Bamako, Mali Report of what it's like to live there - 01/31/09

Personal Experiences from Bamako, Mali

Bamako, Mali 01/31/09

Background:

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

No, 3rd tour.

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2. How long have you lived here?

1 year, currently still here.

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

Embassy.

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

The most direct route is via Paris on Air France, although it is very expensive because Air France has the only direct flight to Europe. 8 hours U.S.-Paris, 6 hours Paris-Bamako.

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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 a good size, all with swimming pools. Houses on the south side of the river have great yards while those on the north side, and closer to the embassy, have smaller yards. Commute on the north side is about 5-10 minutes. Coming from the south side, it could be anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes depending on if there is an accident on the bridge.

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

There are several good grocery stores around town and if you aren't picky, and take the time to look, you can find pretty much most of what you need. This is a consumables post, so bring your favorite brands, sodas, chips etc. Groceries are pricey but local fruits and vegetables are good and reasonable.

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

Mexican food ingredients, canned chicken (believe it or not, the chicken here is tough and scrawny), any type of liquids that you can't get through the pouch. Otherwise, you can get what you need through netgrocer, if you can't find it locally.

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

There is an excellent Thai restaurant and a couple of other upscale continental/french restaurants. You can also find Vietnamese, Lebanese, African and Italian food. The restaurants are just okand the choices are limited but the capitainne fish is excellent. Cost, like anything in Bamako, is high. A pizza for one person costs about US$12.

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

Some homes have lots of insects, mosquitoes, crickets etc and others have very little. It depends on how well sealed the house is and how much you fight it.

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Daily Life:

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

No APO. Mail seems to arrive in about 10 days to 2 weeks through the 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?

Plenty available. Standards vary a lot. Full time maid is about US$180 a month, same with gardener. Americans tend to overpay, so you can negotiate, and help is a dime a dozen, so don't settle for substandard help.

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

Several of the major hotels offer gym memberships. As is everything else in the city, it can be expensive.

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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?

Only a few places around town with ATMs. I've never used my credit card except for travel. This is a cash society.

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

Protestant service in english but don't know about Catholic.

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

The Embassy provides AFN.

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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?

English is very rarely spoken, so you really need to speak some French. The locals love it if you try to speak a few words of Bambara.

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

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Transportation:

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

Safe with regards to crime and affordable but I would not recommend their use as the vehicles themselves are old and hazardous.

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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?

4w drive is best. Many roads are well paved but many aren't and it helps to have a sturdy car. There is a Toyota and Chrysler/Jeep dealership here which can provide parts, but they are very expensive because of the import costs.

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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?

Internet access is available and pretty good but expensive.

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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?

Plenty around town and service seems good. You basically only have Orange and Malitel with very little difference between the two.

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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)?

Pet care is pretty good. No kennels.

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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?

Don't know, but you would definitely have to speak French.

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

Work is business attire. In public, shorts on men are fine but not women. Bare arms on women are fine, especially as the Malian woman wear oversized shirts that tend to hang off of them, exposing a lot of skin. Clothes tend to wear out quickly here, especially for kids.

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Health & Safety:

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

Depends on the season. In general, unhealthy. In the past month the pollution has been horrible.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Yellow fever shot is required to enter the country, although I've never been asked to show my card.

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

Use common sense, but in general Mali is a pretty safe place, especially in comparison to the rest of West Africa. In the past year I have not heard of any criminal incidents, whether petty crime or violent.

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

There is malaria here and most Americans take some sort of anti-malarial. Don't let them force you to take mefloquine if it bothers you in any way; there are plenty of alternatives.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Wet, rainy season starts in the summer and ends in October, followed by a cooler winter season, then a hot, dry dusty season.

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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 International School of Bamako is pretty good and the kids seem happy. Currently located near many of the embassy houses, although it will be moving at some point in the next couple of years to a congested area that will increase the commute time for the kids tremendously.

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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?

Nannies are plentiful. There are several French creches but be careful to check them out as many of them are entirely run by Malians who may have different standards of care.

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

The school offers some sports, and there is a tennis club in town, but if this is a priority for you then Bamako is not the place to come.

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Expat Life:

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

One of the largest contingents of peace corps here and lots of NGOs. The diplomatic community is fairly small and tends not to do things together.

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale is good. Boring though it can be here, people find their own group of friends and meet at restaurants or each others' homes for dinner/parties/movies. Other than being expensive and with very little to do, Bamako really isn't a difficult place to live, give or take the bug season.

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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?

Restaurants, nightclubs, occasional function at the American club, and nights at friends' houses.

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

Depends on what you like to do. There are not any parks or places to take kids to play, other than the American Club which leaves a lot to be desired. There are nightclubs and restaurants, and two hashes, but there is not a huge variety of activities offered by the city. Right now there is a good mix of singles, couples and families with children, so everyone can find someone with whom to socialize.

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

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

Malians are very tolerant. The majority of the country is muslim, and they tend to practice their religion more privately than in middle eastern countries. You do not feel like you are in a majority Muslim country.

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

Browsing through the central market can be fun, but overall the city is pretty boring and does not have a lot of "tourist" sites to visit. You have to get out of the city and travel to Timbuktou or Dogon country, which is a definite must, although it can be expensive to get there.

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

Dogon doors/wood crafts, Tuareg boxes, masks, furniture, Tuareg jewelery.

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9. Can you save money?

You won't go broke, but things are expensive, restaurants expensive, and if you want to travel anywhere, costs are high.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

There are a lot worse places to be in Africa if you compare other countries on the continent. Given some other choices, sure I'd still come here. The people are great, there is hardly any crime, housing is nice, the school is fine, and you can find restaurants and groceries. But..the cost is high, there aren't a lot of activities to do, and the handful of decent restaurants get old fast.

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

Winter coat and gear.

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3. But don't forget your:

Bug spray, sunscreen, swimsuit and pool gear.

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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?

You can make good friends here and have a nice time if you don't need a lot of museums, historic sites and other attractions to make you happy. Make your own fun, and it will be fine.

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