Khartoum, Sudan Report of what it's like to live there - 03/07/16
Personal Experiences from Khartoum, Sudan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, several others, regionally and outside of the region.
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?
DC. The trip will take two days (of annual leave if you're taking vacation) each way. The better connections are through Qatar or Addis (you'll want to pay for that business class upgrade though). Don't do the Egypt-Europe route. More than one layover will take you days to go each way.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government. Working at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Half of everyone lives at the Presidential Villas. These enormous multi-bedroom villas are very luxurious. They give you multiple TVs, fridges, and all the first-distribution amenities and services go there. The Embassy made it a point to ensure those residents have an Employee Association store, the gym, language courses available at your house, regular parties, and everything else that you can think of. For the rest of the people who don't live there you're out of luck.
So if you're assigned to anywhere but the villas, appeal the decision, and if it fails appeal over and over. There are always open villas, and they normally set them aside for certain sections. You won't be happy living anywhere else. There is no sense of community or anything outside of your door anywhere else. Make it a point to get to the villas or your two year tour will not be easy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Food is expensive. It's US$10 for a gallon of milk for example. Western items are rare, and when they're available they're really pricey. We don't get COLA because of Management, but we should. Your weekly grocery bill for very limited items will be for US$200/person. The meat is hard to get right too, and you have to look around for a clean butcher. Household supplies tend to be very low quality, so you'll want to do a good consumables shipment and bring it all in. From hand soap to paper towels and toilet paper and dish washing sponges.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Everything. There is nothing to do, so bring everything. Since power goes off and on a lot, it's probably good to have an uninterrupted power supply or two.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are only a handful of places that won't make you sick. The food is about US$10-30. But it's always risky to go out to eat. The Mahdi's Revenge is prevalent, and people are out sick a good bit from food related illnesses. The variety isn't that good either. There is a continental restaurant (outside seating mostly), Ozone, a Turkish place, and a few other places that have a limited selection. There are no nice restaurants in the country.
The cafeteria at the Embassy is really bad too. The contract is being renewed right now, but the service and the food are abysmally bad.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
A lot of ants and mosquitoes (think dengue, malaria, chikungunya). House flies are the least troublesome of the bunch.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
It's through the Diplomatic Pouch mail. It takes three weeks or so for mail to go each way, and you can't ship anything out of here.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
They run from US$150-$250 a month for two days a week. Some are better than others, and some will cook while others will only clean. It's good to do your homework and talk to a lot of people to find one. They're all non-Sudanese and can actually be quite good.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a really nice gym at the Presidential Villas. It's free. There is nothing else. Also if you like biking or running this isn't the place for you. Current security restrictions don't allow you to go out there to do that. The road at the Presidential Villas is about 1/3 mile, so it's not for long distance running since it's a rectangle and the 90 degree turns won't be good for your joints.
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?
You can't. Remember it's a sanctioned country.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Catholic and Protestant.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most Sudanese know very limited English. You can get around easily enough without Arabic.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. It would be super hard to communicate or get around if you have disabilities. Might want to pass on this place.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
You're not allowed to take them. If you are, don't. They're all falling apart and death traps. But they are cheap.
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?
Right now you can't bring one. In the future you might, but right now you have to take armored cars everywhere. If you get the option you won't want to anyways. The Sudanese have a rule about bringing only this year's model with you, and with the complete absence of repair shops and the fact that they'll probably sit on your shipment for months (they do that all the time) you won't get your car cleared in time. And if you're coming at the end of a year they may sit on it long enough for the calendar year to turn and refuse to allow your car in. It's that kind of government here, so avoid that risk and just take motor pool. It's not like there is anywhere to go.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It's about US$100/month. It's not good either.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring your own smart phone. You can do data here. You'll have error code 1009 because of the sanctions if you have an iPhone though. It's dirt cheap to call out of here, so you can keep in touch with people for very little money.
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, you can get your pet. There are a couple of vets that can do very limited things. Your best bet right now is Qatar Air to bring your pets in and take them out of the country. The risk is that if your pet is suddenly injured they may not have essential medicine and equipment to treat it.
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 many. You can try to get something with an INGO, but it's hard.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty of poor people and I'm sure INGOs would welcome unpaid help.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual. It's hot, so plan accordingly.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Terrorism, crime, and protests. Outside of Khartoum the crime is really bad and the police can't keep up with it. Protests are mostly a city thing and erupt once in a while. Terrorism is the constant threat in the background and you hope you won't be there when it happens again.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Aside from mosquito-borne illnesses you will have a lot of digestive problems. The tap water is usually full of e-coli or fungi as well. The medical care is nothing you would want to go to. We keep having entry level RMOs who aren't terribly good at getting you the care you need, so self-care if very important. Local medical doctors only get a four year degree (equivalent of a Bachelor's) before being able to be doctors. No medical boards to speak of. It's best to get a medevac or get medical care while on R&R and avoid the health unit.
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?
It's extremely unhealthy. There is a perpetual cloud of PM2.5 from people constantly burning garbage. Not only will you and your house smell like it, you'll have allergies even if you never had before, and you will suffer from waking up in the middle of the night from smoke in your house. This goes on year round.
During the dryer times of the year you'll also have a lot of dust. The larger particles will wreak havoc with your respiratory system. The haboobs will cause even more issues.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
See reference above regarding air quality. It's very bad.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's very hot from March through November. The weather is reasonably nice (70s and maybe 60sF in the evenings) from December to mid-February.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No kids are allowed in Sudan. For now. If they do bring them back remember that your danger pay will drop by 10%. There are a couple of good schools though. Khartoum American School being the best one.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
No children are allowed in Sudan.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's between 50 and 100. The morale is poor. Not terribly so, but most people going around are just hanging on and you can see it on their faces and the way they interact with each other. Very little is done to improve morale also, and there is the aforementioned split between Villa residents and the have-nots. Post Management isn't terribly concerned about changing the way things are running also, and services--from a terrible cafeteria to dirty swimming pools to the absence of COLA or administrative days to fly back to the U.S. despite the long trip--are not being provided or even considered.
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?
Nothing outside of the community. The villa residents often have events at their houses, but it's very high school-clique-ish here. If you're in with some people you'll have activities, if you're not you won't be invited and will have no opportunities. Most non-Embassy people will hang out with you for the promise of alcohol at your house.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families: right now it would be adult dependents and spouses. It's not easy if one person isn't working. There literally is nothing to do. No culture, no activities, you can't go out unless you're in an armored car, management is now charging people for transportation if you're going out to have fun, and you would end up with someone working and the partner bored out of her/his mind at home. It creates friction.
For singles it's not easy. There is a tiny expat community and if none of those people appeal to you (mostly Western expats who'll hang out with you more for your access to alcohol than anything else), then you're alone for two years.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No, you can be imprisoned if you're outed. For a diplomat that's not an issue, but the person you're getting with might end up in jail and you might be named and kicked out the country for whatever morality offense you've caused to the Islamic culture in Sudan. It's risky.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Women are normally treated poorly, and non-Arab-descent Sudanese are treated far worse. They treat white people pretty well, to include white women. Black Americans don't have many issues and they tend to be equally polite when they see a black US diplomat since they empathize with their struggle for equality.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There is nothing to do. The limit of the experience is a two day trip to see some pyramids then you're done. It's probably best to find a tour (there are tour companies that do these trips to Sudan--NOT the Italian Tourism Co.) and visit for a few days instead of being posted here. If you're into going into the desert to camp that's about the only thing there is. It's hot, miserable, and you'll have beggars surround you the entire time you're there.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nothing here. Overpriced food is what will cost you (remember, no COLA despite the high costs and the black market exchange rate--we have 6.6 pounds to the dollar, everyone else to include the LE Staff get 11 pounds to the dollar or more). You may spend it on vacations though.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The money. But since you can earn more at a PSP, there really is no reason to come here.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, but you might spend it on vacations or shopping online.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Not to come. That you can make more money in other places and that you can do more meaningful work and have better morale elsewhere in the world.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. If you want money go PSP, if you want a hardship look at another AF place. Two years is too long at this Post.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
NOTHING. Bring it all, even your winter clothes since you'll probably get cabin fever and want to take vacations to cold places just to remember what that's like. Bring everything else you need to entertain yourself, everything you have to cook with, bring it all.
4. But don't forget your:
Flask. You'll want to take a nip here and there to make it seem better than it really is.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Everything you need to know about how to entertain yourself in your own house in the absence of a meaningful outlet.
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter. It will give you a greater understanding how this country really functions.