Djibouti, Djibouti Report of what it's like to live there - 02/28/13

Personal Experiences from Djibouti, Djibouti

Djibouti, Djibouti 02/28/13

Background:

1. Your reason for living this city (e.g. corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.):

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

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3. 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?

USA. Multiple routes are available, but none is direct. The cheapest and fastest is usually via Ethiopian Air (Djibouti to Addis, Addis to DC), but for official travel one flies through Europe.

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4. How long have you lived here?

by Taylor Denyer

(Taylor is a U.S. Foreign Service spouse who has been living in Djibouti for six months, a fourth long-term expat experience.)

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Houses for the diplomatic/expat community are built large. Most US Embassy employees are assigned spacious homes. There is little in the way of grass or garden space, however.

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

Most things are on the pricey side, since nearly everything is imported, but some things are surprisingly affordable. Diplomats and those working for NGOs can use a company called Seven Seas to order frozen and canned foods in bulk.

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

Nothing.

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

There are some good restaurants in town, although nothing in drive-through style unless you count the roasted chickens sold outside the grocery markets. Expect to pay in the range of $12/plate to $50 for dinner.

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

Some neighborhood battle mosquitoes, but malaria is not a real issue inside the city.

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Daily Life:

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

We use the embassy pouch and FPO.

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

Housekeepers are easy to find. Expect to pay at least $14/day plus transport fees. Currently the Americans pay significantly more than the French, who pay significantly more than locals.

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

Yes.

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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?

Available at the main shops, although then you have to deal with the processing fees.

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

The Roman Catholic church incorporates English in its Thursday evening mass. The Protestant church tries to incorporate some English into its Sunday evening services. The only other groups I know that worship in English are at Camp Lemonnier (Americans can attend these).

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

There are a few English-language news channels on locally available satellite. Otherwise, you would need to use AFN or download via the internet. Not expensive.

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

You should at least learn French, but it is possible to survive on just English if you stick to the up-scale shops.

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

There is a lack of sidewalks in many areas; many buildings don't meet ADA standards; there is no safe public transport; and no high-tech medical facilities.

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Transportation:

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

All are not safe and not allowed if you are connected to the US Embassy.

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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?

A high-clearance SUV is best if you plan to drive to the beach or anywhere else interesting out of town. Bring a diesel vehicle if possible.

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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?

Yes. Various plans are available. They are on the expensive side, but not terrible.

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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?

There is only one company (a government monopoly) in town

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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?

No.

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

There is a vet with a kennel in town.

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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?

Some -- especially for those who want to teach English.

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

Relatively casual due to the climate. No need for women to dress any differently than they would in their home country.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not particularly.

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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?

There is a French hospital. The US Embassy also has a good team in its health unit for embassy families.

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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?

Good.

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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?

Winters are comfortably warm and sunny. Summers are, admittedly, extremely hot and can get dusty. It rarely rains.

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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 children attend the French school. The French military children attend them too, so they are up to French government standards.

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

I do not know, although tutors are available for children who do not speak French.

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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?

This is an issue. Most Americans and French hire Ethiopians as nannies. But their education levels are low, and few speak basic French or English, so communication is difficult.

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

Somewhat.

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Expat Life:

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

Large.

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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?

Lots of house parties.

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3. Morale among expats:

Good.

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

Yes. With so many countries stationing troops here, there are social circles for all demographics.

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

I am not aware of any of the gay couples at post feeling unsafe or harassed.

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

Djibouti is a moderate Muslim nation with expats from all over living here. While there clearly are inter-ethnic tensions and problems for women, I am not aware of this directly impacting expats who come here to work. There are a few Christian congregations that the government has given permission to exist and worship openly, as long as they do not engage in efforts to convert the Muslim population.

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

Swimming with whale sharks, day and overnight trips to Moucha Island, seeing landscapes that look extra-terrestrial (like the chimneys of Lac Abbe).

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

Go to the beach, snorkel/scuba, kite surf, sand surf, go boating, etc.

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

Scuba excursions.

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

Beaches, snokeling/scuba, boating, sun, few crimes against foreigners (muggings, shootings and carjackings are not a concern), clean air, modern grocery stores with gourmet French cheese and such, fascinating (in terms of natural beauty) daytrip options, French schools, French hospital. Americans can eat and watch movies at Camp Lemonnier. The French military has several clubs,

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11. Can you save money?

Possibly--if you are strategic about your grocery shopping.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

coats and blankets

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3. But don't forget your:

swimsuits and snokels

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

Sadly, I'm unaware of any decent books in English about Djibouti.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Not to my knowledge. Better to search Djibouti home videos on youtube.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

We had prepared ourselves for the worst, but we have really loved our first six months. Ask me again after my first full summer here.

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