13 October 2013

Election Day

On October 9th, 2013, Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, was re-elected for a third five-year term, made possible by a 2009 constitutional amendment that repealed the restriction on one person remaining in office for more than two consecutive terms and truly overwhelming public support: Official results from the Central Election Commission show the New Azerbaijan Party incumbent winning with more than 84% of the vote, only slightly down from 87.3% in the 2008 election.  For those of you who are jaded by current politics exemplified by the shutdown, stop and consider that for a moment - that sounds like the DISapproval rating for the U.S. Congress right now.  Has any American president even come close to winning the popular vote by such awe-inspiring margins?  I think the highest was LBJ, who got around 60%.  (Not that popular vote matters in American presidential elections.)

As Peace Corps Volunteers, we avoid getting involved in or commenting on local politics, and, as foreigners, we don't really have a dog in this fight anyway.  So although I can't really say anything about the election one way or another, I can say that in my personal experience no one has asked me for my views of the election, the President or the main challenger, Jamil Hasanli, from the National Council of Democratic Forces.  No one has remarked that they thought anything unexpected would happen.

Indeed, in terms of day-to-day life, the days after the election appear little different from the days before.  One local said he hadn't voted in the prior elections and wouldn't vote in this one either.  On the night of the election, my host family watched the usual sitcoms and Turkish cop dramas, with nary a political news story or live election coverage program to be heard.  If you're interested in more detailed coverage of the election locally and internationally, the information is there for the Googling.

As usual, whatever happens or doesn't happen at the top of the power structure, life goes on.

05 October 2012

Baku in Pictures

It's been one thing after another lately, so I have not had time to post (obviously), but I wanted to share these before I head out the door:

Leave the gun; take the microphone.

 One of the two fanciest elevator panels I've seen here.  Note the brand, which (for Brits, at least) makes this:

Schindler's Lift

#HaHa #LetTheGroaningCommence
The only kind of tacos worth buying really.

Golly gee, Julie sure does look familiar...
formerly known as the Dervish Mausoleum

Best enjoyed by substituting the "-" with a "wait for it."

Providing prams, pushchairs, and pregnancy advice since 1961: Old City Club Pub Bar.

*Apologies for the poor picture quality; most were taken on my mobile.

30 August 2012

Eurovision! (Azerbaijani National Competition)

As you may -or, if you're American, may not- be aware, Azerbaijan won the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest, which entitled it to host the 2012 competition.

Here are some pictures from the national competition to represent Azerbaijan in the international contest:

05 July 2012

Cultural Day: Cooking Qutab and Düşbərə

During Pre-Service Training in October 2011, our Language and Cultural Facilitator ("LCF") combined language and cultural education by teaching us how to make qutab (a flatbread that can be filled with meat or vegetables) and düşbərə (a dumpling soup).  And by "taught" I mean that she made everything herself and barely let us help because: (a) we would have done it wrong; and (b) we would still be waiting to eat.

Qutab can often be bought fresh from street stands.  In Baku, they go for about 30 qəpik each (which is just under 40 cents), but I have to get three to six of them to make a meal of it.

Actually, I exaggerated slightly before: The reason there are no pictures of making the dumplings is because I was helping with that part (at about half the speed of our LCF, of course).

Düşbərə dumplings are quite small (about an inch or less in diameter) and served in a light, water-based broth with a vinegar and garlic sauce, which I've heard can either be poured into the broth or kept in a small dish on the side to be added to taste.

Interestingly, the traditional Azerbaijani cooking I've seen rarely uses garlic and vinegar, even less.  Meanwhile, this bears some strong similarities to the way Chinese dumplings are eaten. Garlic? Check. Vinegar? Check. This differences are that Chinese dumplings are generally larger, and you also add soy sauce. If anyone knows whether this influence traveled from East Asia to Central Asia along the Silk Road, I'd be interested to hear about it.

03 July 2012

Cultural Day: Gobustan & Mud Volcanoes

During Pre-Service Training last October, one of our cultural field-trips was to Gobustan National Park (Qobustan Milli Parkı) and a group of nearby mud volcanoes (palçıg vulkanı).  As the one of the last pictures attests, it was incredibly muddy.

I went back in April, and it was substantially drier, though no less entertaining.  With better footing, I was able to submerge my hand in a mud volcano with minimal risk of falling in, and it might have been a placebo effect, but I swear that the skin on that hand felt smoother after.

Next time, mud mask.

27 June 2012

Pictures of Baku

I took almost all of these pictures during Eurovision because it drew a lot less attention with all the other tourists around.

For example, it's normally not permitted ("olmaz") to take pictures of government buildings, but during Eurovision, there were so many foreigners here taking pictures that it wasn't really enforced.   At first, I excitedly snapped away, expecting a minor rush from breaking this taboo, but then I realized that most of the government buildings weren't very interesting-looking in the first place.

31 May 2012

Organizational Capacity Building, or: "What would you say, you 'do' here?"

Before I left America, it was a challenge to describe what I would be doing for two years in Azerbaijan as a Community Economic Development Advisor Volunteer because the work varies from site to site, from organization to organization.  Even now, after approximately eight months in-country, it remains a challenge because of the diversity of assignments and organizations with which I partner, but here is one example: