Azerbaijan

"Land of Fire"

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School

Kids start primary (elementary) school at age 6 and are required to keep going until they are 16 or 17, when they can choose if they want to finish secondary (high) school or go to a vocational school to learn the skills needed for a specific job. No matter what they pick, students stay in the same building from when they start until they finish, because all grades meet in the same place. Some kids choose to quit school and work for their family business or farm. Others complete secondary school and go on to a university. Families have to pay for uniforms and textbooks, but the government pays for the rest. In primary school, kids study Azeri, English, math, history, and geography. In secondary school, they can also choose to study science and social studies. After school, they work on their homework in order to get good grades.

life as a kid

Life is different for Azerbaijani children depending on if they live in the city or in the countryside. Kids in cities have better access to social activities and schools, while kids in the countryside often live in poorer conditions. No electricity in some remote countryside areas makes it harder for kids to study and attend school. Life is also very different for boys and girls. Boys often play outside with their friends, while girls spend most of their free time at home or at the homes of their friends. Boys are expected to help with heavy tasks around the house, while girls are expected to help their mothers cook, clean, and take care of younger brothers and sisters. Both boys and girls, however, are expected to help their elders, be polite, and never argue with a family decision. No matter where they live, most Azerbaijani kids love to be outside. They play at parks, visit the zoo, or ride bikes. They also love snacks such as corn chips, cotton candy, or bulka (a traditional sweet dough sold on the streets).

food/dishes

Azerbaijani food is known for including lots of fresh vegetables and herbs. Common herbs used in cooking include mint, dill, basil, thyme, and watercress. Fresh-caught fish from the Caspian Sea is a popular dish, as is grilled lamb, beef, and chicken kebabs (also called shashlik). Other main dishes are dolma (lamb mixed with rice and wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves) and dushbara (small dumplings filled with lamb and herbs and served in hot broth). Choban (tomato-and-cucumber salad), qatik (sour yogurt), and cheese are popular side dishes. The national drink is black tea, which is traditionally offered to welcome guests. Favorite desserts are often sweet pastries stuffed with nuts or plates of fresh fruit, such as cherries, plums, and apricots. Kids love eating street food, such as pirojki (deep-fried potato-stuffed dough), as well as cotton candy.
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Language

Azeri (also called Azerbaijani) is the official language of Azerbaijan. Azeri is similar to Turkish, and visitors from Turkey can often understand a lot of Azeri because of the similarities between the two languages. Many Azerbaijanis also speak Russian or English as a second language. Ethnic groups each speak their own dialects (ways of speaking or pronouncing). Originally, Azeri was written using the Arabic writing system. During Soviet times, the government switched to the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet. After Azerbaijan declared independence, the written language changed once more, and it now uses the Latin alphabet (the same alphabet English uses).

Holidays

Azerbaijanis celebrate a holiday called Novruz Bairami (also called Nowruz) to mark the coming of spring. It usually falls at the end of March and is a time for families to gather together, clean out their homes, and eat traditional meals. Some popular foods include a rice-and-meat dish called plov, a flaky bread called goghal, and sweet pastries such as baklava. Many young people dance together and build bonfires. They then jump over the fires as a symbol of cleaning their souls and leaving their worries behind. Children play games and throw hats outside their neighbors' doors. The neighbors then fill the hats with special treats like ashekerbura (hazelnut pastry), nuts, fruit, or chocolates for the kids to eat. New Year's Day in Azerbaijan is celebrated similar to Christmas in other parts of the world. Families decorate trees, give gifts, and eat a big turkey dinner. Then they watch fireworks shows at midnight to welcome in the New Year. Muslims in Azerbaijan celebrate the feast of Ramazan Bairami (also called Eid al-Fitr) at the end of the holy month of fasting (going without eating and drinking). To mark the end of the fasting, they exchange gifts, eat meals together, and visit with family. Forty days later, Muslims celebrate Kurban Bairami (also called Eid al-Adha), which is the festival of sacrifice. This holiday honors the prophet Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son. At this time, faithful Muslims kill a sheep and give part of the meat to the poor and part to friends and family.