If I had a dollar for every time someone said “So … what’s your salary there, in the Peace Corps?” then I would not actually need a salary. I’d spend *that* money. Or more likely, live off the interest.

I discovered yesterday that the little mzungu supermarket near my house sells grapes. I wasn’t there to buy produce at all, I was there to buy DOOM, a potent insect-killing spray – however, I found myself wandering over to the brightly-lit displays of local vegetables and humming coolers filled with delicate fruits. I’d been thinking about grapes. Dreaming about grapes. It’s almost as though I’d conjured them (ala Michael Crichton’s Sphere) in their green, succulent perfection. I inquired as to the price.

350 shillings. Per pint.

Needless to say, I returned home broken and grape-less.

No one joins the Peace Corps to get rich. We are each paid the same regardless of skill set or site placement, and while posting the actual figure would be tacky, I will say that it ain’t a whole lot. It’s enough, to be certain. I have no rent to pay. Many days, my commute consists of a ten minute walk, and in the times it’s more complicated, it rarely exceeds a 50 shilling matatu ride to a nearby health center. I don’t own a car, and my healthcare is provided gratis by the US government via PCMO:Nairobi. Expenses, then, generally consist of food, some transport, and sundries like additional clothing, mobile phone minutes, and stamps.

This sounds like a great deal – and it is, don’t misread me – but factor in the part where we’re working full time in situations of adversity and it gets a little less glamorous. I don’t think there’s a PCV out there who hasn’t been on some crudbox matatu with no brakes, seats that aren’t bolted down, and 453 people popping their personal space bubble and had the thought flicker through their head “Should I be getting hazard pay for this?”

We also have a resettlement bonus accumulating in a secret Swiss bank account somewhere that is supposed to tide us over upon our return while we seek jobs, apartments, etc. But I don’t know enough about that to really comment … except that I already have plans for mine. Close-of-Service is a long, long time from now.

As for the various little “extras” that become almost clichéd aspects of the PC:K experience – the mid-service rafting trip, the celebratory lunch at Java House any time we’re in Nairobi for any reason, the completely extravagant but impossible to live without expense of the “wireless modem dongle” (which allows me to type this entry RIGHT NOW) – you can’t really cover those so well out of the stipend. Or I guess you could, with LOTS of careful planning and belt-tightening. And possibly not eating for appreciable periods of time.

So we don’t get a salary, per se. We get a living allowance. You’d think this would be relatively self-evident from the fact that we’re “Peace Corps VOLUNTEERS” but I still get a lot of questions from folks back in the States. Does this clear it up? Good. 😉