Asmara, Eritrea Report of what it's like to live there - 08/08/07
Personal Experiences from Asmara, Eritrea
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Have lived in Paris, Kongor (Sudan), Dhaka, Mogadishu, The Hague, Bombay.
2. How long have you lived here?
Almost two years.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. State Department.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Via Frankfurt (Lufthansa).
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is mostly in small one-story houses behind compound walls. Yards are small or nonexistent. Asmara is a small city and one is always within about 30 minutes walking time of the center.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Costs and availability of goods fluctuate wildly. Fresh fruits and vegetables are reasonably priced and generally of good quality. Household supplies (paper napkins, cleaning products, etc.) are pricy. Very basic goods (eggs, sugar, flour, milk) will often disappear from the market for long periods.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We pretty much knew that we had to bring everything.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a few restaurants serving decent traditional food, as well as Italian, Chinese, and Lebanese. There are a couple of good pizza places. Cafes and pastry shops abound, where one can get good coffee and pastries for pennies.
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very available and very cheap.
2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
They don't exist here.
3. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. Not sure which denominations.
4. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There is a bi-weekly English-language paper produced locally, mostly full of propaganda. There is no foreign press in Eritrea. Embassy personnel have access to AFN television, which provides three channels with American programming.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A little is appreciated, but not required.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The roads and sidewalks (where they exist) are not always paved and even when paved they contain many ruts and potholes.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
On the right.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are buses and taxis. We use them as little as possible. The buses are cheap, but usually packed with people, making them unsafe. Private taxis are expensive. Shared taxis are cheap, but not as comfortable.
3. 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?
A 4-wheel drive is not necessary in the city, but if you're able to travel outside the capital it would be an asset. A vehicle w/high clearance is preferable, even in the city, due to the bad roads and severe flooding in the rainy season.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Available for Embassy personnel and family members on the Embassy compound at no cost. Outside service is available for the home... don't know the cost. There are internet cafes, but I haven't tried them.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If you work at the Embassy, you are issued one. If you come here as a tourist, the government will not allow you to have one.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
At the Embassy we have an IVG line.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
No kennels. One vet with minimal supplies, medicines. If you are bringing a pet, bring supplies with you: syringes, vaccines, gauze, flea and tick meds, etc. There is no pet food or cat litter.
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?
No, it isn't allowed even to volunteer.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Casual. Shorts and short skirts are not advised.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Increasingly, there are beggars and/or mentally disturbed people on the streets. They see foreigners as easy prey for handouts and harassment. One must also be very wary when taking photographs, especially near governmentt buildings. Foreign diplomats have been detained for taking photos downtown.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The high altitude (approx. 7800 feet) poses problems for some. One must be careful when eating in restaurants. All fruits and vegetables must be disinfected in bleach. Water must be bottled or distilled. There is a Jordanian-run hospital where adult foreigners (they will not treat children) can be treated on a fee-for-services basis, using US dollars. There is a health unit on the Embassy compound for Embassy employees and family members. It is staffed by an American Nurse Practitioner and an Eritrean nurse.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Two distinct rainy seasons: a short one in the spring and a long one in the summer. The rest of the time the climate is quite pleasant and sunny, but not too hot.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is an International School in Asmara, but I have no personal experience with it.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small and getting smaller as NGO's and others are being expelled by the local government.
2. Morale among expats:
Average. Frequent forays outside the country are necessary to keep one's perspective.
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?
Most of the entertainment is through people getting together in homes or restaurants. The Embassy has a Happy Hour on Thursday evenings during part of the year ... it is unclear, though, if this will continue. The UN has a weekly gathering on Friday evenings, to which all expats are invited.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is an acceptable place for anyone who does not need a lot of outside things to do, because the opportunities are limited. I believe that because of the nature of the international. school, families with children beyond the early years of elementary school may not wish to come.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is much religious repression. People have been jailed indefinitely for attending non-approved churches. Collection plates are confiscated by the government.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Read, watch movies on TV. Walk around the city, ride your bike. There are severe travel restrictions, so you may be stuck in Asmara. If you are lucky enough to be granted permission to travel, Keren and Massawa are interesting destinations. There used to be an active chapter of the Hash House Harriers, but it is more sporadic now, due to the departure of their long-time Hashmaster, and the limits on destinations imposed by the travel restrictions.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. Can you save money?
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:
Love of freedom.
3. But don't forget your:
Sense of humor.