Amid Oil Fields, Through Misty Clouds, A Life in Azerbaijan Flourishes

Talking to the World Project

Finding Mehriban

A couple of months ago, at my monthly writers' lunch, a friend told me her son had recently spent time in Azerbijian and had made a number of friends there. Graciously, she offered to help me connect with one of them. Thank you, Sammi and Kevin, for putting me in touch with Mehriban, a counselor in Azerbaijan.

Please look out a window in your home and tell me what you see?

I am living in Baku. Behind its oil image of nodding donkeys, you can find another side of Baku, and another, and another. I think this is why I like it here. A city of contrasts. Always something new to discover.

What do you do in your free time?

I am learning a foreign language. One of my favorite languages is English. I joined to the IELTS courses because I want to realize my dream to do my master degree abroad.

If I were to come to your house for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Azerbaijani plov. Plov is cooked for guests to show respect and sympathy and also during special occasions like weddings, birthdays, and other important family events. The dish is a very important part of a traditional Azeri wedding. Dancers in national costume typically set the plov alight and present the flaming dish to the bride and the groom in a ceremony that is often accompanied by big fire sparklers. The flame refers to the couple’s future life and signifies success, friendship, and warm family feelings. The rice represents wealth.

It is often said that there are more than 40 types of plov in Azerbaijan. The reality is that there are probably way more as each family will have its own version of each recipe.

Traditional Azerbaijani plov typically consists of three components that are most of the time served on separate platters: rice, gara (fried meat, dried fruits, eggs, or fish), and aromatic herbs. In the region of Nakhchivan however, plov is also prepared with the local staple grain called yarma, a ground pearl wheat also known as Azerbaijani bulgur.

No meal is complete without copious amounts of fresh bread which really is a staple here. Mulberries (‘toot’) are one of my favorite fruits, but I also enjoy feijoa, local persimmon, and the sticky fresh figs during the all too short fig season. Mouthwatering watermelons from Sabirabad are sold by the lorry load throughout the city to satisfy everyone’s insatiable appetite. Lemons from Lenkoran, apples from Guba; Azerbaijan’s countryside is famous throughout the former Soviet Union for fruit growing.

What myth or stereotype about your country/culture would you like to set straight?

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijani people are rediscovering their language and culture with pride. The pace of change is rapid, and living amongst this awakening can take your breath away.

Baku hosts a fabulous week-long International Jazz Festival attracting well-known performers from around the world. Jazz is popular in this city and there are a couple of popular jazz venues in town, the Jazz Club, and the Jazz Centre.

At the majestic Azerbaijan State Opera and Ballet Theatre, you might get to see a performance of the first opera in the Middle East, Leyli and Majnun, written by Uzeyir Hajibeyov. Azerbaijani people love their poets and composers.

Theatre has been popular and well known in Azerbaijan since before medieval times. There are state theatres, municipal theatres, private theatres, the new Uns Theatre, and the popular Baku Puppet Theatre.

What brings you joy?

Freedom of our country after the Soviet Union. And work for kids and for the future of my nation.

What are your greatest fears?

Economic crisis and war with Armenia.

The demand to unify with Armenia, which began anew in 1988, began in a relatively peaceful manner; however, in the following months, as the Soviet Union’s disintegration neared, it gradually grew into an increasingly violent conflict between ethnic Armenians and ethnic Azerbaijanis, resulting in claims of ethnic cleansing by both sides.

What gives you hope?

I hope Azerbaijan will win the war. Because Karabakh is Azerbaijani land. And after the war, Azerbaijan will be one of the civil and democratic countries.

What is the most unusual thing about where you live?

The climate of Azerbaijan is unique, as nine of the Earth’s eleven climate zones are found in Azerbaijan. As a country located in both the Caucasus and Asia Minor, between the Black and Caspian Seas, Azerbaijan has a rich natural culture and the widest biodiversity of all the European states. There are 106 species of mammals, 97 species of fish, 363 species of birds, 10 species of amphibians and 52 species of reptiles which have been recorded and classified in Azerbaijan.

Temperature, precipitation, humidity, evaporation, and cloudiness all influence the landscape and climate of Azerbaijan.

What is your opinion of the United States? Chicago?

In my opinion, the USA is one of the wonderful democracy countries. My great wish is that I get a scholarship grant to study at New York Colombia University at clinic social work faculty.

What is your favorite time of year in your country?

I love all four seasons of the year because every season is beautiful on time.

Is there a story about your culture you’d like to share?

The Maiden Tower (Azerbaijani: Qız Qalası), also known locally as Giz Galasi, located in the Old City, Baku, in Azerbaijan, was built in the 12th century as part of the walled city. It is one of Azerbaijan’s most distinctive national emblems and is thus featured on Azeri currency notes and official letterheads.

The legend is that a maiden (said to be the daughter of the Khan of Baku) threw herself off its top to her death in the waves below. In some sources, she is said to be the sister, rather than the daughter, of the king who came to be incarcerated by her brother. To escape from the ignominy of incarceration, she jumped to her death from the top of the tower. Another explanation for the name is a testament to the fact that the tower has never been taken by force: a metaphorical reference to ‘virginity’.

What does your country do really well? What do you wish your country did better?

Azerbaijani oil is very famous in the world.

For me, it is very important to improve education, economic sustainability, and intelligence level of our youth and adults. I mention adults because I think it is never late to study and to improve yourself.

Is there a song or book that best captures the essence of your culture?

The greatest Azerbaijani music is Mugham music.

What do you want the world to know about your country?

The people of our country are very hospitable. And Karabakh is Azerbaijan land.

Originally published at http://www.chicagonow.com.