I never imagined it was possible to consume thirty cups of tea in a day, but my time in a village in northern Azerbaijan proved otherwise. We were dropped off at an aunt’s house in the early afternoon, where we played with a hen and her chicks before sitting down to sip on çay and eat a delicious meal of various potato and meat dishes (of course, only after we washed our hands, mom).
“Why are you eating so little?”
“Have you tried this yet?”
With such encouragement while I ate, it was difficult not to binge eat. With a full stomach, Elza, Rafael, and I made our way down the road to visit more family. For some reason, I did not expect there to be more food, but we were greeted with a plate of fruit and bread. Elza’s cousins explained to me how Azerbaijani bread is made: there’s a special well-shaped oven, in which balls of dough are slapped on the walls until they bake all the way through. An uncle reminisced about how his mother used to make individual, tiny person-sized loaves for her children. “They were so hot, but we were always so happy to be handed our own bread,” he said.
Most of the time at this aunt’s house involved catching up and chatting about goings-on in the village. This took place in a language I can’t understand, and Rafael and Elza often refused to translate, saying that the funniness of the joke had passed. After a while, I embraced the time to look around and think about where exactly I was. I was sitting in a room with only two concrete walls; curtains and sheets were hung to dry on one wall, and rows of potted ivy plants blocked off the rest of the room from the yard. Through the ivy, I could see geese wandering and the mountains in the distance.
Suddenly, it was time to head out – we added a cousin to our group, and met Elza’s mother-in-law back at the first aunt’s house. There, we changed into clothes more appropriate for walking. We set out, and our journey involved climbing over barbed wire, under gates, over large and spiky plants, and up a mountain. The up-the-mountain part of the hike was no where near as scary as the down-the-mountain aspect. After hoisting myself up and heaving a bit, I admired the view of the Caucasus and the речка, or tiny river, before realizing I somehow had to get down. We all helped each other maneuver the cliff (except Rafael, who just ran down), zig-zagging across the wall of grass and rocks. Somehow, some way I found myself on flat ground. A person in the group suggested crossing a ravine to cross over to visit another neighbor – this involved sitting and sliding down a vertical path of gravel and climbing around concrete blocks and garbage. Again, somehow, some way I made it through this obstacle course victorious.