Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Chad
From Peace Corps Wiki
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you anticipate U.S. standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration. Mail generally takes two to four weeks to get to N’Djamena from the United States, and a week or so more to get to Volunteer sites. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Some letters may arrive with clipped edges because someone has tried to see if any money was inside (again, this is rare, but it does happen).
Advise your family and friends to number their letters for tracking purposes and to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. Also let them know that the Peace Corps has no control over the international mail system.
During training, people can send letters and packages to you at the following address:
PCT, “Your Name”
Corps de la Paix
Once you are at your site, letters can be mailed directly to your address there. Note that in the event of a serious problem, Peace Corps/Chad would notify the Office of Special
Services at the Peace Corps’ headquarters in Washington, which would then contact your family. Advise your family that in the case of a family emergency, they should also contact the Office of Special Services. During normal business hours, the number of the office is 800.424.8580; select option 2, then extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574.
Local telephone service is unreliable and expensive. You can generally arrange for your family to call you once you learn where you will be posted, depending on your location in the country. Chad is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (five hours ahead of Daylight Savings Time).
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
You can access the Internet at cybercafes in N’Djamena. Internet access in other large towns, however, is unreliable because of the quality of telephone lines. The Peace Corps office has a limited number of computers available for work-related use by Volunteers. Adjusting to life in Chad will be significantly easier if you begin preparing yourself, your friends, and your family for sporadic and infrequent communication by Internet or telephone.
Housing and Site Location
The ministry you will be working for, in collaboration with Peace Corps staff, decides where you will be posted. Members of Peace Corps/Chad staff review proposed sites for appropriateness, safety, and security. You are unlikely to know your post until the last few weeks of pre-service training because staff members need time to evaluate work sites and get to know each trainee individually before making placement decisions.
Sites range from large administrative towns to small villages. Peace Corps/Chad arranges for housing, relying on the resources available in each community. It tries to ensure that Volunteers have lodging that allows for independence and privacy, but you have to be flexible in your housing expectations. You may be lodged in a small, one-room hut within a family’s compound. Your house may have walls made of concrete or mud bricks and a tin or thatched roof. A typical Volunteer house consists of a sitting room, a bedroom, and a cooking area. Some houses have inside toilets and shower areas while others have nearby pit latrines. You probably will not have running water and electricity, which means that your water will come from a well or river and that you will spend your evenings reading by a candle or lantern.
Living Allowance and Money Management
The local currency is the CFA franc (for Communauté financière de l’Afrique, or African Financial Community), whose exchange rate is about 500 CFA to the U.S. dollar. You will receive a monthly living allowance to cover the cost of living simply but adequately while serving in Chad. The living allowance covers the cost of utilities, domestic help, household supplies, clothing, food, work-related transport and supplies, and modest entertainment and recreation expenses. In addition, you will receive $24 each month as a vacation allowance and additional money to pay for transportation and lodging on official trips (i.e., trips made at the request of the Peace Corps).
After you are sworn in as a Volunteer, you will get a one-time settling-in allowance to purchase household items such as furniture and kitchen supplies. The amount is based on a survey of Volunteer expenses. Volunteers are encouraged to purchase items that are available locally and to restrict their purchases to genuine needs. In all cases, equipment and furnishings should be consistent with local usage. The Peace Corps will provide a mountain bike and helmet, if one is required for your work; a mosquito net; and a water filter.
Food and Diet
Drinking water needs to be boiled or filtered. Fruits and vegetables are somewhat limited, with only one or two local fruits or vegetables available in any given season. Local lettuce, green peppers, okra, and tomatoes are available almost year-round. Fruits like oranges, pineapples, and bananas are imported from Cameroon.
Chadian meals are simple but tasty and nutritious. A typical meal in the northern part of the country consists of a staple food like millet or sorghum served with meat sauce made from beef or sheep. In the south, the staple food is sorghum, rice, or maize served with a fish or meat sauce.
Air travel within Chad is possible via two private charter agencies, Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) and the Esso oil company. Air Chad, the national airline, ceased operations in 1999.
Railway services have never existed in Chad. The most common means of transport in Chad are privately owned trucks, minibuses, and a variety of four-wheel-drive vehicles, all of which are used to haul everything from livestock to people (frequently together). Chad has only 310 miles (500 kilometers) of paved road, so travel from one point to another—particularly in the rainy season—usually takes considerable time.
Because of safety and security concerns, Volunteers are not allowed to own or drive any type of motorized vehicle (including motorcycles) in Chad. The only exception to this rule is in the event of a life-, limb-, or sight-threatening emergency involving a Volunteer.
Geography and Climate
Landlocked Chad borders Libya in the north, Sudan in the east, the Central African Republic in the south, and Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger in the West. It has an area of 485,600 square miles. Because of the desert climate of the Sahel in the northern two-thirds of the country, Chad’s population, estimated at just over 9.5 million in 2004, resides mainly in the south. Seventy-seven percent of the population lives in rural areas (in clusters of fewer than 5,000 inhabitants) as subsistence farmers or herders. The capital, N'Djamena, is home to approximately 700,000 people; other major cities include Sarh (50,000) and Moundou (75,000) in the south, and Abéché (35,000) in the north.
Chad has three seasons: rainy, hot, and cool. During the rainy season from June to October, the temperature ranges between 75 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit with relatively high humidity. The dry, cool season extends from November to February, when temperatures range from 60 to 100 degrees. During the hot season from March to June, daily temperatures exceed 110 and rarely drop lower than 90 degrees, and humidity gradually rises as the rains approach.
Social activities vary according to where you are located and range from sitting and talking with friends and neighbors to going to the market to taking part in local festivals. The cultural diversity of Chad means that there is always something of interest going on in the village that you can learn from, be it drumming and dancing or planting peanuts.
Forming relationships with members of a community is both challenging and gratifying. Chadians are hospitable and generous, and their extended family structure results in an open-door policy and a welcoming attitude to visitors. Demonstrating an interest in the local culture greatly speeds the integration process and helps you establish credibility as a member of the community. The most satisfied Volunteers integrate into their communities—eat the local food, speak the local language, and attend important village ceremonies such as baptisms, funerals, and marriages—while maintaining a good sense of who they are as individuals. Although the majority of social activities occur in their village or community, Volunteers also form a tightknit community and do a good share of socializing at provincial or national meetings and on certain holidays.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
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 all at the same time. It is not an easy thing to resolve. You will be working as a representative of a Chadian government ministry or a professional nongovernmental organization (NGO) and as such you will be expected to dress and behave accordingly.
Your Chadian co-workers will generally dress very well and will expect you to dress appropriately too. Being neat and cleanly dressed is a sign of respect and pride. A foreigner who wears unkempt or old clothes is likely to be considered an affront. Trousers (for men, and women in some regions), blouses/shirts, skirts (below the knee), and dresses are appropriate wear for work. Wearing shorts, halter tops, short skirts, form-fitting or low-cut blouses, military attire, or dirty or torn clothing in public is not appropriate.
The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to behave in a way that will foster respect within their community and reflect well on the Peace Corps and on citizens of the United States. You will receive an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest and thus must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the “Health Care and Safety” chapter of this Welcome Book, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. 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 Chad Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Chad. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction in Chad is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Collaborating agencies are not always able to provide Volunteers the ideal degree of support. In addition, the pace of work and life is much slower than what most Americans are accustomed to. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.
You will be given a high degree of independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will have. Depending on how you approach your work, you are also likely to have a great deal of responsibility. You will often find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your co-workers with little guidance from supervisors. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development anywhere in the world—including disadvantaged areas in the United States—is slow work that requires perseverance. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To overcome these difficulties you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. The Peace Corps/Chad staff, your Chadian friends, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.