Bamako, Mali Report of what it's like to live there - 07/27/11
Personal Experiences from Bamako, Mali
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, lived in 5 other foreign cities.
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?
Porto Alegre, Brazil, is my home base. The trip takes 32 hours, with connections in Sao Paulo and Paris.
3. How long have you lived here?
6 years, since 2005
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Depending on your budget, you can find all types of house. Most of the NGO families have a nice house with a yard for the kids to play, a pool, and 3 or 4 rooms. The nicest houses are in and around Badalabougou and Hippodrome. The new neighborhoods have big houses that occupy the whole land leaving no space for a decent yard or trees!
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fruits and vegetables you buy from the ladies on the street. The rest you buy at -- and find everything in -- the main supermarkets: La Fourmi, Azar and Shoprate in Badala. Everything is imported, so supermarket food is expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Sunscreen, mosquito repellent, clothes and shoes, toys, books, and board games.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No fast food. Good restaurants: Italian, Thai, Chinese, Lebanese, European, Indian, French, ice cream parlor, Vietnamese, fondue/raclette restaurant. The ex-Sofitel hotel and the Radisson hotel also have a nice restaurant. Prices range between 10 dolares to 30 dolares.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Some organic and vegetarian food is available at La Fourmi, but very expensive.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Malaria. But we have screens on our windows, we sleep with mosquito net and neither of us nor our kids got malaria in Bamako.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Normal post, but it takes a while.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Great Malian domestic help! We have a cook/cleaner, a nanny, a gardner who comes once a month, the pool cleaner, and the guards (one for day, one for night). Household help varies between 80 to 200 dollars, depending on working hours and experience.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Budo club in Badalabougou is the best gym. They also have another branch in Quinzambougou but much smaller.
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?
You can use your credit card at Azar and La Fourmi supermarkets. Otherwise, you use the local currency: Francs (CFA).
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
All denominations are here. The missionary community is huge here: Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Evangelicals, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Catholics, etc. You can find French and Bambara services. There's an English fellowship service on Sunday evenings at the Bamako Coura church downtown.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
You have two cable options: Malivision or Canal Plus. Both have the main English channels (CNN, BBC, Discovery, National Geographic, movie channels) plus some other languages' channels (German, Italian, Spanish, many Arabic, Russian...). For Malivision the basic package is 60 dollars.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You must speak French. In the capital most of the people speak French, but outside the capital a few speak French. If you want to speak to their 'heart' though, you should try to speak some basic Bambara: basic greetings, etc.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
No access for people with special physical needs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
You can use the local 'douroni' (green mini vans) which are cheap and safe, but packed! Otherwise, taxis are very cheap and safe. No big buses.
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?
Bring a 4X4 so you can go everywhere (not all roads are paved) and so people will respect you when driving. There are official car dealers here: Peugeot, Chrysler, Volkswagen, a Chinese one, a South Korean one, and Toyota. Some car parts are expensive as they come from France.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
There is no high-speed, but internet service is not bad. There's Orange and Afribone. You need to check their special offers to decide.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Everybody has a cell phone. You have Orange and Malitel to choose from.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
I don't have pets, but some friends do, and you can find good vets.
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?
Yes, as long as you speak French and have experience!
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Malians love to dress well. But casual is good.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No really. What I like most about it here is that it is still a safe country where you can walk, drive during the night, etc. That's a blessing.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Only malaria, but it's not a main issue in the capital if you sleep under a mosquito net. There's Clinic Pasteur for medical care.
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. There're times of the year that are better than others. The harmattan (sand storm coming from the Sahara desert) from December to February lives the air heavier.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot during the whole year, but dry. Rainy season from July to August when it becomes humid but the air is fresher. Really hot during April/May (getting close to 40 Celsius in the capital). In December and January you have the coolest months.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
You have Boux de Choux at Hippodrome, Rose Bleu at Quinzambougou for pre-K, or the International American school. Then for bigger kids it's the International American School or Liberte (French school). There're more but these are the best.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
House help is another blessing in this country! Most of the families with little children have happy and responsable nannies. If you want preschool, there're too.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Judo in different neighborhoods, soccer is everywhere, but these are outdoors with the kids from your neighborhood. Budo club has soccer and judo for kids as well as the American club and the American school.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty big with people from everywhere working with NGOs, the UN, embassies, World Bank, evangelical missions, etc.
2. Morale among expats:
Very good... but people who are not flexible and want a more demanding life style may not like it.
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?
For fun people go out for dinner/lunch; play bowling (new in town!), have friends over for dinner to play games or watch a movie; movie nights at the American Club; cultural events at the French Cultural center; French dubbed movies at the Babemba movie theater; National park; National Museum; Kangaba campement; Badalalodgge; visiting Pays Dougon, Segou, Bandiagara, Mopti, Timbuktu, Djenne (many UNESCO sites); Pirogue River ride.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Most of the people seem to enjoy Mali. I guess families with little children enjoy more than families with bigger kids.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
This is a Muslim country, so homosexuality isn't well taken.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No. There're many ethnic groups here andthey living along very well. Muslim and Christians, too. White and black, too.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Trip by car from Bamako to Gao for working reasons. Beautiful scenary. Hospitality of the Malian people.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There's since September 2010 the new National Park which is the biggest in West Africa, and that's a gem here. They're also renewing the zoo. There's a new bowling alley, nice restaurants. The French cultural center and the American club organize interesting social events. People have fun going out for dinner, having friends over to eat, watch a movie or play games.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Touaregue chests, Bogolan fabrics, Ciwaras, Dougon benches.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Super safe, no criminality, super friendly people, great house help, possibility to visit real African villages and having very interesting ethnic history (touaregs, etc.).
11. Can you save money?
Yes if you don't buy the expensive food at the supermarket and go out for dinner every day! It all depends on how much you earn here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, lack of humor, predictability.
3. But don't forget your:
Flexibility, sense of humor, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, toys, books, games, sandals.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
West Africa - Lonely Planet
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Sahara: just to see how it looks like a bit (they shot it here in Mali).