Horseshoes and Berbers
So I found an apartment on Wednesday! Well. An apartment was found for me. So theres that. But still. DOM I CILE. I am very excited to be establishing my life in Morocco. Its been a notable week that’s for sure.
I wish I could go on about the challenges that I have had to overcome in my long painful struggle to integrate with a foreign culture in languages I do not understand and how I have been triumphant despite all sorts o homesickness and grief. But honestly, all I can really recommend when you move to new city, especially one as foreign and exotic as Marrakech, is to keep a local by your side as you get settled. My most common phrase of the week has been “what just happened there?” Honestly. I have been very well taken care of and I am eternally grateful that I have such a good and kind friend here.
As soon I woke up on Wednesday morning, knowing that we had an appointment to meet another guy to see a place at 10 am, I knew. I just knew that it was going to be the day and the place. And holy crap were my expectations exceeded.
We all know that I have been following my gut on this journey. I walked into a number of places on Monday and looked around, listened to the air in the room and thought …”Nope. Nothing.” On to the next. So when I had this “feeling” that we were on the right track I got excited. We met “the guy” in front of my hotel and set off on foot. The walk took us along the route that I had been travelling over the past week, getting lost and found again while I looked at various neighbourhoods. I felt the old odd sensation that I would find my place in a neighbourhood I had previously stalked. It’s happened before with other places. I have had some slight association with the area prior to and separate from finding a home there. We arrived within 10 minutes. Cute street. And SO close to the hotel. The entry was lovely. The pool (in the lobby) was lovely. The elevator was lovely. And get this – it was the first place we had been to where all three men in the elevator paused and let me exit first. That is notable because in every other place I took my place at the back thinking, “Honey, you are not in a ladies first country anymore,” as I continually was left to exit last. Huh.
We saw two apartments side by side. The one I chose has a HUGE balcony that almost doubles the living space with sliding glass doors in every room. With all of them open I essentially live outside. Wonderful views. The place is small and one bedroom after my giant “villa” (as it has come to know here) on Arcadian Circle. But spacious enough to not feel trapped. And that balcony. As we looked around I offered the thumbs up to my friendly Berber and things just went from there. Off to the office to negotiate the terms and a time to return with the cash. We went straight away to find me a bank account to transfer money into from Canada. Not a required task for the day but possible now that I had some time to kill and an address. I opened a foreigners account that allows me to transfer money in and withdraw it with a card, but no putting dirhams into the account. That’s fine for now. We stopped at BMCE initially and after an exchange of Arabic we left. Not really sure what happened. Who am I to ask? We went Societe General and the nice man Wassim fixed me in short order. In French and some English. Easy right? Just smile and nod, sign when asked and hope you aren’t signing a marriage contract or something silly.
Then lunch in a local watering hole where I was, once again, the only Westerner and woman in the place. More eating with my hands. More great food for next to nothing. Honestly, delicious. Then I went back to the hotel where I packed and M took my wad of Euros over to the bank to convert them to dirham. I needed to pay the last few days of January, February, one month security deposit plus an agency fee. In total I need 15,750 dirham ($2200 CDN) My rent is $810 Canadian a month. Off we went back to the apartment to sign the documents, pay the man, and also to pay the fellow who found it for us a small fee of 600 dirham or $85. The beauty of Morocco is that everyone gets paid for their time. Commission, finders fees, whatever you call it. These people live on very little and most of the working people are supporting larger families. I am happy to offer the nice man some cash for his time.
I dropped my bags and we walked right over to the local Moroccan “Walmart” to pick up some things I need right away. Then time for dinner. We decided to head back to the hotel for a pizza. Easy. Known. Fast. All day we were both shocked at the AMAZING location of my place. AMAZING. Cheaper than all the others and enormously better located. Seriously. So we took a left instead of a right to explore the neighbourhood on the way and found a little shop for water and breakfast, a cafe, a laundry, and a wine shop! And a manicure place! Then we arrived at the main street leading to the Medina. HOLY CRAP the location just keeps getting better. So walk walk walk, and suddenly Mustapha said “I just found 50 dh on the sidewalk.” Really? Yah. Look. After all the luck I had he goes and finds $7 on the ground. (I asked him later if he spent it all in one place and he told me that he gave it to the waiter at the hotel who had hooked us up with “the guy.” Such a good boy. Believes very seriously in good karma).
Since then I have been relaxing and enjoying my new place. Enjoying meals out in more local spots. Getting unpacked and settled and buying more necessities as needed. I had to meet with Abdul the next day, the landlord, and give him some cash that I still owed. We met and all three of us got in Abdul’s car, drove to a place across town, went into a building that reminded me of a Russian prison but which apparently is some sort of administrative office. Apparently we were registering my rental contract. Abdul went into a room where 3 people were working at various desks. People were at each desk and the worker had a large ledger book. The pages were all hand lined with a pen and ruler. Each party had their information recorded, I handed over my passport, Abdul waved at me, “come here and sign this ledger” (that’s what his wave said), sign here and here, go away now you are done. And that is that. A lot of stamps where made and I was handed a file with my contract in it. All official like. So now I guess I am a Marrakechian.
I later learned that I have free satellite TV with 800 channels and many English ones. I also have my own WAP (Internet) included in my rent and because I am wedged neatly between Police Headquarters and the Bombia (fire station) I have kick ass signal and amazing Internet service, INCLUDED.
So this is how hard I have had to work to get settled – oorrrr – how spoiled I am. All I have to do when I get in a taxi is say “afak heada bombia.” This means “please near the fire station.” No point in learning the language when someone can just tell you what to say.
Coming back from the civil offices we also spotted a giant, beautiful, new and clean grocery store. Fresh fish and meat. Small cosmetic section, and a LIQUOR STORE, all right around the corner. It’s a 3 minute walk with no street crossing. And if you can’t find something there you go one more turn and there is a Berber version. This place just keeps getting better. OH and did I mention that right outside my apartment door is one flight of stairs up to the roof. In case I don’t have enough space on my patio I suppose.
So here is something that takes some getting used to. We don’t have a lock on the front doors. At dark, for the night, there is a man posted at the door. He sits in the dark in a chair and monitors the comings and goings. All the buildings have this. He’s quite pleasant but …. in the dark. I don’t know if I would recognize him in the light of day. The other challenge is that all the buildings have lights that you have to turn on yourself in the hallways. Its to save on power obviously and even in hotels, when you get off the elevator you just feel your along to the light switch and hurry because the thing goes off again pretty quick. Same in my building so when I get off the elevator at night, or leave my place and turn to lock it, I am in complete darkness. By the time I hit the switch, lock my door, press the elevator, and have the elevator doors open, I am certain to be back in complete darkness! Whoa.
Oh, and here’s another little tidbit to leave you with. We went to the grocery last night to get some dinner food (yup, homemade tagine it was), and as we were checking out, the cashier and I kept smiling pleasantly at one another. She is young and very pretty. A really pleasant face. As we were standing there I said to M, please tell her I really like her glasses. Of course, he started to squirm because he did not want to be misunderstood in anyway and appear forward towards her. He said in Berber “this crazy western chick likes your glasses, not me, I’m a good Muslim and I would never ever talk to you like that ever so please don’t think I’m crazy it’s really this girl who made me say that and I don’t even know her.” So she smiled and nodded and looked at me and we all went about our business.
I walked over there tonight to get some cereal (single girl dinners don’t vary from one continent to the next you know), and the girl was there, at her post, waiting to cash me out. Which she did. In PERFECT ENGLISH.