Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lilongwe Housing

Quick Reminder: Tomorrow is the Weekly FS Blog Roundup, the theme this week is housing. I will be hosting it here on Cyberbones. Several people have already submitted posts featuring their housing overseas. With out FS community participation the roundup would cease to be, so please think about submitting a post... there is still time. Also you don't have to have done an overseas tour to participate in this one. How about posting on housing options in DC? The dreaded Oakwoods for example? It doesn't have to be a new post... many of us do the "Here's our new house" post shortly after arriving, please consider including an older post in the roundup this week. Thanks!

Necessary Disclaimer: No two houses in Lilongwe are alike so issues with my house are not necessarily representative of all housing. Translation: If you are the the family we are sponsoring this summer and you happen to be reading this don't freak out! If you are someone from Embassy Lilongwe and are reading this, I am well aware that we have one of the "nicer" houses here and have been told this ad nauseam and don't really need to be told it again. Further more this is clearly a RANT! Yes I am whining, quite a lot, as a matter of fact. Sorry if that offends someone but there a few million other blogs out there to read, go choose one.

Houses in Lilongwe does not live up to American expectations or standards. Not much of a surprise really, this isn't America... DUH! The housing in Jakarta and Frankfurt had issues too, but neither of those housing experiences prepared me for what we found here. I was told the housing here is "some of the best housing in Africa!" Once we were assigned to our house we were told the house was "Fabulous!" and the last tenants told me they "loved living in this house and would really miss it." So part of the problem is undoubtedly that my expectations were far too high. After all Africa is known for large houses in various states of disrepair. I should have remembered that.

Lets start with that "best housing in Africa" thing. There are many people here who are on their second, third or fourth African tour. Every one of them as assured me that the housing here is NOT the best housing in Africa, not even close. I can't comment on that since this is my first African posting, but I really really hope this isn't the best Africa has to offer.

Where to start? Hmmm...I know, lets start with the curtains. Most rooms in this house have an entire wall of windows so the curtains dominate the room since one entire wall from floor to almost the ceiling is curtain. Knowing that, why would anyone chose curtains that look like this? Seriously? Don't you just love the stripe with fruit? The peach print still leaves me speechless. I am actually missing the oh so neutral beige curtains that we had in Germany and Jakarta.

My favorite curtains in the house are these curtains in the bathroom. No you are not seeing it wrong, the curtains really don't match. Yes they are both white, but one panel has a silver circle motif and the other has a floral tone-on-tone motif. Even better the two panels aren't even the same length. Love It! No not really.

We were told our kitchen was huge. It would be more accurate to say the room our kitchen is in is huge. The kitchen itself takes up about a third of the room and it is pretty good sized, but not huge. The kitchen is the room we eat dinner in every night and and where Alonzo does his school work every day. It also houses the kids art/playroom, laundry room, and 2 pantries. We spend a lot in this room. Interestingly it is the only room in the house, besides bathrooms without an A/C unit. I requested one and was told that it is was against policy to have an A/C in the kitchen. So most of the time, but especially on baking (I make all our bread since none of us like the local bread) and laundry days, we sweat. It tends to stay hot and humid in the kitchen space all the time. We do have a ceiling fan that helps to make it bearable.

David refers to the kitchen as Monet, good from afar, but far from good. I suppose that statement says a lot about how Dave feels about impressionist art, but it is also a pretty accurate statement in reference to our kitchen. At first glance it doesn't look so bad but then you look closer and realize that the cabinets are vinyl covered particle board and the vinyl is cracking and the particle board is swelling. The drawers are all sort of crooked and some of the doors are falling off. The sink is a lovely huge size with built in drain boards. I love the shape and size of it, but it is so scratched up that there is no way to make it look anything close to white, it grosses me out a bit, but it does match the rest of the sinks and tubs in the house. The counters are old white laminate with burn marks and stains from the previous families cook. To top it off we can't use some of the cabinets because the insides are water damaged from some time in the past. It isn't getting fixed anytime soon. Apparently the cabinets would have to be pulled out to fix it and that isn't going to happen while we are living in the house. It is supposed to be repaired during the make-ready for the next family, two and half years from now. In the meantime I pretend like those cabinets don't exist and the cockroaches enjoy have a private party condo.*

After the drapes and kitchen, the thing that bothers me the most is the floors. We have wood floors. Don't get me wrong I love wood floors. In fact once upon a time I payed quite a lot to get rid of the builders standard beige wall to wall carpet to replace it with gorgeous hard wood floors. Sadly it has been many long years since the floors in this house have seen any sort of maintenance. Unmaintained wood floors don't look so good. Requests to have them refinished resulted in a firm no, not while the house is occupied. It creates too much dust. So we live with the floors and are very glad to have some carpets to cover the worst of it. It

Honestly the house is a good size for our family, it is a decent layout, and is very livable. It was probably a gorgeous house once upon a time. The biggest problem with this house is a long history of poor maintenance, neglect, and shall we say "creative" problem solving. What do I mean by creative problem solving? Well someone ordered a 110 washing machine for a 220 country. No problem just plug it in to a transformer, then set the transformer on the floor right next to it. I put the transformer on a little table when we moved in. Good thing too. Last week the washing machine flooded the room I didn't realize it until I stepped in the water. Can you imagine if I hadn't moved the transformer off the floor? Another example would be the plywood blocking the view and much of the light on our screened porch. Couldn't it at least have been painted? Need shelves in the bedroom? We'll make some. Is there a reason they couldn't have been all the same size? No bathroom cabinet? More shelves to match those in the bedroom. A hole in the screen? No need to replace the screen, we'll just glue a patch on it. Broke a bunch of tile replacing the toilet? Just poor concrete in the hole. The fact that I have boys who apparently can't aim and the unsealed concrete is porous and absorbs smells is an added bonus.

There is so much more I can say about this house, but I think at this point you get the picture. It isn't one big thing about the house, it's the sum all the little things that get to me.

*If you are coming to Lilongwe pack pest control. Lots of it. We are prohibited from buying any local pesticides for safety reasons but Dave managed to get his hands on a can of Raid. The next morning we swept up more than 40 dead roaches. GAH! Didn't phase the ants though. Nothing phases the ants. At least they don't bite like the fire ants back home.


Anonymous said...

We used to have a poor aimer in our family, I sympathize. Have you tried They're pretty good at curing wrong aim, if he's tall enough.

As for the rest of it, yikes. There is one dumpy place here which compares, but our GSO team is quite the opposite of yours.

Sara said...

I'm sorry it's so hard to get things done in your house! I hope your next one is better! Here's my entry.

Anonymous said...

YIKES! This was quite eye-opening for me. Try for Rabat next time--I'm pretty sure the houses I saw were way nicer, although sometimes with just too much mosaic tile :)

Kelly said...

Your house looks so much like the house we had in Lusaka it is downright spooky. And yet people there told me not to complain, because it was one of the nicest houses in the pool. (These were mostly people who had spent their entire careers in Africa.) Same floors, same window bars, same crappy kitchen cabinets...we even had a massive ant invasion that almost sent me over the edge. Feral cats living in the attic. Major roof leaks. And creative maintenance? Don't even get me started on that! I am sure your next post will be much better.

PS, I think your curtains are pretty cool ;)

Nomads By Nature said...

Yep, your house has character. And one day you will look back fondly and smile at the personality of the place you once were able to call home. :) That's what we say about each of our assigned houses. Some things to absolutely love, and some things that make great "you're kidding me" stories over a beer with good friends.

Connie said...

Those cabinets would drive me bonkers! I think that I'd be in there with a crowbar, no cabinets better than falling apart unusable ones! You are so right about it being the sum of the little things being the problem, esp. little things that did not have to be done so poorly to start with! As for the curtains though, give me one more tour in a house with beige on beige on beige on beige color scheme and I'll be looking back on your post here and drooling over these colors! (do you think they'd notice if i took my drapes down and let the kids loose with some tie-dye?)

Anonymous said...

I so wish I had time to do a post this week. While the inside of our house is really pretty nice, and the view is unbelievable (beachside in Recife), it is the neighborhood that would leave your mouth dropped open....raw sewage on the streets, homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk, families begging, all within less than a block (or on our block) of our gates. We are fortunate to have a sense of safety inside, but living here on the outside poses its challenges.

I loved your pictures and your post; what a great idea for the round up!