Freetown, Sierra Leone Report of what it's like to live there - 09/03/17

Personal Experiences from Freetown, Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone 09/03/17

Background:

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

First with US government, although not first expat experience.

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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?

USA, 8 hrs to Europe from east coast, 7 to Africa, then factor in time for the boat from airport to Freetown

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

US 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?

Larger than you could ever need, strange layouts and light switches that make no sense. You have 24 hour guards. Some residences are 20 minutes drive from embassy, while some are walking distance. Concrete yards for the most part. building quality is bad, expect some leaky roofs, mold is a big issue for some but not all.



The housing pool is a beast to manage I expect, but leadership is pretty unresponsive in helping you with housing issues, so DIY to your heart's content or pay a guy who knows a guy to help you out. The locally hired labor force do not have the skills to maintain to these homes (or base level work ethic to show up on time, if at all). They will come unprepared e.g. to paint without drop cloths, or to fix a sink without a wrench. Five guys will just stand around and look at the problem. The worst is when you take a day off for maintenance and no one shows up at all. Morale would increase infinitely if general repairs were more actively managed.

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

The selection varies store to store but honestly you can get what you need here in terms of basics. Use consumables for the specialty items, good cleaning products, and the snacks you will crave throughout the tour. You can order flours, spices, good coffee etc. all online if you can't fine what you need in stores. Sometimes things are surprisingly expensive, and then you can get fancy European jam for a buck. Can't figure out rhyme or reason in the grocery store pricing.

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

None, we shipped everything we needed and can get most things on Amazon. Some fresh/perishable items are missed but that is what R&R is for.

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

There are some decent restaurants with better views than food. Chinese food is available, also Lebanese, pizza takeout/delivery. Nothing will blow your socks off or compare to fine dining back in states but foodies DIY what they need (making bread, brewing beer) etc. Biggest happy surprise, there is good gelato!

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

Couple of roaches/waterbugs per month, only ever 2 mosquitoes in the house in two years, no mice but one house we know has had mice. Kitchen ants...be clean, do your best, and they can be managed.

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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 only so no liquids above 16 ounces and some other restrictions. But Amazon will take 2 weeks or so after arrival to your pouch address not bad.

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

Cheap. not hard to find good cleaners, cooks, nannies that come highly recommended. $12 for a full days of work so depending on how many days a week you need someone, the cost is pretty reasonable.

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

There are gyms and pools, I have not been to them. There are a few yoga classes that are popular with expats too.

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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?

No, cash economy for most part. Don't use an ATM, unless at the nicest/most secure bank and still then, go to the teller, not the ATM.

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

Every kind of Christian church you can possibly think of (even Mormons!) and mosques abound. There is a Hindu temple even, just not sure of any Jewish houses of worship though.

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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?

All you really need is English though you will pick up Krio lingo and there are Krio lessons available. Other local languages include Mende, Temne, Fullah.

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

Massive difficulty yes, but there aren't many nice places to walk around generally speaking so as long as your home/workplace is accessible maybe not as bad as appears on the surface?

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Transportation:

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

No, no, and no. Bring a car/buy a car.

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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?

Toyota SUV of any sort. Don't bring low to the ground cars or any car you particularly care about. The rough roads will do a number on any car but SUVs do really keep their value here, you can sell for almost as much as you paid in States.

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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?

Ugh...you will pay through the nose but internet is fine though for streaming, web surfing etc.

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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?

Work provides us with phones on local lines. You can keep your cell too, get a local sim card so you have a work cell/personal cell. for whatever reason, everyone loves to use WhatsApp here so get on the bandwagon if you haven't already.

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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?

There is one, he is also the government vet--it's all we got. Easy to get pets here paperwork-wise but the pickup from freight/boat ride from Lungi can be harrowing. Go with help, do not let yourself get hassled by people wanting tips, and don't get shaken down by airport employees. House cats will be very helpful here in but note that some locals eat cats so don't leave them outside the compound. There are many, many, sad stray dogs so please do consider adopting when you are here as well.There is a local British dog trainer too that can help if you adopt a street dog and need help. All you need to get out really is rabies and deworming.

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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?

You can volunteer at orphanages, the animal welfare society, a chimpanzee sanctuary, health organizations, teaching literacy etc. not sure about local schools, don't expect high (or any?) salaries. Some male spouses are known to work from home and there a few jobs for spouses at the embassy but not many.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Orphanages, animal welfare society, chimp sanctuary, health orgs, teaching English literacy, whatever your cause, you will find it. Don't let yourself get taken advantage of though by locals...

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

Business casual for work. In public places, anything goes.

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Health & Safety:

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

You stick out, people will stare and little kids ask for money, it's depressing. Guys on motorbikes beep at you constantly, with no reason why. But people on your block do get used to you and of course at food establishments. Beware of walking alone at night, crimes are of opportunity vs. targeted. Have not heard of any breaks in or violent crime, we all have 24 hr guards and gated homes. There are beggars and even people you think are your friends or hired help that will find ways to push for (extra) money or help of some sort...give an inch and locals take a mile. It sucks, we thought we'd make a ton of local friends but income disparity and the culture here make it hard. You end up hanging out with expats mostly.

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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?

Take your malaria meds, sleep under the net. Embassy health staff can help with basic needs, there is one good medical center (Aspen) and you will be medically evacuated for anything very serious. Get your dental work done before you arrive, bring allergy meds (mold anyone?).

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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?

Air quality is very good with the sea breezes and being up on a hill. There is a dusty season (harmattan winds) but unless you have bad asthma, can't imagine it being that much of a bother.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Dust, mold will bother you, even if you don't have allergies. Food allergies...know that peanuts are popular ingredients in local food but local West African food is not to our palates anyway so not hard to avoid peanuts if you need to.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Mold, seasonal allergies.

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

Wet June-Oct. Lovely for a few months, then dusty for a few months. Rainy season can be depressing but the white noise is nice and if you don't have indoor hobbies to focus on, get some. learn a language, workout inside, go on vacation elsewhere.

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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 no high school (except online) but I heard under 8th grade age kids are happy in the American school, the British school, and the Lebanese school for kindergarten/preK. American kids have returned to post since Ebola ended in early 2015 and now other expat families have returned. Homeschooling parents I've heard are happy too. nannies are cheap. It's family friendly for young ones, a real community is starting and while us couples without kids are getting a bit stir crazy. :)

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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?

yes, but don't have kids, so can't say for sure. Kids are happy with all the beach going it seems.

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Expat Life:

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

Big with all the NGOS and CDC here. Morale...varies. Tons of dedicated NGO workers, missionaries, mostly single. Embassy community is changing to younger families. Singles have met future spouses here, I have. But then, it can be pretty lame for a young couple. Also, the embassy management is not strong so the basic things that would really benefit morale here, are not in place (you can't get around without a car, housing maintenance is poor). Ebola is over, long over, the country is bouncing back, I expect things will improve. You can't change the entire local culture though or lack of work ethic among local staff. Find your friends, find your sports/yoga/hobbies that keep you sane during rainy reasons, focus on work.

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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?

Make your own fun, quiz night, board games, BBQs, beach camping, hiking, indoor hobbies. There are no arts institutions really so if art museums/fine theater/comedy are your thing, you will be disappointed. outdoorsy types or families with young kids are happier.

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

Single, yes, NGO folks work hard/play hard, you'll meet someone. Couples...not so much, especially if you are used to urban centers and functional infrastructure or well, logic, this culture is not logical. Families are happy and getting happier as far as I can tell. high school kids would be miserable here though, no freedom with the security restrictions and only online schooling available. Those with under 12 kids are probably the happiest as long as your kids are healthy and don't need special medical services.

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

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

West African men can be macho (but not toward expat women, just local women really). Men can stare. It is not uncommon to have multiple wives, or many many kids by many different moms, family structure is hmmm fluid? FGM is very common so imagine what that does to women's psyche generally. Ethnic tensions spill into politics but overall people get along and very little to no religious prejudice as far as I can tell. Some locals resent Lebanese families that have done well here and own businesses.

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

Making new friends/meeting future spouse. beaches, of course. hikes, getting upcountry. You can rent boats for fishing trips, or eat fresh caught lobster on the beach. Chimp sanctuary is nice, banana island.

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

Beaches. hikes, getting upcountry. Renting boats for fishing trips, or eating fresh caught lobster on the beach.

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

Not really. Some fabric but be careful it isn't just reprints made in China.

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

Beaches, friends, large homes, cheap help.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

That there is almost no infrastructure, it is a totally cash economy (bring bills to change!), how depressing the culture can be, how depressing the poverty can be, not being able to go for walks or go to any nice urban center like most country capitals have. No theaters, no art museums, etc.

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

Yes, but I would never stay beyond two years. Three years maybe if you had a happy spouse, young kids, and needed to save some money.

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

Expectations of functional processes, infrastructure or basic services.

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4. But don't forget your:

Resilience, positive attitude, sense of humor, exercise equipment, bathing suit and bug spray.

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

Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, Wikipedia on the history/civil war. A long way gone by Ismael Beah.

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