So I arrived early this morning in the beautiful city of Baku. I hopped a mini-bus from Yerevan to Tbilisi. The ride was a perfect reminder to me of what not to do, if you can possibly avoid it. It's rather amazing to me that little isolated Armenia, surrounded by hostile neighbors, with one open border to a friendly country would not think to completely pave the road that leads to the capital of that friendly country. This pot-hole infested one-lane 'highway' turns a trip of under 200 miles into a 7-hour potential nightmare. Fortunately, I had a rather diverting conversation along the way. As I squished myself in with the hardy Armenian crowd, I heard a loud voice in English instructing someone to just set their things down under his feet, he wouldn't mind at all. I plopped down next to a good-natured Australian who was willing to talk with anyone about anything, as long as the language was English. 'Joshua' is an adventurous traveller who decided to take a year off of work to travel around the world. He's been at it for 6 months, now, and his trails have taken him through Cambodia, China, Nepal, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia. That is one adventurous dude. We talked about the things going on in the countries where he's been, and then about where he's going to next. He's planning on spending a couple months in the States, so I left him my contact info for a stay in Utah. I figure that'll give me a good excuse to go down to see a few of our national parks, this fall. He should have a lot of fun if he doesn't mind spending time in a state where alcohol is more scarce than fascinating geological oddities. I couldn't help but snicker at how odd he looked and sounded as we were snuggled in with a van full of Armenians and Georgians. I rather enjoyed chatting with him, but couldn't help but think that if I find other cultures amusing, in a lot of ways they've got nothing on the strangeness of the English-speaking crowd.
So when I got to Tbilisi, I found the prettiest city that I've yet seen on my trip. Unfortunately, I couldn't really take any picutures, because I spent only one night there. We then hopped a little prop-powered plane for Baku. So Baku is a delightful city. I felt that I really gained an affinity for the culture and the FINCA office staff, last year, and I felt it quickly renewed when we arrived at the office, this morning. The extremely emotional security-guard who was prone to get misty-eyed whenever I talked with him last year grabbed my hand, and wouldn't let go as he shook it again, and again, and again. And again. This is the guy that I felt like I really dogged last year when I told him "sure, we'll go swimming in the Caspian sea with you... sometime." I arrived at the office the weekend before we were to leave to the grief stricken face of our security guard who sadly told me that he waited all weekend for us to call, and had realized that we didn't really want to go with him. He renewed his invitations, today, and I've got to make sure to follow-up, this time.
Aside from that, people keep asking me about the welfare of my partner from last year, Kris Johnson. I tell them that Kris got married and has a real live job, now, where he actually makes real live money. The next logical question is why I am not married and making real live money. I don't really know the answers to these questions, and so I quickly change the subject to the weather. That topic isn't necessarily safe, either, because they ask me where the weather is nicer: in Armenia or Azerbaijan. 'Weather is nice everywhere,' I tell them. That's not unlike the question that I hear by the second day in EVERY SINGLE country this summer: "So what do you think of our women, here? Do you think they're pretty?" I can't think of a better way to incur the wrath of the natives than to slight the beauty of their young ladies. So I tell them the truth: "Of course they're pretty. I think they're pretty everywhere." This is not quite satisfying, though, because they then always ask me "Sure, they're all pretty, but where are they prettiest?" Since my momma raised me properly, I cannot tell a lie, and so I confidently inform them that I like Americans best, because we all prefer our own, right? Everyone has agreed to this response except for the Armenians who would tell me: "Nope, we like the Russian girls best, because they come from Siberia where it's snowy and they're white, white, white." I have nothing to say to that, so I laughed uncomfortably and changed the subject. That just goes to show that if you can't talk about the seemingly benign topics of work, the weather, or women, then you might as well just keep your mouth shut.
So Azerbaijan should be a delight to work with. I've already met with the country director, and he's excited about the project. That's a sure sign that it's going to work out, as opposed to some other country directors who seem rather distracted and suggest that I just direct all questions to the credit officers. Sincerity is so hard to fake, isn't it (no... this really IS my sincere voice)?
Well, it's getting late, so I've got to go. I'd just like to let y'all know out there, that I thoroughly enjoy getting your correspondance, and I try to respond as quickly as time permits in order to keep in touch. I've always felt that it's not necessarily the things you do that make life memorable, it's the people that you do them with, and the relationships that you build along the way. Thanks y'all, for keeping in touch. If I haven't responded in a while, send me a harshly worded email, and I'll get back to you with all due humility, as soon as possible. I will use my sincere voice.