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Brian T. Liao
Jan 17, 2019 • 10 min read

Living in Casa Zimbabwe

Casa Zimbabwe

So my dad told me I should write about Casa Zimbabwe, where I live. That’s good because I also have a lot of photos of the place. It honestly doesn’t compare to just visiting. Here’s a video I found to give you a feel for the place:

So let’s start. First of all, CZ or die. My dad found the place, he said they had academic houses at his school, where you work for a couple of hours per week and get cheaper housing. At first I was a bit nervous to be moving in. There are stories that CZ is a wild place, and those stories are true. The people there feel normal but also have a crazy side, they are just wild. Meet new people is scary, you feel like you don’t belong. But I made a lot of good friends at CZ and will try to keep meeting people there too. They are like a giant family, 150 people in a communal house.

Krackistan Soccer Team

What is Casa Zimbabwe

So you might not know what the coops are. My friends back home call it a communist trap house. That’s honestly a pretty good description. Casa Zimbabwe is a giant house with about 125 people and some people who just pay for the food and parties. They have a singles, doubles, and triples (which I have), a giant dining common room, a kitchen, a common red room, a balcony, bathrooms and laundry, a study room, and two roof tops.

What’s different from most places is that you have practically complete freedom. I’d say the big rule is don’t be an asshole and clean up after yourselves and respect others. Other than that you can draw art all over the walls, you can draw and keep your room however you like. There’s free food and parties and social activities. Everybody does five hours of workshift to keep the price down. I did pots clean for two hours and kitchen clean for two hours a week. There is also party security shift and home improvement hours over the whole semester. But overall, it’s worth it and remember you are contributing to your own home, just like chores. The price is reduced because of this group communal living, $3609 a semester or about $800 a month.

One of the roofs, and Bearic the bear.

Rooms

At the start of the year, there are room bids, people choose rooms, whoever has most seniority gets picks. Me and my roommates (who I met at the place) got a nice triple, room 201 on the left side second floor. It’s not too loud, got good light, close to the laundry, and has ethernet. It’s a bit cold cause it faces the outside of the building.

Moving everything in was a frantic mess, people take furniture and move it or place it in the backyard for anybody to take. Eventually, finding different furniture we had a complete room. I had a good standard table and found a rack that I cut to size and made it a desk rack. I had to find a closest, and for my bed a giant sheet of wood because the frame was too flimsy and small. I also made a bed frame out of a wood sheet so my pillow would stop falling off. My roommate’s bed is elevated 5 feet by 3 drawers and a sheet of wood. I use a broken mirror I found. Our room is janky but we improvise it into a living space.

The room also has a lot of writing on the wall. We were told the room used to be clean, but the people before us would just write and draw on the walls. We have continued the tradition, upholding the aesthetic. There is also string all over the ceiling left by the previous tenants. A piece we have added is our room is a startup room, all three of us have monitors so it looks like a scene from Silicon Valley.

One unfortunate event was our room had bedbugs. We had to bag everything and wash and dry our clothes and sheets, and get new mattress. We had to get our room exterminated twice, and possibly more when we go back. It certainly was inconvenient, but we were able to live with it and move on. A small unfortunate price to pay for living in this place.

I made a bedframe art!
The Startup Room.

Food and Workshift

The house serves dinners and for lunch and breakfast you can make something on your own. Most of the food is vegetarian, lots of tofu, chili, rice, and grilled vegetables. I lost some weight there and gained it back over winter break :(. They have a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables (my favorite part of living here), bread, cereal, pasta, milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, ice cream bars and popsicles turkey and ham lunch meat, and more staples. They also have leftovers from dinner, which I usually make from for lunch, and a free table, where any food there goes.

Buying in bulk is cheaper.

In addition, everybody does workshift for five hours per week. I did pots wash for two hours but get 2.5 hours of credit. It isn’t the worst, sometimes boring and you get wet, and it’s hard to clean crusty pots. My other job is kitchen clean, which I do as a group so it’s more social. You wipe down everything in the kitchen, place everything where it belongs, add lids, throw away old food (they throw away a lot of food unfortunately, and sweep/wash the floors. I learned that I can borrow audiobooks from the library so I’ll try that now. Some people cook, others clean the common rooms, clean the restroom, take out trash, etc.

There is also 5 hours of home improvement over the semester, like cleaning the roofs, building things in the house, cleaning a no-mans land, by the house, phonebanking, etc. Finally 2.5 hours of security shift over the semester which is just watching assigned areas during parties or collecting money

Turkeys!

Social and People

Casa Zimbabwe has parties every week or couple of weeks. People drink and some other times dress up in funky ways. People dance, talk, and have a good time, They have three big parties, and Room to Room is my favorite. You get to visit other people’s room and they have a theme there. I won’t say much but some parties are really wild. Like you would have to be there to believe it. Casa Zimbabwe lives up to its reputation in that way. On the other hand, I live on a far side of the house, so it isn’t too loud that I can’t sleep when I don’t want to.

I’ve done a lot of interesting new experiences with my roommate and I could have done them if I didn’t live in Casa Zimbabwe. Trying new things and seeing thing in a new perspective are good for you, the diversity of people and experiences help share who you are and empathize and understand the human condition. Hanging with these people are a part of me growing up.

The people in the house are chill. You can talk to anybody, they are all pretty friendly. Most people eat together at dinner and talk to each other lining up. At night there are groups just hanging out, and some people are nocturnal. I do wish I got to know more people, I was bit shy and intimidated by them, but getting to know most people, they are pretty open to get to know you.

I also joined the intramural soccer team, which was a blast and good exercise. We had some good players and a couple of Europeans so we played pretty good. I played a forward and goalie when needed and got pretty good at that. I look forward to maybe doing again next semester!

The people in the house are pretty diverse. Some go to Berkeley, others go to community college, mostly Berkeley City College. There are many exchange students from Europe too, England, Ireland, Germany, France, etc. There are science, engineering and computer science like physics, chemistry and chemical engineering, bioengineering, math computer science, integrated biology, cognitive science, neuroscience, etc. and lots of liberal arts people, classics, film, art, econ, law, etc. The people are pretty cool to talk to. There are some PhD students, the neuroscientists and the physicists are super interesting to talk to. I’ve heard so many ideas about reality, cognition, and our universe in the house.

Conclusion

So there you have it. The wild wonky world of Casa Zimbabwe through my eyes.


Art

Post by: Brian T. Liao