Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Ethiopia
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Computer, Internet, and Email Access
Internet access is available at Internet cafes in most towns and cities, but can be slow and costly, so most Volunteers use Internet about once every few weeks. Designated computers in the resource center at the Peace Corps office have Internet access, and you are welcome to use these when in Addis Ababa. Many Volunteers bring laptops for research, digital photos or entertainment, but as with any valuable item, there is a risk of theft or damage.
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Food and Diet
In most parts of Ethiopia there is a regular, although limited, selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Butcher shops sell beef and lamb, live chickens can be purchased at market and in areas near lakes, and fresh fish is available. With a little creativity, you can enjoy a varied diet. Fruits and vegetables are seasonal, which means some items may not be available at all times. Vegetarian Volunteers will have little difficulty continuing their diets, as Orthodox Christians “fast” by eating a vegan diet on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. Vegetarianism, however, is not common, so be prepared to explain your habits. Meat is eaten during special occasions and holidays, so it may be prudent to discuss your vegetarianism with host families early to avoid embarrassing or offending them.
All Volunteers will be expected to travel in Ethiopia using local transportation (i.e., foot, bicycle, public buses, minivans –called “blue donkeys due to the way they drive in tight traffic). Volunteers may not own or operate motorized vehicles in Ethiopia. Peace Corps will provide a stipend for Volunteers wishing to purchase a bike (with helmet) at site. If you purchase a bike, you are required to always wear a helmet while riding.
Geography and Climate
Most of Ethiopia is expected to enjoy a tropical climate due to its proximity to the equator, but since most of the country’s land mass is above 4,920 feet (1,500 meters), that is not the case. Ethiopia experiences extremely varied climatic conditions from cool to very cold in the highlands which most of the population inhabits, to one of the hottest places on Earth at the Danakil Depression.
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Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Ethiopians regard dress and appearance as an outward sign of the respect one holds for another individual. Neatness in appearance is more important than being “stylish.” Volunteers should always wear clean and neat clothes. Buttoned shirts for men and blouses and skirts or dresses (to or below the knee) for women are appropriate during business hours. T-shirts are appropriate only for casual, non-business activities. Tank tops, see-through blouses, or low-cut blouses are not appropriate; exposing one’s shoulders is unacceptable. Blue jeans should not be worn during business hours unless the conditions of the job assignment or training activity allow it, and never when visiting government offices. Shorts may be worn only at home, when exercising (if appropriate), or when doing work. Aside from dress, there are other standards of appearance that must be respected. Women should wear appropriate undergarment, including bras and slips. Your hair should be clean and combed. For men, beards should be neatly trimmed.
The matter of sexual behavior is, of course, a highly personal one. However, because of other social implications of such behavior, it is important that Peace Corps standards be clear. Sexual mores in Ethiopia are very conservative and strict, and you are expected to respect them. Public displays of affection between members of the opposite sex, such as kissing, hand holding, or hugging are not generally socially acceptable, though hand holding among men is very common. Homosexuality is illegal in Ethiopia and punishable by imprisonment or deportation. Further information will be provided during your PST on appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior.
These restrictions have been formalized in response to specific instances of inappropriate dress and behavior by Volunteers. In general, the above guidance is meant to convey to Volunteers that adherence to professional standards is appropriate at all times and in all places. When in doubt, look to your Ethiopian counterparts for guidance. If the country director determines that willful disregard of cultural standards is jeopardizing your credibility or that of the program, you may be administratively separated from the Peace Corps.
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