Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Lesotho
From Peace Corps Wiki
Mail in Lesotho is fairly reliable. Volunteers find they generally receive mail and packages from the United States in two to three weeks. The same is true in sending mail from Lesotho. Of course, there are exceptional cases in which a letter or a package might arrive within a shorter period or be substantially delayed. These cases are more apt to occur during the holiday season rush—yes, the holiday rush applies to life in Lesotho, too! Rarely, but occasionally, Volunteers lose letters or packages altogether. It is a good idea to number all letters and packages you send to the United States and to encourage people sending you things to do the same. If you do this consistently, you will always know when something has gone missing.
While in pre-service training, you will receive all mail through the Peace Corps/Lesotho post office box address:
“Your Name,” PCT
c/o Peace Corps/Lesotho
PO Box 554
Maseru, 100 LESOTHO
During your Volunteer service, you are likely to be able to receive mail directly at your site. However, Volunteers may always elect to receive mail through the Peace Corps post office box number.
If a package or parcel is sent to you through the Peace Corps/Lesotho post office box while you are in pre-service training, the training director will request identification from you so that we can retrieve the package on your behalf. Usually we only need your passport for this purpose. After pre-service training, you will need to retrieve your own packages.
A large part of the country does not have land-line telephones. Opportunities to call the United States during pre-service training will be limited. Upon your arrival in-country, the Peace Corps will issue you a phone card or access to a cellular phone with which you can make a brief (less than five minutes) call to the United States. Any other calls will be at your expense.
During the community-based training portion of pre-service training, telephones are likely to be unavailable because community sites are in rural settings.
As Volunteers, you may or may not have a land-line phone in your home. Most often, Volunteers in Lesotho find that a neighbor or the organization they work with has a land line they are able to use. Some Volunteers may be able to be reached only by radio.
Peace Corps/Lesotho does not encourage Volunteers to bring personal cellphones to Lesotho. The cell network is different than in the United States, and it can be quite expensive to use international roaming. If you are interested in having a cellphone as a Volunteer, you may purchase one after you have been sworn in. You should discuss this option with your associate Peace Corps director before purchasing the phone. In some rare instances, Peace Corps/Lesotho may provide you with a cellphone for official Peace Corps-related calls only.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Some Volunteers elect to bring laptop computers to Lesotho. Please keep in mind that there is no guarantee that you will be working or living in a village with regular access to electricity. If you choose to bring a laptop computer, make certain that you purchase personal insurance to cover the computer in case of theft or damage. Also, bring all the equipment necessary for the computer’s operation (i.e., adapters, surge protectors, modem (if applicable), etc.). While there are two reputable computer dealers in Maseru, they mainly deal with Windows systems, and the services and equipment are very expensive for Volunteers.
Notify family and friends that you will have very limited access to the Internet while you are in training, and may have limited access during your time as a Volunteer in Lesotho. Many Volunteer sites will not have land-line telephone or cellphone coverage either.
If you are lucky, you may be placed in one of the three districts where Peace Corps/Lesotho has district resource centers. These resource centers have basic computer equipment that Volunteers can use (i.e., computer, printer, and photocopy machine). However, the centers are subject to temporary suspension or even closure because of rising costs to maintain these outlets. Volunteers also have access to computers and the Internet at the Peace Corps office in Maseru. In addition, Internet cafes are becoming more popular in Lesotho, and there are several cafes in Maseru and in neighboring towns in South Africa. Internet access is only as reliable as the telephone lines provided in the area.
Housing and Site Location
You must be prepared for a number of hardships and for a lack of amenities that you are probably accustomed to in the United States. Each house will be simply furnished with a bed, a two-burner gas stove, and a heater for winter. You will probably have to walk a short distance to fetch water from a community water tap. Depending on where you are stationed, you may be required to use an outdoor pit latrine. The Peace Corps works with communities prior to the arrival of Volunteers at their sites to ensure safe and adequate housing. For a house to be considered suitable, it must have strong doors and windows, a good roof, and burglar bars. Many Volunteers live in a one-room rondavel (round house) with an outdoor pit latrine. Others may be provided housing on a school compound and may have electricity, indoor plumbing, and running water.
Living Allowance and Money Management
When training ends and you move to your work site, you will receive a modest, one-time settling-in allowance. This is meant to cover basic household supplies, including any additional furniture you might need. During your Volunteer service, you will be given just over 1,400 rand (approximately $220) per month as a living allowance. This money should cover items such as utilities, food, household supplies, domestic help, clothing, recreation, transportation, reading materials, incidentals, and communication expenses while you are a Volunteer. Additionally, in the winter months you will receive a heating allowance. You will also receive a leave allowance of $24 each month once you are sworn in (given in rand at the same time as your living allowance) and you will accrue $225 a month, which you receive at the end of your service as a readjustment allowance.
The living and leave allowances are deposited in a Lesotho bank account for you on a monthly basis. The bank account will be opened for you by the Peace Corps/Lesotho cashier.
Peace Corps/Lesotho discourages Volunteers from using other sources of money to supplement their daily needs during service, as the living allowance should sufficiently cover those expenses and it is important that Volunteers live at the same economic level as their hosts. However, people may want to bring additional funds for travel during vacations. For this reason, many Peace Corps/Lesotho Volunteers opt to bring credit cards and/or debit cards, traveler’s checks, dollars, or checkbooks with them to Lesotho.
Credit cards (and usually debit cards) are widely accepted at places of business in South Africa and parts of Lesotho. Major hotels, restaurants, and shops in Maseru or tourist areas will be able to process electronic payments, but your village shop or cafe will probably not. There are ATMs in Lesotho and even more in South Africa that can access accounts in the United States. Be sure to bring your PIN for any credit or debit cards you bring. After two years of service, lots of things will get rusty, including your memory for the PIN!
Places that accept credit cards generally also accept traveler’s checks, but it is difficult to purchase traveler’s checks in Lesotho unless you have an airline ticket for leaving the country.
A personal checkbook from the United States is not so helpful as very few places are able to accept the risk of cashing a check from a foreign account. However, it is a good idea to bring all account numbers, your bank’s name and address, and the bank’s nine-digit routing number with you. When you finish your service, you will have options about the way in which you receive some post-Volunteer service allowances.
Many Volunteers want to have it by direct deposit. This can be convenient for folks who wish to travel and want to withdraw necessary amounts from their accounts back home (as opposed to carrying large amounts of cash with you as you travel home).
Food and Diet
Most food, such as fruits and vegetables, is imported from South Africa. There is a wide range to choose from if you have access to shops in the bigger towns in Lesotho or in the towns across the border in South Africa. The main meal of the Basotho includes papa, made of cornmeal; moroho, or vegetables (mainly cabbage); and nama, or meat, which could be beef, pork, mutton, or chicken.
Dairy products are also available. Because of the prevalence of tuberculosis and brucellosis in Lesotho, do not consume raw milk. For storage purposes, we recommend the use of powdered milk or ultrapasteurized milk, which comes in cartons and is available all over Lesotho.
Maintaining a vegetarian diet in Lesotho can be quite challenging in terms of being able to find all that you need to get recommended daily allowances of vital food groups. Whether you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian (eats dairy products and eggs) or a vegan (consumes no animal products at all), your daily meals will need to be balanced to provide sufficient energy. The medical office provides multivitamin supplements, calcium tablets, iron, and, in some instances, vitamin B-12. Tofu and other soybean products are available in neighboring towns in South Africa, although they can be expensive. There is a wide variety of pulses (legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils) in Lesotho.
Many Volunteers in Lesotho have their own vegetable gardens.
This enables you to have fresh food when you need it, and gardening can be good for your mental and emotional wellbeing. There are four distinct seasons in Lesotho; during training you will receive a chart indicating the crops that grow in Lesotho and when they should be planted.
We will discuss achievement of a healthy and balanced diet extensively during pre-service training, and there is more detailed information in the health handbook you will receive on arrival in Lesotho.
Local transportation varies from your own two feet to “luxury” coach buses. For the most part, as a Volunteer you will travel around the country in either kombis (which are basically minivans that seat 10-12 people comfortably), slightly larger taxi/bus crossbreeds, or regular buses.
The terrain in Lesotho is mountainous and rocky and Volunteers are expected to walk long distances on rocky, uneven terrain. It is more likely that Volunteers will walk from two to eight kilometers before reaching their work site of where they can access public transportation. Volunteers will be based in camp towns and rural villages and will use public transportation when shopping in camp towns to purchase food supplies and to go out to participate in community activities in different parts of the district. The fares for buses and taxis are reasonable.
At your site you will most likely walk to work or to shop. A few Volunteers may be issued bicycles or horses depending on resource availability and safety and security concerns. If deemed necessary, Peace Corps/Lesotho will provide you with a bicycle and mandatory helmet for riding to work. If you need to ride a horse to work, Peace Corps/Lesotho will provide the necessary gear for riding, including the mandatory helmet. Horseback riding for official purposes must be approved in advance by the Peace Corps medical office in Lesotho.
Under exceptional circumstances, Peace Corps/Lesotho may authorize Volunteers to operate a motor vehicle for project-related purposes. This is very rare and must be justified by the supervisor before it can be approved. The country director must approve all requests to drive a vehicle for work. Operating or riding on a motorcycle is strictly prohibited by Peace Corps/Lesotho.
Geography and Climate
January is the hottest month, though the evenings can be refreshingly cool. Spending Christmas under a hot sun takes a bit of mental adjustment, but not too much.
The climate can be extreme. Daytime temperatures in the summer may reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and in the winter there can be severe frost and even snow, especially in the mountains. Summer falls between November and February, and winter falls between May and July. Rain is fairly regular in the summer and is often mixed with hail. The days range from very hot to cool and damp. In the winter, the sunshine warms the days, but the breezes are still cool, and the nights are very cold. Lesotho’s climate is the result of its high altitude. As the “Roof of Africa,” it does not have what one normally would think of as an African climate. Lesotho includes the highest parts of the Drakensberg Mountains in the east. It also has the distinction of having the “highest low point” of any country in the world. Stated simply, this means that Lesotho’s lowlands are a high plateau, and from there the only way to go is up!
For the most part, social activities in Lesotho are fairly informal. Those who are interested in getting to know you can be quite persistent. It is normal for people to stop by completely unannounced. Do not be put off by this; the Basotho will expect the same from you. It is rare to receive a formal invitation to visit. If you want to see someone, just stop by. Unfortunately, many social situations are connected to funeral activities. While it may seem inappropriate to utilize such activities to socialize, they are a useful way to get to know your community. Your presence will be welcomed and appreciated. It is important to establish relationships within your community. Most Volunteers feel that having relationships with host country nationals makes life in Lesotho more enjoyable and easier to handle. The Basotho are a welcoming, hospitable people. You will meet many who will look out for you and make sure you are taken care of. Within a few months, many Volunteers refer to their Lesotho hosts as “families” and feel that Lesotho is home.
Rural areas offer few recreational opportunities. Alcohol use in Lesotho is widespread and alcohol abuse is common.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
As representatives of the United States and Peace Corps/Lesotho, your appearance must be acceptable and appropriate both on the job and while in Maseru on official business. If in doubt about what constitutes acceptable and appropriate appearance, take note of what your Basotho coworkers and counterparts wear and you will never go wrong.
Volunteers who do not adhere to these guidelines will be asked to discuss the matter with a member of the staff. Those who continue to ignore the appearance policy will be invited to discuss the situation with the country director. If a mutually agreeable resolution cannot be reached, administrative separation from the Peace Corps may be considered.
In Lesotho there are different standards of dress for men and women. Although this may not seem fair, you are entering a culture other than your own in which some values are different. It is important that you let the Basotho standards be your guide and focus on what you are doing to assist the people of Lesotho and not on how you look. Good judgment, good taste, and cleanliness are all important.
The Peace Corps office represents the public face of the Peace Corps, therefore all Volunteers, staff, trainees, and contractors should dress in appropriate business attire when in the office. When conducting official Peace Corps business in meetings with government representatives, other donor agencies, and citizen groups, or at a job site, Volunteers are required to wear appropriate dress.
For some work situations (including those of community health and development Volunteers), pants for women are appropriate and acceptable. However, it is recommended that they be loose fitting. Spandex tights, for example, are not acceptable. Clothing should be durable and comfortable.
Hair must be clean and neat. Clothing must be clean, mended, and ironed. Shoes must be polished and clean. Backpacks and day packs must be clean. Shorts are not considered professional attire; consequently, they are not acceptable at the Peace Corps office during business hours. Slacks (dress pants, denim jeans and/or culottes) may be worn by women when in Maseru on official business.
Small studs in one’s nose are acceptable during working hours. You should be mindful, however, that multiple nose rings appear strange in this culture and at times may be cause for harassment. Obvious tattoos are not appropriate for either men or women; in Lesotho, tattoos are associated with prisoners.
At work and in office situations, women are required to wear skirts, dresses, or slacks. Slacks are not appropriate in the classroom in some schools, though culottes and split skirts are acceptable. It is important that you take your lead from how your Basotho colleages dress before wearing pants or jeans to the classroom. If the material from which the garment is made is sheer or see-through, a camisole or slip should be worn underneath to avoid exposing your thighs. Sleeveless garments may be acceptable if they are not so open as to expose undergarments. Sleeves are preferable to sleeveless for classroom wear, particularly in the rural districts. Bras should be worn with professional clothing. Spaghetti straps, bare-backed tops, and tops that exposue the midriff must be avoided to minimize unwanted attention. Sandals are acceptable if they are not too casual. (Birkenstocks or Tevas are not appropriate for classroom or office wear.) Casual flats are also acceptable.
Women outside of Maseru seldom wear pants and almost never wear shorts. If you are in Maseru after your official business has been taken care of, it is acceptable to wear clean, neat, mended jeans or slacks.
During the summer pre-service training (November-January), women are expected to wear skirts or dresses to all training sessions; pants or jeans may be worn only during free time. During the winter pre-service training (June-August), women are encouraged to wear skirts or dresses, but because of the cold weather, dressy pants, jeans, or culottes are also acceptable. Comfortable, professional shoes should be worn at all times.
For men, wearing hair below the nape of the neck, ponytails, and adornments are unacceptable. Hair should be no longer than to the nape of the neck, clean, and neatly trimmed. Beards and mustaches are acceptable if they are clean and neatly trimmed. Though neatly groomed braids are becoming more fashionable in Lesotho, you should avoid thick matted braids because these tend to be associated with the drug culture. Note that dreadlocks are often associated with drug use or unprofessional behavior in Basotho culture and can be unacceptable in some positions.
Volunteers should dress sharply at work. Casual pants and well-kept jeans are acceptable in the classroom or in meetings with business clients. Short-sleeved shirts and polo shirts are also acceptable. As a general rule, men wear shoes for business; however, sandals are acceptable in the classroom or in business meetings if they are not too casual. Earrings for men are not acceptable in the workplace. Assess the situation in your community to determine if they are acceptable after working hours.
When in town, jeans, chinos, or other casual pants worn with T-shirts (if in good repair) are acceptable. During pre-service training, men are required to wear long pants and comfortable shoes during all official training sessions. Shorts may be worn only during free time.
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Lesotho Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Lesotho. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is a rewarding experience. Living in Lesotho, you will meet an enriching variety of Basotho and learn many new things about our world and Lesotho culture. If you have never lived overseas before, your Volunteer experience will provide an excellent opportunity for you to see yourself and American culture from another vantage point. If you have lived or traveled extensively overseas, living in Lesotho may provide you with additional depth in your understanding of the world. Regardless of your background, being a Lesotho Volunteer will offer many opportunities to grow and learn.
With more than 35 years of operation in Lesotho, the Peace Corps is a respected organization that is recognized for performing an essential role in Lesotho’s development. The people of Lesotho are very welcoming to Volunteers and do their best to ensure Volunteers have everything they need to work successfully. Basotho are very business-oriented and professional and expect the same from Peace Corps Volunteers. At the same time, most Basotho love a good party with plenty of delicious food and good music.
However wonderful your Volunteer experience is, there will also be times when you will feel frustrations and perhaps even aggravations. As with any new and foreign experience, there will be ups and downs. Life in Lesotho, as in most places, is not perfect. Sometimes you might feel that everyone’s curiosity about you and America is overwhelming; you might feel like your home is a fishbowl with Basotho constantly watching all that you do; you might become frustrated by buses that do not arrive on time or meetings that do not take place when scheduled. Accomplishing a project or goal that would take a couple of days or a week in the United States might take a month or several months here because of a lack of resources, information, and infrastructure. If you live in a lowland area, you might be able to access the things you need to complete a project in a few weeks, but Volunteers living in mountainous areas might find that the time to complete the same project takes much longer.
Many Volunteers also find that there are a number of social dynamics that add to the difficulties of working in Lesotho. An increasing level of poverty associated with the rising rate of unemployment has exacerbated social issues such as crime, HIV/AIDS, and incidences of domestic violence, to name but a few. As a Lesotho Volunteer you may not have a visible impact on any of these issues. However, you do have the opportunity to make a real difference here with your work. No matter how small the accomplishment is for you, your impact on the community in which you live and the people with whom you interact is almost guaranteed to be great.