Murad Ibragimov: repatriating from the United States and moving to live in the woods


Murad Ibragimov was born and grew up in a city, but by the age of thirty he realized that countryside lifestyle suited him more. Five years ago, together with friends and family he built a house in the woods of Lenkoran. Murad spoke to Teze Bazar – why he switched urban life for rural living, what his new neighbors taught him and what he brought to the countryside lifestyle.

You are now living in the countryside, but you used to be a city dweller just a short while ago. How did this happen?

I was born, grew up and got my education in a city. But i spent large parts of my childhood at my grandparents’ house in the countryside. It was so much fun there – i cried when i had to go back home, I didn’t want to go.

But when you are 16-18 years old, countryside living loses its fun. All your life, friends and, lets say, football – all of that is in the city. Even if you come to the countryside, you feel alone there. Besides, our society programs you to lead an urban lifestyle. Thats why i had no opportunities to return to this rural living when i grew older. No another chance that someone would open these doors for me and i would spend at least three days in the atmosphere of the countryside.

You also lived and got education in the United States?

First i studied in Azerbaijan, then in the United States. Spent a bit less than a year there. Into the second semester of my stufies, I realized that i went to study only with the purpose of relocation. I felt bored and confined in Baku. So i felt at a certain moment that i had to move somewhere – and went to the United States. But not even a full year into my life there, i realized that i didn’t want to live there.

What kind of education you got there and where?

I studied management and marketing at Harvard, in Boston.

And you didn’t like Boston?

Boston is awesome, i miss it. And its not about me not liking Boston. Its just that the more space there is around me, the more lost i feel. I grew up in Baku, which is a relatively small city. And there i found myself in a huge city. Walked through its downtown and felt amazed – there were so many buildings and people there. I had many questions running through my head. What’s happening here? Why am i here? What keeps me from leaving? What connections do i have with these people? And then i realized that there was absolutely nothing.

Maybe i went to the United States too late. If i went there in 18, 19 or 20 years of age, i would’ve probably been able to get used to this bustle. But i went there when i was 27. And by then many things in my life were in their places – my lifestyle, my occupation, my circle of friends. And then, all of a sudden, i found myself separated from all that – you are shown a fantastic city, but you understand that it’s not what you need.

It was then that I understood – if i were to live in my homeland, then i would do it in the countryside

And while i was out of the country, my friends built a house in the woods. And when i returned to Azerbaijan, i went to see them – i would not have lasted long in Baku anyway. I fell in love with this house. One trip there was enough to understand – this is how you can live your life. Then we built a house. That’s where we are living now with a small community. There’s five of us and we do everything together – take care of horses, go into the woods to get firewood, work in the garden, cook and have fun.

How did this lifestyle come about? By accident? Or was that a calculated plan?

Our plans stemmed from our dreams. If you really want something, the Universe would always give you a chance to fulfill it. But some things indeed happened randomly. When i rode a horse here for the first time, I thought just how amazing that was. And necessary too – that is why i got myself a horse. Then a friend moved here too, rode my horse and said: “this is fantastic! I also want a horse for myself”. So we bought a horse for him too. Another friend had this exact story too – so now we have three horses. If we talk about the planned things – we made a garden which feeds us. And also built a small workshop where we make furniture, as well as storing pickled vegetables and pumpkins.

So you feed entirely off your garden?

Not quite, but that is our aspiration. It’s important for me to see how the food is produced. If i buy a chunk of butter, it would have “butter” label on it – but i have no idea what’s added to it and how it’s made. So it would be fantastic to produce butter, milk, grains and bread. Because that is how it used to be. There was no variety of today – everything was homemade. But barter has always been there too – your neighbor grows good potatoes, while your tomatoes are good too. And thus you can trade with each other.

I can see it in your eyes – just how much you love those things you talk about. How often do you meet such sentiments with other people in Azerbaijan? How many young people share your views?

I believe there are many such people. But wanting something is half of the job done. You need to fulfill the other half too.

Do you get moments when you feel that all this is too difficult or monotonous?

When i was a kid, we always went to play in the same backyard with my friends. These streets were the same, they never changed – but it was fun anyway. Its pretty much the same here, just a little bit more stress involved. And if that stress builds up, which happens rarely, then you ask yourself a question: “Damn, why is it so difficult ?”. It can be difficult when, for instance, rain pours for ten days, you’re stuck somewhere in the middle of the night, mud under your feet, the horse misbehaves. But in ten minutes you get to your warm and cozy home – and it feels fantastic!

Do you have visitors here? Maybe a guesthouse is in your plans?

We are thinking about it, but no plans of becoming a guesthouse, a retreat-center or an art-residence. We love to have guests here, because interesting people make life better. But we don’t want to commercialize it. It’s important to find something in the middle – so that people understand what you are about while you are stress-free. If you set up a guesthouse, such stress is unavoidable – after all, you accommodate guests at your own home. That is why for now we only take visitors recommended by our friends. And we want to further develop this in such a natural manner.

How close is your lifestyle connected to the traditions of a place? In terms of food or what your house looks like?

I think there are many common points, but in some ways we want to live our lives our way, not like it’s usually done here. And in some aspects we understand that their lifestyle is great and smart. Locals teach us a lot of things.

Like what, for example?

Like chopping firewood and load it onto the horse’s back. It’s a skill which has to be learned. A horse can carry 200-250 kilograms of firewood and you have to keep this process under control. Even children here are prolific in that – they can go and get firewood by themselves, without any help. When you are living in a countryside, life teaches you a lot of things. At the same time, we also learned a lot while living in a city – and that wows local guys. So we exchange our experiences here.

What do you teach them?

All houses here are heated by the most primitive heaters. All the heat goes outside, so heaters only manage to warm the exact spots where they stand. That is why locals often live in one room, two at max, and sleep in cold houses – despite using a lot of firewood. We installed a boiler-type heater which heats both air and water. Locals were surprised that a house can stay warm all the time, so now everyone here wants a heater like that.

Another example. I wanted to build my house from wood. At first, my neighbors were telling me that this was a bad idea. And now they see how warm and cozy my house is, so they have admitted that living in a wooden house is great. They dismantled their traditional houses made of clay and replaced them with houses made of stone. They are big, but very difficult to heat.

This year we built stables and a workshop from clay. Our neighbors helped us – they liked the fact that we made something from clay. That is something we took from them. It’s pleasant and countryside-like. And why would you need to bring building blocks into the woods when you have everything you need right here?

We are different, but we treat each other with love

But there are some things in which we like to stick to our traditions. People here cannot comprehend as to how five-six people can live under the same roof when they are not a family, but all different couples. This stands at a distance from their traditions, but they are very respectful towards us. They often come to see us, eat with us and drink tea. We spent all summer working together and laughing a lot.

And how long have you been living like this?

Three years. The whole process started in 2017. In 2018 I started moving back and forth – to Baku and back here. And in 2019 i bid farewell to Baku.

So what would you like to bring into the countryside from your city life?

Caring about the countryside and its development is very important to me. I would want everything here happening naturally – without over-management. Most certainly, I would like to get the locals acquainted with agriculture and create a small network, in which we would help one another in selling our produce.

The most important thing is that we already have resources – our village is located close to the Khanbulan Lake, which sees a constant flow of tourists. We can set up a marketplace for them where everything growing in our village would be on sale. Every resident of the village would be able to bring products there and put them on sale. But, first and foremost, we need to set that all up – to understand from our own experience how this could work, before recommending it to others.

How did your parents react to the fact you’d be living in the woods?

Only my father is alive, and he does not understand me.

In the three years that you’ve been here, he still fails to understand why you are doing this?

I dont think he’d ever understand. He has his own opinion. He is bewildered by the fact that i prefer being surrounded by dirt, take my horse out all the time and go off to get firewood when its cold outside. All that while having a comfortable apartment in the city and a job there.

Is he from a village?

He is not, he grew up in the city of Lenkoran, but lived in a house there. They had a cow, sheep and chickens.

So it turns out that you have returned to the things he once departed from?

Yes. Its an often occurrence in the countryside that people get fed up with the things here and they want to move into a city. Okay, we – to the contrary – want out of the city.