Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Report of what it's like to live there - 06/18/08
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 6th overseas assignment, but the first to Africa. We've lived in small towns and large cities (Stuttgart, Darmstadt) in Germany and Waterloo (near Brussels), Belgium.
2. How long have you lived here?
Over 1 year.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My wife works for the U.S. Embassy in Ougagdougou.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
It seems that the most direct routes are through Paris.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
In and near Ouaga, housing is similar to what one finds in Europe and the U.S. Typically, cinder block construction, with walls around the yard. Typical commute to the embassy or downtown is 5-15 minutes, depending on location and traffic. Some housing is within 4-5 blocks of the embassy, other housing is farther out, near the International School of Ouaga (ISO), and more housing is being leased in the area of the new embassy (to open in 2010) in Ouaga2000 section of Ouagadougou (south of the airport).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
If you can't find what you're used to, you can find a substitute (except for Cheerios). Prices are generally higher than in the U.S. except for some of the meats, but they're not exorbitant.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Maybe just some favorite foods that are unobtainable here (Cheerios, pancake syrup).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are several large hotels with upscale restaurants. But, Ouaga has plenty of good restaurants offering European (Austria/German, French, Italian), Indian, oriental (Thai, Chinese), American, Middle Eastern and African cuisine. At current exchange rates (425 CFA/$), entrees are typically $7-$10. Beer and soft drinks about US$2 and wine US$4/glass. Tips are minimal, typically any leftover change.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
They don't have mail delivery, although there is DHL and other express services, it's pick-up at the post office.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and very inexpensive. Full-time (60 hrs/wk) for around US$100/month.
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?
There is one ATM that takes MasterCard (Hotel Slendide) but beaucoup Visa ATMs all over the place. The big hotels and many of the restaurants take Visa. The biggest grocer, Marina, also takes Visa. As for the rest, look for a Visa sticker on the door.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
The Catholic cathedral has an English-language Mass. There are lots of Protestant denominations, mostly missionary, around Ouaga and some have services in English.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Unknown. Possibly satellite TV but unsure of the cost.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is really useful. Not too many people speak any English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Very few streets are paved and there are no ADA-like mandates here, so it is likely to be very difficult, or uncomfortable, for someone with a physical disability.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
The normal (right-hand) side.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Not sure about the trains. Everything seems to be affordable, but dangerous. Buses seem to be relatively safe, just crowded (and probably hot). The taxis don't look safe at all.
3. 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?
Something with 4WD and high ground clearance. Most streets are not paved (look up Ouagadougou on Google Maps and you can see the difference) and are quite rough. Outside of Ouaga and the other large cities it's even rougher. Toyota and Mitsubishi are the predominant Japanese dealerships. We brought a new Nissan Pathfinder and have not found a Nissan dealership, although the local mechanics seem to be able to handle about anything and any parts can be ordered. Tires are readily available, just expensive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Highest speed is DSL. I regularly get about 10-15 Kbps. It's OK for Skype but it takes 8-9 hrs to download a 350MB HD video. Cost seems to be about US$70/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If you bring one with you, make sure it's a quad band so you can use it in the U.S., Europe and here. Once here, you can buy a SIM card very inexpensively and then just recharge the minutes as needed (I use a Blackberry with no problems anywhere).
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
If you have access to the internet, Skype (or a similar VOIP service) is very good and affordable. We have not tried any callback services (if there are any), but there are several calling card plans that offer relatively inexpensive calling from the U.S. to Burkina Faso.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Good pet care is available, you just have to ask where it is. Unsure about kennels, but trainers are available.
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?
Not really. Pay here is very low (for example, a fully-tenured professor at the local university might get US$500/month). Almost nothing is available through the embassy. To do any work on the local economy, even volunteer work, you'll need to speak some French. Be creative in looking for and finding work.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Generally business casual (slacks, open necked shirts for men, slacks or skirts for women).
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate, for dust.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Ouagadougou seems to be quite safe. The biggest concern is crime. Periodically one hears of home break-ins, and we've experienced pick-pocketing. But, we generally feel very safe.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Parasites and malaria. You really have to be careful of the water-borne illnesses. Good quality medical care is available, just not the standard you are used to in the U.S. or Europe.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and dry all the time except the rainy season (June-September), which brings some relief, but not much.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We don't have any school-age children, but friends who do seem satisfied with the International School of Ouaga (ISO), especially below high school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ISO does accommodate some special-needs kids, but you'd have to contact them for your specific needs.
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?
Preschool/daycare seems to be ad hoc, with families arranging play groups, etc., for their children. Excellent full-time in-home baby sitting is available and prices are very reasonable.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large, but spread out. There are a lot of international NGOs and a lot of missionaries.
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?
It depends on how friendly and outgoing you are.
3. Morale among expats:
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Ouaga is what you make of it. There is plenty of night life, a lot of good restaurants and even a bowling alley.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. This is still a traditional society and the police periodically close down gay/lesbian establishments.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The only one you're likely to notice is gender prejudice. This is definitely a male-dominated culture and society, although you see a lot of women in business and government.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Get out and explore the city, country and the culture. There are several guidebooks available (the Bradt book is the best, and most enjoyable read that we've found).
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Objets d'art (bronze, masks, Dogon doors, musical instruments, fabric, jewelry).
9. Can you save money?
Not if you're a family living on one salary.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely! This has been a great experience. Part of it is the ambiance here. The people are super friendly, although there is a lot of poverty
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Gas grill. You can't get an American tank filled and you may not be able to find someone who can adapt your American system to the local (European) tanks. Besides, charcoal is abundant and cheap. Also, you won't need a heavy jacket unless you'll be traveling to/through Europe during the winter.
3. But don't forget your:
Charcoal grill (see the above), sun screen, shades.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
French is not that difficult to learn, especially if you start with a good, interactive course (like Rosetta Stone and its competitors). If you're coming as a dependent and don't have kids to keep you busy, plan for what you're going to do to keep occupied. Learning French is a good start, but it has its limits. Bring plenty of reading material and plan for getting internet access so you can stay in touch.