Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Report of what it's like to live there - 02/13/12

Personal Experiences from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 02/13/12

Background:

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

Yes, 1st tour.

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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?

There is a direct flight from Boston to Paris via Air France and it is about 7-8 hours. The flight from Paris to Kinshasa is about 8 hours. Be prepared for a long travel experience, once you arrive at N'Djili airport it is often chaotic and there can be long delays.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years - August 2009 - July 2011.

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

US Embassy/ State Department.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Usually singles/couples w/o children are in apartments. There are also stand-alone houses and housing compounds with both houses and apartments. Traffic can be bad and congested, our commute was 10 minutes without traffic, 30 + min with traffic.

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

Groceries are very expensive. Embassy people can order meat/produce from South Africa. There are several grocery stores, but their stock varies. Cereal can be $20. Oranges $15.

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

More consumables, things like olive oil and other staples.

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

There are two places I can think of: Nandos and Hector Chicken. Nandos is international and it is a little ways outside of the downtown area. Hector Chicken is local.

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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?

None that I was aware of. You can buy local vegetables and fruit, but it all must be bleached prior to consumption.

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

SO many insects and insect problems! Apartments/houses usually have roaches, although we were on a high floor and didn't see them with frequency. Mosquitoes are a big issue and are also malarial. Another common insect are "mango flies". Watch out, as they lay their eggs on damp surfaces and the eggs can embed under your skin...and then you become a host to a little maggot which you then have to "pop out" once it is mature. Lovely, huh?

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. Mail was often delayed.

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

Readily available and inexpensive.

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

Yes, well sort of. There is a small gym on the embassy compound, but it is available to embassy people only. There are also small gyms at the Grand Hotel and the Tennis club (but not much in terms of treadmills/ellipticals).

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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?

There are ATMs but I have heard they are not always secure. We always got our cash/money from the cashier at the embassy.

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

Not that I am aware.

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

We had AFN but there was satellite television available. It was very expensive (roughly $700 start up + 200 a month)

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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 a must. All stores/markets/locals speak French and there is not much English spoken.

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

It would be very very difficult. The Embassy is very old and there are no elevators/ramps. Everyday errands are involved and parking is usually on the side of road over bumpy terrain in a crowded area.

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Transportation:

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

All public transportation is not recommended by the embassy for safety reasons.

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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?

A 4x4 is important as the roads are awful. Outside the city, a 4x4 is an absolute must. The roads are often dirt (mud in the rainy season) and very rough terrain.

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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?

There is internet but I would not call it high speed. Very slow connection and it went in and out. Internet is also very expensive ($600 start up, $150 per month).

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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?

We had Vodacom, provided through the embassy. There aren't many options.

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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 quarantine. Just updated records/vaccinations.

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

There are a few vets, but pet care is not a priority. There is a good Belgian vet, but the conditions in the clinic are not clean and the supplies are limited.

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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?

Perhaps through other NGOs but not locally.

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

Work -- business attire. Public - casual, though shorts on women tend to be frowned on.

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Health & Safety:

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

YES. Election time can bring extreme instability. There are "shegue" or street kids that can cause issues (ie. attempting to get into your car, stealing from your car, laying down in front of your car). When at the markets, you have to be cautious about closing your doors and locking them.

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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?

Many health concerns. Medical care is not good and you would not want to be in Kinshasa if there was any type of emergency. There is a local hospital, but pretty much ALL medical care is med-evaced to South Africa or the US.

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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?

Moderate. The cars on the road are not in good condition and there is a lot of exhaust in the air. It can be very dusty in the dry season, there can be a lot of burning trash, brush, construction excess, and tires, and there is a lot of trash in the streets.

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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?

It is very hot and humid in the rainy season. In the dry season, it is overcast and cooler (80s). There are very strong thunder and rain storms that can flash flood.

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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 is the American School, which people seem happy with. Also several other choices (a Belgian and French option too). We did not have school-age children at this post.

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

Not aware of any. This would be a VERY difficult post for someone with special needs. I would almost classify it as impossible.

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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?

Not sure, I think if there was any it would have been at the Belgian School. Most people have Congolese nannies as early childcare and daycare.

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

Probably at TASOK (the American school)...but I would assume it would be pretty limited.

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Expat Life:

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

Large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Very low at times but, at the same time, the community is very close and we made life-long friends and had great times.

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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?

There are some restaurants and clubs.

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

It is not really a good city for any one. There are events through the embassy which are great, but nothing in regards to Kinshasa as a city. There are a few good clubs.

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

If you stay within the international community, then yes. If you try to find acceptance among the Congolese, it probably won't happen.

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

Not really.

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

The embassy community was the best part of the tour. Very strong sense of community. Visiting Zongo Falls was a nice weekend.

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

Going out boating on the Congo River is a very cool weekend thing to do. Many expats hang out on the sandbars and the river is a relaxing and great break from the city. Another thing to do is visit the bonobo monkey reserve.

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

Local art and crafts. Fabric and cloth.

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

Kinshasa is a very difficult place to live. There aren't many advantages, but you can appreciate the life you have compared to those around you.

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11. Can you save money?

It is very expensive, but there is a high post differential.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Surprisingly yes. It was a hard post for sure, but the people at post made it all worthwhile.

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

Warm clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Bathing suit, sunscreen, mosquito spray. Due to limited places to go, pools are great on the weekends and most of the houses have them.

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



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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Kinshasa can be very hard, but it is also eye-opening and there is beauty if you can look beyond the outward appearance.

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