13 March 2010
I’m not sure what I was expecting before I came to Azerbaijan. Well, I mean, considering the fact that I didn’t know much of anything about Azerbaijan before arriving, I guess I was setting myself up for anything, and part of that "anything" would be the set catalogue of questions many people, especially dudes, like to ask the foreigner.
Let me elaborate on one. Can you guess what it is? Wow, you’re good. Yes, it’s true. I come from America, the land of chocolate telephone poles and golden mailboxes. Opportunities out the gonads. I mean, geez, upon getting off the boat on American soil, you got guys swarming you, begging you to take their high-paying, perk-filled jobs. No wonder people wanna be taken to the Land of the Free, and what better escort than the Peace Corps volunteer who makes two hundred fifty bucks a month.
Alright, now that that stream of sarcasm is over, let me just say that this question, "Will you take to me to America?" would be fine if we were asked it, you know, like once a month, but that’s not the case. Heck, my landlord asks me it all the time, and even after repeated "no’s", he keeps asking. I’m not sure why.
First off, I’d like to know why you want to go to America. What would you do there? What would you see? Whom would you meet? How’s your English these days? Who's gonna look after you (An Azerbaijani friend of mine and Charlie's recently sent his wife to Canada to care for hit son who's studying there.)? It doesn’t look like you’re starving here, so what’s the big hurry?
Then I’ve gotten another response to my own questions regarding their desire to go to America: "I’ll ‘receive’ a wife there."
Um, yeah, that’s probably not going to happen. I can see you now, making friends and looking in your Azerbaijani/English dictionary and saying "I’d like to receive a wife." Wonder how that’d go over. It might make you the life of the party, with all the lovely ladies lining up like you’re at the "woman bazaar", but, then again, maybe not.
My next question is this: How are you going to get there? This is where my role in getting them to the U.S.A. comes in. In order to immigrate to another country, you gotta go to the embassy yourself and apply for a visa. If you qualify and receive one, you can buy your plane ticket and go. So where exactly do I come in in getting you to the United States? What, do you think I have visas in my back pocket? They don’t give us "extras".
"You know, you can just tell them I’m your guest."
"No, I can’t do that."
"Because that’s not how it works."
"Because it’s the law."
"No, come on. Just tell them I’m your guest and take me to America."
"Why are you angry?"
Ha ha. Yes, that was just a random example of how the conversation might go, and I’m not Azerbaijani, so what kind of perspective do I have? I can say, though, that I live here, and I’m pleased by the curiosity people around here have about foreign lands. There’s a good chance you might be talking to a gentleman from Oğuz who’s never left the rayon, or another guy who remembers his military service in Siberia of wherever during the Soviet era and wants to wonder around the globe again. It does someone good to go somewhere else, wherever it may be, and I and many other volunteers can say that some of the best folks in this country are the ones that did the F.L.E.X. program, where you study for a year at a U.S. high school. They come home with all kinds of wisdom and optimism, and they’re a big help.
So, despite my seemingly cathartic portrayal of the lovely conversations I have with the local crowd, I still have to accept that where I am just ain’t America. One’s desire to "be taken to the U.S." may just be an expression of curiosity for a place he’s only seen on T.V. When you look at it that way, it seems pretty normal.
Some things you just have to accept as part of being here, as something you can’t fight or resist. You’re in a different place, and you’re a foreigner. If you try to contort it to fit your needs, you’ll lose.