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Published: September 13th 2011
Seki is in the countryside, 6 hours minibus ride from Baku. Not remote like Laza, the town has an old and new section and is surrounded by hills. Although even in the villages the men's fashion remains skinny jeans and thin striped shirts. They seem to look better than Western European men in skinny jeans, I think they are built correctly for the look. Older men wear black flat caps.
I have to resort to much persuasion to get to Seki in a day from Laza. The big 2pm bus from Baku is full and there are many people waiting to buy tickets for the 3pm and it's only just gone 1. A minibus is almost full and has a space for me but not with luggage. I decide to wait around anyway and finally the man packing the bus gives in and lets me put my rucksack under my flip down seat. It means I have no legroom and one box is in the stairwell but we can all squeeze in so I'm happy. At the rest stop, some kind of problem kicks off a fight. I think it was related to the box in the stairwell as this
meant the automatic door could not open until we lifted it out of the way. Not sure why that caused so much screaming, one woman started poking the driver and one man had his fists raised and had to be pulled back. Bit of an over reaction really. Being in the seat next to the door, there is nowhere to lean so no sleeping opportunity, meaning I'm shattered by the time I arrive. Another homestay, this time with Ilgar. He is about my age, married with a 12yr old daughter and a 14yr old son, he speaks good English. His daughter and nieces try hard too. Very welcoming family, greeted with tea and a hot shower, fantastic! The house is on a hill, so the main living rooms are upstairs, the shower is under the house and is a rudimentary pipe with shower head over a rocky floor but warm water so excellent after the long journey. The toilet is a squatter on the same floor as the living area, protruding over the balcony. Ilgar has lived in this house for 30 years, his father bought it. He told me it was much more basic then, but I can't imagine
as it looks quite old and basic now to me. The kitchen is one built in cupboard, a fridge, cooker and 2 tables, not even a sink. Amazing how such good food can be made with such a simple set up, we all think we need our gadgets and perfect kitchen layouts but really we don't. Ilgar wows over his new ceiling which to me looks like a 70s orange pine cladded ceiling, not some new modern alteration. I do love the house though, the kitchen/diner has windows all along one wall so has great views over the town. Simple dinner of pasta, sauce and veg, but loads of it. I haven't eaten much all day so over indulge and am stuffed. We talk for a few hours about the differences in our lives. Ilgar goes to pray later so leaves me watching satellite TV.
The next day is a holiday as Ramadan has just ended, this means Ilgar gets to eat breakfast with me before we set off into town. I visit the Armenian church and Khan's Palace, an 18th century building with painted frescos and amazing stained glass windows. The glass is arranged in patterns rather than pictures
and has wood between the panels instead of lead. The wood is joined by hand without metal fastenings so is very skilful, unfortunately no photos are allowed. We walk through the old town and visit the renovated Karavansaray, now a hotel with garden and teahouse. We visit a few monuments remembering the war, then get a bus to the bazaar. Saffron is very cheap at 50q per cup, so I buy some. Then a shared taxi to Kis up the hill. Here we visit the Albanian church, restored with the help of a Norwegian historian who claims to have traced the mythical king Odin to Azerbaijan, hence the homeland of Azer. From here we hike up to the Gelersen Goresen castle ruins. Most of the walk is along the road, uphill, so not too tricky, then we reach the hill and woodland. The path is muddy, slippery and rocky so not fun on the way down after taking a wrong turn. I have a hissy fit as I hate slippery slopes, even more so when scattered with sharp rocks as I have terrible balance when walking down hill. We climb another route, the correct one and visit the ruins, a
great view of the valley from up here.
On the way back to town we talk about all kinds of subjects. I am realising that many people preferred the repression of Soviet times, at least everyone could make a living back then. Now some people make little to no money, Ilgar's wife wanted a job but you have to pay 2000 Manat to get one which is ridiculous when you will only make 300Manat per month. I have paid 83 Manat for 2 nights accommodation, meals and full day guide, so tourists are a profitable income here. Somehow the conversation gets onto morals and family life, I tried explaining that I have no sense of the word normal, to me everyone can live as differently as they like. Some life routes may be less stressful and cause less friction than others but I see no problem with single parent families, unmarried couples or gay relationships. Ilgar is a strict Muslim so cannot see my point. Instead he tries to convert me! I think being an Atheist I attract this conversion as trying to convert another religion must be tougher as more opportunity for offense or anger. I have had some
missionaries try to convert me before. I always play the science card but they have been taught (brain washed) well so always have an answer. Ilgar even gives me a copy of a TV programme proving that the Quran knew about science before we did, therefore proving Allah told someone the laws of science. I tried the basic questions about the Big Bang, dinosaurs, evolution and even that the Egyptians knew about science long before we later discovered it again, all fell flat. He didn't even believe that most religions were only invented a few thousand years ago, long after the world began and humans evolved. Invented to control the masses, and it's worked well, I must agree!
Was pass a local tourist resort on the way back to town. It's basically a man-made concrete lake with pedalos and a cafe, the locals seem to like it though. This attracts the richer Azerbaijanis. This is when I notice that the Ladas are not just relics from the Soviet era, many are brand new cars. I see someone locking their brand new Lada with an electronic key. The shape of the car is still a Soviet remnant though, design has not
changed in the last 20 years...
Before dinner we have time for a short walk in the hills out the back of the house. In the setting sun the green is so vivid, the views are spectacular. Ilgar stops to drink from a spring, he gets all of his water from the mountain spring rather than the less pure town's main water supply. As it's a holiday, Ilgar's family are coming round for a special dinner. Rice (with a large amount of butter), chicken and eggs. Very nice but filling. We tried to take a family photo but I don't think they are used to that. The grandmother spent the whole time dishing out food while we were posing, some of the brother in laws sat with their back to the camera, complete shambles! Good evening though, cute baby too. The Azerbaijani people are lovely and so friendly.
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