I had my first real guesting experience last week!! Guesting is when people in the community invite you over for dinner. It’s a pretty big to-do around here. Azerbaijanis are known for being very hospitable. It was my first “real” guesting experience because up until now, I had only been invited to relatives’ houses of families I stayed with. This time I was going to a student’s home! Yes, student’s. I have 3 conversation clubs, and I call the people who attend students. It was a very nice 4 hours!

There are two new students to my conversation club—a girl, Gulchin, and a boy, Mirze. They are cousins. Gulchin is 20 years old and can speak English rather well. I can speak to her in English, and she generally understands what I’m talking about. Mirze is 15 and is a beginner in English. They are both internally joyous, curious about the world, and laugh more than I do. I was invited to eat at Mirze’s family’s house after work on Friday.

Mirze picked me up in a taxi, and we drove to his house. He and his mother live with his mother’s brother and his family. Mirze’s father is currently working in Russia selling food in the bazar; Mirze and his mother did live in Russia with his father for a while but have come back to live in Azerbaijan (this seems to be very typical of families in Shamkir). The mother’s brother owns a small general store which is the entrance to their house. Behind the cash register is the door that leads to the rest of the house. The room in the back is where they sleep and eat. His mother also teaches computer lessons, and her niece makes wedding dresses in another room next to the general store. Despite the many activities and people living in the house, it was tidy and spacious. There was also a nice poster on the wall welcoming me to their house.

Although I can be an extremely socially awkward person at times, this wasn’t one of those times (thankfully!). Mirze, his mother, his aunt, Gulchin, and her mother were all there. They were very nice and made me feel welcomed. Mirze’s mother and aunt wanted to speak to me in Russian even though I don’t know Russian. They see a non-Azerbaijani and immediately think, “Foreigner. Speak Russian.” Growing up in the Soviet Era adds to this tendency. Everyone used to speak Russian. We spoke about the general introductory stuff about ourselves, our families, and if I like Azerbaijan. We had Mirze translate what his mother was saying in Azerbaijani into English. He made a very good effort to try; when he didn’t know words he would ask Gulchin. If I didn’t understand something that was said in Azerbaijani, I also asked Gulchin. I got to look through photo albums, and Mirze told me who everyone was. In addition I watched some videos of them in Russia. It was cool to see Russia through a video since that might be the only way I see it.

After looking through photo albums and drinking tea, we started dinner. Gulchin and Mirze had been very sneaky. To test what level of English they are, I ask them questions like “what’s your favorite food?” They in return asked me my favorite Azerbaijani food (a normal question I get asked all the time). I told them I love dolma—the 3 sister dolma (stuffed tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers), grape leaf dolma, and cabbage dolma—and awsh (rice with chicken and onions; that’s the phonetic spelling). What did I get for food? The 3 sister dolma, grape leaf dolma, and awsh! The food was super tasty too. Having gone guesting before, I knew there was more food to come. I was right! After taking a 30 minute break to talk, eat fruit (I forgot the name of it), and take pictures, the uncle came home. He then goes in the back and makes chicken kebab. Once again we are eating something else that tasted delicious.

After eating, comes more tea and sweets. Gulchin, Mirze, and I move to the computer room to upload the photos and make desktop backgrounds from them. While we do this for about 30 minutes, Mirze’s mom is packaging up the food and some fruit. She had me take awsh and dolma which fed me for 4 meals. Gulchin’s mother gave me watermelon jam. Yes, watermelon jam! It is delicious. They make jam out of any fruit. By now it was after 8 pm, and they live on the opposite side of town. I had my computer, my work bag, and a bag of food. I was completely prepared to walk the 15 to 20 minutes home. But no! That would not do! They get me a taxi; Mirze rode in the taxi with me and helped me carry my bags to my house. I paid for NOTHING that day.

Mirze’s and Gulchin’s families were so nice and generous. I’m glad I got to guesting at their house and hope one day I can go back and speak to them in fluent Azerbaijani! In the meantime, I’m returning their containers full of food. I made sugar cookies and decorated the cookies with frosting my real mom sent to me from America. The jar that contained the watermelon jam, I’m returning it with American candy inside. Hope they like it.