Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Article about Sheki...written by Ayten Giyasova

A week in the holidays of Ayten Giyasova
Ayten Giyasova waxes lyrical about her family summer in Sheki

My family originally comes from the city of Sheki which is situated in the north-west of Azerbaijan. This mountainous region has a strong dialect and is famous for its humour and cuisine.

As far back as I remember, every year it has been a sacred tradition to go to Sheki for the summer holidays. Even when we were in Poland where my father was working, Mum would take her three daughters back to her home town every summer and Dad would join us later. Since they are both from Sheki I don’t even know if they ever considered going anywhere else… During my school years I would spend three months in Sheki, during university two months or less and now when I am working and married one-two weeks a year maximum. This year again I am going to Sheki.

(this is when vacation starts, Friday evening was spent buying gifts and gathering things that we need to go to Sheki):
Driving to Sheki with my relative who is also on holiday. Left my husband back in Baku and look forward to seeing my son who is in Sheki with my mother and my younger sister. Last time I talked to her she said that she didn’t want any presents from me (even top-ups for her mobile!) but wants me to come and take care of my 17 month old son, he is getting naughtier by the day, she says.
The road to Sheki is around 360 km, the scenery is beautiful. Many cars can be seen leaving hot and humid Baku. Trip was nice, we stopped on the way to have tea in the forest and I felt chilly. Was it unbearably hot in Baku? Can’t remember…
Reach Sheki. Have you ever lived in a small city? Then you would know what it is to drive through in a car with everyone looking at you and you greeting every third person you see, since you know almost everyone, or you know someone who knows the person who’s waving at you. Reached our street and here we are: the street is wide enough for only one car and the truck that was going through broke down and got stuck so our car couldn’t get in. I meet another relative who is for some reason in the truck and who gets out and helps me with the luggage, so I decide to walk the last angle of my eventful journey.
Reach the house. Jafar (my son) is sleeping. My heart skips a beat when I look at him lying in his bed. Still can’t believe that I have a son. Thank you, God.
Have to go and say “salam” to my older uncle and his family. Respect ritual that has to be done towards him and later to two aunties and another auntie who isn’t very well. Depending on whom I visit first the other aunties will get upset… So I will do all the visits in one day and priority will be given according to geographic closeness of their house to our house. Hopefully everyone will be happy. Attention must also be given to what I wear and how I look. If I am dressed too casual my aunties might think that my life is too hard and since they don’t see me very often, they would worry for the whole next year that their poor niece is struggling with the capitalist rat race of the capital city. Have a great excuse not to spend too long in any house since although Jafar loves travelling in his pushchair, he hates to stay inside any house for too long… So after the obligatory cup of tea in every place, off we go. Topics are the same every year: the weather – too hot summer – who is doing what, who got married, who didn’t get married, who had a baby, who didn’t have baby. Additional subjects are that I shouldn’t have left the baby behind and travelled (before coming to Sheki) and that I shouldn’t have left the husband in Baku and come to Sheki on my own. As our famous literary character Molla Nasraddin said “Whatever you do people would always find a reason to be unhappy about your behaviour…”

Can relax at home. Although Mum was up, at around 07:30 Jafar started crying, no screaming, next to my bed until I sat up in my bed. As soon as I was up he happily took my finger and led me to the balcony. He must have wanted to tell me that I should enjoy beautiful morning but he can’t talk yet. Anyway I am up. Should I be nasty and wake up my sisters too? Tried sending Jafar to do that but he didn’t seem very interested.
Today relatives will come to see me. Garden gates are never locked in Sheki – because we have people that constantly come and go. And most of those people are relatives. Close or distant, doesn’t matter. Children come to play with Jafar or actually to play with his toys. Men come to offer help as both my dad and my husband are not with us but in Baku and since we women are supposed to be weak and immobile… Women come to chat and tell the latest gossip. Some topics are so old I remember them talking about it since I was 20 (I am 30 now). Everyone who comes is treated to tea and if it is lunch or dinner time the guest has to be made to stay (although they say that they don’t want to stay, eat or drink, usually they say it because either they are shy or because it is a rule of politeness to refuse). The whole day is a circle of drinking tea, preparing meals and eating and washing, laughter and talks. Jafar’s bed time. Hurrah! He also gives us a break during a day when he has his daytime sleep of 2.5 hours. Everyone at home is tired, big plans of having another tea session in the garden are interrupted by magnetic power of the sofa. Well, another day is gone. What a pity…
Same as above…
Ok, today I will be organized and read at least couple of pages while Jafar is sleeping. Who can take him for a walk? I will top up your mobile. Two girls volunteer. Why two? Can’t you do it one by one, 30 minutes… ok… 15 minutes each… ok. I agree even for 15 minutes two girls together. What can I do for 15 minutes? Sit on a sofa, read a page, open internet (no, internet is too slow)… while I was thinking 15 minutes have gone. Here they are. Jafar is saying something in his language. He must have seen the neighbour’s buffalo. Yes, it is scary, I agree.
We had beautiful rain this evening. With a thunderstorm and lightning. We were sitting under the shelter in the garden, having tea with some relatives. Had to replace the table with a bigger one because there were so many people. Some other people who were passing by in the street also popped in (caught in the rain) to say hi and wait for the rain to stop. Such a pity that I can’t convey the smell of grass and earth during and after summer rain. Great feelings… we stayed in the garden until 1 am. I will have to get up in 6 hours and 30 minutes. Oh well, who cares, Napoleon only slept for 5 hours, but he didn’t have children... or did he? He must have had dozens of nannies…but he was conquering countries…ok…sleep…only 6 hours left…zzz…

My husband is coming! Hurrah!! He is also bringing my in-laws! Good!! Honestly, I personally invited them. My father-in-law is also originally from Sheki where some of his family members were killed by Soviets in 1918. The remainder of the family escaped to Baku hoping to disappear in a bigger city. Since then my in-laws have visited Sheki only once or twice and their memories are very vague. My mother-in-law is Russian and after Moscow everywhere else seems very small and insignificant to her; hope she doesn’t say anything like this to my relatives here. Anyway will stay close and if something is said will claim that the meaning is "lost in translation"
Mum is preparing a big dinner. Couple of relatives are helping. My duty comprises of cleaning the house. I called a neighbour woman to help. Was accused of laziness and “squanderism”... Was able to justify my action with the facts that the woman needed extra money for her household and I deserved a rest.
Evening. Everyone has arrived. Jafar is spending the whole time in his father’s car. He pretends that he is driving. His father missed him a lot, so he doesn’t mind spending his evening by the car. After dinner everyone goes to bed early. In-laws are happy but complain that the journey was too long.

Sheki tour for in-laws. Kish village with one of the oldest Christian Churches, built on the most ancient sanctuary in the territory of former Caucasian Albania (believed to have been started by the first century apostle Eliseus, who converted the site from a pagan temple to an apostolic church). Jafar wouldn’t get up from some stone, looks like a grave, maybe there is some miracle about that stone. Let me sit on it as well… Remains of Gelersen-Gorersen fortress (You Will See When You Come) and tea session by Qirjana river (Sheki people say that when Alexander the Macedonian boasted that he would definitely defeat this fortress Sheki people replied saying you will see when you come, this is where its name comes from… he couldn’t defeat the fortress of course). Nap time for Jafar. I go back home. In-laws carry on.
Kebab session in the evening. There is my parents’ family of four, our family of two and a half (is Jafar a half or I should count him as two?), my two in-laws , my uncle’s family of another five who came to pay respects to my in-laws and three cousins of my mother whom my husband invited to join us for dinner. Will there be enough kebabs for everyone?
Men refuse to let us clean their part of table… their dinner is endless… toasts are proposed to everything and everyone possible and impossible I think…
Who will do the dishes? Let’s think about it tomorrow. Not possible in Sheki. Who knows a woman who would go to sleep with dirty dishes in Sheki? If one knows everyone will know tomorrow. One last amicable spurt and the dishes are done.
What a day…

Saturday (can I describe another day? pleeeeeeeeease)
Breakfast in the mountains. Just 15-20 minutes drive and it’s great. "Whose idea is this?" I hear my father and father-in-law complaining. “Ayten’s,” says my little sister. The men aren’t particularly thrilled at the prospect. The main thing is that the women are happy. Of course we are going!
Breakfast turns out to be great. Uncle’s family joins us. Two samovars of tea are gone. Everyone is happy. I make everyone confess ALOUD that my idea was great and that they are grateful to me for my creativeness. Satisfaction.
We come home. In-laws are leaving tomorrow so every close relative is calling and inviting them to their house. Phone calls do not stop – we spend many minutes thanking and refusing since we really don’t want to go anywhere. Asked my mother-in-law if she liked Sheki and she said “If there is heaven on earth, then it must be in Sheki.” Mission accomplished.
Evening is beautiful again with some rain... very refreshing.
Jafar is again in the car pretending that he is driving. It is hot inside the car and my husband is fed up of spending his time in the garage carrying out his son’s instructions: open the door, no close the door, push this button, no that button, turn this light on, no he meant off. We all hope that soon when all Jafar’s teeth have come through he will be less demanding and capricious… Does he really need 32 teeth???
I think I wrote about more than one week. Good thing is that I was able to spend another week in Sheki and enjoy my kind native place with cool summers and warm people…


Anonymous said...

I did come and read the whole thing. I don't really know what you want me to say about it but I could understand it all and I felt like I knew some of the people you described in your story because your descriptions are very good. I like the way you described the rain and the smells because I have smelled that too many times. I don't know a lot about your country and I should know more than I do. I looked at satallite images of your area and also of other areas. I saw Palandoken and that looked pretty big to me. You are not that far from Mongolia.

I also saw your 300 year old Oak tree but I think it must be older than 300 years. It is a huge tree.

If you can tell me more about what you want to know about what you wrote then I will be better able to answer.

Thanks again. I did enjoy reading it. You all drink a lot of tea. We drink a lot of coffee.

Sally said...

I was holding my breath hopingthat mother-in-law was going to be well-behaved. And she carried herself off with such aplomb! The ultimate compliment to her husband and in-law's town!!

I loved your diary, felt like I was right there with you.

I have a small inkling what all that visiting and food and refusing and not offending is about: I have Sicilian in-laws....and Christmas in Sicily was one long round of drinking coffee and liquers and eating sweets and going to the next house, and trying not to upset one group by visiting longer with another!!!!!

Sheeeeeesh. Culture shock for a girl from an Australian Anglo background where things are much more casual!

azeri said...

I am from Sheki.I love Sheki.I read the whole article that you wrote.
Actually I know about you,and about your family.(because of I live in sheki).
Ireally enjoyed that article.Thanks that you wrote this articel about Sheki

javaugues said...

I shall be in Sheki for a week from sept. the 4th, french teachers' in training service.
Your blog about Sheki (which I don't know) opened a door to me and I hope I shall be able to learn more and make French teachers discover and appreciate the town I allready love...
Thanks for your so interesting articles about Sheki!
anne amrie

Jaxson corey said...

Thanks for sharing this interesting and educative information. I think many writers will find your contribution very helpful, I have equally learnt something from it.
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