Control, Azeri Musical Concert, and the Olympic Gym

Naxcivan Travel Blog

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This was written during the full brunt of culture shock.  I probably come off as a complaining wimp, but it was my mind-set at the time.  This was taken from e-mails and journals from that time.


The biggest battle that I am facing here is a battle of control.  I am dealing with several people trying to control me.  It does get frustrating.  The first battle is at the university.  The Dean and the Assistant Dean of the Foreign Language Department have tried to assign me to one classroom.  It has gotten to the point of being absurd.  I was recently invited to the Economics Department at the university to talk to their students about the importance of learning English.  Upon returning to the Foreign Language Department, I was told my room was 504 and if anyone wanted to meet me they could meet me there.

When I enter the university, they try to escort me to “my desk” which is located in their office.  Most of the people who know me will tell you that I am not a sit behind a desk type of person.   I am the only American here and I want to socialize and talk with the students and other teachers.  Every time I try to leave the office, that damn short man (the Assistant Dean) tries to get me to return to it.    

I have several classes that are scheduled to be in other classrooms.  This past Tuesday, I was going to my first period class in room 520.  The damn short man stopped and asked me where I was going.  When I told him, he told me that I needed to return to “my room.”  Later he came back and told me that I needed to go to the other room. 

While I have a problem with the heads of the Foreign Language Department, I am also having some problems with my “friend” U.  U is an English Lit teacher at the university.  His English is pretty good.  Do not get me wrong, he has helped me, but his negativity, arrogance and general need to control me are starting to drive me crazy.

He has this idea that I am a rich American.  While here I am relatively rich, if I went back to the USA right now, I would return to being another poor teacher.  This concept seems to not register with him.  Initially, I wanted to help the guy out some.  I hired him to be my Azerbaijani teacher and prepaid for lessons, but I have only received 2-15 minute lessons.  While he has helped me get some good deals on things like suits and clothes, he always wants me to repay him with some gifts or money. 

There were two recent incidents that drove me nuts.  First, he is trying to go to the Ernest Hemingway Library at Purdue University.  He has to where the university here might pay for half the airfare.  He needs help with the other half.  He asked me if I could help him and I told him that I could.  He was happy and asked me how much I could help him.  I told him about a hundred bucks.  He freaked and told me that was not enough and I could easily help him.  This needless to say ticked me off.  If I offer you money as a gift and if it is not enough for you, then I guess you are really going to hate me when I give you nothing.  He quickly apologized but I had to tell him that I am not rich and not to ask me for anything.  Second, I was recently informed that my shipment of books just arrived.  I decided to donate almost all of my books that I had in the USA to the university.  It is a substantial donation as I had a lot of books.   When U heard of this donation to the university, he insisted that I give him ten books as he could use them more than anyone else at the university.  I kind of blew up.  Yes, I am a very giving person, but the quickest way to tick me off is to demand that I give you something.  I was also ticked off at the sheer arrogance that he was the sole person at the university who was capable of actually gaining some benefit from all of the books that I sent.  

A simple rule is do not demand, ask.  One of my students asked me recently if it would be possible for her to get some English books from me when my shipment comes in.  I told her that if she helped me sort the books when they came in, I would be more than happy to give her a few.  She said she would love to help.  It is really simple.

Another problem that I have with U is that if you listen to him long enough, the entire country and perhaps the world is out to get him.  Granted, there is governmental corruption here, but you find that anywhere you go.  I just get tired of hearing how he is so great but due to his family circumstances he is not able to get a higher paying job.

Probably a bigger problem that I have is that he tries to subtly control me by fear.  I already know that I am being watched closely, but he tries to stop me from doing things on my own by telling me, “do not go there by yourself, they will try to rip you off,” or “the police have a camera right on the entrance of your apartment,” or “it is dangerous for you to go to that village by yourself.”  The thing is I am one of those people who would rather do things on his own and get ripped off once in awhile and learn from it than to have someone do everything for him.  At the same time, while I am being closely watched, I know that I am highly protected individual here.  While I may fear commitment, I do not fear walking around Naxchivan alone.    
Musical Concert

I was invited to a big concert at the Olympic Stadium here.  Unfortunately, there are no rock bands here, but there maybe a few in Baku.  I am sure somewhere there are a group of kids playing totally and brilliantly off-key in some garage or basement in Baku. 

This was traditional Azerbaijani music.  You know that you are in trouble as a rocker when the band comes out wearing matching gold blazers, but the music was actually good.   They use an instrument called a tar, which is similar to guitar, but it has that Middle East sound.  Along with that, there were some percussion instruments and some other instruments as well.  Unlike traditional western concerts where each performer has his/her own band and there are only two to five performers for the concert, Azerbaijani concerts keep the same band usually and many singers change throughout the night.  There are MCs (not rappers) and political films shown during the band’s break.   I actually liked the first two singers.  The first one was an over-weight middle-aged guy with curly hair and little mustache.  The other was an older guy who was going bald and had silver hair.  Their music was very upbeat and fast (henceforth appealing to the rocker within me), but more importantly the singers got into the music.  I have had heard some bands with little talent but with a lot of emotion and I seem to enjoy those performers over someone with incredible talents but no emotion in their playing.  Thinking about it, my favorite punk band is Envy, a Japanese band that sings in its native language, because they are so incredible emotional.  I have no idea what they are screaming about, but sometimes it fires me up and other times they make me want to cry.  Emotion transcends all language barriers.

The entire event was being broadcast to the rest of the country.  There was this video camera that was on boom device.  It was swinging around the crowd.  I was tempted to let me inner rocker out whenever the camera came near me �" flash devil horns with my hands, stick out my tongue, start head banging followed by a good amount of fist banging mania. I think that if I did this, they would not wait to deport me but would personally carry me off and dump me off somewhere over some border.

The Gym

If there is anything that gives me so much pleasure in life it is weightlifting.  I started when I was 18 and now I am finally starting to show some growth.  I have been working out at the Olympic Stadium Gym here.  Do not let the name fool you.  This gym would not cut it in most junior highs in the United States.  The equipment is old and some of it needs to be repaired badly.  The total amount of all the weights in the gym that can fit on the one standard bar there is 130kgs, about 286 pounds.  That is not really a lot considering it is for the entire gym.  Back in Vegas, I was regularly loading the leg press with 450-495kgs, and there were still plenty of weights to go around.  There are only a few machines there �" a pull-down machine, a preacher curl machine, a legs curl, a leg extension, a pec fly machine and a broken cable fly machine.

While they are limited in equipment, it has forced me to return to using more free weights.  I have really noticed a difference in the past few weeks.  My strength has shot up very quickly and I have lost a considerable amount of weight.  I think that the weight lost can be accounted for by all of the walking and stair climbing that I do each day.

Just like most gyms in the US, I have to selective as to when I go into this one.  It is really crowded from 3-7pm as most of the high school students who do not have a clue how to lift weights are in there.  In all honesty, they drive me nuts.  There are times I am expecting for them to blow out their shoulders or their knees as their form is so poor.  I have tried to give some of them pointers, but they are not able to understand me plus I have really pissed off their weight-lifting teacher.  I guess knowing more than the teacher is considered a bad thing.   Having already blown out a shoulder and having screwed up a knee, I will allow the youthful populace in the gym to discover for themselves how painful a serious injury to those general areas can be. 
Aside from the terrible form that should send most of the kids to the orthopedic ward when they get older, another problem that I have is people occupying equipment and not using it!  If you are going to the gym to socialize, then sit in the stands and talk.  Do not get in the way of someone who is actually going to use the equipment.  Even worse is this one kid.  Whenever he racks the weights on the bench after completing a set, he grabs the bar and flips himself over the top of the bar.  I am waiting for the bench to break when he does that. 
 After 7pm, the gym is dead.  That is always the time when I go in there.  No one is there except for me.  Anytime things get me upset, I just go to the gym.  It was the same thing every place else where I have lived.  The gym has always been my sanctuary.  It is the one place where I am in control.
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