Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 08/07/11
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?
Fifth expat experience - Christchurch, Paris, Manila, Maseru
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?
Direct flights to the US - 8 hour trip, though flights arrive and depart at ungodly hours of the morning. All flights from here to either Europe or the U.S. seem to require an early morning departure, so be prepared!
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Houses are mansions but the electricty infrastructure is so bad that it can't support the massive mansions, so be prepared. The accommodation is often shoddily built so repairs are constantly needed. Dakar wasn't built for the rainy season, so be prepared for flooding when a storm comes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Imported foods from Europe, other African countries and the US are expensive. The only things which are not are local fruits and vegetables. Mangoes are delicious and everywhere.household supplies are also expensive. Be prepared that your shopping basket costs significantly more here.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Car parts, sun screen, whole meal flour and anything that you like that is imported. A pity you can't import cheese as the choice here is limited and super expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
A former French colony so the emphasis is on culinary experiences and not mass produced food. However mixing the French food flair with the West African approach means that you can expect to have a long wait, mediocre service for potentially good food. Everything here is expensive and restaurants are no exception. Be prepared to wait and pay a lot.don't forget lots of patience. Once you find a good restaurant with the right mix of food, service and price share it, as they are hard to find!
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Good luck. It is hard enough trying to find meat that doesn't require a jaw workout. For those inclined to be vegetarians, the bicycle chicken and tough beef may well be the final straw. But don't expect to find any alternatives here, unless you are prepared to pay through the nose for it.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes - lots of them. You can't escape them - they are inside and out.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We haven't used the local mail system. The pouch takes about two weeks from the U.S.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Our cook is fantastic and makes amazing food for $350 per month. There are always lots of people wanting to be nannies and finding a good one is the trick.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
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?
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is strongly recommended. Wolof, the local language would be beneficial but it is not needed as long as you can speak French.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
A lot! The footpaths, if they exist, often end inexplicably with a huge drop to the road.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are cheap, though with everything you have to bargain. Non-Senegalese pay a premium but it is still cheap. However the quality of the ride is something to be desired. You are lucky if the car seat still has its springs in and doesn't jab you in the bottom as you fly over the speed bumps or the potholes in the road. If the taxi door closes, great - at least you won't fall out but you may not be able to open the door to get out either.
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 a vehicle that can endure the car-sized pot holes that can exist on the roads in the country side. Often potholes are filled in with dirt and so they quickly become pot holes again. Make sure you bring car parts with you as they are expensive here - tyres, oil filters, spark plugs etc. You can find mechanics to fix problems, though modern cars with electronic systems mean your choice of mechanics is limited. The most common tool for local mechanics is the hammer as they believe there is nothing a hammer can't bang into submission!
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes it is available, but service is spotty. Service dies inexplicably and it takes forever to find somebody in the service provider who can identify the problem and fix it.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get one but please don't drive when talking. You can get promotional deals for credit on every corner, as there is always somebody selling you a phone card.
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. Bring 'em over.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There is a good vet in mamelles which I have heard many people talk about. No idea about Kennels
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?
If you are a teacher, then you will have options available to you.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Public dress is conservative - this is a Muslim society. Shorts and t-shirts are for exercise or foreigners. Work dress is business neat.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Those mosquitoes know there way in anywhere - beware of malaria. With the exception of advice against running on the Corniche when the light is fading or has faded as you could get mugged, there are generally no security concerns, though this is changing. With the general dissatisfaction about extensive power outages, the public are rebelling and this is manifesting into riots and random acts of wanton damage especially by young males. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, your car might be pelted with construction debris or you could be too.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria is a big concern here. Locals often report getting malaria. Westerners who don't take prophylaxis have also gotten Malaria. I would prefer not to stay in any hospitals here as i am not sure that they are air conditioned and able to keep the Malaria-carrying mosquitoes out.
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?
Dusty. Allergies are common prior to the start of the non-dry season. Our potentially asthmatic son has a harder time here with all the dust in the air. With so little rain and so much construction taking place there is inevitably sand blowing about. You can see the blue sky essentially every day of the year.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot with blue skies for most of the year or hot and humid for the 'rainy' season. The locals wear jackets in winter but i have never had to wear anything more than a shirt even in 'winter'.It is hot here - even in winter the temperatures exceed 30C during the day.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
ISD is a fantastic international school with excellent teachers and great conditions. Other options are available including the very popular Ecole Actuelle Bilingue (French bilingual school).
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ISD tries to assist how they can. I am not aware of other attempts.
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?
We have used Ecole en Couleurs which is a French ecole maternelle. It is ok, though typical of French schools, lacks green grass for children to play on. Green grass in Dakar is hard to find in general.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Limited but you can find them. Soccer is a favourite Senegalese past time.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Two groups - either you hate it and can't wait to leave or you like it.
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?
If you like clubbing or the late night music scene, Dakar is for you.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
NO.Maybe for single males it is good, as there are many late night activities to do here. Though the night clubs and music scene open late, so if you are someone who can go out at 1am then this place is for you!Families with children have very limited entertainment options unless you make them yourself. It is so hot here, that activities are constrained to either air conditioned houses or water activities at a pool.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Muslims and catholics co-exist without any problems that I am aware of. This is a paternal polygamous society where gender roles are well defined.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
For us the highlight is our cook who prepares amazing Western dishes without direction or a receipe book. The bakeries are great. The resorts in la petite cote south of Dakar can be worth escaping to. Depending on where you go, the locations are beautiful and you don't get hassled by locals trying to get you to buy something. The scrummy mangoes here are fantastic.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Hmm. Clubbing, music scene.visit a resort in la petite cote. Visit the former slave colony - Gore Island or swim across to it for the annual swim (5km).You should try to see a wrestling match with all the mysticism and spiritualism associated with this national past time.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Baskets, glass art work, butterfly wing artwork (yes art work made from the wings of butterflies who allegedly were already dead!)
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
If you like hot weather, Dakar is for you. It is generally a safe city, and so if you like clubbing it is safe enough to go out at 1am when the clubs open. If you like the sea, you can access it but be prepared to deal with the national 'bird' - the ubiquitous black plastic bag, which is everywhere.
11. Can you save money?
if you don't go anywhere or do anything, then sure.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
NO. It is too hot and there are no outdoor activitiesunless you want to swim with the national bird (black plastic bag) in polluted seas.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
service expectations, winter clothes, road rules and sense of time.
3. But don't forget your:
patience - you will need lots. This is West Africa where the heat makes everything gos l o w e r. Don't forget your sun screen too as sun screen is expensive here.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Think carefully before coming here - it is expensive and outdoor enthusiastics will struggle to be happy here.