Benin

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

Mail generally takes two weeks to one month to get from the U.S. to Cotonou. Padded envelopes are a better bet than boxes because you don’t have to pay duty. Number your letters, and advise your family and friends to number their letters as well and to write Air Mail and Par Avion on their envelopes. Your address during training will be: 

Your Name, PCT 
Corps de la Paix Americain
01 B.P. 971 
Cotonou, Benin
Afrique de l’Ouest (West Africa). 

Telephones

Cell phone coverage is becoming more prevalent throughout Benin. Many Volunteers buy cell phones once they arrive; differences in technology make many U.S. cellular phones incompatible with service in Benin. Internet The resource centers in the regional Peace Corps offices have computers with internet access for work-related use. You should obtain personal insurance coverage for devices brought to country because the Peace Corps does not provide insurance for personal items. Internet access may not be available in rural areas where most Volunteers are placed. In most cities, Volunteers have access at Internet cafés at about $1 per hour, though the connection and speed are much slower.

Internet

Internet access may not be available in rural areas where most Volunteers are placed. In most cities, Volunteers have been able to access email at Internet cafes where connection costs averages about $1 per hour.

Housing and Site Location

Peace Corps staff, in collaboration with the ministry for which you will work, will decide your post according to the needs of the country and the competencies of the Volunteers. This happens after Peace Corps staff reviews all sites for appropriateness, safety, and security and takes time to get to know each trainee during pre-service training. You may not know where you will be assigned until the last few weeks of your training program. Many Volunteers serve without electricity, however it should be known that the electric current in Benin is 220 volts. Note that Peace Corps does not provide transformers and that there are occasional power surges and cuts, which can put a strain on voltage converters and appliances. 

Living Allowance and Money Management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. For this, credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.

Food and Diet

Most foods are available at local markets in regional centers and in Cotonou. In some regional centers, there is a sufficient variety of meats, and local green vegetables are in abundant supply and variety when in season. Most tropical fruits can be found year-round. Fresh milk is not available, but powdered milk can generally be found throughout the country. In some villages, fruits and vegetables are rare, and Volunteers must travel to larger towns to obtain them.There are several supermarkets in Cotonou that cater to European and American tastes. Almost everything is available, but items are typically imported and, therefore, expensive. Basic fresh foodstuffs available in almost all markets include beans, corn, rice, tomatoes, yams, hot peppers, garlic, onions, and spices.

Transportation

Volunteers are not allowed to own or drive cars or motorcycles. There are few vehicle taxis for intracity transport, and they are expensive and located only in Cotonou. Instead, you will be issued a bicycle and a bicycle helmet. All Volunteers must also be prepared to ride on zemi-jahns (motor scooters operated by zemi drivers). Zemis provide a principal source of transportation throughout Benin. You must wear a Peace Corps-provided motorcycle helmet when riding one of these, and you must wear the bicycle helmet when riding your bike. Violation of this policy will result in administrative separation.

Most Volunteers travel throughout the country in bush taxis, which are generally in less than-optimum condition and unregulated for safety standards. There are frequent road traffic accidents due to fast driving and poor road conditions. We strongly urge that you pay careful attention during the training sessions on selecting public transportation and ask other Volunteers to assist in identifying safe drivers. You should avoid traveling at night whenever possible and use the bus lines when feasible.

Social Activities

Social activities will vary depending on your interests and where you are located. They may include taking part in various festivities, parties, storytelling, and local dances. We encourage all Volunteers to remain at their sites and to explore their regions to accomplish the second Peace Corps goal of cultural exchange. A few larger towns may have more entertainment venues and an assortment of buvettes (bars) with live music and dancing, but for the most part it will be incumbent upon you to entertain yourself.

The most successful Volunteers are those who make friends in their villages and organize their lives around activities that take place there. There are many religious and traditional ceremonies during the year that provide opportunities for you to participate and immerse yourself in the cultural life of your village or town. Much of life revolves around food and Volunteers go to other people's homes to relax and enjoy a meal and conversation.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Peace Corps Volunteers have social responsibilities that are more complex than those of private citizens. Volunteers have a responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner reflecting positively on the Peace Corps and on the United States. Your hosts will inevitably see you as an example of American culture and customs. You will receive an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during your training. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest, and thus should be sensitive to the culture and customs of your hosts and other Americans who may have a culture different from your own. 

Being neat and cleanly dressed is a sign of respect. Trousers (for men), skirts (below the knee), blouses/shirts, and dresses are appropriate wear for work. Particularly in the Muslim north, dress is very conservative. If dress is inappropriate—shorts, halter tops, short skirts, low-cut blouses, dirty or torn clothing—you will not be readily accepted in your job. Moreover, for women, inappropriate dress and behavior will attract unwanted attention. Beninese may not directly comment on your dress, but they most likely will think that you either don’t know what is culturally acceptable or that you don’t care and are disrespectful.