After posting yesterday I thought of several exceptions to the “bring everything” rule; especially if you are limited in what you are allowed to ship.
While the furniture in the big box stores is of poor quality, you can have someone local make your furniture and it will turn out beautifully at amazingly low prices. For example, a colleague of Thom’s had two end tables made for ~$10 labor plus the cost of wood and nails. Things that you do need to bring with you are the mattress (the mattresses here are awful), and a comfortable couch and easy chairs, if you like such things. You can have a “couch” of sorts made but really it’s the wooden structure and then you commission someone else to make the cushions. The photos below show typical examples of Zambian-made furniture and are taken from this site.
Speaking of cushions, down in Kamwala, the industrial part of town, you can find lots of good quality fabrics very cheaply. I went to the local version of Wal-Mart here, called Game, and bought single panels of curtains for about $25 each. Then, a friend took me down to Kamwala, where I bought this material to make four panels of curtains plus pillows for the same $25 (giving me five times the value of Game).
It’s very easy to find someone who will sew for you at cheap rates. Or, you can be super-duper ambitious (like me) and borrow a sewing machine from someone and make them all yourself. (I figure I can handle making curtains — they’re just straight lines, right?) (Oh, and I know that for many of you that’s not super-duper ambitious, but I’m trying to psyche myself up to do it.)
Just down the road from us at Sugarbush farms (a CSA of sorts run by ex-pats) they make leather and hide purses. These are not cheap but their prices are on-par with quality purses in the United States.
Wicker-type furniture is in abundance here and much, much cheaper than in the states. Here are two pieces from our landlady’s collection. Often, they sell these at the side of the road so you negotiate the price. We usually have our neighbor negotiate for us because they see the color of our skin and triple the price.
Personally commissioned ironworks can be got here for a great price too. Everything from decorative iron gates to arbors to fences can be custom ordered by just stopping at one of many of the shops along Alick Nkhata or Kalingalinga road. Of course, like anywhere, it’s best to ask around or even stop at a home or business where you like their work and ask who did it. Here is our front gate and an arbor.
(See the morning glory vine on the left? That was planted about 4 weeks ago and it’s already 3 ft. high.)
There are lots of familiar foodstuff you can get here. Heinz ketchup, tabasco sauce, cheddar/mozzarella/feta cheeses, jello/pudding mixes, good peanut butter and jams/jellies, etc. As mentioned in a previous post, however, the bread stinks so you might want to make your own, which is actually much easier than you might think. Bring a dutch oven (le creuset will do if the knob is cast iron, not plastic) or la cloche (clay pot) and you can make the no-knead bread which comes out fantastic. Foodstuff I brought along were chocolate chips, cake mixes, A-1 sauce, Lawry’s seasoned salt, etc. There’s also an American commissary that carries a lot of American items like Uncle Bob’s steel cut oats and taco shells and chips (and so forth).
Well, I hope this answers some of the email questions you all had about availability of items. The best strategy is to come on a scouting trip with a list of your favorite items and see if they have them here. If not, bring them!