I actually just got a text message from Nərgiz, a university student who comes to conversation clubs at my school while she’s at home. She’s actually at home most of the time, as she only goes back to Baku State University occasionally for testing and paper writing.
She was texting about class tomorrow, as she often does the correspondence work with other students to see who can come to class, especially considering it’s summer vacation and students come and go. She’s a great help, and her family’s also been super nice to me. I visit them often ‘cause they’re such great company, and, really, it’s just nice to be with people that appreciate you, in Peace Corps or anywhere else. I speak mainly from the Peace Corps perspective because, as I go through the day, interactions can be uncomfortable, being the foreigner. Plenty are good; don’t get me wrong. But I just like being at a place like Nərgiz’s house because it’s kind of a haven, a place where I’m just a friend and not an outsider. I can help clear the table or pour my own tea without feeling that awkward “You’re a guest. You shouldn’t do anything” pressure that honestly kinna pisses me off at times. I mean, let’s get serious. Being referred to as a “guest” after living in a place for over twenty months could get to anyone, so I’m not so ashamed anymore at my knee jerking due to someone saying “hello” to me on the street instead of “salam”. Seriously. Not necessary.
And so, like I said, a little comfort here and there goes a long way. That’s why I was pleased one evening while hanging out with Nərgiz’s family. It was a pretty typical night, just sitting around watching T.V. and talking, and we were about to have a cup of tea. Nərgiz brought out the teapot and glasses, and I took one, prompting the response: “That’s not your glass.”
And, at that moment, I realized that was true. I mean, I picked up just a glass that was available, not knowing that “my glass” existed, but as I retraced my days at her house, I concluded that, yes, I’d always had tea from the same glass, one that was different from everybody else’s glass. How interesting. How generous. How…well…friendly.
I mean, that’s the real word here: friendly. They don’t break out the fancy meal on my account or call me a guest all the time. They’re just friends, like anybody anywhere. Your buddies down the street. Your muchachos. I like to think they set a glass aside for me because they might’ve wanted me to come over often. I don’t know. I just know that that polite, almost familial, way of relating with another needs to be contagious in the world, as we often have trouble relating with people that aren’t in our bubble.
I mean, we’re only human, with the same strengths and troubles that make us who we are, with certainly relatable experiences that define our lives, so why should we avoid or act awkwardly around a person that doesn’t fit in our realm? They clearly do. We just gotta figure out how. And if you could look in the other party’s head, wherever he or she may be from, what do you think you’d see? Would they want you to speak to them as an outsider, or as an equal? Think about it. I can say from my own experience that when I’m talking to someone here, I want that person to speak only one language: Azerbaijani. That’s where we are. That’s the language I spent several months learning. End of story. If you wanna honor a guest, make him your equal, and not a spectacle.