Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Report of what it's like to live there - 06/19/20
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?
Sort of. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa many years prior to this.
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 is Northeast. Takes 24 hours through CDG or BRU to Dulles.
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?
Beautiful, large 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom single family home with a small yard, fruit trees and a pool. All houses have a pool, which is nice. Yard size varies. I live in Ouaga 2000, which is close to the Embassy. Houses tend to be larger, but yards smaller. Other folks live across town in Zone de Bois. Houses are a bit smaller, but yards are larger. When this was a family post, many families lived in Zone de Bois due to proximity to the international school. There are more restaurants and activities opening up in Ouaga 2000. Mostly a residential area with single family homes belonging to wealthy Burkinabe, expats and Embassies. Commute to Embassy fro Ouaga 2000 is < 5 mins, but 20-45 mins to downtown restaurants depending on traffic. Reverse is true for Zone de Bois.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Hit or miss. If you see it and want it, buy it as it might not show up in stores for months. Fruits and vegetables are seasonal. Middle Eastern food is typically available: lentils, couscous, olives. Toiletries are variable. If you have specific brands you need, bring them. If you are ok with whatever, then you can get soaps, shampoo, detergents, etc.
Seasonal fruits, vegetables and meats are very reasonably priced. However, imported meats/cheeses, olive oil, etc are quite expensive. A box of cereal costs around $10 USD.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Baking goods: baking soda, baking powder, choc powder, choc chips, coconut.
Mexican food items: cumin, adobe, chilis, salsas, tortilla chips.
Asian food items: rice vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of middle eastern food, good shawarma, falafel, humus. A few Italian restaurants. A few pizza, burger, salad joints. Several good French restaurants. 1 Indian food restaurant, if you're desperate. Moderately-to-expensive in terms of price. Most will deliver for small fee, but can take awhile to arrive.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos can be a real beast during certain seasons at certain times, but not always. Worse in the rainy seasons at dusk. Lots of geckos/lizards, but they are harmless and rarely an issue inside.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is very available, generally decent in expertise and costs around US $200/month for full-time.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Most folks use Embassy gym. There are a few private gyms of decent quality, not particularly expensive. Some outdoor sports leagues.
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?
Credit cards are used at a couple of supermarkets, but not ubiquitous. Most restaurants take cash. I only use a few ATMs, but haven't had problems yet. Typically avoid ATMs in town and only use those at the Embassy and a large hotel.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most locals speak French or Moore or Jula. It's a little tough to get around without knowing some basic French as most people do not speak English outside of the Embassy. There are tutors available, and inexpensive for local languages.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Absolutely. Very difficult, no ramps, no sidewalks, most restaurants have gravel or sand in their outdoor areas.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local buses and taxies available, but not safe. The taxis are old and barely functioning. Would not use.
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?
I have a beat-up 2007 Rav4. Don't bring a nice car here, it will get banged up a bit. You want something with a little clearance, but you do not need 4wd. Don't bring a car you love, it's not uncommon for fender benders with motos, bikes, etc.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is easy to get. They are working on fiber. However, it's still only relatively consistent, cuts out pretty often. Can stream movies/shows.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I have a local phone with local SIM.
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?
Most work at the Embassy. Not a lot of expat jobs. If someone is entrepreneurial and has a skill they can promote, it's possible to work for yourself.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Several folks have volunteered at schools and orphanages.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual for work. Burkinabe put a lot of stock on dressing nicely, clean, & put together. Suits/coats for important meetings. People dress in comfortable, but nice clothes while out to dinner or concerts, etc. Heat is often a contributing factor, but plan on wearing conservative, but nice clothing.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime is a concern like any city. Be smart and do normal risk mitigation things. Lock doors, take belongings with you, be aware of surroundings. Expats tend to be targets, so being alert is important and knowing which neighborhoods to avoid.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
GI issues, malaria, dengue are very common. Medical care is not of great quality. There are a couple of private clinics that can treat minor illnesses quite well. Anything serious will require a medevac.
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?
Moderate. During Harmattan, air quality is bad. At other times it's dry and dusty and hot.
Embassy homes have several portable air filters in them.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
No real knowledge or awareness of food allergies at restaurants, so it would be up to you to be vigilant. If you have severe environmental allergies to dust, this would be a nightmare.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Ouagadougou is like an island. Because of restrictions on travel, it can feel claustrophobic at times, but expensive to try to leave for a long weekend. If you are someone that likes to travel a lot or engage in a lot of outdoor acitivies, you might find this environment stifling. There are significant concerns about safety/security, so that can cause some anxiety in folks.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There are three main seasons: hot, rainy, and cold. It gets around 110F during hot season, closer to 90 F and humid during rainy, and drops to 70F and dry during cold 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. General impression is that it's undergoing a time of transition right now, but most parents I know have been pleased.
There are also several French schools and most parents have expressed that they are happy with those schools.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a small-to-medium expat community. Can be difficult to get to know people unless your kids go to school together. Overall the morale is pretty decent, but unless you speak French it can be difficult to break into the expats here.
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 host dinner parties or pool parties. There are some sports: petanke, volleyball, soccer. No American club, per se. There is a dirt golf course which is a lot of fun.
There is a decent music scene as well, lots of local venues as well as the French Institute which gets acts from all around West Africa to perform.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It hasn't been great for singles. There aren't a lot of single-friendly activities. It's good for couples or families as most events center around people getting to know each other through school events, play dates, etc.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not an openly accepting local culture for LGBT expats. Within the expat community, there are a few LGBT-identified folks, but the community is small.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Burkinabe are incredibly friendly people and very open to meeting people, learning about other cultures and bringing you into their homes.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Unfortunately, we are not allowed to leave Ouagadougou peages. There are a few nice places to visit in the city: Hamerkopf Lodge, Loumbila Beach, La Baron music club and the restaurants, but traveling outside of Ouaga is forbidden.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Golf is a lot of fun if you are up for the challenge of a dirt course. The golf community is hardy, welcoming and loyal.Maquis are a great way to have a beer with locals and people watch, find your neighborhood maquis, have a seat and just chill. If you play soccer, go to your neighborhood "field" and join in with the locals, typically in the evenings. Take up tennis. Hiring a pro to each is incredibly cheap. I haven't been, but I hear a lot about horse riding & stables.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
This a great place to buy local artwork such as wooden carvings, jewelry and brightly colored cloth.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Good local artwork.
Cheap local seasonal produce.
Good music scene.
Cheap, good Thai massages
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Bring things like Mexican, Indian spices, pesto sauce, fancy dips, capers and special treats in my consummables.
Bring more craft beer. I like IPAs and there's isn't one to be found for 1000km.
Bring lawn games or sharable hobbies such as board games, outdoor activities to get people involved.
Be prepared to host small events at your house to pass the time.
Plan trips out of Ouaga regularly.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, probably. I enjoy my house, my friends and my job. I think two years will be enough, though.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
High heels, fancy clothes, camping gear, hiking gear, and road bike.
4. But don't forget your:
Pool toys, unbreakable picnic plates/cups, blender, mountain/hybrid bike, golf clubs, tennis racket, and lots of coffee.