All roads lead to KFC
If I tell you about the first time I met someone from Azerbaijan, it’ll probably be an extremely boring story. These “first encounters” started from naive contacts in Georgia. When in fact we confused each other as Georgians and ended with the disappointing conclusion of revealing each other's nationality. Very typical, right?
But in order for our story to go beyond the "typical" scale, let me go ahead and tell you about the experience I had that changed my perceptions. It also convinced me that one should not avoid contact with another human being when you ask, “Where are you from?” and get “From Azerbaijan” as the answer.
Let’s go back…So, it was 2016 and I was participating in a youth exchange project in Georgia, where a member from Azerbaijan was also participating.
Me and 3 of my Armenian friends were in the elevator, when a girl came in. We were discussing our upcoming presentation with the typical Armenian enthusiasm. The stranger threw a suspicious look at us, after which she turned around to the doors and stretched to the farthest corner away from us. That’s when all of us thought the same thing: This girl is definitely from Azerbaijan! The policy of keeping distance from each other continued for several days, but only physically since both sides were very still interested in the other; we were discussing her, and she kept staring right back at us. Finally, we, as the majority, (the other participants haven’t arrived yet, and she was the only one from Azerbaijan) decided to take the initiative and break the ice.
The fake politeness from the beginning, turned into an honest conversation. Little by little, with every new topic, the fact that the other person was from another nation, even more, from Azerbaijan, was forgotten.
I started to see her from a different perspective. The ‘’enemy’’ filter just disappeared and all I saw was a very sweet and kind girl, with whom I surprisingly had many similarities. I was impressed how she even knew the music band I had recently discovered and thought that I was the only one, yet somehow she was also a fan of the TV series and books I loved and always had hard times finding people with whom I could discuss them with for hours without getting bored.
We were doing our best to skip the topic of the conflict, thinking that the obvious disagreements over the issues might make us strangers again and we would be back to Step One. However, the temptation and curiosity eventually won out. To our surprise, we did not start arguing and didn’t throw opinions at each other on who’s right and who's wrong. Instead, we managed to see the side of the conflict that united and identified us. It’s when we realized that we’re not only similar with music and food, mind-set and appearances, but also with the losses, pain and the traumas. Indeed, we were extremely similar, more similar than we'd like to admit. We were like those siblings who went with separate parents at childhood, with parents telling us to hate the other. I really wish that one day in the future we can finally become a family again.
During these times, when I’m about to lose my hopes, I think about our 3 am conversations we had back then: together dreaming of the alternative reality, where we would solve all the issues diplomatically and turn the whole Caucasus into a touristic paradise. “BTW, the largest KFC in the world is in Baku”, said my frenemy (that’s how we were ironically calling each other, enemy goals, right?) when she learnt that I’m a fast food lover just like her. “WHAT! Really? OK, peace deal when? I want to go to that KFC”. Still hopefully waiting for my visit to the largest KFC in the world