Freetown, Sierra Leone Report of what it's like to live there - 09/09/14

Personal Experiences from Freetown, Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone 09/09/14

Background:

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

Not first, I have also lived in other west African countries and in Asia and Eastern Europe.

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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?

Home base is USA. Flights took 16-24 hours in total, always transiting through Europe.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3.5 years.

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

U.S. government job.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Embassy houses are huge and close to work. Most expats live on the mountains overlooking downtown so the ocean breezes are lovely and the sunsets breathtaking.

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

Many western food and household supplies are imported and available but the price is at least double that of the USA. We rely heavily on the pouch and consumables shipment.

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

Gaming systems, games, beach stuff, boogie boards,

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

There is Lebanese food, pizza, burgers, local fare too. Restaurants for expats run about US$7-12 for a plate. Dinner out at the nicest restaurant for two with drink would cost about US$60.

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

Blister Beatles, ants everywhere, malaria is an issue, snakes (not rally an insect, but you should stay away from them!). Be very careful with any fever. Only Americans take anti malarial meds, other expats are just careful at dusk and dawn.

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Daily Life:

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

We used the pouch but the peace corps volunteers receive mail and packages through the Sierra Leone mail system. Most things arrive, some don't. All are delivered to the main post office in town and they have to be picked up from there.

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

There are plenty of people who would love to work for you. We pay US$125 a month for a housekeeper who comes every day from 8am-6pm.

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

There is a UN gym with a pool, reasonably priced and near the Ambassador's residence. The Embassy has a gym, pool, tennis court also. There are tennis courts in several places around town and you can hire trainers to teach you or play with you. There is a golf club on the beach in Freetown which also provides Pro's to teach you or play with you.

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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?

There are some ATMs at banks and a few restaurants but they release such small denominations of US$ it's hardly worth all the fees. The society itself is cash based.

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

Christian and Muslim services are available in English.

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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, it helps to learn some Krio but English will get you to everywhere in the country.

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

Definitely. There is no accommodation for people with disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Local travel is affordable. Taxis within Freetown don't drive fast enough to be really dangerous, traveling upcountry in a local podapoda is more risky. You should not travel outside Freetown at night, there are no street lights and people drive too fast with old cars.

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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 a 4wd vehicle.

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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?

It's expensive and not very high speed. They are working on a cable connection from Europe but that will take a while longer.

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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 one from the USA. You can buy cheap Chinese phones locally if our want.

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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?

Dr Jalloh near Congo Cross in Freetown provides excellent veterinary care to pets. He was trained in the USA and continues to maintain his credentials in America. The facility is very "local," but his quality of care is excellent. There was no quarantine entering or exiting the country for our dog.

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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?

There are lots of international NGO's so. If that is your field, you will find work. There are restaraunts owned by expats that also hire sometimes. The school also needs help occasionally. If you want to be busy you will be.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are plenty, you can volunteer in orphanages or at the American school.

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

Pretty casual all around, women should wear dresses to the knee though, not shorter.

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Health & Safety:

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

Petty theft is common on public transportation or when people leave their windows down and bags on the seats. "Grab and dash" is the most common crime I would hear about. Lock your car doors and put valuables on the car floor, not on the seat in plane view of everyone. 90% of the population lives on less than US$1 per day so don't be flashy.

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2. 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?

Air quality is great, the ocean breeze keeps it fresh.

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3. 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 truly something to see; shuts down the country for a few months every year.

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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 "international" schools, one for profit and one nonprofit. The American international school is getting better, it was neglected horribly for decades. Contrary to previous posts, all of the teachers for kindergarten through grade 8 are certified teachers, and most come from Europe or the U.S./Canada. Parental involvement is huge for the school and will continue to contribute to its success.

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

AISF accommodates children who need to learn English but there are no other special needs accommodations available.

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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 are preschools, most people with young children hire a nanny also. We had wonderful success with our household help and so did other families we knew.

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

AISF offers after-school programs that do include sports "clubs". There is nothing more organized than that. There are no parks, just the beaches for playing.

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Expat Life:

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

You have to make a decision to like it, and then you will. There are always social events and beach camping trips going on, you just have to ask and join.

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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?

Beach! Eating out, live music, dancing with friends.

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

It's great for anyone except families with highschool age children unless you want to use a boarding school. AISF only goes through grade 8. The social life is active and there are some places to listen to music at night and go dancing. Some good restaraunts too, well maybe not always "good", but fine.

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

I had several LBGT friends who seemed very holy living here. Culturally it's not acceptable, so many friends kept their orientation from the local staff or friends, but were comfortable in within the expat community.

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

You will not find a more religiously tolerant country in the world, I'm sure. Every meeting and public gathering begins with a Muslim and a Christian prayer and both prayers are often spoken by everyone attending. It is patriarchal, but professional expat women are respected. All work environments were very friendly to men and women.

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

Definitely the beaches, and the fact there wasn't much else going on allowed for very close friendships to develop.

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

Beaches, Tacugama chimpanzee sanctuary, Bunce island (an old slave fort), some upcountry lodges in small villages. The beaches are amazing!

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

Local cloth is beautiful but the quality of dressmakers varies widely.

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

The people are so friendly and welcoming, and the beaches are beautiful.

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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. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure and sense of humor!

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

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier and

Black Man's Grave: Letters From Sierra Leone.

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