“You are very welcome to Morocco” say all the locals. Now that I am here it’s time to find a place to rest my head. Having been here for under one week I am confident that I can pen this comprehensive guide to conducting a search for housing. Buckle up and for goodness sake pay attention. There is much to be learned here.
My first conversation on housing took place last October. I was told I could a) rely on a local and have the negotiations take place in Berber, Berber to Berber and I would get an apartment at a good price in a semi-central neighbourhood OR 2) I could be an independent western woman and look on my own in which case I would pay way more and be in a western area. Ah – the first one please. I’m not here to squander a million bucks and live with a bunch of Germans.
Here’s a look at what has happened so far:
– 2 months prior to my arrival I said to my friend “I need your help.” “Mashi Mushkil”. (No problem). “It’s easy. I will call a guy. When you arrive we will go and look. There is lots.”
– 1 week prior to my arrival, I said to the above noted Berber, “So that apartment? We’re good to go looking?” “Mashi mushkil. I called a guy.”
– I conducted my own search online from my North American IP address and came up with vacation rentals, AirBnB, villas. Nothing practical. Nothing at a reasonable price. Apparently you DO need a Berber to do your negotiating or you will pay western prices. Another reminder to always listen when Mustapha speaks.
– I arrived. Took some time to deal with jetlag. Walked around. Looked for a nice neighourhood. Found one (Majorelle). Sit down, shut up and wait for Mustapha.
– Monday comes along. Everyone is rested, time to look. I stated my requirements : $600 – $900, one or two bedrooms, washing machine, safe and good location, furnished. Start search.
– This step in the process was CRITICAL : I relinquished ALL control. Said nothing. Made no requests unless it was for beverage or the toilet. Just go. Be quiet. Stop paying attention. You don’t speak Berber, this is NONE of your business.
– We walked up the street from the hotel, stood on the sidewalk, chit chat. “A man is coming.” Chit chat. Sure enough, in time, a man came. Berber was exchanged. The man said “Bonjour” to me and shook my hand. More Berber was exchanged. We walk through a courtyard, see three apartments. Price is right. Place is basic. But not bad. Good location. We left. I think to myself “I wonder what will happen now?” But again, none of my business. This is kind of fun.
– We walked up the street. Stop for pastry and yogurt. Sit for a minute. Walk more up the street towards Majorelle. Phone call. Stop. “My friend Khalid is coming. He has a car. He knows about things.” We waited on the side of the street. Chit chat. Khalid pulls up, we got in the car, drove to a cafe up the street, get out, sit down.
– We talk business. Talk, talk, talk. A loooottttt of Berber is exchanged. Much Berber. Phone calls. Everyone gets phone calls. Everyone makes phone calls. (Not me! I play a game on my phone, think about business, make some notes, make some plans, play a game some more).
Now please understand that there are no ringers on. The phone rings, they notice an incoming call and pick up. They talk more Berber. I have no way of knowing half the time if they are on the phone or not on the phone because I can’t pick out the words Hello and Goodbye. Unless it’s a formal call (Salam Allakum) That gets really weird after awhile.
– Two hours or so pass. I find out we are waiting for a man. The man came eventually to tell us that he doesn’t have the key to the place upstairs. It’s lunch time, or 3:00. We get in the car and go. Who the hell am I to ask where? Lunch is BBQ Berber style. (I am the only westerner for two blocks. True story). We eat, we leave. It was really good. No menus, no forks. Good Moroccan street food. The only request I made was water in a bottle rather than tap like everyone else.
– We headed back to the hotel to wait for the man with the key, get almost back to the hotel and get a call “The man with the key is coming.” Back we go to the area of the cafe. We park. We wait.
– 20 minutes or so pass. We stand. We wait. Phone calls are made, phone calls are taken. Do any of these calls have to do with my search? All of them? None of them? Who the hell knows. I don’t speak Berber. I have no way of judging the mood of the group or what is happening. I’m cool with that. For once. I just go along with it. It was really quite stress free. For me anyway. We wait. Chit chat. The man comes with the key. Berber is exchanged. Someone shakes my hand. We go up the elevator and into the flat. Right price, good location, big big place with two bedrooms. Berber is exchanged. Then some more Berber. Questions are asked, and some Berber is exchanged. We all look around. We leave.
– On the way out the man turned to me and said, “sans parking.” Me, “Alrighty.”
– We got in the car and returned to the hotel, found a nice spot on the terrace and have a drink. I eventually found out we were waiting for another man. A man came. Was this the man we were waiting for? Phone calls happened. I have no idea what’s going on. Mustapha tells me that there is a place to see just up the street. He went to check it out and would report back. He left. He came back. Berber was exchanged. People talked. More guides came and went. It got dark. We talked about some things in English. More Berber was exchanged.
– I learned from Mustapha that the place up the street is no good. We’ll go look at a few others in another place in 20 minutes or so. Me, “Ok, that’s none of my business. Just tell me when.”
– We took off to go look at the next place. I think we had a hard time finding it, but again – don’t know. I think Mustapha came really close to the end of his patience while we waited for the man to come with the keys. The place was no good. We saw two apartments. Not safe.
– We head back to the hotel and decide how we will approach the day tomorrow. We will look again until I find a place.
Overall it was a very successful day. I saw 6 places. One remains on the possible list. I got a much better idea of what is available in varying buildings and have some things to compare against now. Lovely. More tomorrow. I have extended my stay at the hotel as I was planning on doing anyway. It’s no problem. Le Caspien is comfortable, friendly, and close to lots of things. And inexpensive. Everything is good and running according to plan.
So today I followed along, purposely not asking all sorts of controlling and impatient Western questions like “where do we go next?”, “what’s the plan?”, “how many places will we see?”. “What questions did you ask?”, “what did that man say?”. There was none of that. I know Mustapha well enough by now to know that when the time is right the information will be forthcoming, complete, on topic, and intelligent. I don’t need to ask those questions. This is Morocco. Relax. Everything will happen when it’s meant to happen. You will know when you know. Settle down. Relax.
But here’s the thing. I had two men, one of whom I did not even know until this morning, who spent their entire day, (HOURS OF TIME), helping me find a place to live. It’s all they did today. Sure they are friends and they caught up with each other, and we talked about some really interesting things, and I learned a lot of things and they took a lot of phone calls (as we would while sitting in an office behind a desk during the prescribed hours of work), but essentially they were dedicated to driving around with me, helping me, speaking for me, asking questions on my behalf, with no other outcome than to find me a place to live. This was so incredibly generous. I am humbled and grateful and remarkably flattered that these two men would go out of their way like that for me. And it just reminds me why I moved to Morocco. Because the people here are so incredibly kind and generous and helpful.
Damn Berbers. These people are so lovely. So incredibly lovely.