Nouakchott, Mauritania Report of what it's like to live there - 09/15/20
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, we have lived overseas for over ten years in other developing countries within the Soviet sphere.
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?
Sioux Falls, South Dakota is where we call home. Nouakchott is quite far from there, but flying thru Paris with Air France and then either Chicago or Detroit allows for a good connection. Travel is easy, but takes quite some time. Air France is good with pets and this is the best way to get pets on the plane. Flying Royal Air Maroc thru JFK is another option, but not so good with pets from what I have heard.
3. How long have you lived here?
We worked in Nouakchott for two years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Working for the government thru a diplomatic mission.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are mostly from Spain or France. Produce comes from Morocco or Spain, but isn't always fresh. You can find quality products from Spain or France as you would in Europe. Variety sometimes lacks but you can get what you need to meet a Western diet. Household supplies relative to the USA are similar, but you do miss the occasional special product such as maple syrup, bbq sauces, hot sauces, or beef jerky. For the rest of the mainstay products you can find them, but you might have to hit a couple of stores to find the ones you want.
2. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I was happy to have shipped bbq sauces, hot sauces, brown sugar, beef jerky, maple syrup, Dr. Pepper, A&W root beer, American cereals, bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, canned fruits, Gatorade mix, canned pineapples, canned pears, a variety of spices, hot wing sauce, and different Tabascos/Cholula/Zapatio hot sauce. Old Bay is important too for seafood, as are Cajun seasonings for fish.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a steak house, a French restaurant, lots of seafood places, a Moroccan restaurant and lots of Lebanese places to eat some great food. There are a couple of greasy spoons out there too for burgers and sandwiches, including milkshakes.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No, housing is well-managed. You might have the occasional insect coming in but that is usually a one-off.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We sent them thru mail at work. No issues but delivery takes longer than larger posts, but nothing that we hadn't seen before.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We had a gardener for 2200 MRU/month for one visit per week which was very affordable. Household help is readily available and there is a pool of experienced staff who have worked at residences for other personnel.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a well-supplied gym at work. There are other gyms on the economy that are said to be affordable but with the COVID 19 pandemic, many have had interrupted service.
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?
Best to use cash. Check cashing at work along with an ATM makes life easier.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are religious services available but I am unaware of the languages.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Local language is helpful but one can get around with a smile and a friendly way. Mauritanians are very welcoming and ready to help.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Sidewalks are limited in the city and many roads are not paved, which would make it problematic for some people.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We did not use any buses, trains or taxis as we are strongly encouraged to only use cars.
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?
An SUV is important so that you can drive to the beach, drive around town and drive through puddles during the six days of rain per year as it does rain heavily for short periods on those days. Good tires are needed, preferable six tires (two spares). Parts are available for most Japanese and European brands, but owners of American vehicles should bring extra engine and cabin air filters, motor oils, wiper blades, tires, oil filters, extra bulbs and maybe even a belt if yours is old.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed home internet access is available ,but is sporadic on occasion. Still, many stream movies online and manage alright. It takes a week or two to upgrade the connection but most residences are already hooked up upon arrival.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Mobile phones are available to employees and family members can get assistance in getting phones.
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?
We used two veterinarians who were both educated in Tunisia and knowledgeable. They were able to give exams and provide rabies shots, but for pets best to bring your own drops for ticks, fleas and heart worm medication. No quarantine needed.
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?
Some people can teach at the French or American schools, or at oil companies.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
One can find places to volunteer if they want, and Mauritanians are always welcoming and helpful.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress code at work is business casual but formal for meetings. A European influence in formality in language and dress are respected in the workplace due to the cultural influences.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Security briefings will provide insights but one can walk on the streets during the day and feel very safe. I felt very safe during my two years at post, but traffic is sometimes chaotic but that is to be expected as traffic lights sometimes fail and other road hazards are occasionally present.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I was not food poisoned in my two years in Nouakchott, which was a great surprise. Mauritania is a malaria zone country in the South but occurences are rare. There are private medical clinics available and care is ok, but medevac will be needed for more serious conditions as is the case in many developing countries in the world. The Canary Islands are two hours away, Paris is a five hour flight from Nouakchott.
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?
Air is ok in Nouakchott, dusty sandstorms (Harmattans) that are seasonal bring lots of dust but these are only during the spring and not numerous. We did not have any allergies in Nouakchott due to the arid climate and the air pollution did not affect us.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
I am not aware of any mental health issues that had developed.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is very hot, like Arizona. There are only six days of precipitation during the year, and these are in the late summer/fall and include on some days ten minutes of drizzle which is counted as rain but was actually nothing more than a sun shower. Other days, there is a downpour but those come and go.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The International Schools are good, there is a French one and an American one. Quality of education is good and people seem satisfied with the services.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The schools are well-managed but I am unsure of specific accommodations that are available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Expats are active, there are diplomatic events and also events at people's residences. There is a very welcoming atmosphere in the community in Nouakchott.
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?
People go to each others' houses. There is also an International Women's Club that is popular.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is a decent city for single people but one must get on the circuit to mingle between different communities. It is the same for couples and families, but networking is very important.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Mauritania is a very conservative society but as mentioned above, networking within the community will allow for one to establish networks of friends.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Locals are very welcoming and ready to help whenever they can. They are open to pretty much everyone, but this is a conservative society.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Mauritanians are very welcoming people and are ready to help newcomers to the community. It is a conservative country but people of different backgrounds can call it home too.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I enjoyed driving on the beach, driving to the sand dunes and walking the streets while listening to the people and the traffic that I so looked forward to prior to coming to Nouakchott. There is life in the city but you have to get out and see it rather than just stay home.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I enjoyed going to the sand dunes, walking on them, and taking photos. I also enjoyed driving on the beach- a 4x4 vehicle is key to do this. Walking on the beach is great too so that you can see the wildlife and the aquatic life too. It is something I will always remember.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There is a great store for handicrafts and artwork in town, which is a cultural focal point for the expat community.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
You get to live in Africa, specifically West Africa, without the high level of malaria of sub-Saharan Africa while feeling safe.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had known about how much I was going to like it.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Sure I would! Mauritanians are great, and I enjoyed living and participating in this community. There was a real sense of community for us- this is not a "commuter campus"-type environment.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Ideas of what it is to serve in this region. You will discover that it is just like anywhere else in the world where being open-minded and flexibility are key to having a good time during your tour.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunglasses, sunblock and bathing suit! (and don't forget a beach umbrella, a big Coleman cooler and beach chairs too!)
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The movie "Sahara" is a 2005 action-adventure comedy film directed by Breck Eisner that is based on the best-selling 1992 novel of the same name by Clive Cussler. It stars Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn and Penélope Cruz. It will show you the desert, the heat, and some of the Saharan environment. But don't forget that Mauritania has a coastline with hundred of kilometers of beaches.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Give it a try- you'll have fun, I promise.