Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Flat Search

I am writing from Algiers where I landed three months ago for the sole purpose of bouncing elsewhere (haven’t been East or West yet, far South and Kabylie only for now).  I’ve been in Algeria for close to five months today I’ve realised, first six weeks then this uninterrupted stretch, moving from friends' extra fresh to family's extra fresh to hotels' empty dar.  I can’t say I’ve had a preference for a place, everywhere I’ve been to I’ve really liked.

I’m not bored, nothing’s caused me anger nor dejection (not even cyber caf├ęs’ illusive internet connections, power cuts and being force fed). Complete strangers have been as kind, generous and funny as family, and have become good friends. Friends and family/s have fibbed the same fibs. They’ve also warned me when they fib so that I won’t fall into fib-traps that no one lays anyway. I’ve known love and heart break already (to the left, to the left). No guy’s been sleazy (apart from the dude am meeting tomorrow).

I’ve gone to the dayra where admin is helpful, and where I’ve barely queued 10 min every time I’ve been to get photocopies read, stamped, discussed, exchanged and signed. I’ve not been swindled (the opposite, I’ve been offered money, genuinely, on several occasions), nor threatened (except with cake eating). I’ve travelled in buses, fourgons, taxis, private cars and my pumps, at dawn, in the middle of the night, alone or accompanied, and it’s been tranquil apart from the near death experiences on the National 26 that come for everybody regardless of wealth, car type or heel height.

I love Algeria. Hemmlagh thamurthiw. All this love is not overwhelming, not excessive, not confusing. It’s a deep, vast, steady kind. I’m probably going to die tomorrow, right.

Should I not die though, I’ve got to figure out where to live and empty the massive suitcases the Lufthansa hostess shouted at me for but let me take without charging the excess weight. I’ve got my stuff spread across three wilayas and it’s about time I gathered it.

I’m going to try and stay in Algiers because I’m not sure why - but it’s not to do with better opportunities. The opportunities to make a great life here are everywhere and there are so many.  I’d make a better living and have a better quality of life outside of the capital but I’m saving that for later.  I do have the great hope of landing a university post so that I get allocated a civil servant (rent free) flat (well, what did you take me for…).  In the meantime, as I have no ma3rifa, I’m going to continue with my underpaid job to finance my bankrupting doctorate degree. 

My flat search started a while back, and so far I’ve been unsuccessful, I’ve encountered a strong counter current on this oued. When I looked for a place initially, I asked both friends and family for help, particularly family since, not being completely naive, I knew before we started I’d have to have a male representative, preferably of the same patronyme, fronting my rental. At first, I sensed some reticence from both camps but was assured they’d hunt. When nothing came but Ramadan, I didn’t push. I bit on olive tree wood and waited. This wait was my first experimentation with, and later conscious acknowledgement of, Algerians’ most practiced activity (forced upon or performed as a matter of habit)... waiting. Really builds your endurance.

After Ramadan, I was told by friends that I didn’t need to leave, I was loved, I had everything under my paws, what wasn’t there could be made to appear at my bidding day or night. All a vast exaggeration but its being worded touched me nonetheless. Little do they know of course I’m a recluse, I’m a freaking hermit, a loner, and little did I know how much of a solitary soul I actually am.  I began to find others' presence 24hours a little smothering, especially when I need time alone for the simplest things, reading, writing, the bathroom, talking on the phone to men.  So I said I’d give up searching and stay with them. Basically, I lied, I am a devious European after all. 

As for family, the wake-up call on how I would only get sulky support came earlier. The wonderful thing within  family is that it’s rough and candid. Staying with friends for long periods has made me appreciate staying with family. I realised my father is the only person I have here I can throw things at, scream at, try to bite and make up with over coffee to sober him up while he gives me his future lung cancer smoking excessively. The family tribe, headed by my uncles, had given me a hint of how the land would lie early on: you can live alone but with us. What? That’s when I started looking into the etymology of alone (separate blog post about alone to come). When, undeterred, I started asking the local shop keepers to help me find a flat, my family understood I’d raise hell and shame very quickly. So they bent a little and began to pretend looking. I was thus taken to visit garages where I could set up an office during the day and come back to the family home at night. They also took me to the empty rooms of their friends’ houses where I’d be under a vigilant eye. Then they asked me to be patient. I nodded. In Kabylie, unsurprisingly, a nod means yes, but in other places it can mean no, right, and it’s that no-nod I meant. Once again, basically, I pretended to leave it be. They twigged I did of course, I have a circuitous kind of mind, that same one they have.

So I took a cab and came to Algiers. I’d equally take a cab to go anywhere else in Algeria where there’s an internet connection, a bedroom for my sole use, at a reasonable rent. Deep down, I’d love to Baudelaire my stay = live in a hotel, for the winter months. But then it’s going to raise to the fore the other issue I haven’t yet mentioned. Renting alone as an Algerian woman, I’m on an Algerian ID after all. It’s not that women don’t live alone here, they do live alone... with other women, generally speaking. For a landlord who is usually a guy, a woman alone is a potential headache and source of disrepute. They don’t mind whom they take the money from really, and they wouldn't get moralistic with a stranger, they don't give a Djurdjura monkey. It’s just that they can’t screw up their reputation. I just asked the hotel manager where I am staying today, to let me stay here two weeks and give me a worthwhile price, which either way is going to burn my budget straight to poverty. It’s not the discount he started pondering on first, he asked the receptionists if I’d been misbehaving since I’d arrived (basically, was I a prostitute).

Now, I just wanted to write a story, so I made it lengthy but the biggest hindrance of all to my flat search can be resumed in one sentence: money and of course whom you know will get you a flat fast with no questions asked.  That's my only problems really. I've no large budget and I don't know the right folks.

There’s of course an easier way out of this roomlessness than flat searching on conditions. As @Toophyk on Twitter suggested: register on The DZ version of it probably is to once again come back to family and friends and ask, not for a flat this time, but for a guy who’d be willing to trade his flat… what am I saying… a house and gold, for a foreign passport. Being all out of love, I may just do that.