First and foremost, I want to wish a very Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms of the world, especially my own, who’s birthday is today and the anticipation of her visit is on the tip of my tongue whenever anyone asks, “Ne var, ne yox?” (What’s new?) I’m excited to show her the place I’ve been living for almost two years and to introduce her to the country that I once couldn’t pronounce, but now will never forget.
The most pressing news is the recent earthquake that hit Azerbaijan yesterday. There were no casualties and only minor structural damage near the epicenter, however the effects were felt around the country as schools were cancelled from aftershocks rumbling, sending vibrations of fear throughout the Ministry of Education. Some schools were even cancelled today in anticipation for another earthquake, which never happened. For my friends who have had the experience of an impending Nor’easter, the result was very similar; children got to enjoy a school-sanctioned day of hookie, thanks to Mother Nature’s intimidation.
In other news, Steph and I visited the beautiful region of Ivanovka last weekend. Admittedly, we wanted to explore the famed vineyard and winery to sample some of their homegrown hooch but we happened upon a world that was as intimate as a cavity search at the airport, in a good way. We ventured to the neighboring region on a bumpy road in a crowded marshrutka, the suggested mode of transport for PCVs. Observing the rich and expansive landscape of Ismailli, we tried to ignore the oppressive heat of summer. When we arrived in Ivanovka, we were greated by a bubbly Russian Bakuvian, Tanya, who owns a Bed & Breakfast with her British transplant husband, John. The place was well maintained, there was a fully functional kitchen with hot water on demand. Also, there were lots of animals scurrying around so I had someone on my level to talk to. After getting settled, we decided we needed nourishment for the weekend, which might include some spirits, so a trip to the supermarket was in order. Naturally, we saw people meandering around the quaint village, however they weren’t dark-skinned, dark-haired Azeris. Everyone had blonde hair and blue eyes. Turns out, this village is mostly Russian. Instantly, our language skills became obsolete as we were transported to an enclave micro-region within Azerbaijan. We could wear shorts, buy alcohol, and act like tourists when only a short hop away from home.
The next day, we went to visit the main attraction of Ivanovka, the winery. After bumbling through an exchange for a taxi ride with police officers and interested pedestrians while stopping traffic on the main thoroughfare, finally we were on our way. Our driver informed us that we would be travelling through four villages to get to the isolated mirage that would be the factory. Upon cresting over a particularly menacing hill, we saw the factory in all its glory. The spacious vineyard of grapes that stretched for over 850 acres, the pristine hotel with tennis courts and crystal clear pool, and the wood-finished exterior of the anomaly that is the Ivanovka Winery. We were blown away that a place of this magnitude and beauty could exist in such a remote part of Azerbaijan. It was also astonishing to learn that in a mostly Muslim country, the government would initiate the idea to have a winery in order to attract tourists and exploit the resources of Ismailli’s land. Needless to say, we had an amazing tour and our Azerbaijani guide spoke phenomenal English, answering our questions with technical vocabulary and jargon that rivaled most native speakers. After we had been chatting for a couple hours in English about wine and culture, we switched over to Azerbaijani and shared our experiences of living abroad over incredible, award winning Cabernet Sauvignon. After buying another five bottles, we thought it appropriate to cut our losses and head home. I would recommend a trip to Ivanovka to anyone visiting this country, PCV or ExPat alike.
The general feel of the coming summer is an overload of work. I’ve been finishing the semester strong, working with my counterpart to plan knowledge competitions and alphabet holidays as the textbook comes to a close. My club in the city continues to impress me as one of my Writing Olympics winners received 1st place at the International Level, the only Azerbaijani to do so. Sports are in full swing as I juggle Softball practice for the kids, in preparation for an opening day tournament on May 20th, and village organized soccer tournaments as I started playing for the Garakhidir team. Also, as I mentioned before, I’m trying to get ready for Average Mama Thornton to come visit in two weeks, organizing guesting and planning a trip to Eurovision. And last but not least, I’m getting a puppy next week! It’s a girl and would be welcome to ideas for names. Until next time. Azer-bye-bye!