Tuesday, 26 October 2010

To immigrate or not, that is the question.



A guy I know in Baku is immigrating to Canada. ( everybody seems to be immigrating to Canada these days, have you noticed?) It is strange that my first reaction was not an excitement for him, but almost a shock. Why are you doing this? I wanted to ask.

Strange that it should surprise me. After all, I spent most of my conscious life wanting to leave Azerbaijan. Why would I question the motives of someone else?

But then I thought about this.

Another Azeri friend of mine who lives in London now has a very influential family back in Azerbaijan. For him, every trip back to Baku probably feels like visiting some magical kingdom, where he is treated like a royalty; and life is a constant celebration.

Of course, in comparison to such extravagant, hedonistic living, life here, in the UK is, well, pretty dull. So, it does not surprise me when he says just how much he would like to move back home. It would probably make sense for me too, if I could have such standard of living. But for me, things would be very different.

I never belonged to a rich family with connections and power. My parents would not only be unable to protect and support me, they would need protecting themselves. I would never do fantastically well, only well enough, because of maybe some western connections I might still have. Perhaps, some expat friend would attempt to influence the local system and get me a reasonable job. But maybe not even that. In the system where every position has a fixed price tag on it, and where local mafia hold the power even in expat organizations these days, there is no place for people like me.

It is not just the corruption and connections that would be my problem. It is the azeriness. You have to be Azeri enough to appeal to the locals you are dealing with, to become influential, prosperous and ochen vajniy.

And you see, this friend of mine who is now venturing into the life of an immigrant, has all the right criteria of azeriness in him. He is a cultural city boy, with good family roots. He is Azeri enough but not a chushka. He can speak the language. He has some professional and business skills- in a specifically Azeri sense of the word -which he used to build his own business. Which, in turn, became successful due to some connections and influences he must have used in a carefully balanced Azeri way. The way I would never even know. Besides all of the above, my main problem would, of course, be that I am a woman.

So, as I listened to him telling me about Canada, I wanted to shake him. Why would he leave everything he has so easily, to go somewhere where he would have to be one of the normal, real people? He would have to get a proper job, his English would have to be much better, his knowledge of how things work back in Azerbaijan would not be of any use, and he would never have as many friends and family members around him as he does now.

It is cold there, I wanted to tell him. It is going to be cold in all possible senses of the word. Don’t go. Stay where you belong, in the country that made you what you are. Where you are somebody. Because, in the western world, you will be no one. In your late thirties, you would have to start all over again.

But I did not pass my negative thoughts on to him, of course. I just said 'Exciting, of course. But also a little bit scary.'‘No’, he replied. ‘Not really that scary. I am taking a lot of money with me.’

Money of course, helps. But I still am not convinced he is making the right choice.

You see, some people are meant to immigrate, but some aren’t. I was born to immigrate. He is too Azeri to do it properly. As a friend of mine said, giving me a good example of a Korean family who dumped everything back home and ran to Canada….she said ‘you have to have nothing to lose.’

But then I thought I was being too negative. This friend of mine, despite being more Azeri than me, is probably concerned about the future of his kids. He probably realizes that his life in Baku is not really what the real world is about. He probably understands that he should move his kids, while they are small, into a country where they will have a reliable medical system, less corruption and a decent education. So perhaps, for him personally, life will be pretty tough in Canada. He does not realize it now, but he will. Give him a few years, when the honeymoon stage is over. But, at least, his children will have a chance for a better future.
Inshallah, eh.

14 comments:

  1. Dear Scary Azeri, your post really rang my bell.

    I was an expat in Armenia for 6 years, made Armenian friends--friends who left, friends who stayed. I knew(of) people high up and low down.

    I know Armenians and Azeris are not friends, but the post you wrote could have been written by an Armenian, exactly, to the commas.

    Actually, the same truths go for other countries where I have lived, like Ghana, West Africa.

    I have the utmost respect for people who have the guts to pull up stakes and start over in a foreign country without connections, without speaking the language properly. Unfortunately, this is often much more difficult than they realize at first, as you pointed out. Their own education often does not count and engineers become taxi drivers, and so on. It is true that many do it for their children's future. It's a great but noble sacrifice.

    But as you said, maybe sometimes it's better to stay at home.

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  2. To me, immigrants deserve all my respects. As Miss Fotloose stated before me, immigrating requires tons of guts. But my thoughts go back in time, when immigrants left all they knew, all they were acquainted with to start a new life in a whole unknown world. Nowadays we have Internet, TV and other media to get to know. at least a little, about the chosen place to move in. But back then? Moreover, traveling was so hard that most immigrants never returned. As my great grandfather, who left his hometown Rajadell, Catalonya, Spain in the early XX century. And he settled down in a remote town in Peruvian Amazon region called Iquitos and afterwards, Yurimaguas.
    My respects to every immigrant, past, present and future. I am aware it had to be a very brave decision.
    :D
    PD: your Azeriness word made me think of our Peruanidad.

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  3. Good for your friend he is doing it for his future and his family.

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  4. On the whole, I applaud his decision to opt for challenge and newness rather than stick with comfort, especially as he seems to be thinking of his family. Comfort has an awful way of shutting down one's systems - the move could rejuvenate him.

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  5. Sometimes even those who have it made in their home country feel the need to challenge themselves by trying something new. Canada is no paradise but there are so many immigrants that your friend will not be alone. Also there are parts of Canada which have mild weather even in winter (Vancouver, Victoria, etc.).

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  6. When I was getting ready to leave for the U.S. to study for my Master's on a State Department-funded scholarship, our sponsoring agency organized a meeting with one of Azerbaijan's government ministers who also studied in the U.S. He urged us not to stay in the U.S. after we finish our degree because we would be "second-class" citizens there. Well, this summer when I went back to Baku for my mom's funeral, I was treated like a second-class citizen in my own country, with corrupt officials devising shameless tricks to extort money for every piece of paper they were by law required to provide to me, without regard for my family's tragic circumstances. I feel my rights are better protected in the United States than they were in the country that I considered my own, until recently.

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  7. Time will show who will profit from this immigration...

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  8. @Miss Footloose: I have had quite a few comments here before from people from Armenia saying how similar they found some cultural aspects.

    @Gabriela: You are right, I have never thought of this before...It must have been a lot harder back then.

    @Marianna: as I said, for people like you and me, it is different. My life in the UK is a lot better than back home, for the reasons you described. But I still think for some people it is better to remain in az. I might be wrong though.

    @Bill and Richard: You might be right. As I said, my first reaction might not have been the correct one. and as An-Lu said...only time will show.

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  9. Immigration is not easy. You need to have much more than guts I would say. And yes, you might be treated as second citizen, if you do not speak the language, if you do not have western education, if you are finding it hard to integrate etc. Things that money can not buy.

    If money is your only asset then move to Dubai or something like that.

    Even if you tick in every single box, still you do not have roots in the new country, the safety net of family and friends around you.

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  10. I agree with all the comments above, but most notably those of Miss Footloose as I myself am Armenian and know that the guy you describe in your post, Scary, could just as well have been from Yerevan. Funny thing is, I'm FROM Canada, but have repatriated to Armenia. I guess my story is a bit different, but all I would like to add here is that sometimes the reverse happens. People move abroad and then return. Or as in my case, people from abroad move "back home." Of course there are still much, much more cases of emigration from countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan than of immigration.

    But alas, there are just as many stories as there are people in this world. Best of luck to your friend.

    By the way, I didn't realize so many people these days were immigrating to Canada! ;-)

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  11. @Adrineh: I have just realized I should have used emigrate, not immigrate! :)
    Yes, everyone seems to be running to Canada. I personally think it is too far and too cold, unless of course it is Vancouver or other places Richard here mentioned...But hey, a friend of mine moved a year ago from London to Vancouver and just came back a few months ago. which I have to say I was thrilled about. :) But I was trying to be encouraging when she was moving, as a good friend should be. while inside I kept asking all those questions with no easy answers!
    But every situation, of course, is very different. will be curious to see how this friend settles though.

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  12. A couple of months ago I returned from a trip to Azerbaijan. I was honestly amazed by how much the country has changed over the last decade. Baku is practically unrecognizable with its new high-rises, luxury hotels, parks, and shopping malls. Even remote areas like Qabala have 5-star hotels. And yet a lot of people I talked to definitely wanted to immigrate. Government employees complained about inadequate salaries. Businessmen railed about monopolies that make it impossible to do honest business. Everyone was mad about government bureaucrats/mafiosi who extort money from them. Only the middle-class folks, who work for western companies in the oil industry, said life was good - if only someone could do something with Baku traffic...

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  13. I'm sorry I missed this post and I guess it's too late to comment here. That's exactly what I think when I hear another well-doing Armenian is moving to Canada: why would someone want to live in such a cold place? Why would someone quit his job as a procurement officer in a corrupted country?

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  14. inshaallah, eh ...lol i know that feeling

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