Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Report of what it's like to live there - 12/13/17
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?
I have lived in Lima, Peru.
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?
US. Takes about a day with connections through Paris or Brussels.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is divided in three neigborhoods - Ouaga 2000 which is where the Embassy is located, and Zone du Bois and Koulouba (about 20-25 minute drive to Embassy). In Ouaga 2000, houses tend to be bigger and yards smaller or non-existent. In Zone du Bois and Koulouba, they tend to have good yard space and smaller homes. The latter is also in an area with more restaurants and shops in walking distance. All houses have a pool. The layout of the houses varies greatly, some kitchens are quite small. Overall people seem happy with their housing. There have been some problems with water leaks especially during the rainy season.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Generally more expensive, except for fresh fruits and vegetables. Availability of certain items depends, if you see something you like, buy a lot of it. We've experienced shortages of butter and milk.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Liquids because you can't get much through diplomatic pouch. (craft beer, cleaning liquids.)
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You can find a variety of restaurants here - Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Indian, Lebanese, and lots of European/french cuisine. Food delivery is possible from several restaurants.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Bugs are everywhere. Mosquitoes, flies, ants, cockroaches. One house had a really bad termite problem. Geckos are your friends, they eat the bugs.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the diplomatic pouch. I haven't tried local postal facilities.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people hire a housekeeper and/or gardener. Many also have a cook, a nanny, or a driver depending on needs. It's relatively inexpensive (around 80,000-120,000 CFA/month). Most household staff do not speak English, and some are illiterate.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a small (free!) gym at the Embassy with treadmills, strength machines, bike and elliptical. There are also a few local gyms that offer fitness classes (Synovie in Ouaga 2000 and Waga Studio in Zone du Bois). We also have a yoga instructor who gives classes at the Embassy twice a week. The American Employees Association hosts an annual Triathlon. Swimming, tennis, and horseback riding are popular. There are adult frisbee and softball groups that meet up at the International School. Also Park Bangr-Weogo is a popular spot for biking and running. There is also an informal group that goes long distance biking on the weekends. There is also a decent golf course not far from the Embassy.
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 almost never use them, except to pull out cash at the embassy ATM or maybe OK at a hotel. It's a cash based economy and safer to use cash than a card.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
English-French Catholic Mass at the Apostolic Nunciature. International Bible Fellowship.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It can be very isolating coming here if you speak no French. It's rare to find household staff and vendors who speak English. The embassy offers two hours of French and/or Moore training a week. Some people have also hired a personal tutor or attend Institut Francais classes.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
This is a challenging place to live with disabilities. Apart from the embassy, very little handicap accessible access. Most buildings have stairs, not elevators/escalators. Majority dirt roads, no sidewalks.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No to trams, trains, buses. There are taxis but most are old and breaking down.
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?
A small/mid-sized 4x4 is a good idea, there are many potholes even in the city. Not advisable to bring a large or very wide vehicle. Gas is very pricey here. Carjackings are not common.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, you can have it installed right away or it may take a few weeks to get upgraded service. Service can still be spotty.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We use Orange network, which works pretty well in Ouagadougou but connection is spotty outside the city.
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?
There are veterinary services for dogs and cats (though other animals, like tortoises, it's hard to find a vet to help them.) Most people ship pet food to post, but some can be found locally (though it's expensive). There is one nice, big park in Zone du Bois that's good for walking a dog (keep it on a leash due to crocodiles!), and some people walk their dogs around the dusty streets here. Watch out for stray dogs on the roads.
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?
Several spouses telecommute or take online classes. Local salaries are much lower than U.S. Spouses could explore jobs at the International School, doing freelance (such as exercise classes), in the mining sector or international development. For most local work you need to be fluent in French.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Our embassy community supports several orphanages. You could also explore volunteer opportunities with NGOs and human rights organizations. The embassy is always looking for native English speakers to lead English conversation groups.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business or business casual at work, you may need formal dress for work functions (galas, etc.). In public places, t-shirts/blouses/jeans and skirts are fine, though short skirts, shorts, and revealing clothing is not recommended.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There have been two terrorist attacks in Ouagadougou since January 2016, and there are also many public demonstrations. As a family, we remain alert and tend to avoid going out much during busy times. We are not officially restricted in going places around Ouaga. There is a red zone in the north where we are not allowed to go.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria and dengue, diarrheal diseases. Basic care at the embassy is very good in our experience (local doctor and American nurse practitioner). You can also get basic radiology testing, blood work, and dental care done here. There are several clinics that can provide urgent care on the weekends. However, more serious health problems would require a medevac or waiting until you return home for leave. Emergency care is not reliable here.
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?
Good most of the year apart from Harmattan (which can last from November through March). Then it's very dusty and can be very bad especially if you have asthma or other health issues.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No SAD here - it's very sunny. The bigger mental health issues can be isolation, stress, and depression.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
"Cool season" means temperatures 60s-90s (November - January). "Harmattan" dust storms between November and March. "Hot season" means REALLY hot, up to 110 often (or higher), between February and May. Rainy season brings relief between May to September.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The International School of Ouagadougou is all in English, is accredited, and follows an American curiculum. There's an emphasis on service projects and a large variety of sports and extracurricular activities. Class sizes are small. The facilities are nice with a pool, large soccer field, basketball court. It has a homey, "summer camp" feel to the campus. There are French-language schools available for those who prefer French education. Lycee St. Exupery is the French-supported school, and a few families also send their kids to Les Laureats.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
If you're child has special needs, be sure to reach out to the school ahead of time to see if they can accommodate your child, it's on a case by case basis.
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 - there are several preschools/day cares, almost all are in French. Some are 1/2 day and some are full-day. They are not expensive, we pay about 80,000/month. I've found the care is good, and they keep the kids engaged and have enough adults to watch the children.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes - through the schools mainly. ISO offers a large variety of activities. There is also Waga Studio that offers exercise and art classes, and several places that offer horse riding lessons.
1. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Lots of informal BBQs and dinners at friends. Softball and frisbee leagues. Trivia nights. Ladies groups including the Club International des Femmes and "Ladies Lunches." The American Employees Association sponsors a lot of community events (Halloween, Easter, 4th of July, Christmas, Welcome BBQs). French language classes and conversation groups. For kids, there are many after school activities. Waga Studio also offers exercise classes and art lessons for kids and adults. The restaurant scene has grown and there are many good and affordable options.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's easier to come here as a couple or a family. It takes some time and effort to find your niche to be happy here. It can get lonely for singles. Singles tend to socialize with others outside the embassy community and/or with the Marines. Dating opportunities are limited. Many singles take advantage of local and regional travel opportunities.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
As in most of Africa, homosexuality is not culturally accepted here. However, the Burkinabe tend not to voice their objections, and harassment is rare. You may experience problems and discrimination in certain settings (reserving a hotel room, holding hands in public.) The government of Burkina Faso does not recognize same-sex marriage, which could affect spouses' diplomatic/legal status.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
As for gender equality, women are treated as second class citizens. This is not as much of a problem for Western women as it is for the locals. As a woman, I feel safe walking down the street alone, though there are occasionally vendors who are overly aggressive or overly interested. There is no rule here about women having to be "accompanied" by a man.
The relationship between different ethnic groups and between people of different faiths is generally good and tolerance is high.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The people! The locals are friendly, curious, and always have words of hello and welcome. I also love the availability of fresh fruits and veggies - especially mango season and strawberry season! There are so many festivals throughout the year (film, dance, music), so there are many opportunities to discover the culture. Also having clothes tailor-made here with local or African fabric is fun and affordable. I also enjoy the travel opportunities in the country. The tourism sector is not well built up here, but if you're adventurous, you can have really amazing and unique experiences here.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Bobo Dioulasso (mud mosque, old city, nightlife), Banfora (rock formations, waterfalls), Sindou Peaks, Nazinga park (elephants!), Arli and Park W (though harder to get to (8 hour drive, they're worth it for the wildlife.) Kaya to see the leather markets. Tiebele painted village. There are several day trips you can easily do from Ouaga (Loumbila, Laongo sculptures, sacred crocodiles of Bazoule, Koubri).
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Certain handicrafts - especially bronze statues, woven baskets, leather jewelry and boxes. Faso Danfani fabric.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
see above (highlights).
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Don't bring much personal furniture. All houses are furnished with a lot of furniture, and the Embassy has limited space to take away items.
If you have the chance to take French classes before arriving, I strongly recommend it!
The culture is different - not as direct as Americans, and greetings are very important. Don't start a conversation without first greeting someone and asking about their family. Time is also a different concept here, you may not get a lot of notice about events, and meetings often start late. Patience is a virtue.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
YES! We're really happy being here and our child loves it.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Sense of adventure, flexibility, sunscreen, and bug spray.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Parachute Drops. The Water Princess (for kids).