Monday, February 17, 2014


Few houses in Morocco have a central heating system or a central water heater. Those who can afford to heat their homes use split systems , space heaters or nothing at all. Most hot water heaters are individual units, which run on propane or butagaz. Electrical hot water systems are readily available but expensive to run. Moroccans just seem to endure the cold months with chimneys, makeshift heaters and heavy blankets. We have gone to fancy dinner parties in Moroccan homes where everyone kept on his or her coat. The prevailing attitude is that it is not that cold and that, in any case, this too will pass.

Our traditional Moroccan home (riad) is no exception to the rule. Most rooms have split systems and the glass roof over the atrium acts as a passive solar heating system. It is always warm in the upstairs living room facing the Mediterranean.. For heating the water and the steam bath (hammam), we have a huge boiler run on propane. The boiler is a Rube Goldberg device, which required written instructions at first to turn on and off. With the doubling of the cost of propane, most Moroccans run their boilers on timers set to turn on for short periods. We also have solar panels to heat water but, as we quickly learned, it takes a lot of sun to provide enough water for one bath.

When we arrived back in Tangiers in mid-January 2014, we found that we had no heat or hot water. The hot water was easy to fix. We just had to order two more propane tanks. Fixing the split system proved more difficult. As you will see below, the search for a heated bedroom turned into one of those Moroccan sagas. All ends well but it takes time and connections.

I first called the company that had installed the split systems. Perhaps because I started calling on the weekend or perhaps because the owner of the company did not recognize my GSM number, I was unable to reach him. His secretary took messages in fluent French but no one called back. Everything is personal in Morocco, even business. After five cold days, we drove for two and a half hours to Kenitra, where my husband’s nephew owns a heating and A/C company. We made phone contact and persuaded him to come to Tangiers with his wife and young daughter. By the way, the nephew has no heating and only intermittent hot water in his large, modern apartment. As the French say, the cobbler’s children always have the worst shoes. 

The nephew fixed all of the spit systems except for the most important one (to me) in the master bedroom. It seems that the unit was wired only for A/C, not heat. After driving the nephew and family back to Kenitra, my husband called the local company that had sold us the split system in the bedroom. My husband connected with the owner on the first try and he came out promptly to fix it. Unfortunately, every time we tried to use the split system after his departure, we blew the fuses in the bedroom. We called the electrician who could not solve the fuse problem but who rigged up an electrical connection to the solar water heater. This did not work. The water was hot in the tank on the roof but cold when it reached the spigots in the bathrooms. 

So we went to plan B. We moved into another bedroom with a working split system and called the nephew again. He advised us to replace the old American system in the bedroom with a new Korean one. As much as it hurt our American pride, we agreed to buy the Korean unit. 

The nephew set out with the new unit and two technicians at 6 AM one morning. Halfway to Tangiers, the driver grew drowsy and stopped by the side of the road to sleep. As all three men slept at a rest stop, a car sideswiped them and drove away. Then they got lost in Tangiers. By 10 AM, my husband and I were very worried. We finally reached them by phone and arranged a meeting point by the Tangiers train station. Once they arrived, I had to think of what to feed them. I had expected the nephew but not his assistants. I had planned to serve hamburgers because it’s the new craze here but I had just enough ground beef for three people. That was when I discovered the reason why Moroccans eat tagines—a little meat goes a long way. Our maid turned out a delicious tagine with meatballs and eggs that fed six people easily. 

The three men removed the old unit and carted it off to repair. They installed the new unit, which worked perfectly from the start. At last, we had heat in our own bedroom. Before I could wallow in this new-found comfort, the nephew issued a solemn warning: Beware of thermal shock! He explained that we had to keep the new unit at a fairly low level so that we would not be affected by the sudden drop in temperature. No problem. I just put on my overcoat when I leave the bedroom. 


Meanwhile, we have decided where to put the repaired split system. It will go in my husband’s study, which has become his important room, the local equivalent of the American man cave.

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