N'djamena, Chad Report of what it's like to live there - 11/28/06

Personal Experiences from N'djamena, Chad

N'djamena, Chad 11/28/06

Background:

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

No - Brussels, Hannover, Suva, Tel Aviv, Sanaa.

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2. How long have you lived here?

A few months.

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

Department of State.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

From Washington DC, about 20 hours with layovers. Be careful when you book that your travel agent doesn't get you on the Tuesday/Thursday flights. You'll have a 12 hour layover in Paris and you get into Chad at 4 am. If you have no choice, ask Air France for a day room to sleep. It's not the Hilton but it's better than the airport floor.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Poor-quality construction, poorly maintained, and in need some serious electrical work. Personally I think this is the worst housing I have ever seen in the Foreign Service, but others at post tell me they've seen worse. It's relative I guess.

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

A liter of UHT milk will run you about 5 dollars. Two slices of ham lunch meat, also 5 dollars.
A decent bottle of wine $10-15. The local soap and laundry detergent is made with very harsh chemicals that will tear your clothes to pieces in a few months. This is a consumables post. Use every ounce of your allowance or you will go broke quickly at the local stores. Even fruits and vegatables are expensive. Don't try and buy them yourself, Western prices are always more than Chadian prices. Most people augment their supplies with Metgrocer or the occasional order from Sam Traxx in South Africa. Everything is expensive here because it has to be flown in or driven overland from Cameroon. Customs corruption causes that overhead to go up even more.

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

Mop, broom, pool supplies (if you have one).

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

Say goodbye to fast food. You can get a quick sandwich at some places, but no western style.

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Daily Life:

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

Reasonable but not cheap - US$200-300 for a full time house keeper, US$200 for FT Gardener. I have a French trained chef come on Fridays and make very good and high quality international dishes. He also shops the market for me. I pay him 12 bucks for the day plus the cost of ingredients (usually US$20).

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2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Ha hah ahahahahhah hahah hah ha ha.. oh that's a good one *wipes tear from eye* Umm, there are none. Other than Air France, no one takes credit cards here. Even if they did, your number would be out the door before you were.

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

Yes. Mostly non-denominational Christian. French Catholic services in French and I hear one service is done in English.

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4. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

IHT at the Public Diplomacy library on the Embassy compound. AFN in your home if you can get GSO to get it to work for you. Mine still doesn't work right after three months. To be fair, I haven't really pushed the issue, but I have notified several people of the problem.

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

A good bit. French. If you have none, you will struggle and daily life will be frustrating.

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

Chad doesn't not have any facilities for disabled people. There are few paved roads and no sidewalks. There are no amenities for disabled people and this would be a difficult post for someone who was not fully mobile and self=sufficient.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right.

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

No. US Embassy employees are not allowed to use any form of publin transportation.

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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?

A 4x4 with a lot of ground clearance. Roads are a luxury here and even in the city, many streets are impassable during the rainy season. The dry season is a little better, but the dust chokes most cars to death. Bring a Japanese car. (Toyota is the best, followed by Nissan.) There is a Renault and Peugeot dealer here, but who wants to buy a French car? American cars would have to bring all their spare parts with them because they are not available here. All cars should have an extra one of everything, because you'll pay 5 times what you would in the States for an inner tube here.

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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?

You can access it at the Embassy. Supposedly internet will be available in your home for US$30-40 via Embassy program. That remains to be seen and I wouldn't count on it anytime soon.

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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?

All cell phones here are pay as you go. Embassy employee's have issued cells. A personal cell will run you about 35 a month on average for normal use.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Houses have IVG so you can get a USA calling card for a very low cost per minute. You just have to get used to the voice delay, but it is very cheap. The IVG gets busy during peak times so sometimes it's a little inconvenient when you can't call out.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

I understand there is one western vet. Everyone with a pet uses him.

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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?

Not really. You can find an NGO or other International organization of business to work for, but they don't seem to hire often. Get a job lined up with one of these organizations before you come out. Working at the embassy you'll do office or GSO work.

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

Casual. Embassy officers wear suits to governemnt meetings. Most people wear khakis and a polo on a day-to-day business.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Unhealthy - dust and burning trash are the main culprits. There aren't enough cars to make exhaust a problem. Just keep your A/C on recirculation to make sure that when you do get behind a diesel taxi with no muffler, you can still breathe.

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

Crime and scams. Most locals will try and pull a fast one on you at least once. That includes your household staff. Local Embassy employees are better, but sometimes get caught stealing. Political unrest is a constant. As Chadian themselves put it, “everyone is a rebel”. Americans are instructed to not walk outside after dark.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Chad has every disease known to man. Get all your shots and take all your pills or you will get sick. Maybe permanently sick. Embassy has an American nurse practitioner. For anything serious you will be medevaced to London. The SOS (Swiss) clinic is good for minor treatments. They can stabilize serious patients for medevac if they have to. Outside the capital, it is non-existent. Do not come here with health problems. We had TDY trainer show up here who was 60+ years old with a heart condition. They medevaced him two days later and he barely made it out alive. I understand there is one French dentist, but I don't hear anything good about him. As far as I know, quality dental work cannot be done here. There are no pediatricians.

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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?

Rainy and hot. Dry and hot.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

American school, which struggles to survive as it has only a very small population of students. French school, much bigger and nicer, but your kid better speak French.

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

None that I know of.

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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?

No reputable services known. Most people hire a nanny if they have small children. Expect to pay US$200 a month. More if you want an English speaker.

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Expat Life:

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

Small and getting smaller now that many organizations have declared Chad to be an unaccompanied post. Right now it's almost non-existent with the current rebel fighting.

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2. Morale among expats:

Most people grin and bear it in a shared hardship-experience sort of way. Basic services are more often than not, unavailable. If you work for the embassy, expect low standards from your housing. You can let Chad get you down very quickly. People with depression or other similar problems should not come here. There is very little joy.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are only a few nightclubs safe enough for westerners. Club One -- where you have to fight off the prostitutes. Blue -- where you pay $10 for a beer or the Piano Bar where your ears may be assaulted. You can hang out at Carnivore where they also have live music and prostitutes who don't harass you as badly as at Club One.

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

This is a hardship post. Singles have a hard time as the expat community is small. Right now most NGO's, International Organizations, and businesses have removed their non-essential staff. A lot of embassy employees choose to go on SMA for their spouses. There are only a limited number of things to do for all groups. You can do them all in about a month and then you're done. Most activities are not worth doing twice.

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

I would have to say no, probably not. I don't know if there is even a G/L organized community. I don't see any open G/L couples or hear of any clubs that might be geared toward that lifestyle.

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

Not really. The Muslim population is far bigger than the Christian population. The Christian missionaries here seems to operate safely and I don't have any information that they are targeted. Chadian Muslims seem to be tolerant of other religions and for the most part are casual to moderate in their views. Western women do not seem to have a problem.

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

There are a few nightclubs. The are lots of desperate people in Chad and the protitutes are no exception. I don't go to the clubs, because you are harrassed endlessly. There are a few interesting and safe restaurants. They can break up the monotony and at least get you out of the house. Some have live entertainment that ranges from talented to downright painful to listen to. Cameroon has a nice game park and there are a few day trips to nature sites. Chad has a nice game-park but its a two day trip over bone-jarring roads, with the overnight in a dusty remote village halfway. I understand it is a challenge for even the most adventurous of travelers.

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

Local art. The quality varies and it is expensive. Carpets are supposedly a good deal. However, what I have seen you can get just about anywhere else and cheaper.

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9. Can you save money?

Sort of. If you manage your consumables and don't eat out too often yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

That's a personal choice and everyone will have a different opinion. For me, no. It's not worth it and the State Dept does very little to make it better. The Embassy is staffed with TDY'rs and Civil Service excursion tours. The implication was once you could get a nice post coming out of Chad. With all the bidders coming out of Iraq and Afgahnistan, that is not so much the case anymore. As far as I am concerned this is the very definition of a hardship post. Only the most rugged and adventureous of souls should venture here. You'll have the respect of your peers when you leave and possibly a parasite as well. On the flip side, you will never be posted at a more relevant or memorable post. Promotions seem to be handed out from here as a matter of reward for coming. Chad needs help and it's people do not get it from their government or the French. That leaves you. For the most part, Chadians love Americans. It's is one of the last places on earth that you can openly admit to being an American. Maybe that's because it is so close to the end of the earth. If you want to make a difference, go to Chad.

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

Pets. I've heard of people who lost their beloved Fifi to local diseases. Young or older kids. (less than 5 or older than 14). There's nothing for them to do here. The younger ones will always be sick and the older ones will have no education. Cold weather clothes. Aversion to bugs.

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3. But don't forget your:

DVD collection. Sunglasses, bug spray (indoor household and personal). You will be one with the insect world without them. Sense of humor.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Chad is what you make of it and most people make the best of it. Character counts here and flaws in people's character are quick to show up. As I said before, people with mental or emotional problems should not come here. There are no treatment options and this place is massively depressing as it is. The French and American expat communities are not very tight. I would describe them as co-existing. The embassy community is very close but that makes it all the more fragile. A troublemaker or malcontent can quickly erode this.

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