House Hunters International, Algiers: Episode 4, "A Year Later, Still So Many Questions"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Landlord and would-be D.I.Y. superstar Aziz with his triplets, on a visit to my terrace earlier this summer.
A year has passed since I finally quit squatting with a colleague and move into my own apartment in Algiers—only to encounter a series of comical early misadventures. (If you haven't yet, be sure to read Episode 1: "It's Worth It for the View", Episode 2: "MacGyver's Revenge", and Episode 3: "Is It Over Yet?").

There was never supposed to be an "Episode 4". But to this day, circumstances at my humble abode somehow continue to prompt some uncomfortable questions—including, most often, "What the hell am I doing here?"

* * *

Back in November, shortly after finishing the third installment of this series on the joys of renting in Algiers, I packed my bags for a week back home in the US. My timing was good, as here in Algeria the winter's first rains were just starting outside.

Oh, and also inside.

In the days before my departure, I had identified trickles or, in some cases, solid streams of rainwater flowing down not one, not two, not three... but all four walls of my living room. And in the kitchen, while I couldn't yet identify where exactly the water was entering, it was definitely pooling in a large lake over there by the right-hand wall.

I left only after making a very clear request to Aziz, the landlord: Fix it.

Those of you who read the first three installments of this series will not be surprised to learn that I returned a week later to find the apartment exactly as I had left it, my own little water park. Nor will it shock you to hear that when I traveled to Canada for a work trip a few weeks later, I returned to find the same pools of water obstinately sprawling across the chilly floor tiles.

Sadly for me, the knuckleheads who built this place—the now infamous Reda and Hamid (a.k.a. MacGyver)—seem to have been confused about which way water flows. Almost uniformly, their gutters lead water toward the house, spilling it down the perpetually soaked walls while their downspouts remain dry and empty.

(Speaking of those two: Reda and Hamid have been nowhere to be seen during the recent dry months. But after finishing their work in my apartment last year, they spent six months down below in their new "office", puttering around with hammers and plaster and seeming not to make progress. I took no small amount of joy in imagining that, through some divine justice, the water coursing through my own apartment all winter eventually wound its way down through the building to their place.)

* * *

When the long winter abated and spring finally sprung, I knew the rains would also slow, so I gave up complaining to the landlord about the gutters and moved on to terrace furnishings, since tragically I couldn't take much advantage of the terrace's beautiful view as long as the space remained bare.

After a few weeks of strongly worded reminders, Aziz finally assented to buy some plants, a table, and chairs. The day he set off to purchase the furniture, he asked me if I wanted to accompany him. Remembering his promise to buy us a nice teak outdoor set—but apparently not remembering all his awful aesthetic decisions in the interim (ahem, shiny silver walls)—I told him simply, "No thanks, I trust you." Guess how that turned out?

If you guessed "Shitty plastic table with mauve paisley pattern accompanied by mustard-colored umbrella pilfered from the local UN office and six chairs of six different neon colors" then congratulations, you win.

Whatever, it works. And there's plants. And a barbecue. And I installed a few hammocks and a sun shade.

Everything is better with a hammock.
* * *

In the last year, my home has gradually—and I mean very gradually—transitioned from being an active construction site, giving me more quiet hours to sit by myself and ponder the apartment's many mysteries. For example:
  • Why is there an extra light switch out on the terrace that controls the lights in my living room?
  • Why for several hours after it rains does neither that light switch nor the one that's actually in the living room work?
  • Why is every other light switch in this entire building located awkwardly behind a door?
  • What's that smell in the bathroom that just won't go away?
  • Why did the power stabilizer that's supposed to protect my TV instead ignite itself with a flurry of sparks and smoke a few months ago?
  • Why do I have a state-of-the-art camera to see visitors at the front door, yet am obliged to trudge down and open said door because I have no button to do so remotely?
  • When my eyes try to simultaneously follow the lines of the living room ceiling and floor, why do I get dizzy and feel like I'm in a sort of M.C. Escher sketch?
  • Would it kill Aziz to hire someone to fix something for once, instead of pretending like he knows how to assemble a light fixture or patch a ceiling?
  • Why did Aziz choose the windiest day of the whole spring to come to the house and open the umbrella on the terrace? And how far can one sad little mustard-yellow UNESCO umbrella fly in six months?
* * *

Perhaps to punctuate the monotony of me sitting around asking myself dumb questions, I have also experienced some fun natural disasters here at the apartment.

For example, in April there was the time it rained down golf-ball-sized hailstones one night, shattering windshields around the neighborhood, along with all the exterior pipes outside my apartment. (Back to questions: In the four months since then, why hasn't Aziz brought the plumber to replace the pipes, and spare my downstairs neighbor from the floods that pour down every time I shower?)

Then last week, while I was in Croatia, there was an earthquake. These are fairly common here in Algiers, but this one—a 5.6 on the Richter scale—was larger than usual, and managed to cause minor damage around the city, as well as many injuries. Friends described a violent rocking lasting nearly a minute. Yet I returned from my trip to find my apartment strangely devoid of any damage. Could it be that so many bolts are so loose, that the quality of the construction is so poor, and that the joints are so fluid that my home is inadvertently earthquake-proof?

On a day-to-day basis, I try not to think too much about all these questions. Because they inevitably lead me to the question posed by the latest and greatest (read: spectacularly awful) Algerian rai hit: "Why Why?" As in, why why do I put up with all this?

Well, I guess it's still worth it for the view.

Yeah, it's worth it. Right?

7 comments:

Anne Miller said...

Very funny, but no not worth the view anymore. Sorry!

Redouane Hamza said...

Wow! you are indeed VERY patient with your " Chief CROOK and bottle washer"...These type of guy are probably happy to abuse a situation where they can take advantage of the chronic shortage of housing in the city and the good will of a tenant like you. In Algiers patience is a virtue.

Soulef said...

The view and the terrace are worthy! Nothing else in crazy Algiers/Algerians! (I am Algerian!)

Andrew Farrand said...

Redouane it's true that there is a shortage and so landlords can probably get away with a lot. I've certainly heard some stories from friends that are much worse than my own relatively benign ones! Hard as it can be some days, I tend to agree with Soulef overall that, because there's not much else here to choose, it's best to suck it up and just enjoy what you can!

Thanks all for reading :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrew. I have been following ur very entertaining adventures with ur landlord, I'm really sorry you had to deal with a crook like him. If Ashour (Algiers) is not too far for you. I would love to show you my brand new building of 7 apartments with underground private garages and 24 hours security guard. Finishes are 5 stars and will be ready for rent in a couple of months. You actually know me, we met at the Hayek shooting days. I was the only shanghai guy with all the pretty women. Even if you still want to keep suffering to keep that beautiful view, I still would love to show you that there are decent people in Algeria. Faouzi- Artist

Andrew Farrand said...

Hi Faouzi, thanks for your message! Nice to know that you have these good places in Achour. It's a little too far outside the city for me but I appreciate the offer and I will keep it in mind.

Don't worry too much about me -- my apartment here certainly has its frustrations sometimes but usually it's really not bad :)

GBDZ said...

This last episode made me laugh out loud. In spite of everything you still seem to think that there actually are some competent tradesmen in this city! When my bedroom ceiling fell down we discovered that the roof timbers were attached to the rest of the building with with wire and nails. I suppose I should be grateful that I wasn't in there when it collapsed. But there was a fantastic view from the terrace...

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