3 comments on “Azerbaijan: the darker side

  1. Another excellent piece Graham. I always enjoy your writing, the observation and comment you make.

    As I’m hoping to travel through central Asia, once I’m done with Africa, sometime late 2014/ 2015, I’m also finding my appetite whetted.

    On this occasion you’ve raised a question, which can be paraphrased, “are people who live in countries under oppressive regimes generally friendlier?”

    Like you I’ve been to Syria. In 2009 I travelled extensively there. With one exception, in thousands of interactions, I was blown away by the welcome and hospitality I received there. It’s the friendliest country I’ve visited thus far.

    I’ve also travelled in other despotic Arab states and early post Soviet Ukraine, but I’ve generally not experienced the unconditional hospitality that I found in Syria, where being offered a meal in a stranger’s home is an everyday occurrence. This is something you appear to have also found in your recent travels.

    So while instinctively upon reading your piece I nodded along, now I’ve given it some more thought I differ a little.

    I feel there are other factors at play that lead to great hospitality: geography and affluence (or lack thereof).

    Geography plays a part in Syria and I suspect central Asia which both fall on the old Silk Road, with Damascus in addition a gathering hub for the old Haj caravans. The centuries of trade and welcoming of peoples from foreign lands has engendered a culture whereby the ‘weary traveller’ is befriended and hospitality extended.

    In the desert its inhospitable geographic circumstances, give rise to the custom of the Bedouin, where a stranger is given free food and a bed in the tent for up to three days without so much as a question about their journey or intentions. This is something I experienced at a Wadi as recently as 2007.

    As travellers, people who get out there and experience and connect with different environments, I’m sure we have tales of humbling generosity in areas of poverty, or relative poverty. As well as the aforementioned countries, I can think of being overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers in Ireland Scotland, the US to name but a few places.

    Gope you don’t mind my contribution and my slightly contrarian view?

    Keep writing, its brilliant thought provoking stuff.

    Jack

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    • I think your expansion on the geography-trade idea is a good one and of course a good welcome can be found anywhere (apart from central Dakar) but for me the true test is where the language barrier does not hinder the interaction. I still think Islam plays an important role in this as it cannot be a coincidence that many travelers have spoken of the welcome in the countries that we have (Syria, Iran, Central Asia) all of which are largely Islamic. The subject deserves more than one blog post and after covering more of the world I will return to it and look forward to hearing other travelers experiences. Even the simple transition from towns to isolated/rural communities in many countries displays an increase in the welcome. Keep the thoughts coming – particularly after more of your time in Africa, where I feel there is a definite, but different sense of hospitality.

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  2. Pingback: My Ignorance | Frustrated Self

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