Escape to Baku

May 19th 2015

One way to avoid the election debates and opinion poll overload is to travel somewhere different.  So taking a leaf out of Pierce Brosnan’s book (minus the James Bond car) I headed to Baku, capital city of Azerbaijan (get out the atlas!)  In truth, I was visiting my sister who lives there. Thank you British Airways for a very smooth flight over a windy plain and giving me time to watch two films I had missed, ‘Pride’ and ‘Gone Girl.’ Both just right to keep me engaged in a five and a half hour flight. (I left my computer at home.)

First impressions of the city was a real ‘East meets West’ cliché;  from the sandy soil rose modern skyscrapers in metal and glass. Everywhere you looked there are signs of modernisation and all attempts at creating a new order that will translate the oil money into a stable updated infrastructure. This is partly driven by the 12th June deadline when Baku hosts the first European Baku Games.  Adverts for these games are everywhere in Baku but I am not sure the marketing campaign has extended beyond Baku as I have seen very little in the UK about these new European Games.

The city has many quarters from the old walled 12th century city right up to date with the Flame Towers soaring against the blue sky and in between a myriad of new modern buildings, many of which have a distinct Parisian style including a number of French newsagent kiosks. Every now and then a surprising building captured the eye like the Halsya Museo (the Carpet Museum). The Eurovision building and modern designer shops decorated wide boulevards and all along the edge was the Caspian Sea.  Looking up to the hills of less affluent Baku were red topped houses and Mosques with glorious gold capped minarets. The call to prayer echoed across the city with a harmony that reflected the ancient Muslim roots of the city but which also tuned to what seems a well-integrated and outwardly welcoming city.

Let’s hope that all the new roads, buildings and vast new blocks of flats will benefit the local population in terms of employment, housing and better health and social care. The traffic police were very visible blowing their whistles and generously issuing fines to try and assert discipline over the drivers of Baku who all drive large black or white SUVs as if they were on the dodgems.  The indicators are ignored in favour of the horn.

Had I planned my visit better, I would have loved to visit a few nurseries.  Particularly as while I was there I received a text from one of the LEYF managers telling me that the children of the Azerbaijani Ambassador for London sends his children to a LEYF nursery!  Mind you, while I was there I managed to complete the sale on my new house, taking the concept of ‘overseas purchases’ to a new level.

I saw signs to one or two schools but the biggest public adverts were for children supported by a charity, United Aid for Azerbaijan, founded by a lady that worked for the Rainbow Trust , a charity with which I am very familiar. This is a country which appears to like children.  They were certainly in evidence especially in the cool of the evening scooting along the promenades.  I hope they can hold back some of the excesses that come with development including sugary foods and fizzy drinks.  Recent statistics on this.

I visited the Yarat Art Gallery to see the photographic exhibition by Shirin Neshat
Producing 55 large black and white portraits she wrote the answers to the following questions in beautiful Farsi script.

  • What does your home mean to you?
  • If you had to define an image of your country what would it be?
  • What makes you most proud of where you are from?
  • What are you most proud from your country’s past and what would you like to pass on to your family and the next generation?

The answers probably said more about Azerbaijan than any brochure could. It lifted the lid on the lives and challenges faced by the young, the old, the poor and women. It also highlights the push and pull of roots and wings of the modernising society.

On the plane back when I had finished the very evocative book Elizabeth is Missing, it struck me that these questions may be useful to provoke some thoughts about the concept of British Values and what that means for those of us in Early Years?