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3/28/10 The Insurance Samaritan

As loyal readers may recall, I worked as a counselor at a Spring Camp last year, too. Despite the rant I wrote on the first day, camp was a success. The kids had a good time, I met lots of great folks, had fun with my PCV buddies, and got to explore a part of the country that was new to me. Oh, and the students learned some English, too. :)

Even though this year's camp was on the opposite end of the country from last year's, with a 100% different staff (well, except for me), I expected things to be similar. I'm good at making predictions based on past events. It's one of those critical thinking skills the American educational system excels at giving its students.

And broadly speaking, yes, this year's Camp resembled last year's. Similar daily schedule, similar hopes on the part of the students/campers and staff, even a similar menu. (Though this year we got *meat* at every lunch and dinner, which indicates that our mudir - the Moroccan in charge - spent every penny of the food budget on food.)

But a few logistical things were different.

Instead of being housed in a dorm with the students, we PCVs were in a separate building, with a separate entrance. While there were a few computers available for our use, whereas last year there was only one, the printer didn't show up till the second day, and it never worked. Last year we had free use of a printer and photocopier, which made many things easier. (For one, I spent about half of each English class reviewing environmentally-themed songs, which meant the students needed printouts of the lyrics.)

Solution to the printer-less problem? We walked into town, where we found lots of cybercafes.

Interestingly, though, cybercafes in Emerald City don't have printers.


We went into a couple, and they all seemed to think it ludicrous that one might wish to print out that which one could see perfectly well on-screen.

The only printer in the whole town, apparently, lived in a teleboutique about a 20 minute walk from the camp.

So that's where we printed stuff the first night.

The second day, though, we tried to do our printing during the mid-day siesta break.

And the teleboutique was closed.

When we discovered this, Sprinks and I brainstormed possible solutions. (Another of those nifty critical thinking skills.) First we tried the mktaba (office supply store) where we'd gotten cardstock and permanent markers and other tools of the camp counselor trade.

Photocopier, yes. Printer, no.

Next, we brought our trusty thumb drives (aka USB drives, aka flash drives) to a photography studio. They print photos off of USBs all the time, so it stands to reason they have printers and computers, right?

Turns out they have photo printers only.

Or so Mr. Printer Man told me, when I politely asked for his help. (In French, since Emerald City is an Arabic-speaking town, with no more than a scant handful of Tam speakers.)

Then he hesitated.

"How many copies do you need? Like, 10ish?"

"No, like 5." I glanced over at Sprinks for confirmation. In English, I quickly asked her how many she needed. She needed two pages, I needed three. "Yes, just five pages," I confirmed to Mr. Printer Man.

"Well, the machines here only work for photos...theoretically. Hang on a sec."

Sprinks and I exchanged glances. I translated the conversation for her, and we prepared to wait. This being Morocco, "a sec" could be anything from thirty seconds to 2 hours. We'd given ourselves a big time window - about an hour and a half - to print out our five pages, but we both knew that time here flows differently than it does in America.

About 5 minutes later, Mr. Printer Man closed up his side of the shop and headed to the door. Sprinks and I exchanged glances again. "Should we follow him?"

Just then, he looked back. "Come on," he said, in one of the few Arabic phrases I know. (Of course, Sprinks's Arabic is awesome, so I'd planned to rely on her, but it's always nice to know first-hand what's going on.)

We followed him into the street, exchanging further dubious glances. He led us up the block.

"Do you think he's taking us back to the mktaba?" Sprinks asked, in the usual PCV linguistic soup.

"I dunno, imkin," I answered. (It's possible.)

But we walked past the office supply shop and kept going. We continued to the edge of the business district. We followed, not sure what else to do, both wondering if he was taking us to his house?!

Confused but cautiously hopeful, we kept after him. And then Mr. Printer Man walked up to an insurance office, closed and locked for siesta.

He pulled out a keychain.

Did he live above the office? Did he own the office?

He unlocked the door and walked through. We followed him in. He walked back to the farthest desk, and began powering up the computer on it. He motioned us into the seats across from him. It felt - and must have looked, to someone looking in through the glass doors from the street - like we'd come to buy insurance.

He offered us his card. It turns out that Mr. Printer Man is only a part-time photo printer, and a part-time insurance salesman. This was his desk, in his office, where he could help us out.

When the computer had booted up, he reached for our thumb drives. We handed them over, one by one, pointing out the documents we needed. He printed us one copy of each (and asked if we wanted more, but we refused).

"Should we pay him?" Sprinks murmured.

"I dunno; I'm trying to think how to ask without offending him," I whispered back.

As we stood up to leave, heaping profuse thanks and blessings upon him and his parents, I seized upon an excessively formal French construction that allowed me to ask if one could possibly pay for this? He refused instantly and profusely, as I'd expected, so I reiterated the thanks and blessings, shook his hand, and turned to go.

The photocopy place was only half a block away, and we quickly got all the copies we needed. The whole thing had taken something like half an hour, leaving us plenty of time to join our friends over at the cafe before returning to camp.

So the camp didn't have a functioning printer. So the only pay-per-page printer in all of Emerald City was closed for lunch. The insurance samaritan had gone way, way out of his way to take care of us - two people he'd never seen before and would likely never see again.

I really love this country.

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