Can you hear me now?
Communicating with loved ones back home is one of the most important questions for newly invited Peace Corps volunteers (and their families!). Zambia has a relatively underdeveloped infrastructure compared with many other Peace Corps posts, but the country has made significant technological advances in the past few years and now nearly every volunteer has access to a cellular service in or very near to his or her site.
Figuring out how to contact folks back home while in Zambia is wildly confusing at first but quickly becomes common knowledge once you get the hang of it. For incoming Peace Corps Zambia volunteers, here’s everything you need to prep yourself for before you arrive.
[Keep in mind that all of the below scenarios assume that you will also have a laptop that you will store at your Peace Corps provincial house and likely access every month.]
At my site, I want to:
a.) Limit communication with family and friends back home to the occasional Skype call, text, or email every month or so
b.) Communicate with family and friends back home regularly via text, calls, or short emails
c.) Communicate with folks back home frequently, post regular Facebook/Twitter/Instagram status updates, maintain a casual blog
d.) Communicate with folks back home frequently, maintain my social media presence everywhere, and keep up a killer blog
I should bring:
a.) A simple phone for calls, texts, and basic internet and email.
Everything else you’ll be able to do with the laptop that you can bring and leave at your provincial house. After you arrive in country your training group will be taken to a mall in Lusaka where you will be able to purchase a new phone. This will probably be less hassle than bringing an unlocked GSM quad-band phone that can accept a SIM card from America. If this last sentence made sense to you, then you’ll probably want to use a more advanced phone at your site anyway.
b.) A more advanced phone that has a better platform for efficient emailing.
The phone recommended for all new volunteers by Peace Corps Zambia staff is the Samsung Chat, which is also used by over half of currently serving volunteers. This phone can be used for posting Facebook updates and blogging, but the character limit for emails and posts is a bit limiting. Unless you brought a phone from America that you know will work in Zambia, you will be fine listening to the advice of the training staff prior to staging and bringing about $80-100 in order to purchase a phone once you have arrived in country.
c.) A smartphone with an operating system capable of running apps and a SIM card slot.
Although you can do all of these things with a phone like the Chat, they would be much easier on a smartphone. I’d recommend bringing an unlocked smartphone with you when you arrive in country (popular phones are the different iterations of the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy). Most phones are GSM quad-band and will take SIM cards, but make sure that the phone you bring is unlocked (i.e. not tied to any specific cellular service provider) or it will not work in Zambia. Reliable phone unlockers are difficult to find in Zambia and are generally expensive.
d.) A laptop/tablet/netbook that you can keep with you at your site.
You will probably need to keep a laptop or tablet at your site unless you’re willing to do a LOT of typing on a phone. Every site is different, but most volunteers agree that it is worth having a laptop at site if it is important to you and that safety and security issues are manageable. If you do decide to go this route, plan on bringing some extra cash into country in order to purchase a solar panel/car battery/inverter setup to provide power in your hut (these systems run from about Kr400 to Kr1000, or USD $80 to $200).