Freetown, Sierra Leone Report of what it's like to live there - 05/07/18

Personal Experiences from Freetown, Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone 05/07/18

Background:

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

No.

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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. 14-17 hours, two plane rides. Transit through Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam or Casablanca. Then when you arrive at the "airport" you get on a van to a boat, boat to Freetown. Add on 2-3 hours each way with all the boat business. It's a rough intro to the place.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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

Foreign service.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There are concrete yards and 20 minute commutes in traffic where no one can drive, as a prior poster already mentioned. Others live super close to the embassy without any commute. People tend to socialize with whom they live closest, too. The houses are big, but seem to have strange layouts, and seem poorly maintained. There have been gaps in staffing, however new arrivals in Management seem to be working hard to make a difference.

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

You can find most of what you want, just might need to visit several stores. As a prior poster said, pricing doesn't seem to have rhyme or reason. Amazon makes up for anything you miss. Use consumables for specialty condiments, liquids, detergent, soy (or other specialty) milk if you need it on a regular basis, PB, good beer and wine. Good dairy is forever lacking; It's all the box shelf stable stuff. You can still make ice cream with it, but really miss greek yogurt.

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

More liquid laundry detergent and good quality (esp. 'eco') cleaners.

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

Sigh. There are few, as prior poster said, better views than food. A lot of places just are heating frozen food or making bad pizza. Smoking bun is new-ish and they have decent burgers, shakes etc. Toma has good finer dining food but expensive. There is typical Lebanese mezze avail too with all the Lebanese here. They own most of the places expats frequent. Local West African food has not been tasty to us. We have tried, so many times. It seems VERY spicy, overly salty and oily, and there is fish in your dish even when not expected or advertised. Food is a door to culture for us normally, and have been sorely disappointed here. Produce is hit or miss, sometimes good fruit. No kale or good lettuce etc., take a multivitamin. There is potato leaf and other "slippery" greens that are always mushy and bad.

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

We've been lucky but some people get ants, roaches, mice the usual.

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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?

$10-15 a day (150-300 a month) depending on their skill level, the job itself, etc. Expect you may feel pressured to inherit your predecessor's household help. Recommend you meet a few people though before being pressured to hire someone you don't need or want. Even try to hire outside the U.S. mission, post on Freetowners on Facebook for recommendations. Household help seem to push quite a bit in terms of holidays, school payments for their kids, salary advances, bonuses etc. even if they are not full-time.

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

No idea. We work out in one of our 3 extra rooms we never use.

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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. See last poster. Bring a checkbook to constantly get cash out at embassy.

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

Not religious but there is every kind of church you can want. Mosques of course as this is majority Muslim country. one or two Hindu temples.

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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?

You get use to the local creole (Krio) and accents if you make an effort. There is a Krio tutor around.

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

YES.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis, tuk tuks and motorbikes are very affordable yes, but we aren't allowed to use them. You'll get ripped off as a gringo anyway.

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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 high clearance SUV. Bring tires and anything you need for routine maintenance.

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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, unless you want to pay through the nose. You can stream most of the time but will buffer and be of poor quality video. Don't forget your VPN!

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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?

We just use our embassy issued 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?

Dr. Jalloh. All we got. He's fine. No issues getting in or out of country but can be costly. As last poster said, many sad and sweet dogs in this country, please adopt if you space and can take them home to U.S. or next post with you.

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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?

Many EFM jobs now that the freeze is over. Otherwise people telecommute. You can also tutor or volunteer at the internationall schools. Salaries are likely low, no idea. Unemployed and under-employed spouses seem frustrated.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Chimp Sanctuary, Animal Welfare society, NGOS for kids, literacy, hunger...all the things.

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

Business casual. Suits if you have ministry meetings outside embassy. Formal dress only needed once a year for Marine Ball.

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Health & Safety:

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

Petty theft but nothing more than most places. You live a pretty insulated and isolated life here so no other threats you'd ever interact with or come upon on a daily basis. You can't really walk around here (nor would you want to., garbage and staring everywhere) so you aren't likely to get robbed anyway.

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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?

Harmattan brings dust, you home might bring mold. Aspen Medical is good for routine issues. Anything serious, surgical or dental requires a trip out of the country. Good med unit at embassy though.

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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?

Again, Harmattan brings dust, you home might bring mold.

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

There are nuts in local food (groundnuts, peanuts). Dust/Mold allergies can be triggered. We brought an air purifier that makes a huge difference.

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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)?

It's a hard culture to take some times and the interactions can get depressing.

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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 Jun-Sept. Then dry. Humid, warm, same temps everyday.

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Schools & Children:

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

No personal experience but good for K-8. After that, classes are tiny and require online supplemental classes or boarding school.

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

No idea.

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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?

Yes. No experience. People seem to get nannies, too.

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Expat Life:

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

Small. Larger British contingency though. Morale is not great but post is what you make it.

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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. Drink, board game nights, trivia with the Brits, work on your hobbies, esp. during rainy season. There is a running group and a weekly walk/run at the embassy though.

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

Maybe for singles, previous officers have met significant others in the expat/NGO community. For couples without kids, rough. There are no places or parks to walk, no great restaurants, no cultural institutions, not a lot to do. Good for families with young kids. Safe and help is cheap.

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

No idea. Scene is likely more 'underground' for locals given how religious people are but among expats, there are LGBT and of course super accepted and not an issue at all.

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

Muslims and Christians get along pretty well, families intermarry. Gender...well women work very hard and then still are expected to do all the domestic/childcare. Traditional family units are bit hmm..complicated? women put up with their partners having many kids outside of the marriage. Local staff openly say they prefer male supervisors (even if they themselves are female!).

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

Beaches. if you are not a beach person, you will become one. It's the best thing we got and one of the only things we got.

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

Beach. Chimp Sanctuary.

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

No. When you think it is "african" it is likely made in China, even the fabrics that appear very local. Shea butter is good though, we buy that.

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

Hardship differential.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

That I shouldn't and how difficult the culture can be to take at times. That when you try to make friends with locals, it feels like they just want money, a visa hookup or some other favor.

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

No. Maybe if you have small kids and need to save though. There were staffing gaps during Ebola and even after. Some jobs have had to be filled by Civil Service when FSOs won't bid. LES aren't highly skilled and since tours are just 2 years, you don't get consistent management. Some people stay for the 3rd year, we have no interest in that.

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

Expectations.

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4. But don't forget your:

Resiliency and memory of the life you used to have.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

Remember your reason for being here be it savings, or whatever else it could possibly be. Most folks here are directed entry level (AKA they had no choice) or on their last tour (mula). Those in-between think it can bring promotion, recognition, or other benefits. Remains to be seen.

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