We stayed up until 3am the previous night playing Risk. We were three American boys attempting world domination. As we drove home from this countryside experience, I reflected as the mountains passed away into the sea. Baku was approaching in the distance.
I was trying to think of one aspect of this culture that I could explain in depth. So I picked a tough one. Life in a system that emphasizes honor and shame. Here is what I wrote then:
The bottom line: don’t trust anybody. Deceit is rampant and the highest good is to save face. If someone challenges your honor, or if an accident happened and the other person says that it is your fault, the battle begins. No matter if you know without a shadow of doubt that it was your fault you will fight to the bitter end defending yourself. Usually the bitter end means that you pay the other guy to say that it was nobody’s fault. Never admit that you are wrong. This is a huge topic that no one knows about at home, but it is essential as the west and the east operate in extreme opposites. The east tends to live in honor/shame as we tend to live in guilt/innocence.
Well, I was awakening then. Now I understand the complex reality that honor shame, guilt innocent are a mixed part of every culture. And it would take me a while to realize the honor/ shame rhythms of American life.
In the final Azeri days, we visited some sites and began the detailed survey of our trip ahead. We planned to visit the roots of Western Christendom in Italy and Greece. I wish I could tell all Azeri stories here, about getting lost on the bus with Mark or walking past the rich suburbs and the ongoing work with our kids in the refugee camp, or lavishing ourselves in the Turkish bath, or almost getting arrested without my passport (our English students saved me that time). I wish I could describe the fellowship among the workers or the countless faces we encountered. But this journey would pull us onward and away from those we began to love. It would take us into the ruins of Phillipi, Corinth, and Thessaloniki, to the bullet-ridden buildings of Sarajevo, on to the Holy Sepulchre, then to the east and into the heart of ancient Asia. For now, a boy whose internal myths were being pulled apart at its seams would find rest on the flight from Baku to Rome.
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