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  • I was living in Baku, Azerbaijan, and I was very fortunate to have a tall 24 year-old girl fall in my lap. Azerbaijan had once been part of the Soviet Union, and the communists had tried for a while to ‘liberate’ women and end religion, but they had ultimately been unsuccessful. Azerbaijan was still a conservative Muslim country, especially when it comes to sex. But with my free-love European girl, cheating on her boyfriend back home as she taught in Baku for a summer, I was doing OK. But very soon I faced a serious dilemma. I had run out of condoms.

    The first time I went to buy condoms was at the market where I did a bit of grocery shopping on a regular basis and they had a drug counter. So I went up to the counter and asked the pharmacist for some "preservitiv", the Russian word for condom, which comes from the French. The guy started at me for a couple seconds then blurted out "Condom?!?!" "Da" I replied. He reached under the counter and grabbed a box of three. I asked for a larger box, and he got a big grin on his face and pulled out a box of ten. He handed the box to me and gave me this knowing player’ look that I found quite revolting, big grin on his face, twinkle in his eye, communicating to me is knowledge that I was going to have sex with someone who was not my wife. Like a mischevious little boy who's in on your secret. I had got that look one other time, when Julia and I took a cab back to my place late at night. After we had both got out of the cab and I was paying, he asked me if she needed a ride home, when it was obvious she didn't. When I said no, he gave me that same look. And it has happened since, each time making me want to wretch. This is what I hate the most about Azerbaijan, the repressed sexuality and male ideas about women.

    So when I had to buy some more condoms, I went to a different place, a pharmacy nearby. I walked into the pharmacy and there were three young girls behind the counter, both wearing hijabs, their heads covered. This is more the exception than the rule in Baku, and I was taken aback. I asked for some cold medicine, which I needed as well, but had a hard time asking for the condoms. I felt like an idiot asking these Muslim girls for rubbers. I looked around to see if there was anybody else I could ask, but there was nobody. So I asked for a "perservativ". The girl I asked just looked at me like I was from another planet (which I might as well have been). So then I said condom, but again a blank stare. I felt like I was 16 years old and buying my first condoms, back when they were behind the counter at Thrifty’s. I started to kind of try to describe what I wanted with my hands, like I was teaching sex ed and I had a cucumber in one hand and I was going to put the condom on with my other, but quickly stopped. Even still this makes me blush. Thankfully after a few awkward seconds a man came out of a back office. I immediately asked to talk to him, and he came over. When I said "preservativ" he still looked at me blank, but he understood condom. So it seems they know the English word better than the Russian word. He reached down and got a box of three and handed it to the girl. Needless to say I wasn't about to ask for a bigger box, I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I paid and split.

    From then on I went across town to the pharmacy at the Baku Hyatt, the local bastion of western civilization, and the next time I was back in the states, I bought a whole bunch for the trip back to Azerbaijan.
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