Around the world

Exploring, Dreaming and Discovering America. Part I. Washington, DC.

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Living in the U.S. was something I dreamed of ever since I was 14 and never thought would happen. Against all odds, I'm here, on the other side of the Earth and 50 years into the future from where I lived before. I left Baku late night on Tuesday. Surrounded by the closest friends and my mom, I came to the airport to join 12 other excited and frightened Edmund S. Muskie fellows from Azerbaijan. After months of preparations and hundreds of ways we pictured this moment, that was it. It was time to say goodbye to everything and everyone we knew. So we did. I crossed the border and called my dad, who decided not to take me to the airport. We both decided. I knew it would be a special conversation, the kind we don't usually have. After all, we're too alike to show emotions. This time, we made an exception: he told me he believed in me, I told him I loved him. I hung up and allowed myself to cry just a little bit. Then a little more on the plane.

Setting my foot in Washington, DC's Dulles Airport, I looked around to find America be the same as I left it 7 months ago - a different world I already knew so much about. However, this time something was different and I knew exactly what it was. This time I was coming home, even if only for two years.

 

Washington greeted us with rain and surprised with its European aura. Whether it was the architecture, lack of sky-scrappers or just the way people looked that gave it such a non-American look, was uncertain. The only thing definite to us from first minutes was its own special spirit, which we were very eager to feel.

We joined the rest of the group - 120 other Muskie fellows from all around the post-Soviet area for a 4-day-long orientation conference prior to our departures to the cities of stay. As interesting and informative the conference part was, the anticipation of going out to the city of American history clouded everything else, at least for me. As soon as the official part was over, we were gone.

Walking around the city in smaller groups, almost all of us looked like a 9-year-old in Disney World - agape and curious about every little thing. Of course, the first thing to do was seeing the memorials - glorious Lincoln, inspiring Franklin Delano Roosevelt, historical Washington, Korean war, Vietnam war, Air and Space Museum, Capitol, White House, quotes to remember, phrases to facebook (yes, I'm using it as a verb), hundreds of pictures and miles of walking made us barely alive but absolutely happy by the end of both sightseeing days.

Then came what we called "a celebration of achievements", or, in other words, we went out to drink and observe. The best description of every city is its people: they way they're dressed, the pace they walk with or even the food they eat. Washington fashion is as descriptive as possible: young people in suits with heavy backpacks atilt and obvious great political ambitions all looked the same - worried and in a hurry; young girls had one thing in common - work heels in their hands and comfortable flats on their tired feet. On weekends they join endless flows of tourists in crowded pubs to drink up the fear of undefined future. Observing that, I felt them, after all, we were all in the same boat.

Moving to America was the first time I have ever left home for more than two months. Drinking for it in Washington three months ago, I had no idea what to expect. The fear of unknown was mixed with excitement and anticipation. I was about to start a completely new life in a strange place, where I could only count on myself. No friends, no parents, nothing I knew or was used to. On the other hand, education, independence and completely new world to explore seemed (and proved to be) so worth it.

After 4 days in Washington, I felt like leaving a huge plate of delicious food unfinished and promised myself to go back there the first chance I get. On August 7th another plane took me hundreds of miles away and several degrees hotter - to laid back and southern Tucson, Arizona, where the new chapter of my life was beginning.

To be continued...

 

 

 

 

Related posts:

Exploring, Dreaming and Discovering America. Part II. Tucson, AZ

R-Evolution

In May 2010 I took my first trip to Berlin to join Bloggertour 2010 organized by the Foreign Office of Germany. It was 16 of us from all around the world - from Costa Rica to China. It was a group of very special people, who, despite the racial and ethnical differences, were speaking the same language - the blogivism one.

But there was one, very special person for me, someone who understood perfectly what I was saying about my country and our mentality. Someone who had surprisingly similar stories about his country and also, at some point, had to become cynical in order to be able to keep on loving his land. Among all of the bloggers, he was the one who didn't need additional explanation. As you might have already guessed - he was Egyptian. No more words needed here.

***

Recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan and other Arabic countries bring me a whole set of mixed feelings. On one hand, it's disturbing, since there is a possibility for them to repeat Iran's or Ukraine's destinies, where revolutions failed either to radical regimes or Russian influence. I would love to know that behind today's events there is or will be a plan, which will dramatically change the Arab world for better.

At the same time, I enjoy what's going on too much for an outsider.

Contemporary revolutions, in my opinion, have much more chances to be successful than it was even 30 years ago. They're highly coordinated, informative in details and unifying, not only for the resistants, but for all their supporters around the world - and it's usually millions. Every detail will either be reported, or tweeted, or facebooked, giving us the privilege of re-tweeting, re-posting and sharing - making us feel a part of it, even when we're sitting on the couch chewing Doritos.

Besides, since the education has also became more international in recent years, there is also a big chance for countries like Egypt or Tunisia, many citizens of which have studied or are still studying abroad, to build a strong state with devoted educated individuals ruling it. And finally, there are numerous proven political and social systems, that can reduce corruption, monopolies and human rights violations to minimum, which can be easily (or not so) implemented and bring a totally new meaning to their future.

But the best effect of these events, for me personally, is the reaction of the 30-year-rulers of other countries. Probably for the first time in their lives they clearly see that whatever they did in the past, whatever intentions they were motivated with and whatever they were trying to get out of - it will eventually come back to bite them in the ass. And no big brothers can secure them from it.

***

Revolution is barely a good thing. It is usually driven by unhappiness, followed by tragic events and causes deaths and injuries. It makes many miserable and others violent, it affects the economy and can destabilize the country and the region for a long time. But sometimes it just has to be done. Because there's nothing worse for nation's pride, than being quiet towards injustices and giving up the essential rights by settling for what's given from the above. And by above I certainly don't mean God.

Today we are all Egyptians. So let's hope it ends well.

Euro-with-no-Vision

I've started my work in PR when I was 20. Even though it was a governmental structure, we were lucky enough to have good management and actually try to do something. On the other hand - we were close enough to other governmental structures to know how much money gets spent and what outreach was being received. Budgets were enough to feed the families of the whole management, while outreach was simply not worth it. At least PR wise. If you are thinking about starting business in Azerbaijan, probably the first word you should learn is "otkat" (ot-cut). This word we adopted from Russian language means the amount of money one has to bribe with if he receives a grant or a purchase from a certain structure.

And if you think that this is being covered and not talked about - you're mistaken. An Azerbaijani is usually fine talking about the otkats he received or had to pay. "How else should my family survive in this economy", he'll say if you ask.

Otkat works in all fields: business, education, arts and of course PR. As a result - cattles of expensive 4-wheel-drives filling the streets of Baku, millions spent on projects, outreach of which are once again - not worth it. 20 million manats for Flowers Day, 10 million dollars on participation in Eurovision (while Russia only spends 30 thousand), millions of money on cultural events around the world, which are mostly attended by Azerbaijanis. And does it bring more tourists to Azerbaijan? No, it only makes people pick up the phone and check the prices and then choose Turkey or Spain for vacation. Because it's simply much cheaper.

Let me tell you another PR story, which I've already mentioned a few days ago will write more broadly about in my next post.

A couple of months ago German Embassy contacted me asking if I would be interested in attending an International Blogger conference to be held in Berlin in May. "Of course!", I said. A month and an interview later - I was chosen as a representative of Azerbaijan to attend a 10-day Bloggertour organized by the Foreign Office of Germany.

What can I say? It turned out to be the best event I've ever participated. Not only was it well-planned and completely paid, but also so informative, I've already drafted two and wrote 1 post about things I've seen and learned there. And I'm only going to mention 30% of it - parts of the program that impressed me the most.

As a result - 16 most popular bloggers from around the world (and my blog was the weakest there) sharing their impressions and experience with their readers, who will repost those in their blogs or share on their Facebook pages. Outreach - thousands of readers and a line for the next year's tour.

Should I tell about a number of scholarships for international students and kind of promotion it gives to a country? Or work with Social Media activists? Or hundreds of festivals and celebrations held all around the world? La Tomatina in Spain? Saint Patrick's day in Ireland? Shopping festival in Dubai? Even the Pillow Fight in London? Or Karneval der Kulturen in Berlin I was lucky enough to see?

That's my friends, what I call PR. And our ambitions to show ourselves in a good way by spending loads of money are nothing more than just a nice icing on a really bad cake, no one will order again. And no otkat will save it.

Fatalin in Berlin. Part I

"Hello, can I have a seat next to the window, but far from the wing?", - I asked. "Sure! No problem!", - a nice lady at Aeroflot's registration answered me.

When I got on the plane I saw my seat: next to the walkway, on the same line with the wing, in the emergency exit row, with a chair that doesn't lean back...

"The front row is empty, can I sit there?", - I asked the flight attendant.

"No, no, no, we don't even sell tickets for these seats. The oxygen bag's tier is broken and can fall off and hit you in the head!", - was the response.

"Thank you for choosing Aeroflot", - a voice came from the speakers.

After three hours in Sheremetyevo airport without Wi-Fi, ability to buy coffee or magazines, since they only accept roubles (yes, in an international terminal of the airport... and there are no currency exchange points), I kind of felt nostalgic about Baku airport. And was even more happy to get on the plane that was going to take me to Berlin - one of the cities I would have in my "visit-while-alive" list... if I had one.

And I wouldn't be mistaken.

***

What does it mean to be a blogger? Does/Should a blog carry the responsibility traditional journalism does? Should it be censored or "limited in freedom of speech"? These and many other questions were answered today, at the first day of Bloggertour - a get-together of bloggers from around the world, organized by the Foreign Office of Germany. The geography of the participants spreads from Costa-Rica to China. It's 15 of us - chosen by the German Embassies in our countries.

During our first day we had 4 equally interesting and informative meetings. Morning, or "where-can-I-get-coffee" part of the day has started with Robin Meyer-Lucht's lecture on German blogs and statistics. The afternoon was about German laws and how they affect or protect bloggers, presented by Jan Mönikes, expert in online law, or how he calls himself - blogging lawyer. After lunch Jens Berger, a political blogger and a jury member at the Deutsche Welle Blog Awards told us more about German blogosphere and political blogging here. The day has finished with Matthias Spielkamp and his presentation on relations between citizen journalism and traditional journalism in Germany.

So, today I've learned that:

  • One is not allowed by law to offend or criticize the president of Germany in his blog. Not because he's the best or wants to seem so, but because he doesn't decide anything. He's a symbol, just like the flag.
  • It is allowed to discuss Holocaust, but one goes to jail for denying it. One will also get detained for 5 years for wearing or in any way carrying swastika or any of the SS attributes.
  • "Mein Kampf" is not prohibited to own and keep at home, but can not be sold in Germany.
  • It is actually legal to drive or walk absolutely nude.. Unless someone is disturbed, then it becomes a case. A very funny one, apparently.
  • Bloggers have all rights the journalists in Germany have: they can join press unions, get the journalist social security and etc., while their articles are protected by copyright law.
  • Bloggers also carry the responsibility journalist have and also get sued.
  • Baku sells more vodka than Novosibirsk.
  • Croatian and Czech people can be surprisingly tall. Very tall.
  • Egyptians and Azerbaijanis should live together.
  • Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan understand some Azerbaijani. Or at least Tolkun does.

And, well, should I say how great the crowd is? Oh, I will.

I also will talk about Germany and smoker rights.

Because I'm a blogger.

And we criticize.

To be continued...