It was eagerly anticipated. It was much planned for. Hours of phoned calls, emails, and texts went into the preparations. After a year and 9 months of waiting, the big event was finally here... my Mom and Dad arrived in Azerbaijan!
After looking forward to my parents coming to visit for so long, it was kind of hard to believe that they were really here. Waiting at the airport, I was restless with excitement and nerves. I couldn't stop pacing and every time the doors hope, I caught my breath, thinking "will it be them this time?" Usually, it was some oil worker ex-pat - not them. Each time, I peered through the door, hoping for a glimpse of them. Nothing. But, finally, the doors slid open and it was Mom and Dad Flegal! Yay!!!!!
We spent our first couple of days in Baku, doing the sights and giving them a little bit of time to settle in and get over the jet lag. We did a bunch of the tourist things I've never gotten to do. On of the things about coming to Baku for work so often is that I don't do the interesting sight seeing that is here. Much like having spent my life living in the DC area and never having been to the Washington Monument. We went to the Maiden's Tower, the carpet shop - where we got a complete education on carpets, later in the trip we saw the Sihirvan Shah's Palace. It was great!
After Baku, we headed down to Lankaran. We had about a week planned there so that my folks could see a few of my conversation clubs, meet my friends and counterparts, celebrate Novruz (my absolute favorite holiday in Azerbaijan!), and see a little bit of what my life is really like here. I have to say, this may have been my favorite part of their visit. I loved getting to show off my town - both the good and the bad. I loved getting to show off my parents. I love that my mom treated me to things I wouldn't but for myself - like bananas.
We saw the sights of Lankaran - the lighthouse, the park, the Stalin Prison, the river. We went to the bazar. My parents' response after the bazar was, "well, that was truly bizarre." We relaxed at my apartment and just hung out the way we would have at their house in Herndon (you know, if their house was a bare-bones apartment in a developing country. But the ambiance was the same, and that's what's important.)
We spent the two major holidays of Novruz with each of my counterparts. We celebrated Chershemba Bayram (Tuesday Holiday) with Ruhangiz and her family. Chershemba is probably my favorite - that's the day you jump over fire and do all the cool games like egg fights. One of the coolest things was getting my mom to jump over fire (my Dad was saftely nestled on Ruhangiz's balcony taking pictures). We spent Novruz (March 20 - the first day of spring) with my other counterpart, Afag, and her family. At both homes, my parents got to experience Azeri national meals and typical Azeri hospitality. For the first time since I've been here, people weren't forcing a ton of food on me. Instead, I got to sit back and watch my parents struggle through mountains of food being piled on their plates. Everywhere we went - my counterparts', my landlady's, my school - people were so excited to see them. My parents couldn't escape a meeting without drinking tea, eating a ton of food, and some kind of gift.
After Lankaran, we headed up north. First a stop in Lahij - one of the neatest villiages in the AZ. It is way up in the mountians, and the road up is, at times, terrifying, but it is well worth it. After Lahij, we headed to Sheki. One of the great things bout our trip to Sheki is that I hadn't been there yet. It was really cool to get to discover a part of Azerbaijan with them, rather than just showing them the stuff I had already been to.
Everyone is right - Sheki is beautiful. One of the prettiest places I've been to in Azerbaijan. We did the major sights - The Xan Saray (Khan's Palace) and the Caravansaray. Please note who's hanging out with my parents in the picture at the Xan Saray. That's right - Shannon and Dr. Heidi got to travel with us ! We stayed at the Caravansaray (an old hotel that was part of the Silk Road back in the day). My mother was not a big fan of the steps at the Caravansaray! We shopped - also a very fun experience for me. On my PC budget, all I can usually do it window shopping. Walking around with my Mom and Dad, who could actually buy all of the really cool things we saw, was great! We had dinner with a bunch of PCVs and my Mom and Dad got to meet abunch ofthe Americans who make up such an important part of my Azer-world.
Sadly, all good things have to come to an end, so all too soon, it was time to return to Baku and send them back to America. We spent one final day in Baku, finishing up some shopping, doing a bit more sightseeing, getting them all packed up, and relaxing. It was a nice way to end the visit.
One of the best things about my parents' visit was getting to see Azerbaijan through their eyes. It gave me a fresh perspective on so many things. Things that I have come to accept as just being the way they are - like the conditions at my school - I saw without my rose-colored glasses again. Things that I have come to hate - like the constant attention anytime I walk around town - I saw with a little more kindness. In a way, they gave me a new appreciation for the place I am living in. I think that's pretty awesome.
Having my Mom and Dad here for a couple of weeks was incredible. It was definitely hard to see them go, but having the knowledge that I'll see them again in a few short months made it much easier. And, cheesy as this sounds, the memories will last a lifetime.