Letters from the U.S. could arrive in The Gambia as quickly as two weeks, but often will take three or four weeks. Packages may take longer, depending upon the size of the package. One month is typical, but often a package will be delayed for multiple reasons, and unfortunately some packages get lost in transit. When mailing letters or packages, the sender should take into consideration that receiving mail reliably and quickly is not guaranteed. Packages cannot be insured by USPS, and there is no tracking system once the mail has left the U.S. It is recommended that senders number their letters, and include Airmail on the envelopes. Also, communicating by email or other electronic means is helpful for the Volunteer.
Peace Corps staff will place letters in your mailbox in the PCV lounge. If Peace Corps staff is unable to pick up a package, then a slip is placed in your mailbox, and that slip will need to be taken to the post office for retrieval. Peace Corps ID and Gambian postage is required to pick up packages at the post office.
Four times a year, all mail and packages will be delivered to each Volunteer's permanent site. It could take as few as two weeks (if you visit the office often) or up to three months to receive mail and packages.
Your address for your entire stay in the Gambia will be:
Your Name, PCV
PO Box 527
The Gambia, West Africa
You will be able to purchase a cellphone locally and buy phone credit to make local and international calls, but telephone service is expensive and not always reliable. All Volunteers are expected to purchase local cellphones or bring a compatible device. If you choose to bring a mobile phone, be sure it is an unlocked quad-band GSM cell phone that takes a SIM card.
Because the availability of electricity is so sporadic in rural areas where most Volunteers live, internet access is very limited. Volunteers generally are able to check their email at the Peace Corps offices at least once a month. Consider insuring any laptops or devices that you decide to bring into country, as Peace Corps is unable to reimburse for lost, stolen, or broken items.
Housing and Site Location
Once you become a Volunteer, you will be provided with safe and adequate housing in accordance with the Peace Corps‘ site selection criteria. The majority of Volunteers live in family compounds with one or two private rooms at their disposal. You will need to be very flexible in your housing expectations, as you probably will not have running water or electricity and may have to collect water from a well or borehole and spend your evenings reading by candlelight or lantern. The electric current is 220 volts, but electricity is extremely irregular outside Banjul. Peace Corps staff will visit your site periodically to provide personal, medical, and technical support. The Peace Corps will provide you with items such as an all-terrain bicycle, mosquito net, and a water filter for use during your service.
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
Some Volunteers do all or some of their own cooking, but you will probably find it less expensive and more convenient to have meals with your host family. Gambians eat three meals a day, with lunch as the main meal. Breakfast might include a porridge made of rice, sugar, and sour milk and sometimes pounded peanuts, a favorite among Volunteers. Lunch might consist of rice topped with a tangy green sauce made of sorrel leaves, red peppers, dried fish, and onions; or rice mixed with peppers, onions, and dried fish. Typical dinner dishes are rice with a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, and fish, chicken, or beef called benachin.
Although most Volunteers enjoy the local food, you can get pizza, cheeseburgers, and the like when visiting Banjul. Some foods are characteristic of certain ethnic groups or regions. If you live in a Fula community, for example, there may be a greater variety of dairy products, as their traditional occupation is cattle herding. If you live in a Wolof community, you are likely to eat more coos (millet), while in a site near the coast; you may find a lot of fresh fish and a wider selection of fruits and vegetables.
The Peace Corps issues bicycles to all trainees and Volunteers for use in their work assignments. For longer trips, Volunteers often use the widely available taxi and bush taxi (gelly gelly) service, whose fares depend on the distance and duration of the ride.
A major part of the Peace Corps experience is socializing with the people in your community, which might include chatting while drinking tea under the shade of a large tree, attending an all-night festival, or helping the children in your host family‘s compound with homework. Some families may even have a TV set or a radio. You will also have plenty of time to bike, run, walk, plant a garden, or learn to play a musical instrument. Many Volunteers take advantage of their spare time to read or write. There are libraries at the Peace Corps offices in Fajara and Basse, with limited but interesting collections of books donated by past and present Volunteers. People who like to write find time to keep up with correspondence, write in their journals, or write short stories or poetry. A battery powered shortwave radio will be useful if you want to stay current on world events. The Gambia is also well suited for those who enjoy bird-watching and stargazing (with no light pollution from large cities, it is easy to spot constellations and falling stars).
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Gambians attach great importance to neatness and proper dress, and Volunteers must show respect for Gambian attitudes by dressing suitably both on and off the job. When conducting official business in government or the Peace Corps offices, trainees and Volunteers are expected to wear a collared shirt or an African-style shirt, dresses, skirts, or long pants, and professional-looking shoes (i.e., no flip-flops). T-shirts are acceptable only for fieldwork. Since many of the Westerners in The Gambia are tourists, a sure way to be disrespected is to dress like one in T-shirts and sandals. Nevertheless, it is hot here, so do bring light clothes for working in the village. Everything must be washable and durable, as clothes are washed vigorously by hand and take quite a beating in the process.