59: School – YUCK

I am a teacher by profession. That means that I have pretty much been in school for all my life. First, the one I attended for day care, then pre-school, Kindergarten and then ten years of formal schooling in the American public schools, and YEARS of collegiate enrollment which STILL is not over. If I am not working on the school I teach, I am working on the school I am attending.

Teaching involves pre-reading tha lesson material, designing lesson plans, creating lesson handouts and assessments, actually teaching them and conducting the assessments, grading the assignments and the assessments, recording the grades, and returning them to students, discussing them and reteaching when necessary. And that’s only the stuff dealing with the normal school day when no one is absent and has work to make up, or the administrative stuff I have to complete that goes along with running a school.

Being a student is far, far easier. I have to attend class, listen, absorb material (usually by reading), and produce assignments as requested by the deadlines.

However, I have been a student too long. I actually prefer the more difficult and time-consuming teaching rather than the easier learning mode. It is not that I dislike learning new things, as I do enjoy that, very much. I simply have had enough of the student personna. When you are the student, your goal is pleasing the professor so that you achieve a passing score in their course. Often, that means producing a piece of work that you may personally have no interest in. OFTEN. You do it because the professor wants it that way, and being successful at school is the ability to meet the demands of the teacher, to THEIR satisfaction. Probably explains why Einstein sucked at it.

That is the aspect of being a learner that I dislike. I don’t like feeling like I have to toe the philosophical line of someone else’s convictions. And it is far too easy to discern where the professor camps their tent when there is a debate, or more than one point of view, on any particular issue. And frankly, it is not worth the cost of the tuition I paid, not to mention the trouble, of espousing a point of view contrary to the prevailing one (read: the professor’s). I dislike having to retake courses and repay tuition, especially since it is same song, second verse. It is much easier to wait to have a personal opinion until after I have earned the institution’s stupid degree, which is all the employers are looking for: those letters after your name. Once you HAVE a PhD, you can disagree all you like; in fact, there then is some cachet in disagreeing. Until then, you are taking your life in your hands.

And I now have only a few more months of student-hood to suffer through, and I DO mean suffer. My doctoral concept paper committee at the University has said that my proposed research study design does not have enough participants, in spite of the fact that very few of my reference studies hold their research in various locations (most had ONE, like mine) or have many participants (MANY had fewer than I am proposing). And this is like I can magically produce elementary schoolchildren who are willing to participate in my study. All I can do is ask, which I have been doing for  months. But, like  many other stupid professors I have been under (apt mental picture) they want what they want, for the reasons they want it. This means that for the third time, I must redesign and re-research a completely new dissertation research topic. Suffer. Suffer. Suffer.

And when and if I ever actually complete this degree, there is no inducement on this Earth that will tempt me to attend the graduation ceremony. MAIL ME the stupid piece of paper. And no one will EVER see that diploma on my wall – I will photocopy it when I need to prove to an employer that I have it. It has totally LOST any shine, gleam or glimmer of attractiveness it ever held for me. The only attraction it might still hold is the fact that I will earn a little extra money WITH the degree than I now do performing the exact same job without the degree. That’s about it.

58: The Realities of Life

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What is the really real stuff in life? Is it family and free leisure time? Is it the contribution you make to mankind? Is it the daily grind of being a productive citizen at work, contributing to the economy and enlightenment of the world? Is it self-actualization? Setting world records, or ‘personal best’ records? Is it achieving religious salvation and an eventual trip to the great reward of heaven? So, what is it?

I am very glad that all of these are possibilities, since no two humans are exactly alike. What floats my boat may sink yours, so it is rather nifty that I can choose one path to fulfillment and you can quite happily choose another. I think that the world is big enough to accommodate us both, and to be appreciative of the efforts of both of us to make things better. It is a parallel experience to choosing a life partner and getting married. There is a perfect experience out there for you, you just have to locate it, and accommodate yourself to its peculiar eccentricities. Exactly like finding your soul mate. Nobody’s perfect. Neither is any job – there will always be little things that annoy you. You have some options here: adapt, accept and move on, or freak out and blow a good thing over one or two minor annoyances, or whine and moan about it constantly and ruin the entire thing for everybody. I vote for door number one, especially since I am no piece of cake, myself!

So, it is my considered and thoughtful opinion that as long as you are contributing to the greater good by improving yourself and your corner of the world, you are an acceptable excuse for a human being. That leaves out at least half of us who are walking around on this mudball, who don’t give a rat’s butt about making themselves any better, and who could not possibly care less about making things better for anyone else but themselves. Don’t think that counts in the “improving the world category,” actually.

Plus, I sincerely doubt that ‘improving yourself’ has much to do with spiffing up the exterior package. While it was vastly entertaining watching Michael Jackson’s personal transformation(s), it was not particularly enlightening or ennobling. Plastic surgery is not really improving yourself, to anyone BUT yourself, and I think that falls into the ‘self-interest’ category, which also does not count. Even if it does make you feel better. And making yourself feel better about yourself is not an awful thing, it is just not particularly impressive as a personal accomplishment for most people! Losing weight, however, does count, even though it also makes you feel better about yourself. Losing weight takes daily commitment to a goal, and self-discipline: enormous self-discipline. I know that for a fact. And the process of getting healthy IS an ennobling process, because it is so darn much WORK. Not like liposuction, which is just money and recovery time. Not the same personal growth potential AT ALL in that process.

I think all humans have an obligation, an internal requirement, to make something of themselves and to make a contribution. We succeed or fail at that in varying degrees. Some of us devote our lives to that goal, and some achieve it as a by-product of other interests and pursuits.  Some never get there, and that is sad. THEY are sad. It is an old cliché that people on their deathbeds don’t regret what they did (mostly), they instead regret what they did not do.

I suppose that is the call to action here – what sorts of things would you regret not doing? Does that mean it is time to plan and schedule some of those things into your current life? Hey – that’s why it is called a bucket list – those are the things you’d like to do or make of yourself, before it is your time to kick the bucket and depart this mortal coil. What’s on your personal list? What are you gonna do about that list?? It is never too late to begin, and today is a new day that is just perfect for a new start! Go get ’em!

57: The imam alarm

When we moved to the new apartment in Azrou, Morocco, we chose a place that shares a wall with the local mosque. You cannot get any closer. We did this deliberately, after having lived for a year and a half in Morocco, within hearing distance of three other mosques. We knew what we were in for – really, we did.

And then the reality. The regular imam is vocally pretty good – or at least, not so bad that I clap my hands over my ears five times a day. BUT, like all working people, he needs to be other places sometimes: maybe the doctor, or the dentist, or for whatever reason, he needs to be away. Then he gets a substitute to make the calls to prayer in his absence. THAT is where the trouble comes in. It is obvious that his replacements are just that….replacements. OMG. They are so nervous. One was giggling over the microphone, and another cleared his throat like, twelve times before he could finish. And tone-deaf? Please. PLEASE. Dude. Have mercy.

One guy was so bad, my CATS came to the rooftop door, asking to be let inside. I was already inside, which still was not far enough away. I cheered when the regular imam called prayer later that evening, it was so bad.

I also thought that the imam would make a great wake-up alarm clock every morning, so I was guaranteed not ever to be late for work. No dice. It did not even take a month before I was blissfully sleeping through the early morning call (5:50). What does wake me, however, is my landlord, one floor down, who wakes up and goes to early morning prayers every day. The apartment doors in this concrete block masonry building are metal security doors, so they clang when they are closed, a lot like the noise of a prison cell door clanging shut. That wakes me.

And, since I am one of those people who gets working on a project, or on the computer, and I sort of “wake up” hours later going, “My shoulders are aching – HEY! It is dark outside! What happened?” I figured that the five daily calls to prayer would regulate my time and I would be aware of the time much more than I normally am, so that would not happen any more. Nope. I only notice if it is a substitute imam. Sheesh.  Entertainment, five times a day, Moroccan-style.

56: Just desserts, or consequences of being comfortable

My husband and I have moved to another town. We used to live in a lovely little Moroccan town called Ifrane, about one mile high in the Middle Atlas Mountains. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment, furnished by the University that hired me for two years to teach at a PreK-12 school that it runs as a faculty benefit for its University staff. This apartment was furnished, and free, except for the electricity and water (both hot and cold) that we used, as a benefit to me as a staff member. They let my husband live in the free apartment with me, fortunately, even though he only coaches at the school part-time. We learned from some of the other residents that if we furnished the apartment with our own things, including the fridge and oven, that we could effectively earn a pay raise of 500 dirham per month, since we were not using the University’s furnishings. We learned that this option was generally available after you had completed one two-year contract, but we were verbally told an exception would  be made for us. We bought our own furnishings, including a 4,000 dirham fridge, among other things like beds and kitchen appliances.

Then came the problems. Month after month, no 500 dirham. We were finally informed that there was a 1,000 dirham  fee/”fine” for removing the furnishings from the apartment, even though we had already moved the stuff out ourselves. Then, we were informed, after five months of living with our own things, that the exception would NOT be made for us, and our 500 dirham would not begin to be paid for another seven months, after my two-year contract was up. The hair is rising on the back of my neck as I type this, so you can understand how furious I was when the stuff finally hit the fan and we found out the true lay of the land, which was NOT what we had been told.

Now, the University has another policy, which is actually published, whereas this unfurnished apartment thing is a covert policy that is NOT published anywhere (which probably should have been a warning to me). The published policy is that if you live in an apartment off the University campus that you actually pay for, the University will provide a housing allowance of 2,500 dirham to help defray your living expenses. Now, not many faculty take advantage of this, because apartments in Morocco generally come with four bare walls. And a typical Moroccan, traditional toilet is pretty much a hole in the floor – we call it a squat toilet, because that is what you have to do when y0u use it, unless of course, you are a man, which I am not. Sometimes the apartment does not even have water faucets and sinks, and definitely not central heating, air conditioning or a water heater for hot water, much LESS furnishings. YOU have to provide all of that stuff, if you move out of University housing. That stuff is not cheap.

AND to make matters even less appealing, Ifrane is a lovely little town, but it is a tourist town – a ski resort in Africa, I kid you not. It is also a college town because of the University, so apartments are prohibitively expensive. The University’s 2,500 dirham housing allowance does not come close to paying for an apartment in the lovely little town of Ifrane, within walking or free-University-shuttle distance from work.  But, like I said, they made me mad. More than mad. AND, what they don’t know is that for eight years in the US, I worked at a school that was a 40 mile drive, one way. Azrou is 10 miles away (a SNAP), and we already had purchased a POS little plastic car that gets great gas mileage. Plus, I knew of two other University employees that also live in Azrou who I can carpool with, and we can share gas expenses, which are much less than what they HAD been paying for grande taxi fares every day, both ways.

So, we went apartment hunting in the next town, called Azrou. Azrou is a much bigger town that is not a ski resort or a college town. Apartments there are MUCH less expensive. We looked at eight apartments, and found “ours” at number seven. ALL of them cost less than the University housing allowance, and several were so inexpensive that the items we were paying out-of-pocket are now coming out of the University allowance. Our new apartment is much larger than the old one, with two bedrooms, a balcony and a lovely, private rooftop terrace, which our five kitties absolutely LOVE. Our landlord was kind enough to install a “real” toilet for us, so we have sit-down comfort, as well as the regular toilet for emergencies (you just never know). We had to buy a few things at first: a wood stove for heating and a propane-powered water heater, and a propane cooktop unit. We had everything else we absolutely had to have, and could get other things later, when we got more “floos,” or money.

We have been happily living there for a month now. We just recently purchased a supplemental propane unvented heater, for those extra cold nights. OOPS> big time oops. I have lived in rural southern Georgia for four years in a home which had unvented propane space heaters, with no problem. We know you do not run them at night, just while awake to get the nip out of the winter air and warm a chilly room. We heated primarily with wood there, too, with no problem. We know about venting for fresh air with a wood-burning stove to avoid carbon monoxide. We are NOT newbies to this.  After using the new propane heater, for three nights in a row, my husband and I BOTH came down with “propane” headaches.  For those of you lucky duckies who have never experienced this, allow me to enlighten you. A propane headache is very much like a food poisoning headache, even to the queasily nauseous stomach that goes with it. Both of these phenomenal headaches would give a migraine a run for its money. You feel each heartbeat in your pounding, throbbing head. And pain relievers (at least the over-the-counter sort like Tylenol and Advil), this headache laughs at. Really. You might as well take water, for all the effect they have.

We spent a miserable three nights before we figured out the problem….when the heater is on low, ALL the propane is burned, so we have no problems with the propane headache. But with the heater on high, not all of the propane gas was being burned, so we were afflicted with the headache to beat all headaches as a consequence of staying comfortably warm. I think from now on I will put on another layer of clothes, instead of having the room as warm as I would prefer. NO MORE HEADACHES!!