Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mozambique
From Peace Corps Wiki
Few countries in the world offer the level of postal service considered normal in the United States. If you expect American standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration. There is enormous variation in the time it takes for mail and packages to arrive at Volunteers’ sites, ranging from two to three weeks in the south to even longer in the north. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Letters may arrive with clipped edges because someone has tried to see if any money was inside (again, this is rare, but it does happen).
Some Volunteers open post office boxes in their towns, some have mail sent to the Peace Corps/Mozambique office to be delivered by staff or picked up directly whenever possible, and some in the central provinces have mail sent to a town in Zimbabwe from which friends pick it up whenever they cross the border. In any case, advise your family and friends to number their letters for tracking purposes and to write “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes.
Despite the delays, we encourage you to write to your family regularly and to number your letters. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so it is a good idea to advise them that mail service is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly.
Sending mail from Mozambique to the United States is expensive, so you may want to bring a supply of U.S. postage stamps to take advantage of Americans traveling back to the United States who are willing to mail your letters stateside. You are likely to have several opportunities a year to send letters this way.
Your address during pre-service training will be:
Your Name, PCT
Long-distance communication via telephone is generally available but is expensive. If you are calling from outside the capital, it may take longer to get a line. Collect calls cannot be made from Mozambique, and calls placed through Mozambique operators can take several hours to connect.
You will not have a residential telephone, and you may not have a telephone available at your work site. However, public telephones exist in Mozambique, and you will certainly have the opportunity to make (or receive) international calls during your service—if not at your site, certainly within a day’s bus ride.
Cellular phone service is available in most of the country. Volunteers often purchase local cellphones for $50 to $100, set up service, and use the phones to receive phone calls and send text messages. The Peace Corps does not issue cellphones to Volunteers.
Currently, no major U.S. long-distance carrier offers calling card services in Mozambique, but your family and friends may want to check with these companies periodically in case they begin providing service, which would certainly be cheaper than using the local phone service. One Volunteer suggests looking into toll-free services for calling from the United States because it is cheaper.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Most Volunteers do have access to computers at their sites. Although there are computers at some schools and NGO offices, they are not available for personal use. There are several Internet service providers in Mozambique, in Maputo, and many of the provincial capitals. Volunteers can access the Internet and e-mail at private Internet businesses or at the government telecommunication centers located in some district capitals.
The service costs about $3 an hour and can be slow—it takes some Volunteers up to one hour just to read four messages and write back. The American Cultural Center in Maputo provides free Internet access to Mozambicans and Volunteers, but it does not allow users to send e-mail. Volunteers also have access to the Peace Corps Information and Resource Center located inside the Peace Corps Mozambique office, where Volunteers can use the Internet and print off documents. Some Volunteers have successfully brought and used their laptop computers at their sites (please note that not all sites have electricity and/or are equipped to support usage of a laptop). As with anything you may consider bringing to Mozambique, use extreme caution and if you are concerned about losing something, then we suggest you not bring it.
Housing and Site Location
Education Volunteers live in provincial capitals, district capitals or in rural areas where the secondary schools and teacher-training institutes are located. These areas generally have populations that average 10,000 to 20,000 people. Most NGOs have offices in provincial and/or district capitals, although not all health Volunteers live near their offices; some live in small communities near where their NGO activities take place. Other health Volunteers work in smaller community organizations and live within walking distance. The provincial capitals all have electricity. In the district capitals, many buildings have electricity some of the time. Generally, in rural areas, electricity may or may not be available. Your house will be located within a reasonable distance to a general market/ store where you can buy basics such as bread, batteries, rice, soap, spaghetti, beans, and pots and pans.
Most people in the surrounding areas make their living from subsistence agriculture, with sugar cane, cashew nuts, and corn being the primary cash crops.
The staff of Peace Corps/Mozambique works closely with host government officials and NGOs to ensure that Volunteers have safe accommodations—with mosquito screens on the windows, locks on the doors, and access to water and a latrine. All Volunteers have access to nearby pumps or boreholes, so water for washing is readily available. Drinking water requires boiling and Peace Corps provides every Volunteer with a water filter.
Your host institution will provide your housing. Housing conditions for teachers and health workers are poor, and the availability of acceptable housing is extremely limited.
Volunteers may live in new government housing made of cement, reed houses with cement walls and floors and tin roofs, or old cement houses that need repairs. The toilet, bath, and cooking facilities may be indoors or outdoors. Some Volunteers have electricity and/or running water, but many do not. There may be a small plot of ground around your house where you can grow flowers, herbs, and vegetables or begin some type of interesting secondary project Some Volunteers share a house with another Volunteer or Mozambican co-worker of the same sex (except in the case of married couples); in this case each person has a separate bedroom but shares the bathroom, kitchen, and living space. Note that American concepts of privacy and personal space are not necessarily shared by or are realistic for Mozambicans, and adapting to a more communal lifestyle may require considerable flexibility on your part.
Some schools hold classes in makeshift classrooms or under trees because there are not enough classrooms. Most have access to water, but some do not have electricity. There may or may not be glass in the windows of cement buildings. A typical classroom holds 50 students and may not have enough benches for all of them. Other than blackboards, the visual aids common in American schools are nonexistent on Mozambican schoolroom walls. Schools rarely have a library, so very few books are available for students or teachers. Some schools have a staff room for teachers.
The NGOs vary considerably regarding their available resources; some offices may be located in nice buildings with computers, telephones and everything necessary for a well-functioning office, including vehicles. Many smaller NGOs have virtually nothing, operating out of a run-down building shell with few desks and writing all their reports and financial accounts by hand. Many smaller NGOs must rely on public transportation—and walking—to conduct their activities.
Living Allowance and Money Management
The Peace Corps will provide you with a settling-in allowance to purchase initial household goods such as a small stove, kitchen equipment, and a bicycle. You can also find colorful cloth, straw mats, rattan furniture, and other local products to make your home more comfortable. A living allowance paid in local currency will allow you to live at about the same level as your local counterparts.
The local currency is the metical (plural: meticais). In 2005, the exchange rate was approximately 23,061 meticais to $1. It is possible to obtain cash advances with credit cards at certain banks in Mozambique. . Visa is the most widely accepted card at hotels, stores, and restaurants that accept debit and/or credit cards. Traveler’s checks can be cashed at the major banks in Beira and Maputo and at some of the better hotels. Bear in mind that there are high fees for banking transactions in Mozambique.
Food and Diet
The climate in Mozambique allows the production of many fruits and some vegetables, depending on the rain and time of year. At some times of the year you may find only onions, tomatoes, and bananas in your local market. Packaged and canned goods—imported from South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi or Zimbabwe—are more expensive than local products. Dried fish is available at most sites, and fresh fish is available along the coast. While it is possible to be a healthy vegetarian in Mozambique, your diet will lack the variety you may be used to. Rice, beans, bread, and pasta will be your main foods at home, and you will usually be able to get eggs, some vegetables, beans, rice, bread, and fried potatoes at restaurants.
Most urban travel is by crowded, slow, and bumpy bus or taxi. Rural transport ranges from minibuses and pickup trucks to lots of walking. Large buses run between most of the provincial capitals. Although Mozambique has invested heavily in restoring its main roads and bridges, travel conditions are still poor, especially off the main paved roads and during the rainy season. Public transportation is not always on schedule or reliable—it can take two hours of riding, waiting, and changing buses to get to a town that is only 25 miles away. You may have to walk a few miles from your home to get to your work site or to town to shop for supplies, go to the post office, and so on. Peace Corps Volunteers are also given the option of purchasing a bicycle; Volunteers must wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. A helmet will be provided by the Peace Corps/Mozambique medical office.
Geography and Climate
Three major factors influencing Mozambique’s climate are the warm Indian Ocean current moving south from the equator, Antarctic cold fronts that push northeast through South Africa, and the altitude of the Mozambique plateau. Temperatures are hot and humid for half the year, and rain can be very heavy in the summer months (December through March). The weather is cooler and drier in the winter months (May through August). You can expect extremely hot temperatures in much of Mozambique, especially in places like Tete, where the average temperature—day and night—is above 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) for several months, topping out at 105 degrees F. Cooler weather exists in Manica Province, where mountains reach elevations close to 4,000 feet, and temperatures in May, June, and July range from the high 70s to the low 50s. Temperatures along the coast and in low-lying areas reach into the high 90s in the summer months. Flooding can occur in the rainy season, restricting transportation and communications for periods of time.
The hot weather will take some getting used to during your first months at your site, especially for those who work in the afternoon. Though the winter temperatures may appear to be relatively mild, it is sometimes difficult to feel warm during the winter because Mozambican buildings do not have heating systems and are built mostly of cement, a poor heat conductor. You will need a variety of clothing for both hot and cold weather.
Needless to say, recreation varies among sites and the preferences of individual Volunteers. You might enjoy visiting the friends and families of your students and fellow teachers, NGO work colleagues or community neighbors, or improving your conversational skills in Portuguese or a local language in a neighborhood hangout. You may enjoy watching soap operas, making or listening to music, going to a disco on weekends, traveling to different sites and provinces, shopping at markets, attending traditional cultural events, growing a home garden, cooking, reading, or writing letters.
Many Volunteers find that reading for pleasure becomes very important, so be sure to bring your favorite books to enjoy and share with other Volunteers. Also bring pictures of your family, friends, and hometown to show to fellow Volunteers and Mozambican friends. Consider bringing portable musical instruments, sports equipment, or games you like to play. Soccer, basketball, and volleyball are popular sports among students and community members. If you are an avid runner, for safety reasons, you may not be able to enjoy the freedom of running whenever and wherever you want, but you will be able to find ways to get the exercise you need.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and acting like a professional all at the same time. It is not an easy thing to resolve, and we can only provide you with guidelines. You will be assigned to a school to an international or national NGO, community based organization, or faith based organization and will be expected to dress professionally at work, as Mozambicans do. A foreigner who wears ragged, torn clothing is less likely to be taken seriously.
Although different work sites may have different dress codes (at least one school requires male teachers to wear ties), for the most part professional dress can be considered casual business wear. Professional clothing for men means button-down shirts, slacks or good jeans, and casual, comfortable shoes. For women it means dresses, skirts or slacks (including nice jeans) with blouses, and dress shoes or sandals. Shorts, sneakers, dirty jeans, and flip-flops are unacceptable at work for either gender. Outside of work it is acceptable to wear jeans, tank tops, and sometimes even shorts, depending on the site, so bring a few casual clothes that you feel comfortable in.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Mozambique Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal safety incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Mozambique. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
There will be challenges throughout your service that test your commitment to serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer. We hope that you find, as do most Volunteers, that the rewards far outweigh the frustrations. You will derive deep satisfaction from knowing that you have made an important contribution to Mozambique’s development. In addition, you will learn more about yourself, your culture, and the culture of Mozambique. You will gain new job skills and friendships that will last throughout your life.