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
Poste, Zoom Ankorondrano
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.
Madagascar has several radio stations, some of which play popular music. Many Volunteers bring shortwave radios to listen to international broadcasts (BBC, Voice of America, Radio Netherlands, etc.). Madagascar has no cinemas. For the Malagasy people, the most common form of entertainment is socializing with friends and neighbors. Music is very important to the Malagasy, and singing together can be a lot of fun. Attending concerts is also a popular activity, and when local groups tour the country, you’ll find that almost everyone in town shows up to the concert. While Volunteers are encouraged to remain at their sites to develop relationships with people in their community, the Peace Corps recognizes that occasional trips to the capital or to visit friends, subject to staff approval, can also be good stress-relief opportunities for Volunteers.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
While some of your counterparts may dress in seemingly worn or shabby clothes, this is undoubtedly due to economics rather than choice. A foreigner who wears ragged clothing, however, is likely to be considered an affront. Malagasy regard one’s dress as an expression of one’s respect for others. Neatness of appearance is valued more than being stylish. In hotter coastal regions, shorts and tank tops are more acceptable and worn, but in more conservative regions such as the highlands, bare shoulders and knees are considered inappropriate. Following are Peace Corps/Madagascar’s guidelines for Volunteers’ dress. Women’s dresses and skirts should fall to or below the knees. If shorts are worn in public (only acceptable in certain areas) they should be close to knee-length, for both men and women. Hair should be clean and combed. Men should not wear hats indoors. Flip-flops should not be worn as professional footwear. Female Volunteers who wear leggings should wear a long shirt that reaches the tops of the thighs. In areas where tank tops are acceptable, female Volunteers should ensure that bra straps are covered. Volunteers should wear appropriate undergarments, including bras for females. Excessive body piercings or tattoos should not be visible.