Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sheki: In the Shadow of Mountains

I am now on the third of my four excursions into the regions of Azerbaijan. My current location is Sheki, at the edge of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The mountains do feel close, much closer than in Ganca, where I also taught. The green slopes seem to envelope the city.
I’m told that Sheki has 100,000 inhabitants, but it feels much smaller. I went for a walk in the downtown this morning, but I didn’t explore very thoroughly. I was here once before – on a day trip – in June, so some of the places were familiar. The renovated caravanserai (lodging & meeting place for the caravan traders). The office of Transparency International.
One indication of its proximity to the mountains – aside from the mountains themselves – are the concrete lined channels that run down through the town. The city of Sheki was actually built on a new location after a terrible flood of the river Kish wiped out the old city at the end of the 1700s. The rivers in Azerbaijan are like this. Usually, they appear to be quite paltry streams running through enormous riverbeds. But – if you see them after a day or two of rain, you will understand why the riverbeds are so wide. The torrents toss boulders the size of houses. And – of course, they toss houses and people too.
I am told that 13 students have registered for my class at this point. This is fine. If there are more, that is fine too. My experience is that at least five or so will drop out quickly. I try to make the course challenging and interesting – and for some people the challenge of the class outweighs their interest in the subject.
(Pictured is one of the riverbeds we passed on our way to Sheki last night.)