i went to the second (or third....depends on who you ask) largest city in azerbaijan this weekend, ganja. i had an amazing time. in the photo above you'll see my fellow pcv friends charlie and elmir. elmer lives in ganja and led us on an amazing journey of sorts through the mighty rayon of Shamux. let me explain...
elmer, who's language skills FAR surpass those of charlie and I's, knew of an important Shia mescid (mosque) in the outskirts of the city. the three of us were walking around ganja deciding what to do and then took Elmer up on his offer of walking us there. he warned us that he didn't really know how to get there, but we could try. charlie and i just wanted to walk around and see the area, so we didn't oppose to getting lost. hell, why not?
first we took a bus to a train station. from there we walked through an industrial district in search of the right marshrutka (minibus). we got on a mini bus....the bumpiest slowest marshrutka in the world. we got a wonderful view of the boonies as we took the marshrutka around in a full circle and ended up where we began. the sun began to set, but NO MATTER. we had a journey to experience.
so we started walking. Elmer was kind enough to buy some cheese in advance, so we searched for hot bread along the way to the mythical mosque. we didn't actually find hot bread, but we did find bread. we walked and ate and walked and ate and joked around about how we were entering our spirit quest...that maybe there was no mosque at all, but only a destination within ourselves. it was funny at the time...i guess you'll have to trust me on that.
then the sun set. and it was dark. and we were alongside some random road. we past a couple of the same spots a couple of times, but whoa and behold! elmir spotted our destination. but would the mosque be open?
NOPE. however, elmer...with his superior language skills, rang the bell of the mosque. someone inside said the mosque was closed, but we waited until the man approached to see what we wanted. elmir explained that we are visitors from america currently living in azerbaijan and that we would love a chance to see the mosque. well, the man opened up the mosque gates right away and let us in. but it goes on...
the three of us got a full tour of all the mosque rooms. this is interesting because often women are forbidden from entering all rooms. as you can see from my picture, i was looking pretty ragged and had only my hood to cover my head with. however, they didn't seem to mind and never commented. they showed us how to pray in several different ways and actually had us pray in one circumstance. they also gave us each our own prayer stone and cloth. next the sprayed us with rose water and gave me sugar for chay (tea) later in the day. lastly, they even took a picture of us together in front of the mosque on our way out. pretty hospitable if you ask me.
what amazed me about the experience is that they were very open, non-xenophobic, and they didn't proselytize. they asked us no questions regarding our inherent american-ness. they were just incredibly hospitable. some volunteers come to azerbaijan and never see the inside of a mosque. i think we were very lucky.
the spirit quest was a success!