Mom also reminded me to say my "hellos" and "thank you's" in English and cautioned me to be on my best behavior - no nagging, no whining, and absolutely NO running around. I vividly recall feeling so superior as we bypassed the long queue outside and sailed through entrance marked "Employees Only".
Thirty years ago, the oil show was a rather small affair by today's standards. Obviously, not many international companies were represented. I remember seeing toy-like models of rigs and pipelines. There were shiny booklets and buttons that were being given away at the booths. It was all very exciting for a seven-year old girl. More than anything, I was curious about seeing real, life-size foreigners.
You have to understand that back in the 1970s and well into late the 80s, we lived in a very isolated country. With the exception of a few Vietnamese, Cuban and African students, it was extremely rare to see a foreigner on the streets of Baku - especially an American or western European. And, even though my hometown had always been a cosmopolitan city, with various nationalities living side by side, we didn't know much about the day-to-day sensibilities of Western culture.
Sure, we read the literary works
of state-approved Western writers, such as Jack London, John
Galsworthy and Theodore Dreiser. We watched movies by Vittorio
de Sica and Federico Fellini and listened to Louis Armstrong
and Ella Fitzgerald.
So, for me, this first visit
to the Oil Show was like looking through a peephole into the
world of rugged cowboys, glamorous movie stars, fast and beautiful
cars and delicious bubble-gum. Hey, I was only a first grader!
Everything and everyone at the exhibition seemed unusual to me
- men, and there were mostly men at the show, had different facial
features from the people I knew. Their suits had slightly different
cuts, their shoes were polished a bit brighter, and they smiled
a lot. Even the paper booklets that they were giving away were
unique - colorful, glossy, with beautiful photographs of smiling
oil workers and turquoise seas. I
was given a few little souvenirs - a button or two, perhaps a
pack of gum or a candy bar - and these, too, were different.
Much has changed since that memorable visit. I'm not as easily impressed with a few round button pins anymore. I've grown up and now have children of my own. A few years back, while on summer break from my university, I worked as a simultaneous translator at the Caspian Oil and Gas Exhibition, myself.
At that time, the exposition was being held in the large and spacious Sport and Exhibition Complex. Hundreds of companies participated. The place was abuzz with an awesome energy. There was a sense of certain camaraderie and excitement. Young, bright-eyed, smiling professionals were everywhere. Almost all of them spoke at least one foreign language, some were fluent in two or three!
To me it felt like the floodgates
had been opened and all this lively, enthusiastic talent had
come pouring in. What a change from the small and dark oil and
gas exhibition populated mostly by men in dark suits that I remember
from my youth! What a refreshing feeling of anticipation, thrill
of opportunities to be pursued, hopes for the development of
And what a beautiful thing all
this mixture of cultures is! Now, more than ever before, people
from other countries can become familiar with the rich and fascinating
traditions of my Motherland. More people can discover our great
artists, our phenomenal opera and symphonic music, our folk singers
and dancers, our fascinating countryside. And because of this,
more people will come to understand the struggles, hopes and
aspirations of our Azerbaijan. And what a great thing that would
Editor: Irada has written us
in the past, describing what it has been like trying to instill
Azerbaijani values in her children who are growing up away from
her Motherland. See "Azerbaijani Lullabies," AI 12.3
(Autumn 2004) and "World of Shapes and Colors: Introducing
Children to Art," AI 13.1 (Spring 2005). Search at AZER.com.