|What do you say to a gift like that? I was damn near speechless.|
By the time October rolled around, my apartment was finally starting to look like a proper home, except that I still had no bedroom door, no lamps, and a satellite dish that picked up only German channels. As the extended Algerian summer finally faded away, the long-promised patio furniture and barbecue for the terrace—probably the features I had been most excited for back in June—were still nowhere to be found.
The first fall storm brought water creeping in from all sides. Hamid—jack of all trades, master of none—was soon up on the roof, first to jerry-rig some temporary gutters from chewing gum and water bottles, and then, in the following days, to build proper ones. (They sloped toward the middle. No surprise then, that the season's second storm brought more water damage. Soon after, a man with an eye patch was working on the roof; we'll see how his gutters fare.)
Though apparently incapable of buying basic patio furniture or hiring competent roofers, landlord Aziz otherwise went to great lengths to make sure I felt at home. Back in the summer, he had snapped a few pictures around the apartment, including one of me sitting at my desk. I thought nothing of it until one day he showed up at the house with a "present": a screen-printed coffee mug with my picture inked on it and the words (spelled, in French, completely incorrectly) "Welcome to Algeria".
After five months of "tomorrows" and "next weeks" and the infamous "ten more days" promised and failed, I've long ago stopped counting on receiving much else. Nobody really comes by anymore to work on the remaining odds and ends. Reda and his team are now renovating an apartment downstairs to make an office for their wildly successful new real-estate-and-home-renovation agency. Each morning when I leave for work, I see Hamid down there, puttering away with a hammer or stirring some concoction in an old cement bucket.
I've taken things into my own hands to finish up the apartment, buying missing items, bringing a repairman to install something other than German satellite channels, and hanging my own decorations around the apartment. (Aziz's shiny walls didn't inspire much confidence in his aesthetic tastes; nor did the fake-diamond-encrusted spice jars he and Reda proudly presented to me one day.)
Looking back, I never should have let them get my hopes up. Yes, Aziz and his contractors did a terrible job of managing expectations. But I was all too eager to set my sights high, and hoped anew for a finished apartment every time they promised "ten more days". These days, I've gotten used to the crooked ceilings, windows that won't shut, splattered paint drips, leaky gutters, and cabinet placed awkwardly above the sink so that it's impossible to stand up straight while doing dishes. These are just some of the many quirks of my new apartment.
After having so much fun along the way, I must admit: it's almost been worth it for the view.
Some shots of the more-or-less finished apartment:
|Living room, including television that until yesterday spoke only German.|
|"After" view of the kitchen. Compare to "before" view.|
|La terrasse, spectacular though still sans tables, chairs, or grill. (Photo courtesy of R. Feeley)|