Now that I have your attention…I’d like to describe the Azerbaijani winter experience with just one word…PALÇIQ (pronounced palchig and means mud). It’s everywhere. Previous volunteers warned about the AZ winters saying how they are long, wet, cold, and terribly unfriendly, but before mid February the winter seemed rather mild to me. Yes, it’s true that since December there have been a couple of frosts, and a constant flow of misty drizzle falling from the sky, but I hardly equated that to the miseries of the treacherous winter that volunteers complained about until these last two weeks when Xaçmaz has turned into this snowy winter wonderland. Well, kind of.
The rooftops of Xaçmaz are laden with inches of fluffy white snow, icicles resembling daggers of stalactite hang from rooftop ridges and awnings, backyard gardens are blanketed with inches of white powder, & tufts of snowy white flakes fill crevices on the bare branches of trees. But the streets…oh the blasted streets. These are the places where winter becomes vile. It’s no wonderland when you step out onto the once hard packed dirt road that’s been turned into a river of slushy mud because of the open sewers that spill over onto it. Oh, and what to speak of the drivers that speed through these puddles splashing all the pedestrians in their midst with this gross potion of sludgy disgust? I know what to speak of them, AUM this Mother*!#@\! I think you get it.
In Los Angeles, I had to deal with road rage. Others’ and mine. I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that I was one of those drivers who did more than sneer at other drivers as they carelessly text messaged their buddies while driving at high speeds down the I-405. It’s no different here in Xaçmaz. When high speed cruisers drive their candy colored, Soviet era Ladas down the narrow streets completely inconsiderate of us bipeds, words that are most definitely inappropriate for a woman to use in Azerbaijan fly out of my mouth at speeds faster than some of these cars can drive.
Other unfortunate incidents, cultural misunderstandings, and my very strong urge to kick some serious Azerbaijani man ass:
From the story above it’s easy to see that I am not shy about saying what’s on my mind, and when someone steps into my personal space and invades my boundaries I’m even less shy. At the intersection of Zoo Park Rd and that street I don’t know the name of there is a constant flurry of pedestrian madness, taxicabs, and cars. There’s a gold-capped, mostly toothless old man whose curiosity about me was abnormal. I made the mistake of smiling at this man who must have taken that as a sign that it was OK to get right up into my face and start speaking to me. When I politely let him know that I did not understand much Azerbaijani he detected my American accent and from that day forward began to invade my personal space. One day, on my walk to work, I saw this toothless fool approaching me. There was a parked car between the two of us, and I decided to escape contact by walking around the left side of the car as he walked around the right. When I realized that tactic did not work because he was following me, I abruptly turned around, pointed my finger directly at his face and screamed, “NO! Don’t follow me!” The old guy jumped out of his skin and since that day has not said as much as boo to me.
But wait, there’s more. The other night I was walking home after teaching an English class. I made a left turn down the first dirt road to my house when I realized that a man was following me. I’m not normally a very paranoid person, but I don’t really like walking down a dark muddy road being followed by a man. It just makes me uncomfortable. So, I started to walk faster, and so did he. Then I crossed the road, and so did he. Then I crossed back over to the other side of the road, and so did he. Finally, I just stopped. The man said something to me in Azerbaijani and I just screamed at him using expletives telling him to get away from me, and walk on. Thankfully it worked because the guy turned in the opposite direction and walked away. The following day, I was telling my friends Fargani and Sabina about what happened, and I learned that being followed is a courting ritual between men and women. Yes, that’s right, the taboos about boys and girls and men and women talking are so pervasive that men have resorted to stalking women as a way to let them know that they are interested in them. And yes, it is perfectly OK for a man to follow a woman down a dark street at night, scare the bejeezus out of her, so that she knows he is interested in her. I have to admit, I’m at a bit of a loss on how to deal with this one. I just can’t seem to get over the creep factor around it. I don’t want to be that lady who walks down the street with a lead pipe in her hand, or a can of pepper spray, but seriously, I don’t think I will ever be comfortable with a man following me down a dark quiet street. I don’t think any woman should have to get used to something like that. And, well, if I have to resort to kicking some serious AZ man ass, lord knows I will.