Togo

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

In general, letters will take two to five weeks to arrive, sometimes longer depending on a myriad of influences as diverse as seasonal slowdowns to Paris airport strikes. Packages will take longer so you should tell family and friends to send only small packages under 5 pounds and always to use airmail. There are import duties levied on packages arriving in Togo based on the stated value of the contents. During your pre-service training and throughout your service you may receive letters and packages at the following address: 

PCT / PCV “your name”
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 3194
Lomé, Togo
West Africa

Telephones

Cell phone reception is still expanding throughout Togo thus international calls are quite expensive. Most Volunteers end up buying cell phones locally. If you decide to bring a cell phone with you, consult with your carrier to determine your options and make sure it’s a GSM phone.

Internet

There is Internet connectivity in most of Togo’s larger towns. Cyber cafes have popped up all over the country and are relatively inexpensive. Internet connections are very slow and prices vary. It is recommended to insure laptops or other devices prior to arrival in country.

Housing and Site Location

Volunteers in Togo are provided housing as part of the community’s contribution to their work. Most Togo Volunteers live in villages in a two- or three-room house, most likely in a compound with a Togolese family. Some Volunteer houses have tin roofs; a few have straw roofs. Togo is on a 220-volt system as is found throughout much of Europe. It is unlikely that you will have running water or electricity, although they are more common in larger city posts. Water sources in villages can be traditional wells, bore-holes equipped with pumps, cisterns, and natural water sources—in some cases, rivers. Whatever your source of drinking water, you will have to treat it before use.

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

Your diet will consist of locally grown foods or a combination of local and imported tinned foods. A typical Togolese meal is a carbohydrate-base rice, yams, pâte (boiled corn meal or flour) or fufu (pounded white yams), accompanied by a variety of hot, spicy sauces. Rice and beans, usually eaten at breakfast, is another common meal. Meat is available throughout Togo, but it is expensive; fresh fish is only available in larger towns. Fruits and vegetables are seasonal, occasionally making it difficult for vegetarians to adhere to a sound diet, especially in the more remote areas. Some Volunteers plant vegetable gardens to supplement their diet. If not, you can find most of your food in the nearest cities or weekly markets. Smaller villages often provide only basic food supplies. You may need to travel to larger towns for vegetables and specific items, especially during dry season. Take advantage of your host family’s hospitality during pre-service training (PST, also referred to as “stage” in French). Learn how to cook, see how ingredients can be reinterpreted, etc.

Transportation

Togo’s main national highway runs the length of the country. Most of the road is in good condition, but some parts are in poor repair. There are several other sections of paved road, some in good condition, others not. Most of the local roads in Togo are sand or dirt—very dusty in the dry season, very muddy in the rainy season, and full of potholes. You will be given an all-terrain bicycle and helmet for your transportation needs at your site. Failure to wear a helmet can result in administrative separation from the Peace Corps. When traveling around the country, you will use varying types of transportation. Lomé has many private taxis. Taxis also travel frequently between Lomé and the larger towns in the interior. This taxi travel tends to be fairly irregular and uncomfortable, but always interesting. Use of motorcycles by Peace Corps Volunteers is generally prohibited. However, there is a transportation policy in Togo, allowing a few specific Volunteers in isolated posts to ride as passengers on motorcycles while traveling to their sites. These Volunteers must wear motorcycle helmets, provided by the Peace Corps. Distance from the villages to the prefectoral and regional capitals may be anywhere from 10 to 60 kilometers. While some Volunteers like biking these distances, others prefer taking local public transportation, such as bush taxis, to the nearest mail point, bank, or shopping location. The bottom line, and unfortunately the reality of life in Togo, is that travel is inherently more risky here than what one would experience using public transportation in the United States. Peace Corps Volunteers find that their bikes are sufficient for most work-related travel. In addition, Volunteers are clustered so that most are within a bike ride of another Volunteer. It is usually necessary, however, to use local transport (e.g., bush taxis) when traveling long distances. By and large, the vehicles (usually mini-buses or Toyota station wagons) are old and poorly maintained, and it is unlikely that many of the drivers will win safe-driving awards anytime soon! Peace Corps/Togo provides a shuttle bus service (Lomé Limo) that runs from the north of the country to the capital and back once a month. The Peace Corps encourages Volunteers to limit transport via bush taxi. When it is necessary to use bush taxis, you are encouraged to select what appears to be the safest vehicle available and to go with drivers whose driving habits are known and reasonable. When you find yourself in what you consider an unsafe situation (e.g., a driver traveling too fast despite having been asked to slow down), you should demand to be let out of the vehicle immediately. Your experiences in public transport can increase your understanding of local realities (e.g., maybe people are late to your meetings because of the challenges of local transport). The best strategy, however, is to minimize travel via public transport and to avoid all nighttime travel.

Social Activities

Togolese are extremely social, and most social activities center around community events. Various ceremonies and “fêtes” are held throughout the year and Volunteer attendance is always well appreciated. In addition, Volunteers get together on different occasions, even if it is just for a regional meeting. Your social life will be as busy as you care to make it.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Togolese, like people everywhere, will make judgments about you in terms of how you act and how you dress. Dress in the West African context is a sign of respect and professionalism–you show respect for colleagues by how you dress. You will find that your Togolese counterparts are invariably well groomed and wear pressed, clean clothing. Tight, form-fitting clothing for women or clothing exposing the stomach, back, shoulders or knees is almost never appropriate. The same is true for shorts and rubber flip-flops for both men and women during professional meetings, whether in your village or in the regional capital. To guide you, Peace Corps Togo Volunteers have established the following dress code for work situations:

  1. No shorts 
  2. No rubber flip-flops
  3. No halters/spaghetti straps, etc. for women 
  4. Collared shirts for men/clean T-shirts 
  5. Supply of shoes/clothes in Volunteer lounge at the office.

Examples of formal work situations: Everywhere in the office, excluding PCV lounge, “sensibilisations” (i.e. community training), Peace Corps training with counterparts, Peace Corps Volunteer training and pre-service training. Please note that in a work situation professional women do not wear clothes that reveal their shoulders or knees.