House Hunters International, Algiers: Episode 1, "It's Worth It for the View"

Friday, November 8, 2013 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

In June, the magnificent view of the Mediterranean from my kitchen was not yet hindered by silly things like windows.
Soon after shipping off to Algiers back in June, I and another recently arrived colleague visited a series of apartments around town, hoping to find the perfect homes.

We saw an apartment irreparably infused with the stench of a fishmonger two stories below, an otherwise beautiful apartment with all the windows bricked up, an apartment decorated in Rolling Stones lips motifs, and more.

Our guide for these visits was a giggly real estate agent named Reda, who finally did come through when he showed us a villa on the pleasant hillside neighborhood of Telemly, overlooking the port of Algiers. Sure, all the apartments in the villa needed some work, but what potential, and oh what a view...

The owner, a jovial middle-aged businessman named Aziz, assured us that he would need just a little more time to finish the work—"Nothing to worry about; we'll take care of it. Another ten days or so." That was the beginning of June—and the beginning of a very long adventure.

June

After telling Aziz we wanted the place, we returned everyday thereafter to check on progress. (In the meantime, I stayed in the spare room of a very understanding colleague.)

In the June heat, progress on the apartments was slow. We soon discovered that the chief overseer of the construction was none other than our real estate agent, Reda, who explained that in addition to his house-hunting duties he also had a reputable construction business on the side.

Something else Reda had? An excuse for everything. (Yes, we were going to install the windows in your apartment, but instead we spent today attaching that toilet-paper-holder. Yes, craftsmen are in abundance in Algeria, but good ones are hard to find—I pay them well, but they just don't show up! Yes, we broke that window when we were installing it but we'll replace it right away. Yes, you'll have a bathroom door by next week... you don't mind if it's see-through, right?)

Reda's right-hand man on the site was a hunchbacked old handyman named Hamid, who spent his days puttering around with a hammer and greasing everything in his wake with grimy, caulk-caked fingers. But once the Ramadan fast began at the end of the month, more often than not I would stop by and find him sitting in the lounge chair in the center of my future living room, air conditioning at full blast, watching the Tour de France.

After twenty days, all assured us that finishing the site would take "just ten more days". With her apartment sparsely furnished and more or less structurally sound, my colleague moved in, while I opted to wait for the work-in-progress apartment adjoining the upper terrace. "It's worth it for the view," I told myself yet again. Then I signed my contract and prayed.

To be continued... [UPDATE: see Episode 2, "MacGyver's Revenge"]

June construction: my living room, viewed from the terrace.
June construction: the terrace.
June construction: view from the middle of my living room.
June construction: hard at work installing fake brick.

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