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Spotlight Article

Travelers Welcomed in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan America Allaince
August 18, 2014

On November 24th, 2013 Shayan Sarkar and his wife Seema Shah placed the highest bid of the evening to win a trip to Azerbaijan at the So Others Might Eat (S.O.M.E.) auction. Shayan describes his connection to S.O.M.E. as; “cracking a lot of eggs once a month.” Shayan is humbly referring to volunteering with his colleagues from Booz Allen at S.O.M.E.’s soup kitchen.  Shayan Sarkar had never been to Azerbaijan, or the Caucasus region, but on a whim during the S.O.M.E. charity auction he became more than a humble egg cracker.

All the flights and accommodations for the trip were furnished by the Azerbaijan America Alliance, which donated the trip for S.O.M.E.’s auction. However, the itinerary was left to Shayan and his wife. Careful googling guided them to a tour guide named Suleyman, who directed their tour of Baku’s old city. Suleyman had a degree in history so he was the perfect guide to show off the stunningly well preserved historical center of Baku, woven into the modern city.

Suleyman’s helpfulness and kindness proved to be representative of the people of Azerbaijan. Although Azerbaijan is not yet a common tourist destination, Shayan and Seema were not dismissed as foreigners, but welcomed as travelers.

Suleyman invited Shayan and Seema to Mardakan, north of Baku, to visit a tower not usually open to tourists. The tower was cared for by a personal friend of Suleyman, who unlocked it and allowed them to crawl up through the dusty tunnels for a spectacular view of the countryside and Baku. The tower’s caretaker showed his guests incredible hospitality. He invited them for tea and pastries, and even tried to sing Bollywood songs to Shayan and Seema, who are Indian-Americans. 

Even casual encounters with the Azerbaijani people proved their kindness. When trying to operate the metro machine, which was entirely in Azerbaijani, Shayan and his wife sought help from the information desk. The women operating the booth closed the booth to personally walk the couple through the process. Even as a line built up at the information desk, no one became impatient or angry.

No traveler wants to be disdained for being a tourist, but a lack of experience is unavoidable when visiting a new city. However, no concern was necessary. The people of Azerbaijan welcomed Shayan and Seema with enthusiastic willingness to share their culture. 

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