Lost in Azerbaijan
OK, I’m not really lost, but I have been traveling like crazy the past two or so weeks and have not been able to keep up with journals or blogs! I apologize for the length of this, but I’ll try to recap:
14 – 16 July: I jumped on a mashrutka (a fancy name for a really old, unsafe, run-down mini-bus) and headed two hours north of Baku to NorMicro’s branch office in Khachmaz. I spent Saturday hanging out with Azerbaijani friends I have made on previous visits to Khachmaz this summer. On Sunday I went to the modest seaside resort town of Nabran, but unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate much and the water was really cold. On Monday I visited eight Kiva clients in Khachmaz with translation help from Adam, the U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to NorMicro in Khachmaz. We walked all over Khachmaz locating clients – at least I’m getting exercise to offset the amount of food I’ve been eating! I’ve been to Khachmaz often enough now that I know a lot of people there – it’s fun to spot clients I’ve visited on previous trips and see that things are still going well for them. While I was in Khachmaz, I spent my nights with two different host families. Azerbaijanis rank near the top of the list of the most hospitable people of the planet…but I do have to admit, all the attention and food and cousins and tea and wedding videos and more tea and photo albums does get a bit exhausting! I definitely did not have a chance to write-up any of my Kiva journals while I was the guest of those families!! (Photo: People and cows enjoying the beach at Nabran.)
17 July: I caught an early mashrutka to the small town of Devechi and met up with Adam and Nafira, a loan officer at NorMicro’s Khachmaz branch. We visited fourteen clients in the Devechi bazaar – nearly every vendor in the bazaar is a NorMicro client! Nafira is very efficient and is well-liked by her clients, so our visits went smoothly and quickly. After a late lunch of mutton kebabs, I returned to Baku.
19 – 20 July: The next morning I took yet another early mashrutka to the central Azerbaijani town of Agsu. In the two days I spent there, I visited twenty Kiva clients with the help of the branch manager, Namik, and his friendly staff. The talk of the town in Agsu that week was the municipality’s new mandate that all street-front shops conform to a specific architectural design. The idea is that Agsu will look much more appealing once all the ramshackle shops are torn down. The downside for shop owners is that the municipality is not helping out at all with the costs of remodeling. They are, however, providing the demolition free of charge. Khilgat’s rented shop had been torn down 2 days before my visit, and Terlan’s shop was scheduled for demolition later in the week. Despite the bad news, the clients were in relatively good humor and showed me the color blueprints for the approved Agsu storefronts, so kindly provided by the municipality. Following these two days of visits I experienced my most exciting taxi ride in Azerbaijan thus far (and that’s saying something…!) – me, two other women, and three children in the backseat of a Lada, with me holding onto a stranger’s baby. Many high-speed hairpin turns and two hours later, we arrived – safely – in Baku. (Photo: Me with NorMicro’s Agsu Branch staff)
21-21 July: Saturday was devoted to spending quality time with my host family – we visited three different aunts in Baku, and, of course, ate and drank tea with all of them. I finally got time Sunday to head to a coffee shop I had found recently that has free wi-fi – it’s geared towards upper crust Bakuvians and expats, so the food and drink prices keep me from hanging out too long! I did manage to get some work done, though!
23 July: I have had so much success in visiting clients with Nafira that I returned to her region to visit six more Kiva clients that live in a small village outside Devechi. Adam and Vagif, another loan officer, helped us out. I was eager to visit agricultural businesses after so much time visiting retail and trading businesses. It was a very, very, very warm afternoon, but the clients were friendly and the visits were rewarding.
24 July: ACDI|VOCA and AMFA class on success stories and business descriptions.
25 July: After reviewing the materials from the business descriptions class, Bahman, the director of NorMicro suggested that I prepare formal Kiva training for his staff. I spent most of the day developing a training plan and trying to locate a venue to hold the training in. My plan is get a projector and an internet connection and walk the staff through everything – understanding how Kiva works, posting business descriptions, journals, etc. I think that seeing the website and understanding who the lenders are will be highly beneficial, especially for those loan officers and branch managers who rarely use the internet and may not yet fully understand the person-to-person connection that Kiva fosters. I expect that this training will enhance the Kiva listings coming from Azerbaijan! Hopefully, we will conduct the training next week…I’ll post an update!
26 – 27 July: I spent two days visiting Kiva clients in the industrial town of Sumgayit. As we pulled into Sumgayit, thick black smoke was billowing out of some sort of plant and was hovering over the town. This town was once the center of the Soviet chemical industry and held the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s most polluted cities. The demise of the Soviet Union resulted in bankrupt factories (but cleaner air), unemployment, plus an influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict. I visited eighteen clients here with help from NorMicro staff members Tasaduf, Ahmed, Bahram, and Board Member, Adalat. (Photo: Sumgayit’s Martyr’s Monument on the Caspian Sea.)
29 July – 1 August (already!?): I spent several days in the southern Azerbaijani town of Beylagan. With the help of NorMicro branch staff members Behbud, Eldaniz, and Arif, and U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Carlo, I visited sixteen Kiva clients. I also managed to get some kind of food poisoning that made me fully appreciate the plumbing and toilet situation I have in my place back in Houston! Nonetheless, the client visits went well and I have fully recovered.
2 August: The staff of AqroInvest, another Kiva Field Partner in Azerbaijan, invited me to spend the day traveling to their branch offices in the towns of Imishli, Saatli, Sabirabad, and Bilasuvar. We visited three different IDP villages – I’ll try to post a separate blog about these villages…
3 August: Finally back in the NorMicro head office in Baku – internet access!!
Thanks for reading this far!! I leave Azerbaijan in two weeks, after having spent three months here. I’m starting to get sad. But now I gotta get busy finishing up journals!/>