After reading the article “Absurdities of everyday life”, in which Lukasz Grajewski shared his remarks after visiting the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, I started to wonder about some points. Why? The author mentioned several points which are obviously noticed by those visiting Baku for the first time. It’s highly possible that any other guest or tourist coming to the capital would notice exactly the same things. But sometimes what you see does not match reality. That’s why I’d like to comment on some points mentioned by Lukasz.
Cars. Every Azerbaijani’s main life goal, according to Lukasz. It’s not so simple and the cars are not always “supposed to be new and big”. OK, in some cases I agree – lots of Azerbaijanis is used to live in luxury, to have a nice big car. But why this issue so visible here? It is because Baku is a city of mostly narrow streets and using big cars in narrow streets seems to be very strange to foreigners. Yes, it is inconvenient and expands traffic jam in whole city. Recently, however, several bridges have been opened and we have built new and wider roads. Still, I can say that to have a car in Azerbaijan is not the main life goal for all citizens.
What about bicycles? Yes, we don`t have many people using bicycles every day, while going to work, school, university or whatever. Instead we use cars all the time. But be assured – Azerbaijanis do ride bikes. Maybe it is just our way, or tradition, using cars instead of bicycles or motorbikes. A quick tip: if you want to ride a bicycle, you can take a trip from the Boulevard of Baku and ride a whole day around the city.
This summer when I came to Baku for my holidays, for the first time I noticed young people on bikes around Baku – something I did not see a year ago. There are also not many women using this means of transport. Still, there’s a change.
Next: pedestrian crossings, which are mostly underground? From my point of view citizens of Baku use underground very rarely – it is mostly school kids who use undergrounds. On the other hand, we cross streets in a way that sometimes can look funny to foreigners and as if cars are our great enemies. A year ago we didn’t even care about traffic lights, but now it is dangerous to cross on red, ‘cause you’d be caught, asked for ID, etc.
Underground crossings are also different. When I first came to Warsaw, Poland, I was very surprised to see such enormous undergrounds in a great condition, where people are able to shop, relax, have a dinner or drinks. For me they are more like small towns with inner streets and places to go. In Baku the situation differs a lot.
Maybe my point of view varies from those currently living in Baku. However, after living in Warsaw and coming back to my city in summer I am able to make a comparison. For once: Lukasz is right that Baku is not a place for poor people. Foreign students living here have tough life – prices in supermarkets are pretty high comparing to Warsaw. Azerbaijan is considered a rich country with its fast growing economy and the prices reflect it.
Last but not least: men and women. The author mentioned men’s domination. First: women are present in the public space – there’s no ban on going out, in contrast to some other Muslim countries. They can work and study, visible in the city during the day. Evenings, however, belong to families – in most cases women spend them doing some work at home, or go out with their relatives. We still can see quite a lot of male-female pairs going out in the evenings. Yes, the voice of men in public is more dominant. Yet they treat women with big respect.
Another aspect mentioned by Lukasz was male friendship visible on Baku streets. It can be perceived as strange by some Europeans when men in Azerbaijan kiss each other on cheeks in a form of greeting, considering it “gay”. This tradition of kissing is simply a sign of friendship between men who went through quite much together. Not to mention the fact that there are most probably against gays themselves. Men kiss each other on cheeks but I haven’t seen them walking arm in arm in Azerbaijan, as Lukasz wrote in his article.
Yes, “We are not a very Muslim country”, but on the other hand we have quite a big number of Islamists and Islamic manifestations which have been held during recent years. The reason why male-female pairs are seen less frequently than male-only “comes from our education and tradition” – education in Azerbaijan was implemented in separate groups of only males or only females for many years. Maybe this issue lingers in Azerbaijanis’ minds.
In conclusion, I want to write that Azerbaijan needs some time in order to be like any other European state. Now we are growing and I want to believe that this process will change into a real progress.