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Trip report to Baku Azerbiajan August 2006 - very long read

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Chuckles1970:
Trip to Baku, Azerbaijan August 5th through August 20th 2006

Please enjoy and comment if you like on my summarized trip experience to Baku. I will be posting this as two entries, the first week, and the second week.  I decided to journal my experience while I was there and went through an entire pen plus half of another and nearly 70 pages (of small mid size) note book paper. I will not bore everyone with all the details, but merely point out some of my experiences and things I learned while in Baku.
I will not use the actual names of the people in this article to protect their privacy and in case they were to read on this forum.  Mostly this is a sad story but with hope at the end, and my return visit is planned for April 2007.

Main players besides myself:
J Ė girl (25) I had been writing too for about six months and I went to see
N Ė Jís mother
A Ė Jís stepfather
Z Ė one of Aís sons from first wife
Am Ė friend of Jís
S Ė sister of friend of Jís grandmother in Ukraine
Na Ė girl (29) I meet in week 2
R Ė Naís mother
O Ė female friend of Jís

Week 1 ĖAugust 5th through August 11th

August 5th, August 6th through landing August 7th in Baku, Azerbaijan

As usual I spent last minute Friday night the 4th and well into the 5th packing, buying some last minute presents, rounding up some family photos and everything to show to the girl A I planned to visit in Baku. We have been writing once a week or more since February and talking usually a half hour to an hour every two weeks due to her work schedule, my work plus college schedule, and the corresponding time frame differences. I had purchased my tickets in late May and was set to go over.  I had decided to take two weeks to see her and Baku, which at first I thought was going to prove a mistake, and as it turned out might have been the mistake I needed to make, but more about that in week two report.

I digress from the story, so I finally get up to the airport about two and a half hours early for my flight to Chicago. Fairly uneventful 2 hour flight, and then with an hour layover and a terminal change in another building, plus more fun security checks. Note to everyone, DO NOT take packs or large packs of batteries with you in carry-on or probably even your checked baggage unless you love being either a) hand searched or b) knowing your luggage will get opened at least once or twice guaranteed by security people Anyway after the fun of being told batteries donít scan well in x-rays machines (looks like solid blobs they canít penetrate) I was on my way for a lovely seven hour flight to Heathrow in London, UK.  This is my first time ever leaving the country outside of a short cruise to the Bahamas when I was 14, so I was a bit excited. That wore off quickly on a full flight in coach. I did manage to catch M.I. 3 on the in-flight movie. Landed in Heathrow around very early in the morning (like 9:20 am) after the all-nighter plus extra hours for forward time change. Some interesting points to make I didnít know about, in most countries you donít always have fun gates that you walk right on to a plane, no usually you deplane on a little portable staircase, board a bus and get driven to a terminal and the same when you leave. Now I had eleven hours to wile away in lovely Heathrow.  Basically spent a lot of time sleeping where I could on benchs (not comfy) and having a $26 meal at a restaurant at the terminal. At nearly $2 for each pound probably the most expensive chicken breast, fries and Pepsi Iíve ever had.  Almost overslept and missed my fight to Baku at 8:20 pm, but made last call for a mostly half empty plane and six hour flight.  Did note one nancy acting steward that was hilarious to obseve, and you know with British Airways its just darling for me to hear the accents on the stewardesses.  One of the most beautiful things I observed on the flight was watching the dawn break while above cloud level, a truly awesome sight to see with all the layers of the color spectrum of red-orange-yellow-light blue-dark blue and then the night sky with stars on the horizon.  Arriving in Heydar International was fun and we taxied all the way around a fairly small airport to deplane onto a bus for a truly hilarious experience of going maybe 100 feet to then get back off the buses.  Pretty grim looking airport, waiting in customs for about forty five minutes, went through uneventfully as I had gotten my Visa way early in the U.S., grabbed my luggage (happy it all arrived okay) and headed out of the terminal.

August 7th Ė Part II
As soon as I left the terminal doors I ran into Jís mother and stepfather. They were both smiling and her mother had flowers for me. Her stepfather A doesnít speak much English and neither does her mother N, but N understands it a bit better than he does.  Unfortunately as I had found out about two weeks before I left J had surgery on her foot and was not able to get around very easily, and would not be able to meet me at the airport and instead only her parents would be there. It was a nice drive in from the airport to the Apartment I had rented with their help, lots of interesting sites and not much traffic. It was the first time I drove in a British built car so I was on the opposite side of usual for passenger seating. Their street cleaner crew is mostly babushkas with brooms, so that was an interesting sight. The air had a vaguely sulfuric smell to it and we passed some good neighborhoods and some not so good ones on the way to where I was staying.  Got to the apartment, they helped me settle in with the landlady and her very hot daughter (in her twenties) who were subleasing to me while I was in town.  They spoke less English than my girl Jís parents. Surreal moment of the trip 1 Ė sitting in the living room with her Muslim father watching TV and Lady Marmalade came on their music channel and sitting there watching it, till his wife came in and turned it off and said something to him I donít understand. That was hilarious. So that lasted a while, and then they all left me to catch up on my sleep from my trip.  Woke up later in the afternoon, got to check out the apartment more and its interesting dťcor, lots of rugs, and a cool chandelier, and two story level size place.  New one for me was that the bathroom facilities were a squatter and a bidet, and guess whom never had one of those before.  Fun time for all there, but in all by the time I left Baku I actually missed it.

Around 2:30 a guy rang the door bell and I answered and he said he was there for the water bill and needed $72, which of course I had, but said sorry Iím broke and renting come back later. Thankfully he never bothered me again while I was there the two weeks.
I talked to J on the phone about what time her mother would arrive and it was nice to hear her sweet voice. I was very excited to see her in a short time. .  As I noted in my journal at this point I hoped not to disappoint J and was still happy to be in Baku, although still tired. I thought a lot to myself in the apartment alone whether I was crazy for flying half way around the world or just a risk taker who takes chances, I decided on the second. Around 5pm Jís mother N came over to retrieve me and bring me back to their apartment, and low and behold when I came down to the taxi J was in the backseat. So I was very happy to see her, and she told me she came along because she needed to go to the medical clinic before we go back to her parentís apartment. So I got to experience the first hair raising taxi ride in Baku this day.  The driver Nazeem knew zip for English, but said I love USA and a thumbs up, so at least maybe I wonít get sidelined in an alley with him, while J and her mom N go into the clinic. As I waited outside the clinic watched another one of the street crew, a half crippled hunchback struggle to move some junk, and as everyone stood around and watched him, and laughed at him, I felt really bad for him.  Finally J was done and off to the apartment we went, her mom helped her inside and I carried some of my luggage (with presents in it) inside. N went to prepare dinner, and I went to Jís room to talk and kill some time.  At this point I could already tell things werenít going real great, and I felt baffled by this. I mean we had been talking, she had seen recent photos of me, etc, should know what to expect. We talked about family and friends, although mostly J talked and I listened. She also got tons of phone calls and email/messenger interruptions while I was there, and at that point as she seemed more interested in those than me who flew all the way to Baku, I really felt okay, sheís not interested in me but I got two weeks to kill. Wonít that be fun? I hoped the situation would improve the longer I was there but right at this point I wasnít feeling interest.  Dinner was interesting, lots of different things to try, plenty of vegetables and cheeses, some awesome bread (Turkish I found out days later), some ham, plof (rice dish), this thin sliced fish that was really salty, a whole chicken and champagne. Interesting combination of foods, but I ate a lot, although I do not really like whole chickens and I definitely donít clean my bones the way they do, man, those suckers were clean as a whistle.  After dinner I was able to use Jís computer and email my mom, and some friends that I was alive and well in Baku, while I typed she pretty much ignored me and used text messaging on her phone. Again not feeling any attention, in fact I would watch her on the sly and she didnít even look at me once in a while or anything.  I know youíre thinking man, what a sad story at this pointÖLOL, and I wasnít feeling too keen either.  At this point N came out with some fruit and plates, and we talked a bit and ate some desserts, and I was a bit leery about it as I had heard to watch out for fresh fruit in Azerbaijan due to Hep A, but I still had a bit.  After the fruit I decided to give J and N the presents I had brought over CDs and CD player, clothes, earrings for J, table cloth, some clothes, and necklace for N, and when her stepfather A came home clothes, and a leatherman type tool set.  Even while giving the presents again it seemed to be more about what I gave J than about me.  This far into the first day and my heart had just sank real low.  Everyone seemed very happy with their presents, and I felt like Santa Claus for a bit.  By now it was quite late around 11pm, and they told me that around 10am the landlady would be by to pick up the money for my two week rental, and that N would be over in the afternoon to bring me back over.  A mentioned trying to get off work during the week and maybe go out of Baku and into the mountains with him, a friend of his that was in country from Los Angeles, and a cook he works with at the restaurant he works at.  I thought that could be interesting a 2-3 trip roughing it in Azerbaijan, but this never did occur as he could not get off work.  They drove me back toward my apartment, and then we spent about an hour walking along the Blvd around the harbor in Baku, that was a nice walk and the city is very beautiful at night and it was nearly a full moon out.  We passed lots of people, couples, street entertainers, etc, and then they took me back to my apartment. Crossing the roads was interesting, I had to run pretty good to keep from getting ran over.  Stop lights are interesting, they are green then they doubleflash, then turn yellow for a split second, then red, and then when red before going back to green, they flash twice as red, then go right to green, at which point every driver at a stop light nails it like Mario Andretti and I was surprised I didnít see anyone get run over the two weeks I was there. 

August 8th Ė Tuesday
Got up around 9:30 am to get ready for the landlady visit, who was prompt at 10am for her cash.  She was grumpy the first time I met her but amazing how smiley she was when $500 greenbacks crossed her palmsÖLOL.  I dozed back off till noon, and then was woken up by J saying N would be by around 2pm to get me.  At 2pm N showed up and told me weíre riding the bus. Oh, boy new experience, I was hoping for taxis. We walked a couple of blocks down to the bus stop, which by the way their buses are more like European vans with about 12 seats and standing room for 6-8, or 20 if they cram them in there.  I was hoping to get all the way to Nís apartment without having to get up, as custom is to give your seat to women or old people.  Ended up only making it halfway before I surrendered my seat to a lady, and experienced the fun of stooping in a van, holding on for dear life, trying not to fall on anyone, or touch any women (Muslim country). We got off the bus, and then time for another Azeri street crossing through four lanes of traffic, basically watch for an opening and run like heck. Learning fast on that one, you get one honk to warn you, and second honk means youíre going to be a dead man quick.  We got to Nís apartment and I went in to say hello to J, and her mom brought in some cold mineral water for us and glasses. Once again it was many phone calls, text messaging and emails, but not quite as many as the first time, and we talked a bit more/better than night one. I still wasnít feeling too much there, but at least a bit more interaction. We spent a lot of time going through her photo albums and she told me about school, and her friend who lives in Israel, and her work, and things like that.  For dinner we had leftovers from the night before, with more fish, ham, salad, peppers, chicken, cheeses and plof (rice).  They kept pushing food on me, and pretty much while I was there I only ate one big meal a day (at her parents apartment) and a light breakfast/snack.  A friend of Nís came over and she was nice too, very bubbly personality and I liked her very much. At this point I really like Jís mom N too, she is very nice to me, very generous and hospitable, as well as her stepfather A, who came home during dessert, and asked if I wanted some beer. So he went and got some beer and we drank a variety of different beers. Lots of interesting (I guess since I donít know more than about 30 Russian words) conversation, and at least everyone was acting nice and seemed happy I was there.  We mentioned about astrology and my age and year born, which they seemed very happy about as they are all chicken (Cocks), and I was a dog, which supposedly gets along well. I guess cool on that.  During our conversations J mentioned that her mom N liked me, although I think she wasnít supposed to translate that as her mom got mad at her once she told me that. I thought it was cute/funny.  One thing mentioned was that the women in Azeri outnumber the men 8 to 2, but it doesnít seem that way because mostly you see men on the streets, but apparently as J said in Muslim country most women donít work or stay in home out of sight, so you donít get accurate picture. Well that would explain Azeri problems finding husbands with that much differential. I wondered how much of the conversation around me concerned me, and we looked at some photos of Aís family, his brothers marriage, a photo of him when he was younger and a sergeant in the army. He must have been one strapping dude cuz he was as big as I was height wise now, and around 6 ft is not that common with Azeri guys Iíd seen.  Around midnight it was time to go, I got a nice hug and a kiss on the cheek from J (surprised me there actually). Maybe I wasnít reading her right?  I thought to myself okay Iím not in America, maybe women are not as forward here and she was still just going slow to get to know me?  I thought we shall see.  We leave and take Nís friend home, then they take me back to my apartment, and walk me up to the door, and say their good nights. Decided to take a midnight shower as I had been getting bad luck with water not working in the day when I get up, and going without a shower was no fun.  At this point not having any problems sleeping or getting rest, although I keep getting phone calls from people looking for the landlady or her daughter, speaking Russian, and I do my pidgin version me americanski, renting, theyíre not hereÖpretty pathetic really.

August 9th Ė Wednesday
I slept quite late today, not waking up till past 1pm, and getting called around 2pm from J stating she had to go to hospital today to have her foot looked at and that N wouldnít be over till past 5pm.  So at this point had lots of time to twiddle my thumbs, and Iím still trying to figure out how J feels about me. Also was feeling very uneasy about some of her conversations we had including one where she referenced money quite a bit including the $700 it cost for her foot operation, and how hard it was to pay bills. Felt very uneasy about how freely that came out to someone you barely know, you know.  More on that feeling later and how it played out, but at that point when she had brought it up I almost said, okay, well if you donít really like me, tell you what hereís the bucks I have on hand, you can put it toward your bills, weíll call it even, and Iíll spend my time the rest of the trip on my own, but yesterday I did notice she had printed out several of the photos I had sent her and had them displayed around in various places. Maybe I expect too much too soon from her?  At this point I still had ten days to go till I go home, and to find out if there was anything there or not.  I think back to some of the conversation on Tuesday and J mentioned going to the beach on the weekend, Saturday maybe, and possibly going to a football (soccer game) with her stepfather A on Thursday. I am very mindful at this point I am carrying around nearly a grand in cash on me and being in weird situations, worried about being pickpocketed, etc.  I did notice out the windows some Azeri women wearing shorts and short skirts, which surprised me, again not knowing what to expect in a Muslim culture. Apparently there is traditional and there is the more modern women here in Baku, the most modern city in Azerbaijan.  Not many American cars here, lots of Russian cars, European cars, and Renaults.  Mostly the people I saw where clean, well dressed, and styled good, but the town was a bit dirty and polluted in the air, also lots of things needed repairs (buildings, cars, etc).  Around 5pm N arrived and again time for a bus ride, and again spent about half the time standing on the trip to the apartment. Talked with J again before dinner and she mentioned how protective her parents were of her, and how even when she would spend an evening or overnight with a girlfriends, they would call to check on her or show up sometimes to make sure who was there and what she was doing.  They seem to consider women over there either good girls or bad girls (promiscuous, drinkers/druggers), and they want to keep their daughters in category A if they can help it.  At that point I was thinking okay she really could be a virgin, which was fine or not fine, but I still had no idea how J was feeling about me in general, and since the culture does not show much overt signs of affection its even more difficult for me to feel any connection.  Tonight I felt much more relaxed, happy, and calm, and I really like her parents A and N, even thought 99% of what they say I have no idea what theyíre talking about. I could definitely tell that A and N were in love with each other, and that was nice to see. For dinner tonight we had more leftovers of plof and salad, plus liver and potatoes and onions (which was really good), plus more cheeses, ham, and bread.  N seemed much more of a good mood, and smiled more around me, than the first few days.  Her stepfather A is a good man, I can see that too.  At this point during dinner, I was thinking to myself, I could see myself with J, or I could not. Sometimes I noted to myself she seemed rather spoiled, and I didnít like it sometimes the way she would act toward her mother, and the mentioning of money a few times and her job pay seemed to be fishing for me to make some sort of offer or something, or maybe it was to see if I am able to provide for us being a couple. Long shot on option B, Iím not happy about those conversations.  The night before we had mentioned about credit cards, and I mentioned having three, and they were astounded by that. They ask why three, why not just one. Obviously I didnít mention details on my debt load (manageable and will be paid off by early next year), plus the costs of the trip to Baku were courtesy of Mr. Mastercard. After dessert, I get a hug, no kiss from J, and her parents take me off to see more of Baku. We end up driving to the highest point and visiting a soldiers memorial, very peaceful and an absolutely incredible view of the town at night.  We do take some photos but as it turns out none of them came out very well due to the darkness. We go back to the car and wait for Aís son Z to arrive to meet me, and I go with him down to the Blvd, while A and N drive in his car.  Pretty surreal driving in a Euro SUV, listening to middle eastern rap, going down the side of a hill, on cobblestone roadÖ.I think to myself ah, what an adventure I have gotten into here. Anyway, we meet up down by the Blvd, and Z takes off while I, A and N go walking along the Blvd some more.  We took various photos here and there during our walks, and our stop at a Tea Cafť. We had a traditional style hot tea with some jellied candies and sugar cubes, that was a new experience for me, mr. iced tea drinker.  They dropped me off and called it a night around 12pm.

August 10th-Thursday
Tonight I had a hard time sleeping, thinking all the sleep and naps Iím taking in the day is catching up to me and not working is not tiring me out enough. Lots of tossing and turning, and I was not happy about that.   Had lots of time to think and stare at the ceiling, and my thoughts of how it was going, being so far from home, and just being in a foreign country swirled through my head like a kaleidoscope. Around noon I got a call from J that N would be over around around 2pm. Considering going out exploring on my own, which to note I am a wuss and had not done anything really on my own to date, staying pretty much in my apartment except when accompanied by her parents, or one of them. Week 2 would be different but Iíll get to that later.  So finally around 3pm N shows up with Aís son Z, and they along with J were in a small sports car, his other car. So I squeezed my rather large American backside into the back of this small Euro sports car as J was in the front seat due to her leg injury.  She did look very nice today I thought.  I could see some of Nís affection for J in the way she acted around her today, and I thought it is rare to see it, you definitely donít see lots of public emotion.  Off into the city and apparently this was my obligatory sight seeing trip as they took me to what Baku is known for, the Maiden tower. This was a fun excursion and N got us a tour guide to give me the tour in English. 131 steps and eight floors to this tower, got lots of great photos of Baku in the daylight from the tower, and the ruins around it too.  Went downstairs and wandered around the old town Baku section and a lot of rug shops, which was hilarious, as they each tried to outdo themselves like used car salesman, running out rugs and throwing them out, bidding on prices, etc. I didnít buy any but just laughed inside at a lot of it.  Have a few rug shop business cards I took with me though, need a good camel wool rug, try Ahmedís in downtown Baku.  Thatís really his name by the way.  Afterward we got back in Zís car and went back to another section of town, and walked around some part that is like a romance area or something with little canals (which were a little polluted and had floating trash quite a bit), and took more photos here and there.  We then went and had another traditional cafť hot tea visit, and a beer that was nice and cold.  Later we go back to their apartment, and Z takes off, and I spend more time talking to J today, and maybe just maybe I think I see her paying a bit more attention closer to me, but I also think later maybe I am projecting that on her as my wishes for small nuances that really are nothing. More leftovers for dinner, but theyíre good.  A sister that lives in Baku is sisters with Jís grandma in a town in Russia, comes over to visit. Sheís rather older with some coke bottle type glasses on, and during dessert she mentions I have a kind face? WTF? I have heard this like twice now from people and wonder what is up with the kind face remark, but I will get an answer to this later during my trip. I think I hear discussions of marriage and a few glances my way, but again not understanding Russian they could be talking about many things.  J looks at the photos her mom took during the day, and likes several of them, mentioned one on the tower as very nice. Again this  brings up thoughts in my head, where is this going, does she like me or not. Very confused at this point, but not very positive internally either. Also feel like a trained chimp a couple of times when they have me trot out the words in Russian I know, but they at least say I have good pronunciation of them.  Around 10:30 I get escorted back via busy to my rented apt home by two ladies (her mother N in her forties, and the older lady in her sixties) which had me feeling priceless, to be this big strapping size guy (compared to Azeris) being escorted by two women. That made me feel about 1 foot tall. 
Had a good laugh walking by a DVD rental place on the way back to my apartment, and they were offering boot versions of the new Pirates of the Caribbean, Click and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. They walk me back and then they disappear for the evening.

August 11th - Friday
Once again plagued by insomnia and my back hurts on their not so great mattress, and I have a restless and not satisfying rest this morning/last night.  I do some journaling after I get up and write about my doubts to Jís intentions toward me, and also how culturally I feel way out of my depth in understanding, and difficulties in language are definitely causing issues. I tired to offer some money to N last night to help pay for some of the expenses, but after trying to force the issue, it causes much uncomfortable feelings, and being told I am a guest. I definitely feel like the family is spending way above and beyond on me, and feel bad about that. The Azeris are definitely very hospitable and generous hosts to guests, even idiot foreigners who display little tact (despite trying to).  I think back more about conversations with J and that either I am a large fool or a king man for her, but that every time I try to question her directly about whether she is happy I came to visit her, she becomes agitated asking me why I ask this. Uh, I ask it because you seem to ignore me most of the time is what I want to say, but donít.  I think what made me think that a balding overweight man is going to find ďloveĒ X number of miles away from home.  Am I stupid? Am I a fool?  Or just someone who is taking a chance to see if the written connection I thought we had would pan out, and besides I looked at this as a nice two week vacation from work, and I am getting that, albeit in some place I might not have chosen normally.  I will say to date this trip was one of the most learning experiences of my life about the world and about my inner world/psyche. I do like her family quite a bit, and still feel about of my debt, like a 3 year old lost in a world they donít understand. Also notice that most people here do not wear jeans and tennis shoes, more dress pants and open toed sandals with dressier clothes, or sports style wear.   Tomorrow we are supposed to go to the seaside for swimming, and I look forward to that with some trepidation.  I am pretty torn almost halfway through this trip about whether I should have came to Baku or not.  I miss America and my family quite a bit at this point, and think only one more week to go. I get my daily call from J that N will be by around 4pm or so.  I finally decide to go out by myself into the world of Baku, and wander around very close to the apartment, and spend some time people watching on a bench in a small park. Her mom arrived and it was bus time again, and off to their apartment. We get there an A is there with J looking very nice, apparently he took off from work to take her to the hospital, and they all leave and I stay checking my email and the world news. I come to find out about the whole terrorist gel bomb thing and Heathrow for the first time. That freaks me out a bit as I fly back through Heathrow in about a week.  Tonight for dinner we had a traditional national dish of stuffed eggplant, more bread, ham, and lots of vegetables.  Toward the end of dinner a guy friend of Jís come by, Iíll call him Am since A is already taken by her stepfather.  He seems nice and we discuss the plans for going to the sea side the next day.   He stays for a while, conversation, and so on, and it is decided Am will take me home. I think he has car, but we go by taxi instead. He jokes when we are alone that he acts as good guy around J and her parents, but he is not so good, he has many girlfriends, like to drink sometimes and go out to party. He has no plans to marry soon, heís a couple years younger than me at 34. I talk with him about some of the issues and difficulties I am having reading J, and he advises me in their culture that the decision rides with me as I am ďthe man.Ē He tells me she has a good family and I need to judge her by that, and that I have to ask their permission first if I wish to marry her, and it is feeling very weird to me by this point in the conversation.  I think well maybe she does like me but cannot express her feelings, but then again even I can read body language and Iím not feeling any of that my way.  No I like you vibe seems to be expressed my way.  I feel like an American commodity to marry the daughter at this point, and I donít think in J I can see the wife, lover, and mother of my children, and this would be a huge step.  She also had expressed some comments about not being a good cook or taking care of household, and that was like defcon 4 hitting the red button, as I already had that issue with my Ex-wife.  I feel very accepted by her family, and maybe feel bad that I tell them no, I donít want to marry your daughter, but I am not jumping into something I donít feel comfortable with.   Once again a bad and restless night of sleep, but moderately better.

That ends the first few days in Baku. I was going to try to do Saturday too but the seaside trip was going to take a while to write so saving it.

Week 2 ĖAugust 12th through August 20th Ė will be posted next week sometime.

Baku Trip Summary Part 2
Saturday August 12th through August 20th

Saturday August 12th
Today was the day we were going to visit the seaside, and I was going with J and her friend Am who was arranging everything. From what Iíve heard it costs to go to the sea, or to ďuse the beach,Ē although I donít know what it costs, as Am paid for it all before we went.  Started out around 9:45 am when N came to get me and we went back to her apartment, to have some bread and coffee and await Am arriving for us to go to the beach.  A little after 11am Am arrived with a taxi, and we headed off for the seaside, me sitting in front and him and J sitting in the back. We joked during the ride about how no one in Azerbaijan wears seatbelts, cars have them of course, just no one uses them, and once he was pulled over because he was wearing one because the police man thought it suspicious he was wearing a seatbelt! Couple of fun driving experiences heading through some more deserted areas, almost drove into a truck heading the opposite way and its an interesting experience to pass a car on the inside of a hairpin turn! I thought I was going to need to change my shorts for more than the fact I needed to put my swim trunks on after that one. Taxi driving in Azeribaijan is not for the faint of heart.  We got to the beach and Am carried J down to the beach with her protests, and I noticed one thing quickly about the beach, they have tons of shells, and it tears up your feet something awful. Me and my soft American feet used to sneakers looked like hamburger by the end of the day, and it was not fun getting from my chair down to the water due to this.  Also quickly found out none of us brought sunscreen and by the end of the day I looked like boiled lobster, and this ended up being the worse sunburn of my entire life, I peeled horribly when I got home.  Okay, otherwise how was the beach. Well Am commented today it looked very nice and clean (a bonus), but I still didnít plan to spend too much time in the water as I had heard about the Caspian.  Pretty much the day consisted of hanging around drinking beer or water and talking, or ďgo for swimĒ as they would say to me.  Things of note, much more openness with human bodies, several young pre pubescent(female) would go around without tops, sometimes little male children would just go naked, and even grown women would remove their tops for sunbathing. Was not expecting this in a Muslim country, but I do think that they are much more accepting of it just being human body, no big deal. Didnít really bother or excite me, just some interesting cultural differences to observe. While swimming I talked with Am about J and some of the things he told me werenít really making me happy, as in he could tell we werenít having much of a connection, that she wasnít really much of a traditional woman and some other things that were screaming high maintenance already.  Not that I was looking for bow down type of woman, but I do want a more traditional woman, I can find high maintenance women falling all over themselves in the fine state of Kansas.  I also was not very comfortable around her, and she seemed to hang more on Am (and seemed more interested in him) than me. That was not sitting well with me, although he seemed like a nice guy and fun to be around, but point of trip was not to hang out with some guys in Azeribaijan.  Anyhow, later on several of Amís friends came by during the day, and at the end of the day around 7pm  we went with two of them to an outside restaurant in Sumkavit (I canít remember how to spell the name of this town but it is above Baku on the northern side of the Apochon peninsula). Riding in the Lada the friend had was an experience (Lada is Russian made car, not best, but itís a car and thatís an A+ just having your own car in Azerbaijan), but we made it to the restaurant over numerous potholes and being passed by impatient (which is everyone) drivers.  The restaurant is fairly interesting, like an outdoor patio type of place and is a ďkebobĒ house as they call it.  Compared to how clean they all go to the bone on the food provided I feel like a waster, they definitely donít play around on food over there.  We had quite a bit of drinks, some wine and beer with the food, and some nice conversation.  Also have some toasts, and make a few good toasts. One thing I do note over here is most people are either in good shape, or skin and bones skinny, and only a few older folks qualify as overweight, as I look around the restaurant.  We go and drop off one of Amís friends, and they find a taxi to take me and J back home to her mothers house. Itís a long ride full of near misses with other cars, hot and smelly air, slow going, and lots of uncomfortableness between me and J. I feel so out of place this night it wasnít even funny, and I could definitely feel things werenít going well at all with J. I get dropped off at my apartment instead, and I feel relieved I donít have to find a ride home from Nís apartment, and I make plans to see her tomorrow. It was very nice to take a shower and hit the sack after a long day. I also for the first time go out solo into the night and spend some time across the way to people watch in the park.

Sunday August 13th
Pretty long and uneventful day spent at the apartment after a fitful night of sleepToday I felt very down and depressed that I used two weeks of vacation when I should have just taken a week, and could have been on my way home today.  I thought a lot about being ready to start losing the weight Iíd put on over the past years, and had that as a goal even before this trip, but definitely after this trip that thought had been exacerbated.  I definitely feel at this point that there is no future between me and J, and just need to talk with her and figure that out in a serious conversation.  I think a lot about the positives I am taking from the trip as far as learning about myself and about what I am looking for in the future. There is lots of things I write down today about my life that I wonít share online, but suffice it to say it was a day of introspection.  . J isnít feeling well and is a bit sunburned, and N doesnít come over till near 6pm to have me come over for dinner, and she looks a bit tired too.  We go to the bus stop and I spend most of the time standing on the bus ride due to the multitude of women riders this evening, and do the usual cross traffic tango and make it across to her apartment.  Tonight I have little interaction with J talking wise and she spends most of the time on the phone with a friend, and I just go off by myself a bit in the dining/living room and veg out.  A comes home and both he and N take me home, and we do some walking around downtown on the way back to my apartment.  I think tonight it was pretty obvious I would probably not be marrying J and it seemed pretty much go through the motions to be hospitable to me and friendly, I feel very bad that I still have a week to go, and spend more time in the part people watching, and due to my insomnia problems I am having. 

Monday August 14th
Fitful night of sleep, and another long day to look forward too, and I was feeling rather underwhelmed for the day.  Got a call from Jís aunt who lives here in the States and who originally introduced us, I told her things werenít going so well, and she said she would write me an email.  I had previously written to her and to the translator about how the trip wasnít going very well.  I feel today that I am a nuisance to some good people here, and very incapable out of my element in as an English speaker with rudimentary Russian in Azeribaijan, and just want the week to get over.  I do feel much more appreciative of being an American, and living even with my issues in America.   Next time I need solitude and a philosophy break I resolve the boonies somewhere in the U.S. is a lot cheaper for clearing my head.  Around 5pm N shows up and we do some shopping for food and house hold necessities on the way back to her apartment, but tonight before dinner J is a bit more conversational than she had been.  I notice during dinner prep that the table is set for four and that Am is coming over for dinner tonight as well.  Apparently A had a fellow chef drop off some nice dinner he had cooked, including some incredibly good Lentil soup, and these little chickens stuffed with curry rice mixture and some type of beef patty and rice. Its all very good, and I have two plates of food.  After dinner I, Am, and J go back to her room to look at her photo albums, and the photos we had taken on Saturday at the beach.  Shortly thereafter the friend S whoís sister knows Jís grandmother comes over, and her and N take me back to my apartment via the bus. Tonight I am feeling more comfortable in recognizing where I am in the city and feel that I can start doing my own trips on the bus without any help, and mention that to N tonight, but she is pretty protective toward me. 

Tuesday August 15th
Another fitful night of little sleep, a long day of thinking, spending more time in the park, and waiting for a call from J about the plans for the day, but around 4:40pm N shows up to bring me over for dinner. I was surprised no phone call today from J before N showed up.   Tonight we went to N and Jís Orthodox church and then on to Nís apartment.  Surprise had leftovers for dinner, and tonight just dragged on with the three of us, me, J and N, no visitors and J spends most of her time either on the home phone or the cell phone, so I pretty much just chilled, drank some water, and I walk N up to an Aptek (pharmacy) for some medicine for Jís leg. Tonight I pay for a taxi so that N does not have to go with me back to my house, and off I go. All in all he was one of the better taxi drivers I had had since I was in Baku, and just as we near the apartment the cell phone I have on me rings, it was Am calling to check on me because J was worried about me going alone.  I everything is fine, almost at apartment, no problems, and thanks for calling.  I actually am tired this evening when I get back and go to sleep, but I have some very interesting dreams. 

Wednesday August 16th
After waking up I decide to write about my dreams. Some of the ones I remembers that are interesting is being on an experimental ice breaker ship along with a crew and the crew is headed up by Hulk Hogan, another one was me as a toy cop, as an actual plastic toy chasing bad toys, that was hilarious, and last one I remembered was a dream about trying to steal a pair of pants from Target and getting arrested. I had more but only remember these three the next morning when I write this down.  I decide to go to the Ocean Deck restaurant in the park and order a ďpizzaĒ which proved interesting in their concept of a pizza, but it was okay.  I get a call from J late in the afternoon asking if I can come to the apartment by myself as her mother is out shopping. I say yes, I am pretty confident I can take the bus myself, and I have no problems navigating or paying the driver after he lets me out.  Tonight when I get to the apartment J is looking very nice, with her hair made up and make up a bit more.  We talk an little and N sets the table for dinner, which I eat very little of protesting I had a large lunch, and it was all I could do to eat a plate of chicken and mashed potatoes as I had ate a large pizza less than four hours before.  I think they think I donít like the food but I am just so stuffed I could puke.  Luckily N doesnít push me too much to eat more food, and I am grateful.  A bit later we take a more crowded bus to a new area I have not been in, and we go looking for her cousins old apartment (her cousin is the woman that is Jís aunt that lives in U.S. and introduced us), and we have a hard time finding it. She buys some ice cream and we finally find the right building, and I find out we are going to visit a lady R who was Jís auntís neighbor for many years when she lived there. Apparently she still lives in the same apartment building after all these years (aunt moved to U.S. over 15 years ago!). So N finds the right building, and goes up a floor and rings the bell, and a beautiful young girl opens the door.  Definitely rings my bell she does. I come to find out this is Rís daughter Na whom I was not expecting, I thought it was just R maybe living alone.  So she invites us in and we have some Fanta orange soda, sprite, and ice cream. I am entranced by Na, and maybe it was my imagination but I felt some chemistry going on. In later conversations I found out during the evening that was mostly on my side, but that she felt interesting in me after I left. Anyway, back to the evening, I catch her eyes a few times, and get my smiles returned. I get another kind face comment from R during the evening. Once more a WTF? Thought to myself on this kind face thing.  It must be a good compliment as I get the remark from most of the women I meet?  I decide to take a chance that maybe Na is interesting in me and I leave my name, and my email address on a slip of paper by my glass, and I hope maybe I will hear from her before I go back home.  During our leaving she mentions that we will see her and her mother again on the 19th, the day before I leave for home.  We take some more photos in the hall and I do not want to leave, I could stay around her forever, but leave we must.  I fell very hard tonight for Na, but felt very uncomfortable and unable to try to talk to her much with her mother their and N, who is the mother of the girl J I came to see. Talk about predicaments. After leaving we walk down what I feel is to date the mother of all long dark and scary alleys, and I am a bit freaked out.  I also have to really go to the restroom and feel that my body has earned vacation pay for the effort it has put in the past few hours, but I will leave those details out.  Suffice it to say I was ready to get back to my apartment.  Thankfully while I was there in the apartment with them all something else had me preoccupied and this other body function went to the back of the bus.  Finally we make it back to my apartment, I bid N good night, and I retire to take care of business and a nice shower after a long day.  Tonight I had to stay up and write in my journal as I am positively giddy, and maybe a bit too excited after meeting Na.  I plan on definitely going to the nearby internet cafť to check my emails, and also to email my mom and everyone back home to let them know Iím still alive as I havenít emailed them in nearly four days, and I am sure they are worried about me.  I have a hard time sleeping again tonight, but all I can think about is the beautiful young lady I have met, and thinking maybe there was a reason I stayed two weeks after all, and maybe this trip isnít a waste.

Thursday August 17th
Today I realized only three days more to go till I go home to KC, and my own bed, and my own life again.  I am peeling rather nicely from my Saturday past sunburn, and thatís about nasty as heck. Thinking a lot again this morning about meeting Na the night before. She was certainly a wonderfully beautiful young lady, and it makes me wonder how young she actually is.  She looked very young to me, probably too young, maybe 21 or 22 as she mentioned going to University and I am thinking okay, best to forget her despite my heart flutters from the night before. I spend most of the day writing in my journal and spending time in the park, and around 5pm J calls asking if tonight I can eat at the restaurant as her mother is not feeling well and cannot come over. I say yes, no problem, which I really didnít mind and go spend the evening across the way drinking a few beers and talking to some Australians and English guys who work for British Petroleum. Some interesting stories I heard from them, and the night passes relatively quickly.  Late in the evening I go for a walk and funny enough I end up by Rís apartment, but it is very late and I donít think I would go knock on the door to see Na. But I make a note of how I got there on my way back to my apartment, and plan to come back on Friday to see if she is home.  End up going into a craphole downstairs disco called B-52 for a couple of beers and some attempts by some professionals to pick me up, but I am not really feeling that, so I just finish my drinks and go on back to my apartment for another bad night of sleep. Back is killing me on these soft mattresses, tried sleeping a bit on the couch tonight.

Friday August 18th
Well two days to go home and my deodorant spray has gone out, and my mouthwash is almost depleted. Just great, but I squeak out enough for one more day.  I consider going for a walk up to R and Naís apartment but not sure how that would play out. Definitely not Mr. agression on that one, but I barely talked to the girl, and she is probably too young for me anyway.  I think about J and how south this whole trip had gone with her since I got here, and I wonder what is going on in her mind today as well, and resovle that today we are going to have that long overdue conversation. Finally I decide the heck with it, I am going to go by her apartment and talk to he if she is there, and if she is not home, she is not home. If she is, and she is not interested or has a boyfriend, then she can tell me so, right? I wonder again how old she is as I go walking the mile or so to her apartment.  I wander around a bit finding her apartment but finally I find it and ring the door bell a few times, and knock. Looks like no one is home, and I go wandering back toward my apartment, and during the walk J calls to say her mother would be by around 3pm.  I hurry on back and I decide to go to the Internet cafť near my apartment. I read and delete a lot of emails, but then I get one from Jís aunt that just rips my heart up.  After reading this apparently I really am a blind American man (although I learn later this letter was sent after some miscommunication), and that I have been very rude and taking advantage of my hostís hospitality. I apparently at this point was feeling pretty stupid and decided tonight I will try to give Jís mother N $200 to help them with their expenses of my visit and I hope that will be enough. I am considering taking a taxi to the airport I feel so ashamed after reading this email.  I also plan on offering J some money for Am and his costs for taking us to the sea. Man do I wish it was 9:15pm on Sunday and I was back home after reading this.  At this point I think I will never be back in Baku or write again to J after I go home, and I think it will be difficult to hide my emotional hurt from this email and anger toward my guests, but I must try.  I think a lot about the comments J made about expenses about her leg, and I felt like I was just supposed to have said oh, well, hereís $1000 for you, to someone I barely know. The more I thought about the tone of the email I get more and more angry, sure Iím some rich fíing American with just money to burn to these people. Maybe tonight I will go back to that club and find me a professional to have a good time with before I leave Baku.  Why not, I have nothing here anymore anyway, and at least from that email that ticked me off I found out the correct spelling or R and Naís names.  Anyway I was still steaming about this email when around 3pm N showed up to help me with some shopping for some items to bring back, trinkets and presents for people. I buy a plate, several snow globe type things for the Maiden tower, a keychain, and some coaster sets.  I try to be more upbeat but wasnít very happy at this point in the day, and N comments on if I am feeling alright.  So we drop the stuff off at my apartment and go onto Nís apartment by bus.  Tonight while N was cooking dinner I have the conversation I had needed to have with J and, long story short, we agreed we are just going to stay friends. Tonight N made liver again (which N knows I like) and mashed potatoes.  By the time dinner is ending I am feeling a bit more relaxed and let go of some of my anger from earlier in the day, and after dinner I try to offer N some money, but this ends up causing a lot of uncomfortable feelings and awkwardness. At this point I felt pretty out of sorts, and was like what from the tone of the email I read they expected cash, am I supposed to tackle someone and stuff bills in their pockets.   A little later Am shows up and we go to a nearby cafť for some wine and cheese. I try to offer him some money for the expenses from the sea trip the past Saturday, and it goes over pretty bad too. I am feeling very stupid here at this point, and like what the heck, okay fine, if they donít want to take my money, Iím not forcing them to. He tells me to put the money away as I was his guest and to avoid any misunderstandings. Am goes to get taxi to take along J to the cafť, and J is especially dressed up tonight nice and with makeup too.  They go off in the taxi while N and I walk over to meet them at the cafť (its very close to the apartment).  The cafť and the wine is nice, and I have a good time (that is where a lot of the photos are from on my other post), and the wine helps to life my spirits as I know in 48 hours I will be back home in KC. We have several toasts, including a very nice one from N to me, and that she mentions that she believes I will be back in Baku someday. I wonder at that comment quite a bit about Na at that point. I know that there is something going on that I donít understand in some conversations.  A calls and he has gotten off work a little early and is coming to meet us at the cafť as well, and when he arrives he orders more wine and kebobs for everyone.   I know I had to have gained some weight these past few days as much food that comes my way. To be polite I have some of the chops and cheese (which is really good), along with 2 more glasses of wine (which at this point Iíve drank practically an entire bottle). A little past eleven Nís cousin (and Jís aunt who introduced us) calls and after talking to N for a short while she hands me the phone. So I try to talk with Jís aunt but the connection is very bad, and she asks when she can call me at the apartment, so I tell her to call in maybe an hour and a half as I should be back at the apartment by then.  I hand the phone back to N and vaguely wonder okay I already got an email from her what did I do now? So we finish up the kebobos, and wine, take some more photos and call it a night. A gets the car and pulls it around to take J back home, and we all pile in too and drive back over there.  Once back to the apartment A & N help J inside, and we go to find a taxi since A had some wine and didnít want to drive, so they take me back to my apartment.  I try to pay for it but A wonít let me, and again I am confused, because you see that email I read was making comments about how they are waiting for me to offer to pay for things. If thatís true then why wonít they let me when I try to pay for something.  After they leave to go back to their apartment, I decide to take a shower and of course thatís when the phone rings, but I figure Jís aunt will call back and Iíll save that for Saturdayís decription.

Saturday August 19th
Around 2am or so Jís aunt calls back, and I hustle to grab the phone.  Of course, it is her, and she asks me how I am doing and then asks me to forgive her for her email.  !?!? At this point, I was like uh, sure, why? So she goes on to say that she had talked to J who has been saying one thing about me before she was able to talk with her cousin N who is Jís mom.  So from what I am finding out my feelings about/toward J were true (as in she isnít the right one for me).  Apparently both she and Jís mom N are both very upset with J (and apparently the day J called to tell me N was sick, she wasnít sick, she wasnít speaking to J at all because of the way she has been on my trip over there), and that floors me.  Apparently I am too ďoldĒ looking for her and not generous enough, as in I just donít volunteer to throw money out all the time when out with her and her friends even if THEY are the oneís who invite me out as a guest. I did try to offer a few times but apparently not ďenough.Ē  This also in spite of the fact I was very honest and sent plenty of photos of what I looked like to J before deciding to come over. She goes on to ask me if I gave Na my email address and I said that yes I had, and she both her and her mother liked me, and thought I seemed very kind, and Na also really like how my smile caused indentions on my face Ė my dimples.  I told Jís aunt that I was very happy to hear this because I had been unsure if there was any attraction from Naís side I thought she was too young for me.  She said no worries, Na wants to write to me and to get to know me as well, and that she has no boyfriend, and is 28, speaks 3 languages, and is very smart and modest woman.  At this point tired as I was my heart sung a new tune, and we talked a bit more about how communications and cultural differences are hard to overcome, but both ageed that if two peopleís hearts are meant to be together, they will overcome any obstacles in their path.  It is a nice plus that Na speaks better English than J too.  There were some other things she told me about her life, and her children, that I wonít share that are personal.  I finally go to sleep around 3am or so.

Later that day I woke up from another fitful sleep but at least I had some positives to keep my spirits up, and there was the pending final dinner before I go home on Sunday.  Today I decide to break out some of my best clothes I had brought with me and then finish packing up everything for the trip home.  It was very nice to have the conversation with Jís aunt to clear the air and I look forward to seeing Na tonight at the dinner before I go home, and hope to have a chance to talk to her more.  After packing and looking at more souvenirs that I donít buy, I go back to the Internet cafť and I have another short email from Na, and I wrote back to her telling her I will be happy to see her tonight.. Otherwise just chilled and checked my email and websites. The price at the Internet cafť translated to U.S. was about 50 cents an hour. I get a call on the cell phone I have and Jís parents are there to get me, so I hurry up and pay and go meet A downstairs and head up to my apartment where N is meeting with the landlady to make sure I didnít pull a Keith Moon on the apartment. Apparently its okay, and we finish up and head down to the car to go back to their apartment.  J is looking very nice today when I get there, and we talk a bit more, and  copy some more photos from her camera and system over to mine to bring home with me. J does mention that A has to go to work around 5:30 and that R and Na wonít be over till around 7pm.  We talk more about the Azerbaijan culture, and I learn a lot of new things about how Muslim culture works and how she as a Christian works in a family with a Muslim head of house. Tonight we have chicken, fried potatoes, and a cold cut plate.  A and N both make very nice toasts and I have to hustle to make sure I get my toast in before A goes off to work.  The friend whoís sister knows Jís grandmother also comes over for dinner.  After dinner and some time N sets the table up for sweets for when R and Na come over. I am not disappointed when they arrive around 7:30, both Na and her mother look very nice.  Tonight when I see her (more so in person than the pictures I posted) I think Na looks a little in the face like Penelope Cruz.  I see a lot of smiles and eye contact tonight, but again with the dinner situation I am not able to get alone conversation time.  We spend some time in Jís room looking at photos and we all talk a bit about the trip, and after a while we all go back out to the main table and there is a lot of conversation (most of it in Russian) that I am oblivious too.  Around 10:30 or so it is time for Na and R to leave, before doing so its now showtime or as I term it in my head ďTake your picture with the American visitor.Ē  First I take a series of photos with R, then with the beautiful Na, and she holds my arm very tightly when we take the photos. Intoxicating, I know at this point I donít even know her, and its probably infatuation but I was very happy right then.  One thing is during our photos I heard R say something to Jís mom N, and I think I know what she said, not by words but just the way she looked at us and then made a comment. I thought to myself she just said we look like a good couple (which is what she said Na confirms in an letter later on in September).  Then I take photos with N, and the family friend, and then everyone as a group and then as a group on the couch. At first R was to sit next to me then instead she has Na sit next to me. Too soon for me it is time for them to go and I wish them well, and I shake both of their hands. Na asks if I will write to her quietly and I say yes with a very big smile.  She leaves, but gives me a very nice look and smile.  Who knows at this point, I know I want to get to know her better as she seems to be much more of a sincere person toward me than whom I came to see originally.  Its getting late and I doze on the couch, and around midnight A and his son Z arrive. Apparently Aís car broke down and Z will have to give us a ride to the airport.  We start to finish packing some presents they gave me during dinner for me and my mom and grandmother, and finally I get a chance to catch about 2 hours of sleep before our 4:30 am wake up to get to the airport in time for an international flight. 

Sunday August 20th (coming home)
Guess its time to transfer to the Sunday description and a short wrap-up. We head out after a short breakfast, and go sailing through deserted streets out to the airport.   N goes along with A and Z.  After parking I and Z carry in my bags, and go through three levels of x-ray machines and multiple passport checks to get to the check in. Unfortunately they can only go up to the second level, so we say our goodbyes. I shake their hands and give them hugs, and they watch until I am checked in and clear the last passport control and head into the waiting lounge.  I think a lot about the past two weeks, and while I am ready to go home I feel as if I will miss this place a bit, and I will remember this experience forever in my heart.  They had mentioned again while we are waiting for check in that they believe I will be back in Baku someday.  Maybe I will.  We leave a little late from Baku, and pretty uneventful flight, although Heathrow a week after the gel bomb thing was a freaking nightmare, and they were body searching at random AFTER you cleared security right before you got on the plane.  Arriving home in Boston I knew I would get more than just a wave through when I told them coming home from Azerbaijan, and true to my prediction I got the bag search, although thankfully no white glove in an isolated room. Spend about six hours in the Boston airport before flying on home, get home around 9:15 or so and by the time I get home Iíve been awake except for some light dozing for most of 28 hours. 

So thatís the end of my story for now, things go well with Na as we continue to write to each other and get to know each other over the past four months.

av8or1:
Chuckles,

Good TR, enjoyed the read.  It seems you are going back in April to meet Na, is that correct?  Have any photos you can post?  I'd be interested to see them.

I would like to ask you, was this your first trip to the FSU?  If not, how did Baku compare in your mind to other places?  I ask because I went to Baku in February 2005 and found it to be drastically different from any other place I've been to in the FSU.  Save the language, which is mostly Russian, though they mix a fair amount of "Azeri" in there.  I felt like a true foreigner in Azerbaijan because of my white skin, though there was the occasional caucasian to be found.  'Point being that I felt like I stuck out more in Baku than in Kiev, for example.  And how.  I think I can safely conclude that both J and Na are Azeri, yes? (As in not Russian, which = caucasian, not Muslim)  How do you feel about the gap between you culturally or do you know much about it yet?  I did a fair amount of research before going only to find out that while some of what I read was true, a fair amount of it didn't apply any longer.  The woman I met was 23 and hadn't even told her father about me, though I did meet her mother.  'Fell in love with the mama, what a lady she was!  Fire cracker and a half.  We'll call my gal K and boy did we hit it off.  Chemistry out the wazoo.  K is Azeri, BTW.  In the end however, it did not appear to me that K and I would be able to find a way to be married because of the cultural barrier thing.  I kept on trying after I left to communicate with her, but it faded.  During one of our last conversations it seemed fairly clear that her father would never accept it.  I think she was struggling too.  So ultimately, while there is a fair amount of variance that can be found and this was only one data point (though her friends agreed with me), I felt safe in concluding that the difference in culture and background between me and an Azeri woman would most likely insurmountable.  It was just a bridge too far and I haven't pursued an Azeri woman since.  After travelling to Kazakhstan twice, I have come to the same conclusion about Kazak women (who are Asian).  I would be interested to hear your comments.

If you can work it out with Na, I'd say do it, though I'd of course need to know her better first before giving a solid thumbs up.  I mention this to you only because K was one of my bigger disappointments in the FSU, though not because of anything that she did directly that was malicious or inconsiderate, like J.  No, the disappointment stems from the very fact that things didn't work out.  I wanted them to and in a big way.  Why?  Because K would have made an excellent wife, and will still do so, but to a local Azeri guy.  When I arrived she had the flat prepared for me, complete with little signs (in English) that she had printed out on computer paper, like the one taped to the top of the inside of the refrigerator opening that said "Got Hungry?" - hahaha!  Everday when she came over she'd set out small snacks in a little serving dish and put them on the table in the kitchen and in the living room.  Everyday was a back massage and a general sense of someone who would take care about you just as much as you took care about her.  Yup, that life would have been good, baby.  So if you CAN make it work with Na and she's like that, DO it bubba, DO it! :)

And one last thing.  Like reading Hamlet, I was in great pain during your TR because if I had been you I would have pulled the D-ring on J within a couple of days.  Spoiled girl it seemed to me, from what I read of your summary.  "It's obvious, just kill the bastard ... oooops, leave the girl!" I kept thinking.  Now mind you, I realize that her family had expectations of being your host, but I would have gotten out of that, and it's possible to do it politely in their culture.  My hat's off to you for doing the standup thing, eventhough I wouldn't have done it.  Just my opinion and I don't wanna rain on your parade.  I respect your decision for hanging in there.  My whole point in discussing this issue is to point out to the newbies that, as I and others on this board continue to preach, if a woman doesn't show obvious, clear interest in you, then she's not.  Period.  Better to cut your losses and move on. (yes there are some exceptions, but they're rare)  Your two cases with J and Na prove that, even in a "more reserved and traditional" culture like that in Azerbaijan, which it really isn't so much of anymore.  I also commend you on your patience because the minute J ignored me and was more involved with her cell phone/text messages/whatever I would have been outta there.  But hey...I also realize that there aren't many agencies in Baku (if any, I don't know of any now that I think about it), so your options were kinda limited in that regard.  Still, I would have spent the time alone than to deal with all of that other mess. ;) lol

Anyway, once again, good TR.  I remember the tower thing and even the B-52 disco!  You're right about that place, boy was it ever a dive.  I didn't even venture down into that well-hole, I just kept walking.  I remember Ahmed's rug store too (at least I think we're talking about the same place, see the photo below of "TheGang"), boy were those guys aggressive in trying to sell ya stuff.  I was watching my back on that one, what with the narrow corridors and "private shops" that are kinda off the beaten path but yet right on it.  Good show on flying BritishAirways.  I took Aeroflot out of SVO1 and the return flight was from HELL!  Stuck in a middle seat of the smallest aircraft seats known to man between a fat, groaning, nastily-unkept-bearded, belching, rude, foul-breathed Azeri and some pencil-neck Russian who invited the Azeri to discuss the book he was reading ACROSS me, that had to have been the longest 3-whatever-can't-remember-now-and-don't-wanna hours of my life.

Anyway, I'm attaching a few photos of me and K and others from my time in Baku.  Hope they bring back good memories for ya!

Best to all,

Jerry

Chuckles1970:
Jerry,

I am glad you enjoyed the story, and yes, I am going back in April to see Na, that is correct. I went ahead and posted my photo below, so I think she is very beautiful and her picture doesnít do her justice. Sometimes in the right light and depending on the angel when I was there she reminded me ever so slightly of Penelope Cruz. The Azeriís I met were a pretty mixture of Turk, Asian, Russian and Persian, and since I like slightly tan dark haired women, it was a plus for me.

This was indeed my first trip to the FSU, and yes, I know everyone had asked me before I went, why there of all places? Because I had met a young lady on the internet and it seemed to be going well, of course, as you can see from my mini-tragedy which as times was pretty hard on me, that didnít go well. Yes, if I had more options I would have probably ditched them and gone off on my own, but as a newbie the first week I was reluctant to even spend much time alone walking around the city. Week 2 I was like whatever, and around I went, even late at night, thankfully despite walking down some of the darkest alleys imaginable I never got jumped or anything.  I was probably a glutton for punishment, but I did enjoy spending time with her family and her mother really liked me, and I her, and she was upset with J for being the way she was. It really upset her. Oh, well I learned a lot from the trip and had an interesting time in a foreign land, and came away with many new thoughts about myself, and what I was truly looking for.  I have never talked to J again since that time, but I have talked to her Aunt who lives here in Idaho, and who introduced me to J in the first place.  Her aunt that lives here was the across the hall neighbor from Na and her mother when she lived in Baku before emigrating in early nineties.

Baku is definitely different to me, but then again Iíve never been outside the U.S. besides the Caribbean, and I felt like I was in a CNN photo shoot. Lots of surreal moments to be had, a mix of old and new culture, and things I didnít understand. I learned a tiny bit of Russian, working on learning more before I go back in April.  I definitely stand out, being taller and larger (although I have lost 30 pounds since the trip Ė been hitting the gym pretty hard and will continue to do so) than most Azeri men and women who are generally fairly petite in stature.  Actually J is Russian/Jewish, from her motherís first marriage, and her stepfather is Azeri, and she is Christian, but the household runs by Muslim rules as the man runs the family. Not strict Muslim necessarily either, but cultural wise and truly in this country the men run the household, and women are more seen and not heard. Mind you I donít always approve of that, just my observation of their culture.   Na is definitely Azeri with Muslim background, just not strict, more secular, like a nationality than a strict religion.  I have done a lot of reading on various other forums about Muslim and Christian relations, and learned a lot of new things about Muslims I did not know. Actually surprised that some of my personal thoughts sorta fall more into the Muslim category than Christian, but I donít  want to debate religion, suffice it to say Na and I can find mutual ground in this realm.  We have asked a lot of questions of each other about family values, future desires, what we look for in our potential mate, and so on, and I have been MUCH more inquisitive than I was the first go around, however I think the meeting in person with a young lady who was not in the MOB scene, and happened to hit it off with was a pleasant surprise for both of us.

Naís mother likes me from meeting me, and at this time I have been invited to stay with them in their flat when I am in Baku in April. I have decided to accept their invitation, as I feel very honored that they have made this gesture, I feel like it means they think very highly of me, and I feel if things were to go totally south I can always bail and find a hotel for the remainder of my time. I also think spending all my waking time around her (Except for when she is off at her classes) is a good thing, because it will show me how living with her could be? It might be a bit nerve wracking too though, but I am pretty easy going type of guy.  Na is a very good woman, she has told me a little about her past, and she was engaged to a Muslim man who made her promise every day that she had stayed in her apartment and not left, he wouldnít let her work, etc, and she obeyed him because she loved him.  Finally after a couple of years she told him she no longer wanted to be engaged to him as he wouldnít let her work or go to school (she is not so archaic as he expected), and they split and according to her their hasnít been a man in her life since (several years) and she has gone to university (graduates in May 2007).  I suspect she may not have had relations since they are pretty strict about waiting for marriage for that, but I have not asked that. Suffice it to say I doubt she has had many men in her life from her comments.  I have no doubt that she is a very loyal person who would commit her whole being to her family and children if we get to that point.

Do you mind if I ask what were some of the cultural barriers you were struggling with. Was it because her father would never accept it? I do at least have her families support that I know of. Any enlightenment in this area is appreciated so I can be sure to address it or go over it with her.  Right now she has told me she understands that this will be difficult for both of us, but if she has decided that she loves me, then she will come to America, and we will make it work. I feel refreshed that she isnít all gooey I love you like some letters I have received, we are cordial, and like each other, but truly havenít spend enough time around each other to form our proper decision.  She is guarded as well from being hurt and disappointed in the past and at 29 probably had the thought that a family and husband were not in her future, because they REALLY marry young in Azerbaijan, if youíre not married by around 24 youíre pushing it.  I am a pretty modern husband, and I am not incompetent, as I can run a household on my own, but I want a woman who wants a family, children, etc, and I believe I have found that with Na. She definitely has voiced her strong opinion about having children (or a child, she is okay with one and we are both only children) and is understanding of my duty to care for my widowed mother. Much more understanding than any AW I have dated since my divorce. If I feel this is not to be with Na, I am not going to push it, I did that in my past marriage and well it got me lots of heartache, and a divorce to show for it.  Sorry to hear about what happened though with K as it sounds like she was a good woman and it didnít work out. I think you are right though she would have taken very good care of you.  The Got Hungry was pretty funny too!

I totally agree with you, as a newbie heading into this, I spent too long a time with a woman that I had no interest in once I saw her true character, and saying spoiled was right on the nose. She was not what I was looking for, and did not seem to be very family oriented one bit after I saw her in person.  Yes, I was a stand up guy but I say this to any new guys reading this as well, have a back up plan and be ready to execute it, otherwise youíll be wasting your time on a trip with a woman who isnít into you. For me, maybe it will work out in the end, if I had only stayed one week I would have a disappointing trip and never would have met my lovely Na during the second week, and who knows that story is yet to be finished, maybe it will have a happy ending or maybe it wonít.

Also I attached just a photo of me and Na from the last dinner they had before I left on the 20th. And a few other photos from the Maiden tower, from the caspian sea trip, from the last dinner, so on. The club  B-52 was horrible, the term dive woudl be a step up really.  Ahmedís rug store was right near the Maiden tower, and yeah, it was like being attached by the middle eastern version of used car sales persons. This rug, gently used, only $200, fit in luggage no problem, customs no problem, yeah rightÖLOL.  I am thinking I will avoid Aeroflot and spend the extra $300 to fly BA or maybe Lufthansa instead, I like the direct from Europe to Baku and avoiding the whole Moscow and need for Russian Visa issues as well.  Your photos brought back some memories of my trip for sure. I am assuming K is the one with the white hat and her hand on your knee, she is very pretty indeed, definitely very Azeri.  

Thanks for the input, it is hard to find anything on forums I visit about Muslim culture, the former FSU, and Azerbaijan/Baku in general. Indeed, probably the Ukraine would have been easier on me for culture, and for costs, and for just not sticking out, but I hopefully have found my one, so that is immaterial at this point!  And yes I had plenty of faux pas on my first trip, including my dress sometimes, but hey, life is a learning experience.

Charles

SANDRO43:

--- Quote from: Chuckles1970 on December 09, 2006, 10:07:31 AM ---and she has gone to university (graduates in May 2007).
--- End quote ---
Just an idea, Charles : if you could reschedule your next trip to coincide with that, and be present at the final diploma ceremony (if they have one ;)), that would be a really bonding experience. And if you're staying with the family, perhaps surprising them occasionally by bringing home some nice groceries and/or beverages and/or flowers would be more acceptable in their eyes than offering to share the expenses.

Chuckles1970:
Good points, unfortunately I would not be able to go in May due to other issues with my work, but she is happy with April. It would have been nice though to been there when she graduates. 

Thanks for the ideas on staying with them, I don't want to be crass, as money can be offensive, but buying some good things, and bringing them back to the house would probably go a long way. I plan on bringing some nice presents too from the U.S. for everyone.

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