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Dispatch #2 January 17, 2008 PDF Print E-mail

The Fire Above

The door bell rings constantly. It is followed by loud banging. I am reluctant to open the door because it is late. I look through the peep hole and see firefighters rushing up the stairs.

I open the door to shouts echoing through the stairwell. Someone tells me there’s a fire on the floor above mine. The fire crews are rolling out hoses, some are carrying up axes. Another has a crow bar. A couple of firefighters come into my flat to make sure everything is ok. They head back out. Within an hour, the fire is out and the upstairs neighbor has a huge hole in their wall and water on the floor. The firefighters are mopping up.

I am impressed by their quick response and the new fire trucks in the street below. In Tajikistan, the fire trucks had been antiques.

As the firefighters leave the building, there is another knock at my door. Two firefighters come in to check to make sure all is well. Just before they leave, one of them, in broken English says “give me money.” “I worked hard.”  I played dumb. They left.

It reminded me of Tajikistan where everyone expects a bribe. My Azerbaijani colleagues urged me to report the firefighter. They said it is the only way to stamp out corruption and bribery.

Nicotine Happy Cat


Baku is Cat City. There are stray cats everywhere. I often try to count the cats as I am making my way somewhere. Within three or four blocks I usually see anywhere from five to ten felines.

Yesterday, as I was slipping and sliding my way across the icy sidewalk, I noticed a tabby cat twisting its head back and forth. Then, I noticed why. There was a smoldering cigarette on the ground about eight inches away from the cat. The tabby was sniffing the smoke from the burning cigarette. As the wind direction changed slightly, the cat would twist its head to sniff the smoke.

The cat appeared to be in a trance.

A Gift from the Previous Occupant?


I was staying at a small mom and pop hotel in the Sultanamet neighborhood of Istanbul with a nice view of the Blue Mosque. As I stood in the shower with the hot water pounding my back, I noticed something in one of the tracks of the shower stall. It was almost out of sight and if I had not been tall, I wouldn’t have even noticed it. It looked like a joint. I immediately thought of Midnight Express, but then thought, hmmm, the previous occupant has left a little gift for the next person who stays in the room.

With my little fingers, I worked the joint out of the shower door track and then sniffed it. It smelled like nothing. Then I noticed the filter – which was almost unrecognizable. The cigarette butt had been there a long time.

I put it back in the shower track for the next occupant.