Monrovia, Liberia Report of what it's like to live there - 12/24/12

Personal Experiences from Monrovia, Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia 12/24/12

Background:

1. 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, D.C. to Liberia can range from about 14-16 hours. Depending on your airline, you can traverse through New York, Brussels or London.

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

(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. 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?

Most embassy housing is located in and around the compound, with an easy walk to work. A few housing complexes are located a fair distance away, which requires a drive that can take usually a half an hour, but have taken easily over an hour to get to/from work. Nearly all housing is apartment living. Usually around 3 bedrooms. Some are quite nice, while others are in a serious need of an overhaul, with things such as faulty wiring and water leaks occurring.

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

You can get most anything here if you look. There are a few decent grocery stores here, and you can get just about everything you want if you make a morning of stopping by a couple of them. As for prices, it can be quite expensive. Everything here is much more expensive than the States. Cereal costs upwards of $10 a box, ground beef is around $6 a pound, and a box of detergent can be $30. Make use of that consumables shipment you get, diplomats!

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

You can get tons of naturally-grown fruits and vegetables here on the local market. That's the only way they come. Thr best pineapples and mangos I've ever had, bar none. As for gluten free, meat substitutes, or anything special like that, you will probably only get blank stares if you ask.

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

More board games and things you can do with a group of friends. "Damp Rid" for your car; it gets kinda musty with the humidity. More sunscreen! Dry season is as opposite from rainy season as you can get. Soda and beer in your consumables. Liquids can be quite expensive on the local market, so if you are like me and really enjoy soda, definitely send some in your consumables.

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

There are no fast food options available here, however there are a few nice places to eat. You can get a decent amount of American food here, but if you like the flavors of the world, there is Thai, Ethiopian, Indian, Chinese and tons, and I mean tons, of Lebanese options. Prices can be a bit higher than in the States. I've paid anywhere from $20 to $40 for a single meal, but most of it is good. I will caution you to be careful and talk to other staff before trying a place. There is nothing here to really regulate cleanliness, and, unfortunately, at some point here you will get food poisoning. It's just how it rolls here.

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

Mosquitoes can be quite a nuisance in some areas, which is pretty standard, really. The main danger from them is Malaria, which is fairly endemic here. Luckily, pills are readily available to prevent the disease. Ants are also everywhere. You will get them. There predominant ones I have seen are fire and sugar ants. I have yet to see fire ants in a residence, though. Sugar ants, however, are everywhere, and once you get them, they are fairly impossible to get rid of. You just have to learn to seal your food tightly and never leave dirty dishes or food around.

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Daily Life:

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

I use our pouch address for the embassy.

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

For domestic help, you will be hounded more than likely by the guards or housekeepers working for other families if they find out you don't have one. I've heard them ranging from $150 to $300 a month for a Mon-Fri work.

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

The embassy has a small workout facility. Other than that, no.

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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?

Just don't use them. They are notoriously unsafe here, and I can say that using an ATM in public would definitely not be a smart thing to do. There are banks, but if you have access to the embassy, use it to get cash, as it offers check cashing.

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

Christian churches are everywhere. If you spin around 10 times and throw a rock, you could probably hit one. To my understanding, it's pretty much all Baptist.

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

There are local newspapers that can be purchased for varying costs of around $1 to a few. You have two options for TV here. If you are a diplomat, you have access to AFN, if not you can get DSTV, a South African satellite TV provider. DSTV isn't too costly, and you can get several American shows, but it's jokingly called DrySeason TV as the band that they use for the signal pretty much completely cuts out when it rains.

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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?

The local language is "English". I use the quotes because it's really a pidgin version. Some locals can be extremely hard or even impossible to understand. Most speak standard English, though, so once you get some of the nuances of the dialect down, you'll be right as rain.

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

They would not have a very good time. Anyone who is wheelchair-bound would have a very hard time in most places, as elevators themselves are rare. When the new embassy was made, the majority of the local staff had to be instructed how to use the elevators, as most had never seen one before. To my knowledge, only one of the housing facilities has an elevator.

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Transportation:

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

The US Embassy forbids use of any local transportation for safety reasons---for both physical safety and for risk of criminal activity.

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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?

Bring an SUV for sure. It doesn't have to have the ability to run over other cars to get to your destination, but just having the higher clearance will be a godsend in the rainy season. Make it a 4x4 if you plan to leave the city as. Some roads are just two tire track trails cut into the bush.

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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?

Currently the best internet available is a 4G service provided by Cellcom. It is $150 a month for embassy employees, but you are limited to 12GB of throughput at the 4G speed, and when you run out, you are throttled down to a 256K connection. Fiber was dropped earlier in the year and is scheduled to go live in late January. We do not currently have pricing plans for it, though.

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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?

Cellcom and Lonestar are the providers here, with Cellcom being the better in my opinion. If you bring your own with you, be careful if it's a smartphone. IPhones and such have been ripped right out of peoples' hands.

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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. However I will state that I do not suggest bringing a pet unless you can stow it in the space in front of you on the plane. Liberia is a rabies-endemic country. Delta has an embargo on all checked pets, and BA and Brussels have a huge amount of rigamarole to go through to get your pet back out of the country. All together , it can be very expensive --- upwards of $3k through Brussels if you include all the blood tests you need.

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

There is one vet I know of who is supposed to be quite good. No kennels though.

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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?

Not really.

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

From Buisiness to Business Casual. Fridays at the embassy are casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Monrovia is currently rated a high crime-threat post. The usual pickpockets are everywhere, but home burglary has been quite high lately. We've had about 4-5 burglaries and attempted burglaries this year. Muggings can also be a problem. There are some areas where you just probably shouldn't be wandering around by yourself at 11 at night.

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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?

We have a nurse practitioner on staff, but anything major, such as a broken bone or major sickness, needs to be medivac'd.

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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?

Moderate to unhealthy. The majority of vehicles on the roads here barely function and tend to burn oil or not have a proper exhaust system. Also, the locals have a tendency to burn trash and brush, which can definitely add to the poor air quality. The main saving grace is that there can be fresh air coming in from the ocean, which can make it a bit more pleasant, especially if you're lucky enough to live on or near the beach.

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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?

HOT and HUMID! It is generally around 90F during the high point in the day, with humidity around or above 80%. The two seasons here are the rainy and dry season. The dry season usually lasts from about November to May, and rainy season the rest of the year. The dry season is quite a literal term. I arrived here in February, and I remember that it did not rain until May. At all. Then rainy season started. Be prepared for some of the heaviest rains you will see. Monrovia is the wettest capitol in the world, with over 200 inches of rainfall, on average, annually.

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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 an international school here that teaches to grade 8, but I do not know of anyone with any grade-school children here. Most are babies, or older children in boarding schools abroad.

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2. 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 am not aware of any, however I know some people use nannies, as they are fairly inexpensive. Though again, as the majority are infants, even with a nanny, one of the parents tended to stay home to watch the child.

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

Again, this is not something I am familiar with, but I have yet to hear of anything along this line.

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Expat Life:

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

Good sized. Aside from having a decent-sized embassy, there is also a large Peace Corp and UN mission here.

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies greatly. I know I grumble a bit in this, but honestly, I've made good friends here, I go to sleep with the sound of the ocean and I'm never cold. I've known others to be so unhappy as to contemplate what they can do to get transferred out.

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

This city is what you make of it, family wise. I will say that as a single, it is very boring. There are a couple of bars and clubs, but nothing that I would have any interest in going to, especially if I want to keep my wallet. For couples, it can be nice if both work, but to my understanding, it can be very boring to stay at home all the time.

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

It can be good if you keep it private. The term homophobia doesn't even come close to what most people seem to feel here. One local homosexual man was pushing for acceptance publicly, and he had to go into hiding due to the number of death threats he received. The President here has even declared that she will never pass any equality laws.

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

The closest I have seen to any prejudices are an increased price for goods at the local markets for non-locals. Liberia is an extremely Christian country, but it seems to mesh well with the local Muslim population. I haven't seen or heard much about gender prejudices.

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

Honestly, not too much. There are no movie theaters or malls or public parks. There are a few beaches in the area that are clean enough to go to, with Robertsport being the best, but it is about a 3-hour drive away. The advantage is that you will get to know many people at work and form close bonds. Currently a few of us get together every Sunday for drinks, dinner and board games.

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

There are paintings and tribal masks and jewelry you can purchase. There are shops around the embassy, but as they know most people that buy from them are TDYers, they are quite a bit overpriced. Search around a bit.

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8. Can you save money?

Easily, as there isn't anything beyond grocery shopping to really spend your money on here.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, this has been an invaluable experience to me. Even if you hate it here, just remember that at least your next post will seem like a vacation.

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

Winter clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses & rain gear.

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