After a delightful week with our Azeri hosts touring Baku, some of our group headed northwest into the countryside with a Friendship Force group from Virginia, USA.
Our first night in Sheki, we stayed in an ancient caravanserai used by merchants on the Silk Road. Our sleeping arrangements were dormitory style, with a small sitting room. Rooms were dimly lit with stone walls. This aged structure was simply modified to accommodate very basic needs of modern travelers.
We were traveling with 2 English teachers from Baku as our guides. They took us to a local school in Sheki to participate in closing day ceremonies. This was a big deal for everyone: fresh uniforms for kids and finery for the adults. Sashes denote the graduating class. There was much singing and dancing, in which we participated. Long speeches in Russian (?) and huge bouquets of flowers.
Visiting a small country village, we toured the markets with their colorful spices, household goods, rugs, etc.
Transferring to small buses, we negotiated winding mountain roads with hundreds of sheep and a sheer drop-off. Sometimes the sheep were the winners (even though our bus driver’s horn protested), and we waited. The shepherds rode horseback, sometimes followed by a foal. The dogs at the end of the herd seemed to say “not our job to chase these sheep”.
We visited a synagogue and met the local rabbi, who explained that 247 years ago, the head of the local Muslim community decreed it was their job to protect the Jewish population of the community. To this day, the two religious groups live and work together in peace.
Returning to Baku one last night, we were taken to dinner by our hosts, Isa and Sabina. We met Isa’s Russian father and discovered we had the same reading lists! Only through Friendship Force can you meet folks from halfway around the world, former adversaries (before glasnost), and discuss Bernard Cornwell’s Lieutenant Sharpe!!!!
“ Faces, not Places.”