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Mark Rafaelov

Mark Rafaelov

© Mark Rafaelov. Memento Mori. 2013

Memento Mori


This is a story about two women, mother and daughter, Innesa and Irena, who were living alone in a small apartment in the center of Baku. I remember when I visited their apartment, I had the feeling that time gradually stopped there, though there was no room for something fresh, everything that caught my eye was old and dilapidated. Women give me some tea and we talked about the places, cultures, and interests. We shared our thoughts about the war, the economy, and politics in our countries, it was a warm and kind of "soviet" tea break. Irena told me they were living in a bigger apartment in a micro-district on the outskirts of the city till 2005, but she had to sell that apartment and move closer to the center to take care of her mother. Just 2 years earlier some doctors have spent inspection and diagnosed with cancer of the cranial area because a few months before this small hematoma on Innesa's head began to increase. After much discussion, they renounced a hospital treatment because it was too expensive, while the doctors did not promise to improve significantly her condition. Irena has taken all the treatment and care of herself, learned all the necessary materials, and began procedures, while not expecting any positive result at all. As a matter of fact, she was keeping her mother alive since then, it was some kind of a miracle, as almost three years have passed after the diagnosis was claimed.

When I returned to Azerbaijan in 2011, I have tried to visit them again. To my surprise, I've found their place with no problems, but to my deeper regret, I just met the neighbors who told me that Inessa died one year after our first meeting. It was "predictable" as by that moment everyone knew she had cancer, symptoms of the disease were very noticeable. So, I could only reach Irena, I came to visit her again, I felt unbearable emptiness and sorrow, she was showing me some photos, time eventually has stopped at some corners of her mind, she asked to accompany her to the cemetery. I agreed, she was talking with her mother all the way towards the grave, last frame I was able to catch was our reflections in a local flowers' shop.


Railway of living (Shanxai, Baku)



It's no secret that there are settlements along the railway tracks. People do live there long enough, more than 40 years, and most of them pay monthly all the utility bills. In addition, they have official documents on their real estate. All of them have participated in the census, that was registered in the municipality, although they do not have a permanent address, as there are no street names in the area. These houses were built along the rails on both sides of the railroad tracks, and some at a distance of max 6", almost on the railway. It complicates transportation for railway carriages and does interfere with the acceleration of locomotives. In addition, many carriages carry dangerous goods, i.e compressed gas, and the length of the chain may reach as much as 25-30 wagons. With such a dangerous neighbor accident can happen at any time, anyone may appear on the rails at any time. There is a complete absence of sewage in the area, all garbage thrown directly onto the rails or near railway tracks, as no dumpsters are installed nearby houses. There are few on the outskirts, they are emptied once a week in the best case. People are afraid to leave their homes while trains pass through, not talking about the children having playgrounds across the rails. The residents manage to grow animals, such as geese, chickens, and even cows, which can also cause damage to the rails. Many residents even have their own cars, which seems totally illogical, as their housing is very poor and unsolid. Despite every possible parking area, people leave the vehicles along the rails, causing one more additional factor of possible accidents.

This situation gets more complicated by the fact that a prison is located near the district, prison staff does have conflicts with inhabitants. After November 15th conflicts get more often as prisoners get heating facilities, but inhabitants do not. For sure, people get used to anything, and Shanxai residents are no exception in this case. Although, nowadays they have no faith in different ways of living. It’s already been 10 years since the government promised to demolish all "district illegal constructions”, based on the law of informal settlement. Rumors tell, most of the houses were built during one night by the light of car headlights, so according to the law, if somebody had time to settle in by the morning, he cannot be evicted after. Now people do not believe that municipality is going to demolish their settlements, conversely, they are convinced, it is necessary to demolish the railways.

This is odd, not to say ridiculous because no such statement was given ever. As time passes, year after year they get promises that the Department of Railways will establish transportation, their homes will be transferred and garbage will go, but none of that really happens. Their children are growing up on the railway tracks, playing dangerous games perceiving the train’s hooter as the school bell, and knowing about another life only from friends.



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