You Can Take the Girl Out of L.A…
But you can’t take the L.A. out of the girl.
When I first arrived in Sumgayit, and was getting to know the area, I would walk past this four-story building called the Diva Spa. This peaked my interest, but not enough to go in until several weeks ago, on one of my walks in the hood, I passed the Diva Spa, looked up to the third floor and through the window saw a woman walking on a treadmill. This excited me because exercise has been a bit of a challenge here in AZ. Most people don’t exercise, and if they do they don’t do it in public like we do in the States. You never see people walking or running for exercise and though I obey most cultural differences and absurdities, I could not obey this one and many times have put my iPod on for some vigorous exercise on the streets. This, of course, brings a great deal of attention to me. If I’m not being stared down by women walking in high heels and pencil skirts, or old ladies in babushkas, I’m being talked to by young boys who want to practice what English they’ve learned in school or heard in movies. For example, it is not uncommon for these boys to say, “Hulloi, how old are you? My name is Ramesh. I love you baby!” Or, men driving cars will pull over, reach over to open the passenger door with the expectation that I will get in the car. I kid you not. This happens at least one time every time I am out walking for exercise. It never happens when I’m just walking as a means of transportation though the stares don’t stop. Now I know this sounds scary and dangerous, but it’s not. It’s kind of amazing that it even happens. Maybe some women do get into the cars of these men, but not this woman. I just ignore them and keep walking.
At the end of one of my walks, I passed by the Diva Spa and decided that I would finally go in and check it out. When I walked in, I was greeted by the receptionist who after discovering that I spoke three words of Azeri called the manager to come down and meet me. Fidan, the manager, is a gorgeous 21 year old with a knock out figure. She is wearing tight shorts that end just above her knees (women here don’t wear shorts), and an off the shoulder shirt that fits her form perfectly. She has beautiful long hair, all of her teeth (having all of your teeth at 21 is a big thing in AZ), a beautiful smile, and she speaks English, not well, but well enough. She greets me and asks how she can help me and I tell her that I’m interested in learning about the Diva Spa. So, Fidan brings me upstairs for a tour. They have an aerobics room with some free weights, hoola hoops, exercise balls, another room with a stair master, elliptical machine, treadmill and the like. There is a hair salon, a place to get mani-pedis, massage, threading, steam room, and a Jacuzzi tub that looks like a space capsule, and on the top floor there is a really nice restaurant. The only thing that’s missing is clients. The place is almost empty. There were three women there using the gym, and no one is in the very plush and well decorated restaurant.
Again, this is a four-story building that is solely occupied by the Diva Spa. I can’t imagine how they are paying their rent, let alone making any money. After the tour, I asked Fidan about the prices. She explains that I may pay 30 manat (remember there is $0.80 to one manta), which will allow me to take an aerobics class, and use the machines for 30 minutes, and 40 manat for a yoga class. My jaw dropped to the floor when she told me this. Who would pay that amount of money to work out at the Diva Spa? Even if I was millionaire, I couldn’t see paying those prices. Fidan noticed that I was stunned. I explained that I practiced yoga in Los Angeles with some of the best teachers in the world and the most I would ever pay for a class is $20. As a Community Economic Advisor for the Peace Corps, I felt it was my duty to let Fidan know with great sensitivity that perhaps the reason there was no one in the spa was because their prices were RIDICULOUS and that maybe they should reconsider revising their pricing structure to accommodate BUSINESS!!! She said that she would consider it.
The next day, I told the story to my cluster mates. My friend Elaine went to the spa to see for herself. She met Fidan, who asked about me, gave Elaine the tour, and the two of them sat down to discuss pricing. Turns out that not only don’t I understand Azeri, but apparently I don’t understand English very well either because the prices Fidan gave me were for a membership for a month, which makes much more sense. Last week, Elaine and I made an appointment to have tea with Fidan. Elaine got her hair cut, and I got my eyebrows threaded, which hurt so bad it made me sweat, and a massage, which was possibly the worst massage I have ever received in my entire life. It was 30 minutes of this woman’s feather light touch and constant jabber in bad English. Luckily it only cost me 10 manat. Today I joined the spa and for the first time since I’ve been in Azerbaijan I got my heart rate up. It’s amazing the effect a little exercise can have on a person’s perspective. I love the Diva Spa. Too bad I didn’t join a month ago, but better late than never.
Tomorrow is a big day. We find out where our permanent sites will be. There is a lot of excitement and nervousness in the air. I am not feeling either. As long as I’m not stuck behind a desk all day and I’m not going to be in Sumgayit I’ll be fine. So, stay tuned for an exciting new blog post!