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Peace Corps Mauritania Welcome Book | March 2009

Peace Corps Mauritania Welcome Book | March 2009

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Peace Corps Mauritania Welcome Book
Peace Corps Mauritania Welcome Book

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Published by: Accessible Journal Media Peace Corps Docs on Jun 13, 2010
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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.

A WELCOME BOOK · MAURITANIA

73

N O T E S

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75

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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 traveler’s 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.

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 driver’s license?

Volunteers in Mauritania do not need to get an international

driver’s 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.

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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 trainee’s 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.

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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.

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N O T E S

WELCOME LETTERS
FROM MAURITANIA
VOLUNTEERS

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 humor—and
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 alias—and 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 benefit—about
the Moringa tree, nutrition, food preservation, or hand
washing—and 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.

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No words or books will prepare you adequately for the two
years you are about to spend in Mauritania. A Volunteer’s
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, I’ll just jump in for the
adventure—trying 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 groups—the Pulaar, Soninke,
and Moor—that 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 stupid—this 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 sister’s lap and she braids my hair. After
waiting (and inevitably drinking more tea), it gets better. And
in retrospect, it’s interesting just to see how far your comfort
levels can be stretched.

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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 I’d
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. I’m 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

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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 don’t be discouraged by all
of the information in print. Come to see for yourselves. It’s
a truly wonderful place to be a part of, and I can’t 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. You’ll 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, you’ll be amazed at how much
you’ve 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

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work became my extended family. There is so much that I
will miss: my host mom making sure that I’ve 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 I’ve been explaining
finally click. Given time, I’m sure you’ll have equally fulfilling
experiences.

In the meantime, don’t stress about packing—everybody
always overpacks. (But as seasoned Volunteers, we’re not
kidding about the Kool-Aid—it’s a valuable commodity over
here!). For a little more insight (into the Mauritanian culture),
I would recommend reading Dancing Skeletons by Katherine
A. Dettwyler. It’s 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 won’t regret it!
—Amy Schoeffield

Dear Incoming Trainees,
Warm greetings from Adrar! It’s the hottest time of the year,
but it’s also time for the date harvest (Guetna). The Adrar is
a fascinating region! The scenery is reminiscent of Utah and
Arizona—mountains, 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,

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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
offer—cool 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 matlas—tea
glass in hand—is 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. It’s 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 noise—the landscape is unforgettable. The

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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 you’re 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
tough—in about 100 new and unexpected ways daily. But
somehow, I love it! It’s not without a little pride that I tell
people that I’m 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 family’s 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; “I’ll 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

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something. I am currently working on tree-planting projects
with a local primary school and a women’s 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 haven’t used the hiking
boots I brought yet, but I’ve 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

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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.

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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

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N O T E S

PACKING LIST

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.

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• 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)

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• 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.

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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 compact—it 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.

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• 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!

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• 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 kids—balloons, crayons, coloring books,
stickers, yo-yos, bubbles (but giving too many gifts may
cause problems)

• Maps—United States, North/West Africa, world, star
chart

• Posters for room décor

• Paperbacks—but 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)

• Checkbook—can 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*

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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 Camera—with a dustproof case and backup
batteries

• Laptop computer—many 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)

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100

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.

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101

N O T E S

PRE-DEPARTURE
CHECKLIST

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.)

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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.

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104

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 papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks,
and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney
or other caretaker.

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107

CONTACTING PEACE
CORPS HEADQUARTERS

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

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)

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108

PEACE CORPS

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

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