On Saturday morning, ER and I moved into our new apartment off Rose Garden Road.
We weren’t entirely surprised to find that construction was not finished. The paint wasn’t dry, the water didn’t run, and the lights hadn’t been installed. We opened the front door to find a construction worker hastily assembling something and a cleaner sweeping the rooms.
By Sunday evening, most of these problems had been resolved and, under the glow of the stars, our landlords introduced us to our neighbours, a family from Colombia that has been living in Dar for eight months. Our landlords are Tanzanian and live with their three children in a house directly underneath our apartments. The conversation was part English, part Spanish, and part Swahili, and was accompanied by a lot of hand gesturing and laughter.
Somehow we all made ourselves understood. Our Colombian neighbours said, our door is always open and please let us know if you need anything, even if it is only a pinch of salt. They called over their daughter, who joined us on the balcony and immediately used her smart phone to look me up on Facebook. Our landlord’s brother said, yes knock on our door if you need anything. Our landlord’s 14-year-old son said, you are my new favourite neighbours and can I borrow your internet modem?
After dinner, I ran over to the duka across the street to buy credits for my modem. The store owner introduced himself and said, I’ve noticed you are new to the neighbourhood and welcome. On the way back, two Maasai wearing red shuka gave me high fives.
Back in my apartment, I heard the call to prayer from a mosque somewhere in the neighbourhood. And I thought, I think I’m going to like it here on Rose Garden Road.
Mikocheni A. Mikocheni B. Kinondoni. Kijitoyama. Ada Estate. Msasani. Kigamboni. Garden Road. Mlimani. University of Dar es Salaam.
ER and I have toured all of these neighbourhoods this week while looking for an apartment. We have probably looked at about 20 apartments, but it feels like hundreds. Each apartment viewing is a three to four hour time commitment and is all too easily derailed by one of many potential complications.
There is no Craigslist in Dar. Instead, the rental market is ruled by the dilali (real estate agent). Prospective renters must contact a dilali and explain what type of apartment they are looking for, their budget, and their preferred neighbourhood. The dilali will then schedule (and I use that term as loosely as possible) viewings at the various apartments that are available for rent.
Our first difficulty was locating a dilali. Our monthly rental budget is $800 but most of the agents that we contacted refused to show us anything below $1500.
We finally found two agents that would show us apartments that were more reasonably priced, but appointments generally involved a lot of waiting. And waiting. And more waiting.
A productive apartment-searching-day involves waiting for the dilali to show up (1 to 2 hours), taking a circuitous route around the city via bajaj to locate keys and arrange permission to see several apartments (another 1 to 2 hours and a small fortune in bajaj fare), and then, if all goes well, waiting around at an apartment for the landlord to show up to negotiate rent. At that point, the landlord usually informs us that the rent is significantly higher than originally reported by the dilali. It is in the dilali‘s best interest to push the rent as high as possible because he receives a commission of one month’s rent if he is successful in finding an apartment for us.
A bad apartment-searching-day involves waiting for hours for the dilali to show up for a scheduled appointment, becoming resigned to the fact that the dilali is not going to show up, waiting a bit more, and then returning home several hours later without seeing a single apartment.
We thought we had a good lead when a dilali told us that he had found us an apartment in a nice house in the up-and-coming “best bite” neighbourhood. Best bite? I thought maybe I had heard wrong, or there had been an error in translation, until we turned the corner and saw this:
Best Bite was apparently one of the first fast food places to open in Dar and is famous amongst residents. The apartment the dilali wanted to show us was around the corner. It had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a huge balcony. We fell in love with it immediately, and the dilali called the owner so that we could negotiate rent. Sure enough it was significantly out of our budget, but it turned out that that there was a two bedroom available in the same building. The dilali told us that we couldn’t see it right away, but that we could come back later that night to view it.
We had to return three more times before we could finally see the Best Bite apartment. Unfortunately, it turned out to not be as nice as the three bedroom. We kept looking.
Today we finally found an apartment with two bedrooms (and, inexplicably, three bathrooms). It is on the border between Mikocheni A and Mikocheni B and about a five minute walk from the beach. The catch is that the apartment is still under construction, but this also means that we get to help pick out all new furnishings for it. The landlord assures us that the apartment will be ready by Saturday morning, and we drafted and asked her to sign a contract to that effect.
We have resigned ourselves to one more week of Q-Bar, and the corresponding disco beats until 5 am. But then we get to move into our apartment by the beach.
Moving is the art of balancing competing frustrations without losing your mind. Unfriendly building managers. Movers that don’t show up on schedule. Elevators that are hijacked by other tenants. Unreasonable landlords. Suitcases that don’t close. Boxes that break. Couches that don’t fit through the door. Cleaning until midnight on the 31st.
Thankfully, these petty annoyances are all behind me now that I have successfully moved out of my apartment and have been granted temporary refuge with LG and MM.
The most frustrating aspect of this year’s move, however, at least makes for a good story. A story that has me wandering the streets of Vancouver one night in late August without a place to sleep because my landlord inadvertently locked me out of my apartment.
Despite having nearly two months’ notice that I was moving out on September 1, my landlord did not start showing my apartment to potential tenants until late August. She set up some times for people to come see the apartment the week of August 19, only to discover at the last minute that she had lost her key to the apartment. She asked me to make a copy of my key over the weekend and leave it with concierge so that she could show the apartment on the following Monday.
Although I was busy trying to organize things for my move halfway across the world and key cutting was not at the top of my list of priorities, I was determined to do whatever it took to expedite the process of renting out the apartment for September 1. And so, on the Sunday afternoon I set out to get my key copied. A google search did not turn up any key cutters in Gastown. I did find a locksmith who has an office on the 30th floor of my building, but when I called him he indicated that he specializes in emergency locksmith services only and would not copy my key. He advised me that all reputable key cutters were closed over the weekend, and warned me against taking my keys to someone in the mall because, in his view, “those machines are never calibrated properly” and the people working them are “clueless”. I admit that I rolled my eyes.
After some more google searching I did find a key cutter in Chinatown, but when I trudged over there I found the shop was closed. I was on my way to the mall when I came across a small shop on Pender Street with a key cutting sign in the window. Perfect. I went in and asked for two copies of my key. The man behind the counter studied my key for a suspciously long time, measured it against various slabs of metal, and compared it to other keys that he had in his pocket. Finally, he looked up and advised me that he would be able to successfully copy the key. It is at this point that I began to have my doubts. I looked around the shop and noticed that the key cutting machine had clearly not been used in quite awhile; it was covered with books, food, boxes of cigarettes, and other junk. After several long minutes of labouring at the key cutting machine, I was presented with a shiny new key.
It was only when I got home later that night that I realized that the copy was defective. I phoned my landlord to tell her that the key-copying had not been successful, and we arranged for me to leave my key with the concierge so that she could show the apartment to potential tenants. When my landlord was done, she would leave the key at concierge for me to pick up. I left the defective key on my kitchen counter and left for the day.
I went out for dinner that night to celebrate a friend’s stagette, and received a text message from my landlord letting me know that the viewing was over and that she had left the key for me at concierge. I got home at about 10:30, picked up the key, and went upstairs. I put the key in the lock and it didn’t turn. I tried again. And again.
It slowly dawned on me that my landlord had left the defective key with the concierge rather than the one I had left for her. I made a few frantic phone calls to her, none of which were answered, and was faced with the sinking realization that she had likely gone to bed and I was locked out for the night. I made a few more frantic phone calls to friends who lived nearby and realized that most of my friends had probably all gone to bed as well.
I tried the keys a few more times, and then sent a text message to AB imploring her to pick up her phone because there was an emergency. Thankfully, this worked and she agreed to let me sleep on her couch if I would sit quietly through the Bachelor Pad. She also gave me flannel pyjamas (perfect for late August weather), contact lens solution, and toothpaste. Crisis averted.
I had plans the next morning, however, and it was a bit embarassing to show up wearing my clothes from the night before.
Next time I decide to pack up and move to Tanzania I am going to make sure that I hire a reputable locksmith.