Harare, Zimbabwe Report of what it's like to live there - 06/21/09

Personal Experiences from Harare, Zimbabwe

Harare, Zimbabwe 06/21/09

Background:

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

Fourth expat experience, second in Africa.

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2. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

U.S. Embassy.

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

Long. Twenty plus hours probably. You have to fly through Johannesburg. Delta now has non-stop flights to Atlanta and South African also flies to Washington and New York. Eleven hours from Jo'burg to Europe.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The vast majority of expats live in huge houses on large properties that include a pool or a tennis court, or both. There is virtually no traffic. My commute to the embassy is about 15 minutes door-to-desk!

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

Right now, pretty much everything is available in the local stores, although you might have to make a few stops to get everything. There are great produce shops, butchers, and South African chain stores.

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

More auto parts and motor oil. Binoculars and more safari clothes.

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

There are some South African chains that are decent.

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

Some mosquitoes, but not many in Harare. If you go into the Zambezi valley in the north or Lowveld in the south though, watch out!

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Daily Life:

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

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

Widely available and cheap. Full-time housekeepers and gardeners run about $100/mo. You need someone at your house full-time to do all the yard work (most properties are on about an acre!) and to deter daytime break-ins.

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

There are two very basic gyms, and they both close at about 7pm and are only open in the mornings on the weekends -- it's tough if you work full-time.

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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?

Forget about it. No ATMs or credit cards.

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

Yes -- all denominations.

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

The government paper is a daily and costs $1. Independent (and accurate) papers are mostly weeklies that run $2.

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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?

Everyone in town speaks English. Some Shona will get you a long way though.

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

Medical care here, even in the privately-run clinics, is basic. I wouldn't come here with any serious medical issues.

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Transportation:

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

There are taxis in town, but they're few and far between. You need your own wheels. Couples need two cars.

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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?

I highly recommend a vehicle with high clearance, w/4WD if possible. Bring parts with you -- everyone orders things from "South" (South Africa) and that can take a few weeks.

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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?

Super duper expensive. Most singles in the embassy don't have internet. Many embassy families that do get internet do it for the stay-at-home spouse and kids, so they don't go crazy. It's several hundred dollars/month and several hundred for the equipment/installation.

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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?

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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?

If they go through South Africa, yes. Sending a pet through SA is expensive and complicated.

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

There is one very, very, good vet who is very available. This is a great posting for dogs.

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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?

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

Business at work, casual around town. Not as dressy or elegant as many African countries.

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Health & Safety:

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

Very healthy, although some do have allergies.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Standard African battery of everything.

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

Increasing. Harare is still extraordinarily safe, particularly when compared with South Africa. However, there have been more break-ins lately.

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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?

Emergency medical care is unpredictable. You will want to get medevac'd to South Africa for anything remotely serious.

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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?

The weather here is amazing. Harare is at about 4000 feet, so it doesn't get many mosquitoes or too hot in summer. Winter nights can get down to freezing, so you definitely need warm clothes.

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Schools & Children:

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

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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?

Yes -- everyone loves cricket, rugby, tennis, and golf.

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Expat Life:

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

Big -- lots of NGOs and UN agencies.

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies wildly. Harare is great living -- great housing, lots of social events among expats, good eating. However, it's also very isolating, given the lack of internet and the high cost to fly out of Zimbabwe. You have to fly out via Jo'burg, and that is about $400-500. Flying to Cape Town is about $600-700 -- hardly reasonable for a weekend trip. By comparison, I've flown to Europe for $1100. There is a lot to do in-country, but everywhere you go, people will beg and bemoan the political and economic collapse of this once-great country. It's emotionally draining after a while.

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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?

Busy, busy, busy. There are lots of dinner parties and in-home entertaining.

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

There are a lot of families here, and most people like the school. There is a lot to do around Zim on the weekends -- safaris, hiking, camping, golfing. People are very social here as well.

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

There is a lot of homophobia among some Zimbabweans, but I know one gay couple here who has loved it.

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

Yes. Definitely -- but it goes both ways. Local blacks say racist things about local whites and visa-versa. As a foreigner, you're sort of removed from it, but I do get tired of all the racial slurs and remarks.

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

Hiking, barbeques, weekend trips to the mountains, national parks, lakes.

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

Antiques, beautiful custom-made teak furniture.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, if you can find ways to stay sane in-country.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely.

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

aspirations to solve the Zimbabwean crisis during your stay, and your belief that "this can't last much longer."

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3. But don't forget your:

desire to find something good in a horrible situation.

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

"An Elegy for Easterly: Stories" by Petina Gappah, "The Uncertainty of Hope" by Valerie Tagwira, "When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa" by Peter Godwin, Mugabe: Power, Plunder, and the Struggle for Zimbabwe's Future
and The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence
by Martin Meredith

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

"An Elegy for Easterly: Stories" by Petina Gappah, "The Uncertainty of Hope" by Valerie Tagwira, "When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa" by Peter Godwin, Mugabe: Power, Plunder, and the Struggle for Zimbabwe's Future
and The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence
by Martin Meredith

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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