Saturday, April 6, 2013

Cost of Living

Every Peace Corps Volunteer is given a modest allowance to match the average cost of living in the developing country in which one serves.  Recently, we were given a survey to list the cost of normal items found here in Azerbaijan, and which we all need.  Suffice it to say, with some exceptions, it costs a lot to live in Azerbaijan.  Food, for one thing, is very expensive, and meat in particular is quite prohibitive.  I get most of my protein intake from eggs (cost about the same as at home), cheese (more expensive), and rice and beans (about the same).  Vegetables in season can be less expensive, and the ubiquitous "greens" (herbs) in the open-air markets are also reasonable.  Bread, a dietary staple and even considered "sacred," is reasonable--you never throw away stale bread, because of its sacred nature, rather it is placed on a fence, a ledge, or some other open space, to be found and consumed by a bird or roaming animal. 

But when one considers that the average salary of a school teacher or a doctor (state employees) is about $150-$300 per month, the cost of food seems very high.  Indeed, a recent survey found that the cost of food  relative to income in Azerbaijan was the highest in the world.  http://saynotofoodwaste.org/2013/04/01/spending-all-the-money-on-food/


Clothing also can be quite expensive, and often the imports from China seem to be seconds, but at full cost or even more.  The high-end fashion boutique shops in glitzy parts of Baku seem to be only for show, since they are always empty; average citizens could never afford to shop there.

But the high cost of food seems so unnecessary.  Azerbaijan is a country with nine distinct climates, able to produce delicious (albeit seasonal) fruits and vegetables, and shepherd large flocks of sheep and cattle.  Unfortunately, enjoying this bounty consumes a large part of the average Azeri's income.

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