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Peace Corps / Azerbaijan History And Programs
History of the Peace Corps in Azerbaijan
The government of Azerbaijan has expressed keen interest in having a Peace Corps program since 1997. However, because of intense lobbying efforts by anti-Azerbaijani Armenian-Americans, the Freedom Support Act of 1992 contained a special provision (Section 907) that banned U.S. foreign assistance to Azerbaijan without presidential approval. This act effectively blocked any initiative by the Peace Corps until 2002, when President George W. Bush lifted the provision.
Shortly thereafter, Vilayat Guliev, minister of foreign affairs for the government of Azerbaijan, formally requested a Peace Corps presence. This was strongly supported by the U.S. embassy staff in Baku (Azerbaijan’s capital), and in April 2002, the Peace Corps began an assessment. The assessment team declared Azerbaijan “highly suitable for a new Peace Corps program,” citing the enthusiastic support of the U.S. embassy, Azerbaijani ministry officials, local government officials, Azerbaijani students and teachers, and local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). On the strength of this assessment and the U.S. president’s declared interest in increasing the size of the Peace Corps and enabling citizens in predominantly Muslim countries to interact with Americans, the Peace Corps director approved the establishment of a program in Azerbaijan for 2003.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Azerbaijan
Based upon the expressed wishes of the government of Azerbaijan, the first program focused on teaching English as a foreign language. About 95 English teaching Volunteers have been placed in the Azerbaijani education system throughout the country, except in the capital, Baku. Volunteers teach students at the secondary level and a few train teachers at the university level. Students in secondary education programs in Azerbaijan range from 7 to 17 years of age. Each year, approximately 25 new English-teaching Volunteers join the English-teaching program.
In 2005, a second program, which focuses on community economic development, was piloted with 11 Volunteers. Volunteers work with intermediary organizations engaged in small- and micro-enterprise development and community development outside of Baku. Some community economic development Volunteers are placed in organizations that play a role in the agribusiness sector. Peace Corps/Azerbaijan plans to maintain between 30 and 35 economic development Volunteers in-country.
Plans are underway for the opening of a third program in 2007 in the area of youth development. Azerbaijanis feel strongly that the hope for their future lies in strengthening the education, marketable skills, civic participation, and productive engagement of young people. A first group of 15 youth development Volunteers will pilot this program.
The Peace Corps/Azerbaijan program for the next two years could be summarized in the following programmatic and functional terms: Maintaining the size but expanding the geographic scope of the English language program, establishing and expanding the community economic development program, and introducing the youth development program. Volunteers provide English language knowledge and communications skills to Azerbaijani students and teachers so that they can participate in the international community of nations. Volunteers provide business, organizational, management, and economic and community development skills to Azerbaijani communities so that they can create more jobs, generate more income, strengthen the economic and social infrastructure of communities, and improve the quality and availability of opportunities for individuals throughout the country. It is anticipated that Volunteers working in the youth development program will motivate young people to become productive and engaged members of society through transferring marketable skills and organizing service groups to address relevent local issues.
Country Overview: Azerbaijan at a glance
Azerbaijan has a population of approximately 8 million. More than 2 million live in Baku. The country is slightly larger than the state of Maine. Mountains dominate three sides of the country, while the Caspian Sea forms Azerbaijan’s eastern border. Between the mountains are valleys and lowlands with rich flora and fauna. Azerbaijan also has a sub-tropical zone known for its exotic fruits, spices, and plants, including pomegranate, pistachio, persimmon, fig, olive and saffron.
The Roman Empire briefly established a colony in the region, naming it Albania (unrelated to present-day Albania). Beginning in the seventh century AD, Arabs dominated the area, introducing Islam, which replaced Zoroastrianism and Christianity as the major religion, and Arabic. While Arabic did not replace the existing languages, its script was used for the Azerbaijani language until 1924.
Because of its geographical location at the juncture of Europe and Asia, the area was ruled by Turkey or Iran (Persia) for much of its history, as well as by Mongols and Russians. In an 1828 treaty between Russia and Iran, northern Azerbaijan became part of Russia, while the south became part of Iran. Ever since, the divided Azerbaijanis have experienced different destinies. Present-day Iran has an Azerbaijani population larger than that of Azerbaijan; it is estimated to be between 20 million and 30 million—one-third of Iran’s population. Although it was difficult for relatives to visit one another across the border during the Soviet era, people are now able to maintain much closer ties.
Azerbaijan declared its independence in 1918, but was suppressed by Russia’s Red Army in 1920 and made part of the Soviet Union. In 1936, it became a Soviet Socialist Republic, remaining so through the 1980s.
A conflict with Armenia erupted in the late 1980s in the area of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan, but is inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians. It became the subject of fierce fighting as the Armenians sought self-determination rights. Between 1988 and 1994, Armenians in the region, aided by Armenia proper and the Russians, revolted successfully against incorporation into Azerbaijan and assumed control over non-Armenian areas between Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian border. It declared itself the Independent Republic of Mountainous Karabakh, but no other nation in the world save Armenia recognizes its legitimacy. A large refugee problem, battles over supply lines, and the Soviet Union’s inability to stop the fighting caused great hardship in the country. A United Nations-brokered cease-fire occurred in 1994, the effects of which ended diplomatic relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and caused Azerbaijan to lose some 20 percent of its territory. The war had displaced roughly 900,000 people and left Armenian troops with 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s land.
As Soviet central authority weakened in 1990, the Azerbaijan Popular Front emerged in opposition to the local Communist Party. Yet it was Azerbaijani Communist leaders who declared independence in 1991, a few months before the Soviet Union dissolved. Abulfaz Elchibey of the Popular Front won the country’s first presidential elections in 1992, but a year later, in the wake of political, economic, and military upheaval, surrendered the office to Heydar Aliyev. Aliyev, a former Communist leader, was named interim president, and he appointed the rebel military commander as prime minister.
Aliyev soon held elections and won 97 percent of the vote. His New Azerbaijan Party won the parliamentary elections in 1995, 2000, and 2005. His son, Ilham Aliyev, was elected president in October 2003 for a five-year term after his father declined to run for office due to his poor health. Heydar Aliyev passed away in December 2003. Heydar Aliyev and his son have concentrated on developing the nation’s potential as an oil exporter, working with an international consortium of oil companies. An oil pipeline linking Baku, Georgia, and Turkey opened in May 2005 and a natural gas corridor connecting the three countries is planned. Both promise additional revenues to Azerbaijan, but progress has been slow because of regional conflicts. The nation remains poor today and is in need of development in a number of sectors if it is to meet the aspirations of its people.
The Azerbaijani Republic is divided into 59 districts. Its Constitution calls for a president elected for a five-year term, a prime minister, and a National Assembly (known as the Milli Majlis). All citizens may vote at age 18. Despite the turmoil of its first years, the government generally seeks to create a stable country with fundamental freedoms and rights. This effort will depend on settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, the course of economic development, and stable transfers of executive authority. Heydar Aliyev governed with nearly complete control and does not tolerate dissent.
He is popular for saving Azerbaijan from collapse, but is not known for being committed to democratic reform. The current president, his son, is more open to political pluralism and democratic reforms. Irregularities did occur in the most recent parliamentary elections of 2005, but President Aliyev implemented some reforms during and after the elections to ensure greater transparency. The major political parties are the president’s NAP and the Azerbaijan Popular Front. The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2008.
The economy relies on the country’s oil and natural gas resources. With its huge Caspian Sea oil reserves, Azerbaijan has great potential for economic development. Construction, exploration, and production contracts with foreign oil firms will benefit Azerbaijan through new jobs, foreign capital, and high revenues. In 1999, a pipeline opened that carries oil through Georgia to a port on the Black Sea, giving Azerbaijan direct access to markets in Europe. An additional pipeline opened in May 2005 to deliver oil from Baku on the Caspian Sea via Georgia to a Turkish port on the Mediterranean Sea. A companion natural gas line is also under consideration. These are major regional and international undertakings, and they promise at least a decade of large revenues to the government of Azerbaijan. Two challenges of these ventures are Azerbaijan will use its windfall for its long-term development and the transparency with which the government will conduct its affairs.
In agriculture, the most important cash crops are cotton and tobacco, which provide employment in rural areas. Azerbaijan also exports fruits, vegetables, nuts, and saffron. Production is not very efficient, but reform programs are underway to improve output and raise revenues.
People and Culture
The current population is over 8 million, of whom almost 90 percent is ethnic Azeri. Russian, Tatar, Talysh, Georgian, Ukrainian, Armenian, Lezghian, Kurdish, and other minorities also live in Azerbaijan. Nearly all Armenians live in Nagorno-Karabakh. Some minority groups, such as the Talysh, settled in the region long ago, but others were attracted to the rich oil fields of Baku in the late 1800s.
Azerbaijan has a rich and varied cultural heritage. In the field of music, for example, the nation can boast of accomplished composers such as Soltan Hajibeyov, and world-class performers such as pianist Bella Davidovich and cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich. Art thrives both in traditional crafts, such as exquisite carpet weaving, and in modern sculpture (Fazil Najafov) and painting (Javad Mirjavadov). Gary Kasparov is a world master in chess, and Rustrom Ibrahimbeyov is a screenwriter whose film, Burnt by the Sun, won the 1995 Academy Award for best foreign film. Azerbaijanis have also made their mark in science. Ali Javan, for example, is the inventor of the gas laser, and Lotfi Zadeh is a well-known computer systems theorist.
More than 2 million people live in Baku, the capital. Although it is a cosmopolitan city with many grand buildings and mosques, it is a city of glaring economic contrasts. Population movements by refugees from Armenia and internally displaced persons from Nagorno-Karabakh present major social and economic problems for Azerbaijan. Though perhaps half of the roughly 900,000 refugees and internally displaced persons continue to live in regional camps or other temporary settlements, many have moved into Baku and participate in the informal economy. Local agencies are trying to address these problems, even as economically better off members of society help restore some of Baku’s beauty in a building and renovation boom.
Azerbaijani belongs to the Oghuz Seljuk group of Turkic languages and is similar to modern Turkish. In 1924, the Arabic script was changed to the Latin script, which was changed to the Cyrillic script in 1939. Azerbaijani now is returning to the Latin script. During the Soviet era, Russian and Azerbaijani were both official languages, though Russian was dominant for government purposes. Today, Azerbaijani is dominant for all purposes.
Azerbaijan has traditionally been an Islamic nation, but religious devotion weakened during the Soviet era. The country is more secular than many of its neighbors. Many people may practice their religion freely today, praying at home and attending mosques, synagogues, or churches.
Roughly the size of Maine, Azerbaijan lacks control over Nagorno-Karabakh and contiguous access to the Naxcivan Autonomous Republic; each of which is a large and significant territory. The 2,200-square-mile territory of Naxcivan exists as an autonomous part of Azerbaijan, separated from the country by a 30-mile sliver of Armenian territory. However, it remains integral to Azerbaijan, providing many of its political leaders and giving it access to Turkey via a tiny shared border.
Despite its small size, Azerbaijan contains significant ecological diversity, with nine distinct climatic zones. Its highest mountain in the Caucasus range is perennially snow-covered Mount Bazarduzu (14,645 feet), while the Caspian littoral is below sea level. Dense hardwood forests cover the lower slopes of the mountains, while the center of the country is largely flat and sparsely vegetated. The lowlands near the Iran border are home to a cornucopia of lush fruit orchards.
With the exception of its high Caucasus areas, Azerbaijan is milder, and has less rain, than its neighbors Armenia and Georgia. Winter temperatures rarely fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in Baku, and summer temperatures range from the 70s to over 100 degrees.
The Apsheron Peninsula, where Baku is located, and the adjacent Caspian coast are thought to contain substantial deposits of natural gas and oil. Exploitation of these resources without attention to environmental protection has resulted in serious onshore and offshore oil and air pollution, which the government is only beginning to address.
Resources for Further Information
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Azerbaijan and to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it.
A note of caution: As you surf the Internet, be aware that you may find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to express opinions about the Peace Corps based on their own experiences, including comments by those who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. These opinions are not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government, and we hope you will keep in mind that no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About Azerbaijan
This site, created by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, is a general resource on culture, the structure of government, political districts, weather, and current affairs.
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Baku to how to convert from the dollar to the manat. Just click on Azerbaijan and go from there.
Visit this site for general travel advice about almost any country in the world.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Azerbaijan and learn more about its social and political history.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments worldwide.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information, and each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political background.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about countries around the world.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local Volunteer activities.
This site is known as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web Ring. Browse the Web ring and see what former Volunteers are saying about their service.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts of their Peace Corps service.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Azerbaijan
A site for the “A to Z of Azerbaijan”
The site of a group of entertainment companies
Provides general information about the country and the capital
Official site of the president of Azerbaijan
A site for current news
International Development Sites About Azerbaijan
Open Society Institute and Assistance Foundation, an
Azerbaijani nongovernmental organization
Initiative for Social Action and Renewal in Eurasia
U.S. Agency for International Development
Website that includes information, news, and dialogue about humanitarian organizations in Azerbaijan
- Awde, Nicholas, Nicholas Ande, and Famil Ismailov. Azerbaijani-English/English-Azerbaijani Dictionary and Phrasebook. New York, N.Y.: Hippocrene Books, 1999.
- de Waal, Thomas. Black Garden – Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War. New York University Press, 2003
- Elliott, Mark. Azerbaijan: With Excursions to Georgia. Trailblazer Publications, 2004.
- van der Leeuw, Charles. Azerbaijan: A Quest for Identity. Palgrave Macmillan, 2000.
- Kaplan, Robert D. Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus. Random House, 2000.
- Karny, Yo’av. The Highlanders: A Journey to the Caucasus in Quest of Memory. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000.
- Plunkett, Richard and Masters, Tom. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Footscray, Victoria; London: Lonely Planet Publications, 2004.
- Said, Kurban. Ali and Nino: A Love Story. New York: Overlook Press, 1999.
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, N.Y.: Picador, 2003.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, N.Y.: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, Calif.: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyles
The reliability of mail service in Azerbaijan is uneven. Letters might arrive in as few as 10 days, take as long as six weeks, or not arrive at all. Heavy 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 packages or valuable items through the mail. You will be responsible for paying any fees levied on packages.
During pre-service training, your friends and family can mail letters or packages to you at the following address:
“Your Name,” PCT
Main P.O. Box 77
Your mail will be delivered to the training site at least once a week. Once you know your assigned site, you will be responsible for informing your family and friends of your permanent mailing address.
Volunteers can make international calls from the larger cities, but they are expensive (over $2 per minute for a cellphone call to the United States and about $6 per minute by land line). Several calling cards available in the United States offer much lower rates for calls to Azerbaijan (e.g., 15 to 20 cents a minute). In general, land lines are limited and reception is uneven.
You should not expect to find a telephone in your home. However, a number of cellular telephone companies have sprung up in Baku and have effectively blanketed the country.
All of the systems use GSM (for global system mobile), so most U.S. cellphones will not work in Azerbaijan. You may bring your own cellphone, but you must ensure that your U.S. phone company has “unlocked” the phone so that an Azerbaijani SIM card can be inserted.
Some Volunteers will be asked to be wardens (i.e., points of contact for a small number of other Volunteers when they leave their sites or in the event of family or other emergencies). Peace Corps will issue cellphones to wardens for this purpose, but the Volunteer must reimburse the Peace Corps for personal use of these phones.
In Azerbaijan, a cellular phone is a necessary item for communicating with staff members and fellow Volunteers and for ensuring your safety and security. If you do not arrive in-country with a cellular phone, the Peace Corps will issue one to you. You will keep this phone for your two years of service and be responsible for returning it to Peace Corps in approximately the same condition as it was issued to you. If the phone should become lost or stolen during your service, you will be held financially liable for its replacement. If you are in possession of a Peace Corps-issued phone or a personal phone, Peace Corps will pay for repairing your phone should it become damaged. In order to have your phone repaired, you can either bring it with you to Baku and we have the phone repaired and pay for this expense; or you may pay to repair the phone yourself, and we will reimburse you for this expense upon submission of a proper receipt. Unless you are making calls in your capacity as a warden or deputy warden while in Azerbaijan, the cost of using phones will be your responsibility and is presumed to be covered by your monthly living allowance.In the case of an emergency, your family can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C., and that office will immediately contact Peace Corps/Azerbaijan. The relevant numbers are listed at the end of this book.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
The use of computers is growing rapidly throughout Azerbaijan, but because of frequent power interruptions, e-mail and Internet access is limited mainly to Baku and several other larger cities. Most Volunteers do not have e-mail access at their sites, but can send and receive e-mail at Internet cafes in the larger towns. (Currently, the charge is approximately 40 cents an hour.) A few schools to which Volunteers are assigned have computers, and development agencies are keen to link schools to the Internet. In fact, assisting schools in applying for funds for connectivity and equipment is an important secondary activity for Volunteers.
Housing and Site Location
As a Volunteer, you will live in a town or village outside of Baku. Peace Corps/Azerbaijan staff, with some consideration of your desires, selects your site carefully, its principal considerations being safety and security and matching the needs of the local community with your skills and aptitudes. We want to ensure that your talents are as fully engaged during your tour of service as possible.
Your housing might be a private room in a family’s dwelling, a shared house, or a small apartment. You will live with a host family during training as part of your language and cultural orientation. Upon being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will again live with an Azerbaijani host family in your assigned community for the first six months of your service. The Peace Corps will select your host family for this period, except that you may choose a different family for the last two months with prior approval by the Peace Corps. Just as we make every effort to select sites that will fully engage you, we expect that you will make every effort to absorb Azerbaijani culture by spending at least one-fourth of your service living directly with a host country family. After this six-month period, alternative housing arrangements may be considered in consultation with your program manager and the medical officer. Many Volunteers remain in host family housing for their entire service. 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.
Keep in mind that 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 (or none at all), especially in the winter. Heat may come from a wood stove. Although you will have access to a kitchen and bathing facilities (in some cases, bucket baths), hot water and running water may be a luxury and there is likely to be a squat-style toilet. Bathroom facilities may be outside the main house in a separate building. Thus, housing will not be glamorous, but the Peace Corps staff will do its utmost to help you adjust to the new environment.
Note that the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, despite the cease-fire agreement in 1994, gave rise to a huge and persistent resettlement problem. The need to absorb these refugees and internally displaced persons has caused housing scarcities in some parts of Azerbaijan, and Volunteers will need to be flexible in their housing expectations.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer in Azerbaijan, you will receive several types of allowances, which will be deposited into your own bank account.
You will receive a living allowance to cover your basic living expenses, disbursed on a monthly basis in manat, the local currency. This allowance is reviewed at least once a year through a market survey to ensure that it is adequate. It is meant to cover food, work-related transportation, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses, such as postage, film, reading materials, stationery, occasional replacement of clothes, and toiletries. If you elect to use a cellphone or the Internet, their cost must also come out of the living allowance. You will also receive an amount for housing as part of the living allowance, based on the actual lease agreement between you and your landlord or a set amount to be paid to your host family.
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 travel allowance to cover transportation and lodging costs when traveling for official, medical, or programmatic reasons. You will receive a leave allowance of $24 per month of service, paid with the monthly living allowance.
Volunteers are also eligible for a tutor allowance to pay for continued language study after pre-service training.
Payments are made on a monthly basis upon presentation of a completed tutor reimbursement form. Peace Corps/Azerbaijan will cover tutoring in Russian, but only once you have demonstrated a certain level of competence in Azeri.
Most Volunteers will find that they can live comfortably in Azerbaijan with these allowances. Volunteers in all Peace Corps countries are strongly discouraged from supplementing their income with money brought from home. Consistent with the philosophy that development and learning occur most effectively when people live and work together, it is important that Volunteers live modestly, by the standards of the people whom they serve. Your allowances will be deposited into a personal account at the International Bank of Azerbaijan and you will receive an ATM card from the Peace Corps to withdraw those funds.
Traveler’s checks are not commonly used in Azerbaijan, so we discourage you from bringing them. Although use of credit cards is rare outside the capital, they can be useful for vacation travel. The International Bank of Azerbaijan ATMs also accept major U.S. bank cards. Azerbaijan is primarily a cash economy, so exchanging currency at official exchanges or banks is very easy.
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 (e.g., apples, cherries, grapes, olives, lemons, persimmons, melons, watermelons, raspberries, strawberries, currants, plums, peaches, pears, quince, pomegranates, tomatoes, beans, beets, bell peppers, cabbage, chickpeas, cucumbers, carrots, eggplants, lentils, lettuce, potatoes, squashes, and onions), 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 in small towns and villages have extensive gardens and 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 shashlik, skewers of barbecued lamb. Beef and edible innards are widely available, though they are not as popular as lamb or mutton. 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 (cheese, eggs, milk, sour cream, and yogurt) and grains are widely available. It may seem strange to your host family that you prefer not to eat meat, but they are likely to respect that decision and accommodate your needs accordingly.
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 or sugar and drunk from glasses. Coffee is available, but outside of the capital, expect to receive a packet of instant Nescafé. In rural areas, alcoholic beverages are less widely available, and drinking them is frowned upon (in keeping with the Muslim culture).
Azerbaijanis typically travel by train, bus, or taxi. Trains tend to be cheap but slow. Electrichka are bare-bones trains with wooden benches, but more comfortable overnight express trains link the major cities. Large, comfortable, modern buses run by the Camel and Somnez companies 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. The private companies, while more expensive than the public ones, are still relatively cheap. Taxis are widely available, but tend to be much more expensive.
Riding a bicycle is not a common practice in Azerbaijan, and 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 community, 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.
Geography and Climate
The easternmost country in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan is bordered by the Greater Caucasus Mountains in the northeast, the Caspian Sea in the east, Russia (Daghestan) and Georgia in the north, Armenia in the west, and Iran in the south.
Azerbaijan’s climate is generally dry and continental, but with great regional variations. Baku, for example, has some 300 days of sunshine but, like Chicago, is famous for the strong winds that periodically blow off the Caspian Sea. Its summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and its wind-chill factors can dramatically lower winter temperatures from their usual 40-degree levels. Inland, winter temperatures are much colder. Snow in the mountains is frequent, and villages can be completely cut off. Spring brings snowmelt and the possibility of flooding. Central Azerbaijan, by comparison, is dry and semidesert-like. The forested south experiences an atypical autumn, with October rains, while the orchards near Quba in the northeast get occasionally heavy rainfall in the spring. March, April, May, October, and November, on the whole, tend to be wonderful times for parents and friends to visit.
Social activities vary depending on where you are located and may include taking part in local festivals, parties, storytelling, 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, 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. It is not an easy situation to resolve, and we can only provide you with guidelines that show respect for your professional colleagues and that reflect positively not only on you but also on your fellow Volunteers, your host family, and on the Peace Corps as an assistance organization. Maintaining your personal style while presenting a professional appearance according to Azerbaijani cultural standards may be challenging. Professional dress means clean and conservative clothing, not necessarily dressy suits or coats and ties, though many male teachers wear shirt, ties and occasionally coats to class. Female teachers must wear skirts to class. Dress for organizations varies from professional to business casual. In general, Azerbaijanis dress more formally than Americans do and take great pride in their appearance. Although it is not uncommon to see fashionable young women in Baku wearing short skirts and tight pants, this mode of dress is not acceptable for Volunteers. Foreign women are already generally seen as less conservative in behavior, so clothing that is too short or revealing will attract unwanted attention. In the towns and villages where Volunteers are posted, conservative Islamic values prevail, so longer skirts and blouses, pants that are not too tight, and sweaters that cover the shoulders are appropriate for female Volunteers.
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. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest and must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts. For example, the possession or use of illegal drugs, or even a rumor of the use of drugs, can have such a damaging effect on the Peace Corps program that there is zero tolerance in its regard.
Ninety-three percent of the population of Azerbaijan is Muslim and Islam forbids alcohol at all times and in all circumstances. Although many Azerbaijanis do not observe this ban, some do refrain from drinking, especially during Orujlug (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 drunk (if a male).
You need to be aware that any behavior that jeopardizes the Peace Corps’ mission and reputation in Azerbaijan or your personal safety may lead to administrative separation— a decision on the part of the Peace Corps to terminate your service. The Volunteer Handbook has more information on the grounds for administrative separation.
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are uncommon, but not unheard of, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur.
The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Azerbaijan. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Among the more important set of policies and procedures is your responsibility to obtain the permission of your local supervisor and/or Peace Corps program manager when you wish to leave your site. Volunteers must also provide advance notification of their departure and return to their sites. Distinct from annual leave (which accrues at the rate of two days for every month of service and then take at times approved by your local supervisor, program manager and the country director if you leave Azerbaijan), “out-of-site” leave on weekends or at other times during your service is not a right, but a privilege, and it is administered in accordance to polices established by the country director and approved by the regional director. These can be revoked at the country director’s discretion. Peace Corps/Azerbaijan’s out-of-site policy essentially provides for one out-of-site weekend per month. Although this policy is grounded in your program responsibilities to your community, it is also necessary so that the Peace Corps can reach you at a moment’s notice in the event of family or other emergencies. These policies are taken so seriously that lack of compliance can, and usually will, lead to administrative separation from the Peace Corps.
Rewards and Frustrations
The conditions of life for Volunteers affect them differently. Do you need a lot of privacy or very little? Are you oblivious to dirt or fairly sensitive to it? Nearly all Volunteers, at some point, find the conditions under which they live and work to be difficult or challenging. Most experience feelings of discouragement and futility—usually during the first year of service. Things that were clear become unclear. The direction to take seems obscured. You may not feel in control of a situation, which can be frightening. When this happens, you may wonder whether you are really up to the job, whether you may have caused the problem, or whether what you are doing is really worthwhile. You may feel unusually fatigued, even though you have been working no harder than usual. You may find yourself short-tempered and annoyed at yourself and others.
You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will have. You will often find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your co-workers with little guidance from supervisors. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress most often comes after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results, knowing that the frustration of “not getting anything done” usually derives from the realities of the situation rather than from your own inadequacies.
To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. Azerbaijanis are warm, friendly, and hospitable, and the Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.
Peace Corps Training
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Following a brief pre-departure orientation (staging) in the United States, you will participate in an intensive 11-week pre-service training program in Azerbaijan. Peace Corps/ Azerbaijan uses a community-based training model that is designed around real-life experiences and emphasizes community involvement. Trainees live with host families in one of several training villages around a central training facility outside the capital. The goals of community-based training are: (1) to provide experiential learning in settings similar to those at Volunteer sites; (2) to give trainees the best possible opportunity to gain competence in technical, cross-cultural, language, and health and safety areas in a culturally and linguistically appropriate context; and (3) to guide trainees in self-directed learning so they can continue independent learning at their site.
Pre-service training contains six main training components: technical, Azerbaijani language, cross-cultural, health, and safety, and the opportunity to visit your potential site. Most of pre-service training time is spent on the first three of these components.
Technical training will prepare you to work in Azerbaijan by building on the skills you already have and by helping you develop new knowledge and skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff will conduct the training program. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have to the community in which you will serve as a Volunteer; therefore, you should expect to spend a large percentage of your time observing how things work in the Azerbaijani context.
Technical training will include sessions on the general economic and political environment in Azerbaijan and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Azerbaijani agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them. You will be supported and evaluated throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance, they help you integrate into your community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings. Therefore, language training is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer. Azerbaijani language instructors teach formal language classes five days a week in small groups of four to five people.
Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills further on your own. Prior to being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with an Azerbaijani host family. This experience is designed to ease your transition to life at your site. Families have gone through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of pre-service training and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Azerbaijan. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
Cross-cultural and community development training will help you improve your communication skills and understand your role as a facilitator of development. You will be exposed to topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, nonformal and adult education strategies, and political structures.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You will be expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. Trainees are required to attend all medical sessions. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in Azerbaijan. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces your risks at home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service. Some of you may be asked to assume the role of wardens (i.e., points of contact for small groups of geographically clustered Volunteers).
After approximately one month of pre-service training, you will visit a current Volunteer’s site along with one or two other trainees. This visit will give you your first glimpse into the Volunteer experience. You will meet the Volunteer’s friends and contacts and visit the Volunteer’s workplace.
Subsequently, approximately three-quarters of the way through pre-service training, you will be informed of the site to which you will be assigned. At this time, supervisors from your future site are invited for a conference to meet you and travel with you to your future site for an orientation visit. Upon completing this visit, you will return to continue the balance of training.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides Volunteers with continual opportunities to increase their technical and cross-cultural skills. During your service, there are usually three training events. The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
- In-service training: Provides an opportunity for Volunteers to upgrade their technical, language, and project development skills while sharing their experiences and reaffirming their commitment after having served for three to six months.
- Mid-Service conference (done in conjunction with technical sector in-service): Assists Volunteers in reviewing their first year, reassessing their personal and project objectives, and planning for their second year of service.
- Close-of-service conference: Prepares Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service and reviews their respective projects and personal experiences. The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted to country-specific needs and conditions. The Peace Corps currently allows a maximum of 15 in-service training days during a Volunteer’s two years of service.
The key to the training system is that training events are integrated and interrelated, from the pre-departure orientation through the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by the training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
Your Health Care and Safety in Azerbaijan
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Azerbaijan maintains a clinic with one or two (depending on the number of Volunteers) medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are available in Baku at an American-standard hospital. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an American-standard medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Health Issues in Azerbaijan
Health conditions in Azerbaijan are generally good. Common problems include influenza, colds, diarrhea, sinus and skin infections, headaches, dental problems, minor injuries, and STDs. Among Volunteers, the most common problems are respiratory or diarrheal illnesses due to stress, changes in diet, inadequate food preparation or storage techniques, and intestinal parasites. Being isolated from family, friends, and other Volunteers and living in a different culture can be unsettling and stressful. Malaria exists in the south of the country, but it can be controlled by taking prophylactic medicine (which will be provided by the Peace Corps, if necessary).
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Azerbaijan, you will receive a medical kit, a Peace Corps/ Azerbaijan Health Handbook, and an orientation on their use to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter.
During pre-service training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical officer. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for shipments to arrive.
You will have physicals at mid-service and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Azerbaijan will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, DC. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Azerbaijan, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept a certain amount of responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage “An ounce of prevention …” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Azerbaijan is to take preventive measures for the following:
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These illnesses include food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, Guinea worms, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Azerbaijan during pre-service training.
If you are assigned to an area where malaria is endemic, you must take the prescribed antimalarial medicine. In addition, you are expected to be responsible in the of use alcohol and to adhere to the Peace Corps’ guidelines for ensuring personal safety.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from the medical officer about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let the medical officer know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met.
If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical officer in Azerbaijan will provide them. If you require a specific product, please bring a three-month supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Tinactin (antifungal cream)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your pre-departure orientation or shortly after you arrive in Azerbaijan. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. We discourage you from using contact lenses during your service to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.
The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information.
The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control.
Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.— with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: Assaults ususally occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
- Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
- Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
- Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
- Carry valuables in different pockets/places
- Carry a "dummy" wallet as a decoy Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
- Live with a local family or on a family compound
- box or trunk
- Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
- Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
- Make local friends
- Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security; Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed.
After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provide support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/ trainees in Azerbaijan as compared to all other Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA) region programs as a whole, from 2001–2005. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps' classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What if you become a victim of a violent crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at [email protected]
Security Issues in Azerbaijan
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target for crime. As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Azerbaijan. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions in large towns, for instance, are favorite work sites for pickpockets. The following are safety concerns in Azerbaijan of which you should be aware.
Azerbaijan has very low rates of theft and burglary. Physical assaults of foreigners in Baku, which are often associated with alcohol abuse in bars, have increased, however. Since the cease-fire agreement with Armenia in 1994, border incidents have been rare. Volunteers are placed well away from the border areas, which may have mines and are considered dangerous. (Travel to these areas is prohibited and may be grounds for administrative separation from the Peace Corps.) Although homosexuality is not illegal, most homosexuals remain “in the closet,” so homosexual Volunteers have to practice discretion.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your home is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Azerbaijan, do what you would do if you moved to a large city in the United States: Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Azerbaijan may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention in large cities and at their sites, but receive far more negative attention in highly populated centers, where they are anonymous, than in smaller towns, where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to unwanted attention. Keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch, the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. You should always walk with a companion at night.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Azerbaijan
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for reporting and responding to safety and security incidents. Azerbaijan’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Azerbaijan office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be provided in Volunteer newsletters and in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions on specific safety and security issues in Azerbaijan. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout your two-year service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection is based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; different housing options and living arrangements; and other Volunteer support needs.
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Azerbaijan’s detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Azerbaijan will gather at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, in order for the Peace Corps to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps medical officer. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Azerbaijan, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Azerbaijan.
Outside of Azerbaijan’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Azerbaijan are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Azerbaijan, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers will not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Azerbaijan
The Peace Corps staff in Azerbaijan recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Although Azerbaijan’s culture is more secular than that of most Muslim countries, it remains largely patriarchal. Men are accorded more leeway than women in most supervisory and leadership roles. In schools, however, most language teachers are women. Volunteers find that, while on the surface
Azerbaijani culture seems to give women more freedom (in dress and some careers), women are carefully “protected” in that they don’t go out alone and don’t go to many places in town (e.g., teahouses, cafes, and certain parts of the baazar). This often appears restrictive to Americans entering the culture.
Female Volunteers may find that Azerbaijanis think it is strange for a single woman to live alone. They will receive more unwanted and inappropriate attention from men than they do in the United States. Female Volunteers will not be able to have male visitors in their home-stay rooms or apartments in villages. They may have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the respect of Azerbaijani counterparts in the workplace. And they will need to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public (i.e., not smoke in public or drink in public) to avoid developing an undesirable reputation in the community.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Azerbaijan has an ethnically diverse population and a long history of interaction with peoples of Central Asia.
Still, a person of color may be the only minority trainee or Volunteer in a particular program. You may work and live with individuals with no experience or understanding of your culture. You may not receive, or be able to receive, the necessary personal support from other Volunteers and may be questioned about socializing exclusively with other minority Volunteers. Finally, you may not find minority role models among the local Peace Corps staff.
African-American Volunteers may be evaluated as less professionally competent than nonblack Volunteers. They may be called “Negroes,” not necessarily in a derogatory sense but as the local word used to describe black people. They may be the focus of staring, pointing, or comments. Hispanic American Volunteers may not be perceived as being American or may be the subject of stereotyped perceptions of Hispanic cultures other than their own. Asian-American Volunteers may be the subject of stereotyped perceptions based on behavior observed in films. Like all Volunteers of color, they may be identified more by their cultural heritage than by their American citizenship.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Respect comes with age in Azerbaijan. Younger Volunteers may have to work harder than their older colleagues to be accepted as professionals. Older Volunteers may feel isolated within the Peace Corps community in Azerbaijan because the majority of Volunteers are in their 20s. In training, seniors may encounter frustration in not having their needs met for an effective learning environment in areas such as timing, presentation, and style. They may need to be assertive in developing an effective individual approach to language learning. During their service, seniors may work and live with individuals who have little understanding of, or respect for, the lives and experiences of senior Americans. Older Volunteers may find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support. While some seniors find this to be very enjoyable, others choose not to fill this role.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
In Azerbaijan, homosexuality is generally considered immoral for religious and cultural reasons. There are certainly homosexuals in Azerbaijan, but their level of acceptance is very low. While there is some evidence of gay culture in Baku, it is quite discreet and underground. However, in the regions where you will be placed, homosexuality is definitely not accepted. Even certain styles of hair and clothes, earrings on men, and certain mannerisms that are accepted in the United States may be viewed with suspicion or disdain in your community. Your basic civil liberties may be ignored, or you may be hassled in bars or on the street.
You may not find the support you desire within the Peace Corps community in Azerbaijan. Homosexual or bisexual Volunteers may serve for two years without meeting another homosexual or bisexual Volunteer. Relationships with homosexual host country nationals can happen, but as with all cross-cultural relationships, they are not likely to be easy.
Lesbians, like all women, may have to deal with constant questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex. Wearing an “engagement ring” may help. Gay men, like all men, may have to deal with machismo: talk of conquests, girl watching, and dirty jokes.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Azerbaijanis frequently ask Volunteers about their religious affiliation, but this is more out of curiosity than out of any challenge. Ninety-three percent of Azerbaijanis are Muslim, and mosque attendance and other religious observances are generally greater in rural areas. If you wish to visit a mosque, ask your host family or counterpart first, and be guided by their response. Azerbaijan has a long tradition of tolerance toward and coexistence with other faiths, with the exception of Armenian Orthodoxy, an outgrowth of the ongoing tensions between Azerbaijan and its western neighbor. Proselytizing of any kind by Volunteers is prohibited.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Azerbaijan, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Azerbaijan, as in other parts of the world, some people hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. Some people may mistake you for a war veteran at first. In addition, there is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.
As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable of performing a full tour of Volunteer service in Azerbaijan without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/ Azerbaijan staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Azerbaijanis welcome married couples, so being married per se should not cause any problems. Difficulties for married Volunteers do sometimes arise, however, in the areas of language training, living with a host family, and placement.
If one spouse has superior language learning skills, the other spouse may not work as hard at learning the language or come to rely on his or her partner’s language skills. But to integrate into the host community it is essential that both learn Azerbaijani. Furthermore, everyone must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer.
Couples may find that the privacy they have become accustomed to is in short supply when living with an Azerbaijani family. You will be expected to participate in the family’s life, especially during and after dinners. Arranging for private time and space in a culturally acceptable manner may require some sensitivity and flexibility on your part.
Spouses should expect to be separated during pre-service training, especially if spouses are placed in different programmatic sectors.
Frequently Asked questions
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Azerbaijan?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The authorized baggage allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 100 pounds total with a maximum weight allowance of 50 pounds for any one bag.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.
What is the electric current in Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijani electrical outlets accept plugs with two round prongs and operate on 220 to 240 volts and 50 cycles. Inexpensive adapters for U.S. equipment are readily available at places such as Radio Shack and travel supply stores. Be aware that the supply of electricity may be weak or sporadic, particularly in the winter months.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. If you do choose to have additional funds available to you for vacation travel, bringing credit cards or traveler’s checks would be less risky than bringing a large amount of cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects; Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase personal property insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Azerbaijan do not need an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating privately owned motorized vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks, bicycles, and lots of walking. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a sponsor’s vehicle, but this can occur only with prior written permission of the country director. Should this occur, the Volunteer may obtain a local driver’s license. A U.S. driver’s license will facilitate the process, so bring it with you just in case.
What should I bring as gifts for Azerbaijani friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites until after they have completed the majority of their pre-service training. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their ministry counterparts. Peace Corps/Azerbaijan tries to build a tentative site visit into its training program for the sake of early orientation and another opportunity for trainees to assess their commitment to Peace Corps service. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. The most important considerations will be the Peace Corps staff’s judgment about the safety and security of the site and a good match between a community’s needs and the trainee’s skills and abilities. Most Volunteers live in towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a 10- to 12-hour drive from the capital. For the first six months as a Volunteer, you will live with a host family, although you may elect to live with a different host family for the last two months of this period with the approval of the Peace Corps.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For nonemergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580, extension 2423.
Can I call home from Azerbaijan?
International telephone service is available in most cities, but it can be expensive—as much as $2 per minute by cellphone and $6 per minute by land line for a call to the United States. The land line system is often overwhelmed, however, and disruptions in service are frequent. Having friends and family call you is considerably more cost-effective. Volunteers also can send relatively inexpensive text messages internationally.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me? Most American cellular phones are wired to operate exclusively in the United States. Cellular systems in Azerbaijan, which cover virtually the entire country, are GSM compatible and work on different frequencies than American phones. Peace Corps/Azerbaijan will provide you with a Peace Corps-issued cellphone that you must return after two years and in good condition. You will be responsible for paying for the costs of your calls from your living allowance.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
A growing number of Internet cafés or other businesses in the capital and in some of the larger cities offer Internet access. Because of the weak telephone and electrical infrastructure in outlying areas, Volunteers in rural sites may be limited to sending and receiving e-mail on occasional visits to the capital or regional hubs. Before departing for overseas service, many prospective Volunteers sign up for free e-mail accounts that they can access worldwide, such as those offered by Yahoo and Hotmail.
Many Volunteers bring laptop computers and find them useful for work and relaxation. If you bring a laptop computer, you will be responsible for insuring and maintaining it. The Peace Corps will not replace stolen computers and strongly encourages those who bring them to get personal property insurance. Because of the high value of laptops, owners significantly increase their risk of becoming a victim of crime. You probably will not find the same level of technical assistance and service in Azerbaijan as you would at home, and replacement parts may take months to arrive. Moreover, gaining Internet access via your laptop is probably a remote possibility because very few Volunteers have telephone lines in their homes or adequate lines in their communities or workplaces. If you bring a laptop, be sure to bring a high-quality surge protector—electrical lapses and surges are common.
This list has been compiled by Peace Corps/Azerbaijan and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have a weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Azerbaijan.
Luggage should be durable, lightweight, and flexible; a duffel bag or a hiking backpack is a good option. When choosing luggage, remember that you will be hauling it in and out of taxis and trains, and often lugging it around on foot.
You can buy clothing in Azerbaijan, but much of it is made of synthetic materials and may not meet your taste. You can also have clothes made locally, but bring what you will need until you know where the best tailors are. Variety in clothing is not as important as how it looks and how sturdy it is. Following are some suggestions for what to pack.
- A good supply of underwear
- Polypropylene, wool, and cotton socks and glove liners
- Good wool hiking socks (that wick moisture and dry quickly); 3-4 pairs recommended
- Long underwear of two or three different weights (e.g., wool and silk)
- Polyfill outerwear/coat. Some people suggest bringing two—a full-length black wool coat and a down coat. (Informal, sport-type winter coats can be useful and warm, but draw a lot of attention, whereas black pea coats will not. Winters can be quite cold, especially in the north; you may find yourself wearing a jacket, hat, and gloves in the classroom)
- Medium-weight jacket for spring/fall.
- Woolen or ski-type hats, gloves, and scarves
- Bathing suit (for trips to the beach)
Note: Keep in mind the only dry cleaning is in Baku. So you’ll be washing everything by hand, but you still need to look professional.
You will still be an American when you live here, so if you have a style of dressing, plan on keeping it, just making the modifications necessary in this culture. This means NO exposed midriffs or backs; any sleeveless tops should be VERY modest, NO short skirts, and clothes should not be too tight.
- An assortment of winter and summer clothing: skirts and blouses, dresses, knit tops, dressy and casual slacks, and jeans; skirts and dresses should be full or mid-calf length
- 2-3 sweaters or dressy sweatshirts
- 2-3 cardigans (good for layering)
- One good outfit for formal events
- Some comfortable “house” clothes; sweatpants, etc.
- Slips (cotton is recommended)
- Leggings, tights, and stockings (good-quality ones may be hard to find locally)
- Shorts (for safety reasons, to be worn only at home or while jogging early in the morning) 4
- An assortment of winter and summer clothing: khakis, casual dress pants, jeans, and long-sleeved button-down shirts (dark-colored clothing will look clean longer than light-colored clothing)
- At least one sport coat.
- 2-3 dress shirts and ties.
- Shorts (because shorts are considered even more inappropriate for men than for women, to be worn only at home or while jogging early in the morning) Shoes
- Professional shoes that are comfortable for walking (flats and dressy sandals are recommended for women). Bring good-quality shoes and note that casual shoes for women are especially hard to find
- Tennis shoes or running shoes (very difficult to find here)
- Warm, waterproof boots for winter
- Hiking shoes (if you like to hike)
- Well-made fleece/winter slippers.
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- Any favorite over-the-counter medical supplies (those provided by the Peace Corps are generic ones)
- A three-month supply of any prescription drugs you take, to give the Peace Corps ample time to order your special needs
- At least two pairs of eyeglasses, if you wear them, since replacements can take several months to arrive from the United States (contact lens supplies are not available in Azerbaijan and are not supplied by the Peace Corps)
- Towels (of good-quality; absorbent cotton); Volunteers also recommend “quick-dry” towels.
- Jewelry and makeup, if you like to wear them (Azerbaijani women in towns wear both)
- Hair-coloring products, if you use them (U.S. brands are not available locally) Kitchen
- Good can opener
- Favorite spices (they may be difficult to find, especially in winter)
- Favorite cooking supplies (most pots and pans can be found in Azerbaijan)
- Basic cookbook (Peace Corps will also provide you with a cookbook)
- An assortment of plastic storage bags Miscellaneous
- Reliable watch (durable, water-resistant, and inexpensive)
- Travel alarm clock (battery-operated is best)
- Sturdy work gloves, if you like to garden or work outdoors
- Poncho and folding umbrella
- Fanny pack
- Small day pack without frame (great for shopping or carrying books or work materials)
- Camera (compact ones are best, since they are inconspicuous and travel well); film and photo processing is available locally
- 110/220 transformers, if you bring 110-volt appliances
- Flashlight and batteries; head-lamp
- CD or tape player and recorder and shortwave radio (prerecorded CDs and tapes are available cheaply in Baku, though they are not always of good quality)
- One or two sets of sheets (because you do not know the size of your bed, double flats are most useful)
- Small, inexpensive tool kit
- Swiss army knife (very important to many Volunteers)
- Sewing kit
- Clothing patterns, if you plan to sew by hand
- Pictures of home for yourself and to share with friends and students
- U.S. postage stamps (people traveling home can sometimes hand-carry your mail)
- U.S. and world maps, to use as teaching aids or wall hangings
- Inexpensive gifts (toys, costume jewelry, perfume, magazines, books, pencils, key chains, etc.)
- Any equipment for hobbies
- Games (e.g., Scrabble, chess, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary)
- Sports equipment (e.g., bat, baseball, and glove, football, Frisbee, hacky sack, etc.)
- Liquid soap for washing clothes by hand (the availability of dry cleaning is unpredictable)
- Down or synthetic sleeping bag, preferably compactable, rated for minus 10 to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and pad (also consider a fleece liner) (Peace Corps will issue you a “monster” sleeping bag for winter.)
- Journal, diary, or schedule book
- Small, retractable tape measure
The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone, and the list does not include everything you should make arrangements for.
- Notify family that they can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; after-hours duty officer: 202.638.2574).
- Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular passport.)
- Complete any needed dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
- Arrange to bring a three-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while you are away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your health care during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have preexisting conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage. If there is a lapse in coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
- Purchase personal property insurance to extend from the time you leave your home for service overseas until the time you complete your service and return to the United States.
- Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender or loan service.
- Execute a power of attorney for the management of your property and business.
- Arrange for deductions from your readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.