There is something particularly pure about being able to feel cold spring water flow through your hands, cool your cheeks as it runs down your face, and refresh your body as you drink it down. Spring water, known here as bulaq suyu, is a sacred gift. Azerbaijanis know this truth as well as anyone. Even when you’re in a city, there are wells around town that are understood as public goods. Anyone will help you lift water out to carry away or just to rinse your face and hands of the summer heat.
This is one of the cultural values I fully appreciate in Azerbaijanis. It’s something that gets treated as a right. At any time, you can refresh yourself in the cool waters of a well or a fresh spring. For the past few days a few other PCVs and I were hiking in the mountains of Qusar and Quba, in northern Azerbaijan. First, the views are phenomenal from the valleys of the Caucasus. As we shuffled our way through the mountains, we took in all the lush green of the late-summer north, mountains half-covered in trees, the other half grassy plains worked over by the feeding herds of sheep and cows. Beyond that, the attitude of most people you pass by is very relaxed, a slightly distant but welcoming greeting. Azerbaijanis are not hikers. When we pass by, we don’t really make sense to them. Finally, because this is Azerbaijan, the limits on your hiking trail is basically nil. You can follow whichever path necessary to achieve your hiking goal, as long as you don’t go scaring people.
One of the gems of our hike, however, was coming across the village of Susay. Qusar is a majority-Lezgi region. Quba also features a strong Lezgi population. While the Lezgi are a really interesting bunch, we were surprised to happen upon Susay, an Azerbaijani village nestled into a river valley. As we walked up, a blue jeep pulled by and welcomed us, asking where we were going and where we were coming from. We meandered into the center of the village to find one of the main freshwater springs of the town. It’s surrounded by an almost altar-like structure, giving credence to the villagers’ understanding of the spring as something special. The cold water gushes out for us to wash our hands and faces and restock our water supplies. It’s also where everyone in town comes to do the same. Walking on, we found two more springs and at each one, some of our Azeri companions who walked with us through town urged us to stop again to freshen up.
This is something I very much enjoy about living in Azerbaijan. There may be some strange things going on culturally, socially, but the value of spring water is a beautiful thing. Everyone is on the same level when it comes to using the cool springs. And there is no illusion about who owns it–it is everyone’s water, everyone’s source.