Sometime in July I turned 25. I am not half way to 50! Going strong. I’ll eventually meet that goal. As usual, I try to not tell many people about my birthday. I didn’t want a huge celebration, and I didn’t get one.

Here, I feared when my birthday would come around. I have seen some of the big family parties they have, and I didn’t want such a birthday party. My life is already filled with stress and misunderstandings; I didn’t want a stressful birthday with people making me the center of attention. The host families I stayed with always ask when my birthday was. Then they talked about the wonderful big plans they would make, the people they would invite, and of course the wonderful birthday cake they would bake. I would cower at the thought. In addition I didn’t want all the gifts. Gift giving can consist of stuff animals, perfume, or statues of random things. None of which I wanted. All of these thoughts may make me seem ungrateful. I didn’t have big parties for my birthday in the States either; I’m just not that type of person.

My host Sevil could sense my reluctance to some of the birthday suggestions. She even got me to eventually say that I didn’t want a party or gifts. When my birthday rolled around, what did I get? No party. I was excited. From all the stress I had been experiencing, I got to spend the day doing nothing. Nothing at all. It was wonderful! Sevil woke me up in the morning (11 am) and gave me a Happy Birthday kiss. I then helped her pick some cherries off a tree. Sevil had been making a birthday cake for me and was going to put cherries on top. She had also planned to do a kebab dinner, and we would have a picnic in the yard. To my surprise, the whole family did not come over. It was Sevil, her niece who had been staying at the house every now and then, and me. Low-key and delightful. The food and company ended up being what I needed that day.

The next day I decided to go hiking. I hadn’t been hiking yet and wasn’t happy with myself that I hadn’t made it out to the mountains. I headed out at 6:30 am and walked towards the mountains. They aren’t very far. I weaved my way through streets and unfinished houses and eventually got to the foothills. On my way people were starting to steer. The shepherds were on their way out with their cattle. It was a pretty soundless hike; nothing but my breathing. Sometimes I would hear the shepherds call out to one another or they would yell at their sheep or cows. I believe one of them cried out to me, but I paid no attention to him and kept walking.

This hike was a bit different from what I’m used to. I grew up in NH. We have trees on our mountains and marked trails. In Azerbaijan, they have shrubbery. I could look down and see where I had been; I could look up and see where I was going. The only trails I could make out were probably from shepherds. I made it up one hill, looked and found a bigger one. I went that direction and mounted that peak. These mountains were more like ridge hiking. I could find a higher peak and walk my way along the ridge to the next peak.

The weather had surprisingly stayed cool. It was been terribly hot in Azerbaijan. I think we have gotten up to highs somewhere in the 40s (40 C). This intense heat is what made me get up early to start hiking. By 9 am the sun had still not shown itself. I somewhat regretted not bringing a light sweater. Instead of hiking further, I decided to descend. The main reason for this was that I didn’t know how far I was from my house. If I legs started to feel tired, I would still need them to walk home. I misjudged how far I was because it took no time to get back. I was back a bit after 10 am.

I got home, ate some food, and told Sevil where I had been. She told me I had gone to the wrong mountains. On the main road to Gedebey (a town in the mountains) that runs through Shamkir there are mountains on either side. I had gone to the left. Sevil said there was nothing interesting over there. I should have gone on the right side because there are hot springs over there. I will have to make another trip!

It was a pleasant birthday weekend. On Monday I got some heat from my coworkers and boss because I had not told them it was my birthday. I also got an unexpected surprise from my intermediate conversation clubs kids. They had gotten me a present. It is a figurine cup of the Maiden Tower in Baku. A very nice gift that I proudly display in my room!

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