Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Cape Verde
From Peace Corps Wiki
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service we consider normal in the United States. If you bring American standards for mail service, you will be in for a lot of frustration. A letter from or to the United States takes, on average, three weeks to arrive Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to include “Air Mail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. They should also write “Via Portugal” at the bottom of the address. If possible, family and friends should ask their local post office that their mail to Cape Verde gets routed through Boston (and not New York or Atlanta, where there is less familiarity with Cape Verde and therefore greater chance of delays or lost mail).
Initially, during pre-service training, staff will pick up your mail at the post office in Praia once or twice a week and deliver it to the training center where mail will be placed in your mailbox.
Your address during training will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
A/C Corpo da Paz
C. P. 373 – Praia
Republic of Cape Verde
Once you become a Volunteer your personal mail can be sent directly to your site. At site, Volunteers can have mail sent to their work address or pick it up themselves at the local post office. At some sites, post office boxes are available for a minimal annual fee. There is no home delivery.
Do not send money, large packages, or airline tickets through the mail. There are no customs duties if sent by air mail; however, postage costs may be high. Packages sent in bubble manila envelopes have a better chance of arriving directly to the Volunteer’s site. Larger packages often mysteriously disappear in transit.
Most Volunteers have phones in their homes. Peace Corps/ Cape Verde includes money in the living allowance to cover the cost of local use.
Generally, long-distance communication via telephone is available, though expensive. International phone connections from the United States to Cape Verde are better and much cheaper than the other way around. Cabo Verde Telecom, the national telephone company, has offices in all major cities and some smaller towns. Those who bring a laptop and choose to pay for Internet service may want to use economical Internet phone services such as Dialpad. You will need a microphone, headphones, or speakers.
The Peace Corps office in Cape Verde can be reached by direct dialing from the United States. The numbers are 011.238.261.1618 or 261.6020. Phone service in Cape Verde is improving. However, due to variable factors such as the time of day and weather conditions, you may encounter some difficulty when making international calls. Volunteers are not permitted to use telephones at the Peace Corps offi ce in Praia to call family and friends unless the call pertains to an emergency and is approved in advance by the country director.
Cellular phones have become very popular to Cape Verdeans, especially in urban centers. Since there is only one provider, phones and user fees are quite expensive.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
If your sponsoring agency or counterpart owns a computer, you may be able to arrange Internet access for work-related or personal use. Volunteers have access to two computers with Internet access in the Volunteers’ Resource Center at the Peace Corps office in the capital. Internet is available at most sites, either through private businesses or Internet cafes. In the major cities and many small towns, Volunteers can get their own personal e-mail accounts. If you own a laptop, it may be useful for you to have your own Internet account. Peace Corps staff computers are not available for trainee/ Volunteer use.
Housing and Site Location
Your host agency will provide safe and adequate housing in accordance with the Peace Corps’ site selection criteria (see chapter on Health Care and Safety for further information). Many Volunteers live in small apartments. At the very least, Volunteers will have a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen that they will not have to share with a host family. Volunteers will likely share an apartment or a house with another Volunteer or, in some cases, be placed in individual housing. You should come prepared to share a house with another Volunteer. Your sponsor will provide simple, basic furniture—usually a bed, table, chairs, and a stove (without oven). Upon swearing in as a Volunteer, the Peace Corps will give you a modest settling-in allowance to purchase household necessities such as dishes and other household items.
Some Volunteers will not have regular running water. Those who do not have running water will either collect water when it is available in their home or buy water from a water truck. Those who live in smaller towns will most likely have electricity, although perhaps not 24 hours a day. Some very remote areas may not have electricity; if at all, electricity may only be available 6 to 12 hours per day. To be a Volunteer here you will need to be very flexible in your housing expectations as there are no guarantees of continuous water or electricity.
Volunteers are expected to live at the level of their counterparts. Housing varies from site to site, depending on what your community has to offer. This varies from a beautiful and spacious apartment or house to a smaller home in a village community.
Each Volunteer should have access to housing that meets the following basic standards.
- Private living quarters (though probably small, you will have your own space);
- A bed, table, four chairs and stove (without oven);
- A well-dug, built, and protected latrine (if no internal toilet/ plumbing);
- Solid door(s)with dead-bolt locks, with peep hole in the main entrance door;
- Secure locks on windows/shutters (bars on first-floor windows if no wooden shutters);
- Located away from bar and/or discos (in separate building);
- Phone access (if there is access to phone lines);
- Smoke alarms;
- Walking distance to work and market areas; and
- Reasonable access to water source.
To those who have more than the minimum, count yourselves lucky! For those of you who don’t receive this minimum, Peace Corps will work with you and the local authorities responsible to ensure the above criteria are met.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer in Cape Verde, you will receive different types of allowances.
A living allowance covers your basic living expenses. To ensure that the living allowance is adequate, a review is conducted on a yearly basis through a market survey. Currently, the living allowance is equivalent to $320 to $330 per month (varies according to the exchange rate) and is paid in local currency. It is paid every three months at the beginning of each fiscal quarter (October 1, January 1, April 1, and July 1). The living allowance covers such expenses such as food, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, transportation, reading materials, and other incidentals.
A vacation allowance of $24 per month is added to your living allowance each quarter. The vacation allowance is paid in
U.S. dollars. A one-time settling-in allowance is also provided to purchase household goods upon arrival at your site. If you are requested by the Peace Corps to travel, you will be given additional money for transportation and meals as a transportation allowance. This amount is established by the administrative officer, based on the cost of transportation and lodging.
Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Cape Verde with these allowances, although many bring cash or traveler’s checks for out-of-country travel. Volunteers are strongly discouraged from supplementing their income with money brought from home. The living allowance is adequate, and Volunteers should be living at the economic level of their neighbors and colleagues.
Credit cards may be used at banks, major tourist hotels, travel agencies, and car rental agencies. You will not find retail stores where they can be used in Cape Verde. Volunteers set up bank accounts with the national bank.
Food and Diet
The variety of food in Cape Verde can be relatively limited, depending on the site.
Small restaurants can be found in most cities and towns, which usually offer basics of cachupa (see below), grilled chicken (frango asago), beefsteak (in the Portuguese style with fried egg on top), french fries, and in some places, lobster (lagosta--actually crayfish). Ceris is the local manufacturer and distributor of soda and beer in Cape Verde, available almost everywhere.
Cachupa, the Cape Verdean national dish, is a thick, corn-based stew with fish or meat and kale. The recipe changes from island to island. It can be served as lunch or dinner, or even re-heated for breakfast.
At stores, dairy products are limited to imported powdered or pasteurized (boxed) milk and locally produced or imported yogurt and cheese. Butter, yogurt and cheese are available. Gouda and Edam cheeses are available in most larger towns. In the countryside, locally produced milk is available, but it is not pasteurized; it must therefore be boiled before consumption.
Because of the limited rainfall, the availability of fresh produce varies, depending on time of year. The Cape Verdean diet is mostly based on fish and staple foods like corn and rice. Vegetables available during most of the year are potatoes, onions, tomatoes, manioc, cabbage, kale, and dried beans. Fruits like banana and papayas are available year-round, while others like mangoes and avocados are seasonal.
Fish is available at the markets during most of the year, usually from vendors in the street or outdoor market with buckets of fish. Locally produced canned tuna is also available and very good, if salty. It is more difficult to find fish in the countryside. Make sure you learn how to distinguish between fresh fish and bad when shopping--bright red or pink gills and clear eyes on the fish are safe to eat--grayish gills or opaque eyes and a heavy smell are past their prime.
Bread is available locally, most commonly in the form of rolls. There is also a choice of biscuits and cookies. Pastry shops can be found in larger cities. Most towns have people on street corners selling pasteis--small pastries stuffed with meat for a few cents each.
The traditional diet can be high in fat and cholesterol. Vegetarians will find it challenging to maintain their accustomed diet, lacking fruits and vegetables during certain times of the year. They may need to bring powdered protein to help increase their protein intake. European nut butter is available at some stores. Volunteers will be confronted with local customs and cultural issues when visiting Cape Verdean families. You will be offered—and expected to accept—traditional food choices. Though you can maintain a vegetarian lifestyle in your home, you should arrive in Cape Verde with an open mind and flexibility about sharing in the Cape Verdean diet when visiting friends and neighbors. Your living allowance will enable you to buy some imported fresh and canned fruits and vegetables.
Meat is sold in towns at a local butcher's shop--sometimes only on market days. Conditions can be less than sanitary, so make sure that you shop early on market day to get the freshest goods possible. Goat (cabrito), beef (bife), and chicken (galinha) is available.
Most of the transportation between islands is done by plane. There are regular flights to and from the major islands (Santiago, Sal and São Vicente), with less frequent fl ights to the other islands. Boat transportation is also available, though not widely used nor dependable (Volunteers should use life jackets to travel by boat, which are provided by Peace Corps). Volunteers are given the equivalent of one inter-island ticket per year.
To travel within the islands Volunteers use a system of privately owned mini-vans, hiaces, that run regular routes between major towns. Volunteers should not travel at night due to unsafe roads and reckless drivers.
In the major cities, public bus transport runs periodically and taxis are common. In smaller towns, there are mostly hiaces and/or taxis.
In locations where transportation is scarce, you will mostly walk; bicycles are available to Volunteers upon request. Volunteers who live in Mindelo and Praia, the two largest cities, are not authorized to have or ride bicycles.
Volunteers are not permitted to drive vehicles or to drive or be a passenger on a motorcycle.
Geography and Climate
Cape Verde’s climate is milder than that of the African mainland. Surrounded by the sea, temperatures are moderate, but it can get very hot in the rainy season and a bit cool at night in the dry season (though still hot in the day). Each island has its own mini-climate, which can also vary on a single island, depending on whether the site is on the ocean or up in the mountains.
In most places, vegetation is scarce, so there is very little protection from the sun, which makes it even hotter. Cape Verde is part of the Sahelian arid belt and lacks the rainfall levels of West African countries. There are days during the dry season when the Sarahan winds blow sand clouds across the ocean, causing limited visibility and leaving grit in cracks and windows. When it does rain, most of the rainfall occurs between August and October, with several brief, heavy downpours. Cape Verdeans are likely to rejoice when it rains, with the village turning out to dance in the rain! The landscape can change dramatically on some islands with the change of seasons--dry, sere hillsides quickly grow verdant, lush corn fields.
With the exception of the larger cities, where there are a limited number of restaurants and nightclubs, most of your social activities consist of community activities and visiting friends and neighbors. In most communities, there are regular dances and parties that you will be encouraged to attend. In towns where there is electricity, Cape Verdeans have access to television and watch Cape Verde’s programs on two channels (Cape Verdean and Portuguese). In all communities, soccer games and church activities may provide a source of social interaction and entertainment. The traditional walk around the praça (town square) to meet friends is practiced regularly in Cape Verdean towns.
During these nights out, you will likely be approached by community members who try to make you feel at home. Many Volunteers comment that developing friendships in their community is the greatest reward of Volunteer service.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is finding a way to fit into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity. This balance can be difficult to achieve, and we can only provide you with guidelines. You will be working as a representative of a professional entity in a professional setting; as such, you are expected to dress and behave accordingly. A foreigner wearing ragged, unmended clothing is more likely to be considered offensive. Long hair, body piercing, and earrings are not appropriate for men; wearing dreadlocks is considered inappropriate for men and women. Women should not dress in any way that could be considered provocative.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be over-emphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety responsibilities. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (often alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as a rich American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers, especially women, experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are common, and physical and sexual assaults have occured in the past.
Nonetheless, most Volunteers complete their two years of
service without experiencing any personal safety problems. 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 Cape Verde. At the same time, Volunteers are expected to take responsibility for their own safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Due to financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support promised, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and many Cape Verdeans may be hesitant to change practices that they are used to. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys that occur while you adapt to a new culture and environment.
You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work, perhaps more than any other job you have had or will ever experience. Often you will find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your counterparts with little or no guidance from supervisors. You may work for months without seeing any visible impact and without receiving feedback on your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress is often seen only after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confi dence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To approach and master these challenges you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. There is help along the way, however. Cape Verdeans are hospitable, friendly, and warm people. The Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Cape Verde 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, you will be a successful Volunteer.