Niamey, Niger Report of what it's like to live there - 08/02/15

Personal Experiences from Niamey, Niger

Niamey, Niger 08/02/15


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

This was our first expat experience.

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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?

We are typically assigned at Stateside military bases. Our arrival was a flight from Washington Dulles and connecting through Paris for a final 6 hour flight to Niamey. Free wine on the plane so no worries while traveling...

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3. How long have you lived here?

Our family of four lived there recently.

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

It was an accompanied military assignment to the Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Our housing was arranged by the embassy and the grand master extraordinaire of housing took good care of us for a very comfortable quality of life. Utility bills are high and power is hit or miss hour to hour and forget streaming video online or downloading anything. Commuting does not take time yet learning the "right of way" in traffic is based on who is bravest to cross the intersection first. Most expats tend to live in the south of Niamey just north of the river.

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

Cow's milk like many countries is not available unless unpasteurized milk by a local farmer. Most shipped foods and cleaning products are from France, Spain, Lebanon, Egypt and Israel. If you see it and like it and it won't spoil for quite some time time, buy several; inventory of stores is not often replenished so the choices vary depending upon whatever was shipped at the time. Once I went to four stores to find butter... Refrigerated foods can be questionable if the coolers were actually running cold enough to keep it at a safe temperature; warm cheddar bad... Stores often have to decide whether to run A/C in the store or run the refrigerator/freezer at low safe temp, sketchy electricity throughout the city.

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

A treadmill, more transformers for U.S. appliances or more European wired/plug appliances, contact solution as it is not sold, a big comfy recliner, quality nail polish, pepperoni (any shelf stable meat like packaged bacon or ham), framed photos family and friends (but you can get those made, take a memory card to Photo Guidee and buy local leather wrapped frames), large hats to protect from sun, and more things to donate to local children like toys and crafts.

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

NO fast food unless you consider "street meat" to be BK. Random people will grill on the side of the road and one place offers nems to go like a meaty spring roll. Namaste Indian restaurant is very good and packages to-go orders very well. You used to have to bring your own cookie sheet to Le Pelier for a carryout pizza but now they have boxes. Most eating is a long 2 hour process from ordering to eating with the chance of intestinal explosions after, so run that risk or cook at home.

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

In some ways insects are few given that there are many kinds of lizards that eat them. I don't think I ever saw bees or wasps but there are definitely mosquitoes which bring lovely free gifts such as dengue fever and malaria.

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Daily Life:

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

Most expats must use DHL for mail but do not count on the postmaster telling you that you have a package. Sometimes you have to notice the box of the man's shoulder and point out that is your name on that box and that is your mail, DIY postal service! To receive mail, use a small box instead of an envelope so it isn't easily lost.

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

Most domestic help rotate from having worked from one missionary or diplomatic family to another. Experience and trust will be indicative of salary. Someone who does grocery shopping (locals get better prices), and cooks and cleans would make US$150-200/mo part time.

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

Bring your own equipment or use plastic crates of soft drink bottles to lift weights. Running as a group is advisable for safety yet also a threat to your life when run over by a teen pushing a wheelbarrow of bananas or the heat smacking you in the face.

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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 is a cash only country; cards only used at hotels for rooms; bring them so you have something besides Chuck E Cheese looking Nigerien coins when you travel out of the country. There are a few ATMs around town but they are not working with all banks; usually someone must have a local bank and its associated card for an ATM/debit card to work.

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

NEWS Niamey Evening Worship Service is offered at Sahel Academy across the river.

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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?

French is necessary for shopping, setting up internet, buying phone cards and travel. Local languages like Zarma and Hausa can be fun to pick up a few phrases but not needed for daily living.

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

Wheelchair use would not be possible in most places. There are unpaved streets, even the paved sidewalks are covered with sand and difficult to navigate, and many doors to restaurants and stores open outward and are at the top of a stair or two. Many homes have bedrooms on the second floor. I don't think I ever saw an elevator except for at a hotel.

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

A train.... Ha ha, to where?? My French tutor prior to moving there taught me about catching a train and buying tickets at the train station and I tried to explain Ce n'est necessaire! If you want to share your taxi with a lady and her goat, go ahead. Taxis do not pick up one person and take you to your destination. The driver will pick up other passengers along the way until the non A/C cab with windows down and sand flying in has a full taxi AND you will be dropped off where it is convenient on his route so basically a block from where you were headed. The taxi ride will just be a couple of dollars regardless of how long you were in the cab.

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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?

You will need a vehicle with high clearance because the unpaved roads are like driving on the surface of the moon! White and black cars show their dirt and a light interior will get ruined by the reddish sand that is everywhere. Clean it often and bring extra air filters (*cough*), belts and fuel filters as the supply on hand is limited. There are many mechanics who can fix vehicles but it's not a dealership where they offer you free WiFi and a coffee; it's a drop off situation. Just like any other country, keep your doors locked once in the vehicle if you want to stay in the vehicle. Carjacking is reported as frequent and desperate people wanting your car of value will not consider your safety to get what they want.

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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 don't remember the cost but its high cost isn't nearly as frustrating as the intermittent availability of it actually working or the in-person requirement to pay (no online billing and payments even though they're an internet company!). High speed internet, bah ha ha!! LOW bandwidth so when you wake up because the neighbor's goat or rooster is making noise, do your emails to friends in the middle of the night when the internet is in low usage throughout the city.

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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 will need a cell phone to always text someone where you are and where you are going next in order to be safe. You can also use it to call a restaurant or store which is reportedly open during their posted hours yet call because maybe they decided to open late or close early on a whim. Buy a local SIM card for a dollar and buy scratch off cards to load time which are used for talk and text and data; there are no plans to buy (take that Verizon!)

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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?

There are vets and they will do home visits, again pay in cash. A friend watching your pet while you are away is a better idea than a kennel (which I never heard of there). There is no quarantine but your pet will freak out when it sees a camel for the first time (and every time!)

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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?

Teaching is a possibility and volunteer work is plentiful. Career continuity likely won't be had for spouses who came along and likely no one would move to Niamey without first having a job (otherwise, what are you doing there??).

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Schools and clinics receive volunteer help. Network with the company/agency that brought you to Niamey and branch out from there.

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

Women's knees are like breasts, seriously, it's more offensive than a low cut shirt (also not a good idea) so dress modestly in clean ironed clothes. Nigeriens may have just three shirts but they will all be clean and ironed to be an example of the family from which you came. Women and teen girls do not ever wear shorts in public and even men look weird in public in shorts because no one locally is doing it. Cotton shirts show sweat easily so bring patterned and stretchy material for women's shirts

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Health & Safety:

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

Security conditions change as regional threats arise. Vigilance and a secure home and vehicle are what is necessary to be aware of your surroundings. Petty theft crimes are common at night, but like most cities, such areas should be avoided at night. If you don't want to get jacked, don't go somewhere you shouldn't be!

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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?

You can get an x-ray if you break your arm, but only if the technician is there (maybe he had to go to another clinic, just wait, take a Tylenol, he'll be back in 2 hours) and the equipment and electricity are working. There are pharmacies with the medication you would need for pain or antibiotic but they aren't as strong as what you're used to. Malaria is a real threat.

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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?

*cough* *sniff* Lots of that in the winter but not for typical winter weather; you can get pneumonia living just south of the Sahara surprisingly. Once the rainy season (July-Oct) ends, the loose sand on the unpaved roads is similar to what a coal miner breathes so fine particles will enter your lungs and you can't avoid it. There are sandstorms throughout the year yet most typical in the spring (hot season) and they are cool to video but not cool to dust the house for the subsequent three days later.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Bring Claritin, Benadryl, Zyrtec, Sudafed, and an EpiPen! You never know what you will need and when. if you have known food allergies and use a pen, maybe eat at home because peanuts are everywhere (even sold in old liquor bottles!) so cross contamination from peanuts will happen in cookware in the restaurant's kitchen.

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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?

"Summer" is in the spring, at its hottest from Feb-Jun. After that it's rainy season, not like Seattle, more like hovering clouds of humidity that linger and threaten to rain but rarely do, but when it does rain, it's a torrential rain and the hard sand can't absorb it quickly so flooding can happen quickly and standing water is gone within two or three days. Businesses and homes near the water's edge have been by a previous unprecedented flood but that's the risk of living by the water and catching Mali's weather as it makes it way down the Niger River through Niamey.

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Schools & Children:

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

Our children attended a English-speaking private Christian school administrated by missionaries; it was the largest school and a great experience until it flooded, so our children switched to the international school and both schools were a great experience each offering life skills and strong academics. The Christian school has since reopened.

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

The private school operated by the Government of France may offer such accommodations but I do not know. The Christian school had a program for learning disabilities and accommodations for assignments/testing.

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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?

There are several reputable French-speaking options and the international schools offers an English-speaking program. Thankfully I did not have small children while living there because it was already quite hot and toddlers are naturally whiny and already complain about everything. I'm kidding...

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

Softball teams are formed for semi-annual tournaments where any age can participate age 12 and up. Other than that, your child will be the kid returning home and gets in the way while at bat when his teammate steals from third because he doesn't know not to block the base line. You aren't driving your kids to a bunch of practices/games when they should be doing homework so that's beneficial for the family. Bring your own basketball hoop or play at the rec center; there is a pool there to do laps so start your own swim team. Most activities are led by the person happening to live there at the time. There are aerobics classes at a local hotel.

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Expat Life:

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

Morale will be what you make of it, if you hate where you live then you will hate it; if you see it as an adventure of the day, then find one amazing atypical thing that happens and enjoy that memory. Lots of people from various countries that enjoy to hang out and host new friends or be hosted. It's like any place you move to, if you want friends, go make some.

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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?

Entertain yourself! You have to get creative in a capital city that does not have a movie theater, ice cream shop, coffee shop, bowling, batting cage all the things you don't normally care about but suddenly will miss! You can hike to the top of Three Sisters for a view of the city, you can drive to the dunes (really 1 or 2 sand mounds but that's the dunes) for amazing photography opportunities, go 2.5 hours south to EcoLodge and Parc W, and get brave and try restaurants not judging by the exterior - get out there and explore but always with someone.

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

Families with teenagers would struggle as teens cannot drive until age 18 and there aren't entertainment options that a teen is used to. Giving birth is not something I would want to experience there (most women return home for deliver) and I was glad not have a small infant who may need care not readily available. Couples would have each other to lean on for acclimation yet singles always find other fun people that share their interests. Isolating oneself would not be advisable as it already felt like living on an island, kind of quarantined, trapped in the capital without regional travel of any interest or safety, so having friendships or family is very important.

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

There are no laws against homosexuality unlike other African countries. Although you will see men walking down the street and holding hands, it is a cultural extension of friendship (like a high five that never ended) and not indicative of a partner relationship. It's a fine line, not illegal yet also not publicly obvious or discussed in this conservative Muslim country.

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

Men are the head of the household and even unmarried adult Nigerien women must seek counsel from adult male members of the family. Most Nigeriens are Muslim, other Africans in town who are Christian were most often from other countries like Ghana or Togo; there are many Christians from various countries throughout the southern region across Niger; yet it is a small sample within this large Islamic country.

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

Nigeriens are very welcoming to Americans. Despite this year's protest against Christians and the multiple churches and pastors' homes being burned, it was a reaction not related to activity in Niamey. We rode camels and learned the pain of an hour of thigh clenching to stay on, took boat rides to see hippos and returned with all of our limbs, and saw wild roaming giraffes and didn't get stepped on (giraffes think dogs are amazing so take a leashed tame dog along that won't bark or chase the giraffes and watch their LONG necks reach down to stare at your pooch!)

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

There are several dinosaur bones on exhibit in an open air display. Chatting with artisans about their handiwork of jewelry or leather or pottery brings more interest to any item you may buy once you have a nice conversation or story to go with it. Le Patio has steak that is somehow juicy compared to the beef sold in stores, and La Table Vivanda locks the door once you enter to keep you safe and you can enjoy your creme brulee without wondering if terrorists will burst in before finishing the last bite.

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

Leather goods and silver and painted pottery. Wadata for set prices in A/C store yet higher prices than elsewhere.

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

It was a non-deployable assignment, so we were very family-centered being together. One's net worth does increase with having few opportunities for typical Western expenditures (gas for road trips or long commute, no drive-thru, no department stores with plentiful inventory, no clothing stores for typical clothes/shoes/jewelry). It was a chance to live "less is more" and surprisingly do it well while saving money for other things. You will lose weight not getting Sonic shakes anymore. I didn't miss being stuck in traffic (except for occasional goat or cow!) or having to scrape a frozen windshield or shovel snow.

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10. Can you save money?

if you don't spend it.... again not many places to shop, so your net worth does increase. Living expenses are high for rent and utilities so your Starbucks budget will go toward that.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I wish I knew more about its political climate and government. Most Nigeriens are not happy with the country's administration (sound familiar) and knowing more before arriving would have helped with my acclimation and conversations with Nigeriens.

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

Hmm, nice try, it was a great experience but I don't think I'll be reliving it. Our stay was just long enough. The instability and terrorist threat are greater since we were there but everywhere seems to be going nuts these days.

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

uptight sense of entitlement at home. This is not a place for the weary or those without an adventurous spirit. You are not special because you are American; you are equal to every other person and a condescending attitude will get you nowhere and a waiter who doesn't help you and a missed opportunity to meet someone who will leave you with a lifetime memory of a brief yet genuine friendship. Just be normal and not pretentious. Nigeriens are gracious and come from simple means yet appreciate all they have so don't be the whiny American saying "It's so hot" - they know.... If a Nigerien does not smile when you say Bonjour Ca Va? then something is wrong with you...

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4. But don't forget your:

contacts and solution, extra shoes so you sometimes have non-sand-stained ones on hand, more seasonal decorations for holidays and seasons (it's the same season but I wanted more fall and winter decorations to put around the house, and snowmen are confusing to Nigeriens, funny conversation!), downloaded music and updates to all devices, winter coat and shoes for when you fly out during a cold month at home or trip to Europe, a carry-on bag with your World Health Organization yellow card that shows you had the yellow fever shot, all medication including over the counter (stock up on Immodium and powdered Gatorade, you'll thank me later...)

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

Read anything you can, even a Google images search, Bradt has a good book on Niger.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Sahara with Matthew McCoughnehey.... JK.....

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Give more to the experience than you take. Stay healthy and safe and smile often.

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