Jay & Nicole's New Place 
in
Harare, Zimbabwe

(click any picture to get an enlargement)


BACKGROUND:
Location:
Zimbabwe is located in south-eastern Africa. 

Borders: Zimbabwe is bordered by Zambia to the north, Mozambique to the east, South Africa to the south and Botswana to the west.

Area: About the size of Montana and 10x the size of Switzerland.


Population: 13,000,000 (98% black, with only 1% white)
Religion:
Mainly Christian, mixed with indigenous beliefs
Language:
16 in total, but English is well spoken; the literacy rate is almost 90%!

Harare is the capital and has 3 million people in the metropolitan area
Terrain:
Located on a high plateau at 1500 meters (5000 feet) ... mostly a flat, open woodland
Crime: There are issues and care needs to be taken, but firearms and weapons are rare 



Weather:
Harare has a pleasant Subtropical highland climate. The average annual temperature is 18C (64F). This is due to its high altitude and the prevalence of a cool south-easterly airflow.

There are two main seasons: 
1) A warm / wet season from October to March -  Avg. High 27C (80F)  &  Low 15C (60F)
2) A cool / dry season from April to September - Avg. High 23C (74F)  &  Low  7C (44F)


Our first task in the search for a place to live was to decide how Nicole would get to work.  Since walking and mass transit are out of the question, she needs to drive.

Harare has a "ring road" that goes around the northern half of the city.  We found that from the Swiss Embassy, we could get to most places inside this road within an acceptable 20 minute commute.  Since we were told to stay north of downtown anyway, the ring road became our search barrier. 

There are quite a few golf courses in Harare, as well as shopping centers.  It was nice to know that wherever we chose to live, we'd have decent access to things. 


The Harare area is serviced by a great web site where most of the rental properties are listed.  We searched for what we wanted, pared down the results and just saw the properties that interested us the most.

The first places we assessed were high-rise apartment buildings, as they offered good security and we would not have to worry about maintaining a yard or pool. We found the quality to be lacking, the views were not very exciting and the neighborhoods were not very nice. We also assessed smaller apartment complexes, but it was obvious that most places had not been properly maintained.  

Another option was townhouses, which have been built more recently.  This seemed like the perfect idea as, since we came to Southern Africa hoping to travel a lot, we could just "lock and leave" these places without too many worries. The quality was better, security was good and the pool/common areas were usually kept up quite nice.  The problem was there wasn't much privacy and there was a lot of noise ... kids, dogs, TVs, etc.   

I should also mention that, instead of staying at a hotel, we house-sat for a friend ... and we were getting quite spoiled.  Her house was centrally located, quite large, and had a nice swimming pool & beautiful yard.

It didn't really take us too long to decide that we also wanted a house.  It also helped that there were alot of houses on the market and that most of them were within our budget.  Since we are getting older, it also made sense that if we got a nice place, maybe we'd just stay home and relax.  On the negative side, getting a house would mean that we'd be spending time cleaning and tending to the yard ... unless we hired staff.


At this point I could show you a few of the houses that we looked at ... and then let you guess which one we chose.  Since I don't have the time, and since you probably don't either, I'll just tell you that we rented a house at 15 Maxwell Drive.  

The place is centrally located and only a 10 minute commute for Nicole, which means she will be able to come home for lunch.

While I introduce our place to you, I will add a few before/after pictures to give you an idea of how we've spent the past four months.


We had looked at quite a few homes and were surprised that none of them met all of our security & "quality of life" requirements.  We were getting worried when we heard that a guy from the British Embassy was about to give up his property.  After seeing the place, we then worked to make a contract as soon as possible.  

Our place is on the corner of 2 dead-end streets & backs up to a field ... luckily it's pretty quiet!


This is as you drive towards our property.  To the left takes you to a dead-end at the field.  To the right takes you to our gate and the road dead-ends at the back entrance of a Greek school.  Now things look nice and green ... and clean ... but that is after a LOT of cleanup work has occurred. 

These pictures show the work we had done to clean up the outside area.  Guys had to come with a chainsaw to cut the dead aloe, which had not been maintained for 7+ years.  Note how dry things were, as it was the dry season when we moved in ... now we're in the wet season and it's a lot greener!


Security demands that the entire property be enclosed by a solid wall ... which few properties had.  They also require that electrified wires line the top of the wall ... which was even tougher to find.  

Luckily the Brits had installed all of this stuff, plus curly wire ... no one will be climbing over our wall!


The property is basically square and measures about 200 feet (63 meters) per side, which equates to 
1 acre (4000 sqm); a large yard to maintain!  It also has a double garage and large staff quarters.

The front yard faces north (top), the entry gate is on the west side (left) and the field is to the east (right).

Above is a picture of the field and wetlands, which is theoretically protected.  It's strange to periodically hear farm machinery ... 
not something to expect while living in a capital city!


This street leads to our gate
and down to a school; luckily we don't get much passing traffic. 

Our gate is quite sturdy and operates via remote control; this area still needs some repairs.

Once inside the gate, there are palms and hedges that separate the driveway from the front yard.

The driveway is bricked and leads to a nice-sized garage :) Against the side is a carport shade and guard shack ... yes, guards! Most of the guards are ex-military and very formal, but quite friendly!

Note about the guards: We have 1 guard provided during the day and 2 guards provided at night. At first we were against the idea of having full time guards, especially since the area isn't very dangerous.  We then learned that embassies are expected to hire locals to help the community ... so we couldn't really complain.
The guards keep to themselves and it's comforting to know they're available if we need assistance with anything, like opening the garage door in the rain ... and they answer any knocks (or honks) at the gate!

From the driveway, you go past the hedges to get to the front yard.

On the other side of the tall hedges is an agapanthus garden that we created in November; it contains about 60 various sized/colored plants. 


When we moved in, this area was dry and didn't have much growing in it, except weeds.

In exchange for us doing work to enhance the property, the Owner agreed to have a crew of 8 guys to come for 4 days to rake the leaves, till the ground & clean all the dead stuff from the trees ... it was a big job! 


In the middle of the front yard is our signature "lucky bean" tree, with a raised oasis around the base. When we moved in, this area was dry and ugly ... Nicole suggested we line the area with rocks I found that rock is very expensive, so I drove around and collected them from wherever I could

It took a while, but by the end of December I had gathered up a good supply of material Over the holidays we assembled our rock wall, making many modifications as we went along Nicole is happy with the result and is now filling the oasis with various shade-loving plants

Behind the oasis was a terrible dry area in which only cactus or cycads could live; it actually had both =>

Luckily the owner was also willing to put in new grass ... but only strips that are now growing together


Continuing along the front of the house then takes you to the swimming pool area

The pool is saltwater and it took me quite a while to learn how to operate everything ... but now the water is clear and at 27C (80F).  We spend a lot of time in this area and still need to get some more outdoor furniture.


Originally the pool had an ugly black algae growing in it and the normal brushing didn't help.  We should've had it emptied had cleaned ... 
but I dropped a heavy rock to the bottom and, using my snorkel, swam down and scrubbed for a hour each day;
it took 3 months to finish!  
The Owner also agreed to have a trench dug so that the back-flushed pool water would flow to the edge of the property via a covered pipe.

Behind the pool is a little hut which contains the filter equipment; the area wasn't in good shape Since we knew we'd spend a lot of time in this area, we created a new garden and flowers are sprouting  The pool has a rock fountain which has a beautiful cycad growing from the back of it

The cycad had some "pups" around it but wasn't doing well 

With water and care, the cycad pups thrived  .... but grew too big!

I researched how to transplant the pups; it seems to have worked!


<== Unfortunately, the grass behind the pool had been parched by the sun and wasn't doing well

In the corner, the grass was ==>
even worse off, as it had died from the flushing of salty pool water


Luckily, as part of the deal with the Owner, he was also willing to have new grass put into these areas.  The only bad thing was that I had to water it every day.

The Owner's parents had lived here and we feel VERY fortunate that he cares about the property.


The Owner's mother must have planned the layout of the trees, as everything in the yard is unique
and most of them are indigenous ... and have terrible thorns, which love to come through my crocs!.

This acacia tree is a typical local tree ... with paper bark and thorns!

The msasa tree has beautiful flowers, our frangipani does too 

The sausage tree produces a 
large fruit ... fitting to it's name


Looking at the front of the house ... from the left is the master bedroom & covered veranda.  Next are 2 windows for the big guest room and 1 for the small guest room, followed by 2 larger living room windows ... 

... we then come to the entry area, which has a covered veranda;
to the far right is the game room


Moving to the east side of the property ... it was dry & barren!

Watering helped, but we had to plant grass clippings in areas

In between each set of trees I am experimenting with various seeds


We haven't had a house/yard for over 10 years, so it is fun to be able to experiment in the yard without worrying too much about the outcome ... if we don't like it, we rip it out and try something new.  Many times I grab plants or seeds from the forest, roadside or from friends ... and we just see what pops up!.


Even though Blacky can no longer see, he gets around OK and also enjoys the outdoors again

We feed two cute stray cats which come every day; they are spayed and in good shape, but not tame

Blacky (left) is interested in "the kids" but they basically ignore him .... but they like to steal his food :) 


I should mention that the black kitty is a hero to us.  One night we were sitting next to the pool and he began to play with something nearby.  I quickly realized that it was a large snake, which he chased to the wall

It was a dangerous, but beautiful, Egyptian cobra; we quickly called the guards & they removed it


In the back corner is our new fire pit, where I burn any dry trimmings

I also can burn the wood from 
when the tree limbs were cut

On BBQ nights we enjoy a nice
fire while grilling our dinner 


Note: After we discovered the snake, I started burning more often so that we don't have an area in which critters can hide.  I also stopped going barefoot and always wear gloves when doing yard work ... bummer!


As you come around to the back yard, you come to the rose garden ... which had seen better days

Our first project was to fix the garden up; we asked around and found a nursery with great roses

We dug out the dirt beds, filled them with mulch and planted 25 new roses ... success! 


From this perspective of the house, the master bedroom & bath take up the right (front) half of this wing; the left (back) half has another big room that we use for the study.  Around the back corner, is an open area ...  ... which we don't use very often, except as a shortcut from the study to the kitchen 

In the middle of the back yard is a gigantic prickly pear cactus; in this picture I am cleaning it ... why?

The entire cactus had a cochineal (mealy bug) infestation; the bugs actually create a brilliant red dye 

After moving geraniums and cover plants from various places in the yard, our cactus oasis is done!


At this point you might think that you've seen all of our projects in the yard ... but you've only seen part!  
Remember that since I didn't have much else to do, I've worked in the yard for 8 hours a day for 4 months ... so I was able to get a lot done.  Once I get a social life going, I'll need to worry about yard maintenance! 


Behind the big cactus is the entrance to our staff quarters

You first come to the bath/shower with a bedroom on either side

We don't have live-in staff, so I get to use the space to store stuff


This is the laundry & kitchen area; the window is for the big bedroom

I store packing material in the kitchen ... for our next move

The big staff bedroom has a toilet and shower ... but it's not used.


Most of the houses we looked at didn't have adequate storage.  Some had enough room in the house, but no garage ... or vice versa.  All of the houses had staff quarters, but some Owners required that we keep their staff.  Luckily this house has a nice garage, inside storage and an empty staff quarters.  I thus have space to keep all of our packing supplies, since we hear the moving companies in Zim don't have good material. 


Next to the staff quarters, in the back southeast corner, is where the previous staff grew some food

After cleaning up the area with an archeological dig, we found a path that once led to a back gate

We decided to make this area our farm.  Our first corn crop is quickly growing & is now taller than me!


<== Behind the staff quarters was an area with some earthen beds, but hardly anything growing.  The soil is decent for crops, and the people know what to do, but the lack of water really limits them.

We cleaned this area up and ==>
planted more corn, some peas & many tomato plants ... grown from the seeds of a vendor's tomato ... which wouldn't work at home!


At this point I do have to admit that I've had some help in getting all this work done.  It turns out that the day-guards are willing to help out with light chores when they are on duty.  In exchange, I hire each of them for one day per week when they are off from work. They are knowledgeable about plants and working the land with hand tools ... something I'm not good at.  It also helps to have Nicole managing the whole process :) 


Returning to the back yard, behind the prickly pear cactus is an area which looked like a graveyard

In November we removed the tiles, tilled the dirt, and then put the tiles back down in a proper order.

After fertilizing, we planted various seeds/seedlings and now have a thriving herb garden

We also tilled up the dead grass next to the herb garden and planted grass clippings

We then planted tomatoes & green beans against the wall; the plants popped up with just daily watering 

Things in Zim seem to grow easily; it's too bad that politics holds them back from being a major producer 

Looking back at the house from here, from the right are the kitchen door and two windows, the tall dining room window and then the storeroom

The storeroom is great; it easily fits all our tools & sports equipment


Heading towards the west side of the yard we have a jacaranda tree

We end up getting a purple carpet, although it doesn't last for long

Other trees include an apple, peach, mango, avocado, lime, ...


<== The jacaranda tree was in an un-kept area of the backyard ... it was almost like a natural prairie!

Even with tilling, watering and ==>
putting in desert-liking plants, the area still didn't look too appealing. 


We decided to make a retaining wall using bricks gathered from around the area The cups defined the layout, the dirt was dug out and then the bricks were carefully put into place  

We now have an elevated cactus garden with a snaking brick wall; new grass will complete the project 


These gates allow us to practice hurdles ... or maybe they keep the guards from using the same path

In the back corner was a garbage area that the previous tenant was willing to clean up

I never had a compost pile before and there are now two back here; we have plenty of leaves/grass! 


The bushes around the compost pile now hide the area from view 

Here I am cutting the grass on the west side; note the old wood piles

This is the new wood pile, which is getting chopped up for fire wood

Before I end the tour of the yard, I must mention two of the most important things that are lacking in Zimbabwe and which make life VERY difficult here ... and that is the lack of consistent electricity and water.

It turns out that the electrical generation of the country is often less than what is demanded.  To compensate, they have a "load shedding" program ... which means that we don't get electricity from 6am-1pm on Mon., Wed. & Fri ... then on Tues., Thurs,. and Sat. we don't have electricity from 1pm until 8pm.  This means that having a generator is a must ... and was a big factor in why we chose this place, as you shall see!

The water supply is also a big problem, as the city cannot produce enough or it is lost due to leaky pipes ... which means we don't get city water very often.  We thus need to have a storage tank and a pressure pump to feed the house.  It was also important for us to find a property which had a productive well (borehole) ... or we'd have to buy water to fill the tank.  For this property the well water is only pumped to the faucets in the yard, which is great for watering & filling the pool, but we have to run a hose into the tank when we need to fill it up. 


This is our VERY important utility area, with the generator & steel diesel tank; the green tank is for our water 

The generator is automatic and provides 27,000 watts! The tank holds 2000L of diesel, so we're totally fine if the power goes off!

The water tank holds 10,000L and is fed by the city pipes, which rarely supply anything; I fill it via the well pump every other week or so

 
That concludes the tour of our property ...

... to see the inside, you'll have to wait until I finish the pages; stay tuned in!
  


Some out-takes ...

I began to cover our compost with bubble-wrap to allow it to cook

We have no idea what this plant is, but the seed is like a balloon

This flower is also unknown to us


This flower presents it's seed so that a bird can easily grab it

This bush/tree kept producing rounds of nice pink flowers

This is the back of our majestic prickly pear cactus


The big cactus in the front yard produced flowers that opened only at night ... really strange!

We have many cactus plants, which are quite complicated but easy to maintain

These are weird cactus plants that have soft, felt-like leaves ... good for toilet paper in the bush :0


Some of our less intrusive visitors ... the only thing we need to worry about is to not to step on them!


<== Our "hammock tree"

Zim uses the US dollar ==>
 as it's currency.  The money is unbelievably dirty since it changes hand so often (few people use credit or debit cards). This place needs literally needs a place to launder it's money ... ha ha!


We have been working our tails off since moving to Zim, so we decided to splurge and buy ourselves decent modes of transportation for our birthdays. Nicole decided upon a Toyota Fortuner which is pretty tough.  It will be great for heading into the bush areas where only diesel is available.  I decided upon a Jeep Grand Cherokee with the summit package. It's a bit more plush and runs on gasoline, so it'll work better for longer trips in Southern Africa.

 
These are the runner-up places that we looked at ... click on the links to get more pictures of each ....
 
<== This house looked like a nice Italian villa  ... unfortunately it didn't have enough storage space and didn't meet security standards

This place was located on  ==>
Cuba St. ... it was big, beautiful
and in perfect condition, but 
Nicole didn't like the layout


Ciao for now!