Wednesday, April 02, 2008
I think lots of people stumble onto this site while looking for practical information about visiting or moving to Ouagadougou.
Why else would it have over 6000 hits?
But they look around and see posts ranting about the bats in the Shrine of the Elephant Hunt and they back away, slowly. They don’t want to read what goes through the mind of some obviously unstable mom of four as she gives her guinea pig a c-section. They want someone to tell them which vaccines to get and what to pack.
But some of them (the really clever and nice ones) stick around, read through the archives, and make themselves at home. Sometimes they write to me for advice about coming here. I render what aid I can, calling on my almost nine years here in Burkina.
And over time, these queries got me thinking- what do I really see as the most important information about moving here that I wish everyone would have to read before jumping on a plane heading for Ouagadougou? What is the stuff other sites don’t tell you?
I had a look around and there’s not actually very much useful info on the internet about expat life in Burkina. You can find out what shots to get and what the average temperature is, but you don’t get much of a feel for life here.
Of course, it’s hard to give general advice that suits everyone. People come here with such different backgrounds. I’ve seen some expats that settle into a very modest, local-level lifestyle and manage very well with very few imported luxuries.
Others don’t settle very well at all, despite a huge budget that allows them to import even their toilet paper from the USA and take frequent trips to Paris to “rest” from all the stresses of living here.
But here I will venture to list a few ideas about what to bring and what to leave behind when you make the big move and become (at least for a little while) my neighbor here in Ouagadougou. I have based this list on mistakes made by myself and others. I am not making this up.
So pay attention:
1. Don’t bring toilet paper. It will be ok. Really.
2. Do bring diapers, if they are required attire for anyone in your family. They are really expensive here and poor quality.
3. Don’t bring lots of medications/first aid items. These things are very cheap here: antibiotic creams, bandages, compresses, ibuprofen, codeine, valium, antibiotics (cipro, etc). All this stuff is available without a prescription inb the many pharmacies in the city. Really. The meds have different names( ex: Motrin = Brufen) but it’s all the same.
One exception- bring Band-aids. They cost a lot here
4. Do bring your computer, printer, dvd player, vcr , whatever…these electronics are very expensive here. Just watch out for the current problem. Remember, we are 220 volts over here, with the round two-prong (French) outlets. If you are bringing 110 volt items, invest in a step-up transformer to run your stuff. If you have lots of stuff, bring two or three.
5. Don’t bring Pringles potato chips or Laughing Cow cheese. We’ve got those things here. We don’t have much else, but we have those. (Many a Peace Corps volunteer has excitedly opened a care package from home, only to find that someone has loving sent them these two commonly-found-in-Burkina food items. Hint: send them some macaroni and cheese or a nice brownie mix!)
6. Do bring several swimming suits. You’ll swim a lot here and the huge amount of chlorine in the pools wears out suits fast. And there are very few places to buy them here. And they are expensive. The only cheap alternative is the used clothing market. But a used swimsuit won’t last long. It’s better to bring good ones with you.
7. Don’t bring shorts and mini skirts and expect to wear them around town. Not if you want to fit in. This goes for guys, too. Bring shorts for wearing at home, but when you go out in public, don’t show your knees. It’s rude. Really.
8. Do bring a cell phone and an mp3 player. They are very helpful. But guard them carefully! They are prime targets for theft. Be especially careful when travelling on the bus or in a green taxi.
9. Don’t bring any complexes about speaking foreign languages. If you already know French, that’s great! Start learning Mooré when you get here. It will win you lots of friends and bring fun into daily transactions. The Burkinabé get such a kick out of any nassara that can say even a few words in the local language!
10. Bring sunscreen. It’s hard to find here and pricey.
11. Also bring lip balm. Again, it’s hard to find, expensive and very necessary if you have delicate skin.
12. Please also bring excellent personality traits and display them regularly. Great patience, a sense of humour, compassion, flexibility, creativity and general "niceness" are all needed to settle happily into expat life in Ouagadougou. I know these things are good to have no matter where in the world you live, but if you do not have them here in Ouaga, this will happen: You will get depressed, crabby, resentful and then go completely and utterly mad.