Malabo, Equatorial Guinea Report of what it's like to live there - 07/02/20

Personal Experiences from Malabo, Equatorial Guinea

Malabo, Equatorial Guinea 07/02/20

Background:

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

Paris, France; Huntingdon (Fens), England; Cuernavaca, Mexico; Bogota, Colombia.

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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?

Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A. to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea (EG), AF (Africa). Usually a +30-hour trip: HNL > SFO or DEN > FRA (Frankfurt) > SSG (Malabo)
10,481.36 miles (Flights.com). Since COVID-19 began, flights are less frequent and layovers may now be added from FRA in France and/or Italy.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years. Some background: this is a country with malaria and typhoid fever.  Proof of yellow fever shot is required for entry, and now with coronavirus, this link may be helpful:
https://www.passporthealthusa.com/destination-advice/equatorial-guinea/.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Grand houses for expats: 3+ bedrooms and baths. Most houses are located in Malabo, the capital city. The main thoroughfares and toll roads do not have traffic.  
It is the roads around the markets and schools where there are bottlenecks, so pad time in your commute during early morning drop-off, lunchtime (around 1pm), and later afternoon pick up (3pm).

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

There are plenty of imports from Spain and France.  However, shipping can be interrupted by weather, delays at the docks, or internal (political) conflicts. The cost is on par with Hawaii (another place that relies on imports).  Importation makes the prices higher.

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

Alternative flours or special dietary items (paleo, sugar-free, gluten-free, natural, organic, etc.) are difficult to find.  
There are lots of soda choices, but with sugar only, no diet or "light" options, although there is a low-calorie beer available.

There is a grand siesta for most of the grocery stores, from 1-4pm, with abbreviated Sunday schedules; factor that into your plans, or you may not get the eggs that you need for the week!  (This is the voice of experience...)

Also, avoid Caba Market: eggs are on the shelf so long that they are black inside, stale bread for sandwiches.

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

There is a great Lebanese restaurant, L'Oriental, that has a wide variety of food, comfortable seating, and an upstairs section with a pool table.  It's not on this list, but should be near the top! https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g294438-Malabo_Bioko_Island.html

It's best to have a contact who can recommend places to you.   Beware: many local restaurants sell dishes made with endangered animals: turtles, pangolins, and primates. Restaurants don't tend to have the siesta or abbreviated Sunday schedule; check the hours ahead of time to avoid disappointment.  Also, it takes a LONG time to get your food in a restaurant, so don't go there hungry!!  When it arrives, it will be delicious, colorful, and generous, but don't fall prey to hangriness: eat a snack before you enter, unless you've pre-ordered (L'Oriental will let you do that).

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

There are lots of lizards who will dash into your home without your knowledge and then lay eggs.  It's a daily occurrence to see the lizards hanging on a wall somewhere inside.  
They are not aggressive or problematic themselves, but they leave droppings EVERYWHERE.  You must sweep down your house every other day, including the walls.

West African green mambas are in EG.

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Daily Life:

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

You can have delivery of or send packages through DHL, but I understand that it's very pricey.  As a diplomatic post, we don't use the local post office, which is often unreliable and not standardized.

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

This is difficult.  Again, it is better to know someone who can give you a recommendation for domestic help, rather than search out on your own. Usually USD$30 for a full day. You would typically have a gardener, housekeeper/cook, and gate guard. Mostly, it is the immigrants from neighboring (mainland) countries that do the hard labor jobs.  They are also more likely to speak English than an Equatoguinean, although many local youth (ages 18-35) are working to improve their English skills.

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

There are some local establishments, such as a kickboxing group, yoga classes, and gyms.  The neat thing about EG is that they have stationary exercise equipment along the "paseo," a boardwalk area that also has wide walkways for joggers, walkers, and bicyclists.

The sunsets during the dry season (outside of December and January when the harmattan winds make it almost impossible to see and unhealthy to be outdoors for long periods) are AMAZING from the vantage point of the paseo.

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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?

This is a cash-based economy. EG is still using the Central African franc (CFA or XFA); there had been some GREG discussion about establishing its own currency. There are several African banks and one French. ATMs are common, but I have never used them.

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

My understanding is that there is one United Methodist church in Malabo (near the Catholic cathedral) that has a service in English.

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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 have your choice of Spanish--the primary official language--or French.  Many people will understand English, especially other expats, at stores like Martinez Hermanos (grocery) who manage the operations.
Locals will appreciate your attempts at Spanish.  Remember that it is Castilian Spanish (in vocabulary, and without a strong lisp), not Mexican Spanish. Find a good program to learn basic phrases, and get an app on your phone that functions offline.

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

Yes.  There are no accommodations for people with physical disabilities, although there is a strong movement by locals to educate the populace.  They are working to strip the shame and taboos that the local society uses to stigmatize this category of people.

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Transportation:

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

There are too many security risks to riding in taxis (multiple passengers, targets of police traffic checks, no universal driving standards) and rental cars are scarce and costly, so anyone moving here should bring a car.  There is no rail or bus service.

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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?

An SUV is ideal for navigating the country, although the main roads are very functional.  Nothing too flashy, as that will draw attention, or electric, or low-riding: while the roads are good in some places, there are still rocks and lots of dust. You must apply and pay for an Equatoguinean driver's license before you can drive; I don't know the process for that for someone outside of a diplomatic mission. They use a lot of roundabouts/traffic circles to control circulation, so familiarize yourself with that system before you arrive.

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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; it has been expensive and unreliable, but I think they are making improvements in this area. You will need to visit the local store in person, Monday through Friday only (not sure if they follow the siesta schedule).

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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?

The local provider is via SIM card, then pay-as-you-go from street vendors all through the country. I had to bring in a copy of my passport to start an account and purchase the SIM. You should get the phone app, What's App.  Basic texting and sending photos via WA is fine, but the country's technology infrastructure cannot support video calls.

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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?

There are veterinarians, but again, a local or other in-the-know person would need to direct you.  
As per our Post:
NO:
-quarantine restrictions
-U.S. Dept of Agriculture health certificate required
YES:
+an international health certificate
+a certification of aggressiveness issued from a private veterinarian

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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?

Most expats have their own businesses in the country, or work for the petroleum sector; I'm not sure how coronavirus has impacted these or white collar jobs.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are always groups looking for volunteers, especially to help mothers and children.

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

Formal dress is usually reserved for diplomatic or milestone functions. Suits are more common in the work place. There are a lot of students in the country, so they dress more casually.
Traditional African dress is worn at all income levels and positions, although the president and his cabinet wear mostly Western-style suits and ties.

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Health & Safety:

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

At the beginning of COVID-19, there were some robberies in various places.  No one was hurt. Most of the housing options for diplomats have a yard with a gate meant to be operated by a person (not automatic or electric).

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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
Typhoid fever
Yellow fever
Medical care is sufficient, but try not to need hospitalization.  
The expat health care workers are wonderful, but most of the hospitals are government subsidized without proper maintenance/cleaning protocols in place.  There was no training provided to locals for upkeep.

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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?

Good.
As stated earlier, December and January constitute the time of the harmattan winds from the Sahara Desert.  
Pico Basilé, the large volcano that is the focal point of Bioko island, completely disappears from site when the winds blow in.

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

Well, with COVID-19, you can now wear a mask during this time and it will look normal!  Have plenty of nasal spray, rinse, and even a neti pot. If your company is sending you to EG for a while, try to ship the food items--and OTC (over-the-counter) and Rx medicines--that you'll need.

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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)?

Not that I am aware.

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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 temperate: 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.  
If you plan to hike the volcano or ascend to other places of higher elevation, you'll need to bundle up.

From April to October, the rainy season lives up to its name; knee-high boots, a wind-resistant umbrella, and a rain jacket/outfit will keep you dry and comfy.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are three, but none are U.S.-accredited.

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

The prevalence of autism is high in EG; I don't know how students are cared for/educated.

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

I believe the schools may organize something. There are camps during vacations.

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Expat Life:

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

Expats tend to support each other, so the morale is high, but the jobs here are very demanding and can rob you of personal/family time if you don't have a sustainable work/life balance and good self-maintenance plan. Those of us with diplomatic car plates can avoid the lines of frequent police traffic stops.

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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?

Again, the expat community is very supportive of each other.  There are no formal groups. There is something here called the "Malabo pour" which means that they make the alcoholic drinks super strong, so definitely DO NOT drink and drive.

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

In my opinion, it's best for couples and adventurous families. The downside:  you have to buy filtered bottled water or have a distiller in your residence, take malaria pills, and work long days--especially if you have your own business.  Having someone to come home to is crucial. Single people would need to assess if there would be adequate time, energy, opportunities to generate a social network.

The benefits are the paseo, the beauty of Hawaii (EG's a bit cloudier), no traffic (except as mentioned), speaking another language, being close enough to explore the rest of Africa without the constant population crush, and making great memories.

EG has just received a Tier 2 rating in its efforts against trafficking in persons, as opposed to the higher--and more negative--Tier 3. From what I understand, polygamy and prostitution are part of the culture.

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

There is a local group, Somos Parte del Mundo (“We Are Part of the World”), that is working to boldly combat the homophobia, superstition, and mistreatment of LGBT people by their families and society.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Equatoguineans are quite suspicious of the Chinese: I heard an anecdote--many months before the event in Wuhan--that there were reports of Chinese restaurants in Cameroon that had freezers full of babies in them; this person does not go to Chinese restaurants now. Again, this is just a rumor but this might speak to some cultural insensitivities?

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

There is still a way to go with gender equality: I've heard that a local man beat his wife for "talking back and not making supper."  He was interviewed on the television shows as a positive role model.

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

Overnight camping to view nesting sea turtles
Car trip to the top of Pico Basilé
Day trip to Moka with a stop at Trocadero restaurant to eat seafood by the water
Ureka waterfalls

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

Tour of Finca Sampaka to see the factory and taste the chocolates
Attending fundraisers:  
~Damas Diplomáticas fashion show and the exercise class on the paseo to benefit underfunded schools
~5K on the paseo to benefit youth
Malabo National Park--stunning

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

Two local non-profits, Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program (BBPP) and Bioko Marine Turtle Program (BMTP) are training local women to create jewelry.
BBPP sells the items at its Research Center in Moka, along with traditional wooden bells; BMTP has items for sale at the French cultural center.

The Malabo National Park has a gallery and gift shop with local crafts, art works, publications, jewelry, and toys.

There are both awesome handmade wooden bedroom furniture (dressers, bed frames) and incredible iron works out along the roads in Malabo.

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

Easy access to restaurants and the water--not the beaches, though.
Temperate weather
Great roads
Freedom of movement--except some sites in remote, protected areas require a pass, so you have to apply at one of the ministries

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Mandatory overnight transiting through Addis Ababa whenever I travel to the continent.  The accommodations are subpar in my opinion.

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

Yes.

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

Cold-weather clothes (for the most part.  When you travel back, you will need them!)
Waistline: the fried plantains are amazing!
TV-watching habits: connections are not always the best, so it's easy to break away

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4. But don't forget your:

Math skills, to compute the currency rate
Blueray/DVD player and movie collection
Bathing suit, running shoes
Games
Glasses, platters, and all you need to entertain guests/friends
Music
Camera
Bicycle and helmet, lock and key, tire pump, extra inner tube/tire
Sunscreen, bug spray, hat, malaria prophylactic

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

Geography Now!'s segment on EG is a great under-10-minute way to get an intro to the country.

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