Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Report of what it's like to live there - 08/08/15
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?
This is our 4th overseas assignment
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?
Home base is the Midwest. The trip takes about 24 hours with a connection in Europe (usually through Paris on Air France, but there are also flights through Brussels & Istanbul).
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?
Houses in Ouaga2000 near the Embassy (1-10 minute drive) are new and larger with small or no yard space. Houses in Zone du Bois near the International School (15-30+ minutes from Embassy depending on traffic) are older with larger yards. All have swimming pools. Layouts and size vary significantly, but most people are generally happy with their housing assignments.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Almost everything is available here, just not all in one place or at any given time. You might see applesauce one day, then never again for another year. Or all the stores might be out of flour or milk for a few weeks. Or you have to go to every store in town to get the things on your list. Fruits and vegetables are seasonal so many people freeze things like strawberries and mangoes to have all year long.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Liquids that can't come through the pouch: laundry soap, good dish detergent, olive oils (available but expensive), good quality beer.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No fast food restaurants. There are a number of decent restaurants around town that offer a range of cuisine (Korean, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, French, Lebanese, Turkish, Italian) that aren't too expensive. Quality varies. You won't find anything amazing, but there certainly are some great options out there.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Malaria carrying mosquitoes, flies, ants, termites in some homes. Plenty of geckos in and out of our homes to help with the mosquito population!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy is pouch only. Comes 1-2x/week and takes 2-4 weeks from the U.S.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Easily available and inexpensive. We pay less than US$200/month for full time housekeeper/nanny and about US$150/month for a full time gardener who also takes care of the pool. Few household staff speak much English.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Embassy gym is good. There are local gyms, but I'm not sure about the quality or cost.
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 only use cash here, which we get through the Embassy cashier. There are ATMs, but we haven't used them.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Christians will find services easily, as there is a large missionary crowd here and several church options. The Vatican Embassy has Catholic services, though in French or Italian.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French will make your life so much easier. This is a tough place without it, as very few people speak English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Definitely. No sidewalks or handicap access into any buildings (except maybe the Embassy).
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transport is the most limited of anywhere we've ever lived and not recommended. You really need a car to get around here.
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?
High clearance SUVs are needed if you're going to get out of town. Many people do fine in town with sedans. Parts are expensive and can be hard to find for all vehicles. Labor and is cheap and not always reliable. Bring an extra set of tires.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes with varying reliability. Cost from US$100-200/month depending on the speed you choose.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone and buy a local SIM with scratch cards for adding credit.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
No quarantine and people have had varying experiences with vet care.
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?
A few with NGOs, most require at least some French.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty with orphanages and through the churches.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Conservative. People dress nicely here and tend to cover knees and shoulders even when it's hot. Shorts (longer length) and tank tops are seen and ok for expats, but expect to feel underdressed and get a few extra stares.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Take normal precautions when walking in crowded places or alone, stay aware of your situation, lock your doors at night. Overall, Ouaga is very safe.
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/water borne diseases are common. Medical care is really lacking, though the Embassy has a health unit staffed with an American nurse, a local nurse and a local doctor. People medevac to London for anything remotely serious.
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?
Air quality varies by season. The dust during the dry season really gets to some people.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
The dry air and dusty climate bother some people. There are lots of nuts in foods and sauces here.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot all year, but there are seasonal changes. It rains heavily in the summer (June-September) and is humid and hot when not raining. Fall brings clear skies and gets hot again. By December it feels almost cool and our pools are too cold for swimming, though temps only drop into the 60's F with highs in the 80's F. The dust really picks up after it hasn't rained for a few months. February-May are clear, dry and very hot.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most Embassy kids go to ISO (International School of Ouagadougou). People are generally happy with the instruction at the Elementary level, though this does vary somewhat depending on the particular teacher. We have found the academics to be less rigorous than in the U.S., but a focus on cultural experiences, hands-on learning, and daily French lessons balances this out, at least for our family. Middle and high school is not as strong, since class sizes of 12-25 students limits the number of courses that can be offered. The number of expat students also drops significantly by the high school level. The school does not do a great job at communicating with parents, and we have found the school community somewhat less cohesive than at other posts, with a real divide between Anglophone and Francophone families. Besides ISO, some Embassy kids also attend Les Laureats, a French language school near the Embassy, and this coming year several Embassy students have been accepted at Saint Exupery, the French accredited school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Very few. I would think twice before coming here with a child with any sort of special needs, including mild reading disorders.
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?
Yes, widely available and reasonably priced.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes through the schools. Some kids take horseback riding lessons and private swim lessons can be organized.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Fairly small English speaking expat community. Most of our friends have been made through the school. Morale at the Embassy is good. Most people are quite happy here and many extend for a 3rd year.
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?
Most people entertain at home or go to restaurants. There is a bowling alley that will open if you call ahead and a go kart track that's fun (even though goats wander onto the track sometimes!). If you like the outdoors and can handle the heat (or get up really early!), people run and bike in the forest near Zone du Bois, or on the south edge of town near the Embassy. There is a hiking club organized by the French. The French cultural center has regular programs including musicians, films and art exhibits.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families with younger kids tend to enjoy living here, despite the lack of organized things to do. People get together often and enjoy spending time together swimming or eating out. Older kids might feel bored without a lot to do (no movie theaters, malls, etc). Couples and singles who enjoy an active nightlife would probably find Ouaga boring, and the expat community is limited, particularly for those hoping to date.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
People coexist here incredibly well, with little or no tension between religious or ethnic groups.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
In Ouaga: enjoying time spent by the pool with friends & family, running & biking on the outskirts of town, dinners out at some of the outdoor restaurants. Nothing gourmet by international standards, but the atmosphere is relaxed and enjoyable! Out of Ouaga: the sacred crocodiles (45 minutes away), Nazinga to see the elephants on a game drive (2+ hours away), the painted villages of Tiebele (2 hours away), Bobo and Banfora in the west (6-8 hours away).
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are lots of fun and interesting things to do if you're willing to brave the heat and seek them out. The tourist industry is really undeveloped so it's on you to ask around and look for what interests you!
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Bronze statues, woven baskets, masks, fabrics.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Ouagadougou is a very safe city with little crime to speak of, and Burkinabe are warm and welcoming. People who enjoy African culture and take the time to seek out festivals and exhibitions will have lots of opportunities to enjoy music, dance, art & theater. If you can stick to foods that are found locally and vegetables/fruits that are in season, your grocery bills are really low!
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Flying out of the country is really expensive. Regional flights cost almost as much as flights to Europe ($500-1000 range to get to neighboring countries!).
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. We've been very happy here.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
White clothing, nice shoes. They will no longer resemble white after a few wears/washes and your shoes will be ruined from the uneven terrain and mud/dust.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, pool toys, and positive attitude.