Banjul, The Gambia Report of what it's like to live there - 09/03/11

Personal Experiences from Banjul, The Gambia

Banjul, The Gambia 09/03/11

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?

East Coast. One of the main routes is Dulles to Brussels to Banjul. This can take about 24 hours in total.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year, currently live there.

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

Spouse of US Embassy employee.

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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 varies and it is getting better and better. Most houses are 3-4 bedrms. Many houses have pools. A few are just a short walk from the ocean, but those are a bit farther out. From our house it is a 10-15 minute drive to the embassy. Some people have 20-25 mins, but traffic is generally light.

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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 difficult. They are VERY expensive, especially if imported. I would say things are two to three times more than in the States. You can shop at local markets for fresh items very cheaply. Also, compared to the rest of West Africa, we have some really great items available. You just have to decide if that $8 pint of ice cream is worth it this week. I went shopping today: head of lettuce: $8, box of U.S. cereal: $10, bottle of liquid detergent: $21.It should really be a consumable post.

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

Your favorite foods. Beach toys and supplies. Sun block and mosquito repellant.

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

No fast food. There are nice restaurants, especially associated with the hotels and resorts. There are several very good restaurants in this city. We have Mexican, Italian, Indian, Lebanese, and Moroccan.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Depending on the allergy, it could be dangerous to be here since many things are made with peanut oil and fish. No organic food, but locally grown. It would not be hard to be vegetarian if you do your own cooking.

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

Mosquitoes are a problem. Sugar ants in the house.

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Daily Life:

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

Embassy 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?

Domestic help is readily available and cheap: $100 per month, but not necessarily very good. It is hard to find someone that would meet U.S. standards, but it can be done. Having said that, we are happy with who we have hired.

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

The embassy is trying to get a workout room together. There is a nice gym in town called Elite Fitness- they have classes and machines. The facility seems run down from time to time, but it works. Elite does not have AC so a work out is a good work out. The Sheraton gym has AC, but is small and not well kept.

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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 a few ATMs, but don't use them.

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

There are many options: a local U.S. missionary organization (ABWE) has a weekly service. There are U.K. affiliated churches: Methodist and Anglican. There are a number of Catholic churches.

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

The local newspapers are plentiful, but not great. We use AFN but I know people have cable that they report is okay.

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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?

None. But, it is nice to know some Wolof greetings. It definitely makes people happy when you make the attempt.

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

It would be difficult, but I would contact the DCM or others.

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Transportation:

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

No trains. No buses. Taxis are not recommended by RSO.

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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?

Some people get by with a standard car but 4WD is advisable. The streets off the main road are very bumpy and down right treacherous during rainy season. There are lots of Toyotas.

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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?

We are happy with our internet. It is pretty reliable and fairly fast for $50 per 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?

Service is pretty reliable and 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?

No.

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

There is a great German vet.

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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?

Not really. There are jobs at the embassy if you want one. I know a few spouses who chooose not to work at the embassy and instead volunteer with NGOs.

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

Suits and the usual embassy look.

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Health & Safety:

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

Security is really pretty good. I feel safe.

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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?

This is the worst part of living here. The medical care is not good. There are some well trained doctors, but they don't have good supplies or equipment. It can be scary.

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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?

Very good. This is a small city. There is a dry/dusty season and the usual colds crop up.

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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?

It has a nice climate. Most of the year it is in the 80s with some 90s. During rainy season (June-ish to Sept-ish) it can rain daily. It is not constant, but it does get old.

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Schools & Children:

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

BAES- Banjul American Embassy School. My children attend and we have been very happy. The Director made sure it was accredited and it is really coming along. It is small- approx 60 students. One teacher described this as being the best environment: almost a home school atmosphere yet with socialization. My children have thrived in this gentle, sweet school. Classes have 10-15 kids max and are usually combined 1/2 or 3/4. One of my favorite things about the school is that there are something like 20 different nationalities represented. It's a really unique, diverse community.

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

Not too many. Contact the director.

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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 a number of preschools, but only a few measure up. The best is Fajara preschool I have heard.

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

Not too many. There's a dance class for girls- ages 5 and up. Tae Kwon Do at Elite.

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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 diplomatic community is pretty small, but there are lots and lots of Brits who have businesses. Something like 100,000 Brits visit every year during tourist season.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good.

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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 clubs for dancing. There is a great local music scene. The restaurants are good. There is a nice spa at Coco Ocean. People play golf at the Fajara Club which has its limitations, but people enjoy it anyway.

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

I think it's good for both. Singles tend to hang out together and there is a vibrant night life. There is a lack of children's activities: no parks etc., but we manage.

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

I think it would be okay.

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

I'm not aware of any.

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

Times on the beach. You can go for a picnic just 30 miles outside of town and not see another soul.

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

Monkey Park at Bijilo. Chimpanzee park at Baboon Island. Boat trips on the river to very interesting spots including James Island (now Kunta Kinteh Island).

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

Traditional W Africa fare: masks, cloth, batiks, wooden carvings, some jewelry.

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

Beautiful beaches, wonderful people, and probably the most liveable country in West Africa.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you're careful. No if you go out too much.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. We have young children so although we lack activities, we get so much family time. I really treasure this. One of our biggest social activities is other kids' birthday parties, these are family occasions. We have made some nice friends from all over the world.

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

Grumpy attitude- it's a beautiful country, there's not much to complain about...

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3. But don't forget your:

Positive outlook- you really can have a wonderful time here. Don't forget your favorites: things that make you happy like a magazine subscription or certain foods or your favorite shampoo.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

The Gambia really is Africa Lite. It is a nice introduction to West African living. There are the usual challenges: electrical outages, poverty, stray dogs, and malaria to name a few. BUT this is a stable, gorgeous, vibrant country. Gambians are happy for the most part and like Americans.

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