IN AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AZERI OBSERVER, THE SPOUSE OF MOLDOVAN AMBASSADOR TO AZERBAIJAN, MRS. ALLA LEUCA, SPEAKS ABOUT THE MAIN GOALS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE HEAD OF MISSIONS’ SPOUSES (HOMS), SACRIFICES IN THE LIFE OF DIPLOMATS, HER FAVORITE PLACES IN AZERBAIJAN, PSYCHOLOGICAL TOOLS THAT HELP CHANGE PERSPECTIVE, AND THE ROLE OF A WOMAN IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: First of all, could you tell our readers about yourself, your childhood, education, and professional background?
Answer: When I was a child, I preferred boys’ games to girls’. I liked being active, climbing trees, and playing chasing games; I even jumped from the second floor once, but first I made sure that there was something soft underneath. I liked the heights and liked taking risks.
As for my education, I have a bachelor’s degree in the English language and literature, and I worked for some time as an English language interpreter/translator. After a while, I decided that as a profession a language was not enough and I got a degree in banking and finance. I was fascinated by the field of investments and banking, and I applied this knowledge while I worked for a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Moldova.
Q.: What is the role of an ambassador’s spouse in diplomacy? What is the primary mission of the spouse of a diplomat?
A.: I believe you must get a lot of similar answers to this question. Of course, the main thing is promoting our country. Our spouses do it officially, and we do it semiofficially or unofficially. Another important part is establishing relations with the host country and the international community.
Q.: What is the most challenging and the most rewarding aspect of the life of a diplomat?
A.: The most rewarding aspect is getting to know different countries and different cultures, meeting people from around the world, and being in an international community. Being uprooted from your everyday routine and thrown into a new and different place is the most challenging aspect. However, this can be both rewarding and challenging. It is difficult because you have to leave everything and you are often away from your aging parents. Diplomats have to make a lot of sacrifices. The rewards are there, but so are the sacrifices. For me, traveling is not a problem, I love it; so, I feel the rewards of diplomatic life outweigh the challenges. Of course, nowadays, the world is becoming smaller and smaller, and a lot of people go for jobs in other countries, not just diplomats.
Q.: Do you travel a lot in Azerbaijan? What places have you already visited? What place impressed you the most?
A.: We have participated in many official visits to cities throughout Azerbaijan and attended numerous events and festivals in Shaki, Guba, Ganja, Lankaran, Astara, and Khachmaz, among other cities. In my free time, I enjoy going on hiking trips, especially in the mountains. In Moldova, we only have hills and the nearest mountains are in Romania and Ukraine. Meanwhile, in Azerbaijan, the mountains are merely a two-hour drive from Baku. I have taken this opportunity to hike around Guba, Shahdag, Qaranohur, and the Griz waterfall. I have visited the Mardakan Fortress and Chiraq Gala, as well as the villages of Khınalıq and Lahıj. All of these hiking trips were amazing, and I enjoyed them very much. The most impressive place I have visited is Qaranohur Lake. It was a very long trip and a challenging mountain climb. We also happened to get lost and spent about one hour wandering around through untamed nature, unable to find the path. Still, the autumn colored scenery was extraordinary, and I truly enjoyed the trip.
Q.: Do you like the urban sceneries of Azerbaijan?
A.: We are impressed by all the changes that have happened in the country, and how beautiful everything looks including the construction boom in the major cities. We are also fascinated by the way Azerbaijan tries to preserve traditional architecture and combines it with a modern style. A great example of the combination of the eastern architecture and modernity is the Heydar Aliyev Center. Baku tries to merge the East and the West and is very successful at it. We are further impressed by the level of development in other cities of Azerbaijan. I loved that the architects usually try to make the new buildings consistent with the old traditional style. For instance, when I was in a park in Ganja, I initially thought that it was old, but then I realized that it was built just two to three years ago. I am also delighted by the Azerbaijani cuisine, which is very natural with all of the ingredients organically grown. Unlike other countries, where you can only get organic products in certain stores at high prices, Azerbaijan’s local organic products are very affordable.
Q.: Azerbaijan and Moldova have a period of shared history. What similarities do you see between our countries?
A.: The first thing that comes to mind is hospitality. There might be a few differences in the way people treat guests in Moldova and Azerbaijan, but in both countries, they try to treat them in the best way possible. The guest is the most important person in the house. Common values, customs, and traditions would be the second similarity. As you said, we used to be one country. Education in the near past was similar in our countries, so we have a common background and share a lot of childhood memories and opinions.
Q.: What is the biggest difference between Azerbaijan and Moldova?
A.: It is difficult to say. When I try to think of the differences, more similarities come to mind.
Q.: You said you liked taking risks when you were a child. Are you still a risky person?
A.: I took more risks in childhood. Now if I take risks, they are usually calculated. I do not take risks just for the sake of taking them.
Q.: How has diplomatic life influenced your daughter? If your husband worked in some other sphere, would she be different?
A.: I believe her core character would have remained the same. However, being a daughter of a diplomat widens one’s horizons. We first went to a mission in New York when she was two years old, and she managed to learn English at such a young age. She maintained her high level of English when we moved back to Moldova, where my husband got a job in the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) office. During our second mission to New York, our daughter did not have any problems with the foreign language. Of course, speaking English is very important nowadays, and her opportunity to learn it has had a significant influence on her. Another relevant factor is that our daughter lived in the United States as a teenager, which is a critical period when a person transforms from a child into an adult. She finished school in New York and then decided to go to a University there. Accompanying us on diplomatic missions, she had many opportunities to learn various cultures, take in experiences from a different perspective, and choose the things that attracted her the most.
Q.: Could you tell our readers about the activities that you are involved with in Baku?
A.: As spouses of the heads of missions, we are included in a lot of activities that our husbands do. We are involved in organizing high-level visits and events that our Embassy organizes. Our Embassy is very small, and I help out sometimes. For instance, I frequently guide guests around Baku. I always take them to Highland Park, where you can see the entire city from above. It is my favorite place in Baku. I prefer approaching it from the Flame Towers through the Alley of Martyrs and then going to the viewing point with its magnificent view, which comes as a surprise for the guests. I go to the same place with different guests, and every time their experiences give me a different perspective. That is probably the most rewarding part of this activity.
I am also involved in the activities of the Head of Missions’ Spouses (HOMS) organization, whose aim is to help people in need, such as children with disabilities, the elderly, and other vulnerable categories. For example, we recently organized, for the third year in a row, Christmas and New Year’s parties for children with disabilities and children of refugees at the Landmark, with their kind sponsorship. We also participated in the football match at School No. 1 for children with disabilities. The school is fully equipped and supported by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, which also handles all of its funding needs. However, the children still need interaction, and this event was like a holiday for them. We met with them, cheered while they played, and treated them to homemade delicacies.
Q.: You have been serving as the Chairperson of HOMS since mid-October 2018. What are the main missions and goals of the organization?
A.: One of the goals of HOMS is for the diplomatic spouses to socialize and be involved in activities that allow them to be more acquainted with Azerbaijan. This includes having meetings and visiting local organizations, such as the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Azerbaijan or the International Women’s Club. The second part, which is even more significant, is helping those in need. We try to support vulnerable groups of people such as orphans, children with disabilities, children of refugees, abused women, and the elderly. We do not have a lot of funds to implement big projects, but we take a lot of small initiatives to help less fortunate people.
Q.: What do you like to do in your free time besides hiking? Do you have any hobbies?
A.: Hiking is something that I would like to have as a hobby, but I do not go hiking very often because it requires an entire free day. I also love reading and throughout my life have enjoyed a variety of books from classical literature to more current philosophical and psychological ones. I am interested in the way people’s minds work. For instance, not long ago I read a book entitled ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’ by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and I loved it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in psychology. Another interesting book related to this topic is ‘Authentic Happiness’ by Martin Seligman. It focuses on happiness and urges us to make optimism and positivity something that we need to work on. Many people think that happiness is something that comes to us by chance, but in reality, it is possible to cultivate happiness and experience it as a result. I believe it is necessary to work in that direction. Often, we do not realize how much our thought patterns, which are in our subconscious mind, influence us. It is possible to change thoughts, though it requires a lot of time and effort. To improve our perspective, I think a lot of us need to become more positive, optimistic, and happier. I would also like to add more activities to my hobbies. For instance, I have wanted to learn to play the piano for a long time. Maybe at some point, I will start to take piano lessons.
Q.: What sites and experiences would you recommend to a person who knows nothing about Moldova and is traveling there for the first time?
A.: I already mentioned hospitality. That is something that visitors should feel in Moldova. However, short time visitors who stay in a hotel may not have an opportunity to experience it. So, I would recommend that they visit some places outside of the capital city and try rural tourism where they will experience our hospitality. Of course, Chisinau, our capital city offers a lot of attractions and people who travel to Moldova usually include them in the must-see list. But when possible, visit places outside the capital city, which will allow you to see the country from a different perspective and understand it better.
Q.: Finally, our signature question to conclude the interview. It is said that behind every successful man there is a woman. How does that manifest itself in your life?
A.: To tell you the truth, I think that this is the wrong way to word the question because I do not believe that a woman should be behind a man. I consider that a man and a woman should be partners. Some people think that asking such a question is something that empowers women, but it does not because the question itself puts a woman behind a man. I would rephrase the question to reflect modern reality where men and women are partners rather than a situation where a woman supports a man. It is true though that a lot of women have to interrupt their career to raise their children. Then, when they come back to their job, they often have to start from the beginning because that is how the professional world works. I think that this is one of the reasons as to why women do not obtain very high positions as often as men do. For spouses of diplomats, the two factors impeding our careers are rearing our children and traveling regularly. For me, it was a little different because, while we lived in Moldova, I had an opportunity to work in the same place for 10 years. I worked for the Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs (CNFA), which was implementing a USAID project. In the diplomatic world in general, a woman is often behind her man, and she has to quit her career to be a supporting shoulder. Therefore, we have to work even more on making a woman more of a partner than just a person behind a man.