The Landlords from Hell: Casablanca Edition
Remember the children’s books A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket? Thankfully, my life has not been nearly as dramatic, but recent events in Morocco transpiring in the dark depths of February (well, it is sunnier here) have led me to exclaim — aloud and to myself — “you can’t make this s@*t up.”
In mid-January, I returned to Casa excited for the latter half of my fellowship and the work that would be done with my partner organization. Unfortunately soon after arrival, I fell sick (again), and had to lock myself inside to recuperate for a few weeks.
Even though I rarely ventured outside during these weeks, I did manage to make some new friends. One weekend, I only left the confines of my apartment to fetch a baguette (and, fine, a pain au chocolat too). I thought a lot of rest would cure me. My symptoms comprised of coughing fits, body chills, and generally feeling like trash. Each time I came back home, from a grocery trip or darija (Moroccan Arabic) class, the peculiar smell in my apartment hit me like a pungent wall — and opening the windows did little to assuage the situation.
Medicine helped my symptoms, but not the smell. It wasn’t until one of my recently acquired friends slept over one night that we discovered the real culprit behind both the weird smell and my on-and-off bouts of sickness.
My apartment was infested with mold. Dust mites were roaming freely and abundantly in the crevices of all the walls, and the dangerous fungus was growing not only on the walls in the living room, but also in the bedrooms. The pillows — yes, the same ones I slept on every night — were moldy. The toiletries I had left in my apartment over the holidays were also infested with mold. Even my robin’s egg blue jewelry bag was lost to the expanding mold. And don’t forget the smell.
How could I have missed this, you ask? How could I not have noticed? My only answer is that I did miss it and I did not notice. Luckily for me, up until this point in my life, my experience with mold was limited to hypothetical situations. I never thought that my apartment — one that I had only moved into less than two months earlier — could be worthy of one of those news investigate shows, à la NBC Dateline.
When I did come to this realization, I notified my landlord, a Moroccan man living in Montreal, Canada, and moved in immediately with my new friend (in Morocco, you learn quickly who is friend material and who is creep material, and you hold on to the former, tight). Instead of being concerned for my health and safety, and his possible liability in the situation, my landlord accused me of causing the mold. He not only dismissed my fears and photographic and video evidence, he accused me of not properly cleaning the apartment.
With the advice of friends and family, I went to see a doctor for some examinations, just in case. Thankfully, I am okay. Before returning the apartment keys, I thought it fair that my landlord would not only return my deposit (slightly over $900 for a month’s rent, which I found out was probably way above market value), but also cover my medical expenses and damaged property, sending the total to just over $1200. Not a huge increase right? It shouldn’t be a big deal, right?
Well, he flipped. The man threatened his immediate return to Morocco, where he would “exercise his rights” (sounds like the sordid threat of a husband to his wife) and sue me. He said a whole lot of other threatening, condescending things as well. Things I am sure he would not have said to another man. French is great for masking rudeness in polite grammar terms.
I don’t take bull very easily, so my first reaction to his email was quite aggressive. I taunted him to sue me, because not only was his communication filled with condescension, it was also filled with lies. Moroccan law actually favors the tenant, especially when she has numerous witnesses and evidence of mold. I relished the opportunity to crush him in court (did I mention that I am attending law school in the fall? #adversarial). However, upon further reflection and after a video chat with my mom, she made me realize that it wasn’t up to me to teach him common decency and morality. My landlord was casting a shadow on my time in Morocco, and the goal was to get out of this situation as quickly as possible, so I could continue with more positive tasks, like getting our organization registered. With this in mind, I set up a time to meet his representative here, and in exchange for my deposit, I gave him the apartment keys back.
The ending was not as dramatic as a Lemony Snicket novel, but hey, I had work to do. So, that’s one landlord saga done! Two more landlord tales overlapped these couple of weeks, as well as a bout of food poisoning and a sprained ankle.
The next two landlords are related, in a way — both men were unbelievably, overtly racist towards black Africans.
When I was essentially homeless, my friend Candy (the same one who originally helped to uncover the mold) took me in…with a caveat. She too would be moving out of her apartment at the end of the month, because not only was she also overpaying, but her apartment wasn’t even pleasant. If my apartment didn’t have mold, it would have been an awesome place to live. At her cramped place, the shower pressure was unacceptable (yes, #firstworldproblems, but she was also paying first world prices!), and her water heater began leaking…the cause of which was a hole covered with duct tape. Duct tape! Her landlord chose to ignore this problem for days, as we moved our stuff around the living room to escape the creeping rivers.
Another friend (who Candy was going to move with originally, and who along with Candy generously allowed me to stay with them until I recuperated and figured something out) who has been living in Morocco for ten years and knew what was and was not acceptable behavior, called this landlord, who we will call Abdallah, to get him to do his job.
Abdallah told her to fuck off, in those words. Well, not to her exactly. He told Candy to tell her friend to fuck off, then hung up the phone. In a text-exchange with our friend, he told her, along with other menacing and rude language, filled with misspellings and grammatical errors, to go back to her origins in Africa.
Yes, you read that correctly.
He told someone to go back to Africa. Someone he had never even met.
My friend Candy is a black American. Abdallah assumed any friend of Candy’s was also black. With our friend, his assumption was very incorrect.
Yay for racist landlords! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, am I right? When we finally left his crappy apartment, he hid in his downstairs shop until we were all packed up in our taxis, then yelled out, “Fuck off!”
Two landlords from hell, check. But what about the third one, you ask? Don’t worry, he’s coming. Keep in mind, all these events occurred over the same two-week period when I think Mercury was probably also in retrograde, so my emotional well-being has been pretty fragile of late.
The third landlord enters the scene as Candy and I are moving some stuff into our friend’s place. I had sprained my ankle that day, and could only sit while Candy and her boyfriend moved our suitcases up the stairs. Several people inquired as to whether I was moving in, but I didn’t think much of it. Not until two men appeared for a double-team interrogation attack (reminds you of a Pokémon move, doesn’t it?).
I was exasperated by all this questioning, and threw back, “Who are you?” As in: one, who are you to even address me, and two, who are you to talk to me in such a condescending way. They were almost hysterical, exclaiming they were the proprietors of the building and had a right to know what was going on. True, so I calmly explained to them what was going on.
One man was shorter, and sported a long gray scarf and a medium-length gray coat. He was our friend’s landlord, and could have been a cute old man if he didn’t turn out to be a terrible human. The other man kept telling me they would have to notify the police that we had been living there undeclared, blah blah blah, whatever. Everything was an unqualified threat. They didn’t want two black women in their building. I eventually got them to go away, mercifully.
Candy’s Moroccan boyfriend pretended not to speak darija so that he could relay to us the two men’s conversation. It turns out, they thought our friend was running a whorehouse. Because of us, the two blacks.
After a certain point, you have to laugh to keep from crying. Thin line between comedy and tragedy, you know?
In a later exchange with our friend, her landlord would say, while gesticulating frantically I imagine, “I have tolerated the Jews, I even tolerated the Palestinian, but I cannot tolerate this in my building!”
“This” being two black women. And he claims he is not a racist.
Whatever they tell you about Morocco’s openness and beauty, here is its dark secret (well, one of them): racism and sexism are alive and well. When you are black, and a woman, you have it doubly hard (true for anywhere, yes, but at least in America I can wear almost whatever I want, crop tops galore, you feel me?).
With enough time, our experiences can become something to joke about, but they are certainly no laughing matter. And while we laughed about it after, that’s because we weren’t ready to cry yet.
Along with the general stress of living in a country that automatically devalues and limits you because you are a woman, being a black woman is a unique, touchy subject. Even well-meaning friends cannot understand the despair and rage you feel just from walking down the street. The emotions you must control not to fulfill their stereotype, as men leer and say in a mixture of darija and fumbled English “N*gger, I love you,” as women glance at you sideways, stepping out of the way, as if they don’t want to catch blackness. As you wait longer than others to be served in a cafe. As you yearn to tell them you have an American passport just to shut them up, wave that blue book in their face, and then feel terrible for even thinking of using that privilege when others who look like you do and feel like you do have no such refuge. As you cry, finally, and nonstop, after days and weeks and months of keeping it together, keeping it cool. As you figure out what to say when your friends message you excitedly to ask how things are going in “Morocco !!!”
You can’t tell them men think you are a whore just because of your skin tone. You can’t tell them your landlord doesn’t speak to you as an equal even though YOU are the one paying HIM. You can’t tell them about the Sunday when you and your friend were excited to leave the city for a nice day-trip, and before even getting into a taxi to the train station at 9am, two black Moroccan girls hurl violently “fuck you.” For no reason.
No reason except perhaps they hate their lives here too, at least some of the time, and that your unrestricted happiness and movement at that moment angered them. I can’t even be mad. But I am sad, and I find myself sad here often.
Of course, not all Moroccans are terrible racists, but we, my black female friends and I, sure have encountered enough of them.
The only way to deal with these moments is through self-expression, conversation, and hefty doses of Netflix-aided self-care. My good moments in Morocco outweigh the bad, and I believe they always will. And one important skill I have gained here is knowing how to take better care of my soul.
Thank you for reading! If you liked what you read, please recommend or share, and check back for more to come.