Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Report of what it's like to live there - 10/16/10

Personal Experiences from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 10/16/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

First overseas.

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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. It's roughly 22 hours fro, there to kinshasa. Travel is mainly via Paris through Air France or via Brussels through Brussels Airlines (SN/Sabena). It is also possible to come via Dubai/Nairobi or Dubai/Addis, and that trip is around 28 hours or so. (United/Ethiopian or United/Kenyan).

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3. How long have you lived here?

3.5 years

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Work.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Apartments, flats, duplexes, and free-standing houses. Commutes can be brief (5 mins) or long (1 hour) depending on construction patterns. Depending on your level of bravery, you could bicycle, but it is not without risks from the road itself and the drivers.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Western stuff is very expensive. Plenty of stores are generally well stocked, but that can change. Diapers are amazingly expensive: something like $70 per box when I last checked. Ice cream is something like $30 for a pint or two. Vegetables purchased in the nice stores can be very expensive and poor in quality. When purchased in the local markets, tomatoes are something like 20 cents each. Pineapple varies from $1.5 to $3 each.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

i haven't missed anything in particular.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Dinner is $25-60 per person, or thereabouts and depending on where and what. Lunch is $15-25 or thereabouts per person. This, of course, is for those who want to eat food for westerners. Those who wish to go the local route would get by at much less expense. There are plenty of restaurants.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Special diets will take more effort to accomodate. Vegetables are plentiful, but if you can order using internet, that's the most reliable.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Black flies, mosquitoes, acid flies, mango flies, but nothing unmanageable.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO or unclassified pouch. There is no local postal service. DHL also operates here, but it is very expensive.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Plentiful. $150-$300 per month depending on how it works out. On top of salary, you normally provide something extra for transportation and lunch. Plus you pay an end-of-year bonus equal to one month. They call it, "la gratification".

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes.

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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?

i've never used any of these here. Why risk it?

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are various christian groups and churches. Also a synagogue. And there are mosques. I have no direct experience with any of these.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

AFN is provided. DSTV is very nice and offers different packages, (I think at around $100/mo, but I could be off). There is local television as well: in French.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French is fine. You get the most out of your experience by learning even a little lingala. I personally think it is more useful than French. But, as I say, French is fine.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Many, as there really are no sidewalks.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

No, no, and no.

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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?

If you stay within Gombe, any car would do, although you'd have to go very gingerly over rough spots with a low-sitting mini. Ideally, bring something with four-wheel drive and some decent clearance. There's only regular gas here, so I wouldn't bring anything requiring super. Toyota/Nissan/Land Rover are probably best bet when thinking of service needs. I have a Jeep, and a lot of folks do, but there is no Jeep dealer.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is like dialup. it's $120 or so per month, and costs several hundred for start up.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

The vet makes house calls and seems to do the right things. Our dog was bitten and injured, and the vet got him fit as a fiddle.

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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?

i think not.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual. In public, very much whatever you like.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Various scams are aimed at parting you from your money, but I worry far more about crime when I'm in the states than I do here. The shegue (street kids) can be an annoyance and can engage in petty theft, but by and large the threat they pose is easily managed.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care at CMK is fine for immediate care. My son spent a few days at the hospital, and it seemed like decent care by 1950's standards. Anything really serious would require medevac.

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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?

A lot of particulate matter from cars, dust (especially in dry season), and fires (as people burn waste all the time).

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Dry and wet seasons.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There's a French School, a Belgian School, American School (Tasok), a predominantly Indian School (little jewels). Tasok is far from where most people live, so if something were to happen, as in 2007, the children could spend one or two nights out there. The other schools are closer to where folks live. My experience with Little Jewels has been very positive, and it does strike me as a more rigorous education than tasok. It has American, French, and Montessori progams.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

i do not know, but I suspect that Tasok has some special ed accommodations.

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3. 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?

Les Oisillons, a French-based preschool. I have no direct experience. Many folks also use local domestic help to look after small children.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Sure. There are martial arts, horse riding, swimming, tennis, soccer, whatever.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

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2. Morale among expats:

varies. There is a lot of whining and complaining about "the congolese" or that "there's nothing to do." People choose their morale.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Expats hang out together.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It's all subjective. I would not stay if my family were unhappy. We have enjoyed Kinshasa. If i were single, I would take advantage of the nightlife here. Still, a lot of people whine and complain, so it's not for everyone.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

It strikes me that the prejudice tends to be americans towards congolese, rather than the other way around.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Fun nights out at goat bars; mountain biking; having some very hearty laughs with the locals.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Bicycle riding. Seeing Kisantu botanical gardens, Zongo Falls, chimpanzee preserve, lac ma vallee, river trips, reptile farm, night life. But there is nothing really in the sense of art museums, theatres, etc.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Cloth, statues, masks, paintings. The stuff in the markets is mass produced. But with effort you can find someone who will locate items of real interest. The "village des artistes" has some pretty neat, creative stuff going on. Furniture of decent quality can be had from a Mennonite outfit.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It's a unique, crazy place to be, and it gives one the opportunity to learn a lot about one self, as well as about a foreign culture.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, it's all relative. But there are many ways to save money depending on how you live and what you earn.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No question. Yes.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

prejudices; dreams of taking safaris.

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3. But don't forget your:

open mind.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Kinshasa: the invisible city. Bradt has a guidebook to Congo in english. Jaguar and Futa have them in french. Lonely Planet has a guidebook for african health matters that's very nice. In general, the political science book, Africa Works, could help orient one's mindset.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Lumumba. But watch it several times because your understanding will change.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

i like Kinshasa, and i've had a very good time. I think life is very easy here, and there's plenty to do. I also appreciate that it is not for everyone. It can be difficult with regular power outages, regular water service interruptions, slow and frustrating services from the embassy, the cultural gap between westerners and congolese, and the absence of malls and other conveniences. If you will miss those things, or miss going to the theatre, library, or Starbucks, then this might not be a very good post for you. The driving also drives some folks nuts. There are numerous opportunities to be frustrated if you look for them -- but also many opportunities to have a good time -- again, if you look for them.

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