Mail takes a minimum of two weeks to arrive in Rwanda. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately, this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. Volunteers are requested to follow the mailing procedures described in the Peace Corps/Rwanda Volunteer Handbook. Your address during training will be as follows:
You can bring a cell phone if it accepts a SIM card and is unlocked. SIM cards are cheap and easy to find in large cities. It is also easy and relatively cheap ($15–$30) to buy a basic cell phone in Rwanda. All cell phones can make international calls, usually costing between 5–20 cents per minute to call the United States.
Access is available at post offices and cybercafes in towns and cities, but can be slow and costly. Some Volunteers may choose to bring a laptop computer; however, access to reliable electricity cannot be guaranteed and, as with any valuable, there is the threat of theft, loss, or damage. Trainees are given the opportunity to purchase USB-style modems before departing for pre-service training.
Housing and Site Location
As a Volunteer, you will most likely live in a rural community or small town, and may not have access to indoor plumbing or electricity. The local current is 230 volts/50 hertz, but expect to use lamps and candles for lighting and to cook using a single-burner kerosene stove, wood, or charcoal. The conditions of Volunteer housing vary widely, from mud houses to very modern cement houses with running water and electricity. The type of house you have will depend on your project, the area of the country to which you are posted, and the types of houses available in the community. You may also be required to share housing with other staff from your Rwandan organization or to live in a room behind a shop at a market center. You can expect to have, at the very least, a room to call your own. 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 goal of the Peace Corps. Maintain your focus on service to the people of Rwanda and not on the level of your accommodations.
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 Rwanda there is a wide choice of foods, ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables (such as cabbage, avocadoes, mangoes, bananas, pineapples, carrots, and passion fruit) to starches (such as potatoes, plantains, corn, rice, and cassava) to meats (primarily goat and beef, with some chicken and fish). Even so, the average Rwandan diet tends to be somewhat plain and high in starches, but 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 in continuing their diets after becoming familiar with local food items and their preparation.
All Volunteers will be expected to travel in Rwanda using local transportation (i.e., foot, public buses, or vans). The Peace Corps will provide bicycles to Volunteers who can use them for transportation at their sites (not all sites or Volunteers are compatible with bicycle transportation). Volunteers are required to wear helmets when riding such bicycles. Volunteers may not own or operate motorized vehicles.
The most common form of entertainment is socializing among friends and neighbors. Some Volunteers visit other Volunteers on weekends and holidays. The Peace Corps encourages Volunteers to remain at their sites as much as possible to develop relationships with community members, but also recognizes the need to make occasional trips to regional centers and to visit friends. You will find it easy to make friends in your community and to participate in weddings, funerals, birthday celebrations, and other social events. It is impossible to overemphasize the rewards of establishing rapport with one’s supervisors, co-workers, and other community members. A sincere effort to learn the local language will greatly facilitate these interactions.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
The business culture in Rwanda presents a unique set of challenges. The Volunteer will need to gain a thorough understanding of the host culture and then work to adapt strategies to fit within acceptable practices. For example, the process of giving direct feedback, which is common and expected in the United States, may be interpreted as rude or disrespectful by Rwandan colleagues. Women, particularly young women, and younger Volunteers need to be aware of a very different gender and age dynamic in Rwanda. Gaining the respect of colleagues and traditional leaders may require more effort than you might expect.
Rwandans are conservative in attire and grooming. In professional working environments in which Peace Corps is invited to serve, Volunteers are held to the same standards as their Rwandan counterparts. Men keep their hair cut short and neat. Long hair, including locs, on men is not accepted in the environments in which Volunteers work and, as such, is not permitted for male Volunteers. Facial hair is also kept neat and short. Men never have visible piercings. In terms of dress, men wear trousers such as chinos or khakis and button-down shirts in work settings. Jackets and ties are occasional requirements for certain activities.
Rwandan women may wear their hair long, but keep it styled conservatively. Women wear long dresses and skirts that fall below the knee, or trouser suits with tunic style tops in both work and leisure environments. Short, low-cut garments are not appropriate for women.