Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/12/14
Personal Experiences from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, second expat but first time in Africa.
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?
Northern Virginia. Not an easy flight unless you are allowed to take the direct Dulles-Addis route on Ethiopian Airlines (not a code share). Formerly you could connect through Amsterdam or Frankfurt but KLM pulled out so now it is only through Frankfurt, often with a touch down in Khartoum.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most families live in the Old Airport neighborhood, near the international school about 30 - 40 minutes from the U.S. Embassy. Most others live in the Bole neighborhood, shorter commute but traffic can be bade. Some houses are huge mansions designed by people who have never actually lived in the West but have seen a lot of TV shows. Very impractical layouts and poor quality with little or no yards. Other houses are smaller.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Produce is super cheap and generally good quality. Anything Western or imported tends to be very expensive. We used our consummables shipment and the pouch to major extent.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
A lot of Western food items.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No fast food, some decent restaurants but we never found anything consistent that we loved. Prepare for a lot of doro wat and injera.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Some nuisance bugs but nothing too bad.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through embassy pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is very inexpensive but the quality does vary. We paid around US$200/month for full time housekeeper and also had a part time helper and a security guard.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
A few gyms but they tend to be expensive. When these open, the equipment and facilities tend to be nice but maintenance over time is an issue.
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?
Very few places accept them. We would use the ATM at the major hotels occasionally but usually only at the Embassy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Most Christian denominations are represented and there is a large missionary population so finding English services is not a problem.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Amharic is a very difficult language to learn. It helps to have some but you can get by without it. Just don't expect everyone to speak English and even those who graduated from university (all high school and university is conducted in English) don't necessarily speak or read very well.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are marginally safe but tended to be more expensive for ferenji (foreigners). Avoid buses and minibuses (blue donkeys).
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?
Four wheel drive is preferable to do out of town driving although quite a few folks get by with sedans or minivans. High clearance is key and bring spare parts. Mechanics can make anything run but not necessarily make it run right.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Once again, government monopoly. Our neighborhood got DSL in 2012 but was rather unreliable. Cost was around US$60/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
State-owned monopoly and all that entails.
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 quarantine, some decent vet care (ours was trained in Cuba) but no kennels. Usually you have household help or guards who can watch pets while you're away.
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?
Very hard to get work permits.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
A lot of chances to help out but a quick note about "do-gooder-ism": few things are more annoying than a church youth group flying in and spending a week fixing a school or the like. It makes them feel warm and fuzzy but don't fool yourself about who the actual beneficiaries are. You've spent thousands of dollars to come here and do a job that could have been done by an Ethiopian for a few hundred dollars with no guarantee that the work you've done will last. What is useful is volunteering to help teach or tutor kids and to spend time at an orphanage helping any way you can. Plenty of chances to make a difference on an individual level as well. Choose your spots carefully however, avoid creating dependence if you can.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
We felt quite safe most of the time. There is petty crime and there have been problems late at night in the Bole area but nothing worse than any big city. Be smart, go in groups, etc. The big safety concern is driving. Roads are poorly maintained as are most of the vehicles. People tend to walk on the streets or cross without looking. And don't get me started on the livestock and dogs wandering around . . .
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Avoid the water, wash the produce. Everybody seems to catch a stomach bug at some point, "a touch of Addis" some call it!
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?
Generally OK; a lot of charcoal and trash burning so some mornings can be hazy. The combination with altitude gives some people problems.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very moderate climate. Addis is at around 7000 ft elevation which keeps malaria away and means that it never really gets above 85 degrees (F). The sun can be intense so wearing a hat is mandatory. During the rainy season (July - September) it pretty much rains every day, torrential downpours, and it can be quite cold. We even had hail a couple of times.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our kids were in elementary and middle school at ICS, the largest of the international schools. We loved it: good teachers, responsive administration, and a real community feel. The campus is something of a haven for all family members due to the lack of green space elsewhere in the city.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ICS does try to tailor programs for special-needs kids and there were a few that seemed well-integrated when we were there.
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?
Yes, quite a few. ICS offers one as well as Head-to-Toe, which is run by an American and usually has a couple other expats on staff.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, through ICS. Also horseback riding is popular.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
A lot of expats around from embassies, the African Union, and all the humanitarian groups. Most are just passing through but there are a lot of long-term residents who just fall in love with the place (and quite often with a particular Ethiopian). Morale varies, some people can't take the rainy season and the grinding poverty and say this is their hardest posting. Others love it. Living here is not easy but making an effort to appreciate the country and people will greatly improve your time here.
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?
Entertaining, cultural restaurants, clubs.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for families; singles and couples tend to struggle with a lack of activities. Ethiopia is a big country so it is actually kind of hard to get out of town to the big attractions and flights to other countries can be expensive. However, it is what you make of it and we knew a lot of happy singles and couples who were enjoying their tours.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Homosexuality doesn't officially exist. People don't really talk about it but there is some nothing like the legislation and throwing people in prison like in other African countries. There were a few couples who seemed to get by just fine but there is not a thriving community.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Some ethnic issues between the different groups and there seems to be a concerted effort by the government to control the preaching of Muslim imams. The overall culture is proudly Ethiopian Orthodox so anything outside of that is viewed as foreign.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Lalibela and the stone churches, Arba Minch, Awash Falls National Park and especially camping at Lake Langano, the only Rift Valley lake safe for swimming.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Some fun overnight trips: Wenchi Crater, Awash Falls Lodge (make sure you drive to the oasis hot springs), Lake Langano. Addis itself is not too exciting but there are some fun hikes and bike rides around there.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nice artwork, furniture, cultural clothes, teff!
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great climate, fascinating culture, pretty easy to save money. People are generally friendly, everyone has a relative in the U.S.
10. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Nothing can really prepare you for the poverty. People are generally happy and take care of each other so we never so starvation but it can be hard to see the living circumstances that some are in with no realistic hope of it every getting much better.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Shorts, objection to being the center of attention wherever you go.
4. But don't forget your:
High clearance vehicle and patience, not to mention sunscreen, umbrella, and sweaters.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
First half of Cutting for Stone.