Contacting Me in Ethiopia

Hello All!  Peace Corps sent this letter to us for us to share with you.  Please take a look.  Regarding war stories, well, hell… you know me already so you should be expecting this.  If I’m really concerned I’ll let you know that it’s something that you should call 911 about. ^_-

Dear Families:

Greetings from the Ethiopia Desk in Washington, D.C.  It is with great pleasure that we welcome your family member to Peace Corps.  During the past year we have received many requests from Volunteers and family members alike regarding travel plans, sending money, relaying messages and mail, etc.  As we are unable to involve ourselves in the personal arrangements of Volunteers, we would like to offer you advice and assistance in advance by providing specific examples of situations and how we suggest they be handled.


Irregular Communication

The mail service in Ethiopia is not as efficient as the U.S. Postal Service.  Thus, it is important to be patient.  It can take three to four weeks for mail coming from Ethiopia to arrive in the United States via the Ethiopian postal system.  From a Volunteer’s post, mail might take 1-2 months to reach the United States.  Sometimes mail is hand carried to the States by a traveler and then mailed through the US postal system.  This leg of the trip can take another several weeks, as it is also dependent on the frequency of travelers to the U.S.

We suggest that in your first letters, you ask your Volunteer family member to give an estimate of how long it takes for him/her to receive your letters and then try to establish a predictable pattern of how often you will write to each other.  Volunteers have had good success in receiving their mail in this form.  Also, try numbering your letters so that the Volunteer knows if he/she has missed one.  Postcards should be sent in envelopes–otherwise they may be found on the wall of the local post office!

Volunteers often enjoy telling their “war” stories when they write home.  Letters might describe recent illnesses, lack of good food, isolation, etc.  While the subject matter is good reading material, it is often misinterpreted on the home front.  Please do not assume that if your family member has been ill that he or she has been unattended.  Peace Corps has a doctor and physician’s assistant on staff in Addis Ababa.  Through regular contact, they monitor the health of the Volunteers.  In the event of a serious illness, the Volunteer comes to Addis Ababa and is cared for by our medical staff.  If the Volunteer requires medical care that is not available in Ethiopia, he/she will be medically evacuated to Kenya, South Africa or the United States, depending on the medical care required.  Fortunately, these are rare circumstances.

If, for some reason, your communication pattern is broken and you do not hear from your family member for three months, you should contact the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps Washington at 1-800-424-8580, extension 1470.  OSS will then contact the Peace Corps Director and ask her/him to check up on the Volunteer.  Also, in the case of an emergency at home (death in the family, sudden illness, etc.), please do not hesitate to call OSS immediately so that the Volunteer will be informed as soon as possible.


Telephone Calls

The telephone system in Ethiopia is relatively good.  Service to the United States is somewhat reliable, phones exist in larger towns and Volunteers can often plan to be at a phone on a certain date to receive calls from home on their cell phones.  This usually works, but there are also innumerable factors that can make the best-laid plans fall apart.  When calling Ethiopia you may often get voice recorded messages stating that the person you are calling is “out of the service area”, while this is often true, sometimes it is just a poor network connection which can be remedied by calling again.  It is not uncommon to have to call 5-10 times before getting through.

The Ethiopia Desk communicates with the Peace Corps office in Addis Ababa daily.  However, these calls are reserved for business only and we cannot relay personal messages over the phone.  All communication between family members and the Volunteer must be done via international mail.


Sending mail during Pre Service Training (PST)

Kati Wilkins, PCV
P.O. Box 7788
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


Sending packages

Both parents and Volunteers like to send and receive care packages through the mail.  Unfortunately, sending packages can be a frustrating experience for all involved due to the possible theft and heavy customs taxes.  Please do not send any electronics (cameras, computers, hard drives, etc) as these items have extremely high custom taxes (often times as much if not more than the item itself) and the Volunteer will not have sufficient funds to pay these taxes and the item will have to be shipped back home to you.  You may want to try to send inexpensive items through the mail, but there is no guarantee that these items will arrive.  We do not recommend, however, that costly items be sent through the mail.  Even though Volunteers choose to get local post office boxes, you may use the following address to send letters to your family member at any time during his or her service:

Kati Wilkins, PCV
U.S. Peace Corps
P.O. Box 7788
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


We recommend that packages be sent in padded envelopes if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more frequently.  Custom fees can be quite expensive.  For lightweight but important items (e.g. airline tickets), several services such as DHL, FedEx, TNT, and UPS operate in Ethiopia.  These services however, are very expensive, and can cost as much as $70 for a letter.  If you do choose to send items through them, you must address the package to the Country Director, c/o US Peace Corps, Nifas Silk Lafto Kifle Ketema, Kebele 04, House # 453, Sarbet Road, P.O. Box 7788, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Sending airplane tickets and/or cash is not recommended.  Certain airlines will allow you to buy a pre-paid ticket in the States; they will telex their Addis Ababa office to have the ticket ready.  Unfortunately, this system is not always reliable.  Several carriers fly to Ethiopia.  Please call the airline of your choice for more information. You could also send tickets via mail services as mentioned previously.  However, Peace Corps will assume no liability in the event of a lost/stolen airline ticket.

Trying to send cash or checks is very risky and is discouraged.  If your Volunteer family member requests money from you, it is his/her responsibility to arrange for its receipt.  There is Western Union service available in Addis Ababa, although there are many charges involved in the sending and exchange of money.  Bear in mind that Volunteers will be aware of people visiting the States and can request that they call the Volunteers’ families when they arrive in the States should airline tickets or cash need to be sent back to Ethiopia.

We hope this information is helpful to you during the time your family member is serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia.  We understand how frustrating communication difficulties can be when your family member is overseas and we appreciate your using this information as a guide.  Please feel free to contact us at the Ethiopia Desk in Washington, D.C. if you have any further questions.  Our phone number is 1-800-424-8580, ext. 2329/2307 or locally, 202-692-2329/2307.


Carey Jolie

Ethiopia Country Desk

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2 Responses to Contacting Me in Ethiopia

  1. Debbie Brown says:

    Hi Carey…Our daughter is currently a PCV in Ethiopia and we have found that the USPS flat rate boxes are the way to go for items that need a ‘box’, much more affordable and we stuff them. We number each box as well as the international form that must be filled out…just in case we need to track one down. So far 2-6 weeks has been the delivery time, most have been opened but nothing has been missing. As far as the tax charged, we have never heard anything…pkgs are so important I don’t think anyone minds spending a few birr to get them. Also, if you have a cell phone sign up for international rates…texting has been very reliable so far…you will get an Ethiopian phone. One last thing…friends and family can use skype to call you for around .40 cents/min. Good luck and have fun…it WILL be an adventure.

  2. newsbooking says:

    Hi Debbie,
    Thank you for the info! Who’s your daughter, I’ll mention that you commented on my blog when I get out there if I get to meet her. It’s good to know that the USPS boxes are the way to go, I’m already setting aside a little “to me for later” box of stuff that I don’t want to shlep with me for the first few weeks, but know I’ll need when I get to site. Plus I’m sure my folks will be really happy to hear this, too. This is all great info, thank you!!

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