Maseru, Lesotho Report of what it's like to live there - 06/06/10

Personal Experiences from Maseru, Lesotho

Maseru, Lesotho 06/06/10

Background:

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

Also lived in Lagos, Montevideo, Ciudad Juarez.

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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?

From Washington, DC, it is an 18 hour flight to Johannesburg and then after a forced overnight there, a 45 min flight to either Maseru or Bloemfontein, South Africa (1.5 hrs by car from Maseru). Flying into Bloem is more reliable, particularly in the rainy season, as Maseru has no radar at the airport and planes cannot land if it's too cloudy.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Currently living in Maseru, since Dec 2008.

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

U.S. Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing for expats is generally single family homes on small compounds. Yard size varies. Bedrooms are often smaller than in U.S. Houses are not insulated and don't have central heating, so they are quite cold in the winter. (During the daytime, it can even be colder inside than outside.)

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

Groceries and household supplies are easily available in a full range of products at several locations in Maseru. Prices same as in South Africa, less than in DC.

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

Chocolate chips, brown sugar, baking chocolate, lime juice, and U.S. snack foods. Everything else we can generally get here (including pita, flour tortillas, many other "exotic" items for Africa).

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

KFC, Wimpy, Scooters, Nandos. Pretty cheap.

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

None.

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Daily Life:

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

Through the diplomatic pouch.

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

Easily available. We pay about $200/month for full-time live-in help.

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

Yes. There is a small gym at the US Embassy for staff and a nice subscription gym with pool and other facilities at the Lehakoe Club (where the king also works out).

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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?

Credit cards are pretty widely accepted at most larger stores. ATMs are available throughout town and in SA.

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

Yes, Catholic, Anglican, and Christian. I'm not sure about Islam, but I believe they have services in English.

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

Yes, DSTV available - cost varies by plan, slightly more expensive than in US. Most papers are weekly or twice weekly, quality varies but is not generally great.

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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?

In the city, basic greetings are enough. In the rural areas, you must have Sesotho or a translator, as most people don't speak much English.

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

It would be difficult, but better than in most African countries. People in wheelchairs can often find an elevator, for example, but not always. Outside of Maseru, it would be almost impossible for someone with physical disabilities to get around.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis that are called (not hailed on the street) are safe and fairly cheap. I wouldn't recommend the buses or other taxis.

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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 plan to travel in Lesotho, 4x4 is recommended, as most roads outside the major towns are not paved.

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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?

It's not high speed, but it's not dial-up, either. ADSL and 3G are both available - prices range from $50-100/month depending on plan. Downloads are limited.

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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?

Cell phone service is available through much of the country (except in most mountain areas) from 2 providers. Average about $50/month depending on plan.

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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, but they all have to transit Jo'burg, and South Africa requires them to come in as cargo, not excess baggage.

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

There is a good vet in Ladybrand, just over the border (20 mins) in SA.

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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?

Not really - some spouses have found jobs with other international NGOs or the schools.

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

Government officials are often in suits. Otherwise it can be fairly casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Maseru is a critical crime threat post. Twenty-four hour residential guards are recommended, as home invasions (armed, but generally people who cooperate are not harmed) are not uncommon. Street crime (muggings and even sexual assault) have increased in number since Dec 08 and expats have been targeted in these crimes of opportunity.

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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?

There is no quality local medical care. Patients can be stabilized in some situations, but the nearest good quality care is in Bloemfontein, SA, which is 1.5 hrs by car from Maseru.

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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?

Air quality is good with low pollution. However, in August-September, before the rains start, it can be very dry and dusty and people with allergies or asthma sometimes report difficulty then.

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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?

There are 4 season in Lesotho - this is NOT tropical Africa! Rainy season is October to March (spring/summer), and winter is dry and sunny but quite cold. June/July/August often have lows below freezing and daytime highs in the 40s or 50s F.

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Schools & Children:

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

I don't have personal experience with the American International School, but I understand that parents are generally happy with it. It's a small and friendly place that goes up to grade 9. Expats also use Maseru Prep and Machabeng College, which completes high school and has IB.

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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?

There are some preschools available, including a program at the American School. Most people seem to use nannies (widely available and not too expensive) instead of daycare.

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

Not really, only through the schools or private instruction.

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Expat Life:

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

Small but growing - many different nationalities. Most associated with UN or a variety of NGOs (most of them health-related).

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty good, especially those with kids. Lots of young families here.

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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?

Many family-related activities sponsored by schools or individuals. There are only 4-5 restaurants in Maseru that expats usually go to, and few safe nightclub options. You have to be willing to make your own fun.

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

Maseru is a good family post, but may be tough for singles - limited social opportunities, although there are a number of young singles with various NGOs that seem to make a decent social life for themselves.

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

Gay/lesbian expats would do fine here, but should expect to keep a low profile to avoid provoking negative reactions. Lesotho seems to have a more or less "don't ask, don't tell" attitude towards homosexuality, but it's not overtly anti-gay as many other African countries are.

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

No. All major religions except Judaism have worship space in Lesotho and there are no overt prejudices that I can see.

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

Traveling into the mountains of Lesotho, the novelty of experiencing snow and skiing in Africa, and the very family-friendly atmosphere among the expat community in Maseru.

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

Abseil in Semonkong, join the Hash (mostly hiking and very family friendly, unlike many hashes), pony trek at Malealea, ski near Oxbow, drive through Sani Pass, eat at Living Life, volunteer, travel throughout South Africa by car, plane, or train.

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

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

Maseru is "Africa Lite." There are many amenities within close reach (especially across the border in SA), corruption is relatively low, democracy is relatively strong. You can save money and there are fabulous travel opportunities within driving distance.

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11. Can you save money?

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, Maseru is a friendly place, with both Basotho and expats welcoming us. Lots of great travel opportunities both within Lesotho and in South Africa, and many other families with young kids. We've been very happy here.

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

Desire to be in the international spotlight with the movers and shakers, need for high speed internet, and Western sense of time.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure, sunblock, sun hat, hiking shoes, bird book - and wool socks for winter!

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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?

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