Nouakchott, Mauritania Report of what it's like to live there - 05/17/16

Personal Experiences from Nouakchott, Mauritania

Nouakchott, Mauritania 05/17/16

Background:

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

We have been assigned to the Middle East, Gulf, and Europe, but this is by far the most culture shock I have ever felt arriving at a new post. I don't mean that in a bad way, this is just a really, really different place.

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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?

Flights to/from the US are usually on an Air France code share to Paris, then an afternoon flight on Air France to Nouakchott. It's not cheap to get out of here on your own dime, but you need to in order to maintain your sanity.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Eight months.

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

U.S. 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?

Housing is BIG, and one of the best things about this post. My children think our house is like a palace. It has high walls and a small area of grass and plants - lots of people have fruit trees or vegetable gardens. The inside of the house is big, large enough for the kids to scooter inside when it is hot out (most people live on dirt roads so even if the RSO was cool with us riding bikes around outside, the lack of asphalt is a hindrance)with massive bedrooms and a nice rooftop. Pretty much everyone is within 15 minutes drive of the Embassy. Housing is great and even though the construction quality is not the best, Facilities and the General Services Office work hard to keep it comfortable for us.

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

Groceries and household supplies can be found to supplement your consumables, but it's the veggies and meat and fruit that are a bit lacking. It's really hit or miss. We started importing stuff from the Canary Islands on a monthly basis, which has been a huge morale booster.

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

I would ship all liquid consumables since this is a pouch-only post. Condiments, toiletries, peanut butter, birthday presents for kids parties. Candy (not chocolate), snacks, popcorn. Max out your consumables and ship all you can. If you find you don't need it, someone else will probably take it off your hands.

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

No fast food, and very little in the way of decent restaurants in town. I think you could make a strong case that the Embassy cafeteria is the best restaurant in Nouakchott. That's not an exaggeration. Almost everything I eat is either from the Embassy cafe or my home.

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

Not as bad as I thought it would be. My house only had a few cockroaches when I moved in and we were able to get rid of them quickly. Almost no ants. But the mosquitoes, they are everywhere. If you don't sleep under your embassy-provided mosquito net over your bed, they will eat you alive.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch. The shipping time is actually pretty good, about three weeks or so. We tend to get mail twice a week.

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

I brought a nanny with me and am glad I did but I understand that most people use non-Mauritanians as domestic workers (folks from other West African countries).

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

The embassy has a very small gym. People who like to run do laps around the perimeter of the Embassy.

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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?

No, just cash a check at the Embassy.

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

I have heard there is one, but it's not widely advertised since this is an Islamic Republic.

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

Not too much. If you speak French you can get by making change in the store or shopping. Aside from shopping I don't know how much interaction you would do with locals, really.

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

I can't imagine someone with physical disabilities getting on well here.

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Transportation:

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

No, no, and no.

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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?

4X4 - something like a Toyota is good. Nothing too fancy or electronic. The dust is not good for the cars. Ship extra tires if you can, the dirt and unpaved roads are terrible on tires. If you have any desire to get out of town and travel, you need a big car.

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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?

The internet is much better than I thought it would be, although the speed can fluctuate. Sometimes I can download a 50 minute TV show on iTunes in 45 minutes, sometimes it will take several hours. Skype works OK for video chats, and my Vonage phone line is pretty clear.

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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?

Cell phones are provided by the embassy, but there are tons of guys on the side of the road selling SIM cards if you need an extra one. My nanny brought an unlocked phone and I got her a sim card from a guy on the corner.

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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 quarantine. When I brought my dog in they didn't want to see any paperwork. Some people may tell you Mauritania is not a good place for dogs, and they are right. Mauritania is not a good place for dogs, however my house is an AWESOME place for my dog. She has plenty of room to run inside since it's a massive house, we have a very secure walled-in garden that even the most dedicated digger would never be able to escape from, a nice grassy area for her to do her business, and a great Irish veterinarian who is very pleasant and knowledgeable. When you leave town you are going to have to find someone to pet-sit for you, though, as there are no kennels here. But I am very glad I have a dog here - it gives my kids something to occupy them because let's face it, there's not a ton of stuff to do. If you aren't comfortable taking your dog to the beach (there are stray dogs there who have sometimes gotten into altercations with domestic pets) you can always bring your dog to run on the embassy compound on the evenings or weekends.

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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?

I don't know of anyone who works on the economy, but the U.S. Embassy works very hard to employ employee spouses who want to work.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

I am not aware of any, which is a pity in a country which could use the assistance.

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

Standard business dress works for most situations.

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Health & Safety:

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

Definitely. The Regional Security Officer (RSO) does not want us to walk in public, but honestly, there really isn't any place to walk here anyways. You can go to the beach and walk there, but as far as strolling a few blocks from your house down to a grocery store, that is frowned upon due to violent crime. No taxis or buses are allowed either. All residences have 24-hour Embassy security guards and barbed wire. All travel outside of the city must be first approved by RSO.

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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?

We have a Foreign Service Nurse Practitioner and a local-hire nurse who handle most things like minor illnesses or stitches. For anything more than that you will need to be medically evacuated. Medical care is not suitable here for much of anything. Lots of gastrointestinal problems and we are advised to take malaria pills.

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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?

Very dusty. It's difficult to open the windows in the winter (you wouldn't want to in the summer because of the heat) because so much dust would accumulate in your house. On some days it's so hazy the sun is almost obscured. But it's not like that every day.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

It's really dusty here. Watery eyes and sore throats from the dust is common. If you have food allergies here I don't know what you would do. There are sugar-free/stevia-sweetened things sold in some stores, but I haven't seen any vegan options at all.

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

Summer is dreadfully hot. But the winter is really really lovely. It rained the month after I arrived, but there has not been a drop since.

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Schools & Children:

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

Most kids go to the American International School of Nouakchott, and I have been happy there. It is co-located with the Embassy and it's convenient to have the kids close by. Be forewarned this school is SMALL, there are less than 100 kids K-12. But the library is better than I thought it would be for the size. Both my kids are challenged academically and are happy with their teachers.

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

Both my kids have ADHD and since the school is really small they look out for them well. I think if you had more severe special needs you might want to think hard about coming here. There are very few resources here for support.

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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?

I have heard of one preschool being used but I don't know anything about it.

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

The school sometimes has some after school programs like tae kwon do, and there is a tennis court here, but if your kids are into large scale organized competitive sports, this is probably not the post for you.

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Expat Life:

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

The Spanish have a pretty big Embassy right next door to us, the French too (although they have their own compound so they tend to keep to themselves a little more) and then there are a handful of other international organizations. Not a huge expatriate community by any means, but enough to make friends if you try.

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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?

We are a "make your own fun" post. Since this is a dry country and there are really NO public places where diplomats or expatriates gather, our Embassy hosts monthly happy hours with beer and wine which go over very well and are a great morale booster. The Community Liaison Office Coordinator (CLO) works very hard to make things fun for us. There is monthly trivia night, and people entertain in their homes. Things are busier than one would expect.

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

Know upfront that there are NO clubs, malls, or movie theaters here, little to nothing in the way of cultural pursuits. You have to make your own fun. If you know that going into it, you won't be surprised. There is a "conservatory" (term used quite loosely) where music lessons are provided for kids. My son took drum lessons in a garage from the drummer of a very popular music group. There's also horseback riding for kids.

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

If you were open about it in town, that would not go over very well here. But since almost all our socializing is with other diplomats and expatriates in private homes or on our own diplomatic installations, it might not matter as much.

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

YES.

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

The beach is 20 minutes away and beautiful.

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

The beach is the best thing we have here, and it's lovely. The Canary Islands are only 2 hours away by plane, but unfortunately the flights aren't cheap. Morocco is one flight away too. Dakar is a long drive which requires a bit of planning, but Senegal is a nice break from here. Within Mauritania, there are nice beaches up by Nouadhibou, and Chinguetti is a day's drive into the desert.

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

I really haven't bought any handicrafts here.

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

Well, there's not a ton to do, so it's a simple life. You have the ability to save a lot of money and spend good quality time with your family, if you have one. The weather in the winter time is heavenly. In the summer, not so much.

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10. Can you save money?

Oh heck yes, as long as you don't jet off to the Canaries every month for a long weekend.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Unless you have spent time in other developing countries, this place can be a big shock. But once you get used to it, Mauritania is actually not that bad. The weather is great for much of the year, the beaches are clean and great for kids and adults alike, and the post is large enough that there are plenty of people to hang out with. Morale is generally pretty good here and people genuinely take care of each other. You won't find that at a lot of posts in developed countries. So all things considered, this place is OK.

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

Sure! It's can be rough living here, no doubt. But this post is really pretty good. It's all what you make of it.

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

Winter clothes, although it's not uncommon to see the locals wearing hats and parkas when temperatures drop into the 60s.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure and willingness to make the best of things.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

I tried hard to find anything about Mauritania before I came, but the closest I could come is a small clip in Michael Palin's "Sahara" miniseries where he rode the train up in the north. Not really too helpful. If you do a YouTube search on Nouakchott you will find some videos of the chaotic traffic here, but there's not much else out there, which only adds to the mystery.

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

.

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