Nouakchott, Mauritania Report of what it's like to live there - 08/30/11

Personal Experiences from Nouakchott, Mauritania

Nouakchott, Mauritania 08/30/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Second expat experience.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

From Washington it's 15-20 hours through Paris.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most expats live in Tevragh Zeina which is the northwest of the city. Houses are big, concrete, and usually white. Yards/gardens are small, but provide a little green in an otherwise tan world. Embassy-provided housing is a great advantage. Expats who get houses on the local market face issues with landlords such as poor construction, faulty or unsafe electrical wiring, and issues with hooking up public utilities that often drag out for months. If you are coming to Nouakchott without a company to provide housing, I'd suggest sending the working spouse ahead to get the house in order before the other spouse and kid(s) arrive to reduce transition anxiety. Commutes are less than 20 minutes no matter where you live in town. If you are in the car more than 20 minutes you are lost, which rarely happens.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Fairly expensive. Everything here is imported, except bottled water. Expect to pay slightly higher prices than in the US.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

You can find most anything, but not regularly. For example, sometimes there are cake mixes at one store, but not always. If you have a favorite canned good or boxed item, bring it.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Fast food, not so much. Only one fast food restaurant is consistently open and has high quality service. The others are more unpredictable. Twelve inch, eight slice pizzas are about US$5, chawarama US$2. Middle of the road restaurants are good and offer a good variety of options including sea food, Lebanese, and French fare. Expect to spend about $15-20 US per person for dinner. There is at least one fancy restaurant in town that serves high quality French fare. More than US$30 per person for dinner.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There are no guarantees. A friend who has a sesame allergy had a reaction due to something fried in sesame oil. Since all fruit and vegetables are imported, it's hard to know where they came from (north from Morocco and Europe or south from Senegal and sub-Saharan Africa), so it's therefore hard to know if they are organic, etc.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Nothing too extraordinary. Flies, cockroaches, ants, mosquitos. We spray regularly and are able to keep most out of the house most of the time. When traveling outside the city, anti-malarial medication is highly recommended.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We use the pouch. The Mauritanian postal system is not exactly reliable. DHL and UPS are prohibitively expensive.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Readily available at US$250 a month and up for full time.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

The embassy has one small gym. There are a few gyms, one at the stadium and one called Power Gym. I don't know much more about the last two other than that they exist.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

This is a cash economy. Credit cards are accepted at the hotels if the machines are working. I have heard no complaints about ATMs, but have not used one myself.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Protestant and Catholic services are available at the Catholic church on the weekends. Not sure if the Catholic services are in English though.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Use the internet.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You need to know some French if you want to talk to people.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

This city is not accommodating to those with physical disabilities. Most businesses are not. The embassy is not. There are few sidewalks, many steps, and a few very, very steep ramps.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

No. Bring a car or buy one from someone leaving.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

A 4x4 vehicle for sure; Toyota or Mercedes are most common and so would be more easily serviced.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

ADSL. Not sure of the cost yet. Can't figure the bill out.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

They are all cheap and easy to buy.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are a couple vets here that people are happy with. No kennels.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No. There are sometimes opportunities at the schools.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual at work, casual but conservative in public.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Terrorism is a constant concern. An American was killed here in 2009 by terrorists. The terrorists were arrested and convicted and are now in prison for life. Most people counter this threat by staying in Nouakchott. It is also notable that the Mauritanian government is very active against terrorism. Crime is not a major concern - at least not worse than any big city in the US.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Poor medical care on the economy. Don't get sick to the point of hospitalization. Make sure you have medevac insurance.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Moderate air quality. Dust/dirt/sand are omnipresent since Nouakchott is on the edge of the Sahara Desert.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot and hotter. The coolest it gets is 75 F and that's at night. The hottest temps are in the summer and sometimes it's over 110 F. Despite being the desert, sometimes it is humid because of the ocean. Generally it is dry, though. The rainy season (August, September, and October) brings some major rains overnight or quick storms during the day, which also significantly raise the humidity.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The American International School of Nouakchott (AISN) is on the US embassy compound so it benefits from their security. It's Pre-K (3/4 year-olds) through grade 12 with about 60 kids. The combined grades are a plus for students who attend. Academically, the junior high is sufficient, but socially it is difficult due to the small class size. The high school is very new and graduated its first student in June 2011. Students who want to participate in athletics or other school-sponsored extra activities will not find them due to the small size. For strictly social reasons (and not academic) I would not bring kids over 5th grade here. AISN is accredited through 12th grade.

The other English language school is The Learning Center (TLC). TLC started in 2005 as an inexpensive alternative to AISN. They moved into a new building for the 2011-2012 school year and have Pre-K (2 year olds and up) through eighth in traditional classrooms, and high school through correspondence. This is the first year TLC will have 6th grade and higher. TLC also has small class sizes and has a good reputation. TLC is working toward accreditation since it is a new school.

The French school is attached to the French embassy compound and the best French language school in the country. I have heard very few complaints. Some people argue it's tougher than those in France, others argue it's easier. Who knows?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

AISN and TLC have limited to no special needs assistance due to their size. AISN does have ESL training.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Both AISN and TLC have preschool. Both have a good reputation. The French School and Petite Centre (the #2 French school in town) both have Pre-K too. Not too sure of their reputations though. Daycare is only provided in-home by nannies or housekeepers.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Not really. There is a baseball league for 8-12 year olds in the spring and fall. The kids have a great time.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Small - under 200.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty good. Families and couple fare better. Singles find themselves working too much since there is little else to do.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Most entertaining happens at others' homes or at embassies. There are some nightclubs, but I am the wrong person to ask. People seem to be very good at making their own fun.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is a good city for families who like to spend time together on the weekends and holidays. Couples would be able to spend a lot of time together and would probably splurge every few months to fly out to Morocco or Tunis. If the flight from Senegal is actually available, this is a good option but since my arrival, the flight has not been operating at least half the time. Singles find it difficult. There are limited social outlets for those who do not speak French.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Among the Mauritanians there are definitely some racial prejudices, but Westerners rarely face this.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Going to the beach just outside of town. Spending time with family. Trips to Banc d'Arguin.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Go to the beach. Go to the pool. Go to the dunes for a traditional Mauritanian tea ceremony. Go to the fish market. Go to the camel market. See the view from the Khaima center (at 10 stories the tallest building in Nouakchott). Driving out of town is difficult due to the security situation and overall desolation of the country. If you want to travel to some of the historic sites like Chinguetti, it's a day's drive from Nouakchott with no rest areas, no restaurants, few gas stations and limited hotel options. You must plan ahead, drive a 4x4 and bring your own water, food and gas just in case.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Nothing.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

To have been somewhere few people have heard of and fewer have ever visited.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, unless you travel anywhere.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, but not with older kids (see school section above).

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Hurried life and winter clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen and sunglasses.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This is a really tough place to adjust to and a lousy place to live. But the work is rewarding and if you have the right attitude and make friends, you can enjoy a relaxing couple of years here.

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