Adventures in Peace (Corps)

Xinaliq

There is no question about it, Azerbaijan is a stunningly beautiful country, and now that spring is in full swing with the temperatures just right, there is no better time to take it to the road and begin to explore the green nooks and rocky crannies of the Baijan.

Snow covered peaks

A couple of weeks ago, Josh (my stellar site mate), Emily (our mutual and wonderful friend) and I decided to free ourselves from our winter hibernation by making a day trip up to Xinaliq. I’d been hearing about this village tucked 7500 feet high up in the Caucus mountains for the last year and couldn’t wait for the weather to get warm enough to go up and have a look for myself. Needless to say, I was not disappointed at all. Every part of this trip was great from beginning to end.

The sign says it all

Emily (left), Glendene (center) Josh (right). Josh took this picture.

Apparently, just six short years ago, getting up to Xinaliq was not easy because the road was unpaved, which meant that to get up there you had to have some sort of a land cruiser, be willing to hike it, or travel by donkey. This would not necessarily be a bad way to travel, as the road up to the village is gorgeous. On one side of the road, steep rocky mountains ascend, while on the other side cliffs descend into deep river canyons. Occasionally, we passed a small village set idyllically into a valley. We had the luxury and safety of traveling in a comfortable six-passenger van. I say safety because I’ve heard horror stories of people riding up in cars that were not meant to be traveling roads as steep as these. Our driver stopped at one point to show us a memorial on the side of the road dedicated to five people who had gone off the side of the cliff. We all got out from the van to have a look at the pieces of colorful fabric blowing in the wind. Two years later and the car was slowly rotting away in the riverbed.

Idyllic Village

Memorial on the side of the road

Xinaliq sits atop a mountain peak that has a 360° view of the surrounding mountains and valleys below. Most of the houses are made from stone as the village is above the tree line and wood is a scarce resource. Cow dung mixed with straw is the main source of fuel for heating and cooking. These fuel bricks are made by hand and stacked in the sun to dry. There is no running water that flows by pipes into people’s homes, but there are several mountain springs in the village and water can be easily fetched and brought back home. Power lines obstruct the pristine view as does aluminum siding and roofing, but I’m sure the villagers don’t object to these improvements in their living standards.

Houses made from stone

Dung bricks

Life is simple up in this mountain village. Day-to-day there is a lot of work to be done as there are few conveniences such as restaurants or tea houses. There is one store that serves the entire village and it is very small. Women work tending their homes, which includes doing laundry by hand with water that you have to get from the spring. Farming, shepherding, and home repair also keep the villagers busy. Children run about playing with dogs and following tourists laughing all the while. There is one school that serves the entire village and it was made known to us that it has wifi. The people of Xinaliq speak Ketch, a language that is only spoken in this remote village.

Village kids

It was an honor to be able to get a glimpse of the simplicity of these peoples’ lives.  Being in Xinaliq made me think of how much more complicated my life is with all of the gadgets I use and am dependent, and how much easy access I have to what I need or want. It’s not to say that one way is better than the other, or that I want to live in a village as remote as this one, but it is certainly different and interesting to observe. Westerners often idealize this kind of life. We want to protect places such as these from development, and while I see the importance of wanting to preserve culture, I can empathize with the hardships of these peoples’ lives. A little aluminum siding may be a blight to the tourists’ eyes, but it sure beats having to re-surface your mud roof after every winter. Hard physical work is only one aspect of village life. To a foreigner that wants to get a way from it all we may think, “It’s so quiet and peaceful up here,” but to a local, what they may feel is boredom, isolation, and a lack of opportunity– particularly if you’re a woman. Not to mention the lack of diversity in the nuptial arena.

After walking around the village, we arranged to have lunch with one of the host families that works with CBT. The home was simple, but comfortable and in Azerbaijani style, we were served enough food to feed an army. After tea was served we hit the road back down the mountain. Conversation was light as the three of us were tired from the day’s excursion. Our driver turned on some music to accompany our daydreams as we soaked up the beauty on our way back into the big city.

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14 responses

  1. Good afternoon, Glendene! You truly have the most detailed and interesting blog out there! Have you thought about writing a story or two for Worldview MagazIne from the NPCA-National Peace Corps Association? The photos are wonderful! I am so happy that your experience is going fabulously! I have some news, too. I will be going into PC Response straight to the Kingdom of Tonga in July after my three years here in Romania are finished. What an adventure, right? Peace to you and hope that your day is sunny!

    Natalie

    May 10, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    • Thanks for your constant encouragement Natalie. I admire your dedication to the PC. It’s great that you are receiving so much from it. PC is lucky to have a volunteer like you I’m sure. Can’t wait to read about your experience in the Kingdom of Tonga. Take care.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:20 am

  2. Azerbaijan looks fascinating, I really must try and go, I’m also interested in the peace corps, or whatever the Canadian equivalent is, thanks for the insight.

    May 11, 2012 at 12:29 am

    • It is a fascinating place indeed. I learn something about myself and this country everyday. Thanks for coming by to visit.

      BTW, one of my friends who is serving with me is from Canada. He has dual citizenship, but he may know of something in Canada. If you’re interested, let me know and I will make a connection.

      May 11, 2012 at 12:45 am

  3. that would be great, thanks

    May 11, 2012 at 12:55 am

  4. Love your travel-log. Comments and photos are so interesting.

    May 11, 2012 at 10:54 am

    • Hi Mitch. Thanks for the support and stopping by to check out the ‘ol blog. I hope you will come by often.

      May 11, 2012 at 10:57 am

    • OH wait, I just realized that this is Mitch my brother and that I don’t have to be so darn formal. Thanks bro. It was a great trip. I’m going down south next week to explore the nether regions of the Baijan. Hoepfully I’ll come back with many tales to tell.

      May 11, 2012 at 10:59 am

  5. Ralph

    Appreciate the vicarious jaunt to a lil’ back corner of the world. Great photos!
    Looks like you’ve got a couple of great pals there.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Ralph

    May 22, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    • Hi Ralph. Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I love Em and Josh. They are great pals. Josh and I just did a nice little jaunt of the southlands. I will post soon about it. Hope you are doing well. 6 months until I come home. I’m counting the days!

      May 23, 2012 at 2:23 am

  6. Hello, Glendene. Your comment about Westerners wanting to “protect places such as these from development” struck home. You know where I live – the Athabascan culture is disappearing in the face of Western assimilation and conveniences, too. I sincerely want to see their culture preserved, but they must decide for themselves how that will be done. It is their right, not mine, to impose limits on the use of modern conveniences, etc. Anyway, that is how I feel about it. I am glad you got to visit Xinaliq!

    May 28, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    • Hi Dave,

      How did the move go? I hope you are settling in well.

      Yes, I agree. If rural cultures want to change who am I do deny them of it? I know what it’s like to have running running water, electricity, gas, etc. and I like it. Change is difficult, but it’s a part of life.

      Thanks for stopping by for a visit. Talk soon.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:26 am

  7. You know, Glendene, I have to come by once and awhile just to laugh at that great photograph of you and your friends. 🙂

    June 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm

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