Harare, Zimbabwe Report of what it's like to live there - 07/29/13

Personal Experiences from Harare, Zimbabwe

Harare, Zimbabwe 07/29/13

Background:

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

This is our second expat experience as a family. We've lived previously in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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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?

Our home base is Fairfax, VA (basically Washington, D.C.) and the trip was some 19 hours with a direct flight from Dulles (IAD) to Johannesburg and a connection up to Harare.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Arrived October 2012.

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

U.S. Government assignment.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most homes here are quite nice, and large or small they are located on excellent grounds, often with swimming pools. Housing for expats is all over town, check with your housing assignment folks for your specific embassy or organization.

Most homes are just one story, are concrete construction with terra-cotta roof, and have sprawling compounds.

Commute times can range from 5-30 minutes by car, depending on where you work. Traffic is really not that bad; just a few intersections pile up during rush hour.

The city is far too spread apart to commute by walking anywhere, and cycling on the roads makes one a target for bad driving (mostly by commuter buses or "combis"). In the suburbs there are wide frontages between the road and compound walls, and many are actually marked "Cycle track", so it's possible to cycle there.

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

Produce, though very much available, varies in cost seasonally (as it should!), so plan your menus. Sometimes red peppers are US$4/kg (US$2/lb) and sometimes US$18/kg.

Fresh meat is available and is on par with DC area prices: US$6-$10/kg for chicken breast (boneless, skinless), US$4.50/kg fryer chicken, US$6.50/kg for bone-in thighs (in bulk) and legs too. The Butcher's Kitchen, Billy's and Supreme Butcher have good meats, also Fruit and Veg in Greendale (Greendale and Samora Michel).

Dry goods are often imported from South Africa and are VERY expensive.

Fresh bread is available and not expensive.

Cleaning supplies are available and on par with U.S. prices. Plastic wrap, aluminum foil, wax paper, parchment paper, trash bags (bin liners) and zip lock bags are very expensive. Freezer paper is not available.

Local (blah) beer is available not not expensive. South African wine is available for US$6-$$$$ a bottle. Liquor is available, some premium brands, at prices on par with those in the D.C. area, save some brands which are enormously expensive. Local brands are much less expensive.

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

Spare tires, better bike rack, camping furniture.

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

South African fast food chains are available, no American chains currently:
- Nando's (rotisserie chicken) is great. US$7/meal
- Chicken Inn, Pizza Inn, Creamy Inn (ice cream): US$5-$10/meal
- Chicken Slice, Pizza Slice: US$5-$10/meal

Chiang/Chang Thai: US$8-$12 dish EXCELLENT Thai food.
Amanzi's: ? (haven't been there yet)
Leonardo's: mediterranean US$15-20 meal
Cafe Nush: western US$10-$14 meal
Cafe Nush's Organiks: western US$10-$14 meal
Doon Estate Shop Cafe:western US$15-$20 meal (a veg buffet to die for)
Great Wall: authentic Chinese US$15-$20 meal
China Garden: authentic Chinese $15-$20 meal
Bistro: western US$15-$20 meal
Deli'cious: western US$10-$15 meal
Willobean: western US$15-$20 meal
There are also rotisserie chickens ready-to-eat in most groceries for US$7-$10
The city is sadly lacking in most other food types, though I hear there is one Indian restaurant.

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

House flies are horrendous here, and most houses don't have screens. Bring good electric fly zapper rackets and effective fly tape or traps. Do not cook with the windows open, especially in Oct-Nov.

Mosquitos are annoying, but Harare is too high to be a malaria area. Mosquito nets are available on the local market, but if you prefer something, bring it with.

In the city, we mostly don't have to worry about any other insects; the occasional ants are tolerable. There are occasional bee infestations, and wasps, but nothing different than what North American has to offer.

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Daily Life:

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

We send and receive letters via the Diplomatic Pouch with our embassy.

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

Maids are available from US$100-$200/month depending on skill. Gardeners are similar.

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

There are many gyms around town with basic facilities.

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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?

Some shops take credit cards, but for the most part this is a cash economy. ATM cards work in some banks, depending if your card is a VISA or MasterCard.

A distinct lack of change makes for a lighter wallet. Vendors will sometimes give change in SA Rand, and most of the time will print you a credit note or ask if you want your change in sweets.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None. It's a shame Shona is not more prevalent. If you know just a few words, it goes miles.

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

The city is not very friendly towards anyone who cannot walk without assistance.

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Transportation:

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

No local transportation is safe. Avoid combi's, take taxis at your own risk.

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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?

This is a RHD country, cars drive on the left side of the road. If you plan on only driving in the city, any type of vehicle that can clear large speed humps is suitable. Most game parks/drives require something with excellent (8"+) ground clearance, if not a 4wd vehicle, especially in rainy season. If you can manage two vehicles, and plan on keeping one for local commuting and use the other for everything, get a city car and a 7+ seater for extensive road trips.

If you can equip your SUV with a roof rack ahead of time, do so. After-market equipment is available, though heftily expensive. Think roof racks, bike racks, etc.

Bring a spare set of tires in your shipment, they are US$250/each usually, up to US$350/each.

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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?

High-speed internet is available. YoAfrica, Tel-One, Econet and ZOL have 3G, WiMax and ADSL. Fiber has even become prevalent of late. Prices are dropping, so this will quickly become outdated.
WiMax up to 3Mbs: US$99/month
Fiber up to 10Mbs: US$150/month

3G service is available for phones/dongles, but the cost US$100 for abut 2.5G of traffic, does not make it a viable solution for the home.

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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?

Bring an unlocked cell phone to use a local SIM. 3G service covers most of the city, but there are pockets all over the place where edge network takes over.

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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?

Incoming pets do not need to be quarantined, but avoid transiting South Africa if possible, as SA does require quarantine or permits even if just transiting.

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

There are a few vets available that offer decent medical care.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

Dress code at work is smart business and in public is casual. You can spot a Rhodie by the board shorts, flip flops and t-shirt.

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Health & Safety:

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

Home invasions are a constant threat, but being vigilant and knowing your weak spots (staff being coerced or threatened, not relying on any one method of security) will help out.

Also, when commuting from the airport at night, do not stop at the intersection from the airport to Glenara Rd, do not even slow down. That is a major smash and grab spot.

Sometimes car thefts (valuables from the car) occur with teams of people; one will distract the driver and the other will pilfer the vehicle.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The local HIV infection rate is pretty high.Drinking water should be distilled and as always with international travel, check your plastic water bottle seal. Malaria is a concern below Harare. Get your vaccines for everything your medical officer recommends. There are a few hospitals in town that offer decent medical care.

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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?

The air quality is marvelous. I've heard it called "Champagne Air" before. Walking or driving around, one can swear that the beach is just over the next rise or around the next turn.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The southern hemisphere provides us roughly the opposite seasons than the northern hemisphere. Check wikipedia for absolute temps, but roughly Dec-Feb is autumn with slight rain (this past year had a drought), March-July is Winter, August-September is spring, and Oct-Nov is summer. Temperatures in the direct sun can be sweltering (80-90°F) for locals but would make someone from Phoenix shiver. The air is dry and crisp, making any temperature tolerable. The other seasons are just shades off from Summer. Even in the dead of winter, it probably won't get down to freezing at night in the city.

The rainy season does have rain, but this is no monsoon. We have hardly used umbrellas, rain jackets are more effective when actually needed.
Think Colorado when packing clothes. Layers are good.

More of an effect than the climate is the housing construction. Concrete is the favored medium here, making for a cool house in the summer and a frigid one in the winter. Bring a good pair of slippers.

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Schools & Children:

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

Harare International School is the only accredited school here. http://www.his-zim.com

We have children in the lower grades (up to 4th). The children love the school and the teachers. We are impressed with the teachers with whom we've dealt, for the most part. The grounds are amazing. Manicured lawns and palm trees surround the buildings, and peacock and guinea fowl roam the grounds. There are ample playgrounds for younger children, a large sports field and gymnasium, and quite soon a swimming pool.
As with every international school we've dealt with thus far, there is drama between the parents and school. I prefer to stay involved by attending PTO meetings when possible.

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2. 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?

There is preschool available at H.I.S, albeit crazy expensive. There are local pre-schools all over town that range from US$300-$700 per month with varying quality, amenities, etc.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

H.I.S. has some sports programs.

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Expat Life:

1. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are some watering holes worth going to, and even one place downtown (The Beer Engine) with excellent beer, run by a U.K. Guy. There are only a few clubs, and those frequented by late teens/young 20's. Most entertaining and socializing is done in the home with friends.

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale among expats is largely good due to quality of life. Every weekend includes a braai (bbq) at someone's house with friends.

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

This is a great city for families, a tad quiet for young (20's) couples and singles.

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

I would avoid Zimbabwe if you are LGBT. Mugabe is not know for his tolerance.

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

The Rhodesians are white, so coming here as a Caucasian makes one blend in to that group. There is not a lot of prejudice towards Caucasians. There is much more prejudice towards Blacks who are not native, ironically by (only some) staff. I am not aware of any religious prejudice.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

We have had the chance to see Victoria Falls a few times, and an amazing selection of wild game. Camping is also very convenient, so bring your gear!

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

Day Trips:
- hiking up the rocks at Domboshawa (20 minutes north of town) or Ngomakurira (45 minutes north of town)
- Lake Chivero for the bird sanctuary or Snake World (1 hour west of town) or game drive
- Mukivisi Woodlands for game walk (guided)

Overnight:
- Lake Kyle, Matopos (Matobo) National Park, Rock Pools, Nyanga

A few days:
- Victoria Falls
- Hwange National Park
- Chimanimani
- Ghonrezhou (sp?)
- Lake Kariba
- Kariba Ferry
*Check out www.zimparks.org for more info on lodges and camping

Longer:
- Drive to Vilanculos, Mozambique (12+ hours)

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

Teak furniture, Shona stone sculptures, tacky welded metal animal sculptures.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Special advantages of living in Harare include the weather (I am looking outside to another sunny day in the dead of winter, deciding shorts or jeans), convenient game drives, availability of quality food in groceries (and sheer selection of grocery stores), and quiet lifestyle. Check out the stats on wikipedia sometime about population.

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10. Can you save money?

Not really. Though produce may be less expensive, everything else isn't.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yup. We hope to return in a decade or so.

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

Your need to party in the city, itch to walk to a cafe in a Eurpean city for a coffee, snowy weather gear.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunblock, sunglasses, sense of adventure, mountain bike.

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

Where we have hope.

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