Monday, August 30, 2010


Wow, what a beautiful day, although I’m not outside at the moment to enjoy it. The end of August is a really nice time here, as the weather cools down a lot, but it’s still sunny and green. I must admit, though, that I’m looking forward to fall, my favorite season, which is also very nice here.

One thing that makes this time of year so interesting in Qumlaq is that people are starting to harvest hazelnuts. You know, those little white things they use to make Nutella. There’re many ways to use hazelnuts, and here is where many of them’re harvested. In my own yard, even, there are several nut trees from which my landlord and his family have been shaking the green, husked money-makers to the ground, where everyone, including the three and four year-old grandchildren, pitches in, putting them in little buckets (I must say the sight of those little, wobbly kids picking up the nuts and putting them away is painfully cute.). As I type this entry, in fact, there’s a small mound of hazelnuts sitting in the room next to mine, and, eventually, they’ll be run through a machine to get the husks off, then sold. There’re all kinds of nut buying and selling in the village during this season. Many people take them to the store and exchange kilos of them for everyday products. I’m not sure how fair of a price they’re getting, though.

And that’s pretty much the story here in Qumlaq as of today. People are, generally, healthy and happy, and I can’t complain, either, especially with what happened a few weeks ago.

Did I tell you all that, during A.B.L.E. Camp, the other volunteers and I cut our hair into mohawks? You know, just as a fun, campy thing, we did that, and I must say my hair cuts into a pretty solid mohawk. We went about the week with these funny hairstyles and had a great time, but I noted something interesting. Okay, for one thing, I was concerned at how folks around Azerbaijan (You know, the normal, local folks.) would take to these haircuts. You certainly don’t see an Azerbaijani sporting a racing stripe of hair down the head very often, and, hell, we get stared at enough already. Well, one day, I went into town with some other volunteers to use the Internet and help get supplies. The mohawk slipped my mind, but as we were driving back up the hill to where camp was, I thought for a second and decided, “You know, they didn’t pay any more attention to me than they always do.” And it was the truth. It was just like any other day in the ‘baijan, asking people for directions here and there, maybe getting a stare or two, but nothing out of the ordinary. So what’s up with that?

And it continued. Camp eventually ended, and Charlie and I brought our students back to Oğuz. Once the kids went their separate ways, we split off and had lunch together at a kabob place by the river. We sat there, had lunch, chilled out, and a guy even stopped and chatted with us for a moment, but there was no discussion about our hair, which they had to have noticed. I mean, especially Charlie’s hair, which sticks up enough even without a mohawk. We just looked at each other, dumbfounded, and asked, “What’s going on here?”

Well, we’re foreign, we decided, which, of course, is no news to us. Shoot, on a day-to-day basis, we can’t help but be noticed, in some way or another, as outsiders, and, eventually, we realized having crappy looking mohawks didn’t make much of a difference. We’re already weird enough. Of what significance is a haircut? Not much. So what does this mean? I mean, what’s the bigger picture here? Is there a lesson to be learned?

Hell yes. It means we can do whatever we want, which is liberating. I never realized pulling the foreigner card could free you up so much. I think I’m gonna start wearing an American flag Speedo with large boots down the village road from now on, and if someone questions it, I can just say, “Hey, I’m not your nationality. We have different traditions,” which should derive a long head nod of recognition and understanding from the other party.

This is going to be great.

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