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THE PEACE CORPS WELCOMES YOU TO

MAURITANIA

A P E A C E C O R P S P U B L I C ATI O N
FOR NEW VOLUNTEERS

March 200 9
A W E L C O M E L E T TE R
Dear Future Volunteers,

Congratulations on your invitation to join the training class


for Peace Corps/Mauritania! We await your arrival and look
forward to having you with us over the next two years. I
started my job with Peace Corps/Mauritania in June 2001, but
I have lived and worked in Africa for many years, including
serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in both the Central African
Republic and in the Republic of Tunisia. I hope you will come
to appreciate the wonders of this continent as I have.

While you will have to leave many comforts and expectations


of efficiency at home, if you keep an open mind, you can
trade these for amazing experiences and deep and lasting
friendships that will enhance the rest of your life. There is
a very rich experience waiting for you to unfold here. Let it
happen. There will be differences in culture, language, and
religion that will become evident in the things that people
hold sacred, in their humor, and in the way they order their
lives. Understanding and respecting these differences will be
critical to your effectiveness and happiness as a Volunteer.

In addition to a strong ability to operate self-sufficiently,


your ability to communicate in French, Arabic, or a local
language will be a key to your success here. We are serious
about language training and have a great program, but there is
only so much we can do in 10 weeks. So give yourself a head
start by reviewing any French or Arabic textbooks, taking
advantage of Rosetta Stone software, or listening to language
PodCasts; you will be glad you did.
The Peace Corps program in Mauritania is a growing and
dynamic one. Volunteers are working in agroforestry,
environmental education, small enterprise development,
English education, health, girls education, and information
and communication technologies. More than 1,900 Volunteers
have served here and continue to do incredible and important
work. We hope you will join us in this great adventure. If you
bring your hopes, willingness to learn, and a sense of humor,
you will be fine. Welcome! Im looking forward to meeting you.

Obie E. Shaw
Country Director
RPVC, Central African Republic (199093) and
Tunisia (199395)
TA B L E O F C O NTE NTS
Map of Mauritania

A Welcome Letter 1

Peace Corps/Mauritania History and Programs 7


History of the Peace Corps in Mauritania 7
History and Future of Peace Corps
Programming in Mauritania 7-10

Country Overview: Mauritania at a Glance 13


History and Government 13-15
Economy 15-16
People and Culture 16
Environment 16-18

Resources for Further Information 21

Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle 29


Communications 29-31
Housing and Site Location 31-32
Living Allowance and Money Management 32-33
Food and Diet 33-34
Transportation 34
Geography and Climate 34-35
Social Activities 35
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior 35-36
Personal Safety 36-37
Rewards and Frustrations 37-38
Peace Corps Training 41
Overview of Pre-Service Training 41-44
Technical Training 42
Language Training 42-43
Cross-Cultural Training 43-44
Health Training 44
Safety Training 44
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service 44-45

Your Health Care and Safety in Mauritania 47


Health Issues in Mauritania 47-48
Helping You Stay Healthy 48
Maintaining Your Health 49-50
Womens Health Information 51
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit 51-51
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist 52-54
Safety and SecurityOur Partnership 54-61
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk 55-56
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk 57
Support from Staff 58
Crime Data for Mauritania 58-60
Security Issues in Mauritania 61-62
Staying Safe: Dont Be a Target for Crime 62
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training
and Volunteer Support in Mauritania 63-65

Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues 67


Overview of Diversity in Mauritania 68
What Might a Volunteer Face? 68-72
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers 68-69
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color 69-70
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers 70
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers 71
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers 71-72
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities 72
Frequently Asked Questions 75

Welcome Letters From Mauritania Volunteers 81

Packing List 93

Pre-departure Checklist 103

Contacting Peace Corps Headquarters 107


P E A C E C O R P S / M A U R I TA N I A
H I S T O RY A N D P R O G R A M S
History of the Peace Corps in Mauritania

The Peace Corps began working in Mauritania in 1967. Since


then, more than 1,100 Peace Corps Volunteers have completed
two years of service, working in the core sectors of education,
health and water sanitation, agriculture, and small business
development. Early programs were aimed at building roads,
bridges, and dams; improving health; and teaching English,
math, and physics. The foundations for the current program
were laid in the 1980s, when Volunteers began to work in
agriculture and environmental conservation, cooperatives,
and health and Guinea worm eradication. In the 1990s,
the agriculture and environmental conservation projects
merged to form what is now the agroforestry project, while
the cooperatives and the health and Guinea worm projects
were expanded to become small business development and
community health and water sanitation, respectively. In
2000, Peace Corps/Mauritania reopened the English language
instruction program and created environmental education as an
additional project. In 2006, our newest project, Girls' Education
and Empowerment, was established. There are currently 150
Volunteers working in the country.

History and Future of Peace Corps Programming


in Mauritania

Peace Corps/Mauritania works in seven primary areas:


community health, education, agroforestry, environmental
education, small enterprise development, information and

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 7
communication technologies, and girls' education and
empowerment. Each of these projects was chosen based on
needs expressed by both the government of Mauritania and
local communities.

Volunteers in community health are working to improve the


health of rural populations by giving these communities the
skills necessary to reduce the incidence of water-borne and
hygiene-related diseases. Specific projects include promoting
community health education and training village-based health
agents.

Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) education


Volunteers teach english to Mauritanian students in middle and
high schools as their primary assignment. They also work to
improve the quality of education in Mauritania by working with
host-country national teachers, designing teaching materials,
and setting up lesson plan banks. Volunteers are also involved
in community development through outreach activities, cross-
sector collaboration, and individual Volunteer initiatives.

Curriculum design and teacher-training specialists assist


partner institutions in the conception, production, and use of
appropriate teaching materials. They also help revise existing
syllabi and textbooks and work with partner institutions to
devise training modules to upgrade the teaching skills of host-
country teachers.

Volunteers in the agroforestry project are part of an integrated


development effort that is improving agriculture and forestry
practices throughout rural Mauritania. More specifically, Peace
Corps Volunteers are attempting to improve the capacity
of local farmers in selected oases and villages to produce
nutritious food, for both consumption and income generation,
while also protecting garden sites, villages, and oases against
sand encroachment and natural degradation. A major emphasis

8 PEACE CORPS
of the Volunteers work is the transfer of technical expertise to
Mauritanian farmers and villagers.

Environmental education Volunteers assist local communities


and their schools in raising environmental awareness and
encouraging school and community members to act in
accordance with the principles of environmental preservation.
The goal is to get these communities to improve their natural
resource management practices. The project promotes
community-driven and sustainable solutions to environmental
issues and emphasizes the use of alternative and renewable
energy.

In small enterprise development, Volunteers are transferring


basic business and computer skills to small-scale entrepreneurs
and cooperatives. They are working with Mauritanias
informal economic sector to strengthen its planning, financial
management, marketing, and profitability. These skills will
increase entrepreneurs and cooperatives access to credit,
allowing them to create new businesses or expand existing
ones.

Volunteers are also working in projects designed to enhance


the availability and use of information and communication
technologies. Specialist information communication technology
(ICT) Volunteers work with the local Cisco Academy, the
University of Nouakchott, and in the interior of the country at a
number of newly established technology centers.

The newest Peace Corps/Micronesia project is girls' education


and empowerment. Primarily through U.S. funded Girls'
Mentoring Centers (GMC) located through out the country,
Volunteers provide academic and vocational classes to girls as
a means of supplementing their formal Mauritanian education.
GMCs were established to address the gender imbalance that
exists in the Mauritanian educational system.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 9
The AIDS pandemic strikes across all social strata in many
Peace Corps countries. The loss of teachers has crippled
education systems, while illness and disability drains family
income and forces governments and donors to redirect limited
resources from other priorities. The fear and uncertainty AIDS
causes has led to increased domestic violence and stigmatizing
of people living with HIV/AIDS, isolating them from friends and
family and cutting them off from economic opportunities. As
a Volunteer, you will confront these issues on a very personal
level. It is important to be aware of the high emotional toll
that disease, death, and violence can have on Volunteers. As
you strive to integrate into your community, you will develop
relationships with local people who might die during your
service. Because of the AIDS pandemic, some Volunteers will
be regularly meeting with HIV-positive people and working
with training staff, office staff, and host family members
living with AIDS. Volunteers need to prepare themselves to
embrace these relationships in a sensitive and positive manner.
Likewise, malaria and malnutrition, motor vehicle accidents and
other unintentional injuries, domestic violence, and corporal
punishment are problems a Volunteer may confront. You will
need to anticipate these situations and utilize supportive
resources available throughout your training and service to
maintain your own emotional strength so you can continue to
be of service to your community.

10 PEACE CORPS
NOTES

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 11
C O U N T RY O V E R V I E W :
M A U R I TA N I A AT A G L A N C E
History and Government

French colonization of Mauritania began early in the 20th


century, but the area was not brought under full French
control until about 1934. Until independence, the French
governed the country largely by relying on the authority of
the tribal chiefs, some of whom, such as the emirs of Trarza
and Adrar, had considerable authority. A French protectorate
was proclaimed in 1903, and Mauritania became a French
colony in 1920. As a member of the French West African
Federation, Mauritania participated in the postwar social and
political progress of the French colonies. Its elected officials
gained broad authority in 1957, and Mauritania entered the
French community as an autonomous, but not fully sovereign
state after the French constitutional referendum in 1958.

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania was proclaimed in


November 1958. Two years later, Mauritania became an
independent state. From independence until 1978, Mauritania
was governed by a civilian regime led by Moktar Ould
Daddah, a White Moor lawyer who was known for his work
to establish a consensus among different political parties, as
well as between the White Moors, Black Moors, and Black
Africans, Mauritania's three main ethnic groups. Ould Daddah
emphasized Mauritanias Arab heritage while creating a
single-party regime in which the official Mauritanian Peoples
Party co-opted or suppressed all open political opposition.
In 1973, foreign interests (primarily French) in Mauritanias
iron ore mining industry were nationalized, and Mauritania
withdrew from the West African franc zone and created its

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 13
own currency. Ould Daddah fell from power in 1978 when
his agreement to involve Mauritania in the partition of the
former Spanish Sahara led to military defeat in the conflict.
His government was succeeded by a number of military
governments.

Conflict between Moor and non-Moor ethnic groups, centering


on language, land tenure, and other issues, has been an
important aspect in Mauritanian history since independence.
Mauritanias black community had long complained of racial
discrimination. In early 1989, in retaliation for the expulsion of
Berbers living in Senegal, riots in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou
brought violent attacks on the Senegalese community,
provoking closure of the frontier and mass deportations of
Mauritanians of Senegalese origin.

Mauritania is an independent Islamic republic. Much of its


current political structure dates from 1991, when political
parties were legalized and the constitution was approved after
having been suspended in 1978. However, in August 2005,
a bloodless coup detat brought to power a military junta
that oversaw the transition to democratic rule. In April of
2007. independent candidate Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was
inaugurated as Mauritania's first freely elected president.

Sadly, the establishment of a pro-Western democracy in the


Islamic Republic has also coincided with a small number
of attacks carried out by a group called Al Qeada in the
Islamic Mahgreb in the past year. While these attacks are
disturbing, they were also very isolated. The Mauritanian law
enforcement authorities have reacted swiftly and international
organizations continue to operate safely in the interior of the
country.

Unfortunately, Mauritania's experiment with democracy was


short-lived when General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz declared

14 PEACE CORPS
himself president of the Higher State Council on August 6,
2008, after ousting President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in a
military coup.

Since then, much of the international community has


condemned the coup and demanded the restoration of
constitutional rule. As a result, most nonhumanitarian aid has
been cancelled or suspended.

Economy

Sparsely populated and with most of its land covered by


the Sahara desert, Mauritania is one of the least-developed
countries in the world. Below the endless sands lies the
countrys main natural resource, iron. Up until 2005, the
extraction of iron ore generated nearly all export revenues,
and accounted for about 10 percent of employment. In the
recent past, offshore crude oil production has provided a
small, yet significant, boost to the economy. Besides mining
and crude oil extraction, only the fishing industry has any real
presence in the Mauritanian commercial economy. With such
a narrow base, the economy remains extremely vulnerable to
external shocks, including climatic changes and fluctuations in
world prices for its principal exports.

During the mid-1980s and throughout the 1990s, Mauritania


implemented a series of economic reform programs
seeking to diversify the economy. While the early programs
focused on improving the national infrastructure, later
programs concentrated on the development of the economic
institutions. In terms of GDP growth, these programs have
been successful, with the economy growing by an average
of almost 5 percent per year since 1992. On the other hand,
rapid population growth and resource mismanagement have
stunted improvement in the standard of living for most
Mauritanians. Agriculture, primarily subsistence farming

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 15
and herding, remains the main livelihood of Mauritanians.
Since Mauritania is a net importer of food, the steady rise
in the price of oil and its effect on global food commodities
has sharply raised the local price of food staples, negatively
impacting the diet of the majority of Mauritanians.
The severity of the food crisis has not yet elicited local
demonstrations like other parts of Africa.

People and Culture

Mauritanians are most renowned for their hospitality and


Islamic faithboth readily apparent to visitors. Most first-time
visitors to Mauritania are amazed at the level of friendliness
and openness that Mauritanians exhibit. Greetings (even
between strangers) are prolonged and express great respect
for the person being greeted. In conversations with people
on the street, one is invariably invited to come to their
house, meet their families, and share a meal. Regardless
of age, wealth, or ethnicity, Mauritanians value hospitality
and manifest it most often through serving tea. In a process
steeped in tradition and grace, guests in a Mauritanian
household are served three small glasses of strong green tea.
The tea is minty, the first glass quite bitter, and the third very
sweet.

Virtually all Mauritanians are Muslims. Islam has a profound


effect on the society as a whole, as well as on the lives of
individual citizens. Tenets of the religion are woven into the
educational system, and the Koran also influences much of
the legal system. Visitors quickly become accustomed to
prayer calls echoing throughout a city or village five times a
day. So pervasive is Islam in everyday life that many common
interjections and exclamations are religious in nature, such as
bismillah (in the name of God), alhamdulillah (thanks to
God), and inshallah (God willing).

16 PEACE CORPS
Environment

Mauritanias climate is hot and arid except in the far


south, which has higher humidity. In Nouakchott, daytime
temperatures reach 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter,
although sweaters and blankets are needed at night. Summer
temperatures regularly reach more than 100 F during the day.
Sandstorms can strike anywhere at any time and last from a
few hours to several days. Recurring droughts, coupled with
population growth, threaten the remaining oases and serve to
push the once nomadic herders into the ever more crowded
shantytowns of Mauritanias largest cities. In less than two
decades, the population of Mauritania has shifted from being
70 percent nomadic herdsmen to being 70 percent sedentary
farmers. The ecological regeneration capacity of Mauritania
cannot match the new demands being put on the limited
arable land. This has led to the use of increasingly marginal
land for cultivation. Traditionally, Mauritania is divided into
four zones or regions: Saharan, Coastal, Sahelian, and Senegal
River Valley.

The far north, once the domain of the nomadic herdsmen,


is often referred to as the empty lands. This vast, sparsely
populated region is characterized by beautiful shifting sand
dunes, rock outcroppings, and rugged mountain plateaus with
elevations above 1,500 feet. Irregular, scant rainfall permits
little vegetation, although date palms are cultivated around
larger oases. To the southwest of the empty lands is the iron
mining industrys center and the countrys only railroada
400-mile track from the mining operation at FDerik to the
industrial port at Nouadhibou.

The Coastal Zone extends the length of the 400-mile-plus


Atlantic coast. This zone starts near the northern most
point of the country, at Nouadhibou, and boasts some of the
largest natural harbors on the west coast of Africa. The zone

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 17
stretches south to the marshy areas around the mouth of
the Senegal River. Here, the ocean breezes provide periodic
relief from the heat, although desert winds also bring flies and
sandstorms.

The far north, once the domain of the nomadic herdsmen,


is often referred to as the empty lands. This vast, sparsely
populated region is characterized by beautiful shifting sand
dunes, rock outcroppings, and rugged mountain plateaus with
elevations above 1,500 feet. Irregular, scant rainfall permits
little vegetation, although date palms are cultivated around
larger oases. To the southwest of the empty lands is the iron
mining industrys center and the countrys only railroada
400-mile track from the mining operation at FDerik to the
industrial port at Nouadhibou.

The Coastal Zone extends the length of the 400-mile-plus


Atlantic coast. This zone starts near the center of the country,
at Nouadhibou, and boasts some of the largest natural harbors
on the west coast of Africa. The zone stretches south to the
marshy areas around the mouth of the Senegal River. Here, the
ocean breezes provide periodic relief from the heat, although
desert winds also bring flies and sandstorms.

18 PEACE CORPS
NOTES

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 19
R E S O U R C E L I ST F O R
F U RT H E R I N F O R M ATI O N
Following is a list of websites for additional information
about the Peace Corps and Mauritania, or to connect you to
returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind
that although we try to make sure all these links are active
and current, we cannot guarantee it.

A note of caution: As you surf these sites, be aware that you


will find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people
are free to give opinions and advice based on their own
experiences. The opinions expressed are not those of the
Peace Corps or the U.S. government. You may find opinions
of people who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the
Peace Corps. As you read these comments, we hope you will
keep in mind that the Peace Corps is not for everyone, and no
two people experience their service in the same way.

General Information About Mauritania

www.countrywatch.com
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in
Nouakchott to information about converting currency from
the dollar to the ouguiya. Just click on Mauritania and go from
there.

www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations
Visit this site to learn all you need to know about any country
in the world.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 21
www.state.gov
The U.S. State Departments website issues background
notes periodically about countries around the world. Find
Mauritania and learn more about its social and political
history.
www.psr.keele.ac.uk/official.htm
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments
of countries around the world.

www.geography.about.com/library/maps/blindex.htm
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical
information about countries around the world. Each country
page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of
Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social,
and political background.

http://www.cyberschoolbus.un.org/infonation/index.asp
This United Nations site allows searches for statistical
information on member states.

www.worldinformation.com
This site provides an additional source of current and
historical information about countries worldwide.

http://www.geocities.com/pcmauritania
This website, created by a Peace Corps/Mauritania Volunteer,
provides basic information about Mauritania and Peace
Corps activities.

Connect With Other Invitees, Current Volunteers, and


Returned Volunteers

http://mr.pcvs.org
This site is maintained by Volunteers currently serving in
Mauritania, who invite you to join them to gather information,
ask questions, and meet your fellow invitees.

22 PEACE CORPS
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/peacecorps2
This site hosts a bulletin board where prospective Volunteers
and returned Volunteers can come together.

www.rpcv.org
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made
up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to
all the Web pages of the friends of groups for most countries
of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those
countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get
together for social events and local Volunteer activities. Or
go straight to the Friends of Mauritania (FORIM) site: www.
forim.org.

www.peacecorpswriters.org
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers.
It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer
accounts from countries around the world.

Online Articles/Current News Sites About Mauritania


1. University of Nouakchott has information available in
English, French, and Arabic: www.univ-nkc.mr

2. AllAfrica Global Medias site is http://allafrica.com

3. The University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center


has pan-African information. See the general resources
section for country pages: www.sas.upenn.edu/African_
Studies

4. The Mauritania Post has many Mauritania-specific


information and links for Nouakchott, Mauritania, and
Africa: www.nouakchott.com

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 23
International Development Sites About Mauritania
1. United Nations Development Programme in Mauritania
in French: www.undp.mr

2. The World Bank: http://www.worldbank.org. Enter


Mauritania in the search window.

Recommended Books
Specific to Mauritania and West Africa:

1. Chilson, Peter. Riding the Demon: On the Road in


West Africa. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.

2. Else, David, et al. Lonely Planet Guide: West Africa.


Oakland, Calif.: Lonely Planet Publications, 1999.

3. McLean, Virginia. The Western Saharans. Lanham,


Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1980.

4. Murphy, Joseph. Mauritania in Photographs.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Crossgar Press, 1998.

5. Pazzanita, Anthony G., and Alfred G. Gerteiny.


Historical Dictionary of Mauritania (2nd ed.).
Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1996.

6. Dettwyler, Katherine A. Dancing Skeletons: Life and


Death in West Africa. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland
Press, 1994.

24 PEACE CORPS
Useful cultural anthropology books
1 Hall, Edward T. The Dance of Life. New York, NY:
Anchor Books/Random House, 1983.

2. Hall, Edward T. The Silent Language. New York, NY:


Anchor Books/Random House, 1959, 1973.

3. Hall, Edward T. Beyond Culture. New York, NY:


Anchor Books/Random House, 1976.

4. Hall, Edward T. The Hidden Dimension. New York,


NY: Anchor Books/Random House, 1969, 1990.

The books by Hall are not specific to Mauritania, but can be


extremely useful in the understanding of the ways that
different cultures perceive time, space, and distance.

Books About the Peace Corps

1. Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The


Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s. Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.

2. Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFKs Peace Corps.


Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.

3. Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent


Shriver. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution
Press, 2004.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 25
Books on the Volunteer Experience

1. Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a


Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McSeas Books, 2004.

2. Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan


Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Red Apple
Publishing, 2000.

3. Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two


Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, N.Y.:
Picador, 2003.

4. Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze.


New York, N.Y.: Perennial, 2001.

5. Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth:


Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, Calif.:
Clover Park Press, 1991.

6. Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle.


Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1997
(reprint).

26 PEACE CORPS
NOTES

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 27
L I V I N G C O N D I TI O N S A N D
V O L U N T E E R L I F E ST YL E
Communications

Mail
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service
we consider normal in the United States. If you come here
expecting U.S. standards, you will be in for a lot of frustration.
Mail takes a minimum of two weeks to arrive in Mauritania.
Some mail may simply not arrive, and some letters may arrive
pre-opened or with clipped edges because someone may have
tried to see if any money was inside (this is rare, but it does
happen). Although we do not want to sound too discouraging,
communication can become a very sensitive issue when one is
thousands of miles from family and friends. We think it is best
to forewarn you about the reality of mail service in this part
of the world. Advise your family and friends to number their
letters and to write West Africa, Airmail, and Par Avion
on the envelopes.

Despite the potential delays, we strongly encourage you to


write to your family regularly (perhaps weekly or biweekly)
and to number your letters. Family members typically become
worried when they do not hear from you, so advise them that
mail is sporadic and they should not worry if they do not
receive your letters regularly.

Sending letters and packages by airmail is always quicker and


more reliable than surface mail (usually sent by boat), which
has been known to show up years later!

People visiting in the U.S. can carry mail back and put it in a
mailbox when they arrive. This is usually quicker and more

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 29
secure than relying on MauriPost. If you want to send mail
this way, bring plenty of U.S. postage stamps with you so
letters are ready to mail upon arrival in the U.S.

Your address during training will be:

Your Name, PCT


Corps de la Paix
B.P. 222
Nouakchott, Mauritania
West Africa

Although you will not be in Nouakchott during training, your


mail will be brought to you at the training site. Once you have
become a Volunteer and are at your site, you may have your
mail sent directly to your address there

Telephones
While local telephone service is becoming more widely available
inside Mauritania, it is still a bit unreliable. Generally, long-
distance service to Europe and North America is good but
expensive. You, your family, and friends should be prepared
to rely mostly on letters and email for communication.

More and more professional Mauritanians are using cellular


phones, especially in the capital and larger towns, and they all
subscribe to one of the two cellular companies in the country.
It is highly unlikely that a cellular plan bought in the United
States will cover Mauritania and the surrounding region, with
or without roaming charges. Therefore, we strongly discourage
you from bringing your phone along. You may want to purchase
a cellphone once you are in-country. One advantage you have
here is that it costs you nothing to receive a call on your
cellphone (local or international).

30 PEACE CORPS
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
E-mail is available in Nouakchott and in all regional capitals.
Because you will probably have limited access (Volunteers
average a visit to the capital once every month), one option is
to arrange for Volunteer friends posted in sites with Internet
access to print out and send you your email. Most Volunteers
set up a Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail account before leaving
home, giving the email address to friends and family. There
is access to the Internet in Mauritania through commercial
outlets in Nouakchott and most regional capitals. Some
governmental organizations in the regional capitals may also
have Internet access and usually are willing to let Volunteers
check their email. DSL (or CDMA wireless) Internet service is
currently available in all but one of Peace Corps/Mauritanias
12 regional satellite offices. It is expected that high-speed
Internet service will continue to expand to larger towns in the
regions.

Housing and Site Location

Peace Corps/Mauritania will provide Volunteers with funds


to secure safe and adequate housing in accordance with
the Peace Corps site selection criteria (see the chapter on
"Health Care and Safety" for further information). Housing
may range from a one-room hut with no electricity or running
water to a larger house with several rooms, running water,
and electricity. The Peace Corps will pay for any necessary
security and hygiene improvements, including a water filter.

Peace Corps/Mauritania asks host communities and agency


sponsors to provide Volunteers with housing that includes a
private bedroom and bath/latrine facilities. You may share a
compound or a house with a host family, but the Peace Corps
will ensure that you have at least one room to yourself.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 31
Unless you are posted to a regional capital, you will most
likely not have running water or electricity. This means you
may collect your water from a well or a borehole and spend
your evenings reading by candle, lantern, or flashlight. You
will need to be very flexible in your housing expectations
as there are no guarantees of available (or continuous)
electricity or water.

Living Allowance and Money Management

As a Volunteer in Mauritania, you will receive four types of


allowances.

The Peace Corps gives you an allowance to cover your basic


living expenses. This living allowance is reviewed at least
once a year through a survey of Volunteer expenses to ensure
that it is adequate. Paid in local currency every quarter, it
ranges from the equivalent of $200 to $550 a month. The
allowance is intended to cover your food, rent, utilities,
household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment,
transportation, reading materials, and other incidentals. You
might find that you receive more remuneration than your
host-country counterpart or supervisor does.

A vacation allowance of $24 per month is paid in ouguiya. It is


automatically included in the quarterly deposit to your bank
account.

You will also receive a one-time settling-in allowance of


roughly $330, paid in local currency at the end of pre-service
training, to buy basic household items for your eventual site.

If the Peace Corps requires you to travel, you will be given


additional money for transportation and meals. This amount
is established by the post based on the current cost of
transportation and lodging.

32 PEACE CORPS
Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Mauritania
with these four allowances, although many Volunteers bring
money (cash or travelers checks) for out-of-country travel.
All Volunteers are strongly discouraged from supplementing
their income with money brought from home. The living
allowance is adequate, and Volunteers are expected to live at
the economic level of their neighbors and colleagues.

Credit cards can be used at only a couple of establishments in


the capital, but are very handy during vacations and for travel
outside of Mauritania (as are ATM cards). Volunteers have
found that bringing new $100 bills brings the best exchange
rate when changing money. For safekeeping, Volunteers can
store money, personal passports, and other valuables in the
Peace Corps safe in Nouakchott. However, the Peace Corps
liability for stored items is limited, so carefully consider your
decision to bring valuables.

Food and Diet

Volunteers often struggle when adjusting to the Mauritanian


diet. The typical Mauritanian family eats either rice and
meat or rice and fish for lunch (depending on proximity to
the river or ocean) and couscous and meat, pasta and meat,
or couscous with bean sauce for dinner. The abundance of
vegetables in the Mauritanian diet varies according to the
season and each familys cooking habits. Given that meals in
Mauritania tend to be very starchy and oily (meats are almost
always cooked in oil), many female Volunteers experience
weight gain during their two years of service. Conversely, male
Volunteers often find keeping weight on to be a challenge.

Vegetarian Volunteers sometimes have difficulty maintaining


a meat-free diet in Mauritania. Very few local dishes are
served without meat, and it is often difficult to find alternative

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 33
sources of protein. However, meeting dietary challenges
is almost always possible if Volunteers are willing to be
resourceful and flexible. Cooking for yourself is always an
option, but will cause you to miss out on the Mauritanian
family experience. In the case of being invited to share a meal
with a Mauritanian family, you will find that your host can be
very accommodating if you explain any restrictions when you
are invited to their home.

Transportation

Getting around Mauritania can be challenging. Taxis (taxis


brousses) are the main modes of travel among towns and
often entail squeezing into a Peugeot 504 with eight or
nine other people or sitting on top of luggage in the back
of a pickup truck with 20 other people. Driving anywhere
long distance is likely to entail rumbling along sandy roads
through the desert. If you are required to travel for work or
medical reasons, the Peace Corps will reimburse your travel
costs. Some Volunteers use their settling-in allowance to
purchase bicycles. Peace Corps/Mauritania provides helmets
to Volunteers and they are required to wear a helmet while
riding a bicycle. For your safety, Peace Corps/Mauritania
prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on any two- or
three-wheeled motorized vehicle (such as a motorcycle) for
any reason. In addition, Volunteers are not allowed to own
or drive private cars in Mauritania. Violation of any of these
policies may result in termination of your Volunteer service.

Geography and Climate

Mauritania is situated on the Atlantic Ocean in northwest


Africa. It is bounded on the northeast by Algeria, on the east
by Mali, and on the south by Senegal. Mauritania also shares a
long border with the former Spanish Sahara, control of which
is contested by Morocco and an insurgent movement, the

34 PEACE CORPS
Polisario, supported principally by Algeria. The northern five-
sixths of Mauritania is desertfor the most part uninhabited
(the region known as El Majabaat Koubra). The majority of
Mauritanias interior population lives in the narrow strip of
Sahel and savanna that sits between the Senegal River and
the Sahara Desert. This area of the country generally gets
more rain and is a bit cooler, if more humid. A narrow strip
of savanna near the Senegal River that is used for the majority
of Mauritanias agricultural initiatives quickly gives way to
the more sparsely vegetated Sahel. Farther north is the
Sahara Desert, which stretches to Mauritanias northern
and eastern borders.

Mauritania has three main seasons: the hot season from April
to July, the rainy season from August to November, and the
cold season from December to March. Keep in mind that hot,
cold, and rainy are relative terms and that seasons probably
do not vary as much as the ones you are used to in the United
States.

Social Activities
Social activities will vary depending on where you are located
and may include taking part in local ceremonies like weddings
or baptisms, storytelling, and parties and dances. Some
Volunteers visit nearby Volunteers during the weekends or
make an occasional trip to the capital, although it is expected
that Volunteers will remain at their sites to accomplish the
second Peace Corps goal of cultural exchange.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps


Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining
your own cultural identity and presenting yourself as a
professional at the same time. It is not an easy thing to
resolve, and we can only provide you with guidelines. You

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 35
will be assigned to a Mauritanian government ministry, and
you are expected to dress and behave as your colleagues do.
While some of your counterparts may dress in seemingly worn
or shabby clothes, this is because of economics rather than
choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their best.

A foreigner wearing shabby, unmended clothing is likely to be


considered an affront.

Peace Corps/Mauritania has instituted the following dress


code, required for the Nouakchott office, the Rosso training
center, and other official functions. Peace Corps/Mauritania
requires for office-type work assignments that men wear
collared shirts and pants. Pants on women are appropriate,
but should be worn with shirts that hang to mid-thigh. Ankle-
length skirts (not simple wraps), long dresses that cover the
shoulders, mulafas (full-length veils worn by Moor women),
or boubous (robes worn by local men or women) that go to
the ankles are also appropriate. As temperatures are usually
quite high, buying clothing that is mostly or all cotton is
highly recommended. Volunteers can wear any kind of shoes
or sandals (with or without socks) except plastic shower
flip-flops. As you will be walking a great deal (mostly in
sand), sturdy sandals that can easily be removed are highly
recommended. Clothes should always be clean, not unduly
wrinkled, and free of tears.

Personal Safety

More information about the Peace Corps approach to safety


is outlined in the "Health Care and Safety" chapter, but such
an important issue cannot be overemphasized. Statistically,
Mauritania is one of the safest countries in the world. That
said, as stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a
Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and
traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone),

36 PEACE CORPS
having a limited understanding of local language and culture,
and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that
can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience
varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment.
Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents
of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most
Volunteers complete their two years of service without
personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established
procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce
their risks and enhance their safety and security. These
procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will
be provided once you arrive in Mauritania. At the same time,
you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and
well-being.

Each staff member at the Peace Corps is committed


to providing Volunteers with the support they need to
successfully meet the challenges they will face to have a safe,
healthy, and productive service. We encourage Volunteers and
families to look at our safety and security information on the
Peace Corps website at www.peacecorps.gov/safety.

Information on these pages gives messages on Volunteer


health and Volunteer safety. A video message from the
Director is on this page, as well as a section titled Safety and
Security in Depth. This page lists topics ranging from the
risks of serving as a Volunteer to posts safety support systems
to emergency planning and communications.

Rewards and Frustrations

The developmental and human accomplishments of the


Peace Corps are frequently not tangible or easily measured.
Progress is often frustratingly slow. Through the Peace Corps,
thousands of Volunteers have been given the opportunity to

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 37
have a hand, even if just a small one, in shaping how some
of the worlds neediest people live. At the same time, the
world has been given a personal view of individual Americans
putting their ideals to work.

The excitement and adventure of the Volunteer experience


are, in some measure, a result of its unpredictability.
There will be unexpected joys, as well as unexpected
disappointments. You could find plans for a health clinic
canceled at the last minute because the Department of
Health has been reorganized. Your plan to dig a well might
be held up by a quarrel between local groups over who is
to do the digging or because the required materials cannot
be delivered as scheduled. The official to whom you were
supposed to report might be replaced by a successor who
knows little about a scheduled project. Such variables can
erode the enthusiasm, patience, and idealism of a Volunteer.
Your success will often depend upon determination, patience,
and the ability to find another way. The Volunteer always has
to be able to come up with a Plan B. A big part of the Peace
Corps is the challenge to remain flexible, energetic, and
hopeful at a time when it would be easy to give in to cynicism
or indifference.

Ideally, a Volunteers lifestyle and work should merge.


Accepting the community and being accepted by it are
essential for success. In both their daily lives and jobs, a
Volunteer must take care to avoid the inherent appearance
of arrogance in the position of an outsider who has come to
bring change and improvements. Volunteers find that as
they live and work, they learn from the people of their host
country at least as much as they teach them. In doing so, they
can enhance their effort to achieve the third goal of the Peace
Corps by bringing their host country experiences home to the
United States.

38 PEACE CORPS
NOTES

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 39
PEACE CORPS
TRAI N I N G
Overview of Pre-Service Training

The overall goal of Mauritanias pre-service training


(PST) program is to provide you with the necessary
language, technical, core (cross-cultural and community
development), and personal health skills to work and live
effectively as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mauritania. Peace
Corps/Mauritanias training philosophy emphasizes active,
participatory learning. The training program stresses practical,
experiential methods, using the resources of the training
community and utilizing the knowledge and experiences of
trainees, trainers, and counterparts. Critical thinking, problem
solving, focused observations, and hands-on practice are
encouraged. You will be expected to become progressively
more independent and to take charge of your own learning.
Collaboration, open communication, and a two-way feedback
system are essential components of a successful program.
Training is also a time to review your decision to join the
Peace Corps for two years.

In 1999, Peace Corps/Mauritania implemented a community-


based training approach. This means that trainees are placed
in communities that resemble their final Volunteer site
assignments. You will live in these communities with up to
three other trainees and a facilitator. The facilitator will be
available for structured language classes, technical fieldwork,
and cross-cultural learning. Other staff (technical, health,
and cross-cultural coordinators) will visit your community
from time to time, and you will meet with other trainees in
your project and with the entire training group at regularly

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 41
scheduled intervals. This training approach allows you to
experience the realities of living and working in Mauritania
while still in training.

All trainees and Mauritanian facilitators return to the training


center for several days at a time to continue large group
training. Successful completion of all training components is
required for you to be sworn-in as a Volunteer.

Technical Training
Technical training prepares you to work in Mauritania by
building on the skills you already have and by helping you to
develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of
the country. The Peace Corps staff, Mauritanian experts, and
current Volunteers conduct the training program. Training
places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills
you currently have to the community in which you will serve
as a Volunteer.

Technical training will include sessions on the environment,


economics, and politics in Mauritania and strategies for
working within such a framework. You will review your
program sectors goals and meet with the Mauritanian
agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to
assist them.

You will be supported and evaluated by the training staff


throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you
need to undertake your project activities and be a productive
member of your community.

Language Training
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills
are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during

42 PEACE CORPS
your service. These skills are critical to your job performance,
they help you integrate into your community, and they can
ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings.
Therefore, language instruction is at the heart of the training
program, and you must successfully meet minimum language
requirements to complete training and be invited to become
a Volunteer. Experienced Mauritanian language instructors
teach formal language classes six days a week in small classes
of three to five people. The Mauritanian languages are also
introduced in the health, culture, and technical components
of training.

Your language training utilizes a community-based approach.


In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments
to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family.
The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication
skills so that you can practice and develop language skills
further on your own. Prior to your swearing in as a Volunteer,
you will work on strategies to continue language studies
during your two years of service.

All trainees must attain an intermediate level proficiency in


one of the languages spoken in Mauritania in order to swear-in
as a Volunteer.

Cross-Cultural Training
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a
Mauritanian host family. This experience is designed to ease
your transition to life at your site. Families have gone through
an orientation conducted by the Peace Corps staff to explain
the purpose of the pre-service training program and to assist
them in helping you adapt to living in Mauritania. Many
Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host
families.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 43
Cross-cultural and community development also will be
covered in your pre-service training to help improve your skills
of perception, communication, and facilitation. Topics such
as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and
development, and traditional and political structures are also
addressed.

Health Training
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical
training and information. You are expected to practice
preventive health care and to take responsibility for your
own health by adhering to all medical policies. As a trainee,
you are required to attend all medical sessions. The topics
include preventive health measures and minor and major
medical issues that you might encounter while in Mauritania.
Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a
safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other
sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also covered.

Safety Training
During the required safety training sessions, you will learn
how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces risk in your home, at
work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate,
effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and
about your individual responsibility for promoting safety
throughout your service.

Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service

In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the


Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides
trainees and Volunteers with continual opportunities to
examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while
increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills.

44 PEACE CORPS
During your service, there are usually three training events.
The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
In-service training: Provides an opportunity for
Volunteers to upgrade their technical, language,
and project development skills while sharing their
experiences and reaffirming their commitment after
having served for three to six months.
Early Term Reconnect and Midterm Reconnect (done
in conjunction with the technical sector in-service
training): Helps Volunteers review their first quarter
and first year. These sessions also help Volunteers
reassess their personal and project objectives and plan
for their second year of service.
Close-of-service conference: Prepares Volunteers for
their future after Peace Corps service and reviews their
respective projects and personal experiences.

The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted


to country-specific needs and conditions. The key to the
training system is that training events are integrated and
interrelated, from the pre-departure orientation through
the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and
evaluated cooperatively by the training staff, Peace Corps
staff, and Volunteers.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 45
Y O U R H E A LTH C A R E A N D
S A F E T Y I N M A U R ITA N I A
The Peace Corps highest priority is maintaining the good
health and safety of each Volunteer. Peace Corps medical
programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative,
approach to illness. The Peace Corps in Mauritania maintains
a clinic with two full-time and one part-time Peace Corps
medical officers (PCMOs), who take care of Volunteers
primary health care needs. Additional medical services,
such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in
Mauritania at local hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you
will be transported either to an American standard medical
facility in the region or to the United States.

Health Issues in Mauritania

Major health problems among Peace Corps Volunteers in


Mauritania are rare and are often the result of a Volunteer
failing to take preventive measures to stay healthy. The
most common health problems here are minor ones that
are also found in the United States, such as colds, diarrhea,
hemorrhoids, constipation, sinus infections, skin infections,
headaches, dental problems, minor injuries, STDs, adjustment
disorders, emotional problems, and alcohol abuse. These
problems may be more frequent or compounded by life in
Mauritania because certain environmental factors here raise
the risk and/or exacerbate the severity of illness and injuries.

The most common major health concerns here are malaria,


amoebic dysentery, giardia, schistosomiasis, hepatitis,
and HIV/AIDS. Because malaria is endemic in Mauritania,
Volunteers must take anti-malarial medication. You will also
be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, meningitis A and C,

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 47
tetanus/diphtheria, typhoid, and rabies. Amoebic dysentery
and giardia can be avoided by thoroughly washing fruits and
vegetables and either boiling your drinking water, using a
water filter or using chlorine to treat your water. Additionally,
by not swimming or bathing in freshwater lakes, ponds, and
rivers, you can avoid contracting schistosomiasis.

Helping You Stay Healthy

ThePeace Corps will provide you with all the necessary


inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy.
Upon your arrival in Mauritania, you will receive a medical
handbook and a first aid kit with supplies to take care of mild
illnesses and first aid needs you may encounter at your site.
The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter.

During pre-service training, you will have access to basic


first aid supplies through your medical kit or the medical
officer. However, during this time, you will be responsible for
your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific
medical supplies you require, as we will not order these items
during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any
prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available
here and it may take several months for new shipments to
arrive.

You will have dental and physical exams twice, at mid-service


and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious
medical problem during your service, the medical officer in
Mauritania will consult with the Office of Medical Services
in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition
cannot be treated in Mauritania, you may be sent out of the
country for further evaluation and care.

48 PEACE CORPS
Maintaining Your Health

As a Volunteer, you must accept a certain amount of


responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will
significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The
old adage An ounce of prevention becomes extremely
important in areas where medical diagnostic and treatment
facilities are not up to the standards of the United States.

The most important of your responsibilities in Mauritania is to


take preventive measures for the following:

Malaria is endemic in most areas of the Peace Corps world,


including Mauritania. For all Volunteers serving in malaria
endemic areas, or for those traveling in malaria endemic
areas, it is extremely important to fully comply with the
recommended drug regimen to prevent malaria. Malaria can
be rapidly fatal in people who have no natural immunity to
the disease (like Volunteers). Thus, it is mandatory that you
take your malaria prophylaxis regularly. Your medical officer
will discuss specific recommendations for the prevention of
malaria in Mauritania.

Rabies is present in Mauritania. Any possible exposure to a


rabid animal must be reported immediately to the medical
office. Rabies exposure can occur through animal bites,
scratches from animals teeth, and contact with animal saliva.
Your medical officer will take into consideration many factors
to decide the appropriate course of therapy necessary to
prevent rabies. Rabies, if contracted, is 100 percent fatal. All
necessary rabies immunizations will be given by the Peace
Corps medical office.

Volunteers are required to wear a protective helmet whenever


riding on a two-wheeled vehicle (i.e., bicycle). Failure
to comply with this regulation will result in immediate
administrative separation from the Peace Corps. This means

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 49
you will be sent home; there is no appeal. Volunteers are not
permitted to operate or ride on motorcycles as a passenger.

It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the


medical office or other designated facility for scheduled
immunizations, and that you let your medical officer know
immediately of significant illness and injuries.

Volunteers must also adhere to recommended standards


for food and water preparation. Many diseases that afflict
Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food
and water precautions are taken. These diseases include
food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery,
tapeworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will
discuss specific standards for water and food preparation for
Mauritania during pre-service training.

Abstinence is the only certain choice for prevention of HIV/


AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). You
are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen
risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Condoms will
be provided by the medical office. Whether your partner is a
host-country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not
assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will
receive more information from your medical officer about this
important issue.

Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of


birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Your medical
officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method
to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are
available without charge from the medical officer.

50 PEACE CORPS
Womens Health Information

Pregnancy is a health condition that is treated in the same


manner as other Volunteer health conditions requiring medical
attention, but may also have programmatic ramifications. The
Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk
and the availability of appropriate medical care if a pregnant
Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under
which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries,
it is rare that the Peace Corps medical and programmatic
standards for continued service can be met. Volunteers
who become pregnant are medically separated or medically
evacuated to Washington for pregnancy counseling.

Feminine hygiene products are available in most of the larger


towns in Mauritania, but they are expensive. You may want to
bring your supply with you. Many Volunteers use the Diva cup
instead of tampons or pads. You should consider bringing a
couple of them with you

Your Peace Corps Medical Kit

The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a


first aid kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and
treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be
periodically restocked at the medical office.

Medical Kit Contents


Ace bandage
Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Paracetamol) 325 mg. tablets
Adhesive tape
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antifungal cream
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 51
Aqua tabs (water disinfectant)
Band-Aids
Betadine wound/skin disinfectant
Butterfly closures
Condoms
Cough drops
Dental floss
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Eye wash or eye drops
Gauze pads (sterile)
Gloves
Hydrocortisone cream 1%
Ibuprofen, 400 mg. tablets
Insect repellent
Lip balm
Malaria smear kit
Mefloquine or Doxycycline
MIF stool sample kit
Multivitamin
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Scissors
Throat lozenges
Tweezers
Whistle

Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist

If there has been any change in your healthphysical, mental,


or dentalsince the time you submitted your examination
reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the
Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses,
injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and
will jeopardize your eligibility to serve.

52 PEACE CORPS
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your
physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office
of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update
your records.

If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has


recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair,
you must complete that work and make sure your dentist
sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office
of Medical Services.

If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, you


should contact your physicians office, obtain a copy
of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-
departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior
to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse
you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the
immunizations necessary for your overseas assignmentat
your pre-departure orientation and shortly after you arrive in
Mauritania.

Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-the-


counter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth
control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse
you for this three-month supply, we will order refills of your
prescription medicine during your service. Your refill may be a
generic medication or an equivalent medication.

While awaiting shipment, which can take several months, you


will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace
Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications,
such as St. Johns wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant
supplements.

You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions


signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 53
might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about
carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with youa pair and
a spare, both with your current prescription. If a pair breaks,
the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your
doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form
during your examination. To reduce your risk of developing a
serious infection or other eye disease, we discourage you from
using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service. Most
Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and
sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses.
The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or
associated solutions unless their use has been recommended
by an ophthalmologist for a specific medical condition and the
Peace Corps Office of Medical Services has given approval.

If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age,


or have a health condition that may restrict your future
participation in health care plans, you may wish to consult
an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before
your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary
health care from the time you leave for your pre-departure
orientation until you complete your service. When you finish,
you will be entitled to the post-service health care benefits
described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You
may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in
effect during your service if you think age and/or pre-existing
conditions might prevent you from re-enrolling in your
current plan when you return home.

Safety and SecurityOur Partnership

Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety


and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar

54 PEACE CORPS
environment, a limited understanding of the local language
and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American
are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk.
Property theft and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents
of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all
Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious
personal safety problems. In addition, more than 83 percent
of Volunteers surveyed in the 2008 Peace Corps Volunteer
Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.

The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a


partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections
on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps
Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these
sections include important safety and security information.

The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the


tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way
possible, because working to maximize the safety and security
of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide
you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but
we teach you to identify, minimize and manage the risks you
may encounter.

Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk


There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteers
risk, many of which are within the Volunteers control.
By far the most common crime incidents that Volunteers
experience are thefts. Frequently these occur in crowded
locations, such as markets or on public transportation,
or are due to Volunteers leaving items unattended. More
serious assaults, however, do occasionally occur. Based on
information gathered from incident reports worldwide in
2007, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 55
for crimes against Volunteers, many of which can be avoided
with appropriate actions. Assaults consist of physical and
sexual assaults committed against Volunteers; property crimes
include robbery, burglary, theft, and vandalism.
Location: Most assaults (53 percent) occurred when
Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach,
public buildings). Specifically, 36 percent of assaults took
place when Volunteers were away from their sites. Most
property crimes occurred in the Volunteers residence or
another Volunteers residence, followed closely by public
areas. Forty-eight percent of property crimes occurred
when Volunteers were away from their sites
Time: Assaults usually took place during the evening,
between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. though the single hour with
the largest percentage of assaults was 1:00 a.m.(8 percent)
Property crimes were more common in the middle of the
day, from noon to 9 p.m.
Day: Assaults and property crimes were more commonly
reported on weekends (48 percent and 49 percent,
respectively).
Absence of others: Assaults and property crimes (64
percent and 53 percent, respectively) occured more
frequently when the Volunteer was alone.
Relationship to assailant: In most assaults and property
crimes (64 percent and 85 percent), the Volunteer did not
know or could not identify the assailant.
Consumption of alcohol: 23 percent of all assaults and 4
percent of all property crimes involved alcohol consumption
by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Risk factors can vary within countries throughout the world
that are served by the Peace Corps. A Volunteer in Mauritania
may face risks specific to this country in addition to risks
associated with living in a developing country.

56 PEACE CORPS
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these
areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:

Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:


Know the environment and choose safe routes/times
for travel
Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
Carry valuables in different pockets/places
Carry a "dummy" wallet as a decoy

Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:


Live with a local family or on a family compound
Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a
lock box or trunk
Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining
home security
Purchase the Peace Corps recommended personal
property insurance

Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:


Make friends with local people who are respected in the
community
Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs;
dont draw negative attention to yourself by wearing
inappropriate clothing
Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
Travel with someone trusted by your community
whenever possible
Avoid known high crime areas
Limit alcohol consumption

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 57
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of
Safety and Security with its mission to foster improved
communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of
all Peace Corps safety and security efforts. This office is led
by an associate director for safety and security who reports to
the Peace Corps Director and includes divisions which focus
on Volunteer safety and overseas security and crime statistics
and analysis.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident,
Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace
Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents
of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority
for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure
the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as
needed. After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace
Corps staff members provide support by reassessing the
Volunteers worksite and housing arrangements and making
any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the
incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace
Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their
rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the
crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as
they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also
to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers
decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the
prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist
if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the
time of the incident.

Crime Data for Mauritania


The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence
rates and the average number of incidents of the major types

58 PEACE CORPS
of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/
trainees in Mauritania as compared to all other Africa
programs as a whole, from 20022006. It is presented to you
in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of
the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of
crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population.
It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer
and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full
months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to
compare crime data across countries. An incident is a

1The average numbers of incidents are in parenthesis and equal the average
reported assaults for each year between 20032007.
2Incident rates equal the number of assaults per 100 Volunteers and trainees
per year (V/T years). Since most sexual assaults occur against females, only
female V/Ts are calculated in rapes and other sexual assaults. Numbers of
incidents are approximate due to rounding.
3Data collection for MAURITANIA began as of 2003; due to the small number
of V/T years, incidence rates should be interpreted with caution.

Prior to CIRF and prior to 2006, Other Sexual Assaults were termed Minor
Sexual Assault. and Other Physical Assaults were termed Minor Physical
Assault per ANSS definitions.

Source data on incidents are drawn from Assault Notification Surveillance


System (ANSS), Epidemiologic Surveillance System (ESS), and Crime
Incident Reporting Form (CIRF); the information is accurate as of 12-8-08.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 59
specific offense, per Peace Corps' classification of offenses,
and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For
example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and
place, this is classified as one robbery incident.

The chart is separated into the eight most commonly


occurring assault types. These include vandalism (malicious
defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without
force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence);
robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault
(attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor
sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault
(attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when
serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without
consent).

When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should


review all of the safety and security information provided
to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout
your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to
successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of
areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the
tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and
secure as possible.

What if you become a victim of a violent crime?

Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of serious crimes


and, naturally, crimes that occur overseas are investigated
and prosecuted by local authorities through the local courts
system. If you are the victim of a crime, it is up to you if you
wish to pursue prosecution. If you decide to prosecute, Peace
Corps will be there to assist you. The Office of Safety and
Security, through our regionally-based Peace Corps safety and
security officers, will work with the security officer at the U.S.
embassy and the staff at the Peace Corps office in-country

60 PEACE CORPS
to coordinate with local police and prosecutors. One of our
tasks is to ensure you are fully informed of your options and
understand how the local legal process works. We are here to
provide support and assistance every step of the way. Peace
Corps will help you ensure your rights are protected to the
fullest extent possible under the laws of the country.

If you are the victim of a serious crime, get to a safe location


as quickly as possible and contact your Peace Corps office. Its
important that you notify Peace Corps as soon as you can so
we can get you the help you need.

Security Issues in Mauritania

When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps,


you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle
to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As
with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Mauritania.
You can reduce your risk of becoming a target for crime by
avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by
taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less
frequent than in Nouakchott; people know each other and
generally will not steal from their neighbors. The following are
safety concerns in Mauritania you should be aware of:

Robbery/burglaryHomes of some Volunteers have been


burglarized in the past, and Volunteers should take the same
precautions they would in the United States. The Peace Corps
covers proper home safety during training, and requires
landlords to install locks on all Volunteer homes (doors and
windows).

HarassmentVolunteers have reported varying levels of


harassment during their service. While children can be a
constant nuisanceasking for pens, candy, and money;
calling Volunteers names; and sometimes throwing rocks

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 61
even adults can be troublesome. Volunteers are sometimes
subjected to overt sexual comments, persistent demands
for money or a visa for the United States, intense pressure
to convert to Islam, being called derogatory names, or
harassment based on race or nationality. This tends to happen
more often in larger cities where the Volunteer is not as well-
known. Strategies for dealing and coping with harassment are
covered during pre-service training.

Threat of sexual assaultVolunteers have been targets of


sexual assault in Mauritania. Cross-cultural differences in
gender relations are often associated with sexual assaults,
and the assailant is often known to the Volunteer. Techniques
taught in Peace Corps/Mauritanias training program regarding
sexual assaults can seriously minimize your risk. Volunteers
are urged to report all assaults and threats of assault to
the Peace Corps medical officer so staff can respond with
appropriate support. Note that sex outside of marriage is not
looked upon favorably in Mauritania, and openly disregarding
this norm may jeopardize your safety and/or ability to develop
mutually respectful relationships in your community and at
your job.

Staying Safe: Dont Be a Target for Crime

You must be prepared to take on a large responsibility for


your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target,
ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations
in your community that will enhance your acceptance. In
coming to Mauritania, do what you would do if you moved to
a large city in the United States: be cautious, check things
out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know
where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and
be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by
integrating into your community, learning the local language,
acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and

62 PEACE CORPS
procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Mauritania
may require that you accept some restrictions on your current
lifestyle.

Volunteers attract a lot of attention in large cities and at


their sites, but receive far more negative attention in highly
populated centers, where they are anonymous. In smaller
towns, host family, friends, and colleagues look out for
them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common
on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress
conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to
unwanted attention. Keep your money out of sightuse an
undergarment money pouch, such as the kind that hangs
around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside
your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of
backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. You should
always walk with a companion at night.

Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training


and Volunteer Support in Mauritania

The Peace Corps approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to


help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes
the following: information sharing, Volunteer training,
site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan,
and protocols for addressing safety and security incidents.
Mauritanias in-country safety program is outlined below.

The Peace Corps/Mauritania office will keep Volunteers


informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety
through information sharing. Regular updates will be provided
in Volunteer newsletters and in memoranda from the country
director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency,
Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency
communication network. An important component of the

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 63
capacity of Peace Corps to keep you informed is your buy-in
to the partnership concept with the Peace Corps staff. It is
expected that you will do your part in ensuring that Peace
Corps staff members are kept apprised of your movements
in-country so that they are capable of informing you.

Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for


specific safety and security issues in Mauritania. This training
will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle
and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces
risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety
training is offered throughout your two-year service and is
integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other
components of training. You will be expected to successfully
complete all training competencies in a variety of areas,
including safety and security, as a condition of service.

Certain site selection criteria are used to determine the


availability of safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival.
The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities
and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for the
Volunteers arrival and to establish expectations of their
respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is
inspected before the Volunteers arrival to ensure placement
in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and worksites.
Site selection criteria are based in part on any relevant site
history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential
services; availability of communications, transportation, and
markets; different housing options and living arrangements;
and other support needs.

You will also learn about the countrys detailed emergency


action plan in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural
disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete

64 PEACE CORPS
and submit a site locator form with your address, contact
information, and a map to your house. If there is a security
threat, Volunteers in Mauritania will gather at predetermined
locations until the situation resolves itself or the Peace Corps
decides to evacuate.

Finally, in order to be fully responsive to the needs of


Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report
any security incident to either the Peace Corps medical officer
or the Peace Corps safety and security officer. The Peace
Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and
security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it
collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends
and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 65
D I V E R S IT Y A N D C R O S S-
C U LT U R A L I S S U E S
In fulfilling the Peace Corps mandate to share the face of
America with our host countries, we are making special
efforts to see that all of Americas richness is reflected in
the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving
in todays Peace Corps than at any time in recent years.
Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and
sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our
Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps mission is to help dispel
any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and
to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the
other despite our many differences. Our diversity helps us
accomplish that goal.

In other ways, however, our diversity poses challenges.


In Mauritania, as in other Peace Corps host countries,
Volunteers behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will
be judged in a cultural context very different from our own.
Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly
accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon,
unacceptable, or even repressed.

Outside of Mauritanias capital, residents of rural communities


have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures,
races, religions, and lifestyles. What is viewed as typical
cultural behavior or norms may be a narrow and selective
interpretation, such as the perception that all Americans
are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of
Mauritania are justly known for their generous hospitality to
foreigners; however, members of the community in which you
will live may display a range of reactions to differences that
you present.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 67
In order to ease the transition and adapt to life in Mauritania,
you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental
compromises in how you present yourself as an American and
as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers
may not be able to exercise the independence available to
them in the United States; political discussions need to be
handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs
may best remain undisclosed. You need to develop techniques
and personal strategies for coping with these and other
limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and
sensitivity discussions during your pre-service training and
will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately
will be your own.

Overview of Diversity in Mauritania

The Peace Corps staff in Mauritania recognizes adjustment


issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to
provide support and guidance. During pre-service training,
several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping
mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female
Volunteers from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, religions,
ethnic groups, and ages and hope that you become part of a
diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one
another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.

What Might a Volunteer Face?

Possible Issues for Female Volunteers


Many female Volunteers expect the worst when coming to
serve in an Islamic republic. Based upon the Western medias
conception of the role of women in Islam, many Volunteers
anticipate a situation that is much worse than what actually
exists. Women in Mauritania have a great deal of freedom
and many more rights than women in other Islamic countries.

68 PEACE CORPS
Mauritanian women have held ministerial positions and
other influential roles in the national government. However,
Mauritanian society is still very much male dominated. Female
Volunteers will find that many men (for cultural reasons)
refuse to shake their hands. They might also find that they
need to work harder than male Volunteers to get respect from
counterparts and other community members. In addition, as a
result of stereotypes perpetuated by Western movies and the
inferences made about women living alone, female Volunteers
may find themselves the regular target of overt sexual
advances and marriage proposals.

Volunteer Comments
Being a woman in Mauritania has its advantages and
disadvantages. In Moorish culture, women are taken care
of. Theyre helped a lot more than men are. They are highly
valued by men and treated with respect. Female Volunteers
are given certain privileges that male Volunteers arent. I
wouldnt have to do anything if I didnt want to. Theres
always a guy in my family or circle of friends ready to help
me out. At the same time, I can do any of those things if I so
choose. The biggest disadvantage for me is the dress code.
I dont like wearing skirts, and I dont like putting things
on my head. But the advantages definitely outweigh the
disadvantages. Wearing a skirt and covering my head are
small sacrifices to make.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color

The most common challenge for African Americans living in


Mauritania is constantly being mistaken for a Pulaar, Soninke,
or Wolof person. While this sometimes makes Volunteer
service easier, it can also cause a great deal of frustration.
These Volunteers are often asked what family they are from
(larger family units are a source of identity for these three

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 69
ethnic groups), and host country nationals are often shocked
when the Volunteer does not speak their language.

A more negative aspect of life in Mauritania is the racism


that some Volunteers encounter. A minority of Mauritanians
believe that dark skin is not a desirable feature, and African-
American Volunteers have experienced problems as a result.

Because of the presence of Chinese doctors and development


workers and Korean fishermen in Mauritania, Asian-American
Volunteers are sometimes mistaken for them and often have
to deal with the negative reactions that come from
the insensitive behavior of other foreigners.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers


Respect comes with age in Mauritania. Younger Volunteers
may have to work harder than their older colleagues to be
accepted as professionals. While this often proves to be an
unexpected bonus for older Volunteers, many struggle with
the fact that the majority of Volunteers in Mauritania are in
their twenties (the average age is 23), and they sorely miss
having an American peer group.

In training, senior Volunteers may experience frustration


with the basic level of technical skills being taught. Senior
Volunteers may have to be assertive in developing an
effective, individual approach to language learning.

During service, senior Volunteers may not receive desired


personal support from younger Volunteers. They may also
find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice
and support (while some Volunteers find this to be a
very enjoyable part of their service, others find the role
uncomfortable or burdensome).

70 PEACE CORPS
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
As homosexuality is forbidden in the Koran, most
Mauritanians believe that same-sex relationships are wrong.
While this may not be surprising, what is confusing is the
fact that Mauritanian men and women tend to be more
physically affectionate with members of their own gender
than with the opposite sex. This should not be taken as a sign
that homosexual relationships are accepted. Even the most
open-minded Mauritanians judge gays and lesbians rather
harshly. Many even refuse to admit that homosexuality exists
in this country. While this is certainly not the case, most gay
and lesbian Volunteers have found that they are not able to
be open about their sexual orientation. Another challenge
is finding peer support. While Peace Corps/Mauritania is
committed to supporting diversity, it is a relatively small
program, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers may serve
for two years without meeting other openly gay Volunteers.

You can find more information about this topic at www.


geocities.com/~lgbrpcv/, a website affiliated with the National
Peace Corps Association that provides specific information on
serving in the Peace Corps as a gay or lesbian.

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers


Mauritania is an Islamic state. While the majority of
Mauritanians are curious about and respectful of religious
differences, most Volunteers will experience some religious
harassment during their two years of service. This harassment
can range from good-natured or subtle pressure to convert to
Islam to open hostility toward non-Muslims and/or Westerners.
These situations are generally frustrating for Volunteers, but
the majority finds constructive ways of coping with them and
feels that living in an Islamic republic gives them a unique
perspective that they would not otherwise have had.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 71
Volunteer Comments
Every time I go to the boutique near my house, I run
into my landlords son. Hes a friendly enough guy, but Im
starting to dread encountering him. Whenever I see him,
he keeps trying to engage me in long, tiresome discussions
about Islam versus Christianity. He always asks me if
Ive read the Koran yet, because I made the mistake of
promising once to read it. I know that he means well, and
hes certainly not overly pushy about trying to convert me,
but frankly, I feel like my religion is my own business. Im
not religious at all, although my family is Christian. Given
that Im not practicing, I dont like feeling that I have to
defend a religion that I dont really even believe in.

Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities


For the most part, public facilities in Mauritania are
unequipped to accommodate persons with disabilities.
However, as part of the medical clearance process, the
Office of Medical Services determined you were physically
and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable
accommodation, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in
Mauritania without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or
interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/Mauritania staff
will work with any disabled Volunteers to make reasonable
accommodations for them in training, housing, jobsites, or
other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.

72 PEACE CORPS
NOTES

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 73
FR E Q U E NTLY AS KE D Q U E STI O N S
How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to Mauritania?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess
charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance.
The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will
not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these
limits. The authorized baggage allowance is two checked
pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces
not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a
carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches.
Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total, with a
maximum weight allowance of 50 pounds for any one bag.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets,
weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios
are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas
assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids
such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol
containers. This is an important safety precaution.

How much money should I bring?


Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people
in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance
and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their
expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money
for vacation travel to other countries or for the purchase of
cellphones. Cash, especially in larger denominations like $100
bills, is easier to exchange than travelers checks and will yield
a better exchange rate. If you choose to bring extra money,
bring the amount that suits your own travel plans and needs.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 75
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of
service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during
training, the first three months of service, or the last three
months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized
emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit
you after pre-service training and the first three months of
service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work.
Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may
require permission from your country director. The Peace
Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa or
travel assistance.

Will my belongings be covered by insurance?


The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for
personal effects. However, such insurance can be purchased
before you leave. Ultimately, Volunteers are responsible
for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. If you
wish, you may contact your own insurance company;
additionally, insurance application forms will be provided,
and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Additional
information about insurance should be obtained by calling the
company directly. Volunteers are cautioned not to ship or take
valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras,
and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and
breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and
repair services are not available.

Do I need an international drivers license?


Volunteers in Mauritania do not need to get an international
drivers license. Operation of privately-owned vehicles is
prohibited. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel
ranges from buses, mini-buses, and trucks, to donkey carts,
and a lot of walking.

76 PEACE CORPS
What should I bring as gifts for Mauritania friends and my
host family?
This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient.
Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house;
pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; small
flashlights, frames, or photo albums; souvenirs from your
area; or photos to give away.

Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and


how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are assigned to individual sites during
the third week of pre-service training. This gives the Peace
Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainees technical
and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to
finalizing site selections with their ministry counterparts. Most
Volunteers will live in small towns or in rural villages, but will
usually be within one hour from the nearest Volunteer. Some
sites will require a 10- to 12-hour drive from the capital. There
will be at least one Volunteer based in each of the regional
capitals and about four to seven Volunteers in the capital city.

How can my family contact me in an emergency?


The Peace Corps Office of Special Services (OSS) provides
assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and
Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States,
you should instruct your family to notify OSS immediately
if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of
a family member. OSS can be reached at any time (24/7) by
dialing 800.424.8580, extension 1470.

For non-emergency questions, your family can get information


from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling
800.424.8580.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 77
Can I call home from Mauritania?
Yes. It is usually possible to call family and friends in the
United States from telephone boutiques or cellphones in
larger towns, regional capitals, or Nouakchott. When calling
home, dial 001 before dialing the area code and the phone
number. Instruct your family and friends to dial 011-222 and
then your local phone number when calling Mauritania.

May I bring my bicycle with me?


Trainees are not restricted from bringing their personal
bicycles with them; however, there are several factors trainees
should consider before packing their bikes. First, the bike will
be counted as a piece of check-in luggage by the airlines and
any costs levied by the airline will be solely the responsibility
of the trainee. Second, spare parts or experienced repairmen
may be impossible to find in-country. Third, petty theft is a
problem in many countries and your bicycle could be a very
visible and tempting target. Depending on your project and
site placement, Peace Corps/Mauritania may issue you a
mountain bicycle to be used for your assignment.

May I bring my guitar/musical instrument with me?


Trainees are allowed to bring musical instruments with them
and a large number of trainees do so. However, you should be
aware that a guitar or other sizable musical instrument may be
considered as a piece of baggage by an airline. Any additional
costs will be solely your responsibility.

78 PEACE CORPS
NOTES

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 79
W E L C O M E L E T TE R S
F R O M M A U R ITA N I A
V O LU NTE E R S
Dear New Volunteers,
Working as an agroforestry Volunteer in Mauritania has
involved just as much learning as teaching. Among an
endless list, I have especially learned about my strengths,
my weaknesses, my tolerance, my patience, my humorand
I have learned there is much I do not know, much I do not
understand, and still much I have to discover. I have also
managed to do some agricultural work. I served for two years
in a small Wolof community near the Senegal River, under a
new aliasand living an almost completely different life than
the one that now seems so distant from the land of tea and
tents and dunes and donkeys.
I have struggled with language, with understanding cultural
norms, and with feelings of alienation. I have laughed at
myself and been laughed at. Through observation, I have
come to understand the intricate workings of my village, the
politics, and the family dynamics. Most days I spend working
alongside the women in the community garden, helping them
complete their daily chores before a nice long afternoon
siesta. During this time, we hide from the sun in the shade
to talk, laugh, eat, drink, and nap. Sometimes I have the
opportunity to teach them something for their benefitabout
the Moringa tree, nutrition, food preservation, or hand
washingand sometimes they take this opportunity to teach
me a thing or two.
Ninety percent of my community has not received an
education past ninth grade, but they know more about life and
living and this land than one can ever discover in a textbook. I
admire and respect those with whom I work and live for their
courage, perseverance, and optimism. We have learned a lot
from each other and have had some invaluable exchanges.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 81
No words or books will prepare you adequately for the two
years you are about to spend in Mauritania. A Volunteers
job description varies for everyone, factoring in geographic
location, ethnic group, sex, etc. Your experience will be
unique, and I hope you embrace it with both arms and all your
heart. I wish you the best of luck!
Amy Helmick

Bismillah (Welcome) and congratulations on making it


through the lengthy application process.
Upon news of my invitation, I initially thought, What is this
Mauritania place anyway? After finding only half a page of
information in the library, I decided, Ill just jump in for the
adventuretrying to have no expectations. It turns out that it
is difficult to describe this place to outsiders, and finding out
for myself has been an amazing journey.
I am a small enterprise development Volunteer in Selibaby
(the regional capital) in Guidimakha. I am surrounded by
sand and small mountains (excellent rock climbing). The
Guidimakha has three ethnic groupsthe Pulaar, Soninke,
and Moorthat bring fascinating distinctions and colors
to the region. My job consists of the two extremes, from
running around and meeting with artisans to chilling with my
host family and drinking traditional tea (a hypnotizing and
addictive three-round process). Some moments, I sit back and
am stupefied by simply being in Africa. Sitting and learning
from my family and friends is a pure high. Other moments, I
am just stupidthis place challenges it all. And the challenge
constantly changes, whether it be language; acceptance in the
community; or trying to gain respect being a young, female
Volunteer and, even simpler, a stranger to this land.
But they always tell me little by little. So, after a grueling
day, I lie in my host sisters lap and she braids my hair. After
waiting (and inevitably drinking more tea), it gets better. And
in retrospect, its interesting just to see how far your comfort
levels can be stretched.

82 PEACE CORPS
So, be prepared for some extraordinary discoveries...and
bring good music.
Bonne Chance!
Robyn Fink

Greetings from Nouakchott,


When I first heard I was going to Mauritania, I immediately
ran to the library to check out all the books on this until-
that-moment-unheard-of country. And, of course, all I found
was one dated tourist book that had about five pages on
Mauritania, and the only picture they could find of the entire
country was of two men leaning against a wall. Although I
studied that picture for a glimmer of insight, I concluded that
it could have been taken anywhere. Subsequent information
only yielded a very negative view of my prospective home.
So it was with considerable apprehension that I accepted the
invitation to come here. And now after being here for seven
months, I can honestly say that there is no place else that Id
rather be a Volunteer.
Mauritanians are very warm and accepting; you are always
made to feel welcome. There are four very distinct ethnic
groups here, each with its own language, customs, and dress.
They add all the color to this desert setting. Every day I learn
more about these diverse cultures and their histories.
The physical conditions of Mauritania are extreme: the sun,
the desert, the heat, the rain, the wind. But they all come
together to create an incredible landscape, an incredibly hot
landscape. Im sitting here in the "coldest" month, January,
fearing that winter has indeed passed us by as I watch my
thermometer climb to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yes, there are definitely hardships here: transportation
is difficult, defining your work is challenging, and the
pressure to convert to Islam (although good-natured) can be
overwhelming. But all of this adds to the experience, and just
remember that it will make a great story later. From the work
aspect, Mauritania offers a unique opportunity. The needs

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 83
here are so great that you can find a niche for any of your
interests, hobbies, or skills. There is a lot of freedom in the
program, allowing you to develop and use your imagination
and creativity. The Peace Corps is very supportive and
encourages new approaches. So dont be discouraged by all
of the information in print. Come to see for yourselves. Its
a truly wonderful place to be a part of, and I cant think of a
better way to spend two years.
Anne Dolan

Dear Trainees,
I remember all too easily the excitement and anxiety of
preparing for unknown adventures in a far-off land. As I am
now in my second year of service, I can attest that the tedious
application process, the difficulty of leaving home, and the
challenges of establishing yourself in a foreign country are
worth it. The rewards are too numerous to count.
Those challenges in adjusting are not to be disregarded; if
ever the old adage about challenges building character were
applicable, it is here. Dealing with the initial overwhelming
differences between Mauritania and home can cause sensory
overload. Youll be surprised to find that a day spent sipping
tea and conversing in your newly adopted language
leaves you wiped out! Adaptation is a slow process and very
demanding of your enthusiasm and flexibility. Have patience
it all comes together when you least expect it. Unwittingly,
you will be pushing your own limits and breaking out of your
comfort zone; in retrospect, youll be amazed at how much
youve grown and learned.
By the time you are reading this, I will have wrapped up
my service as a water sanitation Volunteer in a Soninke
village and as a cross-cultural trainer. It feels like yesterday
that I was dropped off in my village and apprehensive about
my immediate future as a Volunteer. Yet somewhere along
the way, Mauritania became my home away from home,
and the Volunteers and Mauritanians with whom I live and

84 PEACE CORPS
work became my extended family. There is so much that I
will miss: my host mom making sure that Ive had more than
enough to eat, joking around with my host brother, group
meals and holidays with other Volunteers, being trapped in
my house during a thunderstorm, sleeping under the stars
on clear nights, rambling off extensive greetings in Soninke,
midday naps during the hot season, and the excited look
on my villagers faces as the concepts Ive been explaining
finally click. Given time, Im sure youll have equally fulfilling
experiences.
In the meantime, dont stress about packingeverybody
always overpacks. (But as seasoned Volunteers, were not
kidding about the Kool-Aidits a valuable commodity over
here!). For a little more insight (into the Mauritanian culture),
I would recommend reading Dancing Skeletons by Katherine
A. Dettwyler. Its a short book of about 150 pages that I just
finished reading myself. The author, in writing about her work
in rural Mali, gives an accurate description of her environment
and an honest account of a well-adjusted American living in
West Africa. If I substitute Mauritania for Mali, Nouakchott for
Bamako, and any local language for Bambara, I would swear
she was writing about Mauritania!
Most importantly, come with an open mind, a positive
attitude, and an extra supply of patience. You wont regret it!
Amy Schoeffield

Dear Incoming Trainees,


Warm greetings from Adrar! Its the hottest time of the year,
but its also time for the date harvest (Guetna). The Adrar is
a fascinating region! The scenery is reminiscent of Utah and
Arizonamountains, mesas, and stark plains. The population
is predominantly Moor, thus the language spoken is Hassaniya.
The terrain, though spectacular, is extremely rugged. The
routes, often not maintained, are frequently covered in areas
by the unrelenting shifting sand.
In spite of the geographic challenges, there is a lot of
activity in the region. Many projects, mainly based in Atar,

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 85
work in even the most remote places. I had the luck to assist
two health tours recently. My village, Aoujeft, which I once
considered small, now seems like a metropolis after spending
time in many settlements of maybe two or three families.
The work possibilities in the Adrar are endless. There
are ongoing health projects that concern basic health care,
endemic maladies (e.g., cholera and Guinea worm), and
training of health personnel. Some exciting projects going on
include the agricultural extension program under the Ministry
of Rural Development and Environment, dune stabilization
efforts, date palm management, irrigation experimentation,
and biological controls. For those interested in enterprise
activities, there are various small credit projects and
marketing ventures throughout the area.
The Moors are renowned for their hospitality. Any time
one stops to visit, the guest gets the best the host has to
offercool zriig (a drink made of fermented goat milk and
sugar), the traditional tea, and depending on the time of day,
a share in a steaming platter of rice or couscous. Spending
time chatting with the locals, stretched out on a matlastea
glass in handis one of my favorite pastimes. Most folks are
friendly, curious about things, and often big jokesters. Some
evenings, when I partake in the nightly couscous bowl with
my Aoujeft family, we play endless pranks on each other and
end up laughing the evening away. Its a lifestyle I admire
greatly here, and that, I suppose, is the key to me ensuring
a good Peace Corps experience in Mauritania. Integration is
wonderful!
Often in the evenings, I rest in the doorway of my rock
house that is perched on the western slope of an escarpment
and gaze at the surrounding terrain in the purple-orange light
of dusk. First there are the dunes (some over 100 feet high)
that surround Aoujeft, then there are the winding networks
of palmeries and gardens, and in the distance, the comforting
presence of mountains and mesas. The silence is pervasive
sand muffles noisethe landscape is unforgettable. The

86 PEACE CORPS
people are robust. The dates are plentiful. The mutton is
succulent. The incense is exotic and marvelous. The music
hypnotizing. The night sky brilliant Hope to see you soon.
Elizabeth Desser

Bismillah and Marahaba,


A warm Mauritanian welcome to all. Warm indeed. Hope
you all realize that youre about to embark on an amazing
adventure, which can be infinitely exhilarating, frustrating,
ambiguous, perplexing, and, at times, even enchanting.
Mauritania is a land of extremes that will test your patience,
your sense of humor, and your enthusiasm to their utmost
sometimes past their breaking points. Coming here will open
up whole new realms for exploration, both within yourself
and in the people and the world around you.
As advertised in the Peace Corps literature, this job is
toughin about 100 new and unexpected ways daily. But
somehow, I love it! Its not without a little pride that I tell
people that Im a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mauritania. I work
as an agroforestry Volunteer in the regional capital of Rosso,
located on the Senegal River. I speak smatterings of three
local languages, using each on a daily basis, in addition to
doing most of my official work in French. Many days, stepping
out of my familys door, I have no idea what to expect;
meetings are tentative at best, and often the best way to find
someone to communicate about a project is to just go and
hang out in the market or a central meeting place.
People here invoke divine intervention for what would have
seemed routine at home; Ill see you in half an hour, right?
will almost invariably provoke the response Enshalleh" (God
willing).
I have incredible freedom to set my own schedule and work
on projects that interest me; this requires an equal amount
of self-motivation. Luckily, I have found people I care about
deeply enough that any difficulties I encounter seem trivial
in comparison with the rewards gained by accomplishing

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 87
something. I am currently working on tree-planting projects
with a local primary school and a womens cooperative, and I
give technical advice to a number of area growers.
Additionally, an Internet cafe just opened in Rosso, so I
find myself giving Internet courses some evenings, or as is
sometimes the case, lessons on how to use a mouse. Volunteer
service can take on an immense variety of shapes and forms,
each contributing in different ways both to the community
and to the Volunteer.
You are probably wondering what to pack. On some days,
it feels warmer than warm, so a refrigerator would be nice,
or a swimming pool. Seriously, though, the packing list the
Peace Corps provided was good. I havent used the hiking
boots I brought yet, but Ive worn through my second pair
of Birkenstock sandals. A pair of both Birks and Tevas or
other slip-ons might not be excessive. I would recommend
durable work clothes of in-between colors (darker to hide
stains, lighter to reflect sun). I suggest, in addition to the
dressy Nouakchott duds, that you also bring some shirts
with collars or other clothes, as Mauritanians pay a good
deal of attention to dress, means permitting, and you will
be expected to dress more professionally in your regional
capitals and in Nouakchott. You can find relaxed clothes here
in-country, so take out a T-shirt and throw in a wrinkle-free
collared shirt. Bring favorite (or new) movies on videocassette
for times spent in Nouakchott. Think some about flexibility of
expectations and of belongings! My pullover fleece has done
double duty as both a pillow and in keeping me warm (and it
does get cold here sometimes). And while packing, be sure
to dust off your sense of humor and adventure, and toss em
in the bag. They are bound to be among the best things you
bring, though they may get a bit dirty or worn as a result of
your experiences here. Maybe relax about the whole packing
thing now, and instead use your time and/or any handy
implements to extract promises from your family and friends

88 PEACE CORPS
to send you what you need as each of you individually figures
that out.
Again, welcome and peace,
Eric Burlingame

Saalam alay-kum! Bienvenue en Mauritanie!,


You're about to embark on an adventure to a place you
may or may not have ever heard of. I remember holding the
welcome packet in partial disbelief, going to a world map and
trying to conjure up images of the Sahara a place I had
never given much thought to, a place that had never entered
my mind. After close to two years tucked away in an oasis of
small boats and fishermen, I now have an image and it is one I
could have never imagined.
The image changes by season: 90 percent of life is alfresco
an immense camping outing. First it is very hot, blustery
sandstorms fueling frustration, cracking your heels, trying
your patience and, just when the memory of other times
completely fades, like an oasis in time, the rains come and
bring the rapture of green landscapes requiring navigation
through spiky grasses, the overwhelming happiness of
observing fatter cows and drinking fresh or sour milk with
your friends. There is a collective sigh of relief, We have
made it, Al hamdu lillah. Then, as if there is a fear of
becoming spoiled, the temperature drops and the nights
become cold. Until the radiance of the Sahara sun hits, life
is frozen, inanimate waiting. As if you are caught between
two battling giants, the Sahara sun eventually gains the upper
hand and cold transitions to hot and then hot reigns supreme.
I live in a mud house visited by all sorts of critters; I eat
primarily with my hands; sleep on the ground under my
mosquito net to awake to the sounds of the morning, birds
chirping, roosters crowing, cattle rummaging; I watch the
phases of the moon and diurnal changes in constellations like
some eternal sitcom; and I adapt to a world absent of toilet
paper, sinks, electricity and straight lines.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 89
My home is an ethnically-mixed community situated across
an oasis from a semiurban center. I speak the Moor language
but live with a Pulaar family. I live in the middle of the desert
but my family fishes in the oasis. The day-to-day interactions
can be exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. The
cultural differences are my desert of frustration, as well as
my well of inspiration. Life here is a paradox, an exercise in
contrast.
The transition from a nomadic to a sedentary lifestyle is the
overarching challenge facing Mauritanians. Volunteers perform
a wide variety of tasks to overcome some of these obstacles.
As an agroforestry Volunteer, I work to improve nutrition
through the promotion of gardening and the introduction of
beneficial trees; I help to protect and restore the declining
environment, and to encourage self-reliance through capacity
building and community development.
I am also a Master's International (MI) Volunteer through
Cornell University. My focus is to help document local history
to develop a case study on the success and failure of specific
development projects. I spend a lot of time in my community
discussing health and environmental issues. In everything I
do, I attempt to foster self-confidence and trust among the
different tribes with the hope of diminishing their reliance on
foreign aid.
Two years may seem daunting; no books or previous life
experiences can prepare you for service. Simply taking
each day, one day at a time is the best mantra. Peace Corps
provided me with a chance to see the world and to be apart of
a community experiencing a very unique version of life, a life I
would have otherwise never known. A life I will never forget.
Best of luck in setting out on your new adventure!

Ginger Tissier

90 PEACE CORPS
NOTES

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 91
P A C K I N G L I ST
This list has been compiled by Volunteers
serving in Mauritania and is based on their experience (the
items with an asterisk, in particular, were recommended by
Volunteers as sanity savers during training). Use it as an
informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that
each experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You can
always have things sent to you later. You obviously cannot
bring everything we mention, so consider those items that
make the most sense to you personally and professionally.
As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an
80-pound weight restriction on baggage. And remember, you
can get almost everything you need in Mauritania.

General Clothing
Three to five cotton T-shirts with sleeves
Two to three nice-looking dress shirts (for men,
with a collar)
One to two pairs of shorts (to sleep in or to wear
during organized sporting events; note that shorts
are not worn by men or women in public)
One pair utility/work pants or jeans
One to two sweaters or sweatshirts/polar fleece
for the cold season
Bathing suit
One or two sets of dress clothes and nice shoes
(e.g., good-looking dress or pair of pants, a collared
shirt, and optional tie) for swearing-in ceremony,
embassy, other official functions and holidays. Do not
bring a sports coat or anything that needs dry cleaning.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 93
One or two hats/baseball caps (also a popular gift
item for men!)
Three or four cotton bandannas or other cotton
scarves (very handy for all sorts of things)*
Extra cotton underwear (boxer shorts and bras)

Note: There are a lot of talented tailors and a wide variety


of fabric in Mauritania. You will be able to have clothes made
here. Bring things that you can have copied. Do not worry
about bringing enough clothes for two years.

For Men:
One extremely adjustable belt (Volunteers typically
lose weight)
Four to five pairs of neat lightweight cotton pants
(khakis, Dockers, not jeans)

For Women:
Five to six long (ankle-length), full skirts and one or
two cotton slips (full-length skirts with pockets are
the best). Do not bring skirts that are see-through if
you hate wearing a slip. Also, test run the skirt: See
if you can sit comfortably cross-legged on the floor
while wearing it.
One to two full-length dresses with sleeves that at least
reach mid-arm. Bring a style that you really like as
tailors here can make duplicates. Again, test run the
dress to make sure you can sit comfortably on the floor
cross-legged. Note that Mauritanian women rarely
wear pants
Three month-supply of sanitary pads/tampons, beauty
products that make you feel good such as moisturizer,
makeup, hair conditioner, antiperspirant, jewelry (that
you will not mind losing or giving away)

94 PEACE CORPS
Sports bras (for running and bumpy car rides), scarves
(to keep your hair out of the dust)

Shoes
Sturdy sandals that offer support for your feet (e.g.,
Tevas or Birkenstocks).* Note: every time you enter a
room, you must take off your shoes. This will probably
happen several times a day, so we recommend that you
bring sandals or slip-on/backless shoes (Rubber flip-
flops can be bought here for about $1.)
One pair of quality work shoes or cross-trainer shoes,
particularly for health and agriculture Volunteers.
One pair of athletic shoes (for recreational purposes);
avoid sneakers with air bubble support systems; they
will be punctured easily on this terrain.
Two to three pairs of cotton socks (most time is spent
in sandals)

Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items


Women are often glad they brought makeup, perfume,
nail polish, and other beauty products for special
occasions and time spent in Nouakchott.
Nail clippers, tweezers, and/or nail file
Good razor and a supply of blades (they are available
but very expensive)
Iron tablets/protein supplement/any special needs
like textured vegetable protein. Note: multivitamins,
calcium, and vitamin C are supplied by the Peace
Corps.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 95
Kitchen
Instant drink mixes *(Kool-Aid, Crystal Lite, Gatorade;
similar local variations are available in Mauritania)
Spices (cinnamon, parsley, basil, salt, pepper, bouillon
cubes, and curry are easy to find here; combination
Indian, Mexican, or Chinese spices and things like
lemon pepper, seasoned salts [e.g., garlic salt], cilantro,
dill, and rosemary are not available)
Powdered sauce packets for pasta, salad dressings, etc.,
instant flavored oatmeal packets, pancake mix, soup
mixes, cake/Jell-O/pudding, hot cocoa mix (in short,
anything that only requires added water/milk/oil)
A good sharp cooking knife
Small plastic containers to store food (hard to find
here), measuring spoons, spatula, good vegetable
peeler, coffee press or gold filter
Big plastic bags (i.e., zip-closed or press-closed) are
useful for keeping out dust and sand; they are not
available here
Clif, Luna or other protein bars*

Miscellaneous
Internal frame backpack (for travel within country and
after service)
Day pack/small backpack/canvas bag/sack. Note: zippers
can break quickly because of the sand.
Summer sleeping bag (rated 20-25 degrees Farenheit;
very compactit does get cold at night during half the
year, plus a sleeping bag is handy for travel)
Free-standing mosquito net/tent with a floor and zipper
entry (e.g., Epco Tropic Screen II* (This can be found
at www.campmor.com; alternatives can be found at
www.LongRoad.com.

96 PEACE CORPS
Lightweight stadium or camp chair
10 ID photos (You are required to to have four photos
upon arrival in Mauritania)
One to two pairs dark sunglasses (sturdy and cheap),
prescription if necessary
Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool*
Money belt or other way of carrying valuables safely
American stamps for mailing letters (they can be hand
carried back to the United States by various travelers)
Address book and backup copy (do not forget e-mail
addresses)
Two sturdy water bottles (e.g., Nalgene); a wide-mouth
one liter and another big model. Note that you can
expect to drink 4-8 liters of water each day
Cross-stitch, knitting needles, or some other kind of
craft for downtime (if this a hobby for you)
Extra batteries (solar battery recharger and
rechargeable batteries).* Note that C batteries are
hard to find; A, AA, and D are available
Games: chess, checkers, Othello, Frisbee, backgammon,
hackeysack, jump rope, baseball and glove, Uno, LAX
stick and ball (good sports equipment and hobby
supplies are hard to come by)
Photos of family, friends, baby pictures, and scenery of
America and home (check for cultural appropriateness:
avoid bathing suits, alcohol, etc.)
Calendar, Christmas cards, thank-you notes, and nice
stationery (airmail envelopes and graph paper are
readily available, but airmail and lined paper are not)
Journals and good writing pens, pencils, and permanent
marker* (e.g., Sharpie)
Padded envelopes for sending stuff home, like film
Good pair of scissors (small pair included in medical
kit); hair-cutting scissors are a plus!

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 97
Pillow*(especially the small, camping-type pillow)
and good-quality cotton bedsheets or towels; they
are available here (and you get some from the Peace
Corps) but are expensive and not good quality
Combination lock* (key locks are available in-country),
at least two for better security
Duct tape or strong clear tape*
Sewing kit
Cheap toys for kidsballoons, crayons, coloring books,
stickers, yo-yos, bubbles (but giving too many gifts may
cause problems)
MapsUnited States, North/West Africa, world, star
chart
Posters for room dcor
Paperbacksbut do not overload; there is an extensive
library here
Musical instruments (highly encouraged, but will take a
beating from sand and dust; if taking a guitar, be sure to
bring it in a hard case and buy extra strings)
Checkbookcan be helpful if you want to mail-order
things from the United States
Datebook/planner
Small, inexpensive personal items that make you feel at
home (photos, picture frames, etc.)
Catalog of American clothes to show tailors for clothing
designs
Lightweight, water-resistant windbreaker
Seeds for your personal garden
West Africa travel guide
Scented candles/incense
Two pairs of sunglasses you can afford to lose*

98 PEACE CORPS
Electronic Gadgets
Your favorite music on CD (CDs will get scratched from
the sand, so make copies and leave the originals at home)
or MP3 player/iPod (West African music is available, but
is not of the same quality you get in the United States)
MP3 player/iPod/Cassette recorder/CD player*
(waterproof is good)
Satellite or shortwave radio (for listening to BBC and
Voice of America)*
One to two headlamps or flashlights with replacement
bulbs and extra batteries (see note above).
One to two sturdy but inexpensive watches
(waterproof; leather or nylon bands last longer
than plastic)
Digital Camerawith a dustproof case and backup
batteries
Laptop computermany Volunteers have found having
a personal laptop beneficial to their work.
USB flash drive/ memory stick for storing electronic
documents (CDs and floppy disks are not a practical
means of data storage in Mauritanian conditions)

Agroforestry/environmental education Volunteers might


consider bringing:
A lot of vegetable seeds. Typical garden vegetable
seeds are available in-country, but they are very
expensive and often in short supply. Be creative
and help diversify the local diet with foods such
as sunflower, zucchini, etc.
Good quality work gloves
Durable, but lightweight cloth pants for working in
dirt (duck cloth)

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 99
Community health/water and sanitation Volunteers might
consider bringing:
Sturdy boots for work (leather is advisable, not canvas)
Leather gloves for working with mud
Work trousers (jeans or duck cloth)

Small enterprise development, ICT, and education


Volunteers should note:

As it is highly unlikely that you will be working in the


fields or digging a well, you should be prepared to look
professional. You will be working with Mauritanian educators
and businesspeople in a small city or the capital. At some
point, you will also be meeting with local officials, and since
everything is unpredictable here, it is best to start the day
looking professional. This means nice pants/khakis (for men),
ankle-length dresses or skirts (for women), and shirts with
collars and sleeves. Women need to make sure the outline
of their legs cannot be seen through the skirt. This can be
a disaster for classroom management. Bring a cotton slip.
Remember that short sleeves (as long as your shoulders are
covered) are acceptable, but tank tops are not. Also, you will
be happy to have a few pairs of nice sandals (which are easy
to take on and off). A cotton blazer or lightweight big shirt
that you could wear over a nice shell or tank top will also get
a lot of use.

A suit is almost never necessary for male Volunteers. Bring


khaki-type pants that are lightweight but nice-looking. You
should also have a tie and at least one belt and a few short-
sleeved button-down cotton shirts with collars. Rubber or
plastic shower-type shoes are not appropriate at work. Bring a
nicer pair of sandals.

100 PEACE CORPS


NOTES

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 101


P R E- D E P A R TU R E
C H E C K L I ST
The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider
as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years.
Not all items will be relevant to everyone and the list does not
include everything you should make arrangements for.

Family
Notify family that they can call Peace Corps Office of
Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness
or death of a family member (telephone number:
800.424.8580, extension 1470.
Give the Peace Corps On the Home Front booklet to
family and friends.

Passport/Travel
Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork
for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for
international travel.
Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after
your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will
expire three months after you finish your service, so
if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular
passport.)

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 103


Medical/Health
Complete any needed dental and medical work.
If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
Arrange to take a three-month supply of all medications
(including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
Prepare a list of all prescriptions that you are bringing
with you. You will give this to the PCMO at your intake
interview, and it will serve as a record of having notified
the PCMO of the prescriptions that you have with you.

Health Insurance
Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage.
Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage
while away. (Even though the Peace Corps is
responsible for your health care during Peace Corps
service overseas, it is advisable for people who have
pre-existing conditions to arrange for the continuation
of their supplemental health coverage. If there is a
lapse in supplemental health coverage it is difficult
and expensive to be reinstated for insurance. This is
especially true when insurance companies know you
have predictable expenses and are in an upper age
bracket.)
Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.

Personal Papers
Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.

104 PEACE CORPS


Voting
Register to vote in the state of your home of record.
(Many state universities consider voting and payment
of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.)
Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you
overseas.
Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you
overseas. If you inform your local voter registration
office of your Nouakchott address, they will probably be
able to send your ballots directly to you without having
to be forwarded by family or friends; check with them
before you leave.

Personal Effects
Purchase personal property insurance for the time you
leave your home for service overseas until the time you
complete your service and return to the United States.

Financial Management
Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender
or loan service.
Execute a power of attorney for the management of
your property and business.
Arrange for deductions from your readjustment
allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other
debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial
Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
Place all important papersmortgages, deeds, stocks,
and bondsin a safe deposit box or with an attorney
or other caretaker.

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 105


C O NTA CT I N G P E A C E
C O R P S H E A D Q U A R TE R S
Please use the following list of numbers to help you contact
the appropriate office at Peace Corps headquarters with
questions. You may use the toll-free number and extension
or dial directly using the local numbers provided. Be sure to
leave the Peace Corps toll-free number and extensions with
your family in the event of an emergency during your service
overseas.

Peace Corps Headquarters


Toll-free Number: 800.424.8580, Press 2, then
Ext. # (see below)

Peace Corps Mailing Address: Peace Corps


Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Headquarters
1111 20th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20526

For Direct/
Questions Toll-free Local
About: Staff Extension Number

Responding to Office of
an Invitation Placement
Africa
Region Ext. 1850 202.692.1850

Programming or Country Desk Ext. 2327 202.692.2327/2328


Country Information E-mail: mauritania@
peacecorps.gov

A WE LC O M E B O O K MAU R ITAN IA 107


For Direct/
Questions Toll-free Local
About: Staff Extension Number

Plane Tickets, Travel Officer Ext. 1170 202.692.1170


Passports, (Sato Travel)
Visas, or Other
Travel Matters

Legal Clearance Office of Ext. 1845 202.692.1845


Placement

Medical Clearance Screening Nurse Ext. 1500 202.692.1500


and Forms Processing
(including dental)

Medical Handled by a
Reimbursements Subcontractor 800.818.8772

Loan Deferments, Volunteer Ext. 1770 202.692.1770


Taxes, Readjustment Financial
Allowance Withdrawals, Operations
Power of Attorney

Staging (Pre-departure Office of Staging Ext. 1865 202.692.1865


Orientation) and
Reporting Instructions
Note: You will receive
comprehensive information
(hotel and flight arrange-
ments) three to five weeks
before departure. This in-
formation is not available
sooner.

Family Emergencies Office of Special Ext. 1470 202.692.1470


(to get information to Services (24 hours)
a Volunteer overseas)

108 PEACE CORPS


PEACE CORPS
Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Headquarters
1111 20th Street NW Washington, DC 20526 www.peacecorps.gov 1-800-424-8580