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1/26/10 Running Errands

Running errands.

Such a simple phrase.

And like so much else, here, hides a world of complication.

I sometimes feel like this blog's primary purpose is to help me tease out the tiny interconnected strands of life that weave together in ways that seem so simple on the surface. It's like every phrase, every action, every conversation is just a little periscope, breaching the surface of the ocean, barely hinting at the Typhoon-class submarine hovering just below the water.

Yesterday afternoon, I had four errands to run. (1) Get three photocopies of my carte de sejour, the small plastic document that proves that I'm a legal resident of Morocco. (2) Deliver the photocopies to the gendarmes, the local law enforcement officials. (3) Print out some photographs I took of a friend's wedding. (4) Check my mail.

Seems so simple. Photocopies, gendarmes, pictures, mail. Given how small the "downtown" area of Berberville is - pretty much a single block - you'd think that this would take five minutes.

Ha. Hahahahaha.

I usually run errands when accompanied by another PCV, because it simplifies everything. Unaccompanied women are rarely seen on Berberville's streets, and for a reason.

But I haven't had a PCV friend up here in a week, and none are scheduled to come before I'm heading out on my next trip, so the choice is either ask a local girl to accompany me - and while any one of several friends would, but they'd also then spend the next month rehashing everything I did with all of their friends, and I'd be fielding questions about it for the next two months. Simpler just to go alone.

So I put my carte de sejour in my pocket, my flash drive with the photos in another pocket, made sure I had money with me, grabbed my keys (including my mailbox key, which I don't usually carry around), and headed out.

I'd mapped out the most efficient route. Straight to the photo guy, then to the photocopy place a few doors down, then up the street to the gendarmes, back across the street to the post office, and finally home, with whatever mail and care packages have accumulated there since the last time I checked, last week.

Step one: Straight to the photo guy. Whose steel doors were open, implying that the shop was open for business, but whose glass doors were locked, implying that the photo guy had stepped out. To his house, around the corner? To a nearby cafe? To the post office? He could be anywhere. I knocked a couple times, mostly in hopes that somebody would see me knocking and retrieve him for me. (This has happened before, and is generally the most efficient way of finding any absent shopkeeper.)

No luck.

I headed down to the photocopy place. Steel doors bolted. Wherever he is, he's not interested in doing business today.

I turned to go down to the other two photocopy machines in Berberville. One is owned and run by a friend of mine, the other by a guy who gives me the creeps. My friend's shop is further, but worth the walk.

En route, I ran into my little brother. I gestured back at the photo shop. "Do you know where the photo guy is?" (By the way, for "photo guy" I said buKodak, technically meaning The Owner Of Kodak, but a title that I knew would make instant sense to him.) My brother spends most of his time running into and out of Berberville's various cafes, so he's likely to know where nearly anybody is. Not this time.

He shrugged. "His house is right behind the shop. Did you try there?"

"No, but I will when I get back. Right now, I'm heading down to the copy shops."

He nodded, clearly uninterested, and ran off. (Literally, ran - this kid rarely walks.) I went down to my friend's shop. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I asked about the copy machine.


He referred me to the shop of The Creepy Guy. I said - truthfully - that it was closed (steel doors bolted shut). "Did you try the cafe?" he asked. Apparently, Creepy Guy owns a cafe next door to the tourist boutique where he keeps the photocopier.

We exchanged goodbyes, and I headed up to Creepy Guy's cafe. I knew Berberville had about a dozen cafes, but I'd honestly never noticed this one before. It's set back a little ways from the road, and looks more like a warehouse than a coffeeshop.

Not surprisingly, a man leaned against the outer wall, smoking. He greeted me. I returned his wishes of peace, then asked if CG was inside. He didn't seem to find it at all strange that I wouldn't want to go inside to look for myself. He went in, called CG's real name (which, no, does not actually translate to Creepy Guy), and out he came. I explained my needs. He unlocked his boutique and invited me in.

I lingered near the door. With one of the steel doors still shut, it was awfully dark and, well, creepy inside his shop. I turned on the lights. CG asked me about "Fatima", my PCV sitemate who left a few months ago. I gave my stock answers. "Yes, she returned to America. Yes, she's fine. Yes, she finished her work. Yes, she was very nice." Then he began asking me about my own timeline. I gave similarly brief but honest answers. He repeatedly invited me to come to his house; I gave the very-useful-but-very-vague phrase blessing him for his generosity, without answering.

Another customer came in, clutching his own set of documents to copy. (Judging from the thick layer of dust over all his touristy tchochkes and jewelry, I'm willing to bet that CG makes 99% of his income from the cafe and copier, not from the goods.) We repeated most of the same conversation. He asked a few questions about America.

By this time, the machine had finally warmed up, and CG began making my copies. I've spent years in the US as a teacher and temp, so have worked my share of photocopier mojo, but I was grateful for his help with this geriatric machine. He actually had to open the front with every copy, and hit about 8 buttons between jobs. He made my 3 copies one at a time, but that may well have been necessary, to keep the thing from jamming up with multi-page confusion.

A good 10 minutes after I'd found him at his cafe, my copies were in my hot little hands. I asked him the price. "Whatever you want to pay, my dear," he answered. I pulled out what I thought was the right amount and left it on a table for him before slipping out the door. I said goodbye to the other customer in the shop, and a less formal farewell to CG, from outside the door.

Shaking off that encounter, I headed back to the photo place.

One of my cousins was walking a similar path, so when I got to the still-closed door, I asked him if he knew where to find buKodak. "In the cafe," he said, pointing to one of Berberville's larger establishments. "He's watching the game. With Egypt!" he added, as he headed around a corner.

I walked up to the cafe. Again, someone lounged against the doorframe. This guy I'd met before, though I can't remember in what context. He greeted me by name. I shook his hand, wished him peace, and asked if the photoguy (this time I used his name) was in there. He said that he was, and leaned through the door to holler for him. He then offered me tea? Coffee? Milk? His treat, of course! I declined politely, and then buKodak emerged, and we walked towards his shop.

I explained what I wanted, and he said, "Oh, sorry, that'll have to wait till tomorrow."

"Is it not working?"

"No, I've just run out of photo-paper. I should get more tomorrow, though."

I thought about how long it would take him to process the images and print them all, added to the time it would take to find him tomorrow, plus having to go back to pick them up - and find him yet again... "What if we just put the images on your computer now, and then when the paper comes tomorrow, you can print them?"

He agreed, and in we went. He uploaded the images easily enough, and I was soon back out in the increasingly snowy street. As we parted, I told him to enjoy the game. "Who is Egypt playing?" I asked.


"Is it a good game?"

"Not really. They don't have great ball-handling skills."

I laughed, and he laughed, and off we went on our separate paths.

Next stop: the gendarmerie.

This was actually the easiest of my errands - I handed them the copies, they thanked me, and off I went - but I'm now wondering if it wasn't too easy. If the guy who accepted them had no idea why I was handing them to him, and will circular-file them, and I'll have to go through this whole charade again. Hopefully, though, that errand is actually now DONE.

Last stop of the day: the post office.

It was only 4:20, but apparently the postmaster had decided that 5pm and 4pm mean pretty much the same thing, because the building was locked. So I'll give that one another run tomorrow.

All-in-all, my errands took only about an hour to accomplish. Which actually makes this one of the easier times I've had.


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