Sunday, April 18, 2010

Passing the time; An Update from the Other Half.

So, I (Alicia) have not written in quite some time. I apologize; I guess you could say there’s been a lack of motivation (and let’s be honest, D does a much better job than I). We’ve “settled” in to our new place and have been more than blessed by our landlords with the things we’ve needed. For instance, it’s still fairly cold here and we had no heat source in our first-floor apartment. We waited a few days and finally decided we were cold enough to go out and buy a space heater. We decided we would the next day. But before we could, our landlord dropped one off. I’m starting to wonder if he’s got this place wired. No, but really, they’ve been very good to us.

I’ve been making five-course meals on a hot plate. Okay, so maybe it’s more like beans, pasta, things of that nature, but I’m really REALLY grateful to have my own kitchen. We don’t have any kind of oven, so I can’t bake, but I’m happy to at least have a little opportunity. As most of you know, cooking is a huge stress reliever for me and I think the past few months have been especially hard because I haven’t been able. I also love to cook for Derek and I think it’s safe to say he’s glad I’m back at it. He actually said our first night in our place, “Baby, you’ve still got it.” I really was worried I’d lost it. To those of you that sent mac-n-cheese, I’m still a bit embarrassed. Thank you!

I know D already said, but Israel was phenomenal. I am so grateful that we were able to go. I literally spent thirty minutes at the airport trying to convince Derek that the Peace Corps wouldn’t miss us and we could just stay. I might have cried when we landed in AZ. Not ten minutes off of the plane, a lady stepped in front of me in the customs line (only one, surprisingly). She smiled at me self-approvingly and said “Babushka” (grandmother in Russian). Welcome back to Azerbaijan.

Before I answer a few of our good friend Tim’s questions, I wanted to talk a bit about the friendships we’ve made with our fellow PCV’s here. To be honest, this wasn’t something I thought much about before we left, but the people we are serving with here have proved to be a vital part of our lives. There are some amazing folks here. Some are fresh out of college, others have grandbabies that are being born back home without them. I have learned so much from them and they have been so encouraging. I am humbled by the kind words they say to Derek and I about being a married couple. I am proud of the work they do and their hopes for Azerbaijan. We can cry together, sing karaoke together, and share our different views together. I wish you could meet them.

On to some of Tim’s questions: Topic #3

What is dating/courtship like? What do people do for fun? What do people do for fun at night? At what age do people "settle down"? At what age do people not go out and party at night any more/become fuddy duddies?

Dating/courtship…great question and a bit hard to answer. Marriages are usually arranged in Azerbaijan. When you ask many people how they met their husband/wife, they are likely going to tell you that 1) they are relatives (ex. Their mothers are sisters and arranged the marriage. Marrying a first cousin is legal and normal), 2) Their family found their spouse for them. Because things are arranged, there is no “dating or courtship” going on. If you ask people if dating goes on here, they will tell you yes, but only in Baku. Especially in our conservative region, it is shameful for a girl to spend time with a boy alone. Women are also not “allowed” to go to restaurants and tea houses here, so there is very little to do on a date. People do meet on the internet, though, and talk on the phone. In some instances, girls that are very assertive decide to stay single and pursue a career (very rarely). I would say that the dating culture here is part of what is developing. More and more people are choosing spouses for themselves.

Once a couple is engaged, they might spend time together at family functions, but never alone. Marrying for love, as most of us do in America, is kind of a different concept here. Some do, but most often they do not know their spouse before they are married.

What do people do for fun and at night? I would love to know, ha! Men can often be seen at “çay xanas” (tea houses) both during the day and at night. In Sabirabad, there is little work right now, so men are often out during the day with their friends. Once, while one of my students was walking home with me, I asked him why there were no women at the çay xana (though I knew the answer). He said, “They don’t go.” I said, “Don’t women like to drink tea?” To which he responded, “Yes of course, but at home.” Men also get together at home or çay xanas to play dominos or checkers. There are no bars in Sabirabad. The only place I’ve really ever seen them is in Baku.

For women, all of this is a different story. As I said before, women do not go to çay xanas or restaurants because it is shameful. I have even had a lot of trouble finding women that will meet with me at the youth center (by trouble, I mean no one will come). Women are, for the most part, very busy. For instance, the teachers I work with will teach until 1:00 p.m. or later, then go home and do laundry, make meals, clean the house, and other household responsibilities. They have no “social” time available to them. This does not mean they would not like to, though.

In the summer, many people go to the river to have picnics. Men and boys might swim. They will grill kebab and lay on blankets when the weather is nice.

“Toys” or weddings are a big social extravaganza. There is delicious food, dancing, and large tables with many guests. We have been to two so far and, though some things were similar, they were very different. At the most recent toy we went to, women sat on one side of the room and men on the other. Men and women also did not dance together. While men were on the dance floor, women were sitting down or having their picture taken with the bride and groom. Toys are a good opportunity for people to dress in their best clothes and spend time together. Most girls here love hair and makeup.

At what age do people “settle down”? There are a few ways to answer this question. First, I will return to the marriage talk. It is very common for women to marry as young as eighteen. If they do not study after High School, they marry. In some regions, it is rumored that girls marry as young as thirteen. For men, on the other hand, it is common for them to marry later. Many men are in their late twenties before they take a spouse.

After marrying, it is most common for the bride and groom to move in with his family. The bride will assume many of the household responsibilities alongside her mother-in-law. Children are also very prized here, so many times young couples start having a family right away. I am asked all of the time why I don’t have any children because I have been married for almost four years. They are also very intrigued with methods of birth control J. I have had some pretty interesting conversations in my limited Azeri. Ask me some time in person. I’ve got stories.

Over all, marriage is very, very common and at a young age. To remain single is somewhat odd and many parents discourage it. Just because you marry, though, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re “settling down”, specifically for the man. I can elaborate on this in person as well.

At what age do people not go out and party at night any more/become fuddy duddies? Well, as I’ve already said, not much “partying” goes on here. It is very common, though, for men to stay out as late as they please. I have not really seen an age limit to that, yet.

One interesting topic about girls here is how they transition from trying to be “trendy” to wearing “xanam” or lady attire. Everywhere in Azerbaijan you will find women wearing “xanam” clothes or house clothes. We’re talking polyester jump suits or long moo-moos. Girls as young as High School age can be seen dressed this way. My friend Shira, a volunteer here, definitely just bought her “summer” xanam wear. It doesn’t get much more settled down than that.

An example of the difference between people here, though, is our previous host family. Our host father is a homebody. He enjoys watching T.V. and working in the garden. Our host mom, however, loves going to the neighbor’s or out to the country where most of her family lives. Whenever she gets a chance, she will leave to see her sisters. Spending time with family is the biggest social scene among women I’ve witnessed here and I must say, it’s refreshing. I miss my sisters even more by watching my host mom interact with her own.

I hope I’ve at least begun to answer these questions for you. Please know that there is much more I could say, but I must remain politically correct (at least I tried to). As you can see, being a woman here is very different than being a woman back home. You might consider my friends here next time you’re having lunch with a friend or meeting up for drinks after work. Also, I must say that I am so grateful for Derek and the help he is in our home. Thanks Mama Debby, Deidra, and Dacia for grooming him for me!

Keep the questions comin’ and God bless! - Alicia


  1. Great post and I disagree - your posts are just as informative as Derek's!

  2. I second that. Very informative, and I've been waiting for you to jump in on the female perspective. Thanks for helping with that. I miss you guys.