I am on vacation with Yagud and Fizuli in a village of Lankeron. The day I am writing this, Sunday, is day 5 of our vacation and I am having a good time and enjoying it. However, there are definitely some marked differences form an American vacation, I should not generalize, so more specifically there are definitely marked differences between my version of a vacation than their idea. But, that is to be expected. Some examples. We left Imisli Wednesday, and when I say we I mean me, Yagud, Fizuli, and their neighbors who have a family of 3. So we drove the 6 hours in the afternoon heat with me and 3 other people in the back seat of a small 4 door car. We arrive to the village and start looking for a place to stay. The other family is renting a room out of person’s house, but Yagud didn’t like it there so we (Yagud, Fizuli, and me) went to another house. She didn’t like it here either so we went yet to a 3rd house. By this point we are all tired, hungry, and hot. She finally agreed to stay there a night and then decide if we will continue staying there (which we are, guess it grew on her). And we went to a neighboring region yesterday called Lerik. What did we do to mark our time in Lerik? See the highlights of the city? Drive or walk around? No, we went to a tea house, took pictures of us drinking tea, then left.
The village we are staying in is known for having naturally heated water springs that people visit for healing and health reasons. So every night we go to this place to sit in the ‘isti su’ (i.e. hot water). Well, there are two types of this hot water you can sit in: for one person it is a bathtub and for families or groups of same sex people (if a man and a woman go they have to be married to go in the same room) it is more of a pool type setting. Maybe a carved out of the ground hot tub is the best description. It is a large hot tub size, but rocks and earth are the ground – if that makes sense. So I went into the single room the first night. The second day Yagud decided I should see the ‘pool’ one (I said pool because the Azeri word used translated is pool).
On the second night we went to the hot water place and told the women in charge of collecting the money we wanted a ‘pool’ room. An hour later we were still on the benches sitting outside waiting for a room to open up, this is a crowded place. Yagud is getting impatient, I am getting hungry (it doesn’t open until 6 and we got there around 7). We go wait outside of the door of the room Yagud wants. For another 30 minutes we stand outside the door while Yagud impatiently knocks on the door telling the people in there to hurry up. Another 30 minutes passes and we are still waiting; the original plan was for me and Yagud to go together and then I would leave and then Fizuli would go in with Yagud. By this time we have been waiting so long that Yagud thought we all 3 (me, Yagud, and Fizuli) should go together, but I squashed that (because you do this naked). Then Yagud is fed up so she walks in there and talks to the people in there, who are all women. Next thing I know Yagud is telling me to come with her (this is about two hours after we arrived at the hot waters). So I walk in the room with the ‘pool’ and small area for changing. What do I see? Four naked women in the room going back and forth between sitting in the pool and sitting on the bench and one woman fully clothed waiting for the others. What do I do? Get naked and get in the pool. So here I am with 5 complete strangers, naked, and floating in the ‘healing power’ waters. (From the first night in the bath tub room the un-sanitariness of this gets suppressed from my mind, like I do often during my service.) Not sure what this says about me, but I don’t think twice about the situation. So next thing I know some says my shoe, i.e. my right chaco is in the canal. (The right shoe only being significant because I just happened to pee on that one by accident when I went to the bathroom while waiting for the pool room to be free.) I immediately jump out of the pool asking ‘what do you mean it is in the canal?’ Evidently, leaving your shoes in the middle of the room is a big mistake because the overflow from the pool flows out of the room into some inaccessible canal outside. A woman looks through the hole in the back of the room where the water is draining and says she sees my show. I look and don’t see it. Next thing I know Yagud, butt naked, gets down on all fours and starts reaching her hand through this hole trying to salvage my shoe. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my chacos. It didn’t start out that way, last summer I killed my rainbows and after mold starting to grow on them I decided it was time to face reality and throw them out. So this summer I had no choice but to start wearing my chacos. Well, I thought (and still do think) they are some of the ugliest shoes I own. But they have grown on me: they are comfortable, durable, easy to take on and off (no shoes in the house here), don’t mold when they get wet; they do leave a nasty tan line on my feet, but hey who is perfect? So, I daily wear my chacos and don’t want to wear any other shoes. All that being said, I don’t love them near enough to get on my hands and knees, butt naked, on the floor of this public bath house stick my arm through a drain where I can’t see what I am touching (huge phobia of mine – reaching my hands in things where I can’t see what I am touching). So, I resigned to losing my chaocs and having to buy a pair of sandals for the rest of the summer. But, not Yagud. She stuck her arm up to her shoulder through that hole (which was not much bigger than her arm) and that paired with a stick was able to save my chaco. Now, all the women in the room are mad at me because I am younger and smaller than Yagud and think I should be the one of the floor. But, I just look at them like they are out of their minds because I would never do that. So after my shoe is saved from its little bath (guess I shouldn’t pee on my shoes anymore) I wash my hair and body, rinse off and decide I have had enough of this pool experience. (Now, on the showering note – the only shower I have here is at this hot water place which is why I daily go).
But don’t worry, the story only gets better. Now, take into account it is the middle of summer, ridiculously hot, I just got out of basically a sauna, all my body water has been sweated out, feel de-hydrated and am continuously sweating – what would you do next? Let me tell you what I have to do, and I mean ‘have to’ as in forced to do. Put on pants, wear socks, wear a wool jacket over my tank top, and wrap my wet hair with a towel and stay that way for hours. Am allowed to drink water? Nope. I have to wait for everyone (Yagud, Fizuli and the other family we came with) to finish then we will all go drink boiling hot tea. I kid you not. If I don’t completely cover myself from head to toe and drink hot tea I will get sick. Yagud seriously told me the first night I couldn’t go into the hot waters because I refused not to drink water for the 7 week we will be here. So we compromised, I said I wouldn’t drink water after the hot waters, but during the day all bets were off. So, the second night I got out of my naked stranger experience, pee shoe in toe, sweating my life away dying of thirst. Oh Azeri vacations!
ps. pictures to come when I don’t have dial up internet