Being in the oil-rich capital of Baku was not as easy as I had thought it would be. Although I wasn’t behind the wheel, the lights were driving me absolutely crazy, so much so that I had to flee social situations and had trouble speaking English, my strongest language. I even had to go to the doctor.

(I am a native Russian speaker but I have lived in the US for so many years that my English is far better than my Russian.)

I felt quite comfortable in Baku but my eye stuff was making it difficult to concentrate with all the languages around me. Azerbaijan was part of the former Soviet Union for many years and Russian was a required language in the country so most people still speak the language. Azeris often seamlessly switch from their native Turkic tongue to Russian, although they may speak Russian with a heavy Azeri accent.

I was at a restaurant with some Americans and left before we finished ordering because I was getting annoyed about having to translate and the Azeri music was annoying. I found some local Azeri place (non touristy) and just ate by myself. Women don’t eat alone here but I really could care less. I felt better eating alone than to be in a group and hear music I didn’t like.

It was hard because I wanted to be social person I used to be, but I could tell when my brain couldn’t take it anymore and I had to be alone. I also had some trouble speaking 100% in English, words in Russian or other languages keep trying to come out of my mouth.

At one restaurant, I said to my fellow American, “I wonder if they have a place for unemployed people” instead of saying “I wonder if there’s a non-smoking section”. My brain and my mouth were not on the same linguistic page at all. It may have been a combination of the jet lag and eye issues. Whatever it was, I had to be really careful and not push myself. I thought being away would be a good escape from the restrictions on my life at home, but my brain was limited no matter where I go.

While in the car with my driver, interpreter and election observation partner at night, I had to close my eyes to pay attention to what my partner was saying. The fast moving lights of the moving cars on the opposite side of the freeway were bothering me so much that I could not focus on his words. Another time, I was inside a room with no natural lighting trying to listen to my former Dutch election observation partner from a mission in Ukraine three years earlier and because of the overhead lights, I was fighting with all my might to just concentrate on his face and what he was saying. If I moved my head just a bit, rays of lights from the light bulbs above me moved quickly with my head movements and annoyed me. Perhaps my former Dutch colleague felt a bit annoyed when I told him I needed to leave the room to get some fresh air outside but I didn’t want to tell him about my vision problems.

It got so bad that I went to see a neurologist who ordered me to get an MRI on my brain, and an electroencephalogram (EEG) where the technician put a bunch of electrodes test on my head to test my brain waves. (See here for the Wikipedia description and photo of an EEG.) The MRI was fine but the EEG showed spasms and nervousness. The eye doctor prescribed me some exercises to do with my eyes. She said that she believes that I can develop binocular vision with vision therapy but that it will be a difficult road (and oh has it been a hard road!). The neurologist told me to take a mild tranquilizer, stay away from coffee and take Vinpocetine is a synthetic compound derived from vincamine, a substance found naturally in the leaves of the lesser periwinkle plant (Vinca minor). The Vinpocetine is supposed to increase blood circulation in the brain. (Found on About.com).  The neurologist thought that the headaches and fatigue could be due to not enough blood circulation in the brain going to the binocular vision cells that I am re-awakening with my vision therapy.  She also prescribed fish oil, gingko biloba, Vitamin E complex and blueberry extract to improve brain alertness.

I was shocked that I would need to take a mild tranquilizer. I knew I had jumps in energy, but I am not so psychologically unstable that I need a medical tranquilizer! I decided against buying any of the medicines in Baku and wait until I got home. I did stay away from all caffeine.

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