Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Report of what it's like to live there - 06/09/15
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 have also lived in rural Niger.
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?
More or less DC... takes about 24 hours of travel through Paris on Air France.
3. How long have you lived here?
September 2012 - July 2015.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. government and expatriate with an international NGO.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Expat housing is generally huge. In older neighborhoods like Zone du Bois and Petit Paris, you'll have older, slightly smaller houses with yards or nice gardens. In Ouaga 2000 south of town, there are HUGE houses with tiny courtyards, many with pools. The level of finish in houses varies wildly even within neighborhoods.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I'd say that in an average week, you can find most anything you're looking for in Ouaga, with the exception of certain American stuff (black beans, for example). Once in awhile there will be stock-outs of certain imported products like cheese or yogurt. Some kinds of fruits and vegetables are only available in season, or not available at all (for example, you can't find asparagus here). Imported stuff can be expensive, local stuff is cheap.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Good power regulators.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
American-style fast food isn't available, but there are increasing amounts of fried chicken joints, wings, burgers, etc. We even saw a panini food cart the other day. The American cultural center has passable Mexican food. Other options are maquis, local open air places with beer and soft drinks and a variety of basic food options - kebabs, fries, couscous, sometimes burgers. Fancier restaurant options tend towards what I'd call franco-african... French food with a West African twist. There's are decent Japanese and Vietnamese places and some Italian and Lebanese food.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The regular stuff - mosquitoes, roaches, flies, termites, ants...
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We had a fantastic housekeeper for about US$150/month. Guards and gardeners can start at US$80/month, nannies can earn up to US$240/month or so.
2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are locally available gyms.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Don't count on it. Cash is king.
4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is essential. Moore would be great, but it's a bonus.
5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Ouaga is definitely not ADA-compliant.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable and safe (except between cities at night, never travel at night), but not super reliable.
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?
We have a 4-wheel drive pickup truck that has been great. Toyotas are the easiest to service, but there is also a Ford dealership here, randomly enough.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
There is no high speed internet in Burkina Faso. I pay about US$100/month for a 512 mb/s down connection. Takes me about 4 hours to download an hour long TV show.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local cell phone service is cheap and easy.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
If you work in international development, yes. Otherwise, not really. French is necessary.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There's some pick-pocketing and petty theft. Seems like violent crime is increasing but it's still a really safe city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria is very common, but with early treatment local care is available. Tertiary care is not great here; most folks go to Europe for any serious problems, if they can afford it.
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?
Not bad compared to other West African capitals. The Harmattan blows in in December/January and it gets pretty dusty. There's some burning of trash, etc. Not great for asthmatics.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Peanuts are pretty common in local cuisine.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Wet season from June - September. Cool dry season from October - February. Hot (hot!) dry season from March - May. Lows rarely below 70F. Highs reach 110F in the hot season.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Few Americans, Brits and Canadians. Fairly large French and francophone European community.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Eating out, drinking with friends, having folks over. The French cultural center has performances, movies and live music. Monthly hikes organized by the French embassy folks. Lots of activities based out of the international school - softball, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a very family friendly city. I think it's a bit tough for singles and I hear some complaining about the dating scene. It was fine for us as a couple, but we're homebodies.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
The Burkinabe are very accepting but discrimination against gays and lesbians remains prevalent.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There's some misogyny, but nothing overt (at least not among educated folks in Ouaga). In general, people are pretty accepting of racial, religious and ethnic differences.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Working with the Burkinabe has been fantastic. In terms of things to do, the trip down to Banfora for hiking and swimming is totally worthwhile. Making the trip down to Nazinga to the see the elephants is also great.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
About 30 minutes outside of Ouaga in Loumbila there are a couple of resorts that have nice pools, bars, restaurants, playgrounds and hotels. They also offer jet-skiing, boat rides, etc. There's also a go-kart track outside of town.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Faso Dafani, locally woven fabric.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Burkina Faso is a great place to live - friendly, safe, easy to navigate. Ouaga is a growing town with an improving restaurant scene and more and more things to do.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't travel much and are earning an expat salary, it's easy to save money here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
There aren't really any outdoor activities here because of how harsh the weather is, so it can be tough to get exercise if you're a runner, hiker, walker, biker, into water sports, etc.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat. In fact, we'd come back again.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Impatience, taste for luxuries, any white clothing.
4. But don't forget your:
Open mind, sunscreen, mosquito net.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
"The Upright Man" a documentary about Thomas Sankara.