Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Report of what it's like to live there - 01/16/15
Personal Experiences from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. We've lived in two other African countries.
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, USA. It takes us about 30 yours, door to door. It's a bit shorter of a trip on the way here. We fly through Paris.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Everyone lives in a home, single family or multi-level houses. Some have yards, some have a patch of grass and some have driveways. The newer housing near the Embassy has smaller yards, while the older homes farther away and near the school have more greenery.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
It's a brilliant shopping trip if I came home with everything I had on my list. I now usually shop in the reverse, making a menu based off of what I could find. Some vegetables will never appear, or when they do, it's a fun find! There are times when the vegetables are plentiful and others when you're paying way too much for a few carrots, small green peppers and funky lettuce. But then it's strawberry season and I fill my freezer and all is right in the world again!
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
With Amazon prime, Boxed, Netgrocer, etc. the items I would bring are things you cannot ship or that you use a lot. I have grown tired of local toilet paper, so we ship it! Ridiculous, I know. We order bulk in snacks, diapers, etc. Laundry detergent, cleaning supplies you prefer, oils, dressings, marinades, etc.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We have no problems with insects in our house and don't have AS many mosquitos in/near our home. Older homes, in the greener downtown area have more mosquitoes.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We have a pouch. They recently switched which airline we use, so our mail has slowed down to once MAYBE twice a week. That's a struggle to get used to, but with a little planning you can have most things you need shipped to you. AMAZON!
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
When we arrived, we were quoted 50,000-90,000 (US$100-$180) for a full-time housekeeper. As we've done more research among the expat community, it felt that was too low. We've raised her salary and she is an exceptional help to us that is worth it!
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a well stocked gym.
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?
At one of the major grocery stores, (scimas) we've set up an account. We pay our bill once a month with our visa. That spares me having to carry a lot of cash consistently or worrying about their visa machine being down for the day. Marina also accepts credit cards. Mostly VISA, with a few MC, ATMS. Mostly a cash economy.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
My husband speaks French and I only speak a little. Some things just have to wait until he can help. Our housekeeper speaks a good amount of English, too. With all of us combined, I am able to do all that I need to...with a few times of charades in the market when I'm on my own.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I read someone say you pay for the hope of internet. Most days that is true. It's low and unreliable. I've heard of some getting satelite dishes? Look into that.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I have an unlocked iphone that works great with a local sim.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There have been some break-ins recently. Situational awareness and just common sense will help you. I drive with my doors locked. Windows are up just because of the smell and bad air. We have alarms on our house that we set at night and when we are away.
2. 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?
For weeks at a time, I feel like there is no blue sky. Sometimes I measure how bad the air is simply by looking up the horizon to see where you finally get the blue to peek through. That problem doesn't really exist when the rain comes, but I miss the rain when it's gone for this very reason! The wind, sand, dirt, burning garbage can make the air a little much.
3. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
I read one report that descibed a season as "chilly-night season". That's completely true. It's dry and hot. dry, windy and VERY HOT. Rainy and hot. Then it finishes up the cycle with a dry, warm, chilly-night season. We've lived in Africa for 8 years, so the 80F degree weather has me bringing out my jeans. Next month it will be near 100F again and I'll store them away again. Thanksfully we have a pool! (Which, surprisingly, is too cold during the chilly-night season!)
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is an International school. We've only had personal experience with the lower elementary grades. The kindergarten teacher is phenomenal. We've also liked our 2nd grade teacher. As an educator myself, I have a hard time not judging too harshly. I supplement at home and my kids have a lot of fun at school. It has a great small feel to each grade. Great campus. Many upgrades are currently in the works to make it more safe.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The international school offers after school activities for the elementary school age kids. (I don't know about the older grades, as my kids are all younger.) You pay anywhere from US$7-10 for a quarter's worth of activities. You get what you pay for, in most circumstances. It's a great option for the kids, especially if they don't know much different!
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale depends on who you listen to and hang out with. We're happy here. Most people are happy here. It would be naive to think that it's always easy and enjoyable. It's a hard place to live and sometimes that is just too much to handle.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
The singles crowd right now seems to have a good time together. New Year's Eve included dancing and bar hopping.
There are not too many outside activities, so we spend a lot of time at home with our kids. Fortunately, we don't mind that. We use our pool most of the year, ride bikes around the neighborhood when it isn't outrageously hot, a lot of board games, wii bowling championships, etc.
3. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We enjoy the Burkinabe and the people we've met at post. The country has a slow feel that we've grown accustom to having. With young children, having household help is always very nice...
4. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There is a Facebook group that shares many interesting things to do that I never knew existed not too long ago. A bowling alley, unreliable but when it works is fun. I've heard of go carts. A FANTASTIC ice-cream shop just opened up that has changed my life for the better. :) N'ice Cream!
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Bronze statues, baskets, fabric...
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It never is cold, unless you've lived here a long time and then you've climatized and think the 80s F are chilly. Plenty of family time. Save money for trips out of Burkina!
7. Can you save money?
We save money but then burn through it on our R&R or other vacations!
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Having lived in West Africa before, I thought I was ready. I wish I'd know it would still take some time to get mentally settled and then I wouldn't have been so hard on myself for needing a little time to adjust.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
We came to Burkina because it was a smart move career wise. Our kids are young and don't know what other countries really have to offer, even the U.S.! We've been happy here. I miss green grass, fresh air, reliable grocery shopping, normal traffic, things to do outside of your house on a long weekend... That said, it's completely doable. You can even like it. You'll find things that make it good for you and then you'll be just fine for however long you're assigned here. (Find N'ice Cream! And the schwarma at Laico.) Good luck getting your family to spell or pronounce it right before you leave post!