Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday update

It is Friday night, we are sitting in the front room at the cabin, beloved on her laptop, I on mine. We have been back in the USA for one week now, so I will give a little update.

We stayed four nights with A, which was nice, but it is easy to tell that she has become accustomed to living by herself and that we were in her space. She was a gracious host, and we had a lot of fun talking and laughing and eating together. We love her and it is nice to be close to her again. Even had dinner with her boyfriend one night. He is a fine cook and a fine young man all-around. (Don’t know yet if he’ll ever be part of the family but if it happened it would be fine by me.)

Also got to spend some nice time with our son B. He moved to another abode this week, from a smallish apartment to a house. Helped move a bed and a couch and got to spend some time with he and his girlfriend and her son. They are all really neat together. (Don’t know yet if she’ll ever be part of the family but if it happened it would be fine by me.)

Of course my mom is happy that we are close in proximity again, have gotten to spend some nice time with her this week. And all sorts of friends have invited us out or to dinner or coffee just to visit. Also visited Vickie in the hospital--she is beginning the process of dialysis, not a pleasant experience. However, she is putting the best face on it and moving forward in the face of difficult prospects. I love her! Please pray for her strength and rapid recovery in this interesting time of transition, thanks!

Monday Beloved spent almost the entire day researching mobile phone programs and prices to find us just the right deal. Satisfied that we got a good deal we went about getting my iphone unlocked. That was not an easy process. We had it to two different places for a total of seven hours to get the job done.

I spent Monday talking to old contacts and seeing what is available for work and looking for some sort of transportation. I have set my sights on a Jeep Cherokee, and in the price range that I need there are not a lot of options. Several that are in decent shape but have 250-plus thousand miles, several that have 130-150,000 miles but need work--brakes or no air conditioning or need front-end work, and a couple that have 100-130,000 miles that need major work--an engine or transmission. One had a good engine and transmission but had been rolled over. Probably not a good option. Finally found one Tuesday night and made a quick call on it. Ended up getting it, finalized the deal on our way out of town Thursday morning. (More on that in a minute) So now we have a car of our own. Again.

Tuesday morning I went back to work as a contractor at Spirit AeroSystems. I suppose if I have to be here in the Hometown instead of Azerbaijan I would not rather work anywhere else. I love the company, the job, and the fine people that I get to work with there. It is a great environment and good money, so I will be at Spirit several days a week until we figure out what the next step is. (More on that in a minute, too) It is fairly easy to settle back into the group and the work, my manager Tony is as easy a person to work for as I have ever had--he makes me feel welcome and at ease and is encouraging me in the midst of an occasionally-overwhelming change of career.

Tuesday night we are staying at the home of a dear friend we have known for five years now, even as I write this it is hard to believe we have only known her for five years, she is such a kind and good friend. She opened her home to us just before we left back in December, and has done the same again, so we will be spending the next couple weeks at her house.

Wednesday I was at Spirit again, and went to look at the Jeep in the evening. Also went to meet a friend, a pro baseball player that is going on a summer-league tour with his wife, they are looking for someone to stay in their apartment while they are away so they don’t lose the apartment. It is an interesting deal, but a good deal for all of us, since we don’t have anything in Wichita we will get to move into a furnished apartment for four months. Also went to look at the Jeep and drive it, and spent some time with B--Portal2 came out Tuesday and he wanted to play it. His computer won’t handle it right now so we played on my laptop. Good times!

Thursday we got up early, we are going to Oklahoma today. We are meeting the guy with the Jeep at 7:30, pay the money and do the title. We are on the road at 8:30, we have a lunch appointment in Tulsa. More friends to see and tell all the story. The drive is nice, it is a pleasant contrast to the terrible roads and, umm, interesting drivers of Azerbaijan.

Friday we spent most of the day resting and working in the yard. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll get some photos. 

We still think about Azerbaijan all the time. Our hearts are still there, we remember all the people that we got to know and can’t wait to get back there.  Even right now I look across the room--Beloved was given an desk-top-sized Azerbaijan flag on a stand for her birthday--it is right there in the bookshelf. It is our desire to keep our relationships up over there, to help whatever way we can over there, and to help people here get an idea of what life is like over there. The time we spent in Ganja made us realize that there are a number of good organizations working in Ganja, primarily The Training House, that we can help by raising awareness and funds for their programs. Still trying to figure out exactly what that looks like, but if you would like to have a part in making a real difference in the lives of children in Azerbaijan let me know--I can help you get some funds to some people that will do some real good with it.

Thanks for reading, I will continue to post as regular as I can. Hello to my dear friends in Azerbaijan, Yaver and Amalya, Turab and Namiq and Gunlar, Gulbaniz and Gulmira, all the rest of the staff at the Training House, England and Mrs. P., Indy, Manchester, Berry and her family, Farshid, (somebody tell him hello for me!) all the group at the Bank, N&L who will be returning to London this summer--Godspeed, and all the rest. We love you and miss you.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Friday April 15 The Hometown

Options abound back in the Hometown. It’s good to be back in the Midwest, things are easy and familiar here, no need of learning language or culture, favorite foods are present 24/7. 

However, it is not where we meant to be starting this adventure some hundred days ago. There are many answered questions, many decisions that have to be thought through and made, and not least of all, what to do with the experiences of the past hundred days. What is our role now? Do we still have an opportunity to make an impression on the landscape in Azerbaijan? We would sure like to...

Part of the answers are easy, we will live in Wichita, Kansas for now, I will go back to Spirit AeroSystems as a contractor and make some money, we will continue our relationships and friendships that we have here in the Hometown.

Other easy answers are, we will continue with our relationships and friendships that we have built in Ganja, Azerbaijan, we will see what we can do to help those that we have left behind in Azerbaijan fulfill what they have started and are working on there. It is the desire of our heart to funnel money into the Training House, they still need to finish some building projects to be able to apply for the legal registration, allowing them to grow.  It is the desire of our heart to help Coffeeman and his family get back to Ganja and open Shah Asari. It is the desire of our heart to return to Ganja at some point in time, and I imagine we will for sure take a short visit this fall, October or November. (You are welcome to join us if interested!)

The hard answers are how and when to best accomplish these things, or if there is a different plan altogether... We’ll see.

Friday is spent in getting back in touch with folks, family first of course, but also friends and associates. We also spend a little over an hour talking to our former mobile phone provider who failed to cancel our service back in January. It was a successful conversation, it just took some time.

We went to see mom, and she was delighted of course. We went to see B’s new house, and that was good as well. We also had a bit of business to take care of for our Canadian friends in Ganja, they had some documents that needed to be notarized and sent by courier to Alberta Canada, so we got to spend and hour or so with our friend the notary public and catching up on news. Talked with Tony out at Spirit and set the wheels in motion for my return out there. Talked to a couple of friends about some creative housing, more on that soon...

Went to lunch with A and B and A’s boyfriend Alex. We went to a familiar nationally known bistro restaurant and ate good American food and talked about everything. 

We borrowed a car from some dear friends of ours, so now we are a little more free.

We rounded out the day getting to bed about 11:00PM. We’ve been invited to breakfast tomorrow with some friends, and we will continue on the quest to put all the recent changes in perspective, and in order.

The Journey West Part III

Today's layover, though longer than expected, comes to an end and we board shortly enough. There is a bit of a circus in our section of the plane, there is a young couple that is holding a boarding pass for seats right behind us. They are quite insistent that they booked window seats. They are getting frantic--perhaps there is a claustrophobic situation here, but they are walking up and down the plane trying to convince somebody to switch seats with them. At the same time we hear the stewardess commenting that this older lady, the only one sitting in the center section, is looking for someone to trade a seat as well so she can sit next to hear son, further in the back. This airplane is a Boeing 767, two seat on the window, three seats in the middle and two seats on the other window. Beloved and I are in the two left seats of the center. When all the exchanging of seat has shaken out, there is one lucky woman sitting in the row behind us in the three center seats all to herself. The plane is nearly full, there is only one other open seat within sight of me.

This appears to be an older 767, the newer airplanes have video monitors in the back of the seat in front of you, this one does not. It has a projection screen on the bulkhead about ten rows in front of us. We weren’t even sure if they were going to show a film.

All the seating is sorted out, the doors are closed and we are under way. About 30 minutes into the flight there is a meal, and it is pretty good. Then the cabin lights go out and everybody settles into nap-mode. This is okay, Beloved and I are exhausted now after our 16 hours in the Tbilisi Airport and 6 hours in the Warsaw Airport, so sleep comes as easily as it can it such a situation. About 5 hours into the flight they do indeed start a movie, “The King’s Speech” though we are too tired to catch more than a little of it. 

Our arrival into Chicago was uneventful, a fine landing and only about 25 minutes late. We are a little apprehensive about this, we do have a connecting flight and we have to get through passport control and get our bags rechecked on the domestic flight. Our apprehension was unnecessary, almost every flight out of Chicago is delayed, the President of the United States was in town this afternoon and closed down the airport for an hour.

We get through Passport control, we are on American soil again, finding our two checked bags was no problem, getting them checked was no problem, and getting to the gate was no problem. Our flight was delayed one hour and forty-five minutes, but once we got on board, it was no problem.

A little more sleep, we have been traveling now--from the time we checked out of the hotel in Tbilisi, Georgia--for about 41 hours. 

One other interesting point, four flights in this journey and all of them required us to ride out to the plane on a bus and walk up a set of steps to get onboard...

We arrive back in the Hometown, and A and B are waiting for us. It has been four long months away from the kids and there are teary greetings and laughs and smiles as we meet at the baggage turnstile. It would have been perfect if our bags had arrived with us, but even that is only a small damper on the moment, we are back with our children in a familiar place.

A couple of phone calls to mom and friends and we call it a night. It has been a long journey and we are wiped out. It is still Thursday night here, though ours had an extra ten hours in it. We are with A at her apartment tonight, and finding sleep in a totally horizontal position come easily and nearly immediately.

More tomorrow.


2:40AM finally came around and we went to check in. Standing in the line Beloved asks me for her passport. “I don’t have it, you do.” There was an uneasy couple of minutes as she searched through her coat and the computer bag, but it was there. I knew it was but it’s always a startling thing when one can’t put ones hands right on the only document that can completely wreck all travel plans...

Check in goes well, the attendant asks if we would like to check our two bags all the way to our final destination. Yes, please. We will have to retrieve them when we go through passport control in Chicago, but they are tagged all the way to The Hometown and there is a possibility that we may avoid a baggage charge on this trip. It cost us $185 over the face price of the tickets to get three bags from Orlando Florida to Azerbaijan, so if this is the case it would be a pleasant surprise.

Upstairs and through passport control, another stamp in passport. We walk into the international departure side of the Tbilisi airport. There are several restaurants there, including “Burger Street,” which looks like a clone of Burger King. Guess what? The food tastes exactly like Burger King! Ha!

The time to depart comes and we walk down stairs to an outdoor exit and get on a bus. Our plane, an Airbus A320 is about a mile away! On board and under way, the trip is a blur. There is a food tray, bread and cold-cuts which are pretty good, but most of the three-hour journey to Warsaw Poland is spent trying to sleep. Fortunately we are successful in the attempt.

What we thought was going to be a couple hours in Warsaw turns out to be a five-and-a-half hour layover. Oh well. More sleep, a little food, and conversation with a young lady traveling home to California--she has been more than eight months in the region, teaching english and sightseeing. She and Beloved hit it right off and it is nice to have a third party to talk to and watch the bags when we want to stretch our legs.

By the way, there is no wifi in the Warsaw, Poland Airport.

Another by the way, the last time we flew through Warsaw Poland we ended up here for almost 20 hours. We were flying home from Helsinki, Finland, set to depart depart out of Warsaw. The Boeing 777 (a wonderful airplane) ingested several large birds upon it’s arrival, damaging one of the engines. The first report we got was that our flight at 1:00PM was delayed, there would be more information at 2:00. At 2:00 the announcement was that we were still delayed, there would be more information at 4:00. (At that time one other American that we had been sitting with said he was going to try his luck with another flight and left the gate. We would muscle it out, so we were a few hours late?) At 4:00 the announcement was that we were still delayed and the next announcement would come at 6:00 and we looked at each other apprehensively. What could we do at this point? At 6:00 the announcment came--first in Polish then in English--and we got a clue something was up when the 150 people sitting around in this gate all stormed the ticket counter. The flight was cancelled due to mechanical problems. We had already been sitting in the airport for more than eight hours already, so we were less than thrilled about the prospect of gathering up our stuff, going through passport control, getting on a bus and traveling into the city to be put up in one of Warsaw’s finest one-star hotels. But that’s what we did. I have used the phrase several times about that trip, “We spent a week in Warsaw one night...”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tbilisi, Georgia Airport


Woke up before the sun, and apparently missed out on the fact that there had been a time-change somewhere along the way Monday. We are one hour more west than we have been for three months, and that is okay other than the fact that we were an hour early for breakfast!

A skype chat with Indy, she offers an interesting idea--travel one time-zone every three days and there would be no jet-lag when you arrive home. Uhhh, 30 days later...

We got through breakfast, boiled eggs and muffins again with strong strong strong coffee, and got packed up again then checked out of the hotel. We took a taxi to the airport and made the adventurous decision to just stay in the airport until our flight at 4:40AM Thursday. Perhaps needless to say our 16 hours was filled with lots of waiting. 

We met an interesting fellow, an American in the oil business headed back to Baku. It was nice to have someone new to talk to and we spent a little more than an hour in conversation with him. He has been working on oil-platforms in the Caspian Sea for several years now out of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

We hear American english a couple other times, but most of the day and night is spent just waiting. We watch a couple movies and walk around and eat some way-too-overpriced food. All in all, for a transition point into Azerbaijan, this is a clean, new, polite airport that is two-hours closer to Ganja even with the border crossing. We have learned a lot, and this is not a bad way to enter the Caucuses.

It is almost 2:00AM, we can check in at 2:40 and then we go through passport control. Thursday promises to be a long day as we wing our way west. Look forward to an interesting post Thursday night or Friday morning. By the way, there are more people in this airport at 2:00 AM than any other time of the day...

Just Tuesday

Today will be just Tuesday, not “Day 90 Tuesday.”  It was quaint while we were in Azerbaijan, but since that is not the case--for now--I think I will drop the counting. It just doesn’t mean anything anymore.

Today is grey, cold, windy and rainy. We hang out in the hotel room as long as we can, almost 2:00, then decide to brave the elements. it is probably about 50 degrees, maybe a little less, and spitting rain as we make our way to the promised land--there is a McDonald’s in this city.

I spent about 20 minutes looking at an online map and feel equal to the task of taking us to McDonald’s. We set out on a little different path than yesterday, only to find out that my first waypoint--the new pedestrian bridge over the river--is not yet open. The security man is courteous and smiles, but speaks no english as he communicates that “this way is closed.” We cross the river at another bridge and after about twenty-five minutes arrive at the second waypoint right were it should be. We are about half-way there, and the weather nor the walk are too bad. There are hundreds of people out and about, so it is not a bad day to be out at all.

The third leg of the walk is the longest, about thirty minutes, but is is along a wide boulevard and must be one of the oldest and grandest streets in the city. The architecture is amazing and beautiful. The sidewalks are wide, and except for Beloved getting a quick shower from a rain gutter downspout, the walk is easy. There are sculptures and artists and fine shops and banks and lots of people, as you might expect in a capital city of 1.5 million people. We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

McDonald’s is McDonald’s anywhere in the world--the Big Mac is spot-on and the fries taste just like they do in DesMoines or Lincoln or Tulsa or any other McDonald’s in the world, but it is a familiar taste and I am happy. We end up with ice cream afterwards and totally eat too much, but it is a nice time. We spend about 45 minutes there, then back toward the hotel. 

We decide to go another route, if we can get down to the river then we can get back to the hotel, no problem. We have to walk a little bit out of the way to get there, there are whole blocks of the city that are closed-off because (apparently) of the earthquake. Shattered buildings in various states of destruction or falling down-ness, so they have barricaded the streets. 

Once we get to the river the walk is pleasant and easy. I guess it is spring-cleaning time all over the world, they are working in the gardens and mowing grass and trimming trees. The latter reminds us that we are still in a developing nation... one guy with a chain saw (that is running) is climbing a very steep hill with no rope or fall protection at all. No glasses, no gloves. We watch as he arrives at the tree he is gunning for--the one with the pore tied in the top part of it. Between us and the man with the the chainsaw is a busy four-lane thoroughfare. The tree is about 35 feet up a very steep embankment. The tree is probably 16 inches around at the trunk and 60-70 feet tall and could easily go in the road. There are no orange cones. No flashing lights. Yet, somehow, ignoring all the risk, the tree crashes to the ground and no one was crushed or fell or injured and no cars even slowed down for the show. Beloved and I were the only ones that got to enjoy it, and I didn’t even snap a photo!

We crossed over the river and continued our exploring, always heading in the general direction of the hotel. We ended up at the top of the hill, at the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, commonly known as Sameba. It is a fantastic structure, and it’s gold color makes it feel inviting rather than imposing. It is amazing inside, the dome is a little over 200 feet from the floor. The nave is truly soaring. It is not an ancient building, it was completed in 2004, but it is beautifully representative of the region.

Our walk the final fifteen minutes or so is in pretty good rain, so we are wet as we return to the hotel. A little rest, a movie, a little writing and get to bed fairly early, and that was Tuesday. Just Tuesday.

Day 89 Monday

Well, the day has finally arrived, and we are up early again. Beloved and I spent most of Sunday afternoon packing--right up until we were invaded by Indy, Berry and Berry’s two brothers. Then Manchester dropped by, and later that evening two others stopped by to wish us well and send us off. We love you all and you will forever be in our hearts.

Finish packing and Yaver arrives about 8:45. I leave the house at 8:50 to walk down to the bank, arrangements have been made for one of the bank employees to drive us to the border, then we will walk through the station and get a taxi  the rest of the way to Tbilisi.

The ride out was uneventful enough, and about two and half hours later we were pulling up to the border control. We had not been stopped twenty seconds when four or five guys approached the truck--”Are you going to Tbilisi?” All speaking in Azeri, all wanting to take us in their taxi. I upset Beloved a little bit by making an agreement on this side of the border even though our friend had told us to acquire the taxi on the Georgian side. Nevertheless, after some bargaining, we agreed on a price and set off for the passport control. They x-ray’d our luggage and stamped the passport and that was it. exit on the other side and our taxi driver was waiting on us.

We drive about a hundred yards and stop to show our passports again, we get a Republic of Georgia stamp. That’s new!

The taxi driver knows where Tbilisi is and makes good time, however, has no clue where the hotel is and is very grumpy. I showed him the address when we were negotiating the cost, and of course his answer was “yes yes, no problem,” but we stop three times to ask directions and he paid another taxi driver to lead him. He stopped to ask for directions too. I have nothing to do but be patient and check out this ancient city. 

Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia, 1.48 million inhabitants. We are in the older section of town and there is still evidence of a 6.5 magnitude earthquake in 2002 that was centered right below us. There are shattered houses and apartments all around, with people still living in some portions. There is a lot of new construction too, and our small hotel is one of them.

Only 11 rooms it has four floors. It is a little over-priced for what we are getting, $65.00 per night, but the staff is friendly and it has a little bit of a view.

We go for a walk in the afternoon and find a place to eat. We have been recommended some of the local cuisine, so we let our waitress read what our hotel receptionist has written down for us. The waitress asks, “How many?” Beloved and I exchange looks, shrug our shoulders and reply, “Bring whatever is normal.” Shortly the first part arrives, meat and mushrooms wrapped in a small dumpling-type package. It is okay, not what I would eat on a regular basis, but filling. About the time we are finishing up with these the second part arrives, it is like pizza, but the dough is sweet and there is no sauce. The cheese is thick and hot, and it is pretty good but also pretty rich. We don’t finish this nor do we decide to bring it along, so we pay the bill and depart.

It is a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and we walk very leisurely back to the hotel. We are tourists today, and we stop to buy a carmel latte that is pretty good--our first non-instant coffee in over three months! We walk through the old city and take photos. One building stands out in particular, an old church that split down the middle by an earthquake. Here is a great photographic metaphor of a church split--HA!

Other things catch our eye and our camera, castles and statues and modern architecture all mixed together.

We get back to the hotel and call it a night after a long day.

One more thing about our departure from Azerbaijan. Georgia is a Christian nation--Azerbaijan is Islamic/Atheist. Many people talk about the “feeling” of a place and I usually try to down-play it as much as possible. However, not even ten miles from the border it was abundantly obvious that this was a different place. There are trees all over. The air is cleaner and I’ve only seen two Ladas--a sign of prosperity. There can be no denying that a nation that recognizes God and His provision enjoys a level of blessing that other areas do not. It is not just the American sentimentality of seeing a church on every other corner that makes us feel safe and blessed, in this case it seems to be the truth.