So, an update that was supposed to be written yesterday.
We started the day dry. Literally. A call to our landlord located a
plumber who would come visit us on a public holiday. Turns out it was
the same guy who'd come the night before to fix the pump in some way.
And guess how he fixed it? Flicked the switch. This, despite about two
hours of 'international expert' twiddling of the thousand taps that are
suspended in midair on the walls.
The reason it was a public holiday was because it was International
Woman's Day. Now, I'm not sure whether they celebrate Valentine's Day in
Azerbaijan, but if they do, then it means women get given two lots of
flowers three weeks apart. Brilliant. I even got flowers.
From the plumber (awww, bless!). Lovely spring things that look like
minature white daffodils but are really pungent (jonquils?). They're on
the kitchen table, in a glass. Of course, this meant we had to put the
bowl with plastic fruit in a (darkened, non-windowed) cupboard...I know
you feel the pain of our heroic sacrifice.
All of our colleagues said to me, "Congratulations for being a woman".
I wanted to ask them whether they were congratulating me on managing to
put a bra on and take it off with minimal fuss or on dealing with my
approximately 180 menstrual cycles (to date)? However, I gagged my
Please, someone, explain cellular phone supply companies? I thought it
bad when Telecom and Vodafone wouldn't communicate with one another in
NZ (way back when txt/sms was just available - you had to send sms to
another number, which would forward it on to the CORRECT recipient...),
and yet here we are: Bakcell in Azerbaijan refuses to communicate with
Optus in Australia, yet will happily write to anything in the Czech
Republic, who's vodafone will not connect me with one of the Canadian
suppliers...it's all a bit much really. Can we have some international
standards written please...protocols and guidelines...I insist.
We have schizophrenic weather. Today - 25oC. It was divine. Driving
along (in our automobile) was like being in summer again. Delicious (if
a little dusty and fume-y). Tomorrow, we're due the near-freezing high
of 12oC. Clarity of the air is equally as absurd. We had no view at
about 1930 the other night: some lightness 'over there' indicated the
possibility of buildings, but outlines weren't even visible. We ignored
the view from our 7th floor palatial apartment for about 20mins. Then we
could see for miles (to the lights on top of an oil platform in the
Caspian). Oh yes, did I mention? We can see the sea...*YAY*.
As I mentioned before, it's lovely being here with someone I know, like
spending time with, and respect intellectually/workwise. We've been to a
new restaurant every night: Azeri, Georgian, Persian and last night
Mongolian. Technique: walk for 20mins, stop suddenly, look in all
directions, and select a restaurant on it's name/location/appearance.
Given several are underground, they offer little in the way of street
appeal, yet we've had some delicious meals!
Last night's said "Mongolian BBQ", so I was getting quite excited about
the prospect of a self-made but not self-cooked stirfry. Instead, it
served an eclectic combination of types of food (none of which appeared
to be remotely Mongolian - she says, from her vast Steppes experience).
I (rather bravely - I thought) took the 'Beef in Crock' and was thrilled
to recieve a beef stew in a tangy tomato/garlic/vegetable sauce. YUM! I
even drank 500ml of local beer yesterday, and didn't find it
horrible...it's the embryonic Prazdan within (no Dad, not
pregnant...just a autorenaissance). Either that, or it's because the red
wine here is REALLY sweet and I'm alcoholic enough to just drink
anything in it's place. Surely not?
An advantage of being in our own place is the autonomous food supply. We
stock up on the vital supplies (bread, cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes
etc.) and look after ourselves like we're both used to doing at home,
much to the distress of our lovely but a little over-protective (unless
they're driving) in-country colleagues who assume we'll get lost on a 5
block walk down the street upon which we live! It ALSO means we
experience the joy of local supermarkets.
We walk in. We look at the cheese section. Someone comes and stands
beside what appears to be an inside-out sheep, filled with a crumbly
white 'feta-esque' cheese. We indicate "no thanks, I really couldn't!"
(I can't wear wool for fibres in my teeth...I wouldn't eat anything
'grown' in it!!), and point at another cheese block (probably
'pre-removed' from the reversed sheep, but what the eye doesn't see...).
She mutters something in Azeri, and makes us practise muttering it also.
She giggles a lot as we sound ridiculous. Neither of us care (which is
good). Then she points in the vague direction of a stand of chewing gum.
Barely visible (between packs of Orbit and Dritol) is a face, and a
number. We mangle the pronunciation of whatever it was we were told to
mutter. We then see the number, hand over the corresponding note, and
recieve a receipt. Then we return to the original person, who uplifts
our receipt, and hands us our new cheese.
This entire process is repeated for bread, jam, juice,
cucumber/tomatoes/bananas/pears and oooh look...Anchor NZ Cheese. "Is it
nice?" asks Andreas? "Who cares?", says I - craving a decent cheddar,
"we're having some!". We point. She takes out the end of the previous
block (one of those 5kg blocks). We look at one another, shrug and nod
at the woman. She yells (obviously not trusting our pronunciation) to
the cashier (who's close, so this cheese woman has clearly HEARD our
poor attempts) and we pay. We get cheese. YUM!
And it takes us two days to try it out. I cut off a long finger sized
chunk, to eat with bread for dinner. I cut off a cm cubed...ready to
chomp down on delicious, tangy, tasting-of-my-ex-home cheese, my mouth
Which is good, because when the greasy knob of butter sits on my tongue
in the pool of collected saliva, it doesn't mix with said water-based
liquid, and I'm able to spit the whole lot out with minimal fuss.
ARGH!!!! *so crushed*
Just as well the baklava more than makes up for it. Today we had
chocolate, walnut, almond and 'zebra' baklava pieces (you buy them by
the 'one'). They're sooo good. This is what I'll take with me to our
Madrid training module (we have to take a 'delicatessen item' from our
host countries, but since I'm going straight there without stopping in
Prague, I'll leave the pickled vegetables and take these
honey-soaked-nutty-pastry-pieces-of-divinity instead. Everyone wins.
I'd like to point out though, that the baklava was well deserved. Last
night, we were up till 2am, preparing documents for today. We woke,
showered (yay for water) and were at work by 8am this morning - worked
unitl our meeting at the MOH (5 blocks - 5 minutes walk) at 11am. Three
hours of discussion later, we went to visit a hospital which took us to
4pm. By the time we were back in town (hospital was outside town), I was
lightheaded from fatigue and hunger (we hadn't eaten or drunk anything
since breakfast at 7:45ish). So we celebrated by eating pizza and
drinking proper coffee (short black, with sugar: who, exactly, HAS taken
over my body? I'm a long latte without sugar girl! Can she do something
about the extra 'cladding' while she's there please?) at a bakery (same
system as supermarket - potential for both high employment rates and
general confusion), and then taking our baklava to the seaside to eat it.
We had an hour and a half of peace and quiet (i.e. BBC world and sleep -
oh god, I HAVE turned into my father!) at home, before the phone started
again. Our EPIET coordinator, checking we were okay (bless!). Then WHO
HQ to see what the situation was (possible human cases now in the area).
We wrote our situation update after that, and sent it off (it took three
hours to condense a day's worth of work into four pages including a line
listing of all suspect cases) and Lisa (another EPIET fellow in our
cohort, who might be going to DRC for measles outbreak in two weeks
time!) called and talked to us till our line disintegrated into crackly
mush. Dinner of cheese (butter) and bread, and we flagged the idea of
going out for a quick beer (that inner Prazdan again), preferring
instead to sit in companiable silence with our computers, writing
Our mission was supposed to be to provide guidance and support to
increase the capabilities of the national MOH to locate, identify,
evaluate, document and follow-up possible cases of human AI. However,
since we arrived here in the middle of what could have been an outbreak
(no lab confirmation) we've been taking care of both the outbreak
investigation AND developing the surveillance system. Which, for two
people, means we're a bit over-stretched. So we'll see how things
develop, but we might ask for a third person to come help.
Maybe that will slow down the development of my Churchillesque monocle
pouch that's 'coming along nicely' under my right eye. Yes, even my bags
are now chafing. Ain't no amount of touche eclat that's gonna fix that.