Observations of an American journalist in Azerbaijan, Russia and USA.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
I returned with one of my colleagues from Ganca today - making the requisite stop at a "tea house" on the way. This was my last visit to Ganca for the foreseeable future. Because I'm preparing - mentally and physically - for my departure home, I've been looking at my surroundings even more attentively lately, soaking in the ambience, trying to hold onto what really can't be held.
The tea house, for example. To Western ears, "tea house" may have a faintly demure or effete ring. In the US, drinking tea often is associated with older society women, for example. In what seems another lifetime, I was once a journalist in a community that had a "tea house" that was the pinnacle of social respectability. Only women belonged to this society. (Needless to say, the membership was 99 percent Anglo-Saxon.) And, yes, the tea house did serve cucumber sandwiches.
The tea house where I stopped today was quite different. Tea houses like this are stops in the road for travelers. There much more similar to truck stops than they are to the Wenham Tea House, for example. There are, of course, tea houses also in towns and cities. These are in general only patronized by men.
I have heard women here complain about their men hanging out in the tea houses. And, yes, surely the men do waste a fair amount of time there, chatting, smoking cigarettes, playing backgammon. But I think it's probably preferable for the men to be wasting their time drinking tea, than to be wasting their time drinking beer and vodka, which is the custom in some other countries where I've lived.
(Above is a picture of the tea house where I stopped today. Note the fresh meat hanging outside. I think the guy is fanning flames to cook something. I'm also including a short YouTube clip I shot in one of the tea houses in Lenkoran, so you can a sense of the sounds. The guys to right of the frame are playing dominos. In back of me, the guy with the raspy voice looked to be about 100 years old. I didn't want to be obtrusive in filming him, however. I may get the dialog translated at some point.)