Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 09/12/09

Personal Experiences from Kampala, Uganda

Kampala, Uganda 09/12/09

Background:

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

No - Nairobi, Lusaka, Hanoi, Cote d'Ivoire

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years - 2007-2009.

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

16-20 hours via Amsterdam.

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

US Government (USAID).

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Great housing - large houses, large yards, all in walled compounds with guards. Space is not a problem here. Mostly living in Kololo (recommended), Bugolobi (nice houses, but built on a swamp - mosquito issues), and now, Tank Hill (newer houses).

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

Local food is cheap, and imported food is very expensive. $10 for a block of cheddar cheese. Still, good food is available - Quality Cuts, the Belgian-owned butcher had meats, cheeses, and deli.

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

American comfort foods - mexican food, maple syrup, things in glass jars, since you can't ship them. The climate is so humid, though, that even unopened cereal-based things spoil quickly, so it does not make sense to ship a year's supply of corn flakes or potato chips. Fried snacks are readily available anyway. How did Pringles get so worldwide?

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

The usual South African fast food, like Nandos and Steers, which are ok. Great Indian food at Pavement or Khana Khazana. Great Korean food at Arirang. Good Thai food at Krua Thai. THe upscale hotels have good, but overpriced dining. Brunch at the Serena...

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

Mosquitoes. You definitely need to take precautions not to get bitten -- and sleep under a bednet.

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Daily Life:

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

Local mail is slow and unreliable. If you have pouch, use it. This post does not have APO.

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

Very available but of mixed quality. Best to interview carefully. We found lots of fraudulent references. Anyone needing a job applies to be a housekeeper or nanny or cook. Most need some training particular to your household. Invest the time early on.

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

Kabira club is expensive but good; the embassy has a one-room gym; and the American Club has a small facility.

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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 lots of ATMs and bank choices. Identity theft is a problem, so I usually cashed checks at the embassy, or used a bank-located ATM, and only paid cash for things - never a credit card.

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

Plentiful.

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

Plentiful. Local papers are good for getting to know the local climate and politics, The East African is also available, which is a little better. Newsweek and international papers are harder to come by and older. Get your news online.

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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?

None. English is the market language. We knew some Swahili but never used it, as it is the language of the military and sometimes has negative connotations.

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

No sidewalks, few elevators, no curb cuts, very few accommodations.

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Transportation:

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

Available - but not safe. Mostly the matatus, and lots of "boda bodas" - motorcycle taxis - a recipe for death or maiming.

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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?

High clearance 4X4. Toyota Prados are the favorite. Even in the city it is good to have a 4X4.

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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. It's exhorbitantly expensive, but getting cheaper as competition increases. Still, expect to pay at least $200/month for "high speed." It's reasonably reliable, but nowhere near US standards.

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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?

Everything is done via cell phone. There is now good competition between providers, so costs are coming down.

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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)?

There is a decent - but hands off - vet at the vet school at Makerere Unitversity, and sometimes an expat vet comes along. But for the most part, there's darn little. I don't know of a kennel. Leave your dog or cat with a neighbor or friend.

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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. You can be taken on by an NGO, but this is still hard. Trailing spouses can't work on the local economy and would need to be brought on as an international hire. The embassy does a good job at trying to create jobs for spouses, but many choose not to work.

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

Conservative, business. Women always wear skirts past the knee. Men wear trousers and dress shirts as the norm. Government employees will wear full suits with jackets and ties, even when it's hot! You need a jacket for government meetings, too.

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Health & Safety:

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

Unhealthy. My whole family, including my 8-month old, got bronchitis in our first week here.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

You should have yellow fever, Hep A and Hep B, tetanus, rabies, and meningitis vaccinations.

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

Much, much safer than its neighbor, Kenya. There is petty crime - things will get stolen if you leave them out, and some theft from homes by staff/guards, but I never heard of really violent crime or felt unsafe here. Home guards are all armed, so when I first arrived and saw truckloads drive through town dropping them off, I thought it was a coup in action!

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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?

We called Uganda "the petri dish" because every disease on the planet seems to be here. Malaria is the worst, but there is also dengue, west nile, schisto, ghiardia, meningitis, ebola, marburg, plague, and the usual intenstinal fauna. Avian flu was on the border with Sudan, so they also are watching for that. It is a daily effort to try to not get sick. There is no potable water - everything needs to be treated, and uncooked vegetables or fruit - even at nice restaurants - is suspect.

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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?

Very temperate - very little change of temperature, variations in rainy or dry seasons - usually pleasant.

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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 didn't have kids there at the time, but I did hear that ISK was good, though teenagers get bored and there was a drinking/drug problem. There is also a French school, a German school, several British schools like Ambrosoli (elementary).

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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?

Lots are available; several are very good. Most people have nannies, too. Magic Mornings, Caterpillar...

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

school-sponsored only.

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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. There are lots of embassies, and every NGO or international organization comes to Uganda. Lots of missionaries, too.

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2. Morale among expats:

Generally good. It's a nice, relaxing place to live, though there is burnout after a couple of years. Most people don't stay more than 2-3 years, since there's not much to do. And if you work with the government, the corruption really wears you thin.

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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?

Night life is pitiful. Single friends were definitely bored, and there's not really a good dating scene. Entertaining is usually done at other people's houses or at some of the nice restaurants. The expat community is quite nice, though, so it can keep you going for a few years!

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

For families, yes - only because there are a lot of other families and lots of visiting each other's houses. There are some pools, but they are all COLD, some camping, but it is rustic, and some playgrounds, but they are dirty. You can make do and have fun, somehow. Each family had something special to offer the kids - one had a bouncy castle, one had a pool, one had a good jungle gym, etc. etc. Bring something over with you if you can.

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

No. Society is very homophobic and can't seem to distinguish between homosexuality and pedophilia. Media love to report on "homos" who recruit young boys from schools. It is illegal, and arrests happen and are public. Society is largely conservative Christian -- and even the well-educated can't seem to see beyond a "mortal sin" on this one. Still, there is a small community, and even some activists.

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

Not really. Women are second class, but that's true in most places. Jews are not known here and are seen as a bit of an oddity.

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

Most fun things are a 4-hour drive or more on dangerous highways, but that said - camping in Nabugabo, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for gorilla trekking, Queen Elizabeth Park or Murchison Falls for safari, Nile "float" trips (you will get a "river rash" or bilharzia, though), the sailing club at Kaazi or Entebbe (highly recommended), and for the really sturdy, hiking the Rwenzori.

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

Darned few crafts originate here. You can have mahogany furniture made - very expensive, but nice.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Probably. But I still would not stay more than 2 years.

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

watch. Everything happens slowly, if at all. Progress is fleeting. Lower your expectations.

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3. But don't forget your:

sense of humor. People are nice, and the experience is more enjoyable if you just take it day to day and enjoy the simple things here.

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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?

Traffic is abominable. Don't think that they are breaking the rules, just think that they are following a different set of rules. Cut corners when you turn. Bodas will squeeze into any inch of available space. Make eye contact and just go when you need to. Try not to hit anything. Corruption is blatant and fed by donor money. You need to approach this place with firm reality and not idealism in mind. Do what you can at the grassroots level.

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