Peshawar, Pakistan Report of what it's like to live there - 08/03/10
Personal Experiences from Peshawar, Pakistan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Multiple military postings. This is my first expat experience out of uniform.
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?
Washington, DC - with transit time up to 30 hours. PIA flies in and out of Peshawar reliably, but better airlines such as Qatar and Emirates will cancel flights when the security situation deteriorates. Connections via Doha and Dubai are pretty easy. Whichever airport you connect from, expect the gate for the Peshawar departure to be complete and utter chaos.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Employee at the U.S. Consulate General.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is mostly great, however the plumbing is poor and the electricity is awful. There are normally 12-36 light switches in each room -- with terrible wiring. Power goes out frequently and the voltage is nominally 220, but swings anywhere from 130-270 volts, destroying anything electronic. As this post grows, housing options will likely get smaller and more problematic. You risk your life with your daily commute. I don't know what else to say about that.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Inexpensive and mostly available. Groceries are inexpensive even after your household staff skims their cut off the top.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Toiletries. Bring books, dvds, video games, and other items that you need to entertain yourself while confined to your house for a year.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
KFC and Pizza Hut are available and deliver. The local food is great.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Termites are a menace in the housing. The slowest, stupidest (yet still annoying) flies I have ever seen. Any food left out will draw ants as houses tend to be anything but air-tight.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
APO and pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Inexpensive, but not necessarily reliable. Most have been passed on by former consulate employees and are the best of a bad bunch. Pakistanis are always looking for a hand-out and are not shy about asking or trying to con you into giving them one.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. The Khyber (American) Club has a pool and adequate gym.
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?
The only ATM readily available to USG employees is at the Embassy in Islamabad.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
They are available, but the security situation precludes going to them. A Roman Catholic priest has occasionally visited post.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There are English-language newspapers and Express 24 broadcasts in English. Dawn has an English website. Pakistani journalism is free, open, vibrant, and utterly lacking in anything vaguely resembling journalistic integrity. Pakistan's national pastimes, in addition to cricket, include concocting conspiracy theories and blaming other people for their problems. This is clearly reflected in their journalism. So don't be surprised to see headlines reporting an attack (that the Taliban has already claimed credit for) blaming the bombing on Blackwater, contracted by the CIA, on the behalf of Mossad, to destabilize Pakistan for the Indians, who are really space aliens from Mars. Roughly 85% of the population will take the report at face value.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
You would be trampled to death within in a week, or house-bound as an unofficial expat. I think it would be very difficult for the consulate to support a U.S. employee with physical disabilities given the current circumstances.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses and taxis are a menace even to people who aren't riding in them.
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?
This is a no-self-drive post.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Fast, if unreliable, wi-fi is available for around $30/month. Skype works well.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Post issues cell phones. Zong and Uphone are better than Mobilink. Calling back to the States is ridiculously inexpensive.
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)?
There are no kennels, but the vets are surprisingly great and will make house calls for under a thousand rupees ($12). Stray dogs and cats are everywhere. The street dogs are awesome.
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?
Yes, but I wouldn't choose to come here as an unofficial expat.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
From business casual to hiking/tactical chic.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
YES!!!!! Security concerns are all-consuming here. It is a home-to-work, work-to-home kind of post with very few amenities or opportunities to see the country. Don't expect to picnic at the Khyber Pass or spend a weekend in Chitral. It's not happening.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Yes. IED's are bad for your health. So are randomly launched rockets and celebratory gunfire. As is the poor sanitation, open sewers, fecal matter-infused water, malaria, pollution, and general filth. I hear the dentists are wonderful, though.
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?
Awful. Fecal matter, dust and pollution abound in the air. Unlike Afghanistan, you'll only see the mountains after it rains.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hotter and more humid than I expected. Winters are cool, but not cold. Only a light jacket when needed. Monsoon season '09 was pretty dry. This year has been a disaster with the floods.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many low-quality schools and universities. Those catering to girls tend to get blown up quite frequently. Locals tend to dramatically over-inflate their own educational experience when applying for jobs. Thankfully this is an unaccompanied post.
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?
Very limited. Mostly official Americans and a smattering of missionaries. There are also still several thousand Afghan refugees.
2. Morale among expats:
Surprisingly good. Morale generally climbs above mediocre. The people who are miserable are the ones who expected this to be an easier option than Baghdad and Kabul. It's not. You're alone in a crumbling, deteriorating disaster with a few other brave souls. If you can't accept a spartan, military-like existence, you will struggle here. Those who enjoy gallows' humor appreciate this 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?
Drinks at the Khyber Club and BBQs at the residences. You can work out like crazy, destroy your liver, or both. That's about it.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's an unaccompanied post. Married couples would have plenty of quality time together. The dating pool at post is VERY limited, and will be growing increasingly male heavy. There is very little contact with the local populace.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Homosexual acts are widespread in Pashtun culture, but there is no acceptance of a gay lifestyle here. Openly gay people are regularly murdered in Peshawar. There are limited opportunities for anyone to have a social life. But I don't think a gay couple would have a problem within the consulate community.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. Christians in the local population are denied advancement and are normally confined to "unclean" work, such as janitorial services. African-Americans will be greeted with Pashto racial slurs for "West Indians" and discriminated against.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Peshawar attracts people who want to rough it and be on the edge, so the camaraderie can be great with the right crew. The food is fantastic.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Cheat death on a daily basis.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Local furniture is great but doesn't always survive the shipment home. Carpets are relatively inexpensive, even with the American surcharge.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The selection of scotch at the commissary and Khyber Club.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but I wouldn't it recommend for anyone sane. It's like living in a war zone without any of the support infrastructure of a war zone. The work is challenging and frustrating.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
need for luxury, privacy, and freedom.
3. But don't forget your:
body armor, sand bags, and ammunition. Really: dog food and toys (there is plenty of cat food at the commissary), charcoal grill, laptop, and your favorite entertainment items.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Read Three Cups of Tea
and believe it's reality here...so we can laugh at you. Descent into Chaos
and Charlie Wilson's War
are good choices.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Just buy some Pashto movies once you get here. They're hilarious.
6. Do you have any other comments?
It's dangerous here.