Difference between pages "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Madagascar" and "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in The Gambia"

From Peace Corps Wiki
(Difference between pages)
Jump to: navigation, search
(Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access)
 
(Geography and Climate)
 
Line 2: Line 2:
  
  
===Communications===
+
==Communications==
 +
 
 +
The main Peace Corps office is in the Fajara area of Banjul.  Plans are underway for one transit house to be opened in Soma, a major transportation hub. A transit house for Volunteers is already available in Basse at the eastern end of the country.
  
 
===Mail===
 
===Mail===
  
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.S.  standards of mail service, you will be in for some frustration.  Mail takes a minimum of two to three weeks to arrive in Madagascar. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. Packages take six to nine weeks by airmail and about six months by surface mail. If someone is sending you a package, it is a good idea to keep it small and to use a padded envelope; that way it will be treated as a letter.  
+
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.S.  standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration.  Mail from the United States takes a minimum of two weeks to arrive in The Gambia. Advise your family and friends to number their letters for tracking reasons and to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes.  
  
Despite these delays, we encourage you to write to your family regularly and to number your letters. Family and friends 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.xxxxxxxxx
+
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. If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/The Gambia would notify the Office of Special Services at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., which would then contact your family.
  
Volunteers in Madagascar may receive packages but are responsible for all duty fees, which may be imposed on food and cosmetics and are based on the items’ value. Also be aware that packages containing valuable items may occasionally get lost or held up.
+
Your address for your entire stay in The Gambia will be:
  
Your address during training will be:
+
“Your Name,” PCV <br>
 +
U.S. Peace Corps <br>
 +
PO Box 582 <br>
 +
Banjul, The Gambia <br>
 +
West Africa<br>
  
"Your Name", PCT Peace Corps
+
Mail is distributed to Volunteers at their sites or to regional towns on a regular basis monthly.
 
+
Corps de la Paix
+
 
+
B.P. 12091
+
 
+
Poste Zoom Ankorondrano
+
 
+
101 Antananarivo
+
 
+
Madagascar
+
 
+
 
+
 
+
Once you have become a Volunteer, you will receive your mail directly at your assigned site.
+
  
 
===Telephones===
 
===Telephones===
  
You will not likely have routine access to a telephone during training, although it is possible to buy a cellphone and phone credit in Mantasoa or the nearby market in Manjakandriana, a regional town, if you make a field trip there as a stage. If you have an unlocked GSM phone, it is possible to buy a Sim card and credit almost everywhere. The training site, Mantasoa, has telephones for emergency use.  
+
International phone service to and from The Gambia is fairly good, but it can be expensive. The public telephone company, Gamtel, provides service in larger towns and villages throughout the country. There are also public phone booths in smaller villages that you can use to reach an AT&T or MCI operator for international calls. There are also many private "telecenters" around the country, which may charge a bit more than Gamtel. Some Volunteers may have phones where they live, but these can generally be used only for receiving international calls, not for making them.  
  
You can buy phone credit everywhere, and it is possible to call the United States, although credit is expensive. If you are living in a rural site, you may not have good cell service.
+
Volunteers are not permitted to use the telephones at the Peace Corps office in Banjul to call family or friends unless the call pertains to an emergency and is approved in advance by the country director.  
  
 
===Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access===
 
===Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access===
  
Bring your laptop. Even if you live in a house or site without electricity, you will want it for visits to Tana or your regional capital. Computer ownership is increasing amongst the Malagasy middle class.
+
Volunteers have access to e-mail and the Internet at the main Peace Corps office. However, access at the main office is limited during regular office hours because there are only four computers for Volunteer use. The computers are available for use 24 / 7, so it often makes sense to schedule internet-time during off-hours. Volunteers generally are able to check their e-mail at the Peace Corps offices about once every three months. Some Volunteers may have e-mail at the schools where they teach. (The e-mail address for Volunteers at the main office is pcv@qanet.gm, with your name in the subject line.) Many Volunteers also have Hotmail or Yahoo accounts that they access at private Internet cafes.
 
+
Computers are available for use by Volunteers at the Peace Corps office.  
+
 
+
Many major cities have Internet cafes. USB modems which can be used with cell phone credit are increasingly common, although they are expensive. It is likely that you will have limited internet access.
+
 
+
===Housing and Site Location===
+
 
+
Volunteers are posted throughout the country. Housing conditions here vary from mud houses with thatched roofs to modern cement houses with running water and electricity.  Your project, the area of the country, and the availability of housing all have a role in the type of home you will have.  Many Volunteers have only a pit toilet and a thatched shed for taking bucket showers. Environmental Volunteers tend to live in more remote areas (near the national parks and protected areas), while education and health Volunteers generally live in areas of greater population density.
+
 
+
During training, you will live with and have most of your meals with a hjhjhjhjhjhjhjfor this period. Trainees generally stay in a village with three or four other trainees and one or two staff members. Volunteers often form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
+
 
+
===Living Allowance and Money Management===
+
 
+
As a Volunteer, you will receive a modest living allowance that will allow you to live on a par with your colleagues and co-workers. The amount of the allowance is based on regular surveys of Volunteers and the cost of living in Madagascar.  The living allowance is usually deposited quarterly, in local currency, in Volunteers’ bank accounts, so an ability to manage funds wisely is important. The allowance is currently equivalent to approximately $128 per month. In addition, you receive a monthly travel allowance.
+
 
+
You will also receive a leave allowance of $24 per month, which is standard across all Peace Corps countries and paid in local currency along with your living allowance.
+
 
+
Volunteers suggest you bring cash and credit cards for vacation travel. The amount depends on the amount of traveling you plan to do while serving in Madagascar. Some local banks offer ATM cards, but only for local accounts. Only a few Malagasy establishments accept credit cards, so they are mostly useful for travel to other countries.
+
 
+
The local currency is the Malagasy ariary (MGA). The current exchange rate is approximately 2,150 ariary to the dollar.
+
 
+
===Food and Diet===
+
 
+
The staple food in Madagascar is rice, which is eaten with vegetables, beans, or meat. Many fruits and vegetables grow in Madagascar, and with a little creativity one can enjoy a varied diet. Most Volunteers prepare their own food. Some, after becoming more familiar with their site, hire someone to help with household work, including cooking. Meat and dairy products are available in the larger towns, but they can be expensive.
+
 
+
 
+
  
If you are a vegetarian, you will be able to eat well in Madagascar after you learn about local foods and their preparation. Some Malagasy are not familiar with vegetarianism and will not be prepared to serve a vegetarian meal if you are a guest in their home. However, a sensitive explanation of your preferences will be accepted. Most vegetarian Volunteers have no difficulty after an initial adjustment period.
+
==Housing and Site Location==
  
===Transportation===
+
Once you become a Volunteer, you will be provided with safe and adequate housing by the Gambian agency or organization you work with in accordance with the Peace Corps’ site selection criteria (see the Health Care and Safety chapter for further information). The Peace Corps will provide you with items such as an all-terrain bicycle, a helmet, a mosquito net, medical kit and a water filter for use during your service.
  
Volunteers’ primary mode of transport is public buses and taxi brousses (small vans usually loaded with people and goods). Buses and minibuses travel among towns on irregular schedules (i.e., when full), so travel in Madagascar is never a timed affair.
+
Most Volunteers live in family compounds with one or two private rooms at their disposal. You will need to be very flexible in your housing expectations, as you probably will not have running water or electricity and may have to collect water from a well or borehole and spend your evenings reading by candlelight or lantern. Most Volunteers will have latrines.  
  
Many Volunteers use mountain bikes. If you plan to ride a bicycle, wearing a helmet is required, and we ask that you bring one with you from the United States. If you do not have one when you come, Peace Corps will provide you a helmet, but it will likely be one that was used by former Volunteers. The Peace Corps issues men’s bikes to Volunteers, which can be difficult for a woman in a skirt to ride. Many female Volunteers wear shorts under their skirts to solve this problem. Volunteers are not allowed to drive or operate motor vehicles or motorcycles (two- or three-wheeled) in Madagascar.
+
Peace Corps staff will visit your site periodically to provide personal, medical, and technical support.  
  
===Geography and Climate===
+
==Living Allowance and Money Management==
  
Madagascar is south of the equator, so its seasons will be the opposite of what you are accustomed to. At the winter solstice, for example, when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, the weather is warm. Conversely, at the time of the summer solstice in June, the weather is cool.
+
Upon being sworn in, you will receive a settling-in allowance to purchase household necessities such as dishes, a lantern, candles, and furniture. Once you are at your site, you will receive a monthly living allowance, deposited in local currency into a local bank account, to pay for daily necessities. You should be able to live adequately, albeit simply, on this allowance, which is based on an annual survey of Volunteer living costs and varies from site to site. In addition, a vacation allowance of $24 per month of service will be deposited into your account in local currency at the beginning of every month. You will also receive per diem allowances to cover your food, lodging, and transportation when visiting Banjul on official business.  
  
 +
If you bring your own money with you, U.S. dollars and traveler’s checks are recommended because credit cards are not widely accepted (though they are useful for travel outside the country and cash advances). Personal checks can be cashed, and if you think you will be doing any banking with U.S. banks, you might want to bring your checkbook. You can also have money wired from home by international bank transfer.
  
 +
==Food and Diet==
  
Madagascar has a tropical climate with rainy and dry seasons.  During the rainy season (November to March), southwest tradewinds drop their moisture on the eastern mountain slopes and blow hot and dry in the west. North and northwest monsoon air currents bring heavy rains in summer, decreasing as one moves southward, so that, for example, the rainfall in Fort Dauphin is half that in Tamatave. During February and March, eastern Madagascar can be hit by cyclones, which may impact other areas, particularly in the north. The dry season runs from April to October.
+
Some Volunteers do all or some of their own cooking, but you will probably find it less expensive and more convenient to have meals with your host family. Gambians eat three meals a day, with lunch as the main meal.  
  
Seasonal changes in temperature in Madagascar are also influenced by altitude and latitude. From December to April, the coastal regions are very hot and dry in the west but very hot and wet in the east. Average midday temperatures in the dry season are 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30°C) on the coast.
+
Breakfast might include a porridge made of rice, sugar, and sour milk (and sometimes pounded peanuts, a favorite among Volunteers); little balls of millet boiled in a clear, sweet, viscous liquid, which tastes better than it looks; and steamed millet meal eaten with sweetened sour milk (coos), which may remind you of wheat germ with plain yogurt. Lunch might consist of rice topped with a tangy green sauce made of sorrel leaves, red peppers, dried fish, and onions or rice mixed with peppers, onions, and dried fish. Typical dinner dishes are rice with a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, and fish, chicken, or beef; a spicy soup made of tomatoes, tomato paste, beef, potatoes, and okra and eaten over rice or coos; and a one-pot dish of rice, tomato paste, oil, meat, and vegetables called benachin. Although most Volunteers enjoy the local food, you can get pizza, cheeseburgers, and the like when visiting Banjul.  
  
From December to April (summer), the central plateau is warm, with periods of rain. In June, July, and August (winter), the central plateau gets very chilly, while the west coast is warm and dry and the east coast is warm with occasional showers.
+
Some foods are characteristic of certain ethnic groups or regions. If you live in a Fula community, for example, there may be a greater variety of dairy products, as their traditional occupation is cattle herding. If you live in a Wolof community, you are likely to eat more coos. And if you live near the coast, you may find a lot of fresh fish and a wider selection of fruits and vegetables.  
  
===Social Activities===
+
==Transportation==
  
There are several radio stations in Madagascar, some of which play popular music. Many Volunteers bring shortwave radios so they can listen to international broadcasts (BBC, Voice of America, Radio Nederlands, etc.). Madagascar has no cinemas.
+
The Peace Corps issues bicycles and helmets to all trainees and Volunteers for use in their work assignments. Volunteers must have a medical clearance for bicycle use signed by the Peace Corps medical officer. For longer trips, Volunteers often use the widely available taxi service, whose fares depend on the distance and duration of the ride.  
  
The most common form of entertainment is socializing with friends and neighbors. Music is very important to the Malagasy, and singing together can be a lot of fun. While Volunteers are encouraged to remain at their sites to develop relationships with people in their community, the Peace Corps recognizes that occasional trips to the capital or to visit friends are also a necessity. Vacation time is allotted for non-work-related and approved absences from one’s site.
+
==Geography and Climate ==
  
 +
The Gambia is located in West Africa and borders the North Atlantic Ocean and Senegal. It consists of two narrow strips of land on the north and south banks of the Gambia River that extend more than 200 miles into the African continent. At its widest point, The Gambia is less than 25 miles wide.
  
 +
The land is almost entirely composed of the flood plain of the Gambia River, the country’s most outstanding physical feature.
  
===Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior===
+
In the west, the river’s banks are thickly lined with mangrove swamps, behind which are river flats that are submerged for most of the rainy season (July to October). Sandy hills and rolling plateaus lie farther back from the river. In the east, the swamps give way to gradually ascending riverbanks backed by rolling plains, and low hills punctuate the far eastern quarter of the country. Gambia’s highest point is about 170 feet above sea level. The soil quality is generally poor and subject to the damaging effects of erosion, overcultivation, and large-scale burning.
  
One of the challenges all Peace Corps Volunteers have is attempting to fit into the local culture and act like a professional while at the same time maintaining one’s own cultural identity. It is not an easy thing to resolve, and we can only provide you with guidelines. You will be working as a representative of a government ministry and will be expected to dress and behave accordingly, whether you are in training, traveling, or on the job. While some of your counterparts may dress in seemingly worn or shabby clothes, this is undoubtedly due to economics rather than choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their best. A foreigner who wears ragged, unmended clothing, however, is likely to be considered an affront.
+
The predominant vegetation is Sudan savanna woodland with grass and scrub understory. There are forested areas in the west, where rainfall is the greatest. Vegetative cover has been severely affected by deforestation, fire, and cultivation, exacerbated by high population densities on arable land and traditional farming practices. While increasingly subject to exploitation, the mangrove swamps along the western half of the Gambia River have been less affected by the people’s intrusion on the natural ecology.  
  
Malagasy regard one’s dress as an expression of one’s respect for others. Neatness of appearance is valued more than being stylish. Unfortunately, just one inappropriately dressed Volunteer could cause a Malagasy host agency to form a negative opinion about the Peace Corps and share it with other officials at national and regional meetings. Volunteers are therefore expected to dress appropriately to avoid jeopardizing the credibility of the entire program.
+
The Gambia is a tropical country with two distinct seasons.  The rainy season (June to September) is generally warm and humid, with an average temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The dry season is dominated by dry harmattan winds from the Sahara, which give The Gambia uniquely pleasant weather for several months, with daily sunshine and no rain. From November to February, the temperature averages between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a relative humidity between 30 and 60 percent. In the early and mid-1970s, The Gambia was affected by the rainfall shortages that brought the Sahel area international headlines. While total rainfall has approached previous levels in recent years, its distribution has been erratic, causing continuing problems for the nation’s rain-fed agriculture.  
  
Following are Peace Corps/Madagascar’s guidelines for Volunteers’ dress. (They have been formalized in response to advice from people in Madagascar and other countries where the Peace Corps works and are meant to inform, not to offend.)
+
While coastal gambia never gets too warm during the dry season, upcountry, past midpoint towns like Farafenni and Soma, temperatures can get quite hot. From late March through a good part of June, temperatures in upcountry towns like Bansang and Basse can regularly top 100 degrees, even sometimes reaching peaks in the 110's or even low 120's. During especially hot days, even most Gambians will try to limit their outdoor exposure, drinking lots of water and napping in the coolest shade available.
  
* Women’s dresses and skirts should fall to or below the knees.
+
==Social Activities==
* Men and women should wear shorts only at home, when exercising, or when doing work for which Malagasy counterparts are also wearing shorts. If shorts are worn in public, they should be of walking length for both men and women.
+
* Hair should be clean and combed. Men’s hair should not be longer than shirt-collar length, and beards should be neatly trimmed.
+
* Men should not wear a hat indoors.
+
* Flip-flops should not be worn as professional footwear.
+
* Female Volunteers should wear appropriate undergarments, including bras and slips.
+
* Excessive body piercing or tattoos should not be visible.
+
  
 +
Although some Volunteers beg to differ, there will be more to do for entertainment in your village than watching your candles melt in the afternoon heat. A major part of the Peace Corps experience is socializing with the people in your community, which might include chatting while drinking tea under the shade of a large tree, attending an all-night party, or helping the children in your host family’s compound with homework. Some families may have a TV set or a radio. You will also have plenty of time to bike, run, walk, plant a garden, or learn to play a musical instrument.
  
===Personal Safety===
+
Many Volunteers take advantage of their spare time to read or write. There is a library at the Peace Corps office in Banjul with limited but interesting collections of books donated by past and present Volunteers. People who like to write find time to keep up with correspondence, write in their journals, or write short stories or poetry. Be sure to bring your favorite music tapes, CDs, or MP3s, which you can swap back and forth with other Volunteers. The Gambia is also well-suited for those who enjoy bird-watching and stargazing (with no light pollution from large cities, it is easy to spot constellations and falling stars).
  
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained 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 Madagascar Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security 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 Madagascar. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
+
==Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior==
  
===Rewards and Frustrations===
+
Gambians attach great importance to neatness and proper dress, and Volunteers must show respect for Gambian attitudes by dressing suitably both on and off the job. When conducting official business in government or Peace Corps offices, trainees and Volunteers are expected to wear a collared shirt or an African-style shirt, dresses, skirts, or long pants, and professional-looking shoes (i.e., no flip-flops). T-shirts are acceptable only for fieldwork.
  
Although the potential for job satisfaction is very high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations.
+
==Personal Safety==
  
Perceptions of time are very different from those in America. The lack of basic infrastructure can become tiring. Host agencies do not always provide expected support in a timely manner. The Malagasy generally perceive Americans as very rich. Adapting to a new culture as a Peace Corps Volunteer is often described as an intense series of emotional peaks and valleys.
+
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained 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 Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security 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 The Gambi. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.  
  
As a Volunteer, you will be given a great deal of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you will ever have. Often you will need to motivate yourself and others with little guidance. You might work for months with little visible impact and without receiving feedback on your work. Development is a slow process. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
+
==Rewards and Frustrations==
  
The AIDS pandemic strikes across all social strata in many Peace Corps countries. The loss of teachers has crippled education systems, while illness and disability drains family income and forces governments and donors to redirect limited resources from other priorities. The fear and uncertainty AIDS causes has led to increased domestic violence and stigmatizing of people living with HIV/AIDS, isolating them from friends and family and cutting them off from economic opportunities.  
+
Peace Corps service is not for everyone. Requiring greater dedication and commitment than most jobs, it is for confident, self-starting, and concerned individuals who are interested in assisting other countries and increasing human understanding across cultural barriers.  
  
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will confront these issues on a very personal level. It is important to be aware of the high emotional toll that disease, death, and violence can have on Volunteers. As you strive to integrate into your community, you will develop relationships with local people who might die during your service. Because of the AIDS pandemic, some Volunteers will be regularly meeting with HIV positive people and working with training staff, office staff and host family members living with AIDS. Volunteers need to prepare themselves to embrace these relationships in a sensitive and positive manner. Likewise, malaria and malnutrition, motor vehicle accidents and other unintentional injuries, domestic violence and corporal punishment are problems a Volunteer may confront. You will need to anticipate these situations and utilize supportive resources available throughout your training and service to maintain your own emotional strength, so that you can continue to be of service to your community.  
+
The key to satisfying work as a Peace Corps Volunteer is the ability to establish successful human relations at all levels, which requires patience, sensitivity, and a positive professional attitude. It is essential that you work with Gambian counterparts to ensure that tasks begun during your service will continue after your departure. It is also important to realize that while you may have a lot of energy and motivation, you will be in The Gambia for only two years. Your colleagues will probably continue to work in the same job after you leave—for little money—and may not possess quite the same level of motivation. Often you will find yourself in situations that require the ability to motivate both yourself and your colleagues and to take action with little guidance from supervisors. You may work for months without seeing any visible impact from, and without receiving feedback on, your work. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results. Nevertheless, you will have a sense of accomplishment when small projects are made effective because of your efforts. Acceptance into a foreign culture and the acquisition of a second or even a third language are also significant rewards.  
  
To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Madagascar feeling they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, your service could be a truly life-altering experience.
+
Even with the many economic, social, and environmental problems confronting The Gambia today, there is an atmosphere of excitement and hope about the positive changes occurring in the country. Joining the Gambian people in their efforts at this pivotal time in their history will be both fascinating and satisfying to Volunteers who are willing to work hard, be tolerant of ambiguity, and give generously of their time. Your willingness to serve in smaller towns and villages and to give up U.S. standards of space and privacy in your living accommodations will be greatly appreciated by Gambians. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave The Gambia feeling that they have gained much more than they gave during their service.
  
[[Category:Madagascar]]
+
[[Category:The Gambia]]

Revision as of 13:08, 23 November 2015

Country Resources


Communications

The main Peace Corps office is in the Fajara area of Banjul. Plans are underway for one transit house to be opened in Soma, a major transportation hub. A transit house for Volunteers is already available in Basse at the eastern end of the country.

Mail

Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.S. standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration. Mail from the United States takes a minimum of two weeks to arrive in The Gambia. Advise your family and friends to number their letters for tracking reasons and to include “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. If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/The Gambia would notify the Office of Special Services at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., which would then contact your family.

Your address for your entire stay in The Gambia will be:

“Your Name,” PCV
U.S. Peace Corps
PO Box 582
Banjul, The Gambia
West Africa

Mail is distributed to Volunteers at their sites or to regional towns on a regular basis monthly.

Telephones

International phone service to and from The Gambia is fairly good, but it can be expensive. The public telephone company, Gamtel, provides service in larger towns and villages throughout the country. There are also public phone booths in smaller villages that you can use to reach an AT&T or MCI operator for international calls. There are also many private "telecenters" around the country, which may charge a bit more than Gamtel. Some Volunteers may have phones where they live, but these can generally be used only for receiving international calls, not for making them.

Volunteers are not permitted to use the telephones at the Peace Corps office in Banjul to call family or friends unless the call pertains to an emergency and is approved in advance by the country director.

Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access

Volunteers have access to e-mail and the Internet at the main Peace Corps office. However, access at the main office is limited during regular office hours because there are only four computers for Volunteer use. The computers are available for use 24 / 7, so it often makes sense to schedule internet-time during off-hours. Volunteers generally are able to check their e-mail at the Peace Corps offices about once every three months. Some Volunteers may have e-mail at the schools where they teach. (The e-mail address for Volunteers at the main office is pcv@qanet.gm, with your name in the subject line.) Many Volunteers also have Hotmail or Yahoo accounts that they access at private Internet cafes.

Housing and Site Location

Once you become a Volunteer, you will be provided with safe and adequate housing by the Gambian agency or organization you work with in accordance with the Peace Corps’ site selection criteria (see the Health Care and Safety chapter for further information). The Peace Corps will provide you with items such as an all-terrain bicycle, a helmet, a mosquito net, medical kit and a water filter for use during your service.

Most Volunteers live in family compounds with one or two private rooms at their disposal. You will need to be very flexible in your housing expectations, as you probably will not have running water or electricity and may have to collect water from a well or borehole and spend your evenings reading by candlelight or lantern. Most Volunteers will have latrines.

Peace Corps staff will visit your site periodically to provide personal, medical, and technical support.

Living Allowance and Money Management

Upon being sworn in, you will receive a settling-in allowance to purchase household necessities such as dishes, a lantern, candles, and furniture. Once you are at your site, you will receive a monthly living allowance, deposited in local currency into a local bank account, to pay for daily necessities. You should be able to live adequately, albeit simply, on this allowance, which is based on an annual survey of Volunteer living costs and varies from site to site. In addition, a vacation allowance of $24 per month of service will be deposited into your account in local currency at the beginning of every month. You will also receive per diem allowances to cover your food, lodging, and transportation when visiting Banjul on official business.

If you bring your own money with you, U.S. dollars and traveler’s checks are recommended because credit cards are not widely accepted (though they are useful for travel outside the country and cash advances). Personal checks can be cashed, and if you think you will be doing any banking with U.S. banks, you might want to bring your checkbook. You can also have money wired from home by international bank transfer.

Food and Diet

Some Volunteers do all or some of their own cooking, but you will probably find it less expensive and more convenient to have meals with your host family. Gambians eat three meals a day, with lunch as the main meal.

Breakfast might include a porridge made of rice, sugar, and sour milk (and sometimes pounded peanuts, a favorite among Volunteers); little balls of millet boiled in a clear, sweet, viscous liquid, which tastes better than it looks; and steamed millet meal eaten with sweetened sour milk (coos), which may remind you of wheat germ with plain yogurt. Lunch might consist of rice topped with a tangy green sauce made of sorrel leaves, red peppers, dried fish, and onions or rice mixed with peppers, onions, and dried fish. Typical dinner dishes are rice with a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, and fish, chicken, or beef; a spicy soup made of tomatoes, tomato paste, beef, potatoes, and okra and eaten over rice or coos; and a one-pot dish of rice, tomato paste, oil, meat, and vegetables called benachin. Although most Volunteers enjoy the local food, you can get pizza, cheeseburgers, and the like when visiting Banjul.

Some foods are characteristic of certain ethnic groups or regions. If you live in a Fula community, for example, there may be a greater variety of dairy products, as their traditional occupation is cattle herding. If you live in a Wolof community, you are likely to eat more coos. And if you live near the coast, you may find a lot of fresh fish and a wider selection of fruits and vegetables.

Transportation

The Peace Corps issues bicycles and helmets to all trainees and Volunteers for use in their work assignments. Volunteers must have a medical clearance for bicycle use signed by the Peace Corps medical officer. For longer trips, Volunteers often use the widely available taxi service, whose fares depend on the distance and duration of the ride.

Geography and Climate

The Gambia is located in West Africa and borders the North Atlantic Ocean and Senegal. It consists of two narrow strips of land on the north and south banks of the Gambia River that extend more than 200 miles into the African continent. At its widest point, The Gambia is less than 25 miles wide.

The land is almost entirely composed of the flood plain of the Gambia River, the country’s most outstanding physical feature.

In the west, the river’s banks are thickly lined with mangrove swamps, behind which are river flats that are submerged for most of the rainy season (July to October). Sandy hills and rolling plateaus lie farther back from the river. In the east, the swamps give way to gradually ascending riverbanks backed by rolling plains, and low hills punctuate the far eastern quarter of the country. Gambia’s highest point is about 170 feet above sea level. The soil quality is generally poor and subject to the damaging effects of erosion, overcultivation, and large-scale burning.

The predominant vegetation is Sudan savanna woodland with grass and scrub understory. There are forested areas in the west, where rainfall is the greatest. Vegetative cover has been severely affected by deforestation, fire, and cultivation, exacerbated by high population densities on arable land and traditional farming practices. While increasingly subject to exploitation, the mangrove swamps along the western half of the Gambia River have been less affected by the people’s intrusion on the natural ecology.

The Gambia is a tropical country with two distinct seasons. The rainy season (June to September) is generally warm and humid, with an average temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The dry season is dominated by dry harmattan winds from the Sahara, which give The Gambia uniquely pleasant weather for several months, with daily sunshine and no rain. From November to February, the temperature averages between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a relative humidity between 30 and 60 percent. In the early and mid-1970s, The Gambia was affected by the rainfall shortages that brought the Sahel area international headlines. While total rainfall has approached previous levels in recent years, its distribution has been erratic, causing continuing problems for the nation’s rain-fed agriculture.

While coastal gambia never gets too warm during the dry season, upcountry, past midpoint towns like Farafenni and Soma, temperatures can get quite hot. From late March through a good part of June, temperatures in upcountry towns like Bansang and Basse can regularly top 100 degrees, even sometimes reaching peaks in the 110's or even low 120's. During especially hot days, even most Gambians will try to limit their outdoor exposure, drinking lots of water and napping in the coolest shade available.

Social Activities

Although some Volunteers beg to differ, there will be more to do for entertainment in your village than watching your candles melt in the afternoon heat. A major part of the Peace Corps experience is socializing with the people in your community, which might include chatting while drinking tea under the shade of a large tree, attending an all-night party, or helping the children in your host family’s compound with homework. Some families may have a TV set or a radio. You will also have plenty of time to bike, run, walk, plant a garden, or learn to play a musical instrument.

Many Volunteers take advantage of their spare time to read or write. There is a library at the Peace Corps office in Banjul with limited but interesting collections of books donated by past and present Volunteers. People who like to write find time to keep up with correspondence, write in their journals, or write short stories or poetry. Be sure to bring your favorite music tapes, CDs, or MP3s, which you can swap back and forth with other Volunteers. The Gambia is also well-suited for those who enjoy bird-watching and stargazing (with no light pollution from large cities, it is easy to spot constellations and falling stars).

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Gambians attach great importance to neatness and proper dress, and Volunteers must show respect for Gambian attitudes by dressing suitably both on and off the job. When conducting official business in government or Peace Corps offices, trainees and Volunteers are expected to wear a collared shirt or an African-style shirt, dresses, skirts, or long pants, and professional-looking shoes (i.e., no flip-flops). T-shirts are acceptable only for fieldwork.

Personal Safety

More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained 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 Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security 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 The Gambi. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.

Rewards and Frustrations

Peace Corps service is not for everyone. Requiring greater dedication and commitment than most jobs, it is for confident, self-starting, and concerned individuals who are interested in assisting other countries and increasing human understanding across cultural barriers.

The key to satisfying work as a Peace Corps Volunteer is the ability to establish successful human relations at all levels, which requires patience, sensitivity, and a positive professional attitude. It is essential that you work with Gambian counterparts to ensure that tasks begun during your service will continue after your departure. It is also important to realize that while you may have a lot of energy and motivation, you will be in The Gambia for only two years. Your colleagues will probably continue to work in the same job after you leave—for little money—and may not possess quite the same level of motivation. Often you will find yourself in situations that require the ability to motivate both yourself and your colleagues and to take action with little guidance from supervisors. You may work for months without seeing any visible impact from, and without receiving feedback on, your work. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results. Nevertheless, you will have a sense of accomplishment when small projects are made effective because of your efforts. Acceptance into a foreign culture and the acquisition of a second or even a third language are also significant rewards.

Even with the many economic, social, and environmental problems confronting The Gambia today, there is an atmosphere of excitement and hope about the positive changes occurring in the country. Joining the Gambian people in their efforts at this pivotal time in their history will be both fascinating and satisfying to Volunteers who are willing to work hard, be tolerant of ambiguity, and give generously of their time. Your willingness to serve in smaller towns and villages and to give up U.S. standards of space and privacy in your living accommodations will be greatly appreciated by Gambians. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave The Gambia feeling that they have gained much more than they gave during their service.