Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Report of what it's like to live there - 01/21/09

Personal Experiences from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 01/21/09

Background:

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

No; Lagos, Bangkok, Addis Ababa, Dakar, and Port-au-Prince.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Total time, including transit times, can be up to 24 hours, since we must sometimes take 3 flights to get from Kinshasa to Washington, DC.

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

Diplomat.

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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 and houses; most are within a 15-minute drive to the Chancery.

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

Very, very expensive. A case of Diet Cokes costs between US$45 and US$95, depending on the availablility; you'll pay US$10 for 3 apples and much more if you want strawberries or raspberries. There are a few local products that are cheaper, but most of the local stuff isn't all that great.

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

Lots of mosquito repellant & sunscreen; more canned food than I shipped originally.

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

No American fast food places, but there are places where one can buy a schwarma & fries; fried chicken (not very good) and pizza and it's very expensive - the cheapest I've heard about is at O Poeta, and that's US$17 for a medium-sized just-cheese pizza.

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

Lots! Malaria-carrying mosquitos; mango flies (that burrow under your -- or, more generally, your dog's -- skin); acid flies, large roaches, zillions and zillions and zillions of ants.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic Post Office (similar to APO) or diplomatic pouch; I wouldn't use the local post offices.

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

US$10 per day for a maid, gardener or driver; you'll pay more for an experienced cook.

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

Yes, there are several; all are expensive.

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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?

Don't.

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

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

BBC in English at certain times during the day on one radio station; satellite TV from S. Africa (there's an English-language option).

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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?

Most people here don't speak English, so you'll need to know some French. Knowing some Lingala helps too.

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

Bad roads, no sidewalks. Trying to maneuver a wheelchair on the roads would be a nightmare.

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Transportation:

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

Affordable, yes. But definitely not safe. I don't think I've seen one bus or taxi that doesn't look as if it has at least one major problem (listing to one side; bald tires; engine exposed, etc.).

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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?

You can get by with a "regular" car, but I would strongly advise bringing a high-clearance SUV.

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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?

Yes; costs about US$70 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?

There are a few cell phone companies; service is good.

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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)?

Pet care is pretty good, for a Third World country. One vet makes house calls.

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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?

Don't know.

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

Same as in DC, but lighter material.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate to unhealthy - dust, sewers, fires burning trash.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Each year - none. I was required to get several immunizations before coming to Kinshasa, including yellow fever.

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

We have 24-hour guards, so I haven't heard of any break-ins. The "sheguys" (teenage & young adult males) sometimes swarm cars, to try to intimidate the occupants into giving them money.

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

Malaria, mostly. Kinshasa has an American nurse practitioner; Regional Medical Officer (dr.) comes through every few months.

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

Hot, humid, overcast during the dry season; hot, humid & sunny during the rainy season (go figure).

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Schools & Children:

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

TASOK (The American School of Kinshasa). I've heard it's adequate, but not outstanding.

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

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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?

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

I've heard of kids taking lessons in horseback riding, tennis, swimming, dancing and gymnastics.

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Expat Life:

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

Fairly large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Seems to be pretty good.

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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?

Mostly parties, dinners at private homes, although the British Club offers a buffet every Friday night (US$15 for club members, US$20 for non-members).

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

One must make one's own fun in most Third World cities, and Kinshasa is no exception. Restaurants are expensive here, so entertaining at home is very popular. Most diplomats have yards with pools, so BBQing is big.

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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?

There don't seem to be, although when the franc congolais drops, westerners seem to be blamed, and are sometimes hassled.

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

Restaurants; a reptilarium; a few smallish markets; craft stores.

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

Kuba cloth, kuba masks, malachite beads & other objects.

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9. Can you save money?

No; everything is expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No.

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

Credit cards.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, mosquito repellant, open attitude.

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

If you want to come to Africa, go to a West African country where you'll see beautiful masks, beads, textiles, etc. The traders at the local markets seem to import a lot of junk from China, and mass-produce masks. Very disappointing, especially after having lived in Nigeria, where the people are inventive and creative.

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