Thursday, July 2, 2009

Living Allowance Survey


As a Peace Corps volunteer in Samoa, our host agency provides us with a place to live and covers the cost of our electricity (up to about $60 tala a month in electricity). Peace Corps provides us with a monthly living allowance. The allowance is calculated on a number of factors that mainly center around a market basket survey. In the past Peace Corps staff have gone to grocery stores with a list of typical goods and checked the prices. Hypothetically, if the prices go up, so should our living allowance. The market basket is also used for our yearly living allowance survey. Volunteers are supposed to keep a record of their purchases for a month. This information is also used to determine our living allowance.

The idea behind the items on the survey is for volunteers to live as close to local standards as possible. However, complaints usually arose around the old survey that it seemed to assume that we were eating papaya and taro just about all our meals. Also most Samoans have family plantations from which they get a steady stream of taro, breadfruit, coconut, etc. We usually have no such resource.

Recently, our country director and the president of VAC (volunteer advisory committee) got together to develop a new survey that included a more realistic list of foods we eat, a more healthy balance of foods and include new communications costs, such as cell phones and landline internet accounts.

Obviously, no list was going to cover the shopping habits of 40 different people living in 40 different situations on two different islands. But it was a definite improvement.

We are all supposed to be filling out our survey for this past month and turning it in soon. Here is the list of foods on the living allowance survey we received in our email (which does not include all the items on the new market basket developed):
  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Milk
  • Ground beef
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts and candies
  • Misc
What I am trying to figure out is where does my salami fit on this list? Is salami a chicken or a ground beef? I suppose the camembert can go in milk. Can I call capers a vegetable? What do you suppose you do when all the things you buy in a month are miscellaneous (ie pasta, cheese, fish, etc).

Cale and I love food and we spend a significant portion (read: just about all) of our monthly allowance on delicious foods. Granted, it is slightly easier for us. When there are two people living together, you have two living allowances. Of course, when there are two people living together, you also have two mouths. So maybe that jar of olives is more economically feasible because it only $6 tala per person when there are two of you instead of the $12 for a single person. On the other hand, two people can power through one jar of olives in a hurry.

The picture of our pretentious meal above is in no way typical. We are definitely not eating like that all the time. That day happened to be our wedding anniversary. Today for lunch we had tuna salad and crackers (well...we also had a little cheese, olive, tomato and basil with crackers, but Cale grew the tomatoes and basil and it was a very little olive). For dinner we had chili five-ways. What is the benefit of being two people you ask? For the fifth way we amortize half a $7 container of sour cream over all that cheese onion chili and noodles.(Note: Cale is helping with this blog entry. Sara doesn't typically use words she doesn't know, like amortize or onion.)

— Sara

1 comment:

Teresa said...

I know what amortize means!