Nouakchott, Mauritania Report of what it's like to live there - 04/20/14
Personal Experiences from Nouakchott, Mauritania
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Lived and worked in Africa before.
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?
DC is about 18 hours total travel time with a connection in Paris. Air France is the best and most reliable carrier in and out of Nouakchott. Connections are available through Morocco but bags are frequently "lost" in transit through Morocco.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Affiliated with the U.S. Government.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Houses are consistent with Arab style houses in the Middle East. Construction is of very poor quality, electrical work is haphazard and structural problems are the norm. Finding housing in areas that do not flood is difficult. Some houses have pools but they are often leaking and require considerable maintenance. Commutes are generally short from the various neighborhood westerners inhabit (about 5 to 10 minutes).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries and household supplies are available but expensive. Two words, Amazon Prime.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Alcohol.... Lots of alcohol.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a few non chain "fast food" restaurant but you eat at your own risk.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos are a problem all year.Most westerners sleep with Mosquito nets on their beds and take malaria medications. Cockroaches are everywhere and houses need to be regularly sprayed with insecticide to keep the population down.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Housekeepers earn about US$200 a month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I believe a "gym" has opened in Nouakchott. Prices are likely high and not commiserate with the equipment and facilities. Hygiene is an issue in most places in Nouakchott - restaurants, shops, etc... I would imagine it would be the same at a gym but cannot speak from experience.
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?
Don't do it.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is a church in Nouakchott but I am not sure of the times.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You will need to speak French and it helps if you speak Arabic.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. This is not a good city for someone with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
You will need an SUV. Toyota is probably the most common. Nissan Exteras seem to be the most problematic vehicles imported from the U.S.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Internet is expensive and the service terrible.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You will need to buy a SIM card when you arrive.
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?
I don't think there is a quarantine or anything of that nature. There are some veterinarians in Nouakchott. I don't know if they are real veterinarians or not.
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?
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business attire at the Embassy. Anywhere else - men can where whatever they want women... Not so much. Women need to dress conservatively.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Terrorism is always on everyone's mind. Crime seems to be increasing too but most of the information about crime is anecdotal or gathered by embassy security people.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There is no "medical care" in Nouakchott. The various clinics and hospitals are substandard at best. Medevac is the most common way of dealing with medical issues. Health concerns are numerous. Stomach problems such a parasites are common. Upper respiratory infections are also a problem due to poor air quality and fecal matter in the air. Malaria and dengue fever are always a concern. Air France flies through Conakry prior to landing in Nouakchott so Ebola is on the radar now too.
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?
Poor. The air in Nouakchott is awful. Dry, dusty conditions can make fecal matter airborne causing stomach problems for those not accustomed to it. Dust is everywhere. You cannot keep the dust out of your house or apartment.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot most of the year. December through March can be nice. Rainy seasons in September and August can incapacitate the city with flooding. Flooding can last for weeks and pose health risks.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is a French school and an American school. Both are adequate.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
Daycare is available by hiring a nanny. An English speaking nanny will earn a monthly salary of about US$200 to $300.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Sort of. Parents do their best to keep our kids busy. Generally, the assignments are only about 2 years long so most parents figure the lack of activities will not affect the kids too much. Admittedly, teenagers seem to suffer the most as there are no malls, theaters, or any such social outlets for them. Most families send their kids home over the summer as there is not much for them to do. CLO does a great job of putting together a summer camp for kids and some kids stay but the heat and the lack of activities usually prompts parents to send their kids back to stay with grandparents etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are a handful of expats in Nouakchott but many are leaving.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Entertain in your home.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families will be in a better position to make it through an assignment here. Singles may want to shop around for another post.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. Racial issues are a significant problem. Slavery is still very much a problem in Mauritania. Religion is also a problem. The good old days of tolerance and moderate Islam are quickly disappearing. Christians often practice their faith in their homes. If you are expecting traditional west African moderate Islam, you will be disappointed.
Airport officials, in keeping with the shift to less tolerance, have started seizing alcohol from westerners arriving at NKC - this includes searching diplomats bags. Airport "Customs" officials are charging ridiculous fines for a bottle of wine etc... For many expats, I believe this is the icing on the cake. Mauritania is already a very difficult place to live... Badgering incoming westerners will do little to improve people's interest in coming here.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Rare visits to cultural sites outside Nouakchott, the close community of western diplomats and expats, developing friendships with moderate Mauritanians. The proximity to France is also a plus. Most westerners visit France during their tour in Mauritania to get their fix of pork and wine.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are some cultural sites in the countryside but truthfully, there is very little in the way of tourism or tourist traps in Mauritania. Mauritanians as a whole are very warm and hospitable. They have a great sense of humor and tend to like Americans. Unfortunately, the hardline Islamist minority is making the country less and less attractive to westerners.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Mauritanians don't have any handy crafts or things like that. Most of the craft items here are from Senegal or Morocco.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There are no real advantages to living in Nouakchott anymore. Unfortunately, the culture and tourism aspects of Mauritania are quickly being made inaccessible by an increased terrorist threat and an increase in hardline conservative Islam practices. The city, which once was a rustic west African Fishing village where people were accepting and moderate, has changed significantly in last 15 years. The "feel" of the city has changed. Crime is increasing, the local media seems to be afraid to honestly assess the situation, and the city is becoming overcrowded.
10. Can you save money?
I think so. Food that won't make you sick is pretty expensive so it's a toss up.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I pretty much knew what I was getting into. Other seem to arrive thinking Mauritania was going to be safe and enjoyable; it is neither.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Excitement about a tour in Africa as Nouakchott is more like the Middle East than Africa.
4. But don't forget your:
Deet, alcohol, and pepto.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
7. Do you have any other comments?
If you're not already assigned, keep bidding. If you are.... Good luck.