Djibouti, Djibouti Report of what it's like to live there - 08/14/15
Personal Experiences from Djibouti, Djibouti
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Not my first tour. I have lived in La Paz, Niamey, Antananarivo, Berlin, and a short tour in Baghdad. I have a pretty good idea about living in third world communities and this is my third Africa tour.
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?
New Mexico. There are several ways to get to the U.S. from Djibouti. Air France to CDG is my favorite but only flies once a week from here. Ethiopian Air is the most convenient but I'm not a fan of that airline. Poor maintenance and a confused staff running the airport in Addis but they received "Best in Africa" awards (not from me). There are also connections through Dubai and Doha. Fly Dubai lost my luggage in both directions on one trip but the United connection to DC wasn't bad. Qatar is supposed to be nice but I haven't flown it. Trips are expensive out of Djibouti but available and people here make trips to India, Thailand and to Mauritius and seem to think the connections are not bad.
3. How long have you lived here?
A little over 2 years with 1 to go.
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?
Housing is pretty good by Africa standards. Most two story with funky stairs and mismatched tiles. All the houses have generators and we're installing BIG voltage regulators to smooth out the bumps. Water is not potable and is rough on clothes but not toxic. We all brush our teeth with it but don't drink it. We have bottled water for drinking in all the houses and GSO provides it on a weekly delivery. Commute is less than 15 minutes from anywhere in town.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The French store Casino has nearly everything but it's expensive. There are alternatives and local produce stands that are good if you don't store it long.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Dive gear and sun screen. Big hats. Synthetic oil for oil changes.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There was a "Big Boy" hamburger place here (an obvious knock off) and someone actually tried it. Other than that it's all regular restaurants and diners. And nothing in Djibouti is fast.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants, but that's all over Africa. Mosquitoes in the winter but we've gotten a handle on keeping them out of houses.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
FPO or Pouch. Local mail probably doesn't work and I wouldn't try it for anything other than a post card.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Ours is US$250/mo. That may go up soon but probably not much.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I only know about the one at the Embassy and it's not bad. Not large but not bad.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
There's an ATM at the Embassy that dispenses Francs and you can get US$ at ATM's on the base.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Catholic and the base has a lot of others.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Je ne comprond pas Francais. Sorry, that's the only French I really know. I get by fine without it.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Either not available or "don't use"
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?
4wd is the way to go. And bring parts from the U.S. The Toyota dealer here doesn't honor new car Toyota warranties if they didn't sell it.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
US$100-150 a month for really bad internet. The rule in Africa is you pay for 4 meg and you get it "when it's available". Catch 22. It's never available. But Skype works most of the time and some people even download and stream movies. I just buy them from Amazon. BFF.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell phones and replenishment cards are available. Djibouti Telecom is government owned and really sucks but it's the only show in town. Embassy has a way to call from your cell through to the U.S. on VOIP and texting to the states is about 25 cents a text.
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?
The Embassy has jobs for any EFM who wants one. The security clearance is a bear though.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Aside from paranoid RSO's, not really. Djiboutians are opportunistic but not mean. Probably pickpockets and stuff like that.
2. 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 winter it's glorious. In the summer it's hot (up to 120F or more), dusty, and humid. But it could be snow so I'm happy. Don't come here if you don't like warm/hot weather.
3. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Great in the winter, some storms and hamseen (sp?) in the summer. Watch the movie Hidalgo and you'll get an idea of the occasional storm here.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is only a French school right now and I've heard everyone with school age kids who don't speak French do home schooling.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not much if anything for non-French speakers.
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?
I think they are available and there are nannies.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty big for essentially an island and morale has been great through several rotations. Those who don't hybernate do the best.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Only the two of us (me and my wife) and we have fun. There's a hopping bar thing downtown but Djiboutians can be pushy.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think yes. Not sure.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Only among their own tribes and it's not too bad.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Diving has been the big highlight. There are two dive shops (one English and one French) and they have great trips, including large boats (one that looks like a 50' pirate ship). The trips to Corambado (sp?) beach are fun and the beach is great with white sand and a restaurant. Arta Plage beach is rough but has great snorkling. And the dive boats go to White Sands beach and to Mousha Island all the time. Oh! And there's an 18 hole golf course. Pretty rugged and you have to dodge the goats and camels but it's a way to swing a club on the weekends (which are Friday and Saturday here).
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
a go-kart track but I haven't been yet.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Djibouti has the best winters I have ever experienced. Highs in the mid-80's F and lows in the mid-70's with fairly low humidity (for a coastal city). There are some natural sites that are interesting to visit, Lak Abbe' and Lak Assal are two large lakes that were seperated from the ocean during geologic events and have interesting attibutes (thermal vents and salt encrusted skulls). The Foret du Day is a high altitude ecolodge that is nice for camping. But the diving is absolutely awesome. The reefs here are not over-visited and are clean with a LOT of fish, including sting rays and manta rays. The whale sharks come into the bay every winter and are cool to swim with. There are restaurants from hole-in-the-wall Yemeni fish bbq (which is amazing) to high end French cafe's (with excellent food). And Indian and Chinese is available and pretty good. It's expensive here so mid-level (Chinese and Indian) is US$25/person. The expensive places are US$100/person. There is places to get pizza and hamburgers that are surprisingly good. The French base has extracurricular activities if you line yourself up with a sponsor. Mine likes to dive so we spend a lot of time with them. Be warned though, summer is hot here.