Freetown, Sierra Leone Report of what it's like to live there - 06/19/14

Personal Experiences from Freetown, Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone 06/19/14

Background:

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

No, I have also lived in in Africa and 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?

The U.S. It usually takes about 16-18 hours. There is no contract fair, so you can use BA, Air France, or Brussels Air. All involve a stop in Monrovia, or somewhere else before Freetown. Then, once you land, you have to take a bus to a boat to a car to home. After touching the ground it could be up to 3 hours to arrive at your home. Check a map to see where Lungi Airport is.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost a year.

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

U.S. 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?

Housing is big, 3-5 bedroom homes. The layouts are sometimes hard to figure out and the workmanship overall is sub-par. A lot of work is done to make them ready for employees. All but two are on 24-hour generator power. The others get solar power that doesn't really work so they are on generator most of the time too. All that being said, most people are happy with their homes. All are in easy distance to work, except the Ambassador's house--he is the farthest away. The next group is about 15 minutes/5 miles from the Embassy. Only a few homes have yards, the rest have cement; some have garages, but most cars don't fit inside. Currently the houses are clustered in four groups, some sharing a compound, others with individual compounds but next to each other. A few are also within walking distance.

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

Groceries are expensive, about 100% more than in the U.S., sometimes more. There are fresh fruit/vegetables, and those are cheaper. A lot of people plant a garden in their flower beds or make raised beds to grow more vegetables. Laundry soap and cleaning items are very expensive. Everything in Sierra Leone is imported, and the prices are high. We have consumables, and people use it well. Even canned goods are 100%-200% more expensive than the U.S. So while you can get pine nuts, and granola, do you want to pay US$100 for a Costco bag of them? Pre-arrival shopping is key, and then you can also order consumables from ELSO.

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

More consumables because I hate paying the high prices for things in the store; but Amazon and Netgrocer help!

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

No fast food. There are several restaurants; some good Chinese, one Indian, also good, several with continental menus on the beach and around town. Prices average about US$25/person without alcohol for a meal, sometimes more or less.

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

Malaria--it's a big problem. Take the meds.

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Daily Life:

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

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?

Lots available, cost is anywhere from US$100/month full time to US$150 for a housekeeper/cook. Some claim to cook but can't really, some are excellent cooks. Gardeners are available, most work part time at several places. Some people also have a driver.

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

Nope. The Embassy has one with lots of weights but the machines are broken. We have a half-court basketball hoop, a tennis court, and a small gym on compound.

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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?

This is a cash economy.

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

I think everything, if you want it.

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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?

None, but picking up Krio helps.

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

Absolutely. There is no accomodation.

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Transportation:

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

No and yes.

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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?

There is little car theft, and no carjackings that I have heard of. Most embassy employees drive Toyota 4 runners, though there are also Jeeps, Pathfinders, Rav 4's and the like. There are only authorized Toyota and Range Rover dealers in town, however you can see almost any type of car. You do need something with clearance due to the unpaved roads and rain.

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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?

No high-speed; 2mps (I've never seen it that fast) with no download limits costs about US$120/month--more providers are coming up with packages but I don't know them.

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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?

Bring an unlocked phone for family members, employees get a phone and blackberry. People put their SIMs in iphones and other smart phones.

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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, vet care is limited.

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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?

I don't think so.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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

Business casual, the POL/ECON folks wear suits, but no one else does. It's hot and humid. Leave your pantyhose at home.

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Health & Safety:

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

As a critical crime post, areas of concern are walking the streets/beaches at night, crimes of opportunity and infrequently, house break-ins. There have been two in two years here. There is no police response or reliable investigation. Otherwise most people don't worry a lot about crime.

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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?

Yes. Malaria is big. Ebola is too but that's not easy to catch unless you eat undercooked monkeys and bats or care for those who become ill without protection of gloves and other gear.

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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?

Good all the time.

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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?

Warm and dry, and warm and wet. The rainy season is biblical. It starts in May and ends in November after dumping about 5 meters of water.

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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 are two schools rated as acceptable for the State Department. There is no high school. The American School is not considered to be high quality, with mostly locals and third country nationals attending. There are (I think) two actual certified teachers at the American School.

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

None, as far as I know.

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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 Montessori school that people seem to like a lot but I do not have personal experience.

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

Soccer - I think, that's about it.

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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 community is small but people are pretty happy overall, there are of course outliers who can't stand it but most brought their sense of adventure and sense of humor. Work at the Embassy was a challenging environment. Local staff do not have access to good schooling and some (but thankfully not all) have a poor work ethic.

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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?

Dinners out, potlucks, parties, going to the beach, socializing with other expats, spending time on my own hobbies, reading.

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

This is a hard one; this is not an easy post. Those who do best are the "glass half-full" people. Families who have done well enjoy the beach, spending time together, eating the occasional meal out and visiting with friends. Couples tend to do the same, and some have been more adventurous and gone out of town to see the country. Singles find the dating scene sparse but go out together and find other expats to hang with. There are no real parks to take the kids to and no yards for kids to play in, so you have to plan some things.

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

No idea; but it's not overly troubled by rhetoric about LBGT.

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

Women are not considered on par with men but Sierra Leone has made some progress in this department compared to similar countries. Otherwise it is very religiously tolerant, with people crossing between Christian and Muslim depending on the holiday. Muslims sing in church choirs and send their kids to Christian Schools, and everyone celebrates Eid's. Most Muslim women do not wear Hajab.

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

None so far but it's not a bad place, just kind of boring.

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

Go to the beach, check out different ones each weekend, eat lobster, relax. Learn to golf, it's cheap and something to do. Go to football matches, take in some of the events on offer each week. There are trips to some of the islands off of Freetown and some camping places "up-country" as well. There is also a Chimpanzee sanctuary near the Embassy.

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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, but if you've never been to Africa you can get some carvings, regional tribal stuff, and a few other items.

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

No real special advantages. This is a country with very poor infrastructure and very little development. However, there are nice beaches about 30 minutes from our housing, so most weekends people spend some time there. You can get lobster, prawns and other simple dishes at the beach which is also nice.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes, unless you travel out a lot; it's expensive to leave.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I knew what I was getting into.

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

Yes, every day is different, the work is challenging, the team we have right now is working well together, and I like it.

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

Pantyhose, and winter clothes, unless you travel.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses, sunscreen, and sense of adventure.

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