Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 04/22/14

Personal Experiences from Dakar, Senegal

Dakar, Senegal 04/22/14

Background:

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

Not my first experience. Have also lived in Phnom Penh, Colombo, Ouagadougou, and Bamako.

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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?

Washington DC area; trip is about 8 hours. Delta and SAA have direct flights. SAA is way better and worth the price difference.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Five years.

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

UN agency staff member.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Wide range of housing, mostly expensive unless you are from another country in this region. Apartments are furnished and unfurnished, single family homes, homes in a cite (gated community). Can be quite nice but it is expensive. Commute time depends on which part of town you live in and where your office is. Some offices have earlier official hours so people leave the office before 5pm rush hour. Friday afternoon traffic particularly at the end of the month is excessive and annoying.

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

Food is expensive. We spend US$400 a week for a family of 3. We also pay less than many because I buy all my vegetables, fruit, seafood, beef and chicken from the local markets which most expats don't do as they find it unclean (not so bad, really!) and intimidating (only in the beginning when you don't know the prices of things and you haven't yet developed your bargaining skills). Two grocery chains - Casino and City Dia - but their products are limited and expensive. However, if you are longing for broccoli or salmon (both imported) Casino will have it - periodically.

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

Laundry detergent, stain remover, febreze, insect control products, some cosmetics, shoes (available but either poor quality and cheap, or decent quality and expensive). Kids' toys and birthday present items. Ziplocs (keeping the humidity out of your stuff is an ongoing battle).

Bring all your computer and camera equipment with you; it's expensive to get it here.

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

Fast food imitates American/European fast food but is quite expensive. Times Cafe is like an American diner and less expensive. Serious dining (gastronomic) available, lovely, expensive.

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

Ants, roaches (regular kind and large flying kind). Bring Combat products from the U.S. because you won't find them here. They work well though!

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Daily Life:

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

Not being U.S. Embassy, have to use real mail (which is ok for letters but less so for packages), or UN mail for official dox, or colleagues and friends who travel to mail stuff for us or bring stuff back.

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

Widely available, varying quality. We pay a cook about US$250 per month. Nannies make about the same. Drivers make more.

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

Definitely available. From the "Curves" chain to the ritzy Health Club at the Radisson Blu Hotel. Pricey.

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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?

ATMS are widely available. Credit cards are accepted in some places, but they have the old fashioned machines that print out your whole number and there is credit card pirating so....skip it if you can.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Wolof - The more you know, the better off you will be. Speak good French, at least!

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

Yes. Most businesses are not handicap-friendly, many buildings have steps and no elevators. Sidewalks are a mess.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are available, not necessarily safe (falling apart, drivers who drink and do drugs), totally unregulated, no meters. However, some are ok, and you have to pay attention when picking them. If you speak Wolof a bit, you can get a good price. There are buses, they are ok but overcrowded; most expats don't use them. Trains look like they are from the 1940s. Skip them.

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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?

4 x 4. Ground clearance, flooding, non-major roads are often not paved or were paved 20 years ago and are in terrible condition. Automatic may save you some hassle if you have to sit in traffic over a manual transmission. Cars must be four years old or less, no tinted glass allowed anymore.

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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?

Yes, quality and speed varies, sometimes it disappears for a few hours randomly. Pretty reasonable in cost.

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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?

Widely available, not necessarily cheap. Network gets quirky at times but is reasonably reliable.

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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 quarantine. There is vet care. Don't think there are 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?

Again, some. It depends on your skills and what you're willing to accept as salary. If you want a U.S. or European type of salary, you either have to work for a large hotel or commercial business, or an aid agency/NGO.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Some....you have to have connections.

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

Widely varied. It is a Muslim country but liberal....meaning, maybe kids can get away with shorts but adult women, less so. Plus both Senegalese and French dress very well so if you don't, you'll stick out.

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Health & Safety:

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

As in any large city, there are security concerns. People drive poorly. Pedestrians do not look where they are going when you are driving. There is petty theft if you don't pay attention, and jogging on the corniche after 6 pm is dangerous (machete-armed muggers). Household thefts do happen, but mostly if one is careless. Some household thefts target laptops and other things that can be easily sold rather than jewelry or credit cards.

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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?

Malaria is the major concern. Dakar is a regional medevac point for the UN so medical care is pretty good. Private clinics. U.S. Embassy folks have babies here. There are dentists, optometrists and eye doctors, glasses shops. But those are expensive....bring eye wear and contact lenses from elsewhere.

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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?

Air quality is relatively poor, many old vehicles, no emissions control. Very dusty. Sea air and humidity means some things deteriorate relatively quickly.

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

It's always warm. However, part of the time (August-November), warm becomes hellishly hot. Sweat standing still kind of hot. It rains in July-September or October and then the dust gets washed away, things become green...however, part of the road drainage system was built a century ago, so roads flood. Once it rains, it's briefly cooler, then very humid. Once it stops raining, it's humid and hot. However - in mid November or so, it starts to cool down, then eventually, the wind picks up and it really cools off. You can wear long sleeves and sweaters. Senegalese wear parkas!

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Schools & Children:

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

French system international school (Lycee Jean Mermoz) is quite newly renovated and very large, excellent quality education at reasonable price. If your kid is bilingual/entirely fluent in French, it's a fabulous option. The American system school is quite expensive, and quality varies with the grade of the class and the teachers. Both have excellent facilities. I had one child complete high school at ISD (American School) and while it was good, and she took APs and got college credit, I've been much more impressed with schools elsewhere. There are a few bilingual schools but the quality is not as good except perhaps at the Ecole Actuelle Bilangue which only goes through grade 6.

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

Both the French and American school have some ability to support special needs kids, but it is fairly limited.

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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?

Yes, they are available; my kids are older, I can't really comment on them.

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

Schools offer sports teams (particularly ISD the American school) where they travel to other countries to complete against other regional schools in swimming, volleyball, soccer, basketball, etc. The French school offers various afterschool activities that run all year long.

Surfing, sailing, horseback riding available for kids as well (not school related). Ballet but not modern dance.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge expat community, morale is good except for those who stick to their own kind and don't get into the local culture/language. People who don't speak French will be miserable until they learn.

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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?

Dining out. Going dancing. Listening to music. Entertaining at home. Concerts/films etc at the French Cultural Center.

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

Good for everyone!

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

Less so. Homosexuality is illegal here. It exists, but one needs to be discreet.

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

Not really.

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

Bandia Game Reserve. Accrobaobab. Lac Rose. Visits to St. Louis, Sine Saloum, Saly/Mbour, Cap Skirring (Club Med!). If you love the ocean, you can fish and sail or surf. Excellent horseback riding. Tennis. Beauty salons and health spas.

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

Boating (sail and motor boats), fishing, surfing, horseback riding, clubs with pools and fitness classes. Historical places to visit (not necessarily clean or well maintained). African drumming and dance classes. You can even scuba dive.

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

Made to order clothing. Baskets. Bronze statues. Locally made silver jewelry and drums.

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

Dakar being a peninsula, you are surrounded by the sea. Weekend get-aways to the nicer coastal beaches are easy (but not cheap!). Fabulous (but expensive) restaurants. Night life. Music.

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10. Can you save money?

Nope.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

About the flooding. I would have not stored certain things so close to the ground.....

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

Definitely, I will be sorry to go....

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

Cold weather clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunblock, hats, windbreakers/sweatshirts (cold season), dressy clothes for holidays and dining out or dancing.

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

Sénégal 2003,

Lonely Planet The Gambia & Senegal (Multi Country Travel Guide), and the "Dakar Women's Group Dakar City Guide."

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Senegalese are fun people, and tolerant of foreigners. If you try to understand them, have a sense of humor, you'll love it here.

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