Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Report of what it's like to live there - 07/08/13

Personal Experiences from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso 07/08/13

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Yes.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

West coast. With connections and layovers, 24 to 36 hours. After flying through Paris the first time, we chose to fly through Brussels. It's an easier airport to navigate and there's a hotel just across the street to get some rest in between flights.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Larger homes with little green space located minutes from the embassy and smaller, older homes with more green space located about 20-30 minutes from the embassy (traffic dependent) but close to the International School.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

We typically shop at Trader Joe's and Safeway in the states and didn't notice much of an increase in our shopping bills. We did come from the San Francisco area though. Availability of products is intermittent. Boxed or powdered milk are your only options and we went for a period of two months without it. Cheddar cheese was another difficult and expensive thing to come by. Many people from the embassy ordered their cheeses through Hawkeye Dairy. Boxed cereal is disgusting. We always ordered that through Amazon.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

A Toyota rather than a Honda. "Feel good" snack foods for when you just can't deal with the strangeness of it all. More oil and laundry detergent. Both are super expensive and oil cannot be shipped through pouch. Honestly though, just get Amazon Prime and ship a lot to yourself. Mail days are like Christmas.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

We never tried street meat, which would be the only fast food available. There are a surprising number of decent restaurants, including Vietnamese, Indian, French, and pizza joints. Prices vary, but lean towards the expensive side.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

We didn't have too many problems with insects. We told our kids from the start that finding a gecko in the house was good luck and they do help keep the bug population down. I called exterminators to take care of a few wasp nests, termites, and we occasionally found a cockroach in the house. Really though, it wasn't a big problem. We were one of the lucky houses that didn't have a big mosquito issue, though many of the embassy houses did.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Embassy pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Readily available, though you may have to do a bit of training. We had a large family and house and paid about $200 per month for 5 days a week of house cleaning, laundry and ironing, preparation of one meal a day, and errands every so often. Most people paid less for their house keepers. We paid our gardener/pool man $60 per month and he came 3 days per week, half days. We did not have a nanny, but they are inexpensive and readily available also.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are a few, but we used the gym at the embassy. It is small, but well equipped for its size.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

We always used cash.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Knowing French is crucial to getting by. Rarely will you find an English speaker.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

No.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Bring a 4x4 if you every plan to leave the city (which you will want to) and do not bring a Honda. They cannot fix them. Toyota and Ford both have dealerships, but they won't work on American standard vehicles. Parts are expensive. Make sure you bring them. Very few mechanics know how to work on automatic transmissions in-country. Bring extra tires. You may never need them, but if you do you won't deplete your savings replacing them.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

We paid $140 per month and never received the speeds that were advertised. You don't pay for internet here. You pay for the hope of internet. If you don't pay, there is no hope.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

They are cheap and mostly pre-paid. Bring a GSM phone unlocked.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Depends on the agency and event. Some agencies are business casual while others wear suits to work every day. For the most part, Burkinabe lean to formal dress.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Don't go up north, don't take public transportation, purse/bag snatching abounds. Pay for someone to watch your car. It's cheap and it keeps break-ins from happening.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Malaria and food-borne illnesses. The Health Unit is pretty good, but for anything major you'll be heading to Europe. Care in town is not hygienic.

Some have found a local dentist, but should be used for nothing more than cleanings.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Awful, except for right after it rains. Otherwise you're either dealing with dust or smoke. They burn all their garbage everywhere.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot and dusty, hot and rainy, and a short period where it cools down to the 60's at night. The locals really bundle up for it.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The only English-speaking school is the International School of Ouagadougou. We had children in the elementary school, the middle school, and the high school. While the elementary school was good with an excellent student to teacher ratio, we felt the middle and high schools were lacking in academics. Advanced classes and qualified teachers were limited and the school cannot handle much variation in scheduling. That being said, our children loved the social atmosphere. Also, the new school director is working hard at addressing deficiencies.

There are also two French schools, which some families have chosen to send their children to and they seemed happy with them. Children must be fluent in French if they are entering any other grade than Kindergarten.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

ISO will do what they can if they have the resources, but those are limited and I believe only extremely mild cases could be handled.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

We did not have a preschooler, but several families found suitable schools on both sides of town.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes. Through ISO.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Relatively small English speaking community.

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale is much higher among those with a decent amount of French. Those without French, or who have difficulty traveling outside the country for an occasional break, struggle.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Mostly family get-togethers, BBQ's, and game nights.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I think families with small children and couples have had the best time. There a lot of playgroup opportunities and couples usually travel quite a bit outside of the country, which seems to make a big difference. Singles honestly have nothing to do but play board games and sit by the pool. Teenagers have few options for entertainment and only a limited number of other teenagers to make friends with. Traveling outside of the country can be financially prohibitive for larger families.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes. Caucasians are seen as wealthy and the locals will attempt to take advantage of you because of that. It is the most religiously tolerant culture I've ever experienced.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Trips to Banfora to see special rock formations, waterfalls, and lush greenery, which you will not find in or near Ouaga. We also enjoyed seeing the sacred crocodiles about an hour outside of the city.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Um...

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Local crafts, travel.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

You can only spend so much money on African crafts/trinkets. The rest of the time, you'll save plenty of money - as long as you don't travel outside the country.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. Though it was difficult for our family, it was a good experience and helped us to appreciate the US.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes, luxury cars, Western logic, and aversion to body odor.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, pool toys, board games, patience, and positive attitude.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Lonely Planet for West Africa. It's a little out of date, but still worth a read.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

This is a hardship post with a small expat community. A positive, friendly attitude is essential! And specifically for the US Embassy community: If you're in a language designated position make sure your spouse learns French too.

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