Difference between pages "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kyrgyzstan" and "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania"

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===Communications===
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===Communications ===
  
====Mail ====
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===Mail ===
  
During pre-service training, you will receive mail at a post office near the training site (you will be given this address before you depart for overseas). Once you have moved to your assigned site, you will use your residence or workplace as a permanent mailing address. The Peace Corps office cannot accept mail for Volunteers except in extraordinary circumstances.  
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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 has 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.  
  
Mail from the United States usually takes two to four weeks to arrive at Volunteer sites. Advise your family and friends to number their letters so you will be able to tell when a letter has gone astray. Also tell them to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes.  
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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 that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly.  
  
====Telephones ====
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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!
  
International telephone service is generally available throughout the Kyrgyz Republic, but it is expensive. Calling cards make calling the United States much easier because you can call the AT&T operator in Moscow (095.155.5042) and place the call directly. The time in the Kyrgyz Republic is 11 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (10 hours during Daylight Savings Time). Phone service within the Kyrgyz Republic is improving, but it can be a difficult experience, depending on factors such as the time of day and weather conditions. The national telephone agency has offices in all major cities and in some smaller towns, but if you are calling from outside Bishkek, it is sometimes difficult to secure a line.  
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People visiting in the U.S. can carry mail back and put them in a mailbox when they arrive. This is usually quicker and more secure than relying on MauriPost. If you want to send mail this way, bring plenty of U.S. postage stamps with you so that letters are ready to mail upon arrival in the U.S.  
  
Most Volunteers take advantage of local Internet cafes to make international phone calls. This low-cost way of calling the United States is available in most urban areas throughout the country. Though the connection is not always the best, the service is by far the least expensive way of staying in touch with your family and friends.
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Your address during training will be:
  
There are two cellular companies in the Kyrgyz Republic, and more and more Kyrgyz are using cell phones, especially in the capital. However, coverage is spotty and unpredictable outside Bishkek.
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“Your Name,” PCT
  
====Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access ====
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Corps de la Paix
  
The Peace Corps office has several computers with Internet access in its resource center that may be used by Volunteers when they are in the office on official business. In addition, Volunteers can access E-mail at Internet cafés in many of the larger towns in the Kyrgyz Republic.  
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B.P. 222
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Nouakchott, Mauritania
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West Africa
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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.
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===Telephones ===
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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 e-mail for communication.
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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).  
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===Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access ===
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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 e-mail. Most Volunteers set up a Yahoo, gMail, or Hotmail account before leaving home, giving the e-mail 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 e-mail. DSL Internet service is currently available in two of Peace Corps/Mauritania’s 10 regional satellite offices.  It is expected that high-speed Internet service will continue to expand to the regional capitals.  
  
 
===Housing and Site Location ===
 
===Housing and Site Location ===
  
Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic assigns Volunteers to the sites with the greatest need and to schools and organizations that demonstrate potential for making the best use of Volunteers’ skills. Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic has a mandatory three-month homestay policy and asks the sponsoring agency to provide the Volunteer with adequate, safe housing, which is paid for by the Peace Corps. The housing varies from site to site and is typically with a family or within a family’s compound.  
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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.  
  
The housing will have simple basic furniture such as a bed, a table and chairs, a wardrobe or bureau for clothing, and access to a stove and a refrigerator. The Peace Corps will provide you with a water filter or distiller. In addition, because winters in the Kyrgyz Republic are cold and many heating systems are inadequate, the Peace Corps will also provide you with an electric heater. Still, you will probably need long underwear and will definitely need a warm sleeping bag, as electricity is not always reliable.  
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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.  
  
You need to be very flexible in your housing expectations, as there is no guarantee that there will be an indoor toilet or that running water or electricity will be available continuously at your assigned site.  
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Unless you are posted to a regional capital, you will most likely not have running water or electricity. This means that 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 ===
 
===Living Allowance and Money Management ===
  
The Kyrgyz Republic has a cash-based economy. There are now ATM machines in Bishkek, but few opportunities to use credit cards other than buying international plane tickets from a local travel agency or online. The rate of exchange between the dollar and the local currency, the som, has been stable in recent years, with the dollar losing value slightly to the som.  
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As a Volunteer in Mauritania, you will receive four types of allowances.  
  
As a Volunteer in the Kyrgyz Republic, you will live at the same economic level as your neighbors and colleagues. You will receive a modest monthly living allowance (deposited in local currency into a bank account you will open at your site) to cover food, utilities, household supplies, hygiene products, clothing, recreation and entertainment, local transportation, telephone calls, reading materials, and other personal expenses. The amount of this allowance may not seem like a lot of money, but you will find yourself earning more than many of your colleagues and supervisors.  
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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 $140 to $396 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.  
  
You will also receive a $24 monthly vacation allowance and a one-time settling-in allowance in local currency to purchase household items when you move to your permanent site. The settling-in allowance is intended to defray part of the costs of items such as cooking utensils, dishes, towels, and blankets.  
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A vacation allowance of $24 per month is paid in ouguiya.  It is automatically included in the quarterly deposit to your bank account.  
  
Finally, you will be given a quarterly program travel allowance to support regional exchanges with other Volunteers and to travel to Bishkek to visit international organizations or meet with your program manager. This allowance is designed to encourage Volunteers to exchange knowledge, skills, and best practices about their primary and secondary projects with one another.  
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You will also receive a one-time settling-in allowance of roughly $290, paid in local currency at the end of pre-service training, to buy basic household items for your eventual site.
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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.
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Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Mauritania with these four allowances, although many Volunteers bring money (cash or traveler’s 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.
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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 consider your decision to bring valuables carefully.  
  
 
===Food and Diet ===
 
===Food and Diet ===
  
People in the Kyrgyz Republic eat a lot of meat and vegetables (e.g., potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions), with much of the food fried or boiled. There is a wide range of fresh food for sale in markets throughout the republic during the spring, summer, and fall, including meat, vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts. Oranges, bananas, and apples can be found in some parts of the country but are often expensive.  
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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 family’s 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.  
  
Fruits and vegetables are, of course, seasonal, but it is possible to be a vegetarian in the Kyrgyz Republic. A sufficient variety of food is available to maintain a healthy vegetarian diet, and previous Volunteers have been successful at doing so with a little advance planning. The markets have white, pinto, mung, and red beans; chickpeas and split peas; pasta; rice; and peanuts and other nuts. Cheese, eggs, and milk are available in many, but not all, markets, and potatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions can be found almost everywhere. Tofu is available in larger towns. The most difficult aspect probably will be the social pressure to eat meat, but with a little patience, most vegetarians have served their two years with few problems.  
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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 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 ===
 
===Transportation ===
  
Because of safety issues, Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on two- or three-wheeled motorized vehicles for any reason. Volunteers are not allowed to own or drive private automobiles or tractors. Road travel between oblasts after dark is prohibited. Road travel after dark within oblasts is strongly discouraged; Violation of these policies may result in the termination of your Volunteer service.  
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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.
  
Most Volunteers travel in the country in commercial vans (called marshrutkas), but some choose to pay more and hire long-distance taxis. Although the vans often do not operate on a set schedule, there is regular public transportation between cities. Travel by bus among cities is also available.
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===Geography and Climate ===
  
===Geography and Climate===
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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 Polisario, supported principally by Algeria. The northern five-sixths of Mauritania is desert—for the most part uninhabited (the region known as El Majabaat Koubra). The majority of Mauritania’s 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 Mauritania’s agricultural initiatives quickly gives way to the more sparsely vegetated Sahel. Farther north is the Sahara Desert, which stretches to Mauritania’s northern and eastern borders.
  
The Kyrgyz Republic borders Kazakhstan in the north and northwest, Uzbekistan in the southwest, Tajikistan in the south, and China in the southeast. The Tien Shan mountain range covers approximately 95 percent of the country, which is about the size of Nebraska. The mountaintops are perennially covered with snow glaciers.
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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.  
 
 
The Kyrgyz Republic has four seasons, including very cold winters and hot, dry summers. The duration of each season depends on the region of the country. In the mountains, the temperature can drop as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the rest of the country, winter is much like winters in the Midwestern United States, but without so much snow. The north is much colder than the south, with normal winter temperatures in the mid-teens to low 20s.  
 
  
 
===Social Activities ===
 
===Social Activities ===
  
Volunteers are expected to develop relationships with people in their communities and participate in the social activities available at their sites. Outside of Bishkek, there is little formal entertainment (e.g., the opera, theater, cinemas, etc).  Therefore, both the Kyrgyz people and Volunteers, especially in small towns and villages, spend much of their leisure time “guesting.” Guesting means being invited to a home for a meal; this could last up to five or six hours, depending on the time of day. As the only American, and often the only foreigner, present in a community, you will often be the guest of honor.
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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.  
 
 
Being a guest in a Kyrgyz home can be simultaneously rewarding and stressful. The local people, whether ethnic Kyrgyz, Uzbek, or Russian, are hospitable, charismatic hosts. This means that you, as the guest, will be constantly encouraged to eat and drink more and more. Although it can be difficult to convey to people you do not know well that you have had enough to eat or drink and that you do not want any more or need to go home, Volunteers find that they are better able to manage such situations as their language skills develop.
 
 
 
Alcohol is prevalent in most social situations in the Kyrgyz Republic and can cause stress for Volunteers. Volunteers may regularly feel pressure to drink heavily when in new social surroundings either with their new Kyrgyz friends or with other Volunteers. The pressure to drink often eases as a Volunteer becomes better known, and many Volunteers abstain from drinking in their sites. Program managers and the safety and security and medical officers help Volunteers develop strategies to manage the pressure of alcohol consumption.
 
 
 
The Peace Corps has policies and strategies that will help Volunteers assess and manage their use of alcohol.  Excessive use of alcohol may result in behavior that affects your performance, effectiveness, safety and credibility.  Inappropriate behavior resulting from alcohol abuse or the inability to carry out your assignment due to alcohol use is grounds for administrative separation from the Peace Corps.  Alcohol use has been a factor in injuries and assaults involving Volunteers in posts throughout the world, including the Kyrgyz Republic. The Kyrgyzstani judicial system considers use of alcohol as an aggravating factor in criminal cases.  Individuals with a history or predisposition for alcohol abuse should seriously consider whether the Kyrgyz Republic is an appropriate assignment for you.  
 
  
 
===Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior ===
 
===Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior ===
  
People in the Kyrgyz Republic take pride in their personal appearance and tend to dress up both for social occasions and for daily activities and generally dress more formally than Americans. While most people cannot afford a large wardrobe—it is not unusual to see co-workers wear the same outfit two or three days in a row—wearing clean and ironed cloths is important. To gain the acceptance, respect, and confidence of Kyrgyz colleagues, therefore, it is essential that you dress and conduct yourself professionally. Professional dress is required in the workplace, which means mid-length or long skirts with blouses or dresses for women living in more rural or conservative areas of the country, and pressed chinos or dress slacks with jackets or sweaters for men. Dress shoes or boots are also essential. As it is the custom to take off your shoes before entering someone’s home, Volunteers might wish to bring with them shoes that easily slip on or off rather than ones with laces.  
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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 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.  
 
 
 
 
  
The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to behave in a way that will foster respect in their communities and reflect well on the Peace Corps and the citizens of the United States. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest and must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts.  You will receive an orientation on appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training.  
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Peace Corps/Mauritania has instituted the following dress code, required for the Nouakchott office, the Kaédi 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 they 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 ===
 
===Personal Safety ===
  
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, being perceived as well-off, and alcohol abuse are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Some 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 Kyrgyz Republic Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in the Kyrgyz Republic. At the same time, you are expected to take ultimate responsibility for your own safety and well-being.  
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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), 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. Most 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 many 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.  
  
 
===Rewards and Frustrations ===
 
===Rewards and Frustrations ===
  
Although the potential for job satisfaction in the Kyrgyz Republic is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support they promised. In addition, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.  
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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 have a hand, even if only a small one, in shaping how some of the world’s neediest people live. At the same time, the world has been given a personal view of individual Americans putting their ideals to work.  
  
You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your workDevelopment is a slow process. Positive progress most often comes after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.  
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The excitement and adventure of the Volunteer experience are, in some measure, a result of its unpredictabilityThere 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, the patience, and the 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.  
  
To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. The Kyrgyz are warm, friendly, and hospitable, and the Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success.  Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave the Kyrgyz Republic feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are willing to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.  
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Ideally, a Volunteer’s 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 so doing, 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.  
  
[[Category:Kyrgyzstan]]
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[[Category:Mauritania]]

Revision as of 00:03, 13 March 2009



Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in [[{{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |8}}]]
As a Peace Corps Volunteers, you will have to adapt to conditions that may be dramatically different than you have ever experienced and modify lifestyle practices that you now take for granted. Even the most basic practices— talking, eating, using the bathroom, and sleeping — may take significantly different forms in the context of the host country. If you successfully adapt and integrate, you will in return be rewarded with a deep understanding of a new culture, the establishment of new and potentially lifelong relationships, and a profound sense of humanity.
  • [[Packing list for {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |8}}]]
  • [[Training in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |8}}]]
  • [[Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |8}}]]
  • [[Health care and safety in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |8}}]]
  • [[Diversity and cross-cultural issues in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |8}}]]
  • [[FAQs about Peace Corps in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |8}}]]
  • [[History of the Peace Corps in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |8}}]]
See also:

Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyles by Country Pre-Departure Checklist
Staging Timeline

For information see Welcomebooks

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[[Category:{{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Mauritania| |8}}]]


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 has 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 that 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 them in a mailbox when they arrive. This is usually quicker and more secure than relying on MauriPost. If you want to send mail this way, bring plenty of U.S. postage stamps with you so that 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 e-mail 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).

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 e-mail. Most Volunteers set up a Yahoo, gMail, or Hotmail account before leaving home, giving the e-mail 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 e-mail. DSL Internet service is currently available in two of Peace Corps/Mauritania’s 10 regional satellite offices. It is expected that high-speed Internet service will continue to expand to the regional capitals.

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.

Unless you are posted to a regional capital, you will most likely not have running water or electricity. This means that 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 $140 to $396 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 $290, 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.

Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Mauritania with these four allowances, although many Volunteers bring money (cash or traveler’s 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 consider your decision to bring valuables carefully.

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 family’s 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 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 Polisario, supported principally by Algeria. The northern five-sixths of Mauritania is desert—for the most part uninhabited (the region known as El Majabaat Koubra). The majority of Mauritania’s 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 Mauritania’s agricultural initiatives quickly gives way to the more sparsely vegetated Sahel. Farther north is the Sahara Desert, which stretches to Mauritania’s 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 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 Kaédi 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 they 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), 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. Most 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 many 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.

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 have a hand, even if only a small one, in shaping how some of the world’s 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, the patience, and the 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 Volunteer’s 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 so doing, 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.