Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 01/29/11
Personal Experiences from Dakar, Senegal
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No - previously lived in Panama for 15 months while serving in the military. Multiple extended TDY trips to Germany as well
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?
Central Florida - 9 hours to JFK, 2 hours to Atlanta, 1 hour to home
3. How long have you lived here?
20 months (Jun 2009 - Dec 2010)
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Employed by the US Dept of State
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are 3 housing areas for Americans. 1. Downtown - this is close to the embassy (5-10 min walk) but older properties. When the new embassy is completed in 2013 this will likely be phased out. 2. Mermoz - about halfway up the peninsula - this is close to the school - so most families with kids live here. 3. Almadies - out on the point - a 35-50 min commute depending on traffic. Nicest area and location of new embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive - and a lot of things are not available. As stated above - bring any consumables you are allowed to bring. Fresh produce is readily available and cheaper than at Casino. The meat is often sketch - red meat could be beef or goat. There is a good butcher Chez Gabby - probably the best, safest meat.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Canned soup, peanut butter, paper products. Anything you really like - because its unlikely you can get exactly the same thing in Dakar. Chocolates, cakes, and pastries are VERY good here - but expensive
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a number of good restaurants. Dinner for 2 with drinks can run $50 or higher. New Argentinian restaurant a few blocks from the embassy is excellent. No American fast food restaurants here at all.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
The supply is very limited. Most Senegalese would have no idea what you were asking for. Poverty and hunger are common - they don't worry about organic produce. That said - there are some products at Casino. All produce has to be rinsed in bleach to avoid parasites, food poisoning etc.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are a big problem - they carry malaria and dengue. Although many expats choose not to take antimalarials - this is a mistake. There was a big spike in malaria in Dakar this last year - and there were westerners who died from it. One high profile embassy employee had to be air ambulanced to London where he eventually recovered after several days in the ICU. There are also ants, cockroaches, and in early dry season - crickets (it's like biblical with the crickets!! They are everywhere and deafening at night! bring earplugs!!)
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch only - no DPO here - a real drag because the pouch has lots of restrictions
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
widely available - full time maid $80/week. Make sure you know a little bit about Senegalese labor laws (you are required to provide paid vacation and severance pay for example)
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a very small, dank workout room - which a number of people use. There are gyms - but they tend to be expensive and often not air conditioned. Bring a treadmill and weights if you want to work out
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?
some people do - but there are stories of numbers being stolen. User beware. We mostly used cash. No street vendors take plastic anyway.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is a Catholic cathedral near the embassy (i think they have one mass in English). Otherwise the majority of the country is Muslim and there are numerous Mosques
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
None. People use AFN or slingboxes.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is pretty critical - there is very little English
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
A lot. The sidewalks are often broken and in poor repair - and people park on them. There are no handicapped laws/allowances, etc.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are everywhere and generally safe (though many are in horrible repair). The price MUST be negotiated before getting in the cab - no meters. You can get almost anywhere for 2-4K cfa (4-8 USD). The touba buses are NOT safe and should not be used
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?
SUVs are nice - but many people get by with regular cars. Would recommend something that is relatively easy to repair and sits up high. A Prius would NOT be a good car here for example.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, $60/month, quality is ok, but it goes in and out and sometimes is out for days without explanation.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
they are everywhere and pretty cheap. Get a cell that you can put a sim card in. You buy the card there and replenish via cards sold on the street (cell phone card vendors are everywhere). Use Orange - not Tigo.
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)?
Moderately ok. But they don't use anesthesia much and are not available on call. Bring all your pet meds with you.
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?
Dress is pretty casual at the embassy - most of the men do not wear ties every day. Women tend not to show thighs in public - so most Western women don't wear shorts (they tend to wear capri pants and skirts).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
As stated - there have been robberies at machete point on the Corniche - victims have been Americans and Europeans. Lots of pickpocketing and petty theft - you have to really keep an eye on your belongings and avoid flashy jewelry, purses, Iphones etc. That said - we walked freely through the city and had no problem outside of beggars
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Despite the previous poster's assertion - medical care is actually quite inconsistent in Dakar. Yes, there are clinics - but the level of expertise and availability of treatment varies tremendously. There is almost no ICU capability, for instance. The SOS Medcin group probably offers the best emergency care. If you get sick in Dakar and have the chance to be medevac'd out - take it. There were numerous stories of misdiagnosis and bad medical outcomes during our time in Senegal.
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?
Quite nice good during dry season, very hot and sticky with low-quality air during rainy season
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
ISD is one of the biggest draws for bidders here. It has an excellent program much like US middle and high school. Well managed with excellent resources. Dakar Academy is primarily a school for mission kids - also nice but not as well funded as ISD. There are also French schools and a lot of parents of younger kids send their kids to them.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
they do their best - but there is no program for special needs kids and the school is very clear on this. In reality they do accommodate these children and try hard to make it work (they have a special ed coordinator for the younger grades and will allow shadow teachers etc) but if the child cannot make it they will act and inform the parents that the child isn't appropriate. Think hard before bringing a special needs kid to W Africa (no child psychiatry, neurology, or availability of stimulant meds). Parents who try and shoehorn problem children into these schools usually end up regretting it.
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?
household help (nannies) very common here and affordable
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes - there are programs in soccer and other sports available through the schools and Club Atlantique - generally open to both local and expat kids
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small to moderate. USAID has a big presence, and there are UN people as well. There are few American tourists or visitors.
2. Morale among expats:
Fair to good.
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?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes and no. Families seem very happy - but there isn't much to do unless you are adventurous and speak good french. Club Atlantique has a nice pool and a lot of families spend weekends there. There are other places to take kids for recreation - but traffic makes things like cycling very sketchy. Singles who want to meet other expats will find them in very short supply. You hear a lot about the club scene - but it really doesn't get going until 1-2 AM and closes at 5 AM - not great hours for anyone with a job. Prostitution is rampant and the Senegalese are very attractive - but this usually just results in trouble for the young men posted here. Many singles feel lonely - but things like the DWG (Dakar Women's Group) make it easier. Senegalese culture is VERY different - so dating the locals usually comes with many barriers (and often unspoken but significant expectations)
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It is a Muslim country - albeit very non-militaristic. Homosexuality is known - but not displayed openly.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I could see.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The local restaurants are quite good - but take time to find as there are also bad ones in the mix. Walking out to dinner on a warm, breezy night was very nice indeed. The ferry to Goree Island is a must. Other people took advantage of beaches, sailing, and travel within Senegal
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Dining, beaches, outdoor bars, ferries to local islands, sailing clubs, and trips inland
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
local art (glass paintings) very unique and pretty. In general local artisans have many items for sale. Peanuts!
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is fantastic 7-8 months a year - literally never rains from November through June and warm, low humid days and breezy nights. Rainy season is a whole different story - very tropical and hot with high humidity. Local plumbing infrastructure is very poor - there is flooding in many areas including expat housing. The Senegalese are friendly and open, they are curious about Americans and generally we felt very safe - though there were a number of high profile muggings/attacks during our time there. You can definitely save money - though groceries are expensive - especially for families with children. Getting things from the US takes time and is usually quite expensive as well. If possible - ship as much as you can (cereal, paper products, canned goods etc)
11. Can you save money?
yes - if you have subsidized housing. But its easy to spend here - especially if you have kids. People who ship a lot of stuff from the US were always complaining about 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:
3. But don't forget your:
sunscreen, insect repellent, antimalarial drugs, and pepto bismol
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
African Friends and Money Matters is an absolute MUST read for anyone living in Western Africa
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Overall we had a good experience. Sadly, the Senegalese government is veering towards a crisis - and the result has been increasing infrastructure erosion and unrest among the population (power outages for example have become increasingly common). If President Wade refuses to step down in 2012 it could get ugly.