I like tea. This is true. When I was at home I drank tea regularly. In Azerbaijan, however, I’m pretty sure I’ve had more cups of tea in the last 4 weeks than I had in the previous 4 years. Wow, do they love tea.
My typical day starts with a cup of tea with breakfast. Then at lunch time, I’ll come home from school for lunch and after that we’ll have a cup of tea. When I get home from school for the day, I’ll be offered tea until dinner time. Then after dinner I’ll have a cup of tea.
Those are the more regularly scheduled tea times. In addition, if I go to a friend’s house, we will have tea there. And if my host family takes me to a friend or family’s place, we will have tea there, too. There have been days with 6-8 cups of tea. I’m brimming with tea.
Despite its prevalence, though, I don’t want to trivialize the role tea plays here. It seals friendships and begins new ones. Important decisions are made over a cup of tea. I’ve been offered a few hands in marriage with my tea (where they’re joking if I say no, but serious if I say yes). One of the important things going forward for me in building relationships is going to be spending time with the counterparts I’m working with, and building the trust of community members. Sharing a cup of tea is what will probably help kindle those relationships. When I get back to America, I think this will certainly be something I bring with me.
(One last thing to note is that not only do they love tea, but they love it sweet. There are always candies and sugar with tea. I have watched as people hold sugar cubes between their teeth while sipping tea. Or my host mom as she scoops in 7 heaping spoonfuls of sugar. They are mildly confused when I refuse sugar in my tea.)