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Living Conditions in Ethiopia



Advise your family and friends to number their letters and include “Air mail” and “Par avion” on envelopes. Packages normally take three to four weeks to reach Ethiopia via airmail. Flat-rate boxes (available through the United States postal system) are a good deal, allowing the sender to send several things without having to worry about the weight. Your address during training will be as follows:

Your Name/PCT

U.S. Peace Corps/Ethiopia

P.O. Box 7788

Addis Ababa



Almost all sites have telecom centers with international long distance. Peace Corps Ethiopia provides a telecommunications allowance. Cell phones are widespread in Ethiopia, although coverage varies across the country. You will have the option of purchasing a SIM card and phone during pre-service training.


Typically, internet is available at internet cafes in many towns and cities, but there are still several sites and Volunteers without access to Internet connection options. 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 or at a Peace Corps regional office. Many Volunteers bring laptops for research and entertainment, and it is advised to look into personal property insurance for your devices.

Housing and site location

All trainees stay with Ethiopian host families during the initial 12-week pre-service training. Peace Corps Ethiopia places Volunteers in four regions: Amhara, Oromiya, Tigray, and Southern Nations. Due to its wide range of altitudes, Ethiopia experiences extremely varied climate conditions, including cold mountains, temperate highlands, and hot deserts. Volunteers should be prepared for a placement in any of these regions. During service, Volunteers live in accommodations identified by the Peace Corps in coordination with local representatives from the host organization.

All Volunteer housing meets Peace Corps Ethiopia's safety and security standards and is approved by Peace Corps staff prior to the Volunteer’s arrival at site. Some Volunteer sites are remote and the standard of living is at a basic level (e.g., a mud house with an occasionally unreliable supply of water or electricity). Other Volunteers may be placed in a rural town and live in a cement structure with electricity and running water. The electricity is wired to carry 220 volts of current, as compared to the U.S. standard of 110. Rural sites can be isolated with the closest shopping town being anywhere from 20–150 miles away. Volunteers must be prepared to accept the living conditions to which they are assigned as they will be living under the same conditions as the people with and for whom they work.

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

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 the market; and, in areas near lakes, 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, and minivans—called “line taxis”). Volunteers may not own or operate motorized vehicles in Ethiopia. The Peace Corps will provide a stipend for Volunteers wishing to purchase a bicycle at their site. Volunteers are required to always wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.

Social activities

In rural locations, most people spend their time doing their regular work. This could be office work, farming or other labor. In their free time, people spend time chatting in small groups, listening to the radio, chewing khat, drinking coffee at their homes or in coffee houses. It is very uncommon and may be perceived as unusual for men to spend free time alone.

When they are not at school, kids and young adults spend time playing ball games such as football and volleyball. They will use balls made of rags or other materials where commercial types of balls are expensive to buy.

People (usually men) frequent bars for drinks and to meet their friends and chat for long hours. For the most part, Women do not go to such places.

There are public holidays at different times around the calendar year. Most public holidays are defined by religion. For followers of Christianity, Christmas, the Finding of the True Cross, Epiphany, Good Friday and Easter are major holidays. For Muslims, there is Eid Alfetir, Eid Aladha, and Mawlid (Birth of the Prophet). These holidays are celebrated in almost every house with lots of food and drinks. Neighbors and relatives invite each other to enjoy the day by eating foods prepared for the holidays.

Cultural ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, birthdays, baptisms, etc. also receive a lot of attention and resources. Relatives, friends and neighbors get invited to these ceremonies and it is culturally inappropriate not to attend when invited. Usually, Volunteers get invitations to these events and have found them good for making friends and integration. Sometimes people may take gifts when going to these events and Volunteers will have to find out from their counterparts if this is the case when they decide to attend.

Professionalism, dress, and behavior

Professionalism in the Peace Corps requires an awareness of the host community workplace culture, community values, and your self-presentation. To maintain a positive, culturally appropriate professional standing within a host community or workplace, Volunteers may need to adjust their style of dress, hair style, facial hair, make-up, piercings, manner of greeting others, etc. to demonstrate respect for local culture and customs. How you present yourself, in both informal and professional settings, is a reflection of you as an individual and of you as a representative of Peace Corps and the United States. In the U.S., dress (and other elements of personal appearance) may be seen as an expression of personal freedom and identity. In many host countries where Peace Corps Volunteers serve, the way you dress and present yourself may be interpreted as an expression of regard – or disregard – for those host community members around you.

Volunteers are encouraged to spend time in their communities, to develop their language skills, and to get to know the individual members of their community to better understand their traditions, culture, and local norms. As mutual trust is established over time, there may be opportunities for Volunteers to adjust their personal appearance and dress outside of the more rigid local standards. Volunteers are encouraged to discuss these potential adjustments with staff and other cultural mentors.

Ethiopians generally appreciate and respect a clean, professional appearance for the workplace as well as social occasions. Wear well-maintained, washed and wrinkle-free attire. There are no specific dress-codes in offices, but cleanliness is the norm. Volunteers will be seen as role models and are expected to understand that people present themselves at their best.

Clothing that reveals body parts around the chest, waist, and thighs are generally not acceptable in workplaces and in rural communities. Clothes that are tight-fitting are also not viewed favorably. Casual clothing (leggings, hiking sandals, ripped jeans, shorts, halter-tops, etc.) are considered inappropriate in professional settings.

Hair styles are varied among most Ethiopians. Many Ethiopian men do not grow long hair, although in some areas young men do this. Even if long hair, locs, shaved-in patterns or mohawks are visible among youth, they are generally considered inappropriate for the workplace. In fact, having locs, specifically in rural communities, is likely to be associated with drug use. Suitable styles for women’s hair are varied and flexible, including locs, braids, weaves, curls, etc. Styles also differ by age and ethnicity. In rural communities partially shaved heads and/or dyed hairstyles for women will be perceived as unusual (and may not be acceptable).

In modern professional settings, ear piercings are treated as culturally appropriate for women of all ages, while not accepted for men. Facial piercings, especially nose and septum piercings on women are not seen favorably and may bring unwanted attention. This may make it even more difficult to integrate into the community. In Ethiopia, wearing earrings is entirely limited to women and will not be accepted at all if men do it.

Traditional facial tattoos are common for women in rural communities; western types of tattoos are becoming common for all genders in cities, but individuals with tattoos generally cover them in professional settings. People with exposed tattoos on their body are not well received in communities/schools and may be perceived negatively (as gangsters, fighters, or disrespectful). Volunteers who have tattoos will be advised to cover them in public and professional settings.