Monday, July 10, 2006

Why I have a laptop, why I have an apartment...

Have been back in Baku for two days now to continue my freelance reporting for ISN Security Watch. This will be a brief trip, however, since I plan to be back in Chicago in late August to teach international relations as an underpaid adjunct at North Park University.

So in the next five weeks I plan to: 1) ask the Iranian embassy for permission to interview the Iranian president in Tehran, 2) investigate terrorist activity here in Azerbaijan, 3) cover the recent developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, 4) write about tension between Iran and Azerbaijan, including the recent riots in Tabriz, and 5) visit northern Iran.

Somehow, I also want to avoid 6) getting killed or thrown into prison.

Especially since I know so many nice girls here in the Caucasus who I want to spend more time with. One (crazy) girl I know is Zarina, who is both fun to be with and exasperating.

But she is also charming and funny and nutty, which are big plusses. Three months ago, she had a habit of experimenting with hair color and makeup and admiring herself in the mirror while purring, “I’m so sexy!”

But I finally decided that she was wearing me out, so I reluctantly stopped returning her calls in late April.

As I was walking down the Targova yesterday, barely two hours after my arrival on a broken-down Antonov jet, I noticed a feline-looking girl who was laughing and joyously shouting at a friend. Although I couldn’t see her face and her hair was very different, I knew that it had to be Zarina. No one else in Azerbaijan has her peculiar admixture of spontaneity and quirkiness.

“Hello Zarina,” I said in a gentle undertone, like a whisper uttered by one’s conscience.

She spun around, screamed, and hugged the breath out of me. Twenty minutes later, she was in my apartment, happily text messaging her boyfriend on my laptop and demanding a cold beer.

“Two Turkish boys asked me to marry them yesterday!” she proclaimed. I believe that – her brand of feminine charm both repels some men and attracts others irresistibly.

She then asked that I take pictures of her with my nice, cheap digital camera, which I did. Then she took over and snapped self-portraits as I tried to drift into unconsciousness on my couch (hard to do for us insomniacs even when goofy Baku girls are not in our apartment).

After taking 44 pictures, she then begged me to upload them. Which I did.

“Now send these two pictures to my boyfriend.”

“Can’t he take his own pictures?” I asked naively.

“No, silly. He is in Turkey.”

“But you said he asked you to marry him yesterday….Wait a minute. Did you meet him on the internet?”

“Of course!”

(Azeris use the English expression “of course” to signal inferences that are not at all obvious, such as, “Of course there is Strontium 90 in my lunch box!”)

So as per Zarina’s instructions, we went to her MSN account and tried to send the pictures. And it didn’t work. Of course!

Then I opened my email application and pasted her boyfriend’s address in. And I attached the two pictures.

“What are you doing?” Zarina asked.

“Well, since MSN wasn’t working, I’m just going to send the pictures to your boyfriend from my email account, and we will explain that it is really from you.”

“You want my boyfriend’s email address?!”

“Well, I already…“

“You want to have sex with my boyfriend?!”

“No, actually, I’m heterosexual, and besides…“

“You will NOT have sex with my boyfriend!”

“I’m just trying to help – “

“I will not LET you have sex with my boyfriend!”


That was yesterday. Today, as I tried to get my press credentials in order, I got a phone call.

"Bunny?" she asked, using her inexplicable nickname for me.


"Do you want to see me today?!!"

Alas, I had other friends to see.