Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Report of what it's like to live there - 07/25/08
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?
No - Almaty, San Salvador, & Caen.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
About 18 hours through Paris. You can also use Air Maroc via Casablanca. This is the cheaper route - but not the most convenient due to middle of the night arrival and departure.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The Embassy has all houses in its housing pool. Some are nicer than others. Few are well laid out, but all offer a pool, small garden, and ample inside space.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I have found groceries to be quite expensive. Milk is about US$8.50 a gallon! Use your consumable shipment because while you can get most things here (or suitable substitutes) you will pay for it.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Toys, swingset for the kids, American foodstuffs, 220volt ice cream maker, art supplies, extra shoes - yours will wear out very quickly, swifter - for the dust on EVERYTHING, diapers, food vacuum sealer with bags - to preserve seasonal fruits and veggies.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a surprising variety of decent restaurants in Ouaga. There is even a pizza place that will deliver. But no American style fast food except at the American Rec Center.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
You have to go to the Post Office and get a PO Box. It can be unreliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic staff is plentiful - but often of questionable quality. If you have time to train them, they're great, but if not - it can become problematic. Expect to pay between $100-200/mo for most classes of help (drivers and gardeners are a little cheaper).But expect them to see you as a bank and ask for interest-free loans. Set up an agreement from the start to stop these unwelcome requests for money.
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?
I generally do not use my credit card - the grocery store overcharged me once and I never used it there again. But I have used the ATM occasionally without too much trouble.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Catholic and evangelical services are available. Sunday school is not. Some expats have banded together to do ad hoc religious services and Sunday school.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There is a South African satellite system - but it can be expensive to start up. Most Embassy families rely on AFN.You can get English-language magazines from street vendors. But daily newspapers are in French.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You really need to speak a little French to get by. But you can find domestic help from Ghana who can translate for you.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Very difficult. There are no sidewalks and no wheelchair accessible buildings.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
You drive where you can. There are five speeds of traffic on the roads here: cars, motos, bicycles, pedestrians, and donkey carts. On the paved roads it's on the right, but every where else - it's every man (or donkey) for himself.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable yes - safe questionable.
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?
Bring a small 4WD with high clearance. If you never leave the city you won't absolutely need it, but we live on a dirt road and getting there in the rainy season can be hazardous.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
DSL is available and has recently reduced in price to around $40/mo. But it isn't as fast as DSL in the U.S.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Good cellphone plans are available and phones themselves are inexpensive. And you can buy phone cards at EVERY (and I mean every) street corner from the boys who come up to your car.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There is one vet that I am aware of. She is nice and cares about the animals, but she is constrained by a lack of facilities, equipment, and medicine. We have lost a pet here and it was traumatic.
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?
ISO and NGOs sometimes have job openings. The Embassy has five or six jobs for eligible family members - but they aren't all full-time or
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business - shirt & tie for men, long skirts/pants for women. Suits are required for upper level meetings - but not for daily work. No one wears shorts - but capri pants are acceptable casual wear.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate - Dust, dust and more dust. But there's not a lot of heavy industry - so unless you're behind a long line of old motos - it's not too bad.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Security is a concern for locals and expats without good security guards. House break-ins and pick-pocketing is fairly common. But violent crime against expats is rare.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is okay. The Embassy has a nurse and local doctor. Many expats have had children here and some minor surgeries like appendicitis, etc. But it's not recommended. Malaria and stomach problems are de rigeur and should be treated immediately.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very dry most of the year and hot all year round. Rainy season is June-Sept and it rains once every couple of days.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The International School is fairly good. They offer multi-aged classrooms, which can be an adjustment. They do not offer the IB program, but have reguarly had success with AP courses for high school junior and seniors. The French program needs some work - but one hopes that the new Director who arrives in July will address this issue. There is a French school - but you generally must be a French national or have come directly from another French school to be accepted. I have also heard that the older classes can be a little wild.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There is not a lot for extensive special needs. However, ISO is a small enough school to be flexible to accomodate minor learning difficulties. The French clinic sometimes has a speech therapist here who will work with kids - but they generally need to speak French. That said, we were able to hire a missionary spouse who was also a teacher to work with our special needs child in and out of the classroom. This arrangement resulted in significant measurable improvement in her academic progress. Starting in 2009 - ISO hopes to add a special needs coordinator to the faculty who will be able to track, assess, and better accomodate children with mild special 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?
Nannies are the norm here. They are competent and develop play networks so that your kids (and the nanny) are never bored. There are a couple small French preschools that some expats use. The International School offers a very good (but VERY pricey) preschool starting at age 3.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Around 200 - Only about 20 or 30 in the Embassy community (not counting spouses or kids).
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?
Revolves mostly around the home. People organize movie nights, wine & cheese socials, spa days, Bunco, etc. It's what you make of it. If you want to do something - others will join you. But don't expect that there will always be something going on unless you're willing to make it happen.
3. Morale among expats:
Pretty good depending on the situation. New arrivals at the Embassy always affect Post dynamics.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is definitely a family post. It is very quiet - but we've got lots of kids and social functions tend to revolve around them and their activities. That said, a post is what you make of it and there is a thriving Bunco group, book club, and movie night social scene.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
This is a male-dominated culture, but most people get along very well regardless of religion or ethnicity.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
If you like to do something - start a group and you're guaranteed to find others to do it too. There are a couple bowling alleys, places to play pool, and some night clubs. ISO and the American Rec Center have pools and tennis courts that you can pay to use. Every other year there is a film festival that brings artists from all over the world. Most large villages will have mask festivals once a year, which, while rustic, can be very neat to see. And you can always visit the sacred crocodiles.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Leather work, african masks and other art from the region, local fabric
9. Can you save money?
Yes - if you don't want to travel outside Ouaga. Air fare is prohibitively expensive and any road trip is at least a 6 hour drive.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Most definitely!Our kids have been very happy here. The school and community was exactly the right fit for them. It's not easy to live here all the time, but the people are beautiful and welcoming. We'd definitely come here again.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, nice carpets, anything white (it won't be white for long!)
3. But don't forget your:
dust rags, replacement tires (soooooooo expensive here), tennis rackets, books, and movies