Friday, September 12, 2008

Take Out the Garbage

One of my students is doing a story about garbage. Many places in Baku have regular garbage pickups, but many don't. It's those places that this young reporter is focusing on. She's been to a bunch of garbage piles in the last two weeks, talking with those living near these rubbish heaps as well as health officials and others -- including an official with the sanitation department.

My student told me that the interview with the official went really well, but then at the end, he tried to slip her the equivalent of 25 US dollars if she would forget about the story. As she described this incident to me, I could see and feel her surprise in her voice. She had never experienced anything like this before. She refused the money and told him "you should be ashamed." Her story should be finished next week. We hope to get it on the air -- at least on the web. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Banana-less Split

I was surprised last week when I happened to see that my favorite Indian restaurant had a banana split on the menu. I ordered one. It came in a long slender dish with three scoops of ice cream, finely crushed nuts, chocolate syrup, a cherry on top -- and fried bananas along the edge. It was absolutely delicious and I vowed to order another one the next time I visited.

Last evening, I returned with three friends and at the end of the meal, three of us ordered the banana split. We were excited about the fried bananas and one of my friends described how she had attempted to fry bananas once -- but she wound up with a severely burned banana and a room full of smoke. I assured her that this place knows how to fry bananas.

A few minutes later, the waiter brings out the desserts -- each of us looks down at our dishes and are amazed that there are no bananas. Everything else is there, but no bananas in the banana split.

I reminded the waiter that we ordered banana splits. He replied "this is the banana split." But where is the banana? "It's there," he replied. But where? "This is a banana split," he said. Ok, we were going in circles. Finally, he said in a very serious voice: "This is our NEW banana split."

Monday, September 8, 2008

Streets of Baku

I just walked two blocks from my office to an ATM machine and was nearly hit by a car and was almost assaulted by a two-by-four falling from scaffolding -- and then there's the dust as thick as fog flying in the air.

Today's walk is typical in Baku. It's impossible to use the sidewalks because cars either park on them or scaffolding is set up on them to sand-blast all the buildings. The government has decided to sand-blast virtually ever building in central Baku as part of a beautification project.

It means walking in the streets -- as close to the edge of the street as possible so as not to get hit by a speeding car, but also steering clear of the scaffolding -- where things regularly drop from the upper reaches onto the sidewalk below.

It's quite the obstacle course and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight.

To make the situation even worse, many of the city parks are closed for renovations. So there is no place to go to escape. As part of its renovations, the city has erected high fences around the city parks and has even enclosed the sidewalks -- which means pedestrians must walk in the street -- with the fence on one side and a speeding Mercedes or SUV on the other.

Oh, and I forgot about the horns. People love to individualize their car horns and motorists use any opportunity to show them off.

It makes for a constant noise as you dodge the cars and scaffolding. And don't forget to hold your breath -- to avoid the sand-blasting.

I'm an optimist, by holding my breath, I'm increasing my lung capacity.