I’m on my fourth place in Shamkir. That means 2 host families and 2 independent housing situations. Like for many volunteers, finding and keeping your “independent housing” isn’t so simple. Here are some of my challenges.

Independent housing means living separate, not with a host family. Volunteers usually rent a place whether a house or an apartment. The first major challenge is finding a place. Female and male PCVs experience this challenge. It’s a challenge for several reasons. First of all, we are American. Because we are American the locals believe we can afford to pay more. When I was searching I discovered that it doesn’t matter how much I say, “I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. I do not make money.” I come from a rich country; I must have more money. I believe it is the same for Russian or Turkish people.

Also when I was searching, another obstacle came up—the local mentality about living alone. People here don’t generally live alone; they live with their families. As a male, many locals believe men cannot take care of themselves. How will they eat since the women do the cooking? How will the house stay clean because women do the cleaning? For women it’s an issue of security. I am asked all the time, “Aren’t you scared to live alone?” Also it’s an issue of how will I maintain a house, eat, and clean when I work. Because of this I found many people offering me a room in their home and calling it “living alone”. “You will be alone in this room” they would say.

The last obstacle in finding a house is your own expectations. Finding a place with 2 rooms, working gas and electricity, a kitchen with running water, a working bathroom, a functioning shower, and a heater for the winter is a significant chore. I found places for rent in every range manageable. First House: 1 room with a heater but with an outside kitchen and shared toilet/shower room with the landlord. Second Place: an apartment with 2 rooms, a kitchen but no refrigerator, and no working bathroom/shower. Third Place: an apartment with 2 rooms with 1 bed and table for furniture, no water or kitchen inside, separate shower, kitchen, and bathroom all outside (I think these last 3 things were shared). Finding a place with everything you want is near impossible. There are always sacrifices that we make as volunteers so that we can live on our own.

The second challenge is keeping one’s newly acquired residence. It’s not because of the money or anything but because of boundaries and the landlord’s family. Family is very important in Azerbaijan. If I am renting the extra house when relatives come back and need a place to stay, I can be kicked out. If I am renting the extra house and relatives come to visit, the landlord would find no problem with them staying in the house that I am renting without asking me about it. Also landlords find no problem with showing up when they please and even sleeping in the house you are renting without asking you. I know situations where landlords dictate how you should keep the place you are renting. As you can see, landlords take more liberty than a landlord in America. While you are renting, nothing is “yours”.

These are just some of the challenges PCVs face when it comes to housing. Moving around to a few different places within one’s service is normal. I have had some of the problems stated above and have had to move from one independent housing situation to another. I have found searching and finding a place an atrocious task which I would never like to do again. Taking 5 hours a day to ask everyone I see on the streets if they know someone who is renting is exhausting and not always fruitful. This system is what realtors also do. I could pay a realtor an exuberant amount to do it for me, or I could do it myself. Being poor, I did it myself. Sometime volunteers have family members or coworkers who help and make this process a lot easier.

One of the most surprising things I learned when I was looking for a place was feel paralyzed. Being uncertain about when I was finally going to be kicked out, having to deal with the daily conversation with my landlord that I have not found a new place yet, the time-consuming task of searching for a new place, and being frozen (literally) out [I wasn’t given a heater because I needed to get out]. I didn’t work for a week because I needed to get this housing situation solved. Once a landlord says, “Get out”, they want you out that day. You got to find that next place as soon as possible. Thankfully, I found a new place. It seems to be working out just fine! Not all landlords are crazy; and hopefully this one will stay that way. Here are some pictures.

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