Samoa

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

Your initial mailing address as a Peace Corps trainee is as follows: 

“Your Name,” Peace Corps
Private Mail Bag
Apia, (Western) Samoa
South Pacific

Tell family and friends to include “Western” or “Independent” in front of Samoa as U.S. postal workers often assume “Samoa” is American Samoa and try to send it there by adding a zip code. Mail transit between the U.S. and Samoa averages three weeks but can take up to two months. 

Telephones

When Volunteers arrive in-country, they are provided funds to purchase a basic cellphone. Many phones, even ones that claim to be the appropriate GSM for Samoa, will not work in-country (including iPhones). As your phone will most likely disappear or break at least once during service, it is a bad idea to bring an expensive phone from home. The Peace Corps pays for a service that allows all Volunteers and staff to call each other without charge. Most Volunteers can call home easily on their mobile telephones, although they might have to walk a short distance in their village or slightly outside it to reach a spot with the best coverage. Increasingly, many Volunteers are calling home using Internet phone services, such as Skype, from local Internet.

Internet

Nearly every Volunteer chooses to bring a computer, as it can be a valuable asset, so computers are highly recommended. Apia and a few of the larger villages on Savai’i have Internet cafes and wireless hotspots. Internet access in many places on the islands is generally available via a cellular data plan. Nearly every Volunteer brings a laptop computer. It is highly recommended that you purchase personal articles insurance for your computer and any other items of value.

Housing and Site Location

Volunteers normally live in a private room in a family house though occasionally a Volunteer may have his or her own small, traditional thatched or cement house close to the host family’s home. For cultural integration and safety, it’s vital for Volunteers to be associated with a host family. Although most Volunteers prefer their own house, the supply from villages is never enough to meet the demand, so you must be prepared for the probability of living in a private room in a family house. This arrangement offers a safer environment for Volunteers and also greatly enhances Volunteers’ ability to become more fluent in Samoan and more integrated into the culture and their village. You will likely develop a love and respect for your Samoan family and an appreciation for having a second family away from home. While facilities are fairly modest, all villages have reliable electricity (240 volts, 50 hertz). There will be access to running water, either in the house or from a tap outdoors. Most homes have flush toilets, but a few will have water-seal latrines. Toilets and showers may be inside, but many are outside of the house. Some family villages still use separate cooking houses (umukuka) for cooking food.

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 diet in Samoa consists primarily of taro, breadfruit, yams, potatoes, rice, canned corn beef, fish, chicken soup, taro leaves, some fresh vegetables, and limited fresh meat. Typical fruits are papayas, bananas, coconuts, mangoes, and pineapples. In Apia, many Western foods are available much of the time, and rural Volunteers can stock up on these items when they are in town although they can be very expensive. Vegetarians can fare well in Samoa with patience and creativity. For strict vegans, it’s harder, but still doable. Having a stash of peanut butter and crackers in your room or at the training site for those early adjustment days can help as longer-term strategies are developed. Some Volunteers cook their own meals, perhaps eating only a Sunday dinner with their host family. Others eat many to most meals with their host families. Volunteers who eat meals with their family are expected to contribute groceries or make other contributions, as reciprocal generosity and sharing are vital aspects of Samoan culture. Some villages provide lunch for teachers; in others, Volunteers will need to bring their own lunch.

Transportation

Most Volunteers travel by bus. Buses in the main city of Apia are reasonably priced and readily available. Most run from 6 a.m.–6 p.m. Buses to rural villages are often crowded and generally uncomfortable but usually reliable. Taxis are plentiful and the fare can be split between riders. Buses in rural areas follow a timetable, unless there is a falavelave (special function or event). Volunteers who live on the island of Savai’i and plan to travel to the main town and wharf area of Salelologa for shopping or to Apia must allow at least two hours before the normal departure time, in case the bus leaves before scheduled. Also, ferries sometimes leave early, especially during the peak public holidays when they get crowded quickly. Volunteers usually live within easy walking distance to their primary schools, but Peace Corps/Samoa will issue bicycles to Volunteers who need them as a principal form of work transportation. A bicycle helmet is issued to all Volunteers who receive a bicycle; helmet use is mandatory. Volunteers are not allowed to drive a vehicle during their service, except in rare job-related or vacation situations, which require the country director's advance written approval. Motorcycle use is not permitted. Peace Corps/Samoa office vehicles generally are not available to support a Volunteer’s work (this support should come from a Volunteer’s host agency), or for personal use, such as taking supplies, groceries, etc., from Apia to home and worksites.

Social Activities

Island life is fairly quiet and things move at a much slower pace than in the U.S. Social activities center around the family, the church, and the village Village life is generally relaxed. Traditionally, the men go to the plantations in the early morning, while women tend the house and children, wash clothes, and gather shellfish at low tides. Families rest in the heat of the afternoon. In the late afternoon, fishing, yard work, sports (volleyball, ruby, cricket), and food preparation take place. Evenings are filled with prayer meetings (lotu), choir practice, easy conversation, bingo, evening strolls, dominoes, and the ubiquitous card game—suipi. In Apia, stores and offices are open from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and stores are also open on Saturday from 8 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Few shops are open outside of these hours. Sundays are incredibly quiet, with most people attending church services and enjoying Sunday afternoon to’ona’i (traditional umu feast) with their families. Only a handful of stores and restaurants open on Sunday. In the evenings and on weekends in Apia, activity options include going to the movie theater, dining at local restaurants, walking on the seawall, and dancing at local clubs.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Dressing inappropriately can damage your reputation and your ability to get things done at work and in the community. Your appearance reflects not only on you, but also on your host family, the Peace Corps, and other Volunteers. During work, church, and village meetings, men typically wear a collared dress shirt, often in the “Hawaiian” style, and a lava lava, or “ies” in Samoan, which is a long (below the knee) wrap-around “skirt” with pockets that is very comfortable in the hot and humid climate. At home, men normally wear a more casual style of lava lava and a T-shirt, or a T-shirt and shorts. During the work day, female teachers are required to wear a puletasi, which is comprised of a long wraparound skirt and fitted blouse. You will be able to have these made once you arrive and will likely receive some as gifts. When not at work, women are still expected to dress modestly. Knee-length or longer skirts and dresses are appropriate, as are short-sleeved shirts, rather than tank tops or sleeveless shirts. When participating in outdoor sports or swimming (unless at a resort area), women wear long shorts or a wraparound skirt with a T-shirt.