Monrovia, Liberia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/13/09

Personal Experiences from Monrovia, Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia 07/13/09

Background:

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

Kamapala, Uganda.

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2. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Approximately 15 hours from Dulles to Monrovia (ROB) via Brussels on SN Brussels; approximately 14 hours from Dulles to Monrovia via Casablanca (red eye flight). Delta was supposed to begin flights in June, but they postponed due to TSA concerns regarding the security practices at Roberts International Airfield.

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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 housing is located within walking distance of the embassy, some is located in town. Commute time from town can be anywhere from 15-45 minutes depending on traffic.

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

Very expensive. All grocery items, including produce, is all imported and brought in through the dysfunctional Monrovia Freeport. Use your consumables shipment to send an abundance of the food items and household supplies you use. Many of us use amazon.com or netgrocer.com to send ourselves dry grocery items (no glass, liquid or aerosol can be sent through the pouch).For example, a box of cereal is $8, a small bottle of olive oil can be $15, cheese is $21/pound, etc.

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

I would buy out Trader Joe's of all specialty items, including jarred sauces (Thai curry, enchilada sauce, salsa, etc). Also, ship your favorite soda, beer and wine. While you can generally find any kind of alcohol at a reasonable price, beer is limited to the local Club, Heineken and sometimes Carlsberg and Becks. The local Guiness is not good. Also, bring lots of items for entertaining and parties, including decorations and paper products.

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

Surprisingly, Monrovia has an excellent selection of restaurants: sushi (really!), Lebanese, Liberian, Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi, pizza and international cuisine. Eating out is expensive here - think DC prices. A $15 meal out, without drinks, is a steal.

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

Standard African varieties - cockroaches, big spiders, lots of ants and malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

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

Embassy personnel use the pouch. We do not have an APO.You cannot ship glass, liquids or aerosols through the pouch.

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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 help (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc) will cost about $200-250/month.

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

The embassy has a nice gym facility, with plenty of cardio and weight machines and free weights. There are also basketball and tennis courts. There is a squash court in town and a private gym downtown (not U.S. standards).

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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, unless you are ordering something online over via a secure Internet connection.

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

Yes - most denominations: Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, Seventh Day Adventist, Latter Day Saints, Jehovah Witness, etc.

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

There are a number of Liberian English-language newspaper dailies. AFN and dsTV (South African cable) is available for TV.

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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?

None. The local language is English. Local Liberians speak Liberian-English, which almost sounds like a different language!

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

This would be an almost impossible location to live in if physically disabled. The entire city is a virtual industrial zone - deep potholes, major cracks, hanging electrical wires, no ramps, etc.

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Transportation:

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

Not safe, and embassy personnel are not authorized to use public transport. You wouldn't want to, either.

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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?

A 4WD SUV or truck is best. New potholes are always popping up and the depth is unknown when filled with rain. A decent clearance is necessary. Your vehicle will get beat up while here. The good news - the resale value is ridiculously high!

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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?

High-speed access is not available. Currently Internet fees run from $50 for 64 kb/s to $200 for 256 kb/s per month and must be paid three months in advance.

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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?

Cell phones are easily obtainable once in country (and provided to you if at post).There are five primary carries. Calls to the U.S. are about $.10/minute.

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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.

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

Some individuals do have pets at post, although vet care and kennels do not exist. Many people bring a year's supply of pet immunizations with them when they come to post. There is little grass, and any dog walking must take place on the embassy compound.

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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?

Unless you arrange employment with a local NGO prior to your arrival, job opportunities once on the ground are extremely limited.

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

Embassy dress is business attire, although a tad more relaxed. Men usually have a tie and jacket in their office if required for meetings. Women generally wear suits or dresses. Nylons and closed-toe shoes are not currently required.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Unhealthy. While Monrovia is situated on the ocean, a breeze seems to be rare (unless during rainy season).The result is the settling of dust and burn off from coal fires and garbage piles in the air. Some people have developed allergies since arriving to post, and runners have noted a feeling of decrease in their oygen supply. Rainy season (April to September) provides a slight relief.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Everything under the sun!

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

Liberia is still rebuilding after almost 20 years of civil war. Without the presence of 12,000 UNMIL peacekeeping troops, there is the possibility Liberia could return to such a state of instability and insecurity. Individuals should be acutely aware of their personal security at all times, as robbery (sometimes armed, but no instances reported against U.S. personnel) is a common occurrence. Individuals can also find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time - some Liberians respond to criminal acts through the use of mob violence (not a situation you want to find yourself in).

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care is almost non-existent. Our embassy health unit provides general medical care, but anything else (even an ongoing stomach ailment) requires medevac to London. Don't come here unless you are healthy and take care of yourself.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Rainy season (April to September) brings almost 200 inches of rain - Monrovia is the wettest capital in the world - and temperatures between 75-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry season (October to March) is very hot and humid, with some dust storms. Temperature averages 85-100 degrees Fahrenheit.

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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 American International School in Monrovia, which just finished its second year in operation. While the school teaches K-8, the curriculum meets (although not officially) U.S. standards through the third grade.

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

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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?

Nothing that meets U.S. standards.

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

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Expat Life:

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

The expat community is about 25,000, due to the significant UNMIL and NGO presence. The diplomatic community is very small - only 14 missions.

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2. Morale among expats:

Generally good. While we have great friends here, there is not much to do and the days and weekends often feel like "Groundhog Day," as you go through the same motions.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Entertaining is either done in the home or out at restaurants. Other than going to the beach, there is nowhere else to go to.

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

At present, Monrovia is an adults-dependent only post, although this may be changing in the coming months, with personnel allowed to bring their children to post. While I do not have children, medical care and education are extremely limited and I would not choose to bring a child here. Couples and singles seem to do best here.

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

Unknown, although homosexuality is generally not publicly accepted in West Africa.

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

While Liberians generally function as one society, old prejudices between the Congo (Americo-Liberians) and the Country (indigenous) still exist under the surface. Tribal affiliation is still cause for land disputes upcountry.

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

Most of our social events revolve around parties at the Marine House, dinner/events in the homes of colleagues and eating out. There are a few nice beaches just outside of town, but it's not necessarily safe to get in the ocean - either due to the cleanliness of the water or the very strong and unpredictable riptide. Robertsport is a lovely beach about two hours drive from Monrovia, near the Sierra Leonean border. Nana's Lodge operates a luxury tent camp there, with a decent restaurant. The beach is clean and safe and this is the primary surf spot in country - supposedly, one of the three best surfing locations on the west coast of the continent.

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

Very little. Many crafts are brought in from neighboring Guinea. There are some locally-crafted masks and textiles.

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9. Can you save money?

Definitely, if you don't eat out every night of the week or shop online to pass the time. Currently, Monrovia is still a danger pay post, with high differentials.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Maybe. This place can really sap your energy if you're not constantly aware and taking care of your well-being - physically, emotionally, socially, etc.

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

Most precious belongings and your warm weather clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Items for your home that will make it feel like home. Bring beach wear/supplies, home workout equipment, etc.

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Sliding Liberia, Liberia: An Uncivil War, Lord of War (Hollywood's version)

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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