Khartoum, Sudan Report of what it's like to live there - 09/18/08
Personal Experiences from Khartoum, Sudan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No: Islamabad, Pakistan; Tokyo, Japan.
2. How long have you lived here?
Two years (2006-08).
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Wife works for the UN.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Lufthansa and KLM for Europe and America; Emirates, via Dubai, for Asia; Kenya and Ethiopian Airways for Africa.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Detached houses (with garden) or apartments. Rents very expensive, and houses generally poorly maintained. Most ex-pats seem to live either in Khartoum 2/Amarat (west of the airport) or Riyadh/Manshiya (east of the airport), and some on the south side of the Blue Nile. We live in Amarat and it takes about 15 minutes to drive to my wife's office in the centre of Khartoum.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Pretty much everything you need is available locally: expensive because imported, and perhaps not your favourite brands.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Many ... and increasing daily.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Regular post ... but not everything arrives.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plentiful. Eritreans and Ethiopians appear to be the nannies/baby-sitters of choice. US$250-350 per month.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
English language Sudanese newspapers. Satellite TV at about $100 per month, I think.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Numbers for haggling with street vendors and taxi drivers; directions for taxis.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It is difficult enough for an able-bodied person to walk around the streets; I should imagine life is nigh on impossible for someone with physical disabilities.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Right ... but adherence to lanes appears to be optional.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis (regular taxis, small minivans and auto-rickshaws) are very user-friendly ... as long as you know a few numbers and direction terms in Arabic. They are perfectly safe with respect to crime, but their generally battered condition is indicative of other dangers.
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 large 4WD is helpful even in the city: many roads not in good condition and large areas become flooded during the rainy season; also, size possibly offers some protection against the enormous number of accidents on the roads. No carjackings.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Low speed DSL for about US$70-80 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Not particularly. Everyone has one.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
1. 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?
Lots of spouses manage to find work at embassies, with the UN, or with NGOs.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate: very dusty, but no industrial pollution.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Very little crime related violence - in this respect, an extremely safe city. However, there is always the potential for politically motivated violence: there was one highly publicized murder of an American at the end of 2007, followed by a few incidents involving nocturnal approaches to expat residences, which caused a lot of concern at the time. Also, the UN decided to evacuate all staff dependants during summer 2008, apparently anticipating trouble arising from the expected ICC indictment of President Bashir; as a result I have had to leave with my children, but friends back in Khartoum say that everything is much as it was.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Vigilance (ie mosquito nets and repellant), but not profylaxis, with regard to malaria is necessary. Water borne diseases not a huge problem. We never bothered to disinfect fruit and vegetables, for example.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and dry in winter, becoming hotter and drier towards summer; occasional torrential downpours during July/Aug; hot and dry in autumn.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Khartoum American School (disclosure: my children attended KAS): long established, nice campus, relaxed atmosphere, limited facilities; very international student body (very few American families in Khartoum) with only a small number of Sudanese students. Khartoum International Community School: recently established, excellent facilities; owned by a Sudanese business consortium, which in turn is owned by one Sudanese family; staff are mostly UK ex-pats, and curriculum is IB/British in flavour; large proportion of students are Sudanese; school seems to combine being for the local elite and the international community in more or less equal proportions.
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?
Several private pre-schools of reputedly excellent quality. KAS has a nursery class for two year-olds. Also, informal baby/toddler group which meets in members' homes/gardens.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge. Enormous UN presence; many NGOs. However, only a small proportion are families, and given the UN decision to evacuate dependants, these could become fewer.
2. Morale among expats:
Most of our friends were families with small children like ourselves. Among this group, people seemed to be generaly reasonably happy. However, this could be changing following the evacuation of UN families.
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?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Excellent for families with small children (our own were five and one when we first moved to Khartoum). There has been a huge increase in the number of ex-pat families in Khartoum since the North-South peace agreement (CPA); however, this could change rapidly if the political situation deteriorates. Possibly less good for families with teenage children: I suspect that the educational environment is less stimulating (too few in each class) and less comprehensive, and it would be difficult for them to enjoy an independent social life. I'm not sure how much people without families enjoy life here.
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?
Probably not for expats. However, Khartoum is full of refugees: from all parts of Sudan, but especially the South and Darfur; also, from Ethiopia and Eritrea. They seem to be subject to a fair amount of official and police harassment.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Boating on, or walking by the Nile. Various sports groups: tennis, rugby, football, hash, etc. Several popular swimming pools. Gyms in the major hotels. Day/weekend trips into the desert, especially towards the pyramids/ruins north of Khartoum.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nothing much, really.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, probably. But rents are expensive, and most families take holidays outside Sudan at least a couple of times a year.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes ... but not with older children.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter woollies ... unless you go camping in the desert in January.
3. But don't forget your:
Books/DVDs/music. Comprehensive tool kit for home maintenance. Patience and a sense of humour also help.
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?
Emma's War, Scroggins.
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Emma's War, Scroggins.
7. Do you have any other comments?
Expats, apart from missionaries and volunteers, automatically join the ranks of the relatively wealthy, and can live accordingly. However, this is a very poor, hopelessly fragmented and badly managed country. Whilst the rich live extremely well, they (and we) are surrounded by many others who are simply struggling to survive. It is also extremely hot most of the time and the materials things which help to make life easier are constantly breaking down. So, whilst I in no way regret our two years there, life does tend to be extremely exhausting both psychologically and physically.