Bamako, Mali Report of what it's like to live there - 08/14/14

Personal Experiences from Bamako, Mali

Bamako, Mali 08/14/14

Background:

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

No. I've lived only in Western Europe previously.

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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?

DC. Flight from DC to Paris then you can catch a direct flight Paris - Bamako. Flight from Paris to Bamako is about 5-6 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

June 2013 - June 2015.

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

U.S. Government.

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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 are gigantic. I don't own enough furniture for all the rooms in my house! Each embassy house has a pool. I live about a 10 minute drive from the Embassy and it is fantastic being so close. Some embassy employees live on the other side of the river and have to constantly deal with traffic jams and accidents on the bridges.

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

Like I mentioned, you will spend the majority of your money on food. You must hunt for all your grocery needs as you will probably not be able to find everything on your list at one store and must visit the others to find everything.

Fresh veggies and fruit are seasonal and are sold on the side of the road in stands. The best produce is sold at a stand right outside of the French embassy (caters to the foreigner clientale). The meat available in Mali is pretty good although it is hard to find good chicken during the hot season.

If you want to buy anything else (pasta, dairy goods) it will be imported and a bit more expensive.

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

Any liquid items you may want (teriyaki sauce, dishwashing soap, etc). You can ship most items via DPO but any liquids have to be under 16 oz.

You can buy soda at the markets and cleaning liquids but they'll be expensive.

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

No major chain fast food restaurants but many new burger restaurants have opened up recently that offer great burgers! Also a fantastic pizza restaurant that will deliver!

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

Mosquitos, mosquitos, mosquitos. Rainy season is the worst but if you use bug spray when you're out at night, it's fine. Malaria is a big problem here. Take your anti-malarials!!!!! I cannot emphasize that enough. Do not chance it. I've known people to get seriously ill with malaria because they did not take their medication.

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Daily Life:

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

Access to USPS through embassy.

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

Reasonable. We have a daily housekeeper who also cooks occasionally that we pay around US$240 a month. We have a gardener/pool guy/dog walker we pay around US$160 a month. I've heard these are high prices though so it really depends.

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

Small gym on embassy compound. Larger gym at American Club. Nice gym available at the Radisson hotel.

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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?

It's a cash economy. No credit cards. Only use ATMs with well reputable banks.

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

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

Educated Malians speak French otherwise Bambara is spoken throughout. You will need to know some French to get anything done.

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

Yes. No sidewalks. No elevators.

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Transportation:

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

We've been advised to not take taxis because of the potential of a car accident and the poor medical care available in Bamako. Taxi drivers, moto drivers, bus drivers, ANY driver in Mali drives crazy. They do not pay attention. Do not follow traffic rules (if there are any). None get a license before getting behind the wheel. Many drive at night without lights. Many will speed up the left side of your car while you're taking a left turn. Many put their whole family (including newborns) and farm animals (including goats) on one tiny moto. It's a sight to be seen. And also ridiculously dangerous.

If you drive slowly and defensively, you should be fine. However every single person I know in Bamako has had a moto hit his/her car, many times while completely stopped (moto drivers are seriously horrible drivers and will plow right into your car. Luckily I've never heard of anyone getting into a serious accident. Usually the moto driver will get up, say sorry, and be on their way).

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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?

Bring an SUV. You'll feel safer during traffic (so MANY motos driving crazy!!). Additionally, during the rainy season, the paved roads develop huge potholes and the dirt roads become pretty difficult to drive on if you do not have a high clearance. That being said, some people do have low clearance cars (toyota corollas/suburus) and have had no big problems with getting around.

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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?

I have internet service at home through Afribone. They have a very expensive monthly service for high-speed internet (so you can stream/Skype) but it's around US$250/month. I have the cheaper version and it is S L O W. Forget Skype or streaming. We have vonage and it works fine about 60% of the time. It's faster to stream through the data plan on your cell phone. If you want to download music or a movie, expect it to take some time.

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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?

You can get pretty good coverage from Orange and they have fast data plans. Malitel is a joke. 50% of calls dialed on Malitel get dropped.

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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?

Pet care is okay. There are two vets that I know of in Bamako but the majority of expats use only one (Dr. Niare who is delightful, speaks some English, and makes house calls). We actually bought our lab here in Mali (from the other vet that breeds dogs) but had her spade by Dr. Niare. So far she has been in good health and you can tell Dr. Niare take good care of her. No kennel in town. You'll have to use friends as pet-sitters if you plan to travel.

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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?

Only if you speak decent French. You'll need French to work on the local economy. You can work for any number of NGOs or the UN.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Yes. I know people who volunteer at a local orphanage and I have volunteered to teach English at a school in Bamako.

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

Suit/tie for men. Regular summer work clothes for women (sandals are fine). In public it is rare to see men or women wearing shorts. Women long skirts.

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Health & Safety:

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

There is ongoing fighting in northern Mali but it almost feels like it's on the other side of the world. I feel very safe in Bamako and only have concerns about petty crime. One embassy house was burglarized since I've been here but they think it was an inside job (house staff).

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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?

Malaria. Take your medicine. Local medical care is poor. If you get sick or injured, you will be sent out of country for care.

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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?

I have heard people complain about the dust during the winter months (this is when the wind comes down off the Sahara Desert, bringing with it sand/dust) but honestly, I didn't notice much of a difference from the rest of the year. Overall I think the air quality is fine and have not noticed much of a difference from the US. Some Malians do burn their trash though so try to avoid those areas if you're sensitive.

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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?

Sun year round! June - September is the rainy season (and mango season!) when thunderstorms roll in/out a few times a week. They never last long though and usually the sun comes out quickly. Rainy season = a lot of mosquitos though. September - December is great. Starts getting cooler, fewer mosquitos. December - February is "winter" where the daily temperature gets to high 70s/ low 80s F. February - June is the hot season and temperatures can get up to 110F. It's thankfully a dry heat and nothing too overwhelming (some people have compared it to Phoenix in the summer). And fewer bugs then!

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Expat community is somewhat small but expanding quickly. So many new NGOs popping up and the UN is always bringing in new people. The US embassy community is fantastic. You really become so close to everyone and people start feeling like family. There is ALWAYS something to do on the weekends.

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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?

Bars. Live music. There are two fancy pool/social clubs (Le campement and Badalodge). There are no book stores/cinemas so we have to make our own entertainment, which is probably why there is ALWAYS something to do and someone to do it with! People hike, rockclimb, host bookclubs, pool parties, go on road trips, etc.

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

As a young couple without children, we've had a lot of fun. If you want to be active, there is a running group (hash) every weekend and a group also goes out rock-climbing every Saturday (the area outside of Bamako looks a lot like the SW of the USA).

The embassy community is very tight-knit and feels like a family. If that starts to feel claustrophobic though, there is a large foreigner community of French and other nationalities. A lot of NGO people and UN people in town as well.

People are constantly throwing house parties, pool parties, going out to dinner, etc etc. We have a more active social life here than we did in London!

I've noticed a lot more families moving to post with young children as well. So if you have kids, you'll be able to set up a lot of play dates!

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

Homosexuality is pretty hidden in Bamako. I know of some gay/lesbian expats that have been able to date a bit (other expats, no locals) but you would never see a local openly celebrating being gay. Despite being such a friendly culture, Mali can be quite conservative.

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

Mali is predominantly Muslim but, at least in Bamako, the culture is quite accepting of other religions. There is even a small percentage of Malians that are Catholic. Mali being Muslim doesn't mean you are restricted from certain goods; they serve pork at restaurants and even have local beer!

Like I mentioned above, Mali can be quite conservative. As a woman, I try to wear long skirts when I am outside otherwise I have noticed that I get stares when I wear anything above my knee. I never wear shorts. You can show your arms/shoulders just fine. The average Malian woman on the street wears a long skirt with a tank top.

I have noticed that Malian culture is quite sexist. Gender equality to most Malian men is a joke. It is expected that a man's wife will maintain the home, cook/clean, do whatever the husband says, even if the woman is also working full-time in an office. It frustrates me to no end to hear of the unfair treatment my female Malian colleagues must deal with on a daily basis, especially from their husbands. I am pretty immune to this treatment as a foreigner but it's difficult to accept regardless.

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

Developing my French! Making local friends. Being exposed to a completely different culture/way of life. Sun year round! Fantastic expat/embassy community. Very, very high morale.

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

There are numerous opportunities to listen to Malian music in Bamako. Definitely go when you get the chance!

Visit N'golonina artisan market - a ton of great handicrafts and jewelry! Just remember to bargain! No price is set in stone.

Bla Blas (a famous restaurant in Bamako) has some of the best pork chops I have ever eaten.

Go on a road trip up north to Segou and Djenne (the world's largest mud mosque is there and is a UNESCO world heritage site!).

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

Carved statues and jewelry. Malian textiles. Clothes made specifically for you by a local tailor.

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

Malians are some the friendliest people you will ever meet and they love to laugh and joke around. One special advantage is being able to make so many local friends.

It's also great being able to live in such a culturally rich part of the world; Bamako is esentially the epicenter of west African culture (music/art/textiles). Malian music is world-famous and its brightly colored textiles can be seen all over this side of the continent. You'll see Malian wood carvings for sale throughout west Africa.

You can definitely save money in Bamako! The most expensive items you will spend money on are imported food products (think French yogurt and cheese). Local meat is pretty good quality and the vegetable/fruit options are seasonal but pretty good.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How much I was going to love it here. I was admittedly nervous before moving here (first time living in the developing world and Africa) but it has been a great experience.

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

Yes. I'm ready to go after our two-year tour (the developing world can slowly get to you) but I am so happy and grateful that I was able to spend time here, meet everyone and learn about this part of the world.

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

Winter coats. Elitest attitudes. Desire for everything to be spotless/OCD.

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4. But don't forget your:

Anti-malarials! Sense of humor. Patience. Flexibility.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

Enjoy!!

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