The vast majority of letters arrive within decent timeframe. Advise your family and friends to number their letters for tracking purposes and to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. During pre-service training, letters and packages should be sent to:
Peace Corps Trainee
Corps de la Paix
Cell phones are popular in Cameroon and can easily be purchased in all major cities for less than $40. Peace Corps makes arrangements for Trainees to purchase a cell phone shortly after arrival in Cameroon and provides a monthly amount for phone credit. (Volunteers can buy a local SIM card for an unlocked phone from the United States. SIM cards cost about $0.815.) It is easy to dial the U.S. from a cell phone and it usually costs about $0.25 a minute. In locations with adequate internet connections, Volunteers may also be able to use Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime, but be aware that low bandwidth can make this difficult. Note that there should not be an expectation that Volunteers will have internet access in their homes nor at their sites.
Internet is widely available throughout Cameroon, though many Volunteers will only have intermittent access or may need to travel to neighboring areas to use the internet. At the Peace Corps office in Yaoundé, Volunteers have access to computers with high-speed internet connection. Many Volunteers bring laptop computers to Cameroon. Peace Corps will provide tablets to Volunteers who need them to access online learning courses, training materials and to produce quarterly reports. Peace Corps cannot provide technical support and will not reimburse Volunteers for any needed repairs. Computers and other high-value items also heighten your exposure to opportunistic theft. Be sure to insure any high-value items as the Peace Corps will not reimburse for loss or theft.
Housing and Site Location
During the first 10-12 weeks of training, Volunteers will live with a Cameroonian family. After training, Volunteers will have their own house in the community where they are posted. Volunteers are assigned to small villages throughout Cameroon. Volunteers’ assignment will depend on the project, host country needs, housing availability, and Volunteers’ preferences. Arrangements for housing are made by the Peace Corps and depend on resources available in the community. Peace Corps Cameroon provides a motorcycle helmet, a medical/first aid kit, a mosquito net, and a water filter. Peace Corps may also provide a bicycle and a bicycle helmet, upon justification. Upon “swearing in” as a Volunteer, the Peace Corps will give Volunteers a modest settling-in allowance to purchase household necessities and furniture. A Volunteer house may have walls made of concrete or mud bricks and most likely a tin roof. A typical Volunteer house has a sitting room, a bedroom, and a cooking area. Some houses have inside toilets/shower areas, while others have nearby pit latrines. Nearly half of all Volunteers have electricity, but running water is not common. In Cameroon, all appliances are powered with 220 volts. However, there may be large fluctuations in power, and most appliances should be protected with a voltage regulator. These can be purchased throughout Cameroon. Some sites are very isolated, and travel can be difficult due to the poor quality of roads and infrequent public transportation. Other posts are short distances from one another and are near paved roads.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local population. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, communication, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable to 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. For this, ATM and credit cards 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
If there is one country on the African continent that can be described as a land of plenty, Cameroon certainly deserves the title. Cameroon is the breadbasket for this region, and local foods such as millet, plantains, beans, cassava, coco yams, sweet potatoes, and okra, together with meats, fish, poultry, and seasonal fruits and vegetables, provide the bulk of the diet. However, food availability varies significantly by region: in the south and west of the country, a wide range of vegetables and fruits are always available. In the more arid north, variety is far more limited. Meats, fish, and poultry are generally available everywhere. Some of the villages in which Volunteers are posted have a weekly market, and others must depend on a neighboring market for various items. Some canned and imported Western foods and products will be available in towns where you live or in the larger regional capitals, but they can be expensive. Being a vegetarian should not pose a problem. However, the stricter your diet is, the more challenging it will be. Cameroon’s climate is generally favorable for vegetable gardening, and many Volunteers maintain personal gardens or incorporate gardening into their secondary projects.
Public transportation in Cameroon is relatively reliable. A train runs to the Grand North each day. Bus routes run between Yaoundé and other major cities and towns. Planes however, have limited routes, and are frequently late or canceled. Taxis are available and inexpensive in most major towns. Motorcycle taxis are available throughout the country. Please note that Cameroon is still one of the very few Peace Corps countries that allows Volunteers to ride as passengers on motorcycles and as such has very strict policies in place as to how, when and where riding a motorcycle is permitted. Finally, minivans or “bush taxis” traverse both paved and unpaved roads, bringing passengers and their belongings (including bulk produce and small livestock) to all but the tiniest villages. Due to a lack of road maintenance and the fact that some major routes have yet to be paved, transportation can be difficult and time-consuming—especially in the rainy season. Since the transport infrastructure is limited, every means is used to its fullest capacity. This can mean squeezing six or more people into a city taxi or bush taxi or sharing seats on the train. In doing this, you must take an active role in choosing the safest, most reliable transport. This means refusing to enter vehicles that are poorly maintained or driven by irresponsible chauffeurs and instead waiting for the next car.
Forming relationships with members of your community will be challenging and gratifying. Cameroonians are hospitable and generous, and their extended family structure promotes a welcoming attitude to visitors. Demonstrating an interest in the local culture will greatly increase the integration process and help you establish credibility as a member of the community. You will find that your acceptance into the community will depend a great deal on your willingness to experience the Cameroonian lifestyle. The most satisfied Volunteers integrate into their communities while maintaining a good sense of who they are. They eat local food, speak the local language, and attend important local ceremonies such as naming ceremonies/baptisms, funerals, and marriages. Drinking alcohol is often a part of the social fabric in many regions of Cameroon, which sometimes can create a more aggressive living or working environment. Although Volunteers are encouraged to socialize with Cameroonians and participate in ceremonies and festivities as a means of learning about the culture, it is advisable that drinking in public be limited to special occasions and after work hours. Volunteers need to be aware of the messages they send during their daily interactions in the community.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
You will be working as a representative of a government ministry or a professional organization and, as such, you will be expected to dress and behave accordingly. Professional dress standards are high in Cameroon. Being neat and cleanly dressed is a sign of respect and pride. A foreigner who wears dirty, unkempt, or old clothes is likely to be considered an affront. Trousers, blouses/shirts, skirts (below the knee) and dresses are appropriate for work settings. If you dress inappropriately (i.e., shorts, halter tops, spaghetti straps, short skirts, form-fitting or low-cut blouses, dirty or torn clothing) then you may not be accepted by Cameroonians. Inappropriate dress and behavior will attract unwanted attention. Cameroonians are not likely to directly comment on your dress, but they are likely to think that you either do not know what is culturally acceptable or do not care. You will receive an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest, and you should be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts.