Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Tanzania
- 1 Communication
- 2 Housing and Site Location
- 3 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 4 Food and Diet
- 5 Transportation
- 6 Geography and Climate
- 7 Social Activities
- 8 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 9 Personal Safety
- 10 Rewards and Frustrations
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.S. standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration. Airmail can take up to a minimum of two to three weeks to arrive in Tanzania and sometimes can take two weeks or more to get to your site. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately, this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Advise your family and friends that mail delivery can be sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly; also advise them to number their letters for tracking purposes and to include “Airmail” on their envelopes.
Once you begin your Volunteer service, you can have mail sent directly to your site or to the Peace Corps office in Dar es Salaam. Education Volunteers often receive mail through their school’s post office box, while other Volunteers usually rent a post office box in a nearby town. Most Volunteers find that their mail arrives faster when it goes directly to their site. During pre-service training, you will receive mail at the Peace Corps training site.
The address is:
“Your Name”, PCT
Peace Corps Training Site
PO Box 9123
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Packages sent via surface mail normally take three to six months to reach Tanzania from the United States. Packages sent by air take from three to eight weeks. Hefty duty fees may be imposed on certain items. Although Volunteers can have packages sent to the Peace Corps office in Dar es Salaam, you are strongly advised to have them sent directly to your site. For your first six months of service, Peace Corps/ Tanzania will pay the cost of clearing one package through customs and forwarding it to you at your site (a maximum of 15,000 shillings, or about $15). After that, with rare exceptions, Peace Corps will not clear additional packages for you unless there is a firm work-related reason that has been pre-approved by your supervisor for the shipment. We recommend that you wait to have packages sent until you get to your site and know what you really want or need.
Tanzania offers variety of wireless communication services all around the country and a volunteer will almost certainly find a network that provides services around their site. Most volunteers use Halotel, Vodacom, Tigo, Zantel (on the Zanzibar islands), and Peace Corps will provide you with Airtel sim card with Peace Corps Plan (Although the plan tends to be a fair bit unreliable). Buying a sim card is a very easy affair and the volunteers will have plenty of opportunity to purchase whichever network sim card they prefer.
Volunteers are encouraged to bring unlocked smart phone as Whatsapp is one of the best ways volunteers can keep in contact with other volunteers. Otherwise, smartphones and dumbphones are widely available, should the volunteer prefer to purchase a telephone in country.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Laptop is definitely a necessity for all volunteers for grant writing and general convenience. Education volunteers generally have access to electricity although it can be somewhat unreliable. Environmental volunteers without electricity at sight will be able to purchase solar panels and have access to electricity at their site. One can also purchase laptops in country, although their quality will vary around at the lower end.
Access to internet is available at most site if not at banking towns. Most volunteers will find themselves with at least Edge, and those lucky could potentially have 3G or 4G available at their site. A smartphone could also work as a WiFi hotspot should the volunteer have WiFi capable laptops. Volunteers can also purchase dongles which can provide wireless internet access.
E-mails are definitely easily accessed should the volunteer have a smartphone or a laptop. Wireless internet accessibility is steadily increasing in Tanzania and most volunteers find network that is suitable to their site.
Housing and Site Location
Volunteer sites range from towns in the far north like Bukoba, Mwanza, and Musoma on Lake Victoria to towns in the deep south like Mtwara and Lindi. No Volunteers serve along the western borders with Burundi, Rwanda, or Lake Tanganyika. Health Volunteers are assigned to communities where there is a primary and secondary school and health center. Education Volunteers are posted at or near secondary schools in both rural and urban sites, while environment Volunteers work in village communities. The determination of a Volunteer’s site is made during training, after staff members have had an opportunity to match an individual’s strengths and capabilities with the needs of the host community or school.
Volunteer housing, which is usually similar to that of Tanzanians living in the same community, is generally modest but comfortable. Housing varies in size, but all houses are made of either cement block or fired brick with tin or tile roofs. Houses have at least two rooms and are sometimes furnished with a bed, a table, chairs, and possibly other items. Volunteers receive a settling-in allowance to assist them in obtaining basic household items and in purchasing a cellphone. Volunteer sites are located anywhere from a few hours to a few days from Dar es Salaam. Proximity to the nearest fellow Peace Corps Volunteer varies from site to site. Your nearest ex-patriate neighbor might be a British (Voluntary Service Overseas, or VSO) or Japanese (Japanese International Cooperation Agency, or JICA) volunteer.
Volunteers generally are placed alone and live alone, although having two Volunteers at one site or even in one house or sharing housing with a host country national is a possibility. The phrase “live alone” may be misleading, however. Tanzania has a collectivist or group-based culture, which means that American concepts of privacy and personal space are neither understood nor always respected. Neighborhood children will be in and out of your house on a regular basis, and adult neighbors and colleagues will be part of your daily life.
Some Volunteers have electricity and running water, but the quality and reliability of both are often poor. These services become scarcer as sites become more rural; in these areas, water may come from a community well or river, and evening light is often limited to candles and lanterns. Whatever the circumstances, it is important that you remain flexible while you adjust to your new lifestyle.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer, you will receive a modest but sufficient living allowance, paid in Tanzania shillings, that will allow you to live at the same economic level as your Tanzanian colleagues. Nevertheless, in many cases, your remuneration will be greater than your counterpart’s or supervisor’s salary. The amount of this allowance is based on regular surveys of Volunteers and the cost of living in Tanzania and is intended to cover food, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, transportation, reading materials, and other incidentals. The living allowance (currently equivalent to about $165 per month) is paid bimonthly into Volunteers’ local bank accounts, so your ability to manage funds wisely is important.
You will also receive a settling-in allowance, which includes funds to purchase a cellphone, basic household furnishings, kitchen equipment, linens and other items to make your new house a home. Peace Corps will also provide bicycles to Volunteers who want them. A helmet (provided by the Peace Corps) must be worn at all times when riding your bicycle. Finally, you will receive a leave allowance of $24 per month (standard in all Peace Corps countries), paid in local currency along with your living allowance.
Volunteers suggest that you bring cash or credit cards for vacation travel. Credit cards are accepted only at the more expensive tourist destinations, but it is possible to get cash advances via credit cards (for a fee) in Arusha and Dar es Salaam. However, keep in mind that credit card fraud is a significant problem in Tanzania. Most stores and hotels will only accept Visa Card. Volunteers who rely on MasterCard may struggle to find places to use them.
Food and Diet
The staple food in Tanzania is maize (corn), which is prepared as a thick porridge called ugali and eaten with vegetables or beans. Meat and chicken are almost always available, and fish is plentiful in the coastal and lake areas. Many fruits and vegetables grow in Tanzania (though not all items are available year-round), and with a little creativity, you should be able to enjoy a varied diet. Most Volunteers prepare their own food, although after becoming more familiar with their sites, some Volunteers hire someone to help with household work, including cooking.
Volunteers who are vegetarian will be able to eat well in Tanzania after becoming familiar with local foods and their preparation. Vegans may have to be flexible to meet their nutritional needs. Most Tanzanians are not familiar with vegetarianism and normally will not be prepared to serve a vegetarian meal if you are a guest in their home. (It is a sign of good hospitality to serve meat to one’s guests.) Volunteers who are vegetarians will often be asked why they do not eat meat. Every Volunteer has a different way of answering this question. Some simply say they do not like meat; some say their religion has rules about meat (whether that is true or not); and some say they choose not to eat meat for health reasons. In any case, a sensitive explanation of your dietary preferences is likely to be accepted.
One former Volunteer offers this advice on handling situations involving food: “When a Volunteer is offered some food or drink they do not like, they will often refuse it and say they do not want anything, or may claim they are not hungry or thirsty. Try to find something you will eat or drink and thank them for it. If you do not like beer or soda, maybe have some tea. If you do not like meat, have some beans or potatoes. You cannot simply refuse everything—they will not stop asking until you accept something from them. Enjoy what you can, and be polite and gracious for what you cannot tolerate.”
Volunteers’ primary mode of long-distance transport is public buses. For shorter excursions, Volunteers use a daladala or a bicycle. A daladala is a minibus or small pickup truck that carries people and goods. (Yes, chickens could end up in your lap!) Buses and daladalas travel between or within towns on irregular schedules (i.e., when full), so travel in Tanzania is never a predictable affair. Many Volunteers find that in country travel options are one of the biggest difficulties they encounter. While there are more buses available every year, this can make the roads even more crowded and dangerous for travel.
Geography and Climate
Tanzania, located in southeastern Africa, borders Kenya and Uganda to the north; the Indian Ocean to the east; Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia to the south; and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Rwanda to the west. The country is also comprised of the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The total area of Tanzania is 378,035 square miles (945,087 square kilometers).
Because the country is south of the equator, the seasons will be the opposite of what you are accustomed to. In June, July, and August (the cold season), temperatures range from 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the lowlands and on the coast to 35 to 50 degrees in the highlands. The hottest months of the year are November, December, and January when temperatures in the highlands range from 70 to 80 degrees and those in the lowlands range from 90 to 105 degrees, with considerable humidity. The rainy season starts in late November or early December and continues through April. The rest of the year is dry, but many highland areas have showers and mist year-round. A jacket or fleece top is recommended for the cool season, and loose-fitting cotton clothes are recommended for the hot season.
The landscape of Tanzania is quite diverse. The north is home to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point on the African continent, as well as Mount Meru and Mount Hanang, the third and fifth highest points in East Africa, respectively. The north is also home to numerous national parks, including Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, a World Heritage site. The surrounding areas in the Great Rift Valley are also popular tourist destinations. Other notable national parks in Tanzania include Ruaha National Park and Udzungwa National Park in Iringa Region, Mikumi National Park and Selous Game Reserve in Morogoro Region.
Tanzania contains or borders several important lakes. Lake Manyara and Lake Natron in the northern interior feature great migrations of flamingos and stunning scenery. On the northern border is Lake Victoria, the mouth of the White Nile River and the location of major commercial fishing operations. To the west lie Lake Tanganyika and, farther south, Lake Malawi (also called Lake Nyasa).
Larger towns often have discos and bars, which can become very lively on both weekdays and weekends. The most common form of entertainment is socializing with friends and neighbors. Some Volunteers visit other Volunteers on weekends and holidays. Although we encourage Volunteers to remain at their sites as much as possible in order to develop relationships with people in their community, we recognize that an occasional trip to the capital or to visit friends is important as well.
Tanzania has several television stations that broadcast nationwide. These stations have limited programming, but they offer a few programs from South Africa, the United States, and Europe. Satellite television is available in many cities. Tanzanian radio is quite good if you are in an area that receives FM broadcasts. Volunteers placed in rural areas rely on shortwave radio broadcasts from the BBC, Voice of America, or Radio Deutsche Wella. There are several modern cinemas in Dar es Salaam, and some hotels and bars show videos of American or European films.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Norms for dress are much more conservative in Tanzania than in the United States. In the United States, we view our clothes as a reflection of our individuality; in Tanzania, people view one’s dress as a sign of respect for others. Tanzanians do not appreciate clothes that are dirty, have holes in them, or are too revealing or too casual. Wearing such clothes will reduce both the amount of respect you gain and your effectiveness at work. While some of your counterparts may dress in seemingly worn or shabby clothes, this will be due to economics rather than choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their best. A foreigner who wears ragged, unmended clothing, however, is likely to be considered an affront.
Although considered fashionable in the United States, accessories like nose and tongue rings and earrings on men are frowned upon in Tanzania. This is particularly true in rural areas. Volunteers who accessorize in this way may encounter negative feelings or feedback from the people with whom they live and work. This might be because they think you are gay (homosexuality is not widely accepted in Tanzania) or because they think you are unprofessionally dressed.
Whether you work as a teacher, health educator, or environmental volunteer, you will be perceived as a high-status professional. You will be “on duty” seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and will need to make every effort to conform to the behavior and dress expected of educated and high-status people in your school or community. One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and acting like a professional at the same time. It is not always an easy situation to resolve, but the Peace Corps will provide you with guidelines and recommendations.
Working effectively in another culture requires a certain level of sacrifice and flexibility that can be difficult for some people. The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to behave in a manner that will foster respect within their community or school and reflect well on the Peace Corps. Behavior that jeopardizes the Peace Corps program or your personal safety cannot be tolerated and could lead to administrative separation—a decision by the Peace Corps to terminate your service. If you have reservations about your ability or willingness to make these accommodations, you should reevaluate your decision to become a Volunteer.
More 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 can occur but are rare Most 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 Tanzania. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction in Tanzania is very high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Perceptions of time, status, privacy, protocol, and efficiency are often very different from those in America. The lack of basic infrastructure can be challenging, and host agencies do not always provide expected support in a timely manner.
Tanzanians’ views of Americans often come from the television shows, movies, or pop stars they see or hear. They generally perceive Americans as being very rich, so you are likely to be regularly asked for money. The way American women behave and are treated in our culture is also an area of considerable curiosity and surprise to Tanzanians. Confronting these issues is part of what makes the Peace Corps experience so special. Although bridging cross-cultural differences will potentially be the hardest thing you ever do, it is also likely to be one of the most fulfilling.
It is a special time to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania. With the devastating AIDS epidemic dramatically affecting all sectors of Tanzanian society, your efforts in working with youth and community members will be more important than those of any other time in Peace Corps/Tanzania’s history. You will be given a great deal of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will have. You will often need to motivate yourself and others with little guidance from supervisors. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results. Nevertheless, most Volunteers leave Tanzania feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, your service is sure to be a life-altering experience.