Coronavirus in the life of an Azerbaijani family: unjust fines and empty pockets
“My father lives in a dacha in the village of Türkan [ed. an hour’s drive from Baku]. When the epidemic had only just started to gain momentum, my mother and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to go there for the weekend. This was before you needed to send an SMS and receive permission before you could leave the house. We only packed a couple of pairs of socks and t-shirts.”
Ulker is 22 years old.
She had just started working at a hotel when the coronavirus epidemic hit Azerbaijan.
“The next day, my aunt’s family came to the dacha.
My aunt teaches at an arts academy, and none of the teachers are getting a salary right now. It’s basically the same situation with my parents — my father makes furniture to order and my mom is a confectioner.
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We all decided to stay because the virus had started to spread, the authorities were actively urging people to stay home, and most importantly, we were having a good time together. In the evenings, we played games, like charades, and sang karaoke. My brother brought a projector and we hung a sheet on the curtain rod and watched movies.
The village of Türkan is by no means flourishing. There’s no work, no tourism, and people live mainly off of whatever they grow in their garden. Some fish, others raise chickens.
I enjoyed eating the natural foods we bought from our neighbors: fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish, herbs. One of the neighbors, a friend of my father’s, treated us to compote and apple jam from his own apple trees.
Once a week, we went to the store for cleaning products, bread, cigarettes and tea — all the things we needed that didn’t grow in the gardens.
It was difficult without all of our clothes, as we didn’t really take any with us. For instance, we had to wash our only shirts and then wait for them to dry before we could put them on.
Before I left for the dacha, I had gotten a job at a hotel, but four days later, when we realized that the epidemic was a real threat, my mother wouldn’t let me go to work. Of course, I was fired, but I was actually glad, because those four days were terrible, due to the fact that there were no guests, the heating was turned off and we were all very cold.
I didn’t think that they would pay me, but they called from work and told me that I needed to open a bank account and they would deposit 120 manat [around $70 USD]. We were happy, since we were almost out of money. We decided to go back to the city to open an account and pack up the things we needed.
But we were stopped along the way by the highway patrol. They fined us 100 manat [around $60 USD]. The police officer didn’t care that we were in the car, wearing masks and gloves, and were going home to pick up things that we needed, in fact, he didn’t even ask where we were going and why. He said he was fining us simply because we weren’t home, that we could dispute the fine within the next ten days, and that people like us were why he was out on the street fulfilling his duty. For some reason, the reason for the fine and the amount have yet to be officially recorded.
When we went to the police to get it sorted out, we were told that they would solve all of these issues after the quarantine was lifted. In any case, we still do not have the money to pay the fine.
Now we’re sitting at home – we decided not to go back to the dacha. I registered on that site where you put in your personal information and some higher-up decides whether or not to give you 190 manat [$118 USD] as compensation for losses suffered during the epidemic. They haven’t given me anything.
I found a job, had my interview over the internet, and they took me on as a manager to a large toy store. I’m starting in a couple of days. For some reason, it’s still open, despite all the restrictions and quarantine.
I feel guilty for violating quarantine, but I only had 80 manats left.”