Azerbaijan

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

Mail service in Azerbaijan is generally reliable. However, fees are assessed on some packages, depending on what they contain, and you might find items missing. Accordingly, we strongly recommend that you ask family and friends to number their letters consecutively so you can determine what is and what is not reaching you. We also advise you to discourage people from sending you valuable items through the mail. You will be responsible for paying any fees levied on packages. 

Telephones

Phone and Internet calling to the U.S. is expensive from Azerbaijan. Many Volunteers have successfully called using Skype (this does depend on the speed of your connection, which will vary depending on where and how you are accessing the Internet). Most Volunteers choose to have family and friends call them in lieu of making calls. More information on various options and tips will be provided at the beginning of your service. 
All trainees will receive a basic cellphone, provided by the Peace Corps, upon arrival in-country. You have the opportunity to upgrade your phone at your own cost, or use one from the U.S. if it can be used internationally. Cellphone coverage in the country is good, although there are a few places in which you will not be able to receive a signal. Most Volunteers communicate extensively via calls and text messages.

Internet

Most PCVs have access to Internet at least once a week, although for some this may mean traveling to a nearby town (from a village). CED and YD Volunteers are likely to have Internet access at their offices. For TEFLs, not many schools have Internet access, but most Volunteers arrange a workaround (some get dial-up or even DSL at home, others make friends with local NGOs and use their office space, and others use Internet clubs in towns). Each year the options for Internet access seem to increase (while costs decrease). Some Volunteers purchase Internet-ready phones and use this service for reading emails (they cannot look at attachments) or searching the Web. 

Housing and Site Location

As a Volunteer, you will live in a town or village outside of Baku, the capital city. Peace Corps/Azerbaijan staff selects your site and host family carefully. Our principal considerations for site selection are safety and security and matching the needs of the local community with your skills and aptitudes. Your preferences in reference to location are also considered. Your housing might be a private room in a family‘s dwelling, a shared house, an attached but separate building in a family compound, or a small apartment. Your housing must be comparable to that of your Azerbaijani counterparts. You will live with a host family (you will have a private room) during training as part of your language and cultural orientation. Upon being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will again live with a host family in your assigned community for the first four months of your service. After this period, you may move from your host family‘s home. 


In some parts of Azerbaijan, appropriate independent housing is scarce; you should prepare for the possibility of living with a host family for your entire service. Sites vary; there is no guarantee of continuous electricity, running water, or phone service. Some villages and towns have only a few hours of electricity a day. Heat may come from a wood stove. Cooking and bathing facilities may be quite basic, with hot and/or running water being a luxury. There is likely to be a squat-style toilet. Bathroom facilities may be outside the main house in a separate building. The Peace Corps staff will do its best to help you adjust to the new environment.

Living Allowance and Money Management

As a Volunteer in Azerbaijan, you will receive several types of allowances, deposited into your own bank account. The first is a monthly living and housing allowance. It is meant to cover food, housing, personal transportation (PC covers your cost when you travel for PC trainings or medical appointments), cellphone use, recreation and entertainment, and toiletries and the like. A one-time settling-in allowance is also provided for the purchase of items necessary to set up housekeeping at your site. You will receive a leave allowance of $24 per month of service, paid with the monthly living allowance. Volunteers are also eligible for a tutoring allowance to pay for continued language study after pre-service training. Volunteers in all Peace Corps countries are strongly discouraged from supplementing their income with money brought from home. It is important that Volunteers live modestly, by the standards of the people whom they serve. 

Food and Diet

Azerbaijan‘s geographical location on the historic Silk Road is reflected in its cuisine—a mixture of Turkish, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian, with a dollop of Russian. Its fertile soils produce a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as a variety of nuts, spices, and teas. You will immediately notice the delicious taste of Azerbaijani produce in fresh salads. During the winter, however, the availability and affordability of fresh fruits and vegetables decreases, so many families preserve fruits and vegetables for the winter. The traditional diet leans toward a variety of stews or soups made with lamb, one or more vegetables, and potatoes. 


Also ubiquitous are kabab, skewers of barbecued lamb or beef. Chicken and fish are widely available along the coast, in the south, and in major towns, but less so elsewhere. One of the special treats in Azerbaijan is caviar. Bread is served at almost every meal, and ―breaking bread‖ with people is taken literally. Although meat is central to the Azerbaijani diet, it is possible for vegetarians to maintain a meatless diet throughout their service. In addition to the fruits and vegetables mentioned above, dairy products and grains are widely available. Typical drinks include bottled water and soft drinks, fruit juices, beer, and vodka. The traditional drink of choice is tea (chai), offered as a sign of hospitality. It is sweetened with either jam, candies, or sugar and drunk from glasses. Coffee is available, but expect to receive a packet of instant Nescafé. In rural areas, alcoholic beverages are not as widely available, and drinking them is frowned upon (in keeping with the Muslim culture). 

Transportation

Azerbaijanis typically travel by train, bus, or taxi. Trains tend to be cheap but slow, and overnight trains do run in many places. Large, comfortable, modern buses travel among the larger cities. Most people, however, use public transportation or marshrutkas, private eight- to 10-seat minibuses that link virtually all villages with towns and cities. Taxis are widely available, but tend to be much more expensive. Taxis leave Baku for the regions on a regular basis and can be shared among four people. For taxi rides, it is best to establish a price BEFORE you get in and keep your luggage with you and not in the trunk, if at all possible. If locals know the price of the route they are taking, they may not ask the price and just pay the exact amount upon arrival. 

Riding a bicycle is not a common practice in Azerbaijan, and many roads and sidewalks are not fit for bicycle travel. For safety and security reasons, Peace Corps/Azerbaijan does not recommend that you purchase or use one. Volunteers and trainees are prohibited from owning or operating motor vehicles (e.g., automobiles, motorcycles, or three-wheeled cycles) or riding on motorcycles or in motorcycle sidecars as a passenger. Except inside their own communities, Volunteers are also prohibited from riding motorized vehicles after dark due to the bad conditions of roads. Violation of these policies may result in the termination of your Volunteer service.  

Social Activities

Social activities vary depending on where you are located and may include taking part in local festivals, parties, family events, and dances. Many of the larger towns have outdoor cafés, small museums, and movie theaters (though the movies tend to be foreign and dubbed). Baku has a wide array of entertainment possibilities, including theater, opera, ballet, art galleries, museums, restaurants, beaches, and sports facilities. Baku‘s Ichari Shahar, or Old City, is a medieval district of narrow alleys and winding cobblestone passages, featuring antiques and carpet shops, restaurants, mosques, caravansaries (which are traditional lodging places along the Silk Road), and mausoleums. Outside of Baku, Quba is especially beautiful in the spring, when its apple orchards are in full bloom. It is also well-known for its carpet weaving. Lahij, to the west of Baku, is an attractive ancient village famous for its copperware, and Sheki, nestled on the edge of the Caucasus range, has both spectacular scenery and numerous ruins. Hikers are rewarded with views of waterfalls, snow-covered mountains, and fields of wildflowers. Horseback riding is also a possibility. 

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and acting like a professional all at the same time. Maintaining your personal style while presenting a professional appearance according to Azerbaijani cultural standards may be challenging. In general, Azerbaijanis dress more formally than Americans do and take great pride in their appearance. Professional dress means clean and conservative clothing, not necessarily dressy suits or coats and ties, though many male teachers wear ties and occasionally coats to class. Female teachers often wear skirts (skirts should cover at least the knees) to class. Appropriate dress can vary depending on which region you work in, but it is always better to start out dressing more conservatively. Dress for organizations varies from professional to business casual. 

The Peace Corps expects you to behave in a way that not only fosters respect toward you, but also reflects well on both the Peace Corps and the United States. You will receive an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training (PST). Ninety-three percent of the population of Azerbaijan is Muslim and Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol. Although many Azerbaijanis do not observe this ban, some do refrain from drinking, especially during Ramadan (the Muslim fast) and Ashura (the religious mourning period of the Shiites). Teachers, especially, need to be models to their students; this profession commands tremendous respect in Azerbaijan. Teacher Volunteers should always look neat and tidy and should never be seen drinking (if a female) or intoxicated (if a male). Some Volunteers choose to never drink while at their sites in order to maintain a good reputation and may only drink in the capital or discreetly at home.