Sunday, March 23, 2014

Abidjan vibe

Someone asked me what I thought about Abidjan. Despite my many frustrations with the place, I can't deny that there is an incredible vibe here.  A sense of optimism, a feeling that the war is done for good, and that the best is yet to come. I saw this video and the joy, energy, and hope of the place really shines through.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Weekend getaways: Grand Bassam

I've got lots of great news: I figured out a way to get my pictures uploaded (despite having lost my cable) and it's Friday!!!  I can't wait for the weekend to be here! As promised, I am sharing last weekend's pictures when we went to Bassan and had an amazing time.
Grand Bassam, or Bassam as most people here seem to call it, is a beach town located about an hour outside of Abidjan.  Bassam has some lovely colonial architecture, which was built by the French who had made the city their first colonial capital.  
I rode out for the afternoon with a couple of friends and had a blast.

 Bassam is a popular weekend spot for many expats. 
 The food was really good!

Vendors flock to the areas popular with expats to peddle their goods.  A rope barrier is designed to keep them from crowding the people trying to enjoy the beach. 
The resort has a pool, which is really practical for people with children.  The waters can be choppy and dangerous, so many kids swam in the pool, instead of in the sea. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Travel and Regional Integration

Before arriving in Abidjan, regional integration was a far off concept that I didn't know much about.  I'm not a econ or political science person. In fact, to me, it sounded like someone wanted to create an African EU.  Now that I am in Abidjan and would like to travel to explore the continent -- or even buy things in one country and move them to another -- I have come to understand why so many people are saying that regional integration is one of the things keeping Africa from achieving its full economic potential.
Case in point:
Travel in West Africa is fraught with difficulties at every turn.  Flights are a rip-off. Every country has a border and requires a visa. Routes and schedules are not well thought out.  I decided to get out of Ivory Coast for a little bit and started looking at flights with no particular destination in mind.
Immediately a couple issues sprang up:
  •  Since I am not from a West African country, I need a visa to go to every country that borders Ivory Coast.  These visas cost quite a bit of money, and it may not be worth it, especially if you're just heading out for a long weekend.
  • Flights are ridiculously expensive.  So much so, that I have friends who take the bus to Lomé and Accra on a regular basis. 
  • Interior flights are expensive.  That means you are going to pay quite a bit of money to fly Air Ivoire to San Pedro, or Yamoussoukro 
In the end, I found a ticket to Paris from Abidjan for 411 dollars on air algérie.  That was 4 dollars cheaper than a flight to Accra on the same days.  Yes, you've read that right folks.  You can fly to Europe for less than what it would cost you to fly to a bordering country.  Of course I had friends begging me not to get on Air Algérie assuring me that to fly them would be to risk sudden death, but I believe that fortune favors the brave, and would not let that deter me!  I may or may not be flying them soon, but I've been told that it's no worse than flying the Libyan national carrier... 

Getting the best deal possible:
As I was looking for tickets, I noticed that there was a huge disparity in ticket pricing.  Because many people still go to travel agencies, there are some incredible deals to be had online -- provided you know where to look.  My top travel sites for flights out of Abidjan are:
  • Kayak:  Decent fares, with one major caveat: Air France isn't advertising many of its flights in and out of Abidjan 
  • Google flights:  Incredible way to know who flies where, when, and for approximately how much. I haven't bought from them, but it did help me figure out where to buy a ticket.
  • Fareboom: Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's awful.  But this site is a gem with some incredible deals (remember that 411 dollar flight to Paris I mentioned? It came from there). You can also book stopovers longer than 24 hours, which Kayak hasn't figured out how to do in an affordable way. ( Casablanca with Royal Air Maroc, Nairobi with Kenya airways, etc)...
  • The airlines themselves:  Brussels Air had cheaper fares on their site than on any of the other sites.  So it never hurts to double-check.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Your Weekly Question Roundup

Cost of furniture in Abidjan

If you're shipping from Europe/Can/USA, go to Ikea and buy everything in sight.  Chances are, you'll be able to use it in your new place, or sell it for a profit.  Everything is expensive, including tupperwares....   
If you are willing to buy local, you may end up with nice, relatively inexpensive furniture.  But you are going to have to go to a carpenter and have it made.  It'll be even cheaper if you supply the raw materials, since he won't be marking up the price of the wood.  I haven't had to buy furniture and don't think I will (my room mate's company has graciously agreed to furnish for us), but I will ask around...
Another good source is AfrikAnnonce and Internations.  Abidjan is a place where tons of people are constantly coming and going.  People leave and need to sell their stuff, often at firesale prices.  Get in while you can, and bid low -- you might just get lucky.

Security/moving around the country:

I find this to be really overblown.  Every major organization/ company has liability issues, so they would rather you stay out of harm's way.  That said, Ivory Coast is a safe country.  It may not be forever, but it is safe right now.  I have heard of the "coupeurs de route" but have yet to have met anyone who has been affected by it.  In my short time here, I have met a couple of young French engineers who work on the Liberian border, and they seem to be doing just fine.  I also met a young guy working for an animal feed company and he is all over the rural areas of Ivory Coast.  he sticks out like a sore thumb but seems to be having an incredible time.  I'll post about more weekend destinations in my upcoming travel post.

Your questions are kind of what makes doing this worthwhile!  Don't hesitate to tell me what you'd like to see more of!   

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


I have been gone for a little bit – sorry!  Tons of things have been happening since I last posted.

Housing update
·      It looks like my friends and I found an apartment to live.  It’s on the side of town I want to be on and I feel it is the right fit for all of us.  It’s a brand new 3 bedroom, 3 bath with a huge balcony. The landlord was asking for 1.1 million francs per month, but we managed to get it down to 1 million. We are also negotiating how many months deposit and rent we are willing to pay upfront before moving in.  At this point, I am cautiously optimistic that everything will go well.  But I’d be lying if I said that the thought of parting with over 10 000 usd collectively wasn’t terrifying.  I will keep you abreast of developments as they occur.    
·      I visited a friend who lives in Cocody Danga, directly across from the Swiss embassy.  Her place is huge but a bit out of the way.  Its best feature was its pool.  I didn’t think I wanted a pool (it’s relatively cheap to head to a hotel and swim for the afternoon), but I realized how much I was missing out on by not having one.  It was amazing.  For those of you who are wondering whether it’s worth it, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that a pool with a shady patio area is incredible.  Equally underrated, is the ability to relax in an outdoor area, with a pool, without having to deal with the outside world.       

Cost of Living update
·      I got my first light bill and it was a whopping 159 000 francs.  This is for a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment.  The cleaning lady says that the bill is quite high, and she believes that the girls I am staying with have been doing too many loads of laundry.  Unclear whether that’s really what caused it, but it seems like a reasonable explanation to me.
·      I am still waiting for my contact to answer my cost of living questions.  I have also been reaching out to other people to try and get information about how much they spend here, etc.  I haven’t forgotten you guys, it’s just taking a bit longer than I though it would.


I have met lots of nice people here and am thrilled to have the opportunity to live and work here.  That said, I have come to realize that the move, and the pressures of starting a new life here with very little institutional, financial or social support have begun to grate on me.  There have been some truly kind people who have gone out of their way to help me, but by and large this is probably my hardest move (and I've moved around a bit).  I also find dealing with people here a bit tedious, and over the long term exhausting.  Hopefully, this little bout of the blues will pass as I continue to adjust to me new surroundings and keep meeting new people.  I'll keep you posted!  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Responding to your comments/questions

I am so glad you guys have been reaching out and posting questions and comments.  They are really encouraging.  Here are answers to some them.

Cost of living update:
I am still waiting on my contact to get back to me with her monthly budget.  I am also reaching out to other expats (especially those with kids) to try and get a better feel for what different people spend on life here.  Sorry, but the whole concept of time is a bit different here, and that is taking some getting used to. 

  • This one is going to be tough because I don't drive; however, I do take taxis everywhere and spend a great deal of time on the road.  As I see other people navigate the car purchasing/importing/shipping process, I'll fill you in. 
  • Someone asked about right hand drive cars.  I saw a very old right hand drive SUV the other day, and wondered a couple of things namely, how that car got here, and how that driver was still alive.  Driving in Abidjan is an exercise in avoiding what can at times feel like certain death.  Cars coming out of nowhere, gridlock, daredevil taxi drivers, pedestrians crossing at random, traffic lights that don't work, and poor lighting at night all make driving conditions less than ideal here. Why anyone would do so in a right hand vehicle strikes me as both foolhardy and as having a complete disregard for other people on the road.  Again, I don't drive, so I don't know much about blind-spots, but I can say with absolute confidence that it is difficult to drive here and avoid killing, or at least hitting someone.  I am all for not getting on the road with the deck stacked against you.  Strip that bad boy for parts and buy a car in Abidjan.   

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Every little cent counts... ECO+ card

Things have been a bit busy at work, so I've been falling asleep at the switch and blogging less.
As things begin to settle down a bit more for me, I have come to realize certain things:
  • It looks like I have found a permanent house (more on that once I have something rock solid).
  • I am starting to feel like I live here.
  • taxis suck: they are hot, smelly, the seats can be wet, and you will arrive feeling flustered and like you could use a shower.  Basically, I really want a car
  • I am starting to get interesting tips on how to save money in Abidjan.
I was so happy about this money saving tip, I knew I had to share it with you guys. So here goes:

Meet the ECO+ card.  This little card, which I hope to purchase tomorrow, will give me discounts to a bunch of places I already go to.  The best deals I saw were:
20% off of hotel rooms at the Hotel Emlys (apparently it's a decent place in 2 Plateaux), 15% off all purchases at Foire de Chine ( a store in Treichville that sells everything, including furniture and appliances), 20% off of car parts at SKPA ( a garage in Zone 4), 10% off of the final bill at Mix nightclub, 15% off at Montana.
All in all, since the card only costs 5 000 francs, it looks worth it to me.  I eat at a bunch of the places listed: Montana, Norima, Saakan, and any discount I can get would be more than welcome...


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Online shopping in Abidjan

I am starting to adjust to life in Attiekeland, but the thing I really miss is shopping.  No kind of shopping is immune.  I miss farmer's markets, Craigslist, and online shopping.  I know I am being shallow, but I refuse to apologize for my lack of depth!
Facebook has realized that I both miss shopping and now live in Attiekeland and decided to come to the rescue with an ad for Jumia!  
I was skeptical at first but after doing a bit of research, it looks like is legit.  The platform exists in a number of African countries and is owned by Rocket Internet, a German e-commerce giant that owns Zalando.  The Ivorian office is even hiring (
I haven't ordered anything yet, but I saw decent prices for refrigerators, and other appliances.  I am not 100% sure how it works yet, but I'll let you guys know as soon as I find out...

Friday, March 7, 2014

Money truths in Abidjan

Since you guys were all over the money post, I thought I'd give the floor to different people.  I don't have kids,  I'm not your frugal friend, and I don't think I hold the universal truth to money in Abidjan.  In the end, the only money truth in Abidjan is that it's not cheap.  But how much you play in that game is entirely up to you. 
My first guest poster is American, under 30, and living in Abidjan child-free.  I know that this does not reflect everyone's reality, but since she lives on the Cocody side of the city, part of me wonders what her expenses are like.

She is working on her post right now, and will probably be ready to post by Sunday evening.  Be sure to check it out!

French lessons 101: Real estate vocabulary

Combing through real estate listings is never fun.  Combing through real estate listings in a foreign language can seem daunting.
Hopefully, this mini glossary will help!
  • Apartment size:
1 pièce:  1 room, i.e. a bedsit, or studio
2pièces: 1 room for sleeping (1 chambre), 1 living room (1 salon), i.e. a 1 bedroom
3pièces: 3 rooms, most often 2 bedrooms and a living room.  But it could also be a 1 bedroom (1 chambre), with a living room (1 salon) in a dining room (une salle à manger).
Partagent une salle de Bain (SDB): share a bathroom
  • Different parts of a buiding:
RDC or rez de chaussée: ground floor
Sous-sol: basement
  • Different kinds of places to live
Villa basse: single story house
Villa duplex: 2 story house

Meublé: furnished
Location meublée: furnished rental
  • Features you may want in your new place
Chauffe-eau: hot water heater
Fosse septique: septic tank
Salle d'eau: bathroom with a shower
WC: toilet
WC séparé: toilet separate from shower room
Baies vitrées: bay windows
Climatisation/ splits: aircon
Cuisine équipée: kitchen that has cabinets and some appliances (usually a stove)
Grande pièce à vivre: large living room area
  • What kind of place is this?
Très haut standing: beautiful
Haut standing: quite nice
Bon standing: nice, but maybe a bit older
Moyen standing: everything you need, but could use some sprucing up

Résidence sécurisée: in a gated building, or community
  • Be afraid:
En travaux: currently being renovated
à la charge du locataire: at the tenant's expense.
remise en état/ remettre en état:  needing to be renovated (difficult to know how much or how little work is needed)
En finition/ travaux de finition: plumbing and electrical is done.  Fixtures need to go in.  Hard to know how far along that process is.

Monday, March 3, 2014

By Popular demand: the money issue.

I've gotten more than one question about it, so I have decided to grab the bull by the horns and bring you the money issue. It will be in a mixture of currencies, and for that, I apologize. 

Before I get started, I'd like to mention a couple of things:
  1. Abidjan is an extremely expensive place.  I am not sure how people earning local salaries (the minimum wage is 60 000 francs survive), but I think family networks has a lot to do with it (granting access to cheap produce from Bassam, for example, helps)... 
  2. As an expat in a country where people are being squeezed from all ends, you will be overcharged.  Unless you are African, black, or extremely skilled, there is no way around this.
    • you will be charged higher rates when you take a taxi, or go to the markets.  
    • or you'll shop at supermarkets, where goods are more expensive.  
  3. In the beginning, getting overcharged 500 francs here, 1 000 francs there won't seem to matter. You'll come to realize that getting nickeled and dimed, everywhere, all of the time becomes very, very expensive.      
  4. I'm making roughly what a Western European young professional (with a graduate degree makes) so between 2 and 3 thousand euros.  That is essentially tax free money, so I do ok. 
  5. I do not expect to be able to save much here, since cost of living is high.  
  6. Unless you're coming from Moscow, or Luanda, (or some other place with astronomical living costs) do not take a salary cut to come here.  I've heard horror stories, so consider yourself warned.
  7. Keeping up with Jones', in this case, your fellow expats/well to do Ivorians, i.e. those who will make up you and your kids' social sets does not come cheap.  If you're not the frugal friend back home, don't think you can be the frugal expat. Don't get me wrong, some people can, but most can't.  Budget accordingly.
I haven't been here that long and between getting settled, meeting new people and finding housing, haven't had much time to step back and figure out exactly where my money goes.  That said, I am starting to get a decent idea.

As a young expat (with no kids or spouse to support), I have different expenses: housing, food, transportation, medical insurance, leisure.

Housing: I am renting a room in Zone 4.  The place is not idea, and I'd like to move elsewhere.  For now, it costs me 330 000 francs per month.  Because the room was furnished, I haven't had to spend money on appliances (expensive), or furniture (even more expensive).  But once that happens, I'll let you know where I went.    

Schooling: I have no kids. So. 0.

Medical Care: My employer doesn't cover anything. Insurance costs me just under 150 euros a month. So I pay upfront and pray that the insurance will reimburse me later on.  I haven't been to the doctor yet here, so I don't know how much it costs.

Food: Haaaa!  This is where things get messy.  I have no idea how much I spend on food.  Sometimes I bring lunch to work.  Sometimes I eat out with colleagues.  If you eat out every lunch, you will spend a minimum of 5000 francs per day.  P.S. for anyone who missed it, I mentioned here that by Abidjan standards, I am a picky eater.  I also get food poisoning very easily and have been trying to stay away from street food/ open pit maquis where people are cooking in unsanitary conditions.  That will drive up expenses.  Finally, as I meet more people, I am being invited out more and more often.  That means that I spend money on overpriced cocktails (4 000 franc glass of wine, anyone?) and food on the run.  A croissant at Gateaux et Pains (closest bakery to my house) is 500 francs  

Transportation:  I have no car and commute from Zone 4 to the Plateau.  While an Ivorian would pay 1500 francs, I pay a 500 franc expat tax, which brings my commuting costs up to 4 000 francs a day/ 20 000 a week/ 80 000/month.   And that's just the commute.  Anytime I head to the supermarket, the cabbie wants 1 000 francs.  Part of the problem is that I'm foreign, another part is that I live in Biétry.  I am getting incredibly frustrated with the situation and have to admit that I am probably going to stop going to the supermarket altogether and will probably end up relying on the housekeeper instead.  P.S. for all you car owners, gas prices are high.  Something like 750 francs a liter; I don't buy gas, so don't quote me on that.

Internet: I don't pay (included in my rent) but unlimited wifi with MTN costs 40 000 francs a month.  

Phone: 3g is the killer.  I need it because I am lost of the time.  I know I don't spend much on talk, but I spend 14 000 francs a month on data.

TV:  I don't watch TV.

Electricity:  I don't pay yet, but my friends (a young couple) who have a 3 bedroom spent 150 000 francs last month.  Yes, you read that correctly.  These folks are not Americans who are used to cheap electricity costs. These are Africans who have lived in Europe and are not blasting aircon 24 hours a day.  It's frightening, and everyone makes a huge fuss about it.   

Leisure:  I went to a concert this weekend that cost 10 000 francs.  Magic System, Salif Keita and P-square all took to the stage, so I dare say it was worth it. My transport costs mean that I had to get a cab to go buy the ticket (1000 francs) and then catch another cab to the venue (1250 francs).  We then went to a bar where I had that 4 000 franc glass of wine.  The next day, we went to Assinie.  I contributed 5 000 francs to help pay for the driver and gas, bought 4 000 francs worth of produce, 1000 francs worth of nuts and spent 10 000 francs on dinner. 
Gym memberships cost about 40 000 francs a month; 10 yoga classes will cost you 70 000 francs

House help salaries: Again, I don't pay for this, but you will have to spend at least 80 000 francs.  Don't underpay your housekeeper, as it will only encourage her to steal from you. If you have a driver, you'll have to pay him too.

 In closing someone asked me about housing costs for a 2 or 3 bedroom.  Honestly, I have no idea.  I had lunch with someone who just got a 4 bedroom house in Riviera from a cash strapped landlord for 500 000 Francs.  It helps that this someone was willing to pay for a pool to be added out back; basically, he got really, really lucky.  I have other friends who live in an industrial area called Zone 3 (basically sandwiched between Zone 4 and Treichville).  Their place has 3 bedrooms, a tiny pool and a small patio, all for 700 000 francs.  They also got lucky: their French landlord wanted to cut the young French expat couple a break, and living in an isolated industrial area means that residences don't command a very high rent. That said, they have all of the amenities of marcory and Zone 4 fairly close by and no commuting traffic.  As someone with no car, and fairly stringent security requirements (my parents are too young to bury a child :-) ), I am looking places like here, here, and praying for some amazing deal to come my way via word of mouth. 

Weekend Getaways -- Assinie

I hope everyone had a restful weekend!

I went to Assinie and had an amazing time.  It's a lovely drive, and the beach is wonderful.
Also, do stop by the side of the road to buy fruit.  I got an incredible haul for 4 000 francs.