Although I’m technically a volunteer for my 2 years with the Peace Corps, I do get paid a living stipend. My salary is supposed to pay for my food and living expenses, but it’s not supposed to make me rich. The goal is to pay volunteers enough to keep them alive, but not enough to fund a lifestyle that’s drastically different than that of local neighbors. In fact, my salary is lower than what Basotho teachers get paid.
In Lesotho, that means that Peace Corps Volunteers receive 2184.04 Maluti per month. The Maluti is tied to the South African Rand, and you can use the two currencies interchangeably in Lesotho. The Rand is currently worth about 1/14 of the US Dollar. That means my salary is roughly $150/month or less than $2000/year… Woo!
Because I’m paid so little in USD, it’s not useful to translate prices in my head. True, most things are cheap by American standards, but I’m not living on an American paycheck, so it doesn’t matter! I do plan to dip into US savings a bit for travel, but for day-to-day life, I have to budget my Maluti carefully. Luckily, since I live in a rural village, there’s not much to spend money on even if I wanted to. Most of my spending is from trips to my camp town (the district capital) or to Maseru (the national capital).
Here’s what Maluti can buy, on average:
- 1: a makoenya (fat cake) or small bag of knick-knacks (Cheeto-esque snacks)
- 2: a banana
- 5: a green pepper
- 6.50: a ride in a 4+1 (small taxi) within the limits of a single town
- 7: a letter mailed to the US
- 13: a 660ml glass bottle of beer
- 15.50: a liter of milk
- 25: taxi fare from my village to Thaba-Tseka, the camp town (1.5 hour drive)
- 30: a serving of plate food (usually papa, moroho, and meat) at a restaurant or food stand
- 90: taxi fare from Thaba-Tseka to Maseru (4 hour drive)
- 150: nice meal in Maseru
- 220: 2 GB of data for a smartphone
- 320: gas to fill a 19kg canister (the size I use with my stove)
- 450: a seshoeshoe (traditional dress) made according to your individual measurements and preferences
- 500: a night at the fanciest hotel in Thaba-Tseka, spotty wifi and a buffet breakfast included
- 790: a kobo (Basotho blanket)
- 1500: yearly fees to attend high school