The day after I posted about the bread rituals, I was walking down the street and I saw a piece of bread up on a wall (see below). Then when I came home, Minaya had put a bunch of old bread in a plastic bag. I found out tonight that they use it to feed the birds. See, not a morsel goes to waste. I found out why bread is so sacred. It turns out not to be a religious thing after all. During the Soviet area between 1945 and 1965, food rationing was common. Many families went without meat, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. However, no matter how poor a family was they never went without bread, and for this reason bread became sacred. Because this is a religious country, Islam being the religion most people follow, they thank Allah for all the food they have, but because they always had bread it became the most sacred. Rituals like not letting bread touch the ground, and putting it on the highest shelf in the house are ways to show appreciation to Allah for it, as is putting a fallen piece of bread to your lips and forehead three times because this is what they do before opening the Koran, their holy book.
So, some of you have been asking about my bathroom facilities. I’m happy to announce that at home I do not have to squat. I think the family I live with is considered middle class, which is why I have a porcelain commode to sit on while taking care of business. Toilet paper, on the other hand, though available, is not widely used, and since I’ve made a commitment to live as the people in this country live, well, as the saying goes, when in Azerbaijan…
I am also lucky to be living with a family that has hot water, though I have not figured out exactly how it works, so I’m lucky and stupid, which means that only one of my showers has been hot. Until two days ago the weather had been sweltering and humid, so hot showers had not been a concern. Anyhow, the toilet is in a separate room from the shower and sink. The shower is a faucet that comes out of the wall with a shower-head up top, similar to how our showers are, but there is no tub or shower stall. There is only a room with a shower and a sink so the floor gets completely wet. This style of washroom is not unfamiliar to me as this is the way it is in most Asian countries as well. I actually kind of like it. It’s a big wet room, and easy to clean after you shower. It’s also easy to do my laundry. Yes folks, I am washing my own clothes by hand and hanging them out to dry. It’s not so bad if you don’t wait until you have a hamper full of clothes to wash at once. Some people have washing machines, but it’s not common, and there is no dry cleaning. Out the windows of apartments, wet clothes hang across lines and blow dry in the wind. I wish I had a picture for every country I’ve been to that does their laundry this way. I could publish a book. Telephone-like poles stand erect across from every apartment and ropes on pully wheels allow one to hang clothes across the wire. It’s technology in its simplest form.
I decided that I was going to try my hardest to live on the wages that the PC pays me and not dip into my savings while on this little adventure. So far I’ve been making $22 a week. Can you believe that? Apparently, living on $20 a week can be done in AZ. I laughed the other day at our HUB meeting when PC gave me my envelope FULL of money. 93.5 manat was for the family I live with for two weeks of room and board, and 44 manat was for me. So, I have 22 manat per week to spend on whatever I want. This includes any personal travel, internet cafes, dining out with friends, and any entertainment. I’m fortunate enough to live within walking distance from all the places I need to go daily, so I don’t have to pay for transportation, and internet cafes are 60 gapik per hour (there are 100 gapik to a manat). When I gave the rent money to Hasan he asked me why I was paying him so much? I didn’t know what to say.
I really do want to try and live within this budget and so far I have been. Right now I am poaching internet access from the school we study language at, but they turn it off at 3pm and that’s it for the day.
I’m missing you all today. Although I’m thoroughly enjoying my experience here I do miss having conversations with people I know well. Sending all of my love to you. Denie