Today’s guest post comes from Jim in Clark’s Grove
I had the good luck to be selected three times to serve as an agricultural volunteer by ACDI/VOCA, a nonprofit organization. In an earlier guest blog I wrote about the volunteer work I did in Bolivia. I also worked in Bulgaria and Azerbaijan. On all of these assignments I had the opportunity learn about parts of the world that are very different from the United States. Of the three countries visited, I think that Azerbaijan differed the most from the USA. When you hear someone saying that a place is different they are usually mean it is a place they don’t like. Personally I enjoy exploring places that are different and found many things that I liked in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan was formerly part of the Soviet Union and is now an independent country which had as its President a former high member of the ruling party of the Soviet Union, Hydar Aliyev. Hydar’s son is now the President of the country. Azerbaijan is set up as a Democracy. In fact, Hydar and his son have ruled Azerbaijan more or less as dictators because they rigged their elections. I was told by an Azeri, as a joke, that Hydar had visited President Bush and had told him how to rig his reelection. I was also told that Bush would be visiting Hydar because there is a lot of oil in Azerbaijan.
I was asked to help with issues related to vegetable seed production. A stop was made at a tomato processing plant where they were saving the seeds extracted when doing the processing and giving them back to the farmers for planting. I found that this procedure worked well. While at the tomato plant I heard another humorous comment about an American. A man who ran a fish processing company told us that he had been visited by an American who asked him about plant inspection procedures. The American told him how it was done in the USA and the Azeri man said it is the same with us. It isn’t the same because you need to bribe inspectors in Azerbaijan. After that we had a joke about how things are done in Azerbaijan that included the phrase, “same with us”.
I was treated very well by everyone. One man told me that the Azeri people were extremely shocked and very sad about the events of 9/11. The food was very good, included delicious grilled sturgeon with pomegranate sauce. I visited an impressive very old walled section of Baku, the capital city, and strolled through an attractive city park at the edge of the Caspian Sea. There are some very poor people in the country, but there doesn’t seem to be much street crime. I felt safe at night walking alone in the central part of the capital. It is one of the most liberal Muslim countries with laws protecting the rights of women.
What is the most different and interesting place you’ve visited?