Bangui, Central African Republic Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Bangui, Central African Republic

Bangui, Central African Republic 06/03/18

Background:

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

First time in an Africa post. Have lived in several other regions as an FSO.

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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?

US. Flights usually go through Paris before a direct to the US.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Bangui was a one-year assignment for me.

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

The US Embassy in Bangui is considered hard-to-fill and the vacancy offered the right position at the right time.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is contained in an enclave of two-story townhomes, across from the Bangui river and next to another set of housing belonging to the UN mission there. Commute to the embassy is not more than 5-10 mins, and at the time of my assignment was in an armored van. However, I was also able to take motorpool from home and it's a great alternative when you don't want to be in a school bus setting.

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

There were two grocery store options at the time I lived there, primarily with French products. If you employ household staff they are better able to buy things on the local market for you. Don't forget to clean your vegetables with bleach.

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

Unless you do a lot of cooking/baking and have certain preferences, you can adapt to what you can find locally, or just ship yourself items via pouch (as long as it's not prohibited).

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

A smattering of restaurants that are well known to the expats exist, of varying quality and levels of service. The Chinese restaurant is amazing and the food is remarkably authentic. Most of these places are great just simply for being there and open and available. You need to have zero expectations for living in Bangui.

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

It's Africa.

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Daily Life:

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

Everything I received was sent through pouch.

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

Household help is fairly inexpensive; it's finding someone who can speak either speak French (and not the local language of Sango) or English. It will, however, be extremely difficult to find anyone who can speak a decent amount of English.

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

There is a gym in the former residence, and you can purchase a membership to that facility. There is also a gym in the Ledger Hotel, Bangui's only decent hotel.

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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?

I only used the ATM when I was unable to make the hours for the embassy cashier.

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

Church is in French. There is a cathedral in Bangui; the city has its own bishop, and Pope Francis even visited. For all that the country lacks, it has its own diocese.

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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 best.

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

Absolutely.

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Transportation:

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

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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?

During the time I was there, we were not able to drive anywhere.

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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?

While I was there my internet came primarily through a hotspot, which you would buy as many phone cards as possible to maintain. You could get service but it costs too much and was less reliable than what you'd get through your hotspot.

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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?

I only used the local Orange service.

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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?

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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?

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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

You can pretty much wear whatever you want. It was amazing to see what people thought they could get away with; locals, expats, and the Americans at the embassy.

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Health & Safety:

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

From what I've heard, it ranges from petty crime to carjacking to murder.

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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 easily catch something that will have you going to the toilet for days and unable to keep anything down. Malaria is very real and there always seem to be those who forgot to take their pills.

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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?

People burn garbage for days here.

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

Peanuts are abundant here.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

You can get the blues all year round here. This is the poorest country in the world and things seem to get tired fast.

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

It's usually always hot, and then there's rainy season, which is hot and wet and dirty and flooded.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

Very little. There is a lack of even basic electricity.

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Expat Life:

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

If you enjoy seeing the same people every day, everywhere, then I imagine you will have a great time. You need to carve out your own personal space; otherwise I'd be concerned the gossips will try to be involved in your personal life so they can entertain themselves.

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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?

Typically at one of the few local "clubs." The scene can get old and tired very quickly, unless you enjoy drinking so much you forget about how old and tired everything is.

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

Absolutely not. It's a good city when you want to save money for those extravagant vacations.

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

Watch the news. There is violence between Muslims and Christians.

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

I fully appreciate the all of my R&Rs out of this place. Being able to go to the gym on a regular basis was extremely helpful.

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

If you can take a trip to the waterfalls do so. I enjoyed the pool at the Ledger on a regular basis, particularly their swim-up bar.

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

Maybe some art.

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

The danger and hardship pay.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How incredibly tiny the embassy is and how quickly everything would become familiar. In my opinion, the level of poverty and lack of infrastructure cannot be understated.

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

Absolutely not.

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

Expectations.

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4. But don't forget your:

Creature comforts (make sure you can send them through pouch or you have included an adequate amount in your shipment).

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

Very few books exist focusing solely on CAR (there is only one, actually -- "Making Sense of the Central African Republic"). and little is covered even in Pan-African journals.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

I don't think it's worth it, unless you are trying to stack cash. Even, in my opinion, you may question your decision. Beware of the "big fish in a small pond" phenomenon here, your perceptions could be skewed.

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Bangui, Central African Republic 10/05/17

Background:

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

This was my third post with the Foreign Service.

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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?

California--it can take over 20 hours. You fly into Paris and from Paris you go to your next destination. But to get to Paris can take 10 hours (with a layover).

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3. How long have you lived here?

I was there for a year.

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

US 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?

The new housing compound is nice. Two-bedroom two-story town homes. Everyone has the same type of housing. Access to the pool and gym at the Rock Club across the street.

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

Items are limited and expensive. You are able to find almost anything to survive. ALMOST being the key word. There are two grocery stores that we were allowed to go to and they had a lot of items. Sometimes the country may run out of things like eggs and milk, but it's temporary and it only happened once when I was there. Lots of vegetables and certain fruits like pineapples, mangoes, and oranges.

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

Bangui is a pouch only post, so you can ship any dry foods. The items I focused on shipping were liquids. Dish soap, detergent, body washes, shampoos, etc. Anything the pouch may reject, I shipped in my consumables/HHE.

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

There are quite a few restaurants in Bangui and a few delivery. Grand Cafe has pizza, burgers, sandwiches, Lebanese style food. 5 Fourchettes has Indian food, burgers, and pizza. Other popular restaurants were Carre Gourmand, Relais de Chasse, L'Escale, and Ali Babas.

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

Ants! Not sure how they get in, but there are ants everywhere. Mosquitos...malaria. Take your meds or don't go out at dusk.

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Daily Life:

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

We used diplomatic pouch. But mostly to receive mail. You can use DHL for anything else.

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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 of us had housekeepers. They were very affordable. So we tended to pay more. However, be aware that their skills may not be the best, but they most certainly try. Also, be careful hiring someone who is not vetted as theft can be common. But I never had a problem with my housekeeper.

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

The Skaiky Apartments has a gym and the Rock Club as well. If you are at the Embassy, there is a small CrossFit-type gym where you can work out with the security guys. If they are still there.

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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?

CASH ONLY ECONOMY. The only ATM you that may be safe is the one at the Ledger Hotel. You can cash checks at the embassy.

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

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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?

You need to learn basic French. Not all locals speak English. French is a must. Other expats speak English.

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

Yes. This is a very poor city, and the embassy itself is not equipped for people with disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Not allowed to use any public transportation or taxis. When I was there we had the security team take us where we needed to go. We also started using motor pool.

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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 are not allowed to ship cars at the moment.

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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?

HA! No. You must use a "puck" for internet and buy scratch cards to refill it. The embassy is providing pucks for staff. It is somewhat reliable, but do not expect to be streaming Netflix or downloading lots of items quickly. You may be able to do it, but it will cost you. Internet is super slow.

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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?

I used the embassy phone. It doesn't work outside of Bangui. Text messages are sometimes unreliable. It may take hours to get a text message on a bad day. Most of the time it's fine. But there were times where text messages were taking forever. A lot of people use WhatsApp. It is more reliable and doesn't need super fast data.

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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?

Not really. I think there is one veterinarian, but they don't always have the necessary medications. You have to purchase/procure your own meds sometimes.

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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?

If you can find work at an NGO or UN, that would be great. However, Bangui is an unaccompanied post for the US embassy staff.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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

Bangui is hot and humid. Most people like to dress up. It's up to you. Business at work and casual outside of work.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. For one thing, the country is unstable and things can happen at any given moment. And two, petty theft is very common. It is a high-threat post for a reason.

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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?

The U.S. embassy currently has a great health care provider. He has access to certain medications and will evacuate you if needed. The French embassy and the United Nations also have medical facilities and you may be referred to them if needed.

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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?

I never noticed anything. Burning trash and grass is big during certain periods. So that may affect you.

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

That this is the poorest country in the world. You won't have access to certain things and you will need to be careful if you are allergic to certain foods.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Bangui is a tiny post but has a lot of visits. You may experience burn out as the embassy staff is doing the work of a normal size embassy with about only 12 people at post. Every week there is a new set of visitors that require lots of attention and resources. It is a very busy post. Burnout is common.

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

Hot all the time. Rains in the rainy season, but it's still hot.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Post is what you make of it. There is a large UN population as well as other NGOs and the French Embassy. Although, the French embassy staff tends to hang out amongst themselves. The expat community is big and you get to know everyone real quick. When I was there morale was great. I had a great time given the circumstances.

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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?

Depending on who is in Bangui, you can join pretty much anything people create. There is one bar that people go to on Fridays and it's always a good time. Saturday is party day. Someone is hosting a party or a BBQ. Pool parties were also fun.

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

Singles and couples. Most of the expats in Bangui are single, so you can meet other people outside your own embassy if you are proactive.

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

Not really. But there were a few and they were just fine. As long as you are not super "out" and keep it to yourself. You'll be fine. But there is tolerance towards LGBT expats from the locals.

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

Of course!

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

I met some fascinating people and I had a great time overall. Work was super hard and stressful, but I had a good team. I met great people outside of the embassy which made life bearable and fun. There is not a lot of travel you can do within the country. Although, you can go to Bayanga if you want to see gorillas and elephants.

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

Just make the best of it. Everything is a hidden gem!

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

Yes. There is local art. Don't forget to get your Diplo Hippo!

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

The simplicity of life. Fewer options means you do with what you have. Also, this is currently the highest paid posting in the U.S. Foreign Service.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I was told plenty before getting there. I tell everyone going to Bangui to have low expectations. This is not a normal city or a normal post. Make the best of it!

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

Absolutely!

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

High expectations and notion of how things should work.

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4. But don't forget your:

Positive attitude and sense of humor.

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

Watch the Mockumentary The Ambassador.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

I really enjoyed my time there despite all the challenges. Good times!

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Bangui, Central African Republic 01/02/12

Background:

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

No.

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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?

The best itinerary from Washington DC is Air France to Paris (8 hours) and then Paris to Bangui (7 hours), but it's only once a week. Other connections are through Casablanca, Nairobi, and Addis, but these are marathon trips.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A year.

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

U.S. government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Expat quality housing can be quite expensive and rare. Even the best properties will have deficiencies. That said, nothing is really that far from anything else and there's no distinct expat neighborhood.

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

Very limited. There are a few groceries in town which stock western-style products, but they're off brand and very expensive. Fresh cheese or other dairy products are lacking.

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

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

There is no fast food. For expat-style food there are maybe a dozen reasonable choices. Beer is cheap ($2-$3 for a large bottle) and you can get lunch for $8 to $10 and dinner for $10 to $20. If you want to eat like a local, you can spend $1 or $2.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

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

Obviously mosquitoes, and this is a malaria zone. All sorts of other critters as you'd expect in equatorial Africa.

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Daily Life:

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

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

The trick is finding someone reliable and trustworthy. That said, help is cheap. A full-time housekeeper is around US$60/week.

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

Yes, but they're fairly basic.

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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?

There's no opportunity to use them - cash only.

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

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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

You need to know French. Don't come here without it. If you know Sango, even better.

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

Don't even think about it. Even the most mobile of travelers will be challenged by the crumbling roads and awkward building access.

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Transportation:

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

Safe? Not really. Affordable. Yes.

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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?

A 4x4 with reasonable ground clearance is advisable. Even in the city center, many roads are dirt and heavily rutted. Japanese brands like Toyota or Nissan are supported.

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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?

The maximum speed is 512Mb, but it's largely unaffordable. You can get a nights/weekend 256Mb plan for around $100 month.

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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?

It's a GSM network like most of the world. Bring a quad-band unlocked phone and you'll be fine.

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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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are a couple of vets who will visit your house by moto. There are no kennels so find a friend who's willing to take your pet.

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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?

No.

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

Within the diplomatic and government community it's usually a suit and tie similar to a European dress code. Among UN and NGOs a bit more casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Petty crime in the city. Watch your backpacks, cellphones, etc. Kids may sometimes try to open your car door while you're stopped and take whatever is loose. Upcountry there can be active rebel conflicts with roadblocks and associated 'tolls'. Overland travel to certain parts of the country is not advisable.

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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?

The quality of medical care is poor. Don't get sick and don't get injured. People get Medevaced for even the most basic care.

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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?

In the dry season the dust and ash from brush fires can be problematic, not just for your lungs but inside your house, car, etc. There is no industry or traffic and so no real smog.

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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?

Dry season is November through April and rainy season is May through October. It's temperate year round with lows of around 20C and highs in the mid 30s.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Small, but tight. There is a sizable UN presence and quite a few NGOs.

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2. Morale among expats:

It depends. Some are miserable and some thrive.

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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?

Restaurants or house parties. There are a few late-night clubs which are populated mostly by locals.

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

I know plenty of people who came single and left either engaged or in a serious relationship. I've found singles and couples tend to do a bit better than those with kids. The concerns over education, healthcare and social activities for families can be difficult. The singles scene is mostly drinking beer, eating out, or hosting house parties.

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

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

There is an underlying tension between Christians and Muslims that occasionally erupts, but it is generally subdued. If you're white you will certainly stand out here, but it's not particularly a problem.

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

Traveling 'upcountry' to the provinces, which gives you a pretty good idea of how poor and remote a country this is. There's Bangui and then there's the rest of the country and one is not like the other.

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

Depends on what you call interesting/fun. There's Boali Falls but that can get old. The river is accessible by pirogue. There's a mediocre golf course and tennis club.

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

Manioc?

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

It's one of the more low-key capital cities. Little to no traffic, you can get anywhere in less than 15 minutes; the cost of living is relatively cheap and the people are friendly.

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11. Can you save money?

Absolutely.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

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

Credit cards.

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3. But don't forget your:

Stash of DVDs, books and other things to keep you sane.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Like I said, people can either thrive here or totally crumble. Despite this being a capital city, it wouldn't even pass as a mid-size town in many more developed countries.

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