Making Mistakes around Town

Davachi Travel Blog

 › entry 21 of 26 › view all entries

So, I was out of money.  It was my own fault really.  I went to Baku, spent money, didn’t budget correctly, and even had to borrow a manat to get home.  That was the weekend before.  By the time Saturday (the 21st) came around, I was also out of food.  I never know when I am going to run out of food around here.  The family feeds me so irregularly that I never know how much of my own supplies I’m going to need.  This month has been tough for them, so consequently, it has been tough for me too.  I was hungry and after much deliberation, I decided to use some of my emergency money left over from Philadelphia.  Unfortunately, they still come in the form of 20 dollar bills.

At first I asked the family if they knew where I could change some of my dollars, to which they immediately replied that they would like me to lend them money (I get that request about 3 times a week, the answer is always no).  After declining, citing that I work for no money and that I’m getting very little from the 20 anyways, they told me that there is a place at the bazaar and to call Firuz, my host father who is always there.  They warned me to make sure that Firuz was there because the people were going to try to trick me. 

Now, I don’t know what the problem is, Firuz is usually a good guy, but I get the impression that it is a no-no to talk to him in the bazaar.  I usually try to avoid him there because of that.  This time though, I had to look for him because I couldn’t find the money changer myself.

“Hello Firuz, I can’t find the money changer.  I’m trying to change dollars into manats.”

“How much money?”

“Umm…” I started feeling uncomfortable, “Is it important?”

No reply.  Him and his friends stared at me for a moment.

“20 dollars.”

He told a friend to take me to the man who changed money.  Now, this is not a store at all, it is a guy standing in the middle of the paved section of the bazaar.  As soon as I met the guy, he pulled out money and 5 men surrounded us, staring at me.  Even though we were in the middle of the bazaar, there were people around, policemen everywhere and I didn’t feel in any danger, I still felt very uncomfortable.  I said to wait a second, and then I looked at the men and asked if they wanted anything, mentioning that I was trying to do some business.  This got them to at least avert their eyes, though they did not move.

“Ok, I have 20 dollars,”

“15 manat,”

So, I probably should have gone with that, but instead I asked what the dollar percentage was.  My intention was friendly, but it makes sense why he looked at me the way he did and had gotten angry.  I had basically just questioned his integrity in front of his friends.

Then, things got a little out of control.  “79%! 79%” one of his friends was telling me as the money changer put his money away.  The other men were talking loudly.  I was quiet, trying to understand the language in my head and do the math.

I asked “You don’t want to do this anymore?”  The men around us got louder.

He started pulling the money out again, saying that yeah he did, but then Firuz showed up and started pulling me away.  He sent me in the other direction to look for NorMicro, a bank that Orxan (one of the other boarders here at the house, I get along with him well) works at, to see if they could change my money.

I was furious that he pulled me out like that.  The man wasn’t trying to cheat me, and unless there was some danger that I didn’t see, he made a choice for me that was a poor resolution to this situation.  On my way to try and find the bank, I couldn’t stop thinking that two dozen people saw an American being pulled out of a group of people because he was being offensive, because he said rude things and couldn’t calm himself.

I couldn’t find the bank immediately.  I called Orxan, got directions, found the bank and saw that it was closed.  Calmed down, I went back to the bazaar.  I couldn’t let this situation stand.  At the risk of possibly making this guy mad again, I had to go in and even if it wasn’t my fault, apologize (notice how I just sidestepped my defense mechanism.  I don’t need to take responsibility for my own actions when I can pretend humility to myself, apologize to others, and still secretly believe that it wasn’t my fault).

When I showed up to the bazaar, the man was still standing there by the same car.  This time the group of men wasn’t there.  As I was walking towards him, I noticed that he looked defeated, perhaps a bit sad.  I walked up to him and apologized.  I told him that I didn’t speak the language well (I speak the language just fine, but the one advantage to being a foreigner is claiming ignorance), that I didn’t know why they got mad and that I didn’t want Firuz to take me away (I needed to add that).  I added that we should be friends.

I was so relieved when he agreed with me.  He shook my hand, we exchanged names and we became friends.  I got 15 manat for my 20 dollar bill and everything was great.  Sure, 20 people saw the American getting pulled out of a crowd because he was being rude, but at least this one guy knew that it was not intentional.

Five minutes later and 20 feet away I was in the store, buying some food, when the man came in and handed me an extra manat.  I was speechless, though I did mumble out a thank you as he left. 

It seems that I’m not the only one who wanted to make reparations.

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photo by: cbstevens