Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Guinea
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Revision as of 22:49, 22 November 2008
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 disappointed. Mail from the United States takes a minimum of three to four weeks to arrive in Conakry, and can take an additional two weeks or more to reach places outside Conakry (Peace Corps/Guinea has a monthly mail run from Conakry to every Volunteer site). Some mail may simply not arrive (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.
Despite the delays, we encourage you to write to your family regularly and to number your letters. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so it is a good idea to advise them that mail is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/ Guinea would notify the Office of Special Services at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, which would then contact your family.
Note that nothing of great value should be sent via international mail, since packages sometimes arrive with items missing. While marking a package “educational materials” may increase the odds that a given item will arrive intact, this labeling should be reserved for books, magazines, and the like. You will be charged a customs and handling fee for all incoming packages, which varies depending on the contents of the package. Valuable items should be mailed via DHL or another express-mail service; DHL is the quickest and safest means of sending things to Guinea.
While in Guinea, your address will be:
Corps de la Paix Americain
The telephone system in Guinea is unreliable, and calling the United States is difficult and expensive. Volunteers often set up calls between Guinea and the United States in advance, arranging for a time and place to receive calls from home. In the interior of the country telephone access is sporadic. Few Volunteers have phones at their sites, but tele-centers exist in most large towns and regional capitals. It is not possible to make collect calls or calls to toll-free numbers from Guinea. Note that Guinea is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (fours hours ahead during Daylight Savings Time).
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
The infrastructure needed for electronic communications has not progressed at the same rate in Guinea as it has in many other parts of the world. Access to e-mail and the Internet is rare in most of the country, although there is limited access (at slow connection speeds) at Internet cafes in Conakry and some regional capitals. The Peace Corps has installed computers for Volunteers to use at regional workstations and at the resource center at the Peace Corps office in Conakry. While Internet access is spreading to other cities in Guinea, the lack of electricity in much of the country remains a problem. While Internet access is difficult and will be intermittent throughout your service, many Volunteers create and post messages to websites and blogs. This is an excellent forum you might consider for sharing your experience with family and friends. Should you choose to create a website or blog, please refer to the guidance and Peace Corps policies in the Volunteer Handbook. Additionally, Volunteers should discuss the content of their blogs and websites with the country director.
Housing and Site Location
Before Volunteers arrive, Peace Corps/Guinea staff, in collaboration with local partners, identify safe and secure Volunteer housing. Volunteers have their own lodging, which varies depending on the region of the country, during service. Your housing might be a two-room house made from cement with a corrugated tin roof or a mud hut with a thatch roof. Volunteers are located anywhere from seven miles (12 km) to 62 miles (100 km) from the nearest Volunteer or regional capital.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Peace Corps will open a bank account for you in Conakry when you arrive in Guinea, and will deposit your living and travel allowances (in Guinean francs) into this account on a quarterly basis throughout your service. The Guinean government or other local development partner provides housing for Volunteers. Volunteer living allowance is intended to cover regular expenses such as food, transportation, and clothing. It should allow you to maintain a standard of living comparable to your Guinean counterparts.
Although credit cards and ATM cards can rarely be used in Guinea, they are widely accepted in neighboring countries and are very convenient to have when traveling abroad.
Food and Diet
Guinea’s major food crops include millet, maize (corn), rice, manioc (cassava), groundnuts (peanuts), and palm oil. In addition, coffee and bananas are cultivated for export.
Rice is the staple food, regardless of region. If people have not had any rice on a particular day, they do not feel that they have eaten! Rice is served with a variety of sauces, such as peanut sauce, several different leaf sauces (like spinach, only tastier), and soup. If a family has the means, beef, chicken, or fish (usually dried) may be added to the sauce.
The supply of fruits and vegetables varies according to the season and the region. Bananas are available year-round, but oranges, avocados, and pineapples are seasonal. Mangoes are available in the dry season.
Volunteers in Guinea primarily use public transportation to get around, including taxis, buses, and (occasionally) airplanes. Volunteers are not allowed to drive motorized vehicles.
Every Volunteer is issued a mountain bicycle and mandatory bicycle helmet. Agroforestry Volunteers are permitted to ride as a passenger on their counterpart’s motorbike, but to do so they must wear a motorbike helmet (provided by Peace Corps/Guinea).
Geography and Climate
Guinea has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons: a dry season from November to April, and a wet season from May to October. Annual rainfall varies from 170 inches in Conakry to fewer than 60 inches in Upper Guinea. Temperatures also vary by region. On the coast and in the Forest Region, temperature averages 81 degrees Fahrenheit. In January, in the Fouta highlands, temperatures vary from 86 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, dropping below 50 degrees at night. In the dry season, midday highs of more than 100 degrees are not uncommon in Upper Guinea.
You will be invited to the major celebrations in your village such as marriages and baptisms, which usually feature music and a feast for all participants. Islamic holidays such as Ramadan and Tabaski offer additional opportunities to socialize with your community and learn about Islam and the Muslim way of life. Some villages also have dance halls (discos). The best opportunities for socializing will come when you have made friends at your site.
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. It is not an easy situation to resolve, and we can only provide you with guidelines. As a representative of a government ministry, you will be expected to dress and behave professionally. While some of your Guinean counterparts may dress in seemingly worn or shabby clothes, this is more likely a matter of economics than choice. It is likely that they are wearing their best. Much importance is placed on appearance in this culture, and you should always try your best to present a neat, clean, and professional appearance.
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 theft and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur. However, nearly all 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 Guinea. 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 is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies may not always provide the support they promised.
In addition, the pace of work and life in Guinea is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. 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 responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or ever will have. You will often find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your co-workers with little guidance or supervision. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress comes from the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
Overcoming these difficulties will require maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. Guineans are warm, friendly, and hospitable people, and the Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during challenging times 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 Guinea feeling that they gained much more than they gave during their service. With a commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will enjoy your Peace Corps service.