This post is for the new crop of volunteers, who will arrive in late September to begin their training. They read the blogs of current volunteers for clues on what their lives will be like and how they should prepare.
Most volunteers spend a lot of time choosing the stuff they will bring with them. They figure that for 27 months they will not be able to buy much here and their favorite foods will not be available. I remember the time I spent trying to guess what I should do before I left. So here are my suggestions for AZ8 (the 8th group of volunteers coming to Azerbaijan).
1. Most things are available in Azerbaijan. If not, you will travel to Georgia or elsewhere and buy stuff or people will send you packages. So don’t panic.
2. Put aside some clothes in a separate box that you may need or want here and leave them at home. Make a list of what is in there and take it with you. When/if you want the stuff, your relative or friend can pull it out of the box and send it.
3. I have bought summer sandals, t-shirts and other things in the bazaar. I live in a larger town and there are awesome second-hand clothing stores here with gently worn things from Europe for men and women. There are at least 10 of these stores in my city and most volunteers can visit my town. I got a beautiful Italian wool coat for $10; also jeans, sweaters, etc.
4. If you are CED like me, you may be packing the wrong stuff. I packed like I was going to be hiking for 2 years, only to find out I needed business attire like I had worn in my bank job in America. I had the wrong clothes.
5. The PC suggestions on long skirts for women are okay, but Azerbaijani women have asked me why my skirts are so long and Azerbaijani women in my town don’t dress as conservatively as my first clothes. (Things are changing for women teachers. In my town, at some schools teachers wear jeans. Of course, PC volunteers don’t wear them.) I rarely wear skirts now.
6. Essential recommended clothes for women and men are a couple of pairs of black tailored pants and good walking shoes. Casual shoes for men and women are everywhere and are cheap. And if you are CED, I recommend a nice coat to put over your business clothes—a trench or wool coat. I walked around in business clothes under a ski parka until I found my second-hand wool coat. Not good.
7. People preparing for the Peace Corps spend a lot of time buying and choosing stuff. My recommendation is totally different. You won’t know what you need, so pack some of the things listed above, warm winter clothes, a few things for summer and don’t worry. You can buy it here or have it sent. Here is the top recommendation:
8. The Peace Corps has language training materials that are to be downloaded from the site for study before coming. Most people spend weeks choosing and packing their clothes, but come unfamiliar with the language materials. New volunteers come here not knowing how to say hello, goodbye, thank you or any of the basics. You will meet your host family soon after you get here. What will you say to them?
Your success depends in a large part on how well you know the language. This will affect your relationships, your experience, where you can travel and is very important.
You should know these 23 lessons by heart. Put them on your iPod and start studying them at least an hour a day. If you don’t have time, stop shopping and reading blogs.
Also, you won’t need a lot of reading material at first. This is because instead of reading English books and watching English movies, you should be studying Azerbaijani. Besides, the Peace Corps lounge has thousands of books that other volunteers have left behind. So if you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry about bringing a lot of books. Some volunteers talk about all the movies they have watched and books they have read, but can’t speak Azerbaijani. Don’t be one of those people.