Mail takes a minimum of 2-4 weeks to arrive in Kenya. During your first three months in-country, you may have mail delivered to the main Peace Corps Officer; afterwards, you will set up your own PO Box. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. After the 90-day grace period, the customs office may begin assessing duty charges, which must be paid before a package is released.
Cellular telephones and service are widely available in Kenya. Peace Corps Kenya requires Volunteers to either purchase a phone or a SIM card for their existing phone. Please note your smart phone must be unlocked for it to work in Kenya. Only GSM compatible phones will work in Kenya.
Please note: during emergencies, your family can call the Counseling and Outreach Unit 24-hour duty phone in Washington, DC (855-855-1961, Option 1, Extension 1470). The Counseling and Outreach Unit will notify a Volunteer of an emergency, respond to a family question about a Volunteer’s status, and/or provide an update about civil unrest or natural disasters in the host country.
Because Internet use appears to be primarily for personal reasons, you are expected to use your living and telecommunications allowances to cover your Internet costs. Designated computers in the resource center at the Kisumu office do have Internet access. Internet access is available at some post offices and cybercafés in towns and cities. You can also purchase a data package along with your phone plan using your monthly allowance. It is important to note that internet access during your training will not be as regular or consistent as you are probably used to, and you should prepare your loved ones for less frequent communication.
Housing and Site Location
As a Volunteer, you will most likely live in a rural community and not have access to plumbing or electricity. Expect to use lanterns and candles for lighting. To cook, you will likely use charcoal, wood, or a single-burner kerosene stove. Peace Corps Kenya, for both philosophical and budget considerations, requires sponsoring organizations to provide all Volunteers with housing. Volunteer housing must conform to the general standards of the community.
That is, the housing should not be of substantially higher or lower standards than typical houses within the community. The standard and condition of Volunteer housing vary widely, from mud houses with thatched roofs to very modern cement houses with running water and electricity. Volunteer homes with electricity run 220-240 volts/50 cycles of current. The type of house you have will depend on your project, the area of the country in which you are posted, and the types of houses available in the community. In short, you can expect to have, at the very least, a room to call your own and a private bathroom. The decision as to whether housing standards are “acceptable” lies with the Peace Corps staff. When it comes to your housing, you should not lose sight of the guiding principles of the Peace Corps.
Volunteer site locations will vary and could be 20 minutes from Kisumu or 5 hours by local transportation. Volunteer sites will be assigned based on community need and volunteer skill set. Being flexible, non-judgmental, and remaining curious will be essential as you settle into your new home.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in Kenyan Shilling (KES) 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 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 Kenya, there is a wide choice of foods, ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to meats. With a little creativity, you can enjoy a varied diet. Fruits and vegetables are seasonal. Vegetarian Volunteers will have little difficulty in continuing their diets after becoming familiar with local food items and their preparation.
All Volunteers will be expected to travel in Kenya using local transportation (i.e., foot, bicycle, public buses, or matatu van). This includes getting from the training center to your site both during and at the end of pre-service training. Volunteers may not own or operate motorized vehicles (including motorcycles). Trainees and Volunteers are not allowed to drive any vehicle during training or at their sites. If a Volunteer rides on the back of a “bicycle taxi,” he/she must wear a bicycle helmet. Refusal of these policies will result in administrative separation from Peace Corps Kenya. While Volunteers are not allowed to operate cars and motorcycles, some may choose to ride bicycles. Wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle is required and will be provided.
Travel in Kenya, whether by foot, bicycle, matatu, bus, or train, is potentially hazardous and therefore can be very stressful. Buses may be crowded and unreliable, and roads in poor condition are made more dangerous by the chaotic mix of vehicular, pedestrian, and animal traffic. Delays and cancellations due to bad weather, mechanical failures, or lack of personnel are to be expected. More information on transportation within Kenya will be given during pre-service training.
The most common form of entertainment in rural communities is socializing with friends and family. Volunteers will take part in the various festivities, parties, athletics, and storytelling sessions within their communities. Many Volunteers bring or buy a shortwave radio to listen to international broadcasts (e.g., BBC and Voice of America).
Please be prepared to have a very different kind of social life in Kenya and to spend time in your community getting to know your neighbors and not necessarily other volunteers or foreigners. Your ability to adjust and adapt to new social environments and routines will be an important aspect of your success as a Volunteer.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Volunteers should always wear clean and neat clothes. Buttoned shirts for men and blouses and skirts or dresses for women are appropriate wear during business hours. Tank tops, see-through blouses, or extremely low-cut blouses are not appropriate attire. 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 or the training center.
Women may not wear casual slacks or jeans during business hours unless the conditions of the training activity or job assignment require it, and never when visiting government offices or the training center. Dresses and skirts to or below the knees are appropriate attire for women. Shorts may be worn at home, when exercising, or when doing work where Kenyan counterparts are also wearing shorts. Your hair should be clean and combed.
For men, beards should be neatly trimmed. Male Volunteers should consider removing their earrings to ease their cultural integration. We encourage Volunteers with tattoos to keep them covered and out of sight as much as possible. Tattoos must be covered during training and your first six months at site.