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Living Conditions

Living Conditions 


Mail takes a minimum of two to four weeks to arrive in Lusaka. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to write “Air Mail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. 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 


In recent years, Zambia has drastically improved its cellular telephone network and offers a choice between three cellphone companies: Zamtel, MTN, and Celtel. Though coverage in some areas is spotty outside of Lusaka and the provincial capitals, it is available in 75 percent of the districts. Text messaging is one of the cheapest, most reliable ways to communicate with fellow Volunteers and staff, as well as with friends and family back home.


There are several Internet service providers in Zambia. The number of internet cafes around the country is also growing. As the Peace Corps has installed wireless Internet in each of the provincial offices/resource centers, many Volunteers have found it very beneficial to bring a netbook or laptop to Zambia. However, if you do bring a laptop, make sure to insure it.

Housing and Site Location

Most Volunteers live in earthen houses lighted by kerosene lamps. Meals are cooked over wood or charcoal. Typically, Volunteer sites are in villages where there is neither plumbing nor electricity. You will have your own mud brick/thatch roof house, pit latrine, outdoor cooking area, and shower area. Drinking/washing water may need to be carried from as far as 30 minutes away by foot. Some sites will be very isolated and the closest Volunteer may be 40 kilometers or more away. A select number of Volunteers may live in these same conditions, but within 5 kilometers of a small town center. Within the first week of arriving in Zambia, you will be assigned the language you will be speaking. The associate Peace Corps director (APCD) of your program may offer advice based on the various skills and interest of individuals in your group. Your final placements are made in cooperation with the training staff and are based on their assessments and recommendations regarding your skill levels in the technical, cross-cultural, and language areas. PC medical staff members are also consulted on your site placement to ensure your medical concerns do not worsen. Your APCD can discuss particular 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 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 access to Western-style foods may be very limited, but 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 can be seasonally difficult; 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 will, at first, be an unsettling challenge. The available food may seem strange in type and appearance; it may even initially appear unpalatable. Yet, you may feel obligated to demonstrate your friendliness and willingness to accept local customs by eating food that doesn’t appeal to you. You’ll need to stay within your comfort zone, but remember that the local cuisine, customs, and expectations are very different from your own. During pre-service training, you will have many opportunities to become familiar with what is available, as well as how to prepare and cook a wide variety of foods. Some Volunteers can gain weight due to the carbohydrate-based diet.


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. Rural travel is very limited and difficult due to the condition of the roads and public transportation. Every trip is an adventure. Transportation from your post to your provincial capital may be sporadic, may take a full day or more, and will generally be crowded and dusty. It may take two days or more by crowded public transportation to reach the capital city, Lusaka. Some Volunteers walk or ride their bikes up to 50 kilometers (31 miles) or more to catch a ride at a main road. Some roads are not easily passable by bicycle in the rainy season. All Volunteers will be provided with a bicycle and helmet, which they must wear when riding. Riding motorcycles is prohibited.

Social Activities

Social activities will vary depending on where you are located. These may include taking part in various festivities, parties, storytelling, and sitting around a fire at night talking with your neighbors. Some Volunteers visit nearby Volunteers 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.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

One of the challenges of finding your place as a Volunteer is simultaneously fitting into the local culture, maintaining your own cultural identity, and acting like a professional. It is not an easy act to balance, and we can only provide you with some guidelines to dress and behave accordingly. A foreigner wearing raggedy, unkempt clothing is more likely to be considered an affront. Zambians regard dress and appearance as part of one’s respect for one another. They value neatness of appearance, which is much more important than being “stylish.” Dresses and skirts should fall below the knees. Appropriate undergarments should be worn, including slips. Spaghetti tops for women worn by themselves are 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. Men and women should wear shorts only at home, when exercising, or when doing work where Zambian counterparts are also wearing them. Hair should be clean and combed, and beards should be neatly trimmed. Long hair on men, unconventional hairdos, blatant tattoos, and facial piercings are not culturally appropriate and may negatively affect community integration.