The little school on the Caspian

Looking back, it seems incredibly rash, or perhaps just naive, but we accepted our first overseas assignment to Azerbaijan not knowing if there even was a school for our son, let alone what kind of school it would be.  The career opportunity for my husband and the adventure for our family were just too good to pass up.  “Heck, I can always home school,” I told myself; “he’s only 9.  How hard can it be?”

Fortunately a small international school had been operating in Baku for 18 months.  When we arrived we found there were a total of 12 students, ranging in age from 6 to 12, a mixture of expats and the children of wealthy locals.  It was located just outside the downtown area in a large walled compound used for training the national soccer team.  The school itself was housed in a couple of crumbling outbuildings and had access to a dilapidated gymnasium and a stagnant swimming pool.  But the jewel in the crown was a large grass playing field surrounded by trees which was the nicest outdoor space I ever saw while living in Baku for those 3 years.

What the school lacked in physical facilities was more than made up for by a dedicated staff of American expatriate teaching staff, supplemented by local staff who taught music, physical education and foreign languages.  Dr and Mr Davis were the school principal and head teacher and Ginger their dog accompanied them every day to school.  He’d lie patiently under the desks during class waiting for a mad half hour of running around excitedly when the children went out for recess.

Every September school arrived in a box, quite literally, in the form of a shipment of supplies from the States.  Not just brand new text books and multi media materials, but everything right down to binders, exercise books, pencils and erasers.  At that time Azerbaijan had only been independent from the Soviet Union for a couple of years, former trade had broken down and it was hard to find anything at all in the stores.

The toilets sometimes blocked and power failed frequently, often resulting in early dismissal in winter.  The science room (you really couldn’t have called it a lab) was nicknamed The Far Side Cafe as the older children had decorated the walls with Gary Larson cartoons.

Most of the children were dropped off and collected by drivers and every afternoon they would gather, chatting under the trees outside in good weather, but in winter they would wait inside in the reception area cum dining room, looking like big black crows perching uncomfortably on the small brightly coloured plastic chairs.

Looking back I realize how fortunate we were to find such a gem of a school.  The teachers and students quickly became our extended family and despite the grim surroundings my son blossomed in their care.  He arrived reading 2 years below his grade level, but within 6 months had completely overcome that and couldn’t wait to get to school on test days.  In the three years he spent there he learned how to learn and his self esteem soared.    I am forever grateful to that great little school.

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One thought on “The little school on the Caspian

  1. Bricks and mortar do not make a school; wise and loving teachers do. Your son was very fortunate to have learned that at such a young age. Sometimes in Singapore, when I looked at the extravagant facilities at some of the bigger international schools, I would wonder if we’d make the right choice by sending our girls to the more humble Canadian school. But Mr. Turner and Miss P and Miss Babin more than made up for the shabby canteen and lack of a swimming pool. Friendly animals help, too — ours was a cat, owned by one of the guards, named 24/7!

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