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Living Conditions in Senegal

Communications

Mail

Mail from the U.S. to Senegal often takes about two weeks to arrive; however, it may take several more days for it to reach some areas that are further from the capital. Advise your family and friends to number their letters for tracking purposes and to include "SENEGAL-WEST AFRICA", “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. Your address during training will be:

PCT “Your Name”
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 299
Thiès, Senegal, West Africa

Once you have been sworn in as a Volunteer and are at your permanent site, you will set up a postal box. Peace Corps cannot forward your mail to your new address, so loved ones should consider this and not send mail too close to the end of training.

Telephones

If you would like to bring an iPhone or other smartphone, consult with your carrier to determine your options. Peace Corps/Senegal training staff facilitates the purchase of locally available cell phones upon arrival. About 70 percent of Volunteers in Senegal have regular access to the cell phone network. Volunteers are able to place direct international calls and SMS messages through local carriers.

Internet

There is Internet access at the many Internet cafes across Senegal, particularly in regional capitals. Many Volunteers do not have electricity in their homes, and security and maintenance of devices cannot be guaranteed. If you do bring a computer, consider purchasing personal property insurance.

Housing and site location

Most Volunteers in Senegal are assigned to rural areas, especially those who work in sustainable agriculture, health, and agroforestry. All Volunteers live with host families for 27 months of service to facilitate community integration, language acquisition, cultural adaptation and an awareness of local safety and security concerns. Accommodations range from a cement-block room with a tin roof to a traditional hut with a thatched roof. The Peace Corps expects that all housing be equipped with screens to protect against mosquitoes and other insects, doors and windows with locks, and a concrete floor. Additionally, bathing and toilet facilities must meet Peace Corps standards. Your site will be supplied with water through a reliable well water source, a community tap, or a tap in your home, depending on where you may be assigned. Volunteers are encouraged to bring pictures or other decorations to “make their hut a home.” While there is no guarantee of having electricity, the current in Senegal is 220 volts, 50 hertz.

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

Rice and millet are the two staples, with millet being the traditional food crop in the peanut basin and rice being more prevalent in the river basins. Depending on your assignment and the relative wealth of the families with whom you live, you may end up eating millet or rice three times a day. Corn and sorghum are also widely prepared. Generally, rice is served at lunch and millet at dinner, both with seasonal vegetables, and fish when available. The national dish is thiéboudien, a tasty blend of fish and rice simmered in tomato sauce and spices, accompanied by various vegetables. Other popular dishes are mafé (rice and peanut sauce), yassa (rice, onions, and chicken, beef, or fish), and cere neex (millet and bean sauce). Bread is popular, but is expensive for the average Senegalese since all of its ingredients are imported. It has become a breakfast staple in urban areas. On Muslim holidays, the standard fare is lamb. A variety of fruits is also available at different seasons, including mangoes, papayas, watermelons, mandarins, oranges, and bananas Available vegetables include potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant, okra, cabbage, beans, turnips, squash, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and carrots.

Determined vegetarians/vegans are able to make arrangements with their host families to maintain their diet, but this usually further decreases variety. Vegetarian/Vegan Volunteers will also need to be flexible and creative in maintaining a healthy mix of foods while adhering to their diet and will need to be prepared to work through different concepts of healthy diets with their host families.

Transportation

Volunteers are issued bicycles for daily use. Use of helmets is mandatory and you will be issued a helmet with your bicycle. Volunteers are not permitted to drive or ride on motorcycles or motor scooters. Village-based Volunteers may find themselves passengers on charrettes, (horse- or donkey-drawn carts). For intercity transportation, some areas are served by Peugeot 504 station wagons called sept-places or taxis-brousse. They are frequently unreliable, unsafe, crowded, and uncomfortable. Other zones depend on minibuses or vans of various shapes and sizes, which may be even more unreliable, unsafe, crowded, and uncomfortable. In Dakar, Volunteers often use city buses or taxis. Peace Corps/Senegal regularly reminds Volunteers to examine the condition of a vehicle and its driver before purchasing a ticket to board any intercity mode of transport. If you find yourself in a vehicle you believe to be unsafe, you should demand that the driver let you out immediately. Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death of Americans in Africa. In Senegal, since 1963, one Volunteer and one staff member have died in an automobile accident.

Social activities 

Social activities focus primarily on family life and religious life, which are closely intertwined in Senegal. On a day-to-day basis, the act of “eating around the bowl” as a family will be a central part of the Volunteer experience. Coming together as a family or with friends to eat the mid-day meal is an important part of the social life in Senegal. Another common social activity is gathering to drinking “ataya” a strong sweet black tea and to chat under a shade tree.

Volunteers will experience common events/ceremonies in their communities like baptisms, marriages, and funerals. These events include specific cultural practices, foods, and roles for community members. Taking part in these activities supports community integration and is seen as being truly a member of the community.

Volunteers will also take part in celebrations of important holidays (Korite/Eid Al Fitr, Tabaski/Eid al Adha, Tamkharite/Muslim New Year, or Easter and Christmas) with their families depending on the family’s religion.

Professionalism, dress, and behavior

Senegalese take pride in their appearance and consider it a sign of respect when others appear neatly dressed in public. Volunteers are expected to always dress in modest, clean, and neat clothing, and to dress in culturally appropriate attire when working or attending public events such as ceremonies or meetings. The respect you earn by virtue of your education, relative affluence, and status as representatives of the United States is easily lost by improper behavior or dress.

Volunteers should:

  • Ensure clothing is not overly tight
  • Make sure shoulders are covered by at least 4 fingers width of fabric
  • Wear clothing that covers the knees
  • Not wear shorts, except for long shorts (covering the knee) only when playing sports

Other elements of appearance may also attract attention in Senegal, including:

  • Long hair (on men), dreadlocks, and unconventional hair styles such as Mohawks
  • Visible tattoos
  • Piercings on men or on body parts aside from the ear lobe

These characteristics are considered unusual by Senegalese cultural norms. They may attract unwanted attention. If you have any of these appearance characteristics, please consider how they may impact your Volunteer service. Consider if you are willing to change your appearance in order to ease your transition and gain cultural acceptance or come prepared to be patient and to respond to questions and comments comfortably and with good humor.