Conakry, Guinea Report of what it's like to live there - 09/13/22

Personal Experiences from Conakry, Guinea

Conakry, Guinea 09/13/22

Background:

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

No, we have lived in Oaxaca, Mexico & West Africa.

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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?

Home country is US. It takes about 20 hours, depending on where you live in the States. You transfer through Paris, Lisbon, Istanbul, Addis, etc.. Even better, you can fly Air Senegal, which has a direct to both DC and NY. This flight shaves off a lot of time, though obviously, not a US carrier.

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3. What years did you live here?

2020-2022.

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4. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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5. 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?

We have a large home, in a private compound, surrounded by large walls with razor wire. There is a large yard, with a mango tree & pool. Most houses are large, concrete buildings. Strange layouts. All with generators. The commute to work is only 15 minutes. Occasionally, traffic leads to 30-40 minute drives, but this is rare. There is also a new & modern apartment neighboring the Embassy, where many people stay (mostly singles/couples). It has great amenities: lap pool, tennis/basketball courts, karaoke, restaurants…

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

The local produce is very affordable, especially if you go to the local markets or vegetable market at the Chinese shopping district. There are also Western markets that sell imported produce, that is VERY expensive. $15 for a head of romaine, $20 cauliflower, for example. They also have a lot of French imported food, which is also pricey.

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

High quality shampoo and conditioner, diet Coke (available, but pricey), soy sauce & rice wine vinegar (probably available locally if I could read the labels).

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

We rarely ate out. The places we do go to are 1) Kaki – they have really great pizza 2) Bombay to Beirut- good Indian/Lebanese fusion restaurant that will deliver. 3) Avenue – pretty good Asian food 4) Hanoi – pretty good Vietnamese food. There’s also a couple good Indian places, though so heavy that we didn’t return to either restaurant. We cook some local dishes – sweet potato leaf sauce, peanut sauce. We do not eat local cuisine, cooked locally, because of sanitation fears.

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

Not really… There is a seasonal “Blister beetle,” that can cause skin blistering/pain if the bug is smashed against your skin. Rats, mosquitos, ants… Snakes.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. Things will arrive in 3-4 weeks in incredibly mangled boxes. We had received many broken/unusable items.

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

Full time staff costs 2.5 – 3.0 million GNF/month ($250-$300). You can hire cooks, drivers, housekeepers, nannies, gardeners.

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

The Embassy has a small, but nice gym. There is also a nice gym at Sheraton Hotel (currently closed due to structural problems). You can go walking at the botanical garden downtown (if you don’t mind seeing the occasional man peeing or defecating) or Jardin 2 October, a dilapidated park downtown, has a walking path through it. Some people walk at local stadiums. The Kaki apartments next to the Embassy has a very nice gym (though people tend to like a warmer environment 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?

I just use cash. Credit cards are used at the large grocery stores. ATMs are rare and I never use them.

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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?

Some; basic French is all you need. Guineans are very tolerant with language barriers. In-home tutors are very affordable. Our experience was that the tutors are subpar.

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

For sure, but where this is a will, there is a way. And, Guineans would definitely help a person in need.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, probably very affordable, but public transportation is not safe, and not recommended.

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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?

Do not bring a hybrid or electric car. The more basic the car, the better (all Embassy motor pool cars have stick shifts, for example). Very inexpensive car repair services are available and convenient (they will come to your house, for example)

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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, the internet works very well for us. The best option is the VDC cable. Bringing it to our house cost a lot (>$1000), it is expensive $150/month, but reliable and fast and unlimited. VDC continued to run strong during the political violence in 2020 when all the other services halted.
Dash internet is $100/month, pretty fast, but it drops a lot. It is hard to stream or have virtual meetings on Dash. Orange network costs a lot, as you pay for data used, but it’s our go-to, when Dash is too droppy.

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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 use GoogleVoice or What’sApp for international calls, but both require Wifi. I have a local number/local service for in Guinea.

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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?

Nope. There are a couple veterinarians that are used, but they are terrible. In truth, they are shockingly bad. I have seen the after effects of a surgery (a spaying done in-apartment, where the vet left the sedated cat in a bloody room with the uterus thrown in the trash bin. I’ve seen one try to draw blood, blindly stabbing a pet (without regard for where the vein might be), but basic things can get done. I even know of a vet who gave a cat vaccines only intended for dogs. Don't expect ANY vet care here.

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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?

Because the Embassy is hard to staff with USDHs, there are plenty of full and part time EFM positions at the Embassy. Clearance process can be lengthy, though.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many volunteer at orphanages and schools. There’s even a Lions club in the Kipe neighborhood. Really, this is only limited by your imagination.

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

People dress formally for business meetings: suits, slacks, tailored outfits of African fabric. The culture is conservative and out of respect, I would avoid more revealing attire in public, such as shorts, tank tops.

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Health & Safety:

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

In the past two years, there has been political violence and there is currently a coup d’etat, with gunshots heard in many neighborhoods. There is a military command at the moment. We have had to travel in armored vehicles periodically. I do not feel unsafe. I have been asked for bribes by police, but when you say no, it’s shrugged off.

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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?

Guinea has terrible health care. 10% infant mortality rate. There is poor preventative care – for example, vaccines are difficult to store properly since electricity is unreliable, and they lose effectiveness. There are measles and polio outbreaks at the moment. Ebola and Marburg were both here in 2021 and were handled well, luckily, with guidance from international organizations. There are very few medical conditions that I would trust to be treated appropriately in Guinea. There is a good dentist and good eye clinic. Radiology equipment is often broken or misused (ex/ I personally know of an over radiation incident, in which the technician misused equipment in a way that would have been illegal in the US). There are a lot of physicians practicing without licenses. There are a couple trustworthy clinics in town that I would use for emergencies, but only until the Medevac plane arrives.

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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?

At the beginning dry season, the air quality is quite poor from the burning trash, that has built up throughout the wet season! There is also the Harmattan winds, which brings respiratory problems. It could be bad for an asthmatic or someone with bad environmental allergies.

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

Bring your meds (allergy medications and epi-pens) and cook for yourself!

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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)?

SAD unlikely due to the sunlight here. There is poor morale, general stress, depression and insomnia in the community.

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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 is always in the 80s, year-round. There is a really impressive rainy season that begins in May.

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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 is the French School (well-liked) and the American School (not so well-liked). We find that at the American School (AISC) the students are very inclusive and sweet, but under-achieving, generally speaking. In our opinion, the American School has some great teachers, and some truly terrible teachers. The current Director appears well-meaning, but I find him to be ineffective at certain things, such as discipline. I found that some teachers are poorly qualified to teach the subjects they teach. The school is in disrepair (no toilet seats in certain bathrooms, for example) and could use a major clean-up. The library is a box container with a couple dozen books I would not recommend this school. Truly. School has been the biggest disappointment about this post.

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

Not much. At AISC, there are some children with discipline problems who have “helpers” who try to correct their behavior. I find that the helpers are basically uneducated, untrained adults.

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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?

Probably inexpensive. No before/after school care.

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

Yes, through the American School, there is soccer for the younger children, swim lessons, guitar and piano lessons. Outside of school, there is art (for French speakers), cooking lessons (for French speakers), and an English-speaking piano teacher that is sometimes in-country.

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Expat Life:

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

It is easy to meet other expats. The morale is completely dependent on your group. Mostly poor morale, but some people love it here.

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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?

Get togethers at houses/ restaurants.

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

I would think it would be best for couples. Singles complain of loneliness. Families have difficulties b/c of terrible schools, lack of entertainment, especially with older children (middle and high school aged).

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

Everyone is so friendly and I haven’t felt prejudice. There’s a lot of staring. There are some issues between local ethnic groups.

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

I assume that this would not be accepted in the Guinean community.

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

Women are not treated equally, but as a female, this does not affect me as an expat, because my being an expat seems to trump my gender. My children regularly get propositioned by older men. It is gross and makes them feel unsafe.

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

Highlights are getting to know some of the people who live here. There are some islands that are worth a trip to see, but not really even worth a second visit. There’s not much to do here.

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

No.

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

Local art is okay (wood carving, pictures, jewelry), but not particularly good quality or craftsmanship. You can find amazing tailors, though. Great fabric.

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

It’s been a lot of family time. We’ve mostly escaped American consumerism. And, we have saved quite a bit of money.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I wish I knew how inadequate the schools were, as I would never have subjected my children to AISC. I also wish I had understood the utter chaos of living in a largely uneducated population with no infrastructure.

Guinea is a mess of a country. Child labor is a problem (despite others describing kids working as an “internship” program, let’s be real - it is actually labor). No political stability – currently there is a coup. No infrastructure (one of few countries without phone lines). No reliable power/water supply/trash collection for the local population.

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

No way with kids. By myself, yes.

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

white clothing

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4. But don't forget your:

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?

World’s Most Dangerous Roads – Guinea: Forgotten territories – documentary on youtube

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6. Do you have any other comments?

In no way should this be a family post. In my opinion, it is a horrible place for children that are past elementary school age.

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