Zambia

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Living Conditions

Living Conditions 

Mail

Mail takes a minimum of two to four weeks to arrive in Lusaka. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and write “Air Mail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. For best methods of sending packages, please ask current Volunteers how they prefer to receive packages; they are eager to answer questions and can be found in Facebook groups or on the official Peace Corps Zambia Facebook page. As a trainee, you will receive mail at the training center near Lusaka. Your address during training will be:

(Your Name)/PCT Peace Corps
P.O. Box 50707
Lusaka, Zambia 

Telephones

Within the first week of arrival, every trainee is provided with a local pay-as-you-go Airtel SIM card and a simple cell phone. If a Volunteer chooses to bring a smartphone, please ensure it is unlocked and supports a physical SIM card; eSIM is not yet locally supported in Zambia. You will find that most people have cell phones, even in the remotest parts of the country. Though coverage in some areas is spotty outside of Lusaka and provincial and district capitals, it is available in about 75 percent of sites. Text messaging by WhatsApp is one of the cheapest, most reliable ways to communicate with fellow Volunteers and staff, as well as with friends and family back home.

Internet

Most sites do not have electricity, it's rare to be able to access the internet with a personal computer at site. The Peace Corps Provincial Resource Centers have computers and wireless internet available for Volunteer use. Volunteers normally use these computers for committee work and to complete service documents. The Peace Corps Zambia program issues tablets to Volunteers upon request and at some sites Volunteers are able to use cell phones to provide hot spots and access internet through the tablets. In most large cities and towns, Volunteers are also able to access email at internet cafes.

Housing and Site Location

Volunteer houses are typically made of mud bricks with cement floors, thatched or tin roofs, and have no electricity. Water is from a nearby well, stream, or borehole, which is then filtered through a Peace Corps-issued water filter. Cell phone call coverage may be weak, but all Volunteers are able to send or receive text messages.

Volunteers typically live on a large housing compound with two or three other families but have their own housing structure, cooking area, private washing area, and latrine. Volunteers may choose to share meals with their host neighbors or cook on their own.

Peace Corps Zambia supports its Volunteers in this uniquely rural environment through a strong regional office model. In each province where Volunteers serve, Peace Corps Zambia operates a provincial office, which is staffed year-round and serves as a resource center for work collaboration and training. Having Peace Corps staff and resources nearby also allows for more comprehensive and timely support of Volunteers, especially regarding health and safety, which are Peace Corps' top priorities. Provincial offices are a feature of Peace Corps Zambia but no other host countries.

Within the first week of arriving in Zambia, you will be assigned the language you will be speaking. You will be trained in the language most commonly spoken at your future site, one of over 70 local dialects. (Zambians usually speak one or more of the most common languages.)

Your program manager (PM) may offer advice about your placement based on the skills and interest of individuals in your group. Your final placement is determined in cooperation with training staff who make a recommendation based on an assessment of your skill levels in technical, intercultural, and language areas. Peace Corps medical staff are also consulted on your site placement to ensure any medical concerns can be supported. Your PM can discuss specific preferences concerning a site. 

Living Allowance and Money Management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of people in your community. The allowance covers food, 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 comparable to 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 use personal savings for vacation travel to other countries. For travel, it is best to bring a valid credit card rather than cash and be able to access a U.S. bank account with an ATM card.

It is possible to access a U.S. bank account with a major debit card at most ATMs in urban areas. You can withdraw kwacha from an ATM (not U.S. dollars), although it is possible to exchange money in cities.

Peace Corps Volunteers are encouraged to add a trusted family member or friend to their bank accounts in the U.S. or to grant them power of attorney. Handling banking issues from Zambia can be extremely difficult and sometimes impossible. Make sure your debit and credit cards will not expire while you are in Zambia and that your bank is aware of your travel plans. It is not uncommon for banks to shut off debit or credit cards due to "unusual activity" (while traveling in Zambia and other countries) or for cards to be stolen or lost. Having a second party attached to your finances can make your life much easier. If you choose to bring extra money, make sure the currency is printed after 2009.

Food and Diet

Western-style foods are increasingly available in provincial centers, but better yet, you will soon become familiar, and even enamored with, nshima (cornmeal porridge), cabbage, and kapenta (fish), as well as other staple foods like local leaf sauces and smoked fish. Fruits such as mangoes, guavas, and especially bananas, can be found everywhere, but mangoes are seasonal; vegetable variety is generally good, but less so seasonally; and meat is not readily available for Volunteers while at their sites.

Ideally, mealtime should be a time of relaxation, but, in an unfamiliar country, mealtimes may, at first, be a challenge. The available food may seem strange in type and appearance; it may even initially appear unpalatable. You may demonstrate your friendliness and willingness to accept local customs by eating food that may not initially appeal to you. Stay within your comfort zone, but remember that local cuisine, customs, and expectations can be very different from your own.

During pre-service training, you will have many opportunities to become familiar with available foods, as well as how to prepare and cook a wide variety of foods. Some Volunteers can gain weight due to Zambia's carbohydrate-based diet. Vegetarians should have little trouble maintaining a healthy diet, though vegetarianism is relatively uncommon. A few words of polite explanation usually suffice if you want excuse yourself from eating meat in a given situation.

Transportation

All Volunteers will be expected to travel in Zambia using local means of transportation like your Zambian peers (foot, bicycle, bus, van, or train) from your first days of training until the end of your service. Volunteers are provided with a bicycle and helmet, which they must wear at all times when riding. Operating a motor vehicle or being a motorcycle passenger is prohibited. Accessing rural public transportation will take patience and perseverance; as one Volunteer put it, "Every trip is an adventure." Transportation from your post to your provincial or the nation's capital may take a few hours or a few days in a country the size of Texas, depending on your location.

Social Activities

Social activities vary depending on where you live. These may include taking part in cultural festivals, community parties, storytelling, and talking with neighbors around a fire at night. Some Volunteers visit other Volunteers living nearby on weekends and make occasional trips to their provincial capital, although we encourage Volunteers to remain at their sites to accomplish the important Peace Corps goal of cultural exchange. Many Volunteers watch shows and movies they have on their laptop with their host families and friends. While Volunteers are encouraged to remain in their host communities in order to integrate and develop relationships with neighbors and colleagues, Zambia also offers many outdoor activities, including waterfall hiking, visiting game reserves or vacationing with other Volunteers to other African countries.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

One of the challenges of finding your place as a Volunteer is fitting into the local culture, while maintaining your own cultural identity and being professional. It is not an easy act to balance, and we can only provide you with some guidelines for dress and behavior. A foreigner wearing raggedy, unkempt clothing is likely to be considered an affront by locals. Zambians regard dress and appearance as a sign of respect for one another. They value neatness of appearance over being stylish.

Dresses and skirts should fall below the knees. Spaghetti tops worn by themselves are considered inappropriate unless covered with a short- or long-sleeved/shirt, coat, or jacket. Skin-tight sports shorts or trousers are inappropriate but may be worn under a skirt or dress when riding bicycles. Volunteers should wear shorts only at home, when exercising, or while working in a context where Zambian counterparts are dressed similarly. Hair should be clean, and beards neatly trimmed. Long hair on men, unconventional hairdos, blatant tattoos, and facial piercings are not culturally appropriate and may negatively affect community integration.