Burkina Faso

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

Letters and packages typically take three to four weeks to arrive. Packages sent via courier service incur customs fees, which are paid by the recipient before receiving the package. These fees range from $1 to over $100 for packages sent through courier services like DHL and FedEx. During pre-service training, have mail sent to:

“Your Name,” PCT
S/c Corps de la Paix
01 B.P. 6031
Ouagadougou 01
Burkina Faso

Telephones

All Volunteers have cellphone coverage in their sites. Peace Corps/Burkina Faso will make basic cellphones available for purchase soon after your arrival. You will be part of the Peace Corps/Burkina Faso “family plan,” which allows unlimited calling to other Volunteers and staff. Additional usage for texting or calls outside the Peace Corps group is on a pre-paid basis. Smartphones should be unlocked for use on European GSM bands.

Internet

Computer access is available at internet cafes in many towns and cities and, for work-related purposes, at the Peace Corps office. Unlocked smartphones can provide Internet access almost anywhere. In smaller villages, there may not be electricity, but there are almost always places to charge electronic equipment for a small fee.

Housing and Site Location

Your community or the government ministry to which you are assigned is responsible for providing you with housing in accordance with the Peace Corps’ site selection criteria. Peace Corps housing is modest and comparable to houses in your community. If you have electricity at your site, and it works, the current will be 220 volts, 50 cycles. Voltage sags and surges are very common and place a real strain on power supplies and voltage transformers or regulators. The Peace Corps does not provide transformers or regulators to Volunteers. Many Volunteers use rechargeable batteries with a solar charger, which is a good alternative to disposable batteries.

The majority of Health and Community Economic Development Volunteers live in small rural villages, while Education Volunteers tend to live in larger villages and towns. Volunteer housing is typically a small house made of mud or cement bricks with a thatch or tin roof. Most Volunteers do not have running water or electricity; they draw their water from a well and use kerosene lanterns for light at night. Some Volunteers live with a host family during their Volunteer service. Most Volunteers are within a couple hours of a neighboring Volunteer and able to reach the Peace Corps office in Ouagadougou by public transport within a day.

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

Your drinking water is likely to be of poor quality and thus will require boiling and filtering (the Peace Corps will provide you with filters. Burkina Faso produces some of the best mangoes and papayas in the world. Garlic, onions, tomatoes, and a local variety of eggplant are available year-round in many locations. Other fruits and vegetables grown in the country include oranges, limes, grapefruits, bananas, strawberries, melons, carrots, cabbages, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, bell peppers, hot peppers, beets, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and cucumbers. Bulk dried spices (basil, oregano, cumin, coriander, curry, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, etc.) are also readily available in Ouagadougou and other large towns. Burkinabè meals are simple. A typical dish consists of a staple food such as rice, millet, yams, sorghum, or maize served with a sauce made from okra, various greens (e.g., spinach), tomatoes, and/or peanuts. Sauces may contain fish or meat. French bread is available in larger towns and villages and whole wheat bread is available in Ouagadougou. The normal diet in village is typically lacking in certain nutrients, thus Volunteers are provided and encouraged to take multivitamins to address deficits in their diet.

Transportation

Paved roads connect the largest towns and cities in Burkina Faso, and fairly well-maintained buses service these routes on relatively consistent schedules. Smaller towns and villages are served by “bush taxis,” typically overcrowded and poorly maintained minibuses, which do not normally run on fixed schedules. As some Volunteer sites are not on paved roads, Volunteers are sometimes required to bicycle to a nearby town or village where public transport is available. All Volunteers are issued basic mountain bikes for work purposes and must wear a bicycle helmet when cycling. Trainees should bring a bike helmet from the U.S. with them. If you need to purchase a bike helmet in the States, bring the receipt with you for reimbursement after arrival in-country. For safety reasons, Peace Corps/Burkina Faso prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on any two- or three-wheeled motorized vehicles (such as a motorcycle), traveling at night, or owning/driving any type of motorized vehicle. As a Volunteer in Burkina Faso, riding public transportation is the most dangerous thing that you do on a routine basis. As part of your pre-service training (PST), you will receive information on how to reduce risk while riding public transportation.

Social Activities

Social activities will vary according to where you are located. They might include relaxing and talking with friends and neighbors, drinking tea, going to the market, or taking part in local festivals. The cultural diversity of Burkina Faso means that there is always something of interest taking place nearby that you can learn from, be it drumming and dancing or planting peanuts. In keeping with its goal of cross-cultural exchange, the Peace Corps expects Volunteers to establish social networks with Burkinabè friends and colleagues at their sites rather than seeking out other Volunteers for social activities. Such networks enhance Volunteers’ ability to integrate into their communities and be effective in their work.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

One of the biggest challenges faced by Volunteers in Burkina Faso is defining their role as professionals in the Burkinabè context. The tendency of Burkinabè counterparts to blur (from a Western perspective) the distinction between professional and personal time and space adds a layer of complexity to the challenge of establishing oneself as a professional. The Burkinabè put a great deal of emphasis upon dressing well in public, whether at work or in the market. It is almost unheard of for a Burkinabè man or woman to wear shorts in public unless they are taking part in some kind of sporting event. Nor would a professional man or woman ever be seen wearing dirty, disheveled, wrinkled, or torn clothing. Observe how respected colleagues are dressed in your workplace as a guide to professional dress in your school or office. Volunteers need to be aware of other unwritten rules of the culture, such as the fact that Burkinabè women never go to a bar on their own. Exposed body piercings on men and women or long hair on men may elicit stares and, possibly, rude questions or comments, and may make it more difficult to integrate into your host community.