A life of broken dreams
On the corner of one of the busiest streets in downtown Baku sits a lonely old man with a small wooden crate in front of him. Make no mistake, he is no beggar.
Every day for the past 20 years, Rahim Adigozalov, 66, puts on his best clothes, gathers all his tools and commutes for an hour to offer his services.
Rahim’s life is one of the many unfinished stories in the city. Not living, barely surviving… He feels there is so much he could still offer, but his old age and hardship mean he barely stays afloat. Despite the challenges, Rahim is determined to continue working hard and set an example of a difficult, yet honorable life.
He calls his work “fashion for the poor.” He colors their old clothes, returning them to their previous glory. Rahim also sells cloth dye in case clients want to handle the dye work themselves.
He takes great pride in what he does despite the fact that his life is a far cry from the life he imagined when he was young. “At least I am not stealing,” he says.
Rahim has not always lived this way. He was one of those people others say have been “kissed by God.”
Born into a well-off family in Shusha, he grew up without a care in the world. His father’s government job opened many doors for him and his own desire to stand on his two feet inspired him to work vigorously from a very early age. He came to Baku for a second degree and studied agriculture after graduating from the Polytechnic Institute. Very energetic from an early age, he juggled going to school and managing his own café.
“When I left Shusha, I was the son of a wealthy family. The entire region knew our name and the elders used to say that the ‘Adigozalov boy will go far in life,’” Rahim recalls.
But as the Soviet Union came crashing down Rahim, then 36, became one of the lost children: he could not find a place for himself in the new Azerbaijan.
“I used to be director of the vegetable warehouse. I was newly married with two small children to care for. Life was good. But it all ended when the Soviet Union dismantled. I could not find a job,” Rahim remembers, smoking one cigarette after another at his little spot in downtown Baku.
Then he remembered a craft that used to be popular among the natives of Shusha. He set up a small workshop near the gates of one of the city hospitals. He took people’s faded clothes and breathed new color into them. Adding his own concoctions into the dyes he bought, the pieces looked brand new after he had finished with them.
After years of uncertainty and trials, Rahim finally felt like he was once again walking on the sunny part of the road.
“I used to make about 5-6 manat (approximately 3-4 dollars) for a dye job. I had lots of clients and people used to buy dye from me,” he notes.
Rahim’s luck took a turn for the worse, however, when the hospital where he rented the space for his workshop closed down. The property changed hands and he lost his lease. Rahim was forced to move his operations outside.
In 2020, things got even worse: Azerbaijan announced a strict lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19 and Rahim was forced to stay at home.
“I know that I am nearing the end of my life and most of the people I used to know from there are dead now, but I would not want anyone to see what has become of the Adigozalov boy.”
During the lockdown, Rahim couldn’t work and was forced to survive on his small state pension (140 manat or roughly 82 dollars) which did not even cover groceries for his family—or what is left of it. His wife, who suffered from diabetes, died in his arms two years ago. His son couldn’t get over her death and left for Turkey. Rahim now cares for his son’s wife and two daughters, aged 11 and 2. His daughter is married with a family—and money problems—of her own.
Today, Rahim says his only hope now is to find a new job.
“Customers stopped coming as often …People do not have as much money as they used to,” he said.
“I am not as energetic as I used to be, but I am not scared of work. I can do anything in agriculture. If I found an easier job, more suitable for my age, I would be able to feed my two granddaughters.”
But he is so used to receiving rejections from every job he has applied for recently, he has stopped trying.
“At this age in life, the only thing I can hope for is a miracle,” Rahim says. “If only I could find a good job, I would leave this life as a decent, hardworking man.”