One of the things that has been a concern of a lot of volunteers and trainees is alcohol–where would we get it? Could we drink it? How would that affect our relationships? Would we just have to be sober for 2 years?
First, some info: Azerbaijan is a country with an extremely high Muslim population (in the 90% range). Cultural taboos dictate that drinking alcohol is something you have to be very careful with, especially in public. Also–Peace Corps has given us hours of “training” on the use of alcohol in this country and they’re message has been that we shouldn’t drink. I tend to agree with this, but not to the extent PC has been stressing it.
After being to a few small shops and stores, its obvious that alcohol really isn’t a big issue here for men. The men can drink. The women don’t drink (in public, at least).
So far, finding alcohol has not been a problem for me. An additional course of dinner my first night that I didn’t mention before was the bottle of vodka which my host dad procured for our pleasure during dinner. We ended up taking out the whole bottle. That was unexpected. But, after talking with a current PCV who stayed with this host family last year, my host dad may have expected some more fireworks from the drinks, but I just continued to eat, hang out with the family, and then go to bed. Since then, it’s been probably a weekly occurrence to split a bottle with my host dad and family friends that we are with. So far, it seems that sharing drinks with my host father and family friends (and doing it responsibly) has helped establish relationships, as well as serve as an example of an American who doesn’t necessarily drink to excess, and maintains control while drinking. They tell me I’m “yaxşı”, meaning good. We’ll see how long I can maintain that! 😉