My new family has running water, no rodents, no crazy grandma, and has no plans to move to Baku. They are what we call in Azerbaijan “normal”. Just like all those other Azerbaijani words—noutbuk (laptop computer), biznes (business), kofe (coffee) and maşın (machine).
Of course, they are “Azerbaijani normal”, which means before I had been living in the home 24 hours, I knew (without asking) how much money they made, how much they spent on everything and got a rundown of their family background and history, including their medical history and issues with relatives and was asked all of these things about myself.
The home is on a wide major street and is an apartment on the second floor of a two-story building. It is considered to be a nice home on a nice street in a nice section of town. The apartment has a living room/dining room combination, a kitchen, shower/toilet room with a sink outside the door, two large bedrooms and a balcony. My family has a husband and wife, a 20-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter.
The husband, who has a degree from the local scientific college, is an engineer, although I am not sure what he actually does at work. He works 7 days a week for about 12 hours a day. The wife is a third-grade teacher. Teachers work from about 8:00 to about noon. She then has students to tutor for about two hours in the afternoon and makes extra money doing this.
This family, like all the Azerbaijani families I have lived with, is very friendly, supportive and understanding. They take me with them if I want to go with them on errands, to visit relatives or just to the market. They guide me when I do something incorrect--like cross my legs on the bus--and try to understand when I don't follow their advice--like continue to go to internet cafes when most Azerbaijanis feel that only "bad women" go there.
My host brother is unemployed after having recently lost a job in which he drove a truck to local markets, selling them toiletry and soap products. He worked from about 9 a.m. to about 9 p.m. seven days a week. My host sister has finished high school and is in a special course to study for university entrance. Those who do well do not have to pay tuition.
Peace Corps volunteers, when speaking with each other about their families refer to our "mom, dad, sister and brother." So although I have been older than all my moms, I still call them that. My host father makes about 160 AZN a month, which is about $200. My host mother, between her teaching and her after-school students makes AZN140 a month, which is about $175. Out of the AZN300 they make, they spend AZN200 on their daughter’s prep course for university. This course is for 9 months.
They spend nothing to live in their home, as Azeris own their own homes—they were given homes by the government. Their utilities run about $40 per month—gas, electricity water and phone. Food and clothing is their only other expense. Food is about $25 a week and is very meager—today we have two loaves of bread to eat (about 50 cents each), some spongy potatoes, some small, old apples, a can of fat, a few carrots, some onions and a little pasta. As I previously mentioned, the markets are full of beautiful locally grown produce, but we don’t have any of it.
My host parents sleep in one of the bedrooms, my host brother sleeps on the couch (and always has) and I inhabit my host sister’s room, so she sleeps in her parents’ room.
Once we are in our permanent assignments for four months, we are able to renegotiate our contracts with our families. I have renegotiated mine so that beginning April 12, I can pay them for my room only and buy my own food. I will have about AZN3 a day, or $3.60 to buy food. I am really looking forward to this because I can eat adequately on this sum—goodbye to spongy potatoes and white bread.