This has been such a relaxing morning. I’m in Gabala, about a three hour drive from Baku (it depends on how fearless the driver feels), staying with Elza and her mother-in-law. They have a large home with a charming garden in front, which serves as the home of two chickens.
There’s no Internet at the house, something Elza’s mother-in-law complained about, but which I’ve actually enjoyed. I also have not seen a mirror, and I don’t know if there’s a television. We spend a lot of our time in the kitchen, drinking tea and eating bread with honey and syrup.
In the early afternoon, a man (an uncle?) picked up Elza, her mother-in-law, Rafael, and me to go to the village in the mountains where Elza’s family comes from. We first stopped at Elza’s mother-in-law’s sister’s home, where we first had tea and preserves made of ting strawberries picked in the mountains. This was followed by a lunch of chicken, fried potatoes, and mountain deer meat, which was obviously followed with more tea. Elza and Rafael took me to another aunt’s house down the road, where we had tea with Elza’s aunt and two cousins. Again, the conversation happened outside of my language abilities, but I learned to laugh when others laugh and only ask for translation when something seems really hilarious. Elza’s aunt asked me whether I am married and at what age people get married in America. After fielding these questions, one of the cousins joined us for a walk into the mountains. There was a lot of crawling under fences and over huge plants, as well as a vertical climb up a wall of grass that overlooked an orchard and the river. Somehow, someway we managed to get back down the mountain.
While walking back to the first aunt’s house, we stopped in another woman’s home, where we found a group of women sitting on the floor having tea. I was poured another cup of tea, and offered more fruit preserves and candy. We watched a wedding reception video on the television, and I tried to listen for key vocab as the women talked, gossiped, and shared stories. They also had questions about me, running on a similar theme of marriage. Elza’s mother-in-law translated: you are doing it right, not getting married and seeing the world by yourself. After several hours and another meal of meat patties, fries, and grapes, we left this house to go back to the first aunt’s house. She gave us two plastic bags, one filled with summer apples and the other with a live chicken.
With these bags in tow, we walked to yet another aunt’s house. On the way we encountered a cousin, whom we had to congratulate on his birthday. We finally made it to this aunt’s house, where I was photographed with several small children and fed halva, a treat I tried in Turkey, but which tasted better in the mountain village.
The uncle who picked us up decided to show me around the other side of the village. We walked around, took pictures with the mountains as our backdrop, and drank from a stream of cold, fresh water. The uncle decided I needed to try the meat up there, so we sat at a picnic table nestled by the river and waited for the plate of meat to arrive. I somehow managed to consume more salad and pednir, along with two pieces of delicious… some kind of animal. We drank again from the stream to help with digestion before leaving to go home.
I foolishly thought I was done with tea for the day, but upon returning home, we immediately set out to visit another uncle. Elza and I stayed there for almost three hours, practicing English with older cousins, playing with a younger cousin, and – of course – drinking tea. Elza’s uncle was very interested in my Irish background, and hypothesized that I may be Lezgin, due to the similar character of the Irish and Lezgin people. Who knows if this is true, but one thing is certain: this place is incredible, and I am so thankful to have been introduced to this family.