Families here are pretty close. I do mean super close. I won’t make an elaborate comparison to America because I know all families are different. In Azerbaijan, a close-knit family seems to be part of every family. Maybe it’s because they live together throughout most of their lives.

The family is the center in Azerbaijan. In America it’s more about the individual. Families are still very important in America; I’m not saying that they aren’t. To me, there seems to be something different in family relationships in Azerbaijan compared to America. One reason they are so close, is that they live together for as long as possible and rarely move out. The tradition is that when a son gets married, his wife moves into his house. His house is part of his parent’s house and possibly great grandparent’s house. The son with his new wife could live in the same house as his parent’s or at least he has a separate house on the same property. These houses aren’t like houses in America. Not everyone has their own room. There is not enough space to spread out and find “alone” or “me” time. To make the house a little bit more crowded, sometimes the parent’s daughter does not get married. If she does not get married, she stays at her parent’s house with her brother and his family. It’s hard to be with a group of people for the majority of everyday and not have one of the closest bonds with them. As Americans, I believe we lose some of that closeness when we move out and “have our own lives”.

Let’s make the house a bit more crowded, if you thought it wasn’t crowded enough. Relatives. Families do not move far away from each other which mean relatives are always close by. Because the family is the core element of relationships, one sees their relatives often. While you may think, relatives probably just come over for the day. NO! Sometimes they have sleep overs. Instead of sleeping in your own (or shared) comfy bed, you sleep in a more crowded space or on a make-shift bed. While this doesn’t always make sense to me, they do it because they want to spend time with their family.

I’m not advocating moving back into your parent’s house. I still naturally (well, I guess it’s a learned natural feeling) want my own space and to live on my own. By doing so and by moving half way around the world, I’ve lost a close bond with my family. What I mean by a close bond is that another person knows everything about you. He knows the exciting which you also probably tell everyone about. He know the sad which you probably tell a few people about. But what’s different is that he knows the mundane—the things that don’t stick out. He knows the random inside jokes that transpire out of nowhere when you’ve constantly been around that one person.

In living with host families, I have encountered intimate mother and daughter relationships. Now, I love my mom. We talk. We share things. The mother and daughter relationships here take it to a next level. They are more like best friends, yet one has more authority. I’ve heard more than one daughter say “my mother is my best friend.” It’s not hard to see why. Girls don’t hang out outside of the house all too often. Mothers are very involved in their daughters’ lives.

In my first host family in Shamkir, the eldest daughter went to school in Baku (400 km, 6 to 7 hour trip). I swear the mom and daughter talked to each other multiple times a day. The mother knew everything about the daughters life, everyone she knew and talked to, and where she was. The mother would always say how much she missed her eldest daughter and would have celebrations (literally parties) when she would come back to visit. Maybe it’s just me, but I certainly did not call my parents every day.

The relationship can have a reverse effect. One of my conversation club students calls her mom her best friend. One can tell she loves her mom dearly. On the other side, her mom is also her inhibitor. She wants to go out, travel, and explore this world, but her mom won’t let her go. My student wants to do more but her mom doesn’t want her daughter to leave. Daughters don’t forthrightly disobey their parents here. To the mother, leaving would mean not being there. Not being there results in losing some of the tight-knit relationship you have formed. The mother is afraid when I believe there is nothing to fear.

Other parents are catalysts. My new host mom, Sevil, talks to me about missing her eldest son who works in the Ukraine and her youngest son who works in Baku. She is at home alone. Most Azerbaijanis do not like being alone. She knows that they are doing what makes them happy. It is also easier for them to find work where they are presently than it would be if they stayed in Shamkir. To deal with missing them, she talks to them often and wishes the best for them.

Sevil has also focused some more attention on me. I’m not used to so much attention. I go on lots of little weekend trips, and she says how much she worries about me when I am gone. I am like her little baby (never been the baby of the family before). I feel I do get babied here most of the time which can be frustrating. I’m used to more independence. I understand the connection they are trying to make, but I also need to be real to myself. Therefore I’ve set boundaries so that I feel like an adult still but not a rock-hard boundary that would alienate me from developing a close bond with her.

Azerbaijanis are used to intimate relationships and close spaces. This is something I have struggled with. I used to feel myself fighting for my own space when I lived with my first host family. Living with Sevil has brought me some of that “me” space but still allows me to be part of her family.

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