The Fan, or Fixing Things Moroccan-style

08/19/2017 03:40 pm ET

A few days ago, as I was exiting my hotel room I accidentally stepped on the power cord of the hotel's fan, and broke the two prongs. Both prongs lay disconnected, and I knew I would either have to fix it or replace it.

Since this is Morocco, I decided to go the fix-it route first; since this is Morocco I knew that while this would be a long and complicated process, it would also be infinitely cheaper than buying a new one if I was patient enough to see the errand through.

So I set out this Saturday around 2pm. But I didn't get far. In Spanish, the owner of the curio shop next to the hotel told me that it was siesta time, and every thing would be closed until 4pm. So I returned to my hotel. He also told me that I could simply fix the fan by getting a new charger head, which would be cheap. I doubted I had the tools and capabilities to fix it, but someone else surely could.

I set out after the siesta time. I wandered through the blue alleyways and down to path leading to Bab al-Ain. I stopped at the first shop that looked electronicky. I explained in Spanish and Arabic what I was looking for, bypassing the fact that I couldn't remember the word for fan ["ventilador" in Spanish, instead try la maquina por al-rouh, the machine (sp) for the wind (arb)]. But unfortunately, he didn't have what I was looking for.

I tried another shop a little further down where I had found an iPad cable replacement but similarly no luck.

So I wandered out of the labyrinth and down into the new city to see if I could find a hardware store. I was getting nowhere so I asked a soldier in French where I could find an electronics store. He pointed me in the direction of the second floor of the Marché Central, where I could find some gadgets and gizmos.

I fumbled along further at another electronicky store, but learned the word for plug in French (prise); conveniently, it is the same word in Moroccan Derija. So I now knew what I was looking for, but not where to find it.

I stopped in another store, and a young man named Muhammad Reda with braces and a big smile decided to help me. He knew another hardware store further on, and would take me there.

Under the sweltering sky, we walked. We spoke in Arabic about things like how much I liked Chefchaouen, where my family lived and if I was a Muslim because I spoke Arabic. I explained in Arabic that I wasn't a Muslim, but I was a friend for Muslims and that I greatly respected Islam. He respected this.

Muhammad Reda helped me find the tiny hardware store that was a cavern of plugs and hoses. We got the tiny prise for the fan for 4 dirham (40 cents). We walked back to Marché Central where he was working. He didn't want any money for his help, and I tried to buy him a soda or ice cream but he refused. We parted company with a warm handshake.

From there, I returned back to the blue alleyways. I crossed the blue Plaza el Hauta, and two young Moroccan men stopped me and asked in Moroccan Derija for directions. When I gave them a puzzled look, they said: wait, you aren't Moroccan? No, I said but continued in Derija, and told them to ask me the question again. Then I gave them directions in Derija to where they were searching for--because after a month here, I am practically local. They laughed and smiled wide as I helped them in local Arabic to get to where they were headed.

I returned to the hotel to survey the surgery. I got back and quickly was sure that I had neither tools nor skills to accomplish the task, so I set out back to the first shop I visited to see if perhaps the shopkeeper could fix it.

I arrived to the shop, but the shopkeeper had gone to the mosque to pray his afternoon prayers. I sat down on the cool tile outside the store and waited for him to return.

After a few minutes, he re-appeared from the mosque just next door. I showed him the electric plug and the fan and asked if he could help. I offered to pay him. He said he could do it, but refused payment.

The shopkeeper grabbed some tools from the back of his shop. We chatted in Arabic and Spanish while he stripped the plug head and the cord on the fan. He began peeling back veins of the cord, so I joked he was a tabib (doctor). He just laughed.

In five minutes, he had replaced the power cord plug and the fan was working perfectly again. Again, I offered to pay him and again he refused. So in turn, I poured down Moroccan blessings on his head and promised I would pay his zakat forward.

And there it was, I had paid 4 dirham (40 cents) to get the fan fixed. That was all. A new one would have cost me 150-200 dirham ($15-20) but this was done for pocket change and compassion--the real currency of what we live by.

As I wandered through the blue alleys back to my hotel, I passed the blue square of cats. My two favorites, a grey kitty and a blond cat, came running up to me. They were hungry, and they followed me down the alley to my hotel. I tried to tell them to wait in Arabic but cats never listen in any language.

So I put down my fan in the hotel and ducked into a store to grab them some la vache qui rit cheese triangles. As they hungrily snacked, more feline friends started popping their heads around, so I decided to repay the kindness I had received with a whole wheel of cheese triangles. I bought a wheel of the cream cheese and fed the cats of the blue square until they grew bored and needed their own siesta.

In Morocco,things are always a bit more complicated-- but I can often rely on compassion to get things done here, and find myself constantly amazed by people's generosity in the process.

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