Renter blues resolved


         Last Monday, Abdellahi called me at 6:00 PM. I was still working at the bureau. He told me that the owner of the building was there to meet with me. I said I could not come then, so we set up the next evening to meet with both of them.

          The following day, I got home in plenty of time for the appointment. I was hoping that the owner would be younger than I, so that he would have to be automatically respectful of me. But I lost the shaybahni sweepstakes: he was significantly older!

          The first thing I did was invite him in, so that we could be sociable for a bit, in typical Mauritanian fashion. I was surprised to see that he refused to enter my apartment. In addition to being hospitable, I wanted to be able to show him the walls that needed to be repainted. Only by coming inside could he see that the walls were riddled with cracks and needed to be plastered and then painted. Since he wouldn't come in, though, we had to have our discussion standing up in front of the building.

           Abdellahi had been placing his emphasis on the fact that there were dirt marks on the lower portions of the walls. As we talked about it with the owner, standing in front of the building, he said he knew that it was the heat that caused the cracks in the walls, so they did not blame me for those. He said that the cracks would be repaired at the expense of the owner.

          I tried to interject some reason into the conversation: that when the cracks are fixed, they will have to be re-painted, and that when the walls are re-painted, the new paint would be applied everywhere on the walls (wouldn’t it?), rather than just over the areas where the cracks had been.

          Unfortunately, our discussion didn’t get anywhere, though. Abdellahi translated from Hassaniya to French, and we made no progress toward understanding each other’s positions. 

          When the owner left, Abdellahi continued his spiel in the same manner that he has been using during the last month. During the time we were talking, I had some visitors arrive for dinner, so I was not only anxious not to have the same broken-record conversation with Abdellahi, but to move on to a more pleasant activity.

          Abdellahi stood at my door, continuing his harangue, and all I could say was Ma’salaam (go in peace, with the main emphasis for me being on “go”), and then closed the door. Enough!

          I didn’t see Abdellahi until the next evening, at which time we were both our chipper selves, giving many happy greetings to each other and shaking hands, as if nothing had happened.

          Then, on Thursday, he caught me as I was coming home. I surprised him by inviting him in so I could show him the walls. That morning, I had taken a sponge and some cleanser to them to remove the offending marks, most of which had been made by somebody who had brought a bicycle into the house one or two times when there was no guardian on duty.

          As we stood there, Abdellahi told me that the owner wanted me to know that I had been a good tenant for two years. The painting would cost only 9,000 ouguiya to touch up and the tiles would cost only 2,500 ouguiya to put back into place, so let’s just drop the whole thing. (The rent is being increased by 10,000 ouguiya per month as of the first of July.) Now that’s something I can do: drop the whole thing!


          We thought that Erwin’s taking over my electricity and water accounts would make for an easy transition. We were only partially right. Erwin and I went together to the SOMELEC office on Tuesday, asking that my account be transferred to Erwin’s name. “We don’t transfer accounts any more,” was the reply. Now, the account has to be closed, then a new account opened.

          I had with me all that I thought I would need in order to close the account: the original document opening the account, the most recent bill, and a photocopy of my passport. I had remembered that there was a need for the passport when I opened the account, so it may be needed again.

          Yes, they needed the copy of the passport, but not just to see it. They had to keep a copy of it. Off we went to get copies. When we finally left the SOMELEC office, they told me to come back on Thursday, as the final bill would be prepared by then and I could pay it.

          Our next stop was the SNDE office, the water company, where the chief of the agency saw us in his office, took the information he needed, and told us that my final bill would be ready on Thursday.

          I have to be able to prove to the Peace Corps that I have paid my final bills and do not owe anything to any agency here, so it is important for me to get documentation of the completed job. Without it, I don’t get my ticket home from the Peace Corps!

          On Thursday morning, I stopped first at SOMELEC. Once they deducted the deposit I made when I originally opened the account, there was a small balance, which I paid. Then I had to get the signature and, more importantly, the rubber stamp of the head of the agency. Surprise: he wasn’t there. As in most cases like this, he was the only person who could perform this function.

          I made myself comfortable squatting on the floor outside the director’s office. After a while, one of the employees saw that I was there and came out to offer me a metal folding chair to sit on. It had a large hole in the seat and no back; I thought I was better off crouched down on the floor, so I politely refused the broken-down chair.

          The only way I could think of to guarantee that the agency chief I would be there sooner than later was to start doing something. Sure enough, as soon as I took out a bunch of papers to go through and sort out, he arrived.

          The chief surprised me by speaking English, saying that he had learned it in Saudi Arabia, where he had lived for nine years. He was happy to hear me greet him in Hassaniya, which he said was better than his English, but that was clearly not the case. He looked at the paperwork and gave me the rubber stamp that I needed.

          That done, I headed off to the water company. Once again, the head of the office was very friendly and efficient. My account had a credit balance, so he filled out the proper papers and I was able to leave the cashier with more than 8,000 ouguiya.

          At the end of the week, Erwin moved his belongings into one of the spare rooms over the course of two days. He also brought over his refrigerator, so the kitchen looks quite decadent now, with two refrigerators in there! I have already found buyers for my refrigerator, so I will be able to unplug it, clean it up, and get it ready to make its next trip.

          On Friday, having moved out of his old place, Erwin asked if he could stay at mine. He just needed four nights there, since he is going to Austria early this week. When he gets back to Nouakchott, I will be gone. As it turned out, he stayed only on Friday night, then moved to other friends for his final three nights.


          In addition to closing out the utilities, I was able to complete two reports that have to be written before I leave here: the Description of Service (DOS) and Final Site Report.

          Now I need to make the rounds so I can say good-bye to people. On Saturday I paid a visit to my former French tutor Ali, his wife Tislim, and son Baba. Ali will be teaching French and Hassaniya again at Peace Corps training this summer, so he goes off to Kaédi today to prepare for that.