Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Report of what it's like to live there - 07/03/19

Personal Experiences from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso 07/03/19

Background:

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

No. Have lived in several cities in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

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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?

Washington, DC. 17 -20 hours through Brussels or Paris.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Three years.

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

US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Single family dwellings. Acceptable, but not excessive in size or overly impressive. Most expats we knew lived in one of two main neighborhoods. Commute times depend on distance from work, but anywhere from 10 - 40 minutes. Most expats houses had pools, though many were too small to swim laps or anything of that nature. Quality of construction and maintenance is poor. A lot of leaks and some flooding during the rainy season. A lot of water stains, mold and mildew. Insect infestations and a lot of lizards in the house.

A generator is a must as power is very unreliable. Generators may, at times, run for days. Universal Power Supplies are a must for modems, routers and TVs. Without them it can take many hours to watch a movie due to power interruptions.

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

More and more familiar products found in the stores all the time, though availability is sporadic. It is recommended to maintain an ample supply at home; items are expensive.

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

Cleaning supplies. Convenience foods. Favorite brands.

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

There are numerous restaurants popular with the expat community that offer a variety of cuisines such as Korean, Chinese, French, and local, as well as hamburgers and pizza. There are no American or European-branded restaurants in Ouagadougou.

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

Ants, mosquitos, flies, and lizards everywhere.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic Pouch and Diplomatic Post Office; local postal facilities are not reliable.

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

Maids, cooks, nannies, and gardeners. US$100.00 - $200.00 per month.

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

There are numerous gyms around town. I am not familiar with the pricing or the quality of the equipment. There is a small gym at the embassy.

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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?

Some of the bigger stores accept credit cards. There are ATMs available and the ones affiliated with major banks are considered ok to use.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are a few, small non-denominational churches.

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

Some rudimentary French language skills are imperative when bargaining with the many local vendors.

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

Yes. Roads are horrendous: rutted and full of potholes. There are no sidewalks. There are few conveniences such as ramps or elevators for anyone with a disability.

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Transportation:

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

There are security warnings against using any forms of public transportation within Burkina Faso.

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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?

Roads are roug, and many not paved and/or full of potholes. Recommend something old and sturdy with high-ground clearance.

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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?

High speed internet is available but can be expensive, and service is very unreliable. When it works it is possible to use video streaming services, though it is often not functioning, or too slow to stream smoothly.

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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?

Use a local provider.

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Pets:

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 no quarantine requirements. There are local vets available, but the quality of care is probably not on par with that in the US.

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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?

There are several jobs within the Embassy. Some spouses also work with local NGOs, but that requires a high level of French language skills. Telecommuting is possible but the inconsistent internet service can make it difficult. Some spouses teach at the International School of Ouagadougou.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are NGOs and church groups, orphanages, etc.

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

Business attire, i.e., suits and dresses, at work. Otherwise dress is usually casual, but conservative.

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Health & Safety:

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

Burkina Faso is designated Level 3, i.e., Reconsider Travel by the State Department due to terrorism, and kidnapping.
Crime is common including home break-ins. There have been several examples of thieves breaking into houses during the night, while people are at home, even with guards on duty on the premises.
Official personnel are not permitted to travel outside of Ouagadougou for personal purposes.

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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 dengue fever are endemic to Burkina Faso. Many people suffer gastrointestinal problems. The medical care available to the local populous is very poor. There is a well-equipped, well-staffed health unit at the embassy for diplomats and families. Diplomats and family members are medevaced for all but the most minor injuries and illnesses. The medevac point is London.

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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?

Poor. A lot of dust. A lot of smoke from open burning and vehicles.

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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 about nine months out of the year. Temperatures routinely rise to in excess of 100 degrees. The other 3 or 4 months each year are cooler.

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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 International School of Ouagadougou is the only school in which the language of instruction is English. ISO is fully accredited by the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (MSA) and deemed as “Adequate” by the Department of State. Though the instruction in some of the core areas such as reading needs to be improved, the school generally appears ok. Kids and parents seem to like it. The buildings are a little run down. Many of the after-school activities are conducted only in French making it difficult for many of the expat kids who may not be fluent.

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

It is a small school and does not have the capacity to do a lot, but will make an effort if possible.

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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?

There are preschools available.

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

There are some after school activities offered by the school and individuals teach music.

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Expat Life:

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

The expat community is not large and can be a little clannish depending on one’s reason for being in Burkina, who one works for or where one lives. Not a strong sense of community. It can be difficult to forge meaningful relationships increasing the sense of isolation. Morale was only fair and getting worse.

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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?

Functions at the school, the embassy, or parties in people’s homes.

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

I doubt it is a good city for singles. It is such a small community there are few other singles with which to socialize and not many places to meet them. I wouldn’t consider it a good city for anyone. The lack of anything but the most basic of amenities means there is little to do and day-to-day life is uneventful and monotonous. Even something as routine as taking a walk, going for a run, or riding a bike can be unpleasant due to traffic, livestock and their waste in the streets, open burning, the intense heat and poor air quality. Families with young children seem to do the best.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Unknown

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Burkinabé are very friendly, but language and cultural differences can be barriers to developing more than superficial friendships.

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

This seems to be a conservative patriarchal society.

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

Probably the most positive aspect of our tour in Ouagadougou was the extra money we made which allowed us to fund trips out of the country to Europe.

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

Nazinga Ranch game preserve is a popular spot to see elephants in the wild. In Banfora there are some attractions such as the waterfalls, the domes, and the sacred Boabab tree. The Dédougou mask festival was worth the drive. Beyond those, very little to do over a long tour. And now most of the country is off limits to embassy personnel and there is a travel advisory against anyone traveling outside Ouagadougou.

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

Not much here beyond the Grande Marché or the Village Artisanal.

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

None.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No, I regret coming here. Though Ouagadougou itself is not unbearable, overall this has been the most negative experience of my career.

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

High expectations.

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3. But don't forget your:

Insect repellant and sunscreen.

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