We pedalled to the Khan’s Palace, which was completed in 1872, and went round to look at the detailed murals painted in rich colours, and the stained glass with intricate wooden dividers instead of leading. Outside, there were two huge plane trees that were over 500 years old. We had a quick look at the ethnographic museum, too.
At the internet cafe in the afternoon, it happened again! Two boys assumed our bikes would be theirs for a quick spin through the centre of town, while we went to check our email. They looked quite miffed when we locked up our bikes and went inside. The boys were not around when we left the cafe, but they jumped out of a car when they saw us buying a melon a little later. They grabbed our handlebars quite insistently. I tried to explain my concerns about them getting hurt on an unfamiliar bike smack in the middle of a busy town, but they remained insistent.
In the last post I had a few theories to try to explain this presumptuous behaviour. My current theory is that it is just another part of the very irritating assumption held in some developing countries (Cuba was my first experience of this) that, being from a developed country I must be either a walking ATM or a walking department store. (i.e. I should give them money or things.) Or in this case, a walking supplier of quality sporting goods. The problem is that our ability to continue or journey lies with our gear, and there are huge obstacles to repairing damage or replacing parts when we are this far from home. Sorry, boys, I am getting hard-nosed after travelling for eight months. Nyet means nyet.
Back at the B&B we ate our melon and went for dinner with Mitchell. The weather was hot and humid.
2009/08/08: Zaqtala 119 km – an extraordinary day of Azeri hospitality
An early start took us to Zaqtala by mid-afternoon, and we went to an internet cafe partly to sit in the shade. Twenty year old Quram, who spoke excellent English, invited us home for tea and to meet his family. This visit was especially interesting as they managed to be both very hospitable but respected our need to leave. As in several places in Central Asia the fact we still had all our teeth was considered a marvel. We felt comfortable enough to demonstrate our use of dental floss. We moved on after many cups of tea and all sorts of snacks, planning to ride closer to the Georgian border in the relative cool of the evening.
We paused and contemplated hotels in town, tempted by the thought of showers. As we hesitated, we were greeted in perfect British English by a young woman who had stepped out of her family’s SUV. This is how we met Nat and her family, were led to the private country lodge they had arranged to stay at, and were very kindly invited to join them for dinner.
The lodge had ponds in which fish were raised, and we were introduced to Georgian food at dinnertime. But the best part was meeting Russian speaking parents Arif and Elina, young adults Gunel and Natavan who translated at speed, teenager Leyli and seven-year-old Yusef. Gunel and Nat had done A-levels in England, and were now university students there. They were clearly excited by the world of opportunities their parents had given them by educating them outside Azerbaijan, and had seen enough to realize they no longer wanted to live here with the very limiting expectations of them as women.
The family asked us for our honest impressions of Azerbaijan, and when we commented on how few woman and girls we saw out and about relative to men and boys, they explained that, in addition to many being “in the kitchen,” in-utero sex selection is also widely practiced here. Perhaps we were naive to be as surprised as we were, because male dominance is so evident here. How can a country move ahead when the bright children of a forward-thinking family feel they need to move away to live their lives?