Xenia in Baku

November 25, 2000

   Greetings and a Happy Thanksgiving to All from Baku:

   The end of October proved just as exciting around here as the end of September, we changed time from summer time back to winter time, the country was gearing up for the Parliamentary Elections, and we all went on vacation.

   The time change proved very interesting. It was noted in the press, radio and TV that the time change would occur at 5:00 am on Sunday, October 29. So we prepared for it and looked forward to an extra hour of sleep before going to church Sunday morning. I made sure our driver knew to pick us up for church at 8:45 am the new time. Everything went well until we got to the Cathedral - they were half way through the Divine Liturgy already! I asked the candle lady what was going on and she said something about not the right time. There was no bishop present so this was just a regular Sunday Divine Liturgy. At the end of the service I managed to get a hold of one of the priests and ask him why the Liturgy was held at the "old hour." He told me that the time of services would change after the Sunday Liturgy. By changing the time at 5:00 am in the morning, it messes up the start time of the 5:00 am Divine Liturgy and the order of the All Night Vigil. The order of the All Night Vigil does not allow for an extra hour of service once a year. Since the church does not feel compelled to abide by civil time, it just does the normal order of services and then adjusts to the new time following the Sunday Liturgy. I guess I can understand what they are doing.

   On Tuesday, October 31, our little "Fairy Princess" made the rounds of the apartment complex "Trick or Treating". She managed to haul in a load of candy. On Wednesday, November 1, our little "Fairy Princess" celebrated her third birthday. We had a cake and small party followed by the opening of the many gifts that arrived. I have to wonder what the customs officials thought when they inspected some of those boxes.

   We were also going through another tense period at the end of October with the Parliamentary Elections scheduled for November 5. There were the usual threats of political demonstrations and rallies so we were all told to keep a low profile at least until the elections are over. The police presence on the streets was unbelievable. Basically from what we were hearing from our security offices was that the government had the city locked down pretty tight and that there would not be any problems associated with the election. At least here in Azerbaijan we know the outcome of the election weeks before it takes place. Not like the US where you still do not know who will be president. As usual the government party won, some of the opposition parties won a couple of seats and everything went as planned. However, following the election there has been the usual amount of charges of fraud, ballot box stuffing, dead people voting, etc. from the international election observers. 

   In the weeks following the elections there have been some disturbances in some of the provinces, including some deaths. People are not only riled up about the election but also there have been many problems with the lack of electricity. Russia cut off the shipments of natural gas to Azerbaijan due to non-payment. With the cold weather now entrenched in some areas, and no gas for heating or electricity production, some people are getting a little upset. On Sunday, November 5, election day, I had to leave Nia and Xenia here in Baku and travel to London. Depending on how you look at it, luckily or unluckily, my flight was delayed 11 hours out of Baku due to fog so at least I was here the entire day with them. Nothing happened but all types of contingency plans were in effect if an evacuation was necessary.

   The following Thursday, Xenia and Nia, (their flight was only 8 hours late) flew up to London to meet me. We stayed over night in London and on Friday, November 10 we flew to Cyprus for vacation. Unfortunately, nothing in Europe flies during "normal" hours. Our flight left London at 9:00 PM and arrived in Cyprus at 3:05 am the next morning. We had to clear customs, get our rental car an then drive 50 kilometers to Limassol where we were staying. What made it worse was that Cyprus used to be a British Colony so they on the opposite side of the road. Try doing that at 4:00 am in the morning! Also we learned something about road signs - everything has a Cypriot name and an English name and the road signs are inconsistent - switching haphazardly between both. After several false starts and then learning that we had to follow the signs for Limassol (English) or Lemesos (Cypriot) we finally got to our hotel at 6:00 am in the morning.

   Cyprus proved to be a very nice country. We were here off-season so there were no crowds, the prices were cheaper, and the pace a bit slower. The weather was beautiful - 70's and blue sky everyday and the upper 50' at night. The only big problem was that it was really too cold for a "beach" holiday. The indoor pool was fine but the outdoor pool was too cold. The Mediterranean was about 70 degrees which is OK but a bit on the cool side. Our hotel was beach side so we spent quite a bit of time at the sea. Xenia spent quite a bit of time on the children's playset, in the water or building sand castles on the beach.

   We did quite a bit of sightseeing also. We visited the Kykkos Monastery high up in the Troodos Mountains. These mountains actually get snow during the winter. The monastery had a very impressive collection of old Icons and religious items. The most famous Icon is called Elousa. It has been encased in silver for over two hundred years and anyone attempting to gaze directly on it does so under sufferance of horrible punishment. While walking around the monastery, one of the Monastic Priests walked up to us and asked us if we were from Moscow. We said no, but we are from Baku. He then said "You are Orthodox, come with me." How did he know?? We went with him into the monastery church up to the iconostasis to the weeping icon they have. He said prayers for us in front of the icon and then went into the altar. He came out with oil from the icon and some bread. We all venerated the icon, asked for the priest's blessing and departed. Nia said that when she venerated the icon she felt that it was vibrating and she was overcome with much sadness. She had to go to the back of the church and sit down where a monk approached her and comforted her. When I touched the icon, it actually felt warm and was like I was touching human flesh.

   The monastery was very impressive with much elaborate iconography. Several days later, we drove along the western side of the island up along the northern coast and stopped in the city of Pomos. There was the church of St. Raphael, St. Irene and St. Nicholas. These three saints are commemorated by the church on Bright Tuesday and are well known to heal individuals of afflictions. The church had miracle icons to these saints. Next to the icons were piles of crutches, canes, hearing aids, etc. from people who were healed by the saints. Also there was a container full of crystals, rabbits feet, voodoo dolls, and other superstitious paraphernalia that people had left behind after being cured. We all prayed in front of the icons, and venerated them. Also in the Church, was a tomb containing the body of a local Saint. Unfortunately, I do not remember his name. However, as we approached the tomb, we got an overwhelming smell of roses. After venerating everything, we departed from the church.

   We also visited some old Greek and Roman ruins. With the lack of visitors on the island, we actually had the opportunity to some great pictures. Other fun things we did was take a glass bottom boat ride in Pathos Harbor, shop at the many stores and bazaars, and of course eat a lot of good Cypriot Food.

   On Saturday, November 18, we drove up to the capitol city of Nicosia (English) Lefkosia (Cypriot) to visit. This is actually a very sad place. This is now the only divided capital city in the world. Following the Turkish invasion in 1974, and the signing of an cease fire, the city has been divided into a Turkish Sector and a Republic of Cyprus Sector. In between is called the "Green Line." You basically have this walled area running through the city with a no mans land in the middle that is patrolled by the UN. We could go up to the wall and look over into this no mans land. It looks like a place where time has stood still. Nothing has changed in this no mans land since 1974. Everything is just how the people left it as they fled the Turkish army. We as Americans can cross the Green Line into the other sector, but choose not to since it would mean changing money, etc. We visited some of the sites in Nicosia, bought some items and then left.

   On the way back to Baku, we had to spend a night in London. Again, flying around Europe is really a sleep losing proposition. We left Cyprus at 4:15 am and gained two hours, and arrived in London at 7:10 am. We checked into our hotel and since we had sometime on our hands decided to go downtown and visit Harrods Department Store. Well they are all decked out for Christmas. While there, Xenia got a chance to visit Fr. Christmas (we call him Santa). We had to go down this long hall all decorated with Christmas Decorations. And one by one each family was allowed to go through this door at the end. We never told Xenia what was happening. Anyway we go through this door and then there is another door and one of the helpers tells Xenia that she has to knock on the door.

   After Xenia knocks, this voice says come in and there was Xenia face to face with the man! He was dressed more like a Bishop, not the Santa that we are used to. He was seated on a chair and what I liked was that it was like a private audience with him. There was no noise and no one else around. He and Xenia spoke and then for the first time Xenia sat on his lap and had her picture taken.

  We are back in Baku now and Christmas Advent begins for us on Wednesday. This is last version of "Xenia in Baku" for this year. We will be in New Jersey sometime around the 13th of December for one week. Will keep you posted.

Till then,

Nick, Nia, 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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