Gaborone, Botswana Report of what it's like to live there - 03/02/15
Personal Experiences from Gaborone, Botswana
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, but this is our first expat experience with kids.
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?
Washington, DC area - it takes about 30 hours total from DC to ATL to Johannesburg (16 hours) to Gaborone.
3. How long have you lived here?
About 1.5 years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government - U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Everyone is in houses, most with pools. All within a 15-minute drive of the Embassy. Electricity is pretty good, we seldom rely on generators. Internet is crap - the equivalent bandwidth of DSL circa 10 years ago. Chronic water shortage is also a concern - locals are subject to water rationing 2-3 days per week, but Embassy families have backup tanks that allow us to operate largely unaffected.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Availability is EXCELLENT for an African post - cost is comparable to the U.S. Lots of red meat and chicken available here, pork products less so. Upscale Woolworths carries great produce, bread, pasta/sauce, dairy/yogurt/cheese/ice cream, even cookies and cake mixes. Bring your Mexican/Latin American food favorites - spices, sauces, black beans. Bring CHOCOLATE CHIPS!! Bring your own paper products. Randomly, they do not have all-purpose flour, so bring and/or order that.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More fitness equipment; our own gardening tools and supplies; different consumables (the welcome packet had it all wrong - things we thought would be scarce are readily available, and vice versa); our car (Nissan Murano).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Moderate selection - we have several South African chains, like Nando's, Bimbo's, and Spur. We just got a Mexican restaurant that is decent and a Simply Asia noodle place. As one person said, "they scratch the itch," but don't really satisfy.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Nothing major - small house ants occasionally, and some mosquitoes (but no malaria).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Via diplomatic pouch through the Embassy. Mail comes in once per week, and takes two to three weeks to reach us. Outgoing mail to the U.S. takes longer - probably 3-4 weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and relatively cheap - most pay US$1,500-2,000 per month for full-time help. But most do NOT cook, and the Botswana household help tend to be lazier than expats from Zim or Zambia.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, there is a range of options - from the Embassy employee association gym (which costs about US$100/year to join) to very nice, newer, fancier gyms with classes that cost about US$1,000 per year.
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?
Both are relatively safe here, but most that accept credit cards use the chipped cards.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No. RSO prohibits use of local transport.
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?
Suggest waiting until you get here - if you plan to do a lot of road-tripping and off-roading, I'd suggest an SUV (but you'll want a comfortable one for those 10-hour drives). If you plan to stick around town, a small commuter car is fine.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
No. DSL-quality internet is available - we pay around US$200 per month for less than 2 mbps download speed.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Nope - they are available and pretty cheap. Major companies are Mascom and Orange.
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?
No. But there are some decent embassy jobs.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Everyone volunteers at the local animal shelter, which I hear is very depressing because there are just WAY too many pets here and way too many people who can't afford them. Some connected with orphanages and women's outreach programs.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Some are surprised to find that there is a considerable amount of crime here, so you need to use your security features (home alarm, safe havens, etc.) and exercise common sense (lock your car doors, stash your bag under your seat, etc.). Smash-and-grabs are reasonably common, esp. if you are a woman out alone after around 9pm. I am moderately cautious and seldom out at night, and have not had any problems.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
This is a big concern - there are no American nurses or other medical professionals on staff at the Embassy health unit, and VERY limited capacity on the local economy. The HU contains two nurses and one doctor, all local (but the doctor is American-trained and pretty good). Anything beyond the occasional cold/food poisoning/sprained ankle gets referred to Pretoria, and because we are so close in proximity, medevac is not always covered. Many complain about having to seek medical care in Pretoria on their own dime.
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?
Fine. Occasionally so dry and dusty that it HURTS to run outside, but generally decent quality.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Bring your allergy meds, humidifiers, etc. Many people's allergies are unexpectedly aggravated here.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
HOT. We have a very brief "winter" from about May - September where temps dip into the 50s/60sF. Other than that, it's in the 90s-100F from January - March.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is an international school here (Westwood) that nearly every parent of school aged children seems unsatisfied with, and there's been little to no effort to get Embassy children into the other two "good" schools (Northside and Thornhill). Re: Westwood, I've heard reports ranging from general lack of satisfaction with academic rigor to bullying and borderline verbal abuse by teachers. Thankfully, I have no experience with this. If my kids were school aged, we would likely be home schooling.
2. 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?
Yes - there are several, including a newish "Montessori" preschool. They are trying, and we've been generally happy with it. Costs are around US$200-300 per month.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, the schools offer activities. There are also swim classes, piano/music classes, and other activities available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Relatively small, relatively dispersed (hard to meet non-Americans), and morale varies WIDELY. If you find a group that has some common interests (fitness, running, book club, etc.), you can be quite content here.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Dinner with friends, movies at the theater, occasional wine and food festivals, running races.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is fine for families, as long as your expectations are relatively low and you are prepared to entertain yourself. I have no idea what you would do here as a single or couple, unless you had a lot of money to spend traveling, or you frequented the three or four actual bars in town.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not sure - you don't hear much about "that" here, which is probably an indication of how accepted GLBT persons are in Botswana.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are internal issues with increasing anti-immigration sentiment - many doctors and others professionals have been forced out of the country to reserve the jobs for Botswana citizens. Household help from Zimbabwe having trouble getting visas. It is an outwardly "Christian" majority here, but that doesn't mean what it means elsewhere - it simply means you believe in God, and not to the exclusion of other local traditional beliefs. Lots of extramarital promiscuity, which probably contributes to the rampant HIV/AIDS problem.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
After several months of adjusting to how little there is to do here (it's a "make your own fun" kind of post), we have come to embrace the slower pace and quiet life. It's a nice break from the DC rat-race. No commute, very little traffic, no malaria, no pollution like many other posts. Minimal food poisoning. You can get what you need, food-wise, as long as you're willing to shop at 3-4 different stores. I suppose those are the 'highlights.' We have gone on a few GREAT safaris in nearby Madikwe Game Reserve, and traveled to SA a bit, which were all memorable.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Not really. There are a few decent restaurants, a few movie theaters, a game park near the city where you can picnic and go mountain biking.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Definitely the touring if you are into safari/wildlife photography, and you have the funds to travel. Sites are tough to get to (many are 10 hour drives or quick-but-expensive and unreliable flights on Air Botswana), many do not allow kids, and travel is pricey. Singles and couples without kids tend to take advantage; those with kids tend to stay pretty local. Compared to other areas of Africa, Botswana is noticeably devoid of any real "culture." Groceries are on par with U.S. prices, so no real cost savings there. Weather is very hot and dry - so if that's your thing, you'll love it.
10. Can you save money?
Hm...probably if you live on junk food and don't travel.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
(a) how little there is to do here, (b) how serious the crime can be (it tends to come in waves, but you have to exercise constant vigilance), (c) how lazy and difficult the locals are (the dependence upon government to provide is endemic - this is a generation of people who have grown up living off the country's diamond wealth, enjoying a fairly middle-class existence, and knowing no real struggle; they tend to take it all for granted, and have little to none work ethic).
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Nope. This was supposed to be a "reward" assignment, pitched to us as the "Paris of Africa" or some such malarky. But a lot has changed here, and it's not what it was 5 or 10 years ago. Compared to other African posts, it's easy living - just boring, and definitely not anything near Paris. This is NOT what I would consider a "reward" for a high-threat post.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Fancy clothes, shoes, jewelry.
4. But don't forget your:
Board games, DVD player, swim gear, sunscreen.