Monday, September 1, 2008

Waiting for the president

Another town, another adventure. This time, my students are young again. The youngest one is 15. Most of them, however, are young women between the ages of 17 and 20. Most of them speak some English, so my lecture today was a mixture of English and Russian, assisted by quite capable translation into Azerbaijani.

I am changing a few things this time. I am accelerating the course, because I have the idea of creating an actual copy of a newspaper. We’ll see how this turns out. The idea came to me because the facility that I’m using has a copy of the Microsoft Publisher program. It’s possible to produce a decent newsletter with this program, so if I have some material to work with, that’s what I’ll do.

After class, I went to check out a different hotel. I think I will change hotels tomorrow, because the one I’m in now is much too expensive. So, my time for exploring the town hasn’t been that great. Yesterday, I explored the village of Car a little. It’s adjacent to Zaqatala, up farther on the mountain. It’s notable because most of the residents are Avars. This is a quite separate group from Azerbaijanis. They speak an entirely separate language and they are much more fair skinned. Quite a few are blonde with blue eyes, for example.

One obseration: when I took a taxi from the train station on the first day, I talked with the driver about the Avars and the other ethnic groups. I was curious about how they differ. My driver – I think he was Azerbaijani – said they speak a different language. But in customs and traditions, they are identical. But when I later met an Avar and chatted with him about his ethnic group, he was quite specific. The Avars, he said, are entirely separate and distinct from Azerbaijanis. He talked in terms of having “pure blood.” This term has come up before in conversations with members of ethnic groups. I think it was a member of the Talysh.

So, perhaps the member of the dominant ethnic group doesn’t see the smaller ethnic group as being that distinct. But the members of the minority see their distinctiveness more clearly.

Oh, on the subject of hotels. One interesting observation: When I arrived in Zaqatala, I noticed a new hotel – the Hotel Qafqaz. Looks very nice. Why don’t I stay there? Oh, it’s not open yet. It’s supposed to open when the president comes to town. He was supposed to visit in May – and since then all sorts of preparations have been made. The large public park on the hill over the city has been closed, for example, in preparation for his visit. The authorities don’t want to open it too far in advance of his visit. The town waits and waits for the visit of the president.

I’m including a few photos. You can see the black-and-white polka dot pattern of the walls that is particular to the Zaqatala region. The bust of the young woman in the traffic circle is of heroine of labor – a woman from the Zaqatala region who became the first woman to operate a cotton combine. Unfortunately, I am told that her long hair got caught in the combine, and led to her death. This information is from a Peace Corps volunteer so I’m not sure it’s accurate.