Friday, March 7, 2014


Camels enjoying some down time between tourists

This post is about my neighborhood in Tangier, Morocco. Called Baie de Tanger (Bay of Tangier), it faces the Mediterranean on the outskirts of town. As you look out the windows of my home, you see camels grazing. Technically speaking, for those who count humps, you see dromedaries grazing. You may ask what dromedaries are doing so far north. They are for the disembarking tourist who must have his photo on camelback right away. You will notice that I chose the camel/dromedary as the logo for this blog. It is to remind me to write about the unusual in Northern Morocco.

Camels are not the only animals outside my windows. Cows, goats, sheep as well as stray dogs and cats roam nearby. My husband and I have become experts at recognizing which animal left his calling card at our front gate. Animals share the huge open area in front of our house with humans. The humans stroll, pick-nick, and exercise there. This area is said to be part of the old Roman settlement of Tingis (which means “marsh” in Berber). According to James Richardson, a mid-19th century traveler to Morocco, the ruins are the remains of a Roman bridge and of an artificial port where the Roman galleys docked. (Like other bits of Tangier lore, I have been unable to confirm this information.) Recently, some Emirati investors wanted to build an artificial lake in this space. The project died either when Morocco lost the bid for a World Expo in 2012, or, when the investors went through some hard times, or both.

The View from the House

Looking further out, you see two hotels. On the left side of this photo, the Hotel Tarik will rent you a cheap room for a very short time. On the right side of the photo, the Hotel Movenpick will put you up in style and let you gamble in the largest casino in Africa for as long as you have money. Across from the Movenpick is an abandoned property with luxuriant vegetation. It once belonged to Walter Harris, the London Times correspondent who reported on the “Morocco That Was” at the turn of the twentieth century. When Harris died, the property became a casino until Generalissimo Franco closed it. It then became a Club Med. Now, the fate of the property is uncertain. Let’s hope that any redevelopment saves the trees and restores the old villa.

Entrance to the Villa Harris

Looking out the windows past the hotels and the marsh, you see the coast of Spain. On a clear day, you can watch the ferries from Spain coming into port and the container ships cruising on the horizon. At night, you can follow car headlights on the cliffs of Andalucia. At present, few pleasure craft are visible close to shore. Tangiers is building a new Marina in the old Port so maybe we’ll start seeing a greater diversity of maritime traffic. 
The Pleasure Boat Marina in Tangier under Construction

The beach, within short walking distance from the house, is a vast expanse of freshly raked sand dunes. Since police on horseback patrol the beach, it is safe to sit, sunbathe or play soccer. Unfortunately, it is not safe to swim in the water. In fact, the authoritative French-language daily “Le Matin” named the four beaches along the Bay of Tangier the most polluted in Morocco. Tangier has been working on a new sewer system since the early 2000’s but the system is not yet optimal. A few kilometers down the coastal road, a new canal for waste waters is known locally as the “river of s…t.” People who bought the luxurious apartments next to the canal do not appear to have occupied them. In all fairness, there are pristine beaches close to Tangier on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic sides.

Our development, which is also known as Lotissement Tingis, started out as plots of land given or sold at affordable prices as a reward for services to the State. The original owners held onto the plots until land values increased substantially and sold them to a mix of foreigners and Moroccans. A big advantage of buying is this development is that property titles are available. This is not always the case in parts of Morocco previously colonized by Spain. Owning here also came with regulations for the size of the built area, the color of the exterior paint and the deadlines for completing construction. It is not clear that all our neighbors have obeyed the many regulations. Once our house was built, my husband started to work on obtaining a “quitus”. This is the auditor’s final discharge certifying that all conditions had been met. Obtaining the quitus involved a staggering amount of paperwork. (Without it, we could not sell our house.) Initially, the developers said that they would obtain the quitus for us but finally, my husband went to the registrar of deeds (la Foncière) and obtained it himself in a few days.

Many of the houses in “la Baie de Tanger” are still unfinished. When I inquire as to the reason, neighbors often say that the owner is “in Switzerland.” I later discovered that meant that the owner was in jail. There are other reasons why houses have not been completed. The man across the street, who owns a ceramic tile factory, had to stop building because his brothers stole his share of the inheritance from their father. The same neighbor, by the way, had tried to sell us tiles at inflated prices. Another neighbor came by to look at the house under construction and it was hate it at first sight. He left the concrete shell to his general contractor in payment for the work to-date. 
The house that inspired hate at first sight

Unfinished House in the Neighborhood

The unpaved street running past our house

Most of the streets in the development are still unnamed and unpaved. The only mail reaching our gates is the water and electricity bill. This piece of mail from Amendis arrives promptly and must be paid immediately. Otherwise, service is cut off. The bills are baffling--the amount on the paper bill never matches the amount online, requiring frequent visits to the crowded Amendis branch office. Other than water and electricity, the only other municipal service is garbage collection. We carry the garbage to a dumpster strategically positioned at the edge of the marsh. By the time people pick through it and the dumpster gets stolen again,, the neighborhood garbage ends up on the ground.

As for paving the streets, the developers at first assured us that the roads would be paved when the concrete shells of the houses had been completed. Now their story is that the funds had been on hand but the Municipality had to spend them on more important public works. Meanwhile, the taxis that operate inside the city limits (petits taxis) will not take us to our door. We have to walk down the hill from the taxi stand at Tanja al Balia (Old Tangier) or get off at the nearby clinic and slog along a rutted road to our house. This is a problem when coming into town with heavy suitcases, so we arrange for someone to pick us up at the airport.

Walking up the hill from our home, you come to Tanja al Balia. It’s a low cost housing zone (zone economique) but the price of land and apartments is higher than in our development of single-family homes. The views are even better than from our house, and the community offers everything you need to sustain life. For example, it has small shops where artisans make from scratch whatever you want out of wood, iron, plaster or cloth. The Thursday market has a good selection of food, hardware and cooking utensils. Tanja el Balia also has a traditional bath house (hammam) but, at present, it has no water. A swimming pool, gym and supermarket complex, scheduled to open a few years ago, is still under construction. Let’s hope that its owner is not in Switzerland because it would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

From the house, you can walk along the beachfront to Cape Malabata or to downtown Tangier. On a warm weekend, the whole town is strolling Spanish-style (known locally as “mchiou ‘l bulévar”). In the more modern version of this tradition, young men cruise slowly in fancy cars along the same boulevard. At those times, getting anywhere takes patience. You might as well take your time and stop at the plentiful cafés for coffee or mint tea. On your way downtown, you can even stop for a burger at a MacDonald’s decorated in Moorish style. If you walk in the opposite direction toward Cape Malabata, you will pass sleek new resorts catering to foreigners and to Moroccans living abroad. When you reach the lighthouse at Cape Malabata, disregard the sign in French saying “Entry Prohibited.” People are sitting at tables inside the lighthouse area and enjoying the stunning views of the Bay of Tangier. When the sun is shining and you look at that view, you are glad to be in Tangier.

Cape Malabata

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