I think the best way to summarize my first month in Congo is to say that it has been better than expected. By that, I mean my expectations for quality of life, city, some parts of work were terribly low. Much of this was governed by what people in the business generally say about working in West Africa. More accurately, what people I have had a chance to know say about working in West Africa, but until now people I have known have not been working here. They have been working somewhere else, which is not entirely unrelated to their ability to adjust to a place like this.
Additionally, there is a pay coefficient for this location. A pay coefficient is a factor applied to one’s base salary that you get paid in addition to your salary. Various locations around the world get various different levels of coefficients based on working conditions like general infrastructure, remote location, security situation, proximity to airport, international schools, hospitals, and other developed world services like McDonald’s. The coefficient here is high though the money isn’t really the point. I was using the coefficient as a proxy for expected quality of life and the expectations were low. Evidently, Pointe-Noire is the gem of locations in West Africa and some people here sheepishly admit the coefficient really ought to be one level lower, but they’re not exactly lobbying management for less money.
In the end, I’d generally call it not a great place, but a good enough place. Good enough for me though is probably not going to be acceptable to some people who are more accustomed to more pleasant surroundings. It continues to be my recommendation that my parents not visit me here.
The work remains interesting with much to learn, new challenges to rise to, and plenty of interesting people from all over the world to meet. While the base suffers from what I have dubbed “big-base syndrome” the size does make for lots of interesting people to meet and learn from. As I said about the coefficient, it’s not about the money that goes with the work. The money is nice and as enriching as being here is, I wouldn’t be working here for free, but I wouldn’t care all that much if the coefficient was lowered.
Being an expat here, and again related to my previous post, the relative affluence of my lifestyle here insulates me from much of the local culture. There are many restaurants and other establishments that are predominantly patronized by expats in the industry. This is not to say that locals aren’t also eating a lot of seafood and fried bananas, but it’s definitely not the same.
In semi-related news, I’m now five weeks out from my last hair cut. It’s starting to get a bit shaggy and it’s very clear that almost every Congolese man just shaves/buzzes his head. Thus, there is going to be some sleuthing about for a proper hair cut.
A big part of what makes it better than expected is the security situation which is quite good. Freedom to move about and go out at night and walk around without too much hassle is a big deal. The last thing anyone really wants is to feel like a prisoner within a city. And while I’m a stranger in this city, it’s a good place to be, at least for me.