Monrovia, Liberia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/03/10

Personal Experiences from Monrovia, Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia 08/03/10

Background:

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

Third expatriate experience. I have worked in Khartoum, Sudan and studied in Munich, Germany.

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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?

Flights from the east cost transit through Brussels. But Delta is planning flights from Atlanta to commence in the Fall of 2010.

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3. How long have you lived here?

13 months - summer 2009 through summer 2010.

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

I was posted at the US 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?

Mostly apartment living. Most are clustered near the Embassy, but a few are not.

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

Local foods can be cheap - but quality is inconsistent. But I've never had such delicious pineapples or mangoes in my life! Grocery stores import almost everything, though, and the cost is typically twice what it would be in the US.

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

Spare tires.

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

None of the major chains - but a surprising variety: chinese, sushi, bbq, lebanese, ethiopian and lots of local places. Fancy is limited to the hotels, but even that is not very expensive.

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

Mosquitoes - expats have died of malaria by not taking their profalactive medicine. There is no sanitary system so local tend to squat on the beaches and that is unsanitary.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch. The Liberian postal system exists, and it supposedly does work. I was able to send postcards to the US, and others have used it to send packages out. I don't know if anyone has used it to send anything into Liberia. DHL and TNT and (I think) Fedex will deliver.

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

High unemployment = lots of people looking for work. Finding help that is dependable and are literate can be challenging. But the CLO has a list of those who have experience. Usually incoming officers adopt/hire staff of outgoing officers. Prices vary - you get what you pay for! Anywhere from $150 - $400 to have someone come every day.

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

Yes - but I preferred to excercise outside.

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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?

Mamba Point hotel has an ATM, and I have heard that people have been successful in getting cash from their credit cards. But otherwise it's a cash-only economy. You can cash checks at the embassy if you have access. There are Western Union offices in town.

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

Everything under the sun. There are lots of missionaries of many denominations.

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

AFN for those who are eligible, otherwise DSTV (south African Sattelite 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?

Liberian English can be difficult to comprehend. But most everyone will understand you, and most will speak American English to the expats and switch to Liberian English amongst themselves.

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

A lot. Ramps/elevators/sidewalks are rare. The country is not barrier-free at all.

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Transportation:

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

US Embassy staff are not authorized to use public transportation of any sort. Some car rental places are now being vetted.

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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 best. Roads were repaved in town, so an SUV is not as necessary as it once was - but outside of town, the roads may have lots of potholes or be unpaved. There are a few places that can do minor work (oil changes, etc.) but they can be pricey. If you plan to bring something and then try to sell it, there is a 40% duty/tax to sell to non-diplomats.

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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?

Very slow and expensive: $150/month.

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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?

Everyone has them - calls are pretty cheap.

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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?

I think so.

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

I didn't have a pet - but there seemed to be a group of dog owners.

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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 volunteer, then yes. Otherwise, not really.

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

Business suits for official functions; otherwise business casual - polos and khakis. It's hot and humid, so bring comfortable clothes.

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Health & Safety:

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

UNMIL (United Nations Mission to Liberia) is still present - although they are planning to draw down. The LNP (Liberia National Police) are inexperienced, are not armed, and rule of law is still more of a theory than practiced. Common sense when out in public goes a long way - no flashy jewelry, leaving stuff in the car. But I had qualms going for runs during daylight in town. The city is slowly being electrified - so at night it is very dark and people tend to drive with their high beams on which I found uncomfortable. Locals tend to cross the streets at random so driving in general requires vigilance.

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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?

Medevac for anything serious. Don't get sick and you will be fine. Colleauges of mine came down with bouts of malaria and typhoid.

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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, very humid during the rainy season,dusty during the dry season, the trash/debris is still burned in public.

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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?

Rainy season was April/May - October. Dry Season the rest of the time - but it does rain rather frequently in the dry season as well - just not every day.

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Schools & Children:

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

The American International School reopened a few years ago but I can't comment on the quality of education. The facility is old and needs to be renovated.

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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?

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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?

Smallish. There are not many other embassies in the country. You have to make an effort to meet other expats from other missions/organizations but they are out there.

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2. Morale among expats:

The whole range - I loved it - others would complain about everything. It is what you make of it.

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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?

There are a few clubs in town, some night life, dinner parties, happy hours at the Marine House, golf at the Firestone Compound, volley ball at the beach, checking out restaurants with friends.

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

Couples and singles were the bulk of the embassy community. A few familiies with infants.

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

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

Hard to tell. During my runs, I was always referred to as the "white man" by kids - not sure if that was a compliment or insult. There are still tribal allegiances, although the locals tell me that is becoming less of an issue. There is a minority muslim community as well. Given the two decades of civil war, most people have not developed conflict resolution skills. So if disagreements occur, they can escalate to violence fairly quickly.

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

Learning to surf, having a house right on the beach, hanging out at the beaches on the weekends, a nascient restaurant scene, amazing sunsets, very friendly people and they have their own brewery!

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

Beaches, sailing, visiting the chimps in Marshall, fishing, surfing in Robertsport, Volley ball at the YMCA, golfing at Firestone, visting the waterfalls in the countryside, shopping at waterside, visiting the ruins that were once the Hotel Africa.

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

Tribal masks, quilts, funky sculptures made from reclaimed AK-47s, wood carvings, having clothes made from the funky printed fabrics.

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

The city is located on the Atlantic Ocean. The beach is everywhere! The country is slowly rebuilding after a long civil war when the infrastructure and society was completely decimated. Imported food stuffs are expensive, the local food is very affordable. They just repaved the roads in town so getting around town has gotten much less arduous.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, and still have fun.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Definitely.

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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:

sunscreen, sunglasses, and beach gear.

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

Search for news articles about Liberia by NYT correspondent Helene Cooper (she fled Liberia as a child during the civil war); as well as her book "The House at Sugar Beach". Also, president Sirleaf's book: "This Child will be Great".

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Sliding Liberia; Pray the devil Back to Hell; Iron Ladies; Lord of War.
Bourdain did a show on Liberia -- although I have not seen it.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Just go and have a blast!

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