So PST is finally coming to an end, and by the end of next week I will be living in Shabran, a rayon on the northern coast of Azerbaijan, about 2 hours away from Baku. I’ll be living in the regional center, which only has a population of around 50,000…just a little larger than my suburban town back in the states. I pretty much got everything I asked for in my site interview: a town, a site-mate, and an area with Azerbaijani minorities. I asked for the last one since I figured as a minority myself I could be a good role model, and I’m very interested in the subject academically. The host family situation at my site is very interesting: a 57-year-old single mother with two daughters, 25 and 30. Gender differences are really big here, so I’m interested in seeing how the dynamic all works out. The family is pretty un-conventional I think, with both daughters working for the government and the mom as a teacher…so I’m hoping that translates to a more open mindset.
Although I’m happy to put all the stress of language class, technical sessions, and just life in general I’m really sad to be leaving. I’ve gotten super-close to everyone in my cluster, and unfortunately we’ve all been scattered to the five corners of Azerbaijan. Only Joey is close, in the neighboring Rayon of Quba but everyone else is pretty far. I haven’t really hadn’t the chance to interact closely with anyone from the Taghiyev group, which perhaps PST’s fault more so than my own…so I’m looking forward to getting closer to a bunch of new faces.
These past two weekends our cluster has been making trips to the capital city of Baku. It’s a completely different world, so much so that it’s hard to believe that we only live 30 minutes away. In our communities the culture/social norms are very conservative. Male-Female intimacy is non-existent, and females are shunned for smoking, drinking, or even sitting on curb/floor/wherever without a cushion underneath them (something about freezing their ovaries or something). But in Baku there are none of these “crazy” rules. Another difference is how we are treated as foreigners. Everyday in our communities double takes are commonplace, and the locals yell out at us in heavily accented “Hello, Hello” or “Where are you from.” We only got one or two obnoxious comments when we were in Baku, and for the most part people seem to be worldlier.
I don’t know why the culture is so liberal in Baku compared to Sumgayit, which isn’t really that far. I mean, in the states the suburbs aren’t really that culturally/socially different from the city center, right? You would think that the city’s “liberal” influence would spread out to neighboring areas, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Perhaps the conservative mindset in the regions is so strong that not even a socially liberal place like Baku can do that much change.