting English saying, “I have a Ph.D. in animal insemination and I would like to get to know you better.” Dave was amazed that he would say this to me and said he may try this as a pickup line at home in America.