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Living Conditions in Madagascar



Mail from the U.S. takes a minimum of two to three weeks to arrive in Madagascar. Packages take from three to eight weeks to arrive from the U.S. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. Your address during pre-service training will be: 

“Your Name,” PCT, Peace Corps
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 12091
Poste, Zoom Ankorondrano
101 Antananarivo


Volunteers can bring unlocked smartphones or purchase a cellphone when they arrive in-country. Although it is free to receive incoming calls, it is extremely expensive to call home to the United States. Most Volunteers have their friends and family call their local number using Skype or another VOIP service. If you prefer to bring a phone from the U.S., note that your phone must have a SIM card slot so a local provider can activate your phone line.


Although not every Volunteer’s house will have electricity, Volunteers without electricity usually bring their computers with them when they travel to larger towns to charge their batteries. Volunteers can plan on being able to get online at least once a month, either by using a USB modem or using an Internet cafe.

Housing and site location

During service, Volunteers live in private one or two-room housing. Housing material depends on the region, with walls made out of local wooden material in the Coast and mud/brick/concrete in the Highlands. Volunteers have individual outdoor bathing rooms, and will have individual or shared latrines with a maximum of one family. Many Volunteers do not have running water or electricity. 

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

The staple food in Madagascar is rice, which is eaten with vegetables, beans, or meat. In fact, rice consumption per capita in Madagascar is the highest in the world. Many fruits and vegetables grow in Madagascar, and the coastal regions boast an abundance of delicious, inexpensive tropical fruit and seafood. Most Volunteers prepare their own food. Some Volunteers, after becoming more familiar with their site, hire someone to help with cooking, or eat with a local family and share in the grocery buying. Meat and dairy products are available in the larger towns, but they can be expensive. Beans, lentils, eggs, and peanuts are all widely available, even in small towns, so getting enough protein won’t be an issue if you shop and cook correctly. Some Malagasy are not familiar with vegetarianism and will not be prepared to serve a vegetarian meal if you are a guest in their home. However, a sensitive explanation of your preferences will be accepted. Most vegetarian Volunteers have no difficulty after an initial adjustment period, although they may find it difficult eating out in hotelys (small local restaurants), where often even the beans are cooked with animal fat.


Volunteers’ primary mode of transport is the taxi-brousse, which is a small van usually loaded with people and goods. These are usually packed full, with little leg or elbow room, so especially tall Volunteers may find broussing to be a bit challenging at times. Taxi-brousses travel between towns on somewhat irregular schedules (i.e., when full), so travel in Madagascar is rarely a timed affair. Frequently you’ll be told, “It’s leaving now!” when in fact there’s no one else on the brousse, and so “now” actually ends up being an hour later. As needed, the Peace Corps issues Volunteers a quality American-made mountain bike, and many Volunteers choose to bike instead of brousse, especially for short distances. Bikes come in handy when you’re in a large, spread-out town, or if you need to travel out to the countryside for work. If you plan to ride a bicycle, wearing a helmet is required. The Peace Corps will issue you a helmet along with your bike. Volunteers are not allowed to drive or operate motor vehicles, nor may they operate or ride motorcycles (two- or three-wheeled) in Madagascar.

Social activities

In Malagasy culture, food plays a central role in the home, community events, and connecting with others. Food is shared; unexpected guests are welcomed to the table. Rice is the staple food, and people who can access and afford it will eat it twice a day. The cultural role of rice determines the calendar of agricultural activities, harvest, income, and period of feast or famine. Tubers are also a big part of the diet in some regions (sweet potato, cassava, taro). Rice is served with sauce and vegetables, beans, and sometimes meat.

The Malagasy family is the cornerstone of the community. In rural areas, men work in the fields, and women take care of the home, the children, food preparation, washing and cleaning and tend to the sick. Families meet in the evenings to share conversation about their daily activities.

Malagasy holidays, festivities, and rituals are celebrated with food, music, and dance. Traditional ceremonies include the “turning of the bones”, where ancestors’ remains are honored and wrapped in a special silk cloth, with extended family participating in the ritual every seven years. Malagasy culture includes regarding natural spaces as sacred, including certain rocks, beaches, trees, and rivers. These places have special rules that must be followed, according to local tradition. Each region also has taboos, or fadys, that are specific to that area.

Soccer is the main sport for boys and girls, and men. Cow wrestling (where men hang on to the cow’s hump for as long as possible, to prove their bravery and thus attract a woman partner) is popular at local festivals. Kick-boxing and wrestling is common in some regions. These activities are not recommended for Volunteers to engage in, other than as a spectator.

Music and dancing are an integral part of Malagasy culture. At every event, there is celebratory music and dancing. Every town has local musicians. The festivals are accompanied by drinking alcohol. Karaoke is also very popular at birthday parties and any gathering of friends.

Each town and village have their weekly market day. Everyone participates as a vendor or a consumer, or simply to stroll, meet people, chat, and enjoy the event.

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, reflects you as an individual and 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 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.

Malagasy culture regards one’s dress as an expression of one’s respect for others, not as an expression of one’s unique self, as is often the case in the U.S. This applies to your time at the Peace Corps Training Center, official Peace Corps events, your work at site, and in the Peace Corps office. Also,in Madagascar, beards, braids, corn rows), and long hair on men are uncommon. Many men and Volunteers presenting as men choose to shave their facial hair or cut their hair short to facilitate integration. If you have a beard, it should be neat and trimmed. Visible body piercings (other than earrings for women) and tattoos for both men and women are not generally accepted in professional settings, therefore please be prepared to cover any visible tattoos. Cleanliness and neatness are very important for Volunteers representing the Peace Corps.

Malagasy communication style is often indirect and nuanced. People rarely express strong emotions (such as crying, shouting, yelling, or hugging) in public. Malagasy culture respects hierarchy and protocol. Official meetings with local authorities require appointments, invitations, formal introductions, and an exchange of pleasantries. Respect for authority and acknowledgement of the local officials are important factors for working effectively. Punctuality is not the norm in Madagascar, as time is generally not seen as fixed but flexible. Volunteers should be on time, but local people may often arrive late.

Volunteers will participate in an orientation on culturally appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training.