Harare trip, what to buy & bring

(Revised 2012-08-270

While discussing with folks here in Zimbabwe, the subject of what items are harder or expensive to find here came up. Some of the things you might consider bringing with you include:

  • Batteries - not hard to find in Zim, but much more expensive than in the US.
  • Cheese (WSU Cougar Gold) - also not hard to find, and not too much more expensive.  However, if you like cheese and are from North America you may want to bring some, because all dairy here is sterilized so the taste is distinctly different than pasteurized dairy products.
  • Chili powder/Cayenne Pepper/Chipotle - in Zim it's easy to find British, African and Chinese vegetables and spices. Others, such as Mexican, are somewhat more difficult.  Peppers are common (bell, ancho and jalapeƱo) but the powders are rare to non-existant.
  • Beans - you can easily find "sugar" beans, which are a mix of pinto and red beans, and lima beans (often labeled "kidney").  Garbanzos are also around, though rather expensive.  Black beans are nearly impossible.  Other varieties are quite rare to impossible to find.
  • Candles - basic beeswax and paraffin are available; fancy, scented, large, or decorative are uncommon to non-existant.
  • Wooden implements such as cutting boards - wood is quite costly here, which is reflected in all wooden products.  If you have wooden furniture, implements, or other items that you like, bring them with you.
  • Towels and sheets - expensive and low quality in Zim.
  • TV - cable is around $80 per month.  Many folks here use iTunes & similar services to obtain home-country programming, so consider bringing whatever you'd need to connect your computer/iPad/macTV etc. to your TV.
  • Voltage regulators, step-downs for 110v equipment, 220 surge protectors (110220volts.com)
  • Car - should be left side driving (japanesevehicles.com)
  • Hangers (metal or plastic) - they're very expensive 
  • Contact fluid - available but outrageously expensive ($20 for 4oz bottle!)
  • Soft tissues - not common and rather expensive.  The lotion kind are non-existant here.
  • Kids warm weather clothes and shoes - more expensive, shoes much more expensive; everyone recommends buying your year's supply in the US and bringing into Zim with you
  • Small presents for other kids birthday parties ours get invited to, as well as party bags for our parties.   There are kids toy stores here, but toys tend to be either cheap plastic junk or quite expensive.

Harare trip, miscellaneous notes

Unconnected thought and observations I've made today:

Sleeping under a mosquito net. Be sure to bring several for beds, etc. (Jeff has one for the outdoor sitting area on the patio but Minus says he hasn't yet used it.)

Water is potable but doesn't taste quite right...not terrible but just not pleasant (I'm not used to the mineral mix). Bring filters.

Climate feels _balmy_. Before I came I checked and found it was fairly consistently running around 27-28C, with nights dropping to around 20C. Here, this feels like a warm summer time temp, rather moister than Boise, but not as humid as Iowa. A slight breeze easily cools me down. Daytime is short-sleeve and shorts weather, night is cooler, pants and long sleeves would be comfortable, but no need for a sweater. Jeff and his wife mentioned that these temps (rainy season, Not summer) are a bit cooler than they've been used to in the previous 6 months. When they arrived though, it was really cold to them; it was 90s-ish from where they came, 40s when they arrived. There is no heat in the house except the fireplace, so they spent a lot of time in front of the fire in their first few weeks.

Clothing is standard stuff I could see anywhere in the US, with a bit of local colors and patterns mixed in, primarily on the ladies, especially those carrying small children. The common method here is to wrap them around your back in a colorful print with just their heads out.

It's recommended that we have a couple hobbies each, including everything we need to persue those, with us. Laurie and Jeff garden, cook from scratch and fly model helicopters.

Harare trip, initial impressions

Arriving, I was reminded how much Harare reminded me of Boise, in both size and formality level. Even coming in through customs, it's pretty relaxed. The airport is even smaller than Boise's, despite being one of the international ports-of-entry. Driving across town to Mount Pleasant took between 20 and 30 minutes.

During the drive, I noticed that roads are a mixed bag - the major roads were in decent shape, but most of the smaller roads we took needed a fair amount of repair work, either on the edges or for potholes. There was some evidence of prior repair work (patches, etc) but plenty remains to be done. The cars on the road spanned the gamut, from very shiny and new looking station wagons and sports cars to disreputable looking fume belching pickups and VW vans.

Upon arriving at Jeff's house, I was impressed at the grounds, both in the size and in how beautiful they looked. Last time I was here was in March, just at the end of the rainy season. I had assumed some of the verdant lushness then was due to all the rain just having been dumped on the country. However, it looks very much the same now, lush and green everywhere.

Jeff's main house has a beautiful kitchen, 4 bedrooms and a guest house. There is an effective extra room in the patio outside, being bounded on three sides by the house, a storage room, and the guest house. On the other side is the pool. I could easily see coming home to this, though it definintely feels dreamlike right now! :). Jeff commented that their house is probably on the older end of the spectrum for houses the school has. Because it's one that the school owns rather than rents, they have a large garden.

Harare trip, touring the neighborhood

After a shower, shave, snack, and a short while lying down to relax, Stanley (my host's groundskeeper) took me on a tour of the neighborhood (Mount Pleasant). I told him I was most interested in grocery stories, local shopping, sports, and the like, so that's what he focused on for this trip.

First, we went to a local mall. It was around 5 minutes drive away, in the next suburb over, Burroughdale. This kind of mall is a large collection of smaller stores with a couple larger anchors, all arranged around attractive outdoor walking avenues. There were probably 30 to 40 smaller stores, with a variety of vendors including hardware, electronics, books, clothes (women's, men's and children's), furniture, bath/beauty, salons, jewelry, perfumes, and more. The larger stores were...grocery stores! Unlike the US, consolidation and growth has apparently been limited to just grocery chains, here.

Looking into a couple of the grocery stores, I saw a pretty good variety of goods, priced close to what I'm used to (once I took into account that goods-by-weight are in kilograms rather than pounds). These reminded me of the grocery stores in Russia, particularly because the milk is packaged by liter and the selection of goods is heavier on European and local (?) brands. Milk products were one exception I noticed to the general rule of things being similar in price to home...they were around twice as expensive as I'm accustomed to seeing.

After the groceries, we drove back through Burroughdale and Mount Pleasant, passing initially by a food court area of several restaurants, including pizza, hamburgers, chicken, Greek, and ice-cream. Later we passed by a Sports Club, which he said some of the prior residents had joined in order to play rugby and go to yoga classes. I asked about Zumba and he chuckled and confirmed that they have classes like that here, too. We also passed his preferred butcher and flower shops on our way to our next destination, which he called The Avenue.

The Avenue turned out to be an open air bazzar very familiar to me from my time in Russia. Here each vendor had a small booth and hawked his or her wares directly to the marks...I mean customers. Nothing is priced and haggling is expected. The variety of wares was limited to dry goods here, with emphasis on clothes, shoes, furniture, and knick-knacks. There were a few booths selling less common stuff, including used books, electronics, household consumables and watches. Right next to this was a small complex that contained The Arts 7, a theater that regularly shows movies, according to Stanley, but also hosts local and traveling performers.

All of that was within about a 10 minute drive of the school. We didn't go downtown, though we got close at The Avenue. I know for sure the last time I was here I went to a mall entirely across town to find masks and other interesting gifts for folks back home, so this definitely was not comprehensive.