Xenia in Baku

October 22, 2000

Greetings from Baku:

   Well its fall here in Baku. The weather change was amazingly abrupt. It went from summer hot to fall cool and rainy overnight. Since September 23, it has been cool and overcast and rainy. Everyone around here says how unusual this is. I wish it would stop being unusual. After a while you start getting cabin fever from every weekend being rainy. The temperatures have also dropped into the upper 40's to low 50's at night to the 60's by day. Last week, one day the sun shone for a couple of hours and it actually got hot. In fact its been so cool here that building management had to turn on the building heating system a month early. The forecast for tonight is for the first snowfall of the season over the higher Caucasus towards the Georgian Boarder. One thing the rain has done is make everything very green again. The leaves on some of the trees are starting to turn color.

   I arrived back from my business trip to Qatar to a dining room full of boxes - all of our stuff arrived - well most of it. We are missing some stuff that I think got accidentally packed into storage instead of being shipped to Baku. And then there is the table with Nia and I asking each other - "Why did they ship this table?" Well the extra table actually came in handy for both of our computers. Our den looks like computer central, her computer, my computer, and Exxon's desktop computer and laptop computer. There are wires all over the place. We are still looking at internet providers and hope to be on-line from home soon.

The last week of September proved to be quite interesting around here. The president of Azerbaijan was in the United States to attend the UN Millennium Conference in New York. While in the US, it was reported that he had taken ill and was in a hospital in Cleveland. That much was true. Tuesday evening, September 26, the Russian press started reporting that the President of Azerbaijan had died. The Exxon Brussels Security Center called my manager at 2:00 am on the morning of Wednesday September 27, that they had confirmed that the President of Azerbaijan had died and that our office was to go on security alert for potential evacuations if the political situation in the country deteriorated. Our apartments are located just down the block from the Parliament building and about a kilometer from the Azerbaijani "White House."

   That was a long night. Every time we heard a strange noise, I  jumped from the bed to look out the window to see if there were any tanks rolling in the streets. Wednesday morning, I had to get to the airport early to greet some business guests that were coming in from Houston. I left for the airport about 5:30 am and the city seemed to be fairly normal. I greeted my guests at the airport, and accompanied them to the hotel where they were staying. I then went to the office for what turned out to be a hectic day. All of a sudden we were reviewing all our emergency evacuation plans, making sure our satellite communication telephones are working, and putting together contingency plans for evacuation by air, sea, or over land to Georgia. Nia and Xenia went out and stock piled a five day food supply just in case. I also had them prepare emergency evacuation bags with a change of clothes, medicines, eyeglasses, and some foods. Meanwhile the city seemed pretty calm. Business seemed to be going on as usual however Nia did mention that when she was out she did seem to notice an unusual amount of soldiers in the streets. Meanwhile the Azeri government was mum! They would not confirm or deny the situation regarding the president.

   The problem here is that there are no laws governing succession. The President is in his late 70's and is actually a very sick man. As far as he is concerned the best person to be the next President is his son.

   That night, I was summoned to a meeting at the United States Embassy. They could not shed much light on the subject either except that they are monitoring the situation. By now reports were coming out that the Russian Press was in error and that the Azeri President had the flu and was confined to a hospital in Cleveland. This is what actually turned out to be the truth. The President arrived back in the country about a week later.

   Right now we are on a heightened security situation due to the problems in the Middle East. All Americans are being told to be vigilant and to monitor news reports for any changes in the situation. My last meetings with the Embassy staff is basically just be vigilant in everything you do. We are also on a heighten security alert due to Parliamentary elections that are on November 5. As usual the opposition parties are accusing the government of rigging the elections. The typical types of stuff that seems to be the norm in these countries.

   We finally had our first Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at the cathedral on Sunday, October 1, the Sunday after the Elevation of the Cross (O.S.). When we got to the Cathedral we knew something was up since all the clergy were waiting at the doors and the fine carpets were laid out. All the Cathedral bells started ringing as Bishop Alexander was greeted at the back of the Cathedral by the clergy and escorted by the Sub-deacons into the Cathedral - followed the baba's rolling up the carpets so no one steps on them. The Cathedral was packed that day - everyone comes to church when the Bishop is there. It was the standard Hierarchical Liturgy. It started at 9:00 am and finished at 12:55 PM - yes that's right 3 hours and 55 minutes. I have to wonder how some of these old people can stand so long. We have heard stories of the old women with the iron legs in Moscow. The same can be said for the women here. These women do not move the entire Service. For this service we had 6 priests, 3 deacons, 4 sub-deacons, numerous altar servers and other various monastic types running around. Bishop Alexander distributed the communion to everyone.

   Since my command of Church Slavonic is not that great, there were parts of the service, including prayers that were said, that were new to me. It seems that there were many prayers added. I am going to have to read the Hierarchical Liturgy in Hapgood to determine what they were doing. I think that some of the prayers that are typically read silently were done aloud. Following the end of the Liturgy, the Bishop spoke for awhile and then had all the clergy venerate the cross. They all went back into the altar, the Bishop was un-vested in the altar and then left the Cathedral in procession, the same way he came in. He never stopped to speak with his flock. Just walked out the doors and disappeared. The same happened the second week. I have noticed that the clergy really do not mix with the people. I think we have had more contact with the clergy than people who have lived their entire lives here in Baku. Various members of the clergy tend to hunt us out just to talk about the church in America.

   The second week that we had a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, Nia did not go that Sunday because she had a terrible head cold. Anyway it was Xenia and I. Again the service was very long and after the great Entrance - they sang the Cherubim Hymn 6 times - 6 different renditions before we even had the entrance, Xenia was getting tired so I took her out into the back courtyard. We sat there awhile and finally it was: "I need to go." So I was going to take her into the men's room with me when several old baba's came running yelling "Nyet! Nyet!" I tried to explain that Xenia could not go by herself and that I needed to help her. Well they tried to take her and of course she refused. By now we had about 10 people standing around all yelling at each other. Finally an old baba came over, told everyone to shut up, just about pushed Xenia and I into to the ladies room. The old baba stood guard, with her arms crossed outside in front of the door to ensure that no one came in while I helped Xenia. At the end of this service we had a procession around the Cathedral with the reading of gospels on all four sides. I have absolutely no idea why this procession was held. When we got back into the Cathedral, we had a service for the dead.

   Total time for the entire Sunday Service - 4 hours and 25 minutes. There are times that I wished I knew better Russian or that everyone else knew some English and then there are times when I am glad no one knows English.

   During that same service, we were outside another time, it was just after communion, and we were sitting on a bench. This woman comes over to the bench, opens her purse, takes out a newspaper and starts tearing it into strips. Xenia watched, and then started asking in that child's innocence way "Why is that lady tearing up newspaper?" Of course she asked it a dozen times as loud as she could. Luckily the lady did not understand English. After this lady finished tearing up the newspaper she went into the lady's room and you know the rest of the story.

   We are getting ready to go on vacation soon. Sunday November 5, I head to London for four days of Oil Spill School. Nia and Xenia will fly up to London on Thursday, November 9. On Friday November 10, we leave for two weeks in Limassol, Cyprus. We wanted some place warm and this was the closest. Since Advent does not begin for us until November 28, this will be our last hurrah until Christmas January 7.

   Hope all is well with everyone and our next writing will probably be titled "Xenia in Cyprus."

Nick, Nia, and Xenia


Nicholas Worontsoff, Jr.
Safety, Health & Environmental Advisor
Exxon Azerbaijan Operating Company LLC

USA Direct Telephone: 713-767-9352

Email: nicholas_worontsoff@email.mobil.com





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