The Expat: Aynura Huseynova

CV: Aynura Huseynova
Nationality: Azerbaijani
Age: 30
Profession: Diplomat, responsible for culture and education at the Azerbaijani embassy
Education: International relations degree at Baku State University
Currently reading: Sadly I don’t have much time to read
Last film seen: Pride & Prejudice
Gadget: My laptop

When was the first time you came to Argentina?
We came on a mission at the end of 2010. We knew we were coming to build an embassy here, so when we got here we knew what we had to do, and we were excited.

How did you prepare for it?
I was obviously thinking about what I should before I got here, and we also knew way before arriving here that we were coming here, so the first decision was to take Spanish classes. My husband and I registered but in the meantime I got pregnant, so I had to stop and I never got back to learning in Azerbaijan. However, I started again when I moved here.

Was it easy to find a Spanish teacher in Azerbaijan?
Actually I had two. One was was Azerbaijani and the other was Mexican so I had quite a few options! Both were good. The Azerbaijani taught me Spanish from Spain so I would use the “y” sound. And the Mexican teacher had travelled a lot and told me I would have a different Spanish which would be like Italian and wasn’t very real! So that was the first eye-opening comment I had heard so I knew I had to prepare.
That was the first barrier for me, the language. I thought it would be fine having English and lots of people do speak English, but in the street you can’t rely on that and need to speak Spanish. I had a hard time digesting information in Spanish in the first two months.

What did you know about Argentina before you moved here?
When someone says Argentina in Azerbaijan, the first thing that comes to mind is Maradona! And the second is tango. We also knew that when we were moving that the seasons would change, so we came here in September and knew it would be spring. Those were the three things I knew. But until you get to the country you don’t get a sense of the environment.

What was your first impression?
It was raining! We got here and in the first week we went to a tango show. I was so impressed. I’d only ever seen it in pictures and had never seen it live and everything was so impressive. The whole dinner, leisure time and the dance, it was nice.
Then we went to San Telmo where they have a lot of handicrafts and were selling chorizo on the street.

How has it been to set up an embassy?
It’s been a very inspiring process. We came here on a mission to start the first diplomatic mission in South America. We aren’t a very big team but we are very enthusiastic, and realized this is the life we have chosen because our personal and professional lives are so interconnected. There’s excitement in that because if you’re building something from scratch, you always think “what can I do to make it better?” You feel ownership, like it’s your child. Well, actually it isn’t mine as my husband is in charge! But the whole organism has all the staff members contributing so it’s been so nice and inspirational.
It’s not easy either, to come to a new country on a big mission. It’s not easy but very interesting. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know where to start nor which parts of town are safe. So all these little things have to be figured out and you need to keep an open mind and develop ideas. You wander around as you start to adjust to this new city. It’s not like being a student or a tourist, because you care about so many different things compared to them.

Where did you stay in that first week?
Before finding homes, we stayed in hotels close to each other so we could figure things out. We made sure to find the embassy building first to ensure we could start Little Azerbaijan.

How did you make friends?
Through work! But being on a diplomatic mission someone will know someone else from the ministry so there is some official contact. What I have learnt is that starting a mission means you can’t separate your personal life too much. For example, to take out medical insurance you have to talk to someone — an agent. So then we became friends with the agent! Or as I needed Spanish classes, I made friends with the Spanish instructor. It’s possible to build your own space!

Are there any similarities between Argentina and Azerbaijan?
A lot. First, although the seasons are different, the climate is similar, certainly in Buenos Aires. There is more rain in summer but the weather isn’t so shockingly different that I’ve needed time to adjust. It’s not Canada! The weather is fine and we find it quite familiar.
The people are the second thing, They are warm and helpful and willing to help. I make lots of mistakes when I speak Spanish but they don’t make fun of me. Also the hospitality is similar. With regard to food there are also some similarities such as the use of beef and vegetables. Basically there hasn’t been a huge cultural shock for me.

What’s been the biggest difference apart from the language?
It has to be that! My husband already spoke Italian so he adjusted and it was easy for him to communicate so he didn’t have as hard a time as me. Once, I called to order something for lunch but I couldn’t order as they didn’t speak English and I was trying to communicate in that way. That was the biggest barrier. But if you look from a positive point of view it becomes a challenge that you have to overcome and you end up having another language which is an essential tool.

And what do Argentines think when you tell them where you are from?
It depends on who you talk to! In government, for example, they do know what you are talking about but on the street people ask where Azerbaijan is. It’s understandable — it’s so far away. But that’s the question they most ask, as well as which are the neighbouring countries and what language we speak, and so we spend a lot of time explaining what it’s like, but it’s part of our mission.
Every time someone asks me I use it is a chance to practise Spanish!

Is your son becoming bilingual?
He goes to kindergarten and is learning a few words in Spanish. He doesn’t say full sentences yet or have complex thought but he says words in Spanish followed by Azerbaijani. His teachers tell me he says quite a lot in Spanish there. I don’t know how he works it out in his mind but he seems to be fine! I’m glad he has the chance to have a second language.
It also teaches children not to be shy as he has two cultures. He’s less likely to have surprises than we did as we didn’t have that chance.

Have you visited much of the country?
I’ve been to a few places in Greater Buenos Aires. Tigre is a nice comfortable place and I like the area when you leave Vicente López. There’s lots of green and it’s a nice place to to relax at over a weekend.
I’d really like to go to the south, and see the glaciers, and see some cold places. If you come here and don’t see the south it is a sin!

What do you miss?
Really it’s my family and friends. I don’t feel homesick, probably because I feel comfortable here, but I never felt homesick, even when I lived in the US. I don’t dream much about it. But there are a few food things I miss so I put in an order with my mother when I go back!

What does your family think about your being here?
They should be proud, I think! I know my father is as he thinks we are on a very important mission. But they wait for me to go back in summer, as they miss me and my little boy. But they are comfortable with a family member being away, and every time I talk to my father he reminds me: “You have to understand the responsibilities.”

Who are your friends?
They are mostly Argentines — those are the people we have most contact with — but I have foreign friends as well, especially in the diplomatic world.
Protocol exists between embassies which everyone follows and in the diplomatic corps people get together and have started up projects. For example, some ambassadors’ wives here have an organization called ADEA, the association of wives of diplomats in Argentina, and I try to be present from time to time but I work full-time and have a little baby so I can’t give much time even though I’d like to.

After 18 months, what’s your Spanish like now?
Please don’t give me a test now! Actually, it’s going well and I handle things myself. I don’t think I’d do very well academically but in daily life, I manage and navigate. When you speak the language of the local people, that brings you and them together and it creates a bond between you both, which is nice.

Have you had any lost-in-translation moments?
Oh lots! In meetings, I always used to make sure I sat next to a member of staff who speaks Spanish so I would bug them to ask “what was it, what did they say?” to ensure I understood what was going on.
When one doesn’t speak a language it is easy to feel intimidated but now I can ask, and am not intimidated to ask people to speak slowly or in simple sentences! As you improve your language, the level of intimidation reduces.

What’s your most Argentine characteristic?
I’ve been noticing that people are really warm: they hug you, they kiss you every time you greet someone. A lot of cultures don’t do that and it’s really heart-warming.
I’ve seen that difference and I appreciate it now. It makes people more personal, more sincere. In business settings in Azerbaijan, whether you’re a man or woman, you shake hands.

As your time in Argentina may be limited due to your work, do you have a list of things to do?
My husband made it! He read so much about Argentina, and got us books with beautiful pictures and suggested where we go. Some of those images stayed in my mind and one of thsem was a picture of a middle-aged couple in San Telmo who were dancing tango in the street. I saw their picture in a book and when we came here, in that first week, we thought it was like living a dream as we saw the person in a book and then we saw them face to face.

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on February 19,2012
Photo by Mariano Fuchila

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