Lusaka, Zambia Report of what it's like to live there - 04/25/13
Personal Experiences from Lusaka, Zambia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Not a first expat experience. Wurzburg, Germany. Islamabad, Pakistan. Cairo, Egypt. Harare, Zimbabwe. New Delhi, India. Bangkok, Thailand.
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?
Home base is Florida. It is a long trip whether one flies through Europe or straight to South Africa first then onward to Lusaka. There are more than a few options for connections and flights, so time to post depends on your choice of airlines and flights.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse of government employee of the US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Commute time is short for embassy employees, no one lives more than 10-15 minutes away from work. Housing is roughly broken up into two types: Single family homes on walled grounds which are generally, but not always, older and perhaps not very attractive, and newer stand-alone houses or townhouses on small compounds. Generally, people seem happy enough with their homes, and some are very happy. Some of the older homes have maintenence issues, of course, but GSO works hard to keep things up and do repairs.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries and household supplies seem to be expensive here as so much is imported. Local fruits and vegetables are reasonably priced and of good quality. A trip to the grocery store always seems to cost a surprisingly high amount, but by being a better shopper the totals could be lower with care. Things like irons, coffee makers, TVs, outdoor furniture are very expensive and/or of poor quality.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I recommend shipping anything to do with camping, outdoor furniture, sunblock, all shoes/clothing, gifts for children's birthday parties, holiday supplies/wrapping paper. Bring a TV and other electronic devices with you for sure, as they are very very pricey here. Sun hats and sunglasses, too.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The only American fast food is Subway, but I can't speak to it as I haven't been. South African fast food like Nando's chicken, Pizza Inn, Steers, etc., are here. I've had Pizza Inn and it was awful, I haven't tried other fast food. There are very many restaurants available serving almost every cuisine: Mediterranean, Ethiopian, Thai, Mexican, Indian, European, Chinese, Fusion, Steaks, etc. etc. Almost all the Indian restaurants are very good, and one steak place is excellent, as well as a modern American restaurant (albeit pricey). The Thai restaurant is very good too, and one or two fusion restaurants, but for the most part the food tends towards bland/mediocre and ambiance is lacking. Still, we haven't fallen ill, so the food must be prepared well, and nothing has been truly awful. Restaurants are pretty pricey, at least what one would pay in the US and often more.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Outside of Lusaka malaria prophylaxis is necessary in most of the country. Ants, termites, cockroaches, spiders...all sorts of insects are here, but with luck and a clean house, hopefully not too much of a problem indoors. Putsi flies (or mango flies or tumbu flies) are also a problem in the wet season if one is not careful. These flies lay their eggs on wet materal like towels damp from swimming or seat cushions left in the rain. When the eggs come in contact with skin they can burrow right on in, resulting in some pretty large maggots within a week or so right there in one's leg, scalp, shoulder or any other body part. Totally and completely disgusting, but easy to treat and not dangerous. Also avoidable if one is careful to use a clothes dryer rather than a line, fresh towels, and one brings in cushions, etc., at night and when not in use. Despite the way this all sounds, insects are not a huge or particular problem here, really!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is widely available and very reasonably priced.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. Not a lot of selection, but availalbe.
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?
We haven't used credit cards outside of accomodations, which has been fine, but the use of ATMs seems perfectly safe. Most people do use the ATMs.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, available and seemingly of every denomination
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
English-language newspapers are available, but they seem very sensationalist. DSTV is widely available, but I am not sure of the cost. DSTV is out of South Africa and offers a very wide variety of stations including Discovery, History, childrens, movie channels, sports, et al.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Although Zambia has over 60 local languages, English is the official language and everyone speaks it well, although with an inflection you may need some time to become famliar with.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are few accomodations for physical disablities other than the occasional reserved parking slot. Public buildings don't have ramps. Sidewalks, when they exist, are rough and broken. Lusaka would be difficult for people with disablities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
It is not advised to use any of the above, with the possible exception of some longer-distance bus companies that focus on providing transport to tourist areas like Livingstone (Victoria Falls). Other buses, and taxis, are poorly maintained and most drivers of them seem insane, criminal or at the very least daredevils with deathwishes.
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?
Driving is on the left (opposite) side of the road, so an automobile brought from the US will be more difficult to drive. Vehicles with higher clearances are advisable, as even in town there are dirt roads with very large potholes, as well as paved roads with more dirt than macadam. If you plan to explore the country at al,l you should bring a 4-wheel drive. Parts may be available, but expensive, for most vehicles, although you may have to wait for parts to be brought into the country from elsewhere.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Quasi high-speed internet is available. Some days it works better than others; some days it doesn's seem to work well at all. We can usually skype, although we do so without cameras, but streaming and downloading can be very frustrating.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get one here. There are many options/companies, cheaper than US plans.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Shorts aren't widely worn. Other than that, public dress tends towards relaxed but well put together. At work people tend to dress nicely, but still casually.
Tradition and practicality calls for muted colors like olive greens and tans for wear on games drives and in the bush. This is especially important on game walks, where whites and bright colors stand out from miles away. Safari clothes are made for comfort and sun protection and are always a good choice for out of town-game areas.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
When driving, car doors should be locked and windows up. Don't show obvious wealth or leave items in plain site in a vehicle. Need I say lock doors at night? Twenty-four hour guards at homes are standard, and homes have alarm systems, too, at least within the embassy community. Walking at night is not advisable, anywhere, and certain areas of town (like anywhere else in the world) are probably best avoided altogether. Carjackings do occur. However I have never felt in danger and haven't had a personal expereince with crime (knock on wood). Use common sense and caution, as you would anywhere.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No particular health concerns, other than malaria outside of Lusaka, esp. during and right after the rainy season. The sun is very strong, so adequate protection is extremely important, especially for fair-skinned people. Some areas have tse-tse flies, whose bite is tremendously painful; avoid exiting your car when in a tse-tse fly area (you will see them on your car, moving vehicles attract them), and don't wear the color blue, as it seems to attract them. Most areas do not have tse-tse flies, they tend to congregate in belts and sections, but I am not sure under what conditions---I think elevation has something to do with it.
Local medical care is not up to standard for serious medical conditions or accidents.
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 generally good, but during the dry season it can be very dusty and very arid. Those with hayfever and pollen allergies seem to have some difficulty during certain times of the year.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is mild due to elevation (4200ft) and latitude. Winter, which is June and July, can be very chilly at night, but it generally warms up during the day. September through November can be hot. The rainy season is from late November into April, and during that time it is green and pretty. It seldom rains all day, more likely storms are just passing through. Overall, the weather is so good one rarely makes note of it because it is pleasant and reliably sunny.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
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?
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?
Pretty large, especially for a capital of this size. One tends to run into acquaintances all over town.
2. Morale among expats:
I would say very high. Most people seem to love it, and those that don't are happy enough to be here and then move on when they can. I haven't talked to anyone who hates the place.
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?
In the home, at restaurants, parties, hotels and clubs---there always seems to be something going on within the next week or two. Entertaining runs towards the casual and laid-back and often includes the whole family.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Lusaka is a good city for all, it seems. Personal preferences have a bigger impact on how one views Lusaka more than being single, married, a family member or here without kids does.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No, I don't think Lusaka is a good city for gay or lesbian expats. Homosexuality is decidedly frowned upon, seemingly universally and nastily. Perhaps there is a quiet but flourishing gay/lesbian community, but if so it may be difficult to find, and it may not be enough to counter the negativity.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
On the surface, at least, there seem to be few racial issues---interracial couples seem well accepted, for instance. As an outsider I am sure I don't understand or am privy to everything, though. Zambia has small but significant populations of Arabs, Indians, whites and others. Although Christianity is dominant, and Zambia considers itself a Christian country, other religions are free to practice. There are gender prejudicies, and it is most definitely easier to be a male in Zambian society.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Crossing the knife-edge bridge at Victoria Falls and getting drenched by "upside down" rain (the millions of gallons of water pound down with such force some of it shoots stright back up during the very highest flow of the Zambezi), seeing the many millions of bats leave their roosting site in Kasanka National Park in what may be the world's largest mammal migration, game drives when a curve in the trail reveals one of Africa's tremendous animals or gorgeous landscapes.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lusaka is a quiet town with little to offer in the way of attractions. Most of what makes Zambia a great place to live lies outside of the city. There are, though, movie theaters and malls, and the school does various things with the larger community. Available to watch are Polocrosse matches, football (soccer) matches, and there is a Hash House Harriers club, biking groups, Quiz nights, golf, and other clubs and groups too. Just don't look for, say, mini-golf, parks for hiking or frisbee, lakes for swimming, a pedestrian zone, etc.
A little outside of town is a so-so reptile farm, a couple of nice, if expensive, lodges with some game animals, a boat trip on the Kafue river, and probably a few more activities. But again, it is a quiet city and most people entertain themselves either at home, with friends, at school, or with travel. To experience the really special aspects of Zambia you would need to go to Lake Kariba, any of the national parks, Livingstone....lots of places outside of the city, with the closest of these about 2 1/2 hours away.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
I'm so-so about local handicrafts. What I see seems very much like what is everywhere else in the region. Prices seem much higher, too, than in Zimbabwe or South Africa. I don't get a sense that distinct Zambian handicrafts have developed.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Lusaka is a pleasant smaller city with great weather and plenty of restaurants and shopping available. But by far the most wonderful aspect of living here is the relative ease with which one can get out into the bush. While travel can be expensive, sometimes ridiculously so, the truly transcendant experiences of open-vehicle game drives, walking safaris with well-informed guides, and sleeping (or not!) in tents with elephants walking by and lions grumbling in the distance is wonderful beyond belief. Hearing a hyena manically laughing while you sit at a fire and wonder how far away they actually are is one of those ultimate experiences that make travel so worthwhile.
11. Can you save money?
I highly doubt it. If you never go out to eat, travel, or explore, you probably could, but that seems a miserable way to spend your time in such an incredible part of the world.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
heavy winter clothes.
3. But don't forget your:
Bradt Guide to Zambia, "Birds of Sub-Saharan Africa", GPS with southern Africa downloaded (Garmin Nuvi), camping gear, children's life vests if you think you might need them.
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Do you have any other comments?
Zambia seems energetic and on the rise. Its profile as a travel destination has risen dramatically in recent years, and it's not surprising---given how much there is to see and do. Zambia has 17 major waterfalls, some of the best game parks in Africa, Lake Kariba for houseboating, fishing, and animal viewing, Victoria Falls and all the adreneline activities there, canoeing, fantastic fishing to include tigerfish, beautiful weather, unspoiled wetlands and savannahs and an opurtunity to travel to places few people ever get a chance to visit. One park in the western part of the country, for instance, is so far from anywhere that less than a few hundred people visit a year. And yet it has tens of thousands of wildebeast and other grazing animals and amazing birdlife, among other features. For old Africa hands it's one of those bucket-list destinations made even better by the difficulty in getting there and the lack of those who have managed it.
Many expats take full advantage of their time here, and for those that do, I think they find it to be a special, remarkable place that they will never forget.