Monrovia, Liberia Report of what it's like to live there - 12/19/13

Personal Experiences from Monrovia, Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia 12/19/13

Background:

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

No, Moscow, Frankfurt, several African countries, parts of South-East Asia.

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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?

From USA to here is about 24 hours with stop-overs.

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3. How long have you lived here?

19 months.

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

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?

Deteriorating, moldy, but large enough. You can usually find something close to where you work if you work in the city.

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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 find anything if you look hard enough. Might have to go to two or three stores. Add 50% to usual U.S. prices, more for electronics and appliances.

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

Mexican Food.

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

Monroe Chicken. You can't get out for less that US$15, but it is good and doesn't make you sick. The hotel restaurant at the Embassy Suites (NOT affiliated with the Hilton Chain) is ok, Mamba point hotel, and the Hotel Royal. All on the expensive side, but worth it.

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

Three friends got malaria. There are mosquitos in town, those who say there aren't are not truthful. Rats near garbage or open food. Lizards that don't bother you. Weavels get into your flour and sugar and cereal.

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Daily Life:

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

I don't. Bring it with you or forget it. I bring a lot back when I go out of country. Some NGO folks or corporate types get it through their sponsors. Embassy people have their own mail service.

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

Readily available but skill set, reading ability, and hygeine vary. You can get a full time housekeeper for US$200 a month. Some for much less, but with less skill and reliablility.

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

A few poor ones, and a few pools. Frequent problems with power failures or broken equipment and no one in country can fix the stuff. Sometimes a tech is flown in, depending upon the gym owner.

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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?

Don't.

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

All Christian and Mormon. Nothing for anyone else.

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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?

English is spoken, but be prepared to not understand it. If you ask people to repeat slowly, they will try, but some will get aggravated. I am always understood, but I have trouble understanding the "pigeon" English spoken here, particularly on the phone.

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

Yes. Terrible curbs, no sidewalks, few if any ramps, almost no elevators.

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Transportation:

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

There are no trains or buses. Taxis are in poor repair and crowded, but cheap. I hear embassy people aren't allowed to use them. Motor cycle taxis are common, but currently banned on main streets and very dangerous.

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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?

SUV for sure, unless you'll only be in the city. High ground clearance is a must. There are a ton of Nissans. Don't get in a wreck, you WILL be found at fault. Car theft is not a problem, but stuff IN them gets stolen, sometimes even when you are in the car.

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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?

Medium speed, often dropped service costs about US$150 per month. Prepare to reset your modem regularly. Lines at the offices where you pay are long and chaotic, and they don't do online payments.

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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 is the only way to have a phone. Don't use good ones in public, they will be snatched. Get a cheap one. Rates are reasonable. Calls are dropped a lot.

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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, but there is a fee for a permit and poor vet service. Getting them back out though the connecting flights in Europe can be a headache and expensive.

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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 like development work, yes, you can find something.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Tons if you want to work with the poor and illiterate.

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

Casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

It's not wise to be out after dark. Several friends were mugged or robbed.

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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 is real. Diarrhea is frequent. The clinics and hospitals are dismal. I hear from a friend doing medical work that you can't trust the local labs, they make fake reports. You have to leave for anything more than an x-ray. I wouldn't stay overnight in a hospital here. Better to go to a friend's house and work on getting air fare out. Buy travel insurance that will get you out of here if you get sick.

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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?

Damp, but not terribly filthy. There is mold growing everywhere.

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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 or hot and rainy much of the time. Mornings and evenings can be pleasant with breezes and cloud cover.

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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 one American School. It is mostly for little kids and not accredited. I've heard from some embassy people that it should be avoided if your kids are older than 5th grade and they are not ready for junior high or high school students, though they say they are. There is a Turkish school, I think.

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

None.

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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?

There is a place called 'kidsnest' that some expat families use. It is quite a drive for embassy people but not bad for expats living in Sinkor or Paynesville.

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

Nothing formal. Parent groups try to get things together like swimming lessons at compound pools, and a running club.

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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 to medium. There are some who make the best of it and have some fun. Most try to get out regularly. I've certainly met folks that HATE it here, but most, I'd say, are finding folks with common interests to get together with now and then. Certainly not as thriving as other places I've been, even within Africa.

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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?

Have friends over for dinner. Go camping in Robertsport. Take a long weekend trip to the Gambia or Morocco.

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

Not a lot to do. A few reasonable restaurants. No real cultural scene. Beaches and camping if you can get away. A few 'dance' clubs, you would be hard pressed to call them night clubs. A few pick up sports groups, like Rugby and Frisbee.

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

NO! Very unfriendly towards gays. Unfriendly in general if you are not a church-going Christian.

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

Yes, everyone assumes you are a Christian. Church attendance is regularly inquired about, even at professional events.

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

Getting away from it. A few trips to a beach in Robertsport, which is lovely and swimable, but the accomodations are very humble. It is called a 'resort', but that is an overstatement. Bring your own food and entertainment. There is also a nice beach and pool at a hotel called Kendeja. Beaches in town are used as toilets and for injectable drug use. Careful where you tread.

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

Kendeja Beach. The sushi bar at Mamba Point. The old American Embassy compound feels like a park, but if you are not an Embassy person you have to be invited and escorted.

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

If you like African paintings and wood carvings, there are plenty. Some say a lot of the carvings are imported from China and not really local. Colorful fabrics.

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

None that I can identify.

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10. Can you save money?

It depends on how much you make. If you are paid what I'd call a good American salary and your office is paying for your housing and travel, yes, absolutely.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

It looks like it has made progress since the war because of buildings and roads, but the population at the working age is largely uneducated and it is frustrating to impact change here. The whole country seems to be waiting for more hand-outs and for someone else to fix their troubles. There is a tendency to blame any problem on 'the war' and no initiative to move past it. And, corruption is rampant, expected, and frustrating as someone trying to help move the government forward.

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

Nope, I'd have to take a pass. I think I could make a bigger difference somewhere else.

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

Good shoes, bicycle, anything you don't' want to get damp. 110V appliances and electronics.

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4. But don't forget your:

Best attidude, beach towels, boogie board, and hand sanitizer.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

Don't bother with This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President
, the autobiography of the current president. She is very proud of herself and it comes across in the book, but she is gone a lot and takes credit for all the good stuff here, but none of the blame for the problems. 'The Darling: A Novel
' is a good historical novel that's fairly accurate. Don't waste your money on Cracking the Code: The Confused Traveler's Guide to Liberian English
. The people I have heard talking 'local' after reading it just sound stupid and insult the locals.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

I would just close saying there is a general feeling between my colleagues that things could go downhill here again, and fast, particulalry if something happens to the president, but for now, it is more or less stable.

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