Nouakchott, Mauritania Report of what it's like to live there - 04/30/19

Personal Experiences from Nouakchott, Mauritania

Nouakchott, Mauritania 04/30/19

Background:

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

Several posts in Africa and Asia.

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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?

USA. There are direct US flights from Dakar, otherwise we take the red-eye flight from Nouakchott to Paris and on to US. We frankly try to avoid the Casablanca route because of the long awkward layover and all the stories about luggage pilfering.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A little over two years.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We have good housing. Size ranges from huge to small. Ours is on the smaller side. Water, plumbing and electrical problems are typical.

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

There are several larger grocery stores that cater to expats. They are all over the cost spectrum: some very expensive and some very affordable, just don't think you can always get what you want/need. If you see something you think you may need within the next couple months, it is usually best to get it because it may not be there when you need it. That said, some less typical items like Agave syrup, birthday candles are pretty typically found in the main expat shopping place. There is also one store in Nouakchott that brings in product from CostCo, so if you are willing to pay (sometimes about 5-10 times what you would in the states), you can sometimes get lucky and find that Kirkland brand product you are looking for. There are also some Asian grocery stores around town.

We usually send out housekeeper to the market for vegetables. Good small fruit stands around town, but fruits are available only when in season. I think most are imported from Morocco.

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

Vanilla for cooking, as I've only been able to find imitation vanilla in the America store. We shipped in diapers and household paper products. Lower quality is available locally. I buy flour locally, but many people ship in since if it sits too long on the grocery shelf, it gets bugs. We also shipped in all our vitamins/supplements and the brands that we simply got used to using over the years. We didn't use our consumables shipment, but got most things locally or via DPO and we survived just fine.

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

There's a couple good sandwich/shwarma places we go to a lot. There is a new-ish Indian place that does home delivery. Take out is available just about anywhere, but the fancier places will look at you sideways if you ask for take-out instead of eating there.

Yes, it is possible to get a decent steak here. Seafood is usually excellent. Pizza is OK. There's a couple Chinese restaurants in town but Mandarin is very helpful for ordering.

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

Periodic cockroaches and ants, and one mouse. This can get worse during the hot season. We brought some traps that worked great. Some products also available locally, but safety is questionable.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic mail.

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

It can be challenging to find someone who cooks. We hire a cook/housekeeper/nanny and a gardener.

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

The Embassy has a small but nice gym. There are local gyms, but type equipment and the state of repair may not be what you are used to. The main stadium, Olympic Stadium, is still currently closed (over two years). It was the hub for people who just wanted to walk/jog, kick around a soccer ball. Now, people are simply walking around the exterior perimeter (we hope it will open back up again).

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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?

Some hotels take credit cards, but don't assume that all do! There are ATMs, which I use from time to time, but unless you have a local account, fees are quite high.

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

There is a Catholic Church for expats, and I understand that Protestant services are also available but I'm not sure where. Mosques, obviously, are everywhere!

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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?

Arabic is extremely useful here. French is also good for some people. Tutors are available you can find them through the yahoo group ExpatRIM.

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

This is not a city that most expats walk around in. Most people get around by car. Most streets and stores do not have accomodations for disabled (e.g., wheel chairs).

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Transportation:

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

We are not allowed to take public transportation. That said, there are LOTs of taxis around, most in a poor state of repair.

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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 is really useful if you want to go to the beach (a good eight minutes on a very bumpy, sandy road) but not necessary. It is necessary if you plan to go on road trips (e.g., Banc d'Arguin). You can buy a sand ladder locally, which will help your car get out of the sand). Best to bring your own spare parts and definitely bring tires. Tires are extremely expensive here!

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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?

Internet speed can vary regardless of the package you have. Some days we can stream movies, while other days the signal is even too weak for a Skype phone call.

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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?

There are currently three providers, and a fourth, affiliated with Orange was recently approved. You can buy smart phones here, but they are a bit expensive (but some cases less than US) and most likely won't be the latest models.

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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?

Local paid jobs may be difficult to find. International NGOs and schools, however, may be options for paid employment. Lots of volunteer opportunities available, especially if you are creative, but some level of Arabic/French would likely be extremely useful.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of local organizations!

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

Depends. Suits are typical for business environments (embassy, banks, international businesses) despite the heat, although I tend to think of Nouakchott as a fairly relaxed (forgiving) enviroment.

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Health & Safety:

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

Check out travel.state.gov Mauritania page for safety and security info.

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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?

Quality of medical care in private clinics is not the highest in the world, but is decent. Referrals to Dakar/Europe are not uncommon.

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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?

Dusty. Some people here have air purifiers which tend to work pretty well if you are very sensitive.

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

Peanuts are sometimes used in local foods (e.g., Mafe').

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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?

Hot and dry is typical, although November through February is usually absolutely gorgeous with nice cool nights. Dust storms are not uncommon during the change between seasons and can last a couple days. Rain is usually pretty minimal.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is American International School of Nouakchott, which is very small but accredited in the U.S.. There is also TLC school, which is an American-run school.

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2. 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?

AISN has a pre-K class. Other preschools are around town however I do not have experience with them. AISN has periods of after-school activities (50 mins), but they do not run for the entire school year.

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

There are soccer clubs around town. There is also a French-run horseback riding club that specializes in teaching kids.

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Expat Life:

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

Fairly small expat community, but if you are willing to network, it is quite diverse.

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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?

Dinners/outings with friends, CLO trips, twice monthly ZeinArt community "fairs".

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

If the single person is willing to network and make new friends, you will have a great time. Having a car is highly recommended! For families, it is nice provided you are flexible with kids activities, since many may not be available here.

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

Officially, LGBT activities are against the law.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Mauritanians are lovely, gentle people in general. They pride themselves on being very hospitable. You will likely be invited to many dinners and unique experiences if you make any attempt to make Mauritanian friends.

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

I feel there are significant ethnic issues. Mauritanian women are quite strong both within the family and within society.

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

The beach, riding camels, the people, the photo opportunities, and the time to persue my personal hobbies.

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

Learn how to ride horses, and ride them on the beach; learn how to dye fabric in a traditional style; drink camel's milk; negotiate prices of arts and crafts. It's all what you make of it. Don't expect night clubs and entertainment parks!

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

I love the leather poofs, hand-tooled leather key chains, silver inlaid ebony boxes, and the hand-dyed fabrics.

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

It is what you make of it. It is a place of tremendous opportunity if you are willing to look for it (Arabic and French language helps!)

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Have an open mind and a flexible watch (most things will not start on time, so you have to be patient)! People here tend to be very serious Muslims and tend to pray on-time. Events tend to be organized around the call to prayer. Wear sunscreen!

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

Yes!

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

Winter clothes and snow tires.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sun screen, vanilla extract, extra car tires, and your hobby needs.

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