Differences make unity – that’s about Azerbaijan and Baku. The city of happy people, peace and calmness. Luxury in details and greatness in simplicity. It has nothing in common with your ideas about it and can surprise, impress and attract because of this.
Before going to Baku I’d suggest you to create a list of expectations. Not in order to be ready for a new city, country and culture. But in order to check one more time how many stereotypes you keep in your head and have fun observing how most of them are getting broken.
Actually, while planning a trip I was trying to keep my brain clean, not to think too much about what is expecting me there and not to surf internet searching for information from tourists about Azerbaijan. But still I had some beliefs and imaginations of Azerbaijani lifestyle which turned to be so far from reality.
What comes to your mind first when you hear about Muslim country? The most common answer would be mosques, heat, women in hijabs and strict rules. I used to have quite similar associations before I came to Azerbaijan. First of all, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to wear my usual summer clothes in Baku, being sure that it’s forbidden here to walk outside in shorts, for example. The truth is that you can wear here whatever you feel comfortable in and nobody will criticize you. Baku is the city of tolerance towards the people with different views and personal rules and harmony between traditional and modern, western and eastern, religious and not.
This harmony is revealed through everything, even through the architecture. Architecture of Baku is one more example of Azerbaijani mixture of the contrast things. On the one hand, it is represented by the newest dwelling houses and sophisticated buildings of future, which embody creative and sometimes even crazy architectural ideas. On the other hand, Baku saves its eastern spirit due to the huge amount of old, but luxurious eastern-style buildings.
After staying here for a week you stop noticing how different and sometimes contrast looks and clothes people here have. People in Baku easily interact with each other despite all their distinctions. It’s a common thing that even the members of the same family can have absolutely different attitude to religion or some traditions. Everybody respects the choice of the other person. So don’t trust those who are trying to convince you that you won’t feel comfortable in Azerbaijan because of the Muslim strictness, strength of old traditions or reserved people.
In fact, Azerbaijani people don’t make you feel that you should do in Azerbaijan as Azerbaijanis do, they totally accept you with your habits. Azerbaijanis impressed me by their openness, generosity and hospitality, they will be trying to help you even not understanding your language. Don’t be surprised if you get free tea in Azerbaijani restaurant. Don’t be surprised when the seller of melons will cut one for you and your friends directly on the street without taking money, but just because he liked you. Don’t be surprised when somebody who noticed that you don’t have coins will pay for you in a bus even if you didn’t ask him or her. Moreover, don’t be surprised that nobody is going to check your ticket in public transport, because there’re no tickets or controllers. People in Baku pay in the buses because the consciousness doesn’t allow them not to pay, not because of the external control. And finally… don’t be surprised that Azerbaijani people dance salsa and even have salsa open-air parties!
However, I wish you to get a lot of positive surprises from the capital of the unique country that amazes and unite such different shades of the Asian and European traditions.
Written by Victoria Dudar, Ukraine
Photos by Anastasia Shymcenco, Moldova
22 July 2016