Bamako, Mali Report of what it's like to live there - 02/02/09
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 - studied in France, taught in China and have traveled a lot.
2. How long have you lived here?
I lived there for two years and left in January 2008.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Affiliated with the U.S. Embassy.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
All roads go through Paris. Travel time always ended up being about 24 hours from the U.S. because of layover time in Paris. Paris to Bamako is the daily flight everyone comes in on.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Houses are very big, all that I knew of had pools. We had a particularly nice yard. We were very happy with our house.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There's a small commissary, though it sometimes ran out of items, it was helpful. There are two major supermarkets. You can get a decent amount of stuff, mostly French brands. Not cheap, there was a Cola of 25-30% when I was there. We had a consumables allowance, which we used.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We used our consumables. We shipped liquor and good beer (liquor is available in Mali, but pricey). We shipped pet food, cat litter, some soup, chips, refried beans, and salsa.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No fast food places really. But there are some good restaurants. A good, and sort of fancy Thai place. My favorites were Cafe du Fleuve (great steaks) and Bla Bla (great brochettes and pork chops). There are also some good Lebanese food and other good reastaurants if you seek them out.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We had a roach problem, but that was unusual. Mosquitoes are bad, and we slept under mosquito netting and used repellent religiously.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We used the pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We paid about US$200 a month for a part-time gardener and another US$200 for a part-time housekeeper.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There's a small workout room at the club. That's all I really knew of. But there was a great Yoga teacher while I was there.
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?
I never used them, and we were wary about them, but I had a friend who used them occasionally.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is a small Bible study group, and there is a protestant church on Sunday nights. There was a Catholic service billed as partially in English, but it was really mostly in French.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
We had AFN. You can get day-old Herald tribune for a couple of dollars.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need French. Hardly anyone speaks English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I think it would be very hard.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We took taxis, but not buses or Sotramas - small mini-buses many people use. I wouldn't take a long trip by bus, as we saw many overturned on road trips.
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?
We had an SUV. We didn't need four-wheel drive, but the clearance was really helpful. There are a lot of really bad, pot-hole-ridden roads.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We had decent Internet, but not high speed. We could usually use Skype. Downloading an hour-long TV show took about 9 hours. We paid around US$60 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Embassy provided mine. My husband got a Mali SIM card. It was helpful.
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)?
We loved our vet. He made house calls and was really wonderful. Our housekeeper cared for our cats when we were out of town.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Africans, in particular the women, dress up in wonderful fabrics and traditional outfits. We didn't dress up as much as at many posts. Most men wore khakis, button-downs and ties, and had sports coats. Few people wore suits. It's very hot, so you try to look professional and stay cool. I tried to wear linen.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Dusty, but I'd call it moderate.
2. What immunizations are required each year?
None annually, but we got a bunch before going.
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are issues in Northern Mali, but not in Bamako - just your usually theft. We always felt very safe.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We took, malaria prophylaxis. Everyone has digestive issues from time to time. Not very good medical care. There is an embassy doctor, who was great, but anything serious gets medivac'ed.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot most of the time. After you acclimate, cool season nights can feel cool. Hot season (starts mid-Feb, goes to late summer, is very hot and dry (high 90s to 100 usually, going to 110 or so) .Rainy season late summer to November is hot and more humid with fabulous rainstorms (if you like rain, you'll love this season). Cool season from November or so through mid-Feb. Still hits the 90s, but some days might only hit the 80s and nights go into the 70s - quite lovely, really.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
One American school, also a Dutch school with U.S. curriculum and a French school. We didn't have experience with them.
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?
Most people had nannies.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I'm not sure.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small - mostly French, but in addition to Americans there were South Africans, Germans, and Dutch.
2. Morale among expats:
While I was there it was good. I'd heard it was bad in the past, but we had a really good group of people. It's a place where a couple of unhappy families could really change the atmosphere. It was tough at times, but in general, we were happy.
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?
Most entertaining is among friends, in people's homes. We had some big embassy community parties.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think best for families with young kids. Good for couples, hardest for singles.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think it would be tough.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Malians are pretty tolerant.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
You have to make your own fun. There are some decent and some very good restaurants. There's a hash. There's a lot of entertaining in the home with friends. There are great music clubs, but they start late. There are occasional cultural events. There's an American Club that started up fairly recently.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Wonderful wood carvings and masks. Necklaces.
9. Can you save money?
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, need for order.
3. But don't forget your:
Sense of adventure, sense of humor, sunscreen, swimming suit, and appreciation for a fascinating culture.
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Segou. (Can't remember the author).
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Segou. (Can't remember the author).
7. Do you have any other comments?
We found it to be a wonderful experience. It was tough at times, and I think it's definitely a hardship post, but it's not as tough as many. The people are wonderful, the culture fascinating, and when I was there the embassy community was wonderful, and my work was very interesting. If you have a good attitude and embrace the situation you can have a great time. I've recommended it to many friends.