Questions about life in Bissau.

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. Sorry about that! But since I’ve last written, I’ve been to Berlin, Leipzig, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, The Dead Sea and the Judean Desert, as well as a few lovely towns in Poland. Since it’s been so long, and I have so many things to catch up on I figured it’d be best to split up the travel posts, and maybe alternate them with some seriously overdue answers to questions Patrick and Jorge have emailed over!

I flew Royal Air Maroc, one of the few reliable ways to get to Guinea Bissau...

I flew Royal Air Maroc, one of the few reliable ways to get to Guinea Bissau...

1. How long did it take you to find a house? I’m on an expat salary, so cost isn’t important, but I still don’t want to pay an arm and a leg unless I have to. I have also seen that finding the perfect house doesn’t exist! Is it really impossible to find a house with generator and reliable water (ie with water tank)?

I am a UNV, on a (generous) stipend. This means that I don’t really know how long I’ll be in Guinea Bissau and am loathe to spend more money than I have to on certain things, including housing. It also means that I don’t have a car. Not having a car can limit your housing options, and restrict you to fewer areas, unless you don’t mind being extremely reliant on taxis. Basically, our criteria (walkability + affordability +proximity to work) may not be the golden housing trio that makes your heart sing.

We spent two weeks looking for houses and spend 580 euros on rent. That got us a solid deal (see post on housing here) with excellent appliances, furnishings, and a great landlady, but with some major drawbacks: lack of a reservoir and generator. If you are willing to spend the same amount of money or a bit more, you should be able to get a house. Be forewarned, there is a shortage of houses that expats want to live in. This means that a small group of people are trying to move into the same houses, while other vacant houses languish. The languishing houses often need some kind of renovation, or need a generator, or don’t meet UN security standards. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t really help because the supply of renovated houses with generator and water reservoir outstrips demand. All I can say is keep your nose to the ground, ask everyone you know for a house and good luck. 

While you look for housing, you may want to look into a few convenient options. 1 is negotiating with the Azalai, which will let you live in a hotel room for about 1800 dollars a month. That includes breakfast, hot water (my first love) and access to one of the best pools in Bissau. You could also stay at Pension Ruby which is way cheaper, and located right next to the UNDP building and really in the heart of things. Can’t remember how much, but give them a solid sob story, about being young and broke and  they should bite.  I stayed with a lovely family near Pension Ruby in an apartment that they have above their house.  What the place lacks in privacy (you won’t have your own kitchen) it more than makes up for in terms of location and charm (amazing terrace). I’ll be able to email you guys the lady’s name if you’re interested. 

2. My girlfriend will be coming along with me. What are her work options? Can she take Portuguese and, or English classes? Do the local NGOs and other charities employ people?

I think work options vary wildly depending on the individual and luck of the draw. There is no shortage of very talented trailing spouses and partners who haven’t really managed to find work. But there are some who really have. While charities are good places to look, it’s also a good idea to look into national networks (this is where Portuguese, Spaniards, Frenchmen and Brazilians are at a distinct advantage). That said, there is so much volunteering that needs to be done, that anyone willing to volunteer is sure to find something that they want to do. 

Portuguese classes are a challenge here. The ones that are offered by the Brazilian Cultural Center really target Bissauguineans who already speak a creole that is quite similar, and as a result don’t really give the support someone starting from scratch would need. A tutor is the best way to go, but many are already juggling pretty full schedules. As with everything here, patience is key. I’m not sure about English classes, but I’m sure there’s something available… 

3. How much is cost of living after rent? Beer, food, transport, etc? bills on top of rent (gas, water, internet)? Cell phones!

How much you spend will depend on who you spend your time with. I spend lots of time with expats, so I spend quite a bit. I spend 250 francs every time I get in a taxi, so at least 1 dollar a day. I don’t really drink alcohol, so I don’y know how much it costs. I can say that everyone raves about how cheap alcohol is. I don’t drive, but I don’t believe gas to be inordinately expensive. In terms of electricity, that can set you back quite a bit, but it’s not insanity either. I’ll try to remember how much I spend next month and re-post. Internet is 30 or 50 000 CFA per month (can’t remember). 

4. Any gyms? What’s the nightlife like?

Fabulous track at Campo Sueco! Some people manage to run here, but the number of well paved roads to run on can be somewhat limited… There is some tennis and some soccer, though… 

5. I have heard about classes at the Portuguese cultural center, can you tell us more?

I had no idea there were classes there! Most folks I know have gone the private tutor route… 

6. What to pack that may not be readily available? In addition to contacts, boots, nets. Should we bring appliances/electronics? Toiletries?

I packed light. Bear in mind that whatever you want can be bought in Gambia or Dakar. That said, my house came furnished, so I don’t know anything about appliances. 

7. Crime in Bissau…

Hmmm... Crime? in Bissau? Not so much. I mean, the hallmark of living anywhere is that people will always feel that there is some level of insecurity, but I am somewhat skeptical, and anyone coming from Brazil will find the mere mentioning of Bissau and crime in the same sentence laughable. 

Joanna BusbyComment