Give Me Back Old Baku: Why Am I Afraid of Change?

01 Nov 2015 3:48 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)


Change and Fear. Fear and Change… they go hand in hand like brother and sister.

“If I had listened to every story I heard about Asia, I would have never boarded the plane from Iceland. Fear is tricky, if I would always listen to it, I wouldn’t do a thing!” (Dagný og Davíð)

Photo of people walking down a dirt road... Where Does the Road To The Future Lead?

Where Does the Road To The Future Lead?

Fear is tricky. So true, fear IS tricky. It fools some people into missing every dream they ever dared to have, and yet for others, it becomes a non-issue.

I am thinking back to the day I arrived in Baku. I wish I had taken pictures. (Of course, if I had  you would probably be seeing me with my head down in an airsick bag in Baku airport… ewww!)

At that moment I had left my life behind in America and struck out on my own in Baku, Azerbaijan. Why wasn’t I afraid?

I had friends “on the inside” so to speak and so I had confidence that everything I was to experience had a safety net underneath. I embraced change in my life and change in the lives of those I hoped to transform. I wanted to bring hope to young people in a time when there was very little hope to go around. That was all I needed in those days.

“Fear can be good, but ya gotta take it with a grain of salt. I am amazed by travelers. It takes a special type of person to embrace it all. I am not that type of person.” (commenter Terre Pruitt)

Am I that type person?

I find more and more that I like doing new things (changing up my routine) but I don’t really want my “places” to change.

I like the old Baku that reminds me of when I was a risk taker, when I had all the time in the world to recover from a mishap- missing a plane, getting my money stolen, having my apartment sold (while I was on vacation!).

I loved the connection I made with old Baku, when people were sweet and open, when they looked at me with wonder, like I was something new and special.

Old Baku was waking up after a 70 year nap. The brother and sister duo of fear and change were walking hand in hand across the squares and parks everywhere. It wasn’t so much courage that came along and changed the city as it was (I believe) unfortunate money. Money can buy lots of things, but rarely authenticity.

I liked change when I was bringing it. I always thought I had the good of these kids at heart, helping them learn job skills and find jobs to support their families. When money comes along, though, we call that change “progress”. I find I don’t like change when it is accompanied by the darker elements of greed and cultural disrespect. I’m afraid of that kind of change.

I look at the pictures friends are posting of new Baku and I have mixed emotions. I want to experience that new city, but I admit I am afraid.

I don’t want to lose the connection with those special memories I have of watching a generation mature from pre-teens to young professionals leading their country into the modern age. It’s what I said I wanted to contribute to. I did, and now I want to scale it back. I am afraid of what comes next for them. I am afraid of what will become of Azerbaijan’s unique culture when it gets homogenized with everything else in Europe and America. Such is the by-product of globalization.

Remarkable talent and artistry from German prisoners of war, Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences building

Remarkable talent and artistry from German prisoners of war, Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences building

And this is the conundrum. We want to experience culture as it was, when it was unique. Yet every time we visit someplace new, we share what our home is like, our ways contrasting their ways, not realizing that our ways may come to supplant their ways. “What have we done?” we ask when we see the first glass and steel structure replace old sandstone carvings.

America has these places called living history museums, like Williamsburg, Virginia where you can step back in time and watch people clad in 18th century clothing, going about their 18th century lives- threshing grain, milking cows, making their own shoes- trying to be very authentic (until they take a cigarette break and pull out their cell phone to check in for an after-work dinner in town with friends).

But watching a vignette of history isn’t the same as seeing people who are preserving their culture by honoring it everyday, with no smoke breaks or cell phones.

Am I being pretty hypocritical here? Am I being “that” kind of tourist?

I realize I am not afraid to travel. I am afraid to travel to where I already live, to see the homogenized world culture that is of everywhere and yet nowhere.

I want old Baku to greet me. I want authenticity in my travels. I don’t want to get off a sanitized cruise ship to see “culture” that can be found at the end of a gangway.  I don’t want to buy matryioshka dolls in Moscow bearing a “made in China” sticker on the bottom.

Am I being unrealistic? Is it impossible to keep our cultures unique, while at the same time moving forward in an ever-shrinking and increasingly inter-connected world?

I guess I’m not afraid of change as much as I’m afraid of loss.

To paraphrase Dagny and David’s quote  at the top (thank you for the inspiration, Dagný og Davíð- There Is Another Way ), fear is tricky. If I would always listen to it, I would never have gathered these wonderful  memories.

Hmmm, maybe I should travel more, not less.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…


Contributed by Jonelle Hillary who writes about My Life lessons on her website What the World Taught Me

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