Xenia in Baku

February, 2001

Greetings from Baku -

 Well the first signs of spring have finally started appearing here in Baku. The days are slowing getting longer, the air just a bit warmer, there are some flowers starting to push up from under the earth and the wind has started blowing. They say that Baku is a very windy place during the spring and we can certainly attest to that. We have had some wind storms that just shake the entire building we are living in. The day might be beautiful but the wind just makes walking around difficult. Add to that the dust blowing in the air and you just want to stay inside.

   Unfortunately, the end of January and beginning of February was the time for all of us to personally experience medicine in Baku. Xenia and I (Nick) both contracted what is commonly referred to around here as "The Grip!" I remember that term from growing up and as I remember it was a catch all term for feeling really bad or even the flu. Neither us had the flu, but we were both certainly very sick. We have what is commonly referred to as a "western" medical clinic available to us. It is part of an international organization called "International SOS." They provide medical assistance to those members both traveling and living outside their native countries. They provide what we would call primary health care. Anything involving surgery or major type diagnostic services would require medical evacuation out of the country. The clinic here in Baku has been inspected by Exxon and meets all western standards.

   One thing we have to remember is that "western" standards means just that. It may not necessarily meet United States standards but it does at least meet European Standards. Anyway, Xenia started showing signs of not feeling well in church on Sunday January 28. She got worse and finally had to go to the clinic the following Tuesday. It was one of these upper respiratory viral/bacterial infections that she contracted. The worse part was the coughing and her temperature. She would cough for hours non- stop. Also her temperature kept swinging from normal up to 104 at times. The bacterial part was easy, we have anti-biotics for that. But the viral infection just has to run its course. Nia spent many of the nights sleeping on the floor next to Xenia's bed because Xenia would wake up and just cough for hours. Both of them were started suffering from sleep depravation.

   Also when Xenia's temperature would start to go up she would have to give her sponge baths to cool her down. And then there is the medicine. In the United States, you get medicines in almost any flavor you want. Not here. Every time Xenia saw us coming with the medicine, she would start crying because the medicine, from my personal experience, was absolutely vile tasting. Xenia was out of school for two weeks and we found out later that 10 out of 15 of the children in the class were also out for the same sickness.

   I did not fare to well either. By Wednesday January 31, I left work early just feeling absolutely terrible. I came home and went straight to bed.

   Thursday I stayed home and actually felt better and went to work on Friday. By the end of the day Friday, I had a fever and was heading downhill quickly.  Meanwhile, Xenia was really having a bad time. I left work early when I called Nia and found out that Xenia's temperature was up to 104. Nia was able to bring her temperature down however, events like that can really scare you especially when you are in a third world country.

    On Saturday, Nia now had two sickies on her hands. Xenia was basically in a status-quo mode while I was heading downhill. My temperature kept slowing increasing, I was coughing more, and I started developing an ear infection. The pain in the ear got so bad Saturday night that I had to take some of the medicine that Xenia had left over from and ear infection she had a couple of years earlier. Sunday, I woke up in really bad shape. My temperature had now reached 104 and so Nia made a call to clinic and they said get in right now. None of us were going to church that Sunday morning. So I had my driver drive me to the clinic where I was diagnosed by a French doctor, assisted by an Azeri nurse. They both spoke English, however you had to listen very carefully - tough to do when you are sick. Anyway the doctor basically said that I had the same thing that Xenia had. He said that I had two strikes against me: 1. There are many strange viruses and other things floating around this part of the world, and 2. I was born in the United States therefore I have no immunity to many of these viruses. So he gave me this load of absolutely vile tasting medicines to take. All the medicine was from Russia.

   Take this one medication every eight hours, take this other medication also every eight hours but in-between the first medicine that you are taking every eight hours and every four hours take this third medication. My only question was when am I supposed to sleep if I am up all the time taking medication?

   Those were some long nights waking up every two hours taking medicine. Nia did not get sick during this entire ordeal. She was already on anti-biotics for a sinus infection so she made it through OK. I finally went back to work after being out for four days and Xenia finally started school again the following week.

   Believe or not, Valentine's Day is a big holiday here in Baku. Of course being a Moslem country they drop the "St." Anyway here it is a day for lovers. Almost overnight, these flower vendors pop up all over the city selling flowers. 

   And you will be glad to know that private enterprise is alive and well. The roses that cost less than a dollar a piece tend to command prices as high as three dollars each on Valentine's Day - what ever the market will sustain. And do not ask for a dozen roses - 12 is considered to be an unlucky number therefore you get eleven roses. Red carnations are out because they are a symbol of mourning.

   As far as Church is concerned, we are all now at least on the "same" calendar having just finished the pre-lenten period. On Sunday, January 28 we had a normal Divine Liturgy - no Bishop. His Grace was in Iran visiting the Russian Churches down there. It is my understanding that there are several churches in Iran. Following the Russian Revolution, many people escaped to Iran. Some eventually went on to Europe or the United States while others stayed in Iran. Anyway, we are standing there in church, it is close to the beginning of the service when in walks these uniformed soldiers. Of course the first thing that comes to mind are the old Soviet days and what type of trouble is there going to be. I look at them closely and realize that they are Russian Soldiers and then looking more closely they are actually guards assigned to the Russian Embassy. There were some Russian trade officials in country at that time so I have to assume that someone wanted to go to church and the guards had to accompany them. Xenia gets complements every time she goes to receive communion. Last Sunday the priest that gave her the sacrament said "Good Girl."

   She is one of few that are always there and does not scream or cry. However, the Bishop and the Deacons all have at least learned one  English word and that is "close." When Xenia receives the sacrament she opens her mouth wide and does not close it. They like you to take the sacrament right off the spoon here. So after Xenia gets the sacrament, all you here is Nia along with the Bishop and Deacons saying "close! close!' Xenia has also learned to say all her evening prayers by herself. She starts with "O Heavenly King" through "Holy God" the "Lord's Prayer" then mentions everyone's name that she is praying for and ending with the Troparion to St. Xenia. Meanwhile her parents now have the Creed and Lord's Prayer in Russian so we are trying to sing along with the congregation.

   Sunday, February 25, we like all of you began our Lenten journey. We had a normal Divine Liturgy that Sunday morning. However, after Liturgy as we were waiting for the driver in the Church courtyard a commotion started. The Bishop was walking through the courtyard. He did not serve the Liturgy we were at so I have to assume that he served the very early Liturgy. Anyway, some of the Deacons were pushing the people aside so that the Bishop could walk through. I being the pushy American, pushed through the crowd with Nia and Xenia in tow and walked up to the Bishop and asked for his blessing. We received his blessing and he continued on his way. 

   Forgiveness Sunday Vespers began at 5:00 PM. There was one Bishop, 14 priests, 3 deacons, and numerous sub-deacons and monastics present. The service started with the Bishop entering the church followed by his vesting. The Cathedral was packed. Many people there that I have never seen. The Vesper service was the exact same format as we do in America. I was following along using the Forgiveness Sunday Vespers booklet from the OCA Department of Religious Education. It brought back memories to hear the Lenten Melodies in Russian. At the end of vespers the Bishop spoke for almost an hour. By this time the sun had set so the Cathedral was pitch black with the exception of the candles. At the end of his sermon, the Bishop did a full prostration before the clergy and people and asked for their forgiveness. As the choir started signing the Paschal Cannon, the clergy one by one approached the Bishop, asking for forgiveness followed by the monastics and then the people. So everyone approached the Bishop first, and then all the Clergy were lined up next to him and you went down the line of clergy asking forgiveness from each other. And thus began Lent here in Baku. 

   The order of services for the first week of Lent is Matins at 6:00 am, Vespers at 11:00 am and the Cannon of St. Andrew at 4:00 PM. On Friday, the Pre-sanctified Liturgy is at 9:00 am. Later Sunday evening, we watched Russian TV which was covering all the blini baking contests and all the festivities happening in Russia prior to the beginning of Lent.

   So to all our family and friends: "If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses ....(Mark 6:14-15)" we ask your forgiveness if we have offended anyone in any way and wish all of you a blessed Lent as we all begin that long journey towards Pascha.

Nick, Nia and Xenia


Other articles in the "Xenia in Baku" series


Visit the Orthodox Church in America Homepage