Sin City: Baku
Peace Corps intentionally forbids us from venturing into Baku without permission, probably for a few reasons. First, it’s expensive. We don’t have much money, and it wouldn’t be good for us to go waste in it Baku all the time, where things cost three, four, or five times as much than in Sumqayit. Lunch for me was 10 Manat, whereas in Sumqayit its one or two Manat at the most (free, when I go home for lunch). Second, Baku is a real city, with many of the things that one would expect any international city to have, like sidewalks and parks and and a subway. They even have McDonald’s there. These are not things we should grow accustomed to, especially the sidewalks.
Whatever other reasons they have, we also get allowed a trip to Baku as part of training. The PCV lounge and the Peace Corps office are located in Baku, and these are important things for us to know, since we’ll probably have to come to or through Baku a few times in the next few years. So we went. And it was great! Baku is an interesting international city, with some fantastic sites. We checked out Şəhidlər Xiyabanı, or Martyr’s Lane, a commemoration of people who died in January of 1990 during major Russian raids in Baku. The time is called Qara Yanvar, or Black January, and is one of the major events that Azerbaijanis remember in their fight for independence. At the end of the beautiful lane, there is a tower, with an eternal flame blasting out from the floor. Even on the windy day we visited, the flame was huge. The wind was coming off the Caspian Sea, as the tower overlooks a large bay, and they must have built the eternal flame apparatus just to be able to withstand those windblasts.
There was an interesting mosque nearby, which we tried to enter but it was closed. Another beautiful place we checked out was the Fəxri Xiyaban, the Alley of Honor, a large cemetery for famous Azerbaijanis. The layout is a large garden, with statues above the tombs of the fallen. There were statues of writers, artists, politicians, generals, revolutionaries, and more. As we strode through the garden, Mahirǝ pointed out her favorite writers, poets, novelists, and politicians. There was a beautiful statue of the man who created the first Azerbaijani newspaper, and another of a revolutionary who was killed by the KGB and wrote beautiful novels.
Other places we checked out were Nizami Square, which has a fantastic statue of Nizami, one of Azerbaijan’s foremost poets who lived during the 12th Century. His statue overlooks the national literature museum, hosting the works and lives of famous Azerbaijani writers (of whom you will hear more soon). We also walked past the Russian Drama theater, and eventually wound our way through another park to the Youth Theater and the Opera and Ballet Theater. Mahirǝ loves these places. They are beautiful buildings, and she says that at night, as they are lit up and people are streaming in, they are some of her favorite places to be.
After this, we split up. A few of us were interested in finding a bar, which we did, and we drank Guinness. It was great. Expensive, but great. We just sat for a few hours because it was nice to finally be able to sit somewhere and not worry about training or language learning or being in Azerbaijan.