Mail may be sent to: [your name] Peace Corps Volunteer, P.O. Box 707 Monrovia, Liberia. Letters may be received at the above post office box number. Parcels may also be sent, but delivery is not reliable. If parcels are sent it is recommended to keep the tracking number for reference. Expensive items have been pilfered from parcels. Mail typically arrives in the capital in three to five weeks.
All calls are made by cellphone. The cellphones in Liberia are not “locked” into a particular provider, as they are in the United States. They use SIM cards, so if you bring a phone with you, please be sure it is multi-system and is “unlocked.” Otherwise, you may purchase a phone here. Calls to the U.S. are possible, though some Volunteers will not have service in their houses. It is five cents a minutes to call the U.S. from Liberia. Internet calls to the U.S. depend on the bandwidth available through the level of your Internet service, but may be difficult. You should not count on this being available.
Internet access is limited throughout Liberia, though a few Internet cafes are opening in Monrovia and a few of the major towns. Some of the major towns have limited wireless locations. However, if you have your own laptop or smartphone, you may be able to use a data SIM card. Several cellphone companies offer Internet service through cellphone technology.
Housing and Site Location
Volunteer housing is provided by the host country; the Ministry of Education collaborates with local school authorities, community leaders, and partner organizations to secure housing. Liberia used to use 110 volt electricity, but that has changed and now 220 volt electricity is predominant. The wall sockets, however, have not changed, so the U.S.-style flat-pronged plugs are the norm. There are some European-style plugs with two pins, so Volunteers will see a variety. It may be useful to bring one plug adaptor set, or purchase them locally, if needed. The majority of Volunteers serve without electricity and running water. Some Volunteers invest in small generators for electricity. Water will be from nearby pumps and will have to be carried to your house. Most Volunteers are assigned to schools in rural towns. Your workplace will be within walking distance of your home, but it might be a long walk! Dependent on community need, the Peace Corps makes every effort to cluster Volunteers within reasonable distances of each other in order to promote collaborative efforts, maximize safety and security, and minimize isolation. Some Volunteers might be placed in the same community or in the same school. You must be prepared to accept the living conditions to which you are assigned as you will be living under the same conditions as the people with and for whom you work. The Peace Corps inspects all potential housing and surrounding communities to ensure they meet consistent standards for health and safety.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in Liberian 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, so it will be important to budget your funds. Volunteers will receive a settling-in allowance to purchase the basics they need, such as bedding, dishes, etc. The price of purchasing a local cellphone has been incorporated as well. The banking system in Liberia is rebuilding from the long period of war. There are not a lot of bank branches up-country, and in some areas there are no ATM machines. The banks intend to open them over time, so this may happen during your tenure in Liberia. Until that time, you will likely have to travel some distance to banking facilities in another town. Liberia is a cash economy, and credit cards are not accepted. There are a few retailers in Monrovia who will cash a U.S. personal check for a fee. You may bring travelers checks, but there are only a couple of places that take them. In villages and towns, most daily transactions use Liberian currency. Banks only distribute U.S. currency, but money changers are ubiquitous and offer competitive rates.
Food and Diet
In Liberia, rice is the staple. Other favorite foods include plantains, fufu, and dumboy. The latter are paste balls made out of various root vegetables and have the consistency of tapioca. The typical meal is a sauce called “soup” or “gravy” poured over rice. They can be thick, spicy stews of vegetables with meat and/or fish, or more of a broth with meat and vegetables. Meat is not trimmed the way Americans are accustomed, so there are frequently bones or cartilage. The variety may be beef (“cow meat”), chicken, or “country meat” (which is usually game). Fish may be fresh, dried or smoked. If meat or fish is not available, peanuts are always a good source of protein. There are not a lot of vegetarians in Liberia, so most cooked dishes will have meat in them. Strict vegetarians and vegans will be challenged. Pineapples, bananas papaya, coconuts, and mangoes are grown locally. It can be challenging to eat a well-balanced meal during some seasons and the variety of foods may be limited. Most types of food are available in large grocery stores in the capitol: Western-style foods will be rare additions to a Volunteer’s diet.
Transportation is a challenge in Liberia. Most roads are not paved, so travel is slow, and some roads become impassible during the rainy season. Volunteers will most often travel around the country in shared-ride “bush taxis,” which are most often Nissan Sunny sedans packed with six passengers. Taxi vans and buses are also occasional options. As most of these vehicles are old and beaten by rough conditions, breakdowns are very common. When coming to Monrovia, Volunteers should try to travel in pairs. Volunteers transiting around the capital will most often use shared-ride style taxis during the day. If Volunteers wish to purchase a bicycle, helmets will be provided and Volunteers will be instructed on the bicycle safety policy.
In Liberian villages and towns, personal relationships are forged more by time spent with each other than by doing any particular activities. Friends, neighbors, and street sellers will invite you to sit with them as you walk by, and spending a few minutes with people goes a long way toward earning trust and respect. Ignoring people or not greeting them with a handshake is considered rude. In Liberian society, people keep their friendships with members of the same sex; it is strange to have close friendships with members of the opposite sex. Male Volunteers will likely spend time with their male friends at street kiosks, local football games, or video. Female Volunteers will likely spend time with female friends in their homes or at the market. Religious functions, having a drink at a restaurant or bar, or going to night clubs are also common Liberian social activities. As most Volunteers are assigned to sites in pairs, most Volunteers interact regularly with other Americans. All that said, Peace Corps/Liberia hopes to model non-traditional gender roles for both men and women, and staff can provide guidance on how this can be done without jeopardizing safety or treading upon local customs and morays.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Being neat and cleanly dressed in a culturally appropriate manner is a sign of respect and pride. Worn, dirty, or ripped clothing is unacceptable. While clothes may have quite a bit of wear and tear due to rough washing, transportation, and manual labor, great care should be taken to be neat, clean, and presentable. Long hair and long beards are not normal for men in this society. Shorts are normally worn by boys or students rather than men. It is appropriate to wear shorts for sporting events or around the house and yard; otherwise, pants or jeans are appropriate. Short skirts, tops that expose the stomach or lower back, low-rise jeans/pants, backless dresses, spaghetti-strap tops, and shorts (outside of sporting activities) are considered inappropriate for females. If shorts are worn for exercise, they should be longer shorts— preferably to the knee. Pants are acceptable for women, although most women will wear skirts or dresses. All dresses and skirts should cover the knees, even when sitting. For women, inappropriate dress could attract unwanted attention and even harassment. Visible tattoos and body piercing may attract unwanted attention and commentary. Earrings and nose rings on men may create concerns among supervisors and counterparts.