I've now been in the village of Lahic (pronounced lahitch) for two days. It's in a steep sided valley, in the foothills of the Caucasus, about 180 kilometers west north west of Baku. I'm in a homestay here, the house of a delightful Lahici couple whose two children are grown and have left home. Jairan is a brilliant and attentive cook, so I am learning a lot. And Dadash is a teacher with enormous curiosity who speaks English as well as Russian, Azeri, and, like most of the villagers and others in this small region, Lahici. It's a close cousin of the Tat or Tati language, and they are Iranic, in the same family as Farsi.
Yes, it's complicated, and just think of the different language families involved: slavic, Turkic (for Azeri, (though it also has a lot of words with Farsi roots I am told), Iranic, and then English too. When we talk about plants, hawthorn, rose hips, sea buckthorn, for example, all of which grow here and are well used, Dadash goes to his computer to find the equivalent words in other languages. and so I get to learn them too.
I just posted on FB a long little thing about the Garden of Eden that lies a pleasant walk away in the hills behind the village. There are wild barberry bushes, and sea buckthorn, and white thorn or hawthorn (we couldn't be sure on the computer) and wild plum...and then there are about a hundred, maybe more, apple trees, mature, loaded with fruit, and of many different varieties. I tasted until my mouth was a little raw...
And I photographed the apples, the light, the shadows. A horseman had come by as I was walking, loving the openness, the air, the view. There was a quick exchanged "Salaam" as he went by, then he cantered off along the track. Apart from him, and several shepherds with flocks of sheep and goats, I saw no one. And then suddenly I heard a labouring car engine. Round the corner came an old Lada with three guys in it. They turned around and then parked the car under a tree. One headed up the hillside through the trees carrying two buckets, clearly on an apple gathering mission.
Another, lean and bony, in his seventies, with a tanned high-cheekboned face and a smile, came over and shook my hand as he said Salaam. And then he spoke to me in Russian. I said my few words, which say that I don't know Russian. But he went on and I gathered he was inviting me to join them in drinking vodka. "No thank-you" I said. He continued, to say something like but we'e making a fire and cooking shashlik... "Thankyou, yes, I said with a few more of my Russian words, accepting with pleasure.
What a treat. We gathered dried bits of twigs and wood, Ajdar, for that was the thin guy's name, made a fire, and as Vali made several trips up with empty buckets and back down with loads of apples, Ajdar threaded lamb onto three wide skewers, arranged two rocks on either side of the fire, and then placed the skewers across the embers. He also buried three potatoes farther over, not under the meat, to cook in the coals.
I learned that apart from wood and a rock or something for balancing skewers on, you also need water. As he felt the embers get too hot, Ajdar would sprinkle water on them, and sometimes onto the meat, to cool things down a little.
Meantime the others set out cardboard from a folded out box as a table, placed glasses and napkins on it, opened the vodka bottle, opened a jar of whole pickled tomatoes and a jar of homemade yogurt, and sliced one of the two flat loaves of bread they'd brought.
Soon Ajdar brought over the first skewer and slid it onto a plate. Then came the other two, making a heap of beautifully grilled lamb that had been flavoured only with salt.
As we started eating a guy appeared walking down the hillside. He'd ridden past us earlier, on a horse that also carried box-shaped panniers, on an apple gathering trip, clearly. Here he was, having tied the horse somewhere uphill, and so he too was included in the feast.
The open hospitality, the preparedness to share food and drink with a stranger or a neighbour (for the horseman was also from the region, though not specially known to any of them), is part of the culture here it seems, as it is in Georgia. I wondered what would have happened in the equivalent situation in Canada, the US or Europe. We are shy about sharing. I don't think it's always greed. I think it is a kind of social hesitation. But here, in what we outsiders might consider a more traditional culture, and in a place where people have suffered a lot from war and change, there's this hospitable generosity.
It's something to think about...