A few weeks ago my wife and I were supposed to move to a different apartment within the building where we used to live. For two months we were talking with our Syrian manager and handyman Issam, who sought to accommodate all our requests. On December 23, the day we were moving up, we receive an incomprehensible stop by the landlord, the terrible Mr. Firas …
The poor Issam, frustrated and disheartened, comes to give us the news, taking all the insults of the case, which soon would be turned to the landlord.
For the record, the redoubtable Mr. Firas, Lebanese immigrated in DRC 30 years ago if not longer, owner of massive properties and well known developer, is a bit like the Phantom of the opera: none of the tenants have ever met him, but his presence is in the air and usually manifests itself in negative ways.
The next day, December 24, I went to face the terrible Mr Firas: with faltering steps I approach the corner behind which, well hidden, you can find the entrance to his office, where the mirrored door does not let you guess his presence inside.
I open the door and sunken in a human leather chair, a head is just off the desk out of any proportion. “Good morning” I say in a firm tone. “Good morning” I hear answering from a squeaky nasal voice. A small hand attached to a short arm emerges from under the desk and invites me to sit down pointing at the small chair for guests.
A little sharp, I express to Mr. Firas my disappointment for the inconvenience caused by his change of mind with respect to our moving from one apartment to another, for which we had already bought furniture from the outgoing tenant. Mr. Firas says “but I never said that you could move”. “Yes, but Issam …” I say. “Who is Issam?” He replies. “Issam: your employee, to whom I pay the rent every month, who made me sign the lease.” “You signed the lease with me.” “Maybe, but this is the first time I see you so, as far as I am concerned, if Issam does not exist, it means that I never signed any contract.”
The conversation follows in this vein without any development, except that somehow Mr. Firas, sitting on the tip of his sit with both arms leaned on his desktop as if he clung to it not to slide underneath, accepts, despite everything, to refund the cost of the furniture.
Things did not resolve at all: Svetlana was still very pissed, so was I. In less than 24 hours we find another apartment in another building. I meet Mr. Firas for the second time, this time in the parking lot. I barely recognized him: he seemed ridiculously small, with a big head. I tell him that if he is ok, my wife and I would move out in the coming days, as long as we do not be charged for not giving the agreed notice, given the drawbacks caused. “Pas de problemes! ” is the answer. The next day, in reality, “beaucoup de problemes” await us. After having deposited the letter for termination of the contract and paid in advance for the first month of lease of the other house, I go back to see Mr. Firas, who goes back on all agreements: “how can you rely on a word given in a parking lot?” he objects.
Mr. Firas, like a scratched vinyl, keeps repeating: “we have a contract where it is written blah blah blah”. More and more pissed I keep answering “yesterday you told me “pas de problemes”, and now we have “beaucoup de problemes”!”.
Not happy with the unsolved issue, the following day I go back bringing Svetlana along, hoping to convince him in front of another witness to at least acknowledge the existence of Issam, who was the person that we communicated to since the beginning of our arrival in the building. As soon as Svetlana opens her mouth to support my argument, the progressive beliefs that Mr. Firas was carefully hiding from us came out: “woman, know your place!”.
Moral of the story, following an intervention by the UN Security that mediated between us, a few weeks later we come to a satisfactory agreement, due to his fear of ruining the large business with the UN staff in the country…
What I still find absolutely incomprehensible in all this story is that in a country with no trace of law, where people live in constant breach of any possible rule and common sense, where only money talk (better if cash), the fucking contract still mattered!