Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Burial

14 May 2009

In my last entry, I talked about things that bind cultures together. Well, there’s another one, and it’s obvious: death. Not the friendliest word, huh? I guess it depends on how you look at it. Whether it comforts or shakes you, it happens. Nobody can avoid it, no matter where he’s from.

What may separate us is how we handle it. I mean, all people have they’re own way of coping with such a profound part of life. Growing up, I experienced it when loved ones passed: the visitation the night before, the service at the church, and the burial. It’s all powerful and wonderful.

A Russian teacher at the school’s mother recently died, and Firuz, my host dad, encouraged me to go to the burial. Death’s an interesting thing around here. You just happen to hear about it from one person or another. There’s no big announcement, which might be a good thing. A man actually committed suicide recently, and I just heard about it from some folks here and there.

Anyway, at about three today, I waited at the center of town for a car to take me and whoever else to the cemetery. We got there, and it was me and a random assortment of men, wandering around, checking out the gravestones with the deceased’s pictures etched into them (interesting, huh?). One little boy, whom I have for English club, was crying with his face pressed against the leg of an older man. I felt kind of weird just standing around with these dudes, wondering what was going to happen.

Before I knew it, a large group of men walked into the cemetery. I approached them and joined the procession. They were hoisting the body, and they eventually made it to the hole where the body would be placed. It was carried on a big wooden plank, with blankets wrapped around it. There was no coffin. It was eventually placed into the hole, and a wooden board was put on top to seal it in. After the body was placed, several men took turns shoveling dirt into the hole until it was filled.

Once that was finished and the prayers were said, we processed out. I asked Firuz why no women came, and he told me they would come a few days later. That’s the tradition. We then went to the deceased’s house and had tea and chatted a little. It was a nice way to unwind a bit after being at the gravesite.

It’s interesting experiencing death in another culture. Like I said, it happens everywhere, and I honor how it’s done here. I’m sure it’s hard for those involved, but they also accept it. In a world where health care can vary, you sometimes must step aside and let the person die. I never heard any news coming up to it. All I heard was that Mrs. Taxıra’s mother died. I might be wrong, but I can picture her loved ones, sadly, but earnestly, nodding their heads in the living room, saying, “Yep, it was her time,” and that makes sense. Like Dad says, we aren’t immortal.

Drinkin' Tea with Grandpa

14 May 2009

There’re certain things that bind cultures together. What comes to mind? Laughter? Hospitality? Family? Love? You can see these everywhere you go, but there’s one that might not come up so quickly, and it’s essential. It’s the backbone of any society. It’s grandpas. You know who I’m talking about: the men sitting at the corner booth of the Huddle House, sipping coffee with the sun shining through; the fellows hunkered down on the front porch, watching kids go by and chatting about how it’s "just not the same" nowadays; the gentlemen standing on either side of the front door at your church, greeting you with a smile as you walk in. Yeah, you get the idea.

Guess what. Azerbaijan’s got ‘em, too, and I’m pleased. Now, I didn’t know what to think as I passed these gentlemen every day on my way to school. They frequently sit together at the bus stop, not necessarily because they’re going somewhere, but because it’s a good sitting spot. They’d always greet me kindly, but I’d keep on my way to class.

One day, I took a load off at one of the two çayxanas in the center of the village. The Qumlaq çayxanas are pretty rustic, on a side note. Ain’t nothing in ‘em but a few tables and a set of dominoes. That’s all you need, though, it seems. Anyway, I sat there, and a pot o’ tea was delivered to my table, where I sat and had a glass by myself. Seeing as it’s not so much fun to drink a whole pot by yourself, I decided to try my luck at socializing and brought my glass and pot to a table of grandpas. I was pleased as they welcomed me kindly to the group, and we happily sat there and shot the breeze together. We talked about our homelands, and they gave me expert advice, like how drinking plenty of tea will keep me from getting ill (Heck, maybe they’re right. I haven’t suffered much sickness since being here.). It was a nice exchange, and I’ve been back since, with good reason.

I like these guys. They have a good attitude. They aren’t macho or grouchy. In fact, they joke around like kids more than anything, always trying to "get each other’s goat". I don’t know if they like me so much, but they seem to appreciate how I’m a change in their routine. Heck, whatever it takes.

Here’s some advice, hang out with a grandpa or two. Learn from him. Joke with him. You’ll be glad you did. Sit down with the fellows at the Huddle House. If they sneer at ya, no harm done. If they welcome you, you made a few new friends, and like I said in the "Çayxana" entry, you’ll also appreciate the value of friendly company. Outstanding.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bizim Pay

17 April 2009

When you receive a little something in the mail, what’s your first reaction? It may be to tear it open at the post office, where you friends can see and congratulate you on your new treasure. It also may be to take it back to your room and open it in privacy. This is what I usually do when I receive a package, letter, or whatever. I wait until nighttime, when I’m done with my work and it’s quiet. There’s something very gratifying about waiting until that moment. I honestly hadn’t realized the value of a good letter until I came here.

I like the attitude folks have about this sort of thing around here, especially when it comes to packages. I recall a time in which a package had arrived from my aunt Nita. One teacher told me a package came, then another, then another (I guess news travels fast.). Then I went home, and my host dad also told me about the package. "Okay, okay, I got it," I thought.

The next day, a teacher wanted to know what was in the package. It’s not like there was anything too personal in it. It was just that…well…I wasn’t too comfortable giving out that kind of information. Sevil Müəllimi, my Azerbaijani language tutor, told me that’s just how things work around here. Someone receives something, and everyone wants to know about it. People want their share, or "pay" (pronounced like "pie") in Azerbaijani. "Bizim pay" means "our share", and that really is how things roll around here. One thing belongs to everyone. When I first met my host family here in Oğuz, I gave them some chewy pecan pralines, a signature Texas treat. Well, my host mother didn’t keep them to herself and the family. She gave them to her friends around the village. I shared some Snickers bars with my host family, and Aybəniz saved half of hers to give to Aygьn, her dear friend. A similar thing happened when I shared some Starburst Jellybeans with Hцkьmə and Rustəm. Hцkьmə took a couple for herself, then some for a friend. When I brought a bag of Robin’s Eggs malted milk balls to school, a teacher made sure everyone in the teacher’s room had one. Just one is enough for everyone’s share (While I have no problem eating them by the handful. That probably won’t change.).

Despite the ups and downs that can come with being in a new culture, there’s something utterly beautiful about this. I can yell at the students in class or hide from the unwanted attention, but there’s something to be said about a thirteen year old girl saving a few jellybeans given by the American for her good friend.