Monday, July 14, 2008

Arrival in Lenkoran

Morning, June 29, 2008
I am watching trash fly from the neighboring compartment. A group of young Russian men slept there last night – drinking beer, snacking and talking into the night. They did not interfere with my sleep – although the rain on my face and the strange shaking of the train did. It felt as if the belly of the train was dragging some rough objects.

We will be arriving in Lenkoran in about half an hour – so this is a short entry. Last night I shared the compartment with Timur and a man I’ll call “Anar.” A fourth man entered during the night and slept on the other lower bed – but he departed in the morning without a word.

Timur is Tallysh – an ethnic group that straddles the border with Iran in this area. “Anar” is Iranian. I refer to him by this pseudonym because I don’t want to cause any problems for him. We spoke frankly about politics – in the limited amount of detail allowed by his poor knowledge of English. He hates his president – and likes to come to Azerbaijan to go to the disco, drink and enjoy the company of some friends. I don’t go to discos & I don’t drink – but I also am disgusted with my president. I said that I hoped U.S. policy to the rest of the world will change after the election of Barack Obama. Currently, the United States has an idiot as president. We shook hands, and drank to friendship between our countries in the future. He has his bottle of Azeri beer; I had my bottled water.

Timur works in Moscow as a chauffeur, and was returning to his family in Lenkoran for a couple of weeks. Naturally, he spoke good Russian, and we spoke comfortably. He said the situation in Russia is much better for Azerbaijanis is much better now – comfortable. He earns good money and has a good boss. In Azerbaijan, on the other hand, work is hard to find, and often requires payment of a bribe.

This morning, Timur’s traveling companion came by the berth for awhile & we chatted. He was a former officer in the Soviet army, and later worked for the Azerbaijani government, trying to help members of the Azerbaijani diaspora. He had traveled all over Germany with this task. Earlier, he had worked with some sort of quasi-military campaign in Afghanistan. I asked him – what was the answer to the tragic situation in that country. He pointed out the difficulties in working there – the tribal mentality, the segregation of the sexes, the low level of education. But we were arriving in Lenkoran before he could give an answer to my question.

Afternoon, June 28, 2008

Now, at 4:10 p.m. on Sunday, June 29, 2008, the house where I am staying
is quiet. A rooster crows somewhere nearby. Esmira & her husband are sleeping. The three-year-old granddaughter roams around the house, talking to herself quietly. Now – she has roused her grandfather (Baba) for something. The house is still quiet.
I became part of this quietude. I had not intended to nap again after lunch. After my arrival this morning, I napped once – perhaps for an hour – because I had slept so little on the train. But after the large lunch (Eat. Eat. Don’t be shy, Esmira said.) – a nap felt good & natural.
Lenkoran is a quiet town – or at least it seems quiet this afternoon. I strolled around a little before lunch – at the height of the afternoon heat. Some men sat in the shade by a few of the stores. A few people walked on the streets. But the streets were mostly quiet.
It is a low-built town. Esmira pointed out that this makes sense –because all of Azerbaijan is earthquake territory. In Baku, people have forgotten that, in their rush to build high buildings and launder large sums of wealth. Even here- she said- such tall buildings are being built – but it’s nothing like Baku.
I may be with Esmira two weeks. Or perhaps less. I think I am welcome to stay that long – but we’ll see. I have another option – except it is farther from town. I feel like I should pay Esmira something but she hasn’t asked for any money. I have to say the location is very convenient. She is the director of the service agency where I will be presenting my class, and the agency is a short walk from here. Supposedly the ocean is also very close – but I didn’t see it on my short walk around town.
Esmira’s husband is at the sea every morning, taking pictures. He said he has about 4,000 pictures of the sunrise on the sea. I believe it. I saw a portion. They are very good. He worked locally as a photojournalist. Esmira herself was a teacher for many years – enough to earn her a pension of 35 manat monthly. (You can buy a nice dinner for 35 manat – if the restaurant isn’t too fancy.) Now, she is the director of a local non-profit center that serves other non-governmental organizations.
They have both been very nice & hospitable to me. I had a good conversation about politics with Esmira earlier – about Azerbaijan. She once ran as a candidate for a government post, and she obviously is informed about the situation in this country. And as most people who are informed- she is cynical. Perhaps cynical is not quite the right word. Skeptical about the possibility of change. Disappointed. Trying to live her life as well as she can, survive in an honest way, make her small contribution to social change. But not very optimistic that any substantial changes are possible.
(Above is a picture of Heydar Aliyev Park, Lenkoran. Ironic - because he actually advocated planting trees - but many old trees were cut to create this sterile space.)