654: Missing

Numbers

I started numbering these posts when I began purging myself using this medium as an outlet years ago when I lived and worked (teaching) in Morocco. There is a place here where some post numbers are skipped (no, I’m not telling), because I wrote some things that I was literally afraid to publish, but I still needed to process the feelings via this method of vomiting out what’s the problem (or the success, or the random thought) on this blank page that begins with a number.

This is therapy, and it damn sure costs less than a professional.

Speaking of that, I live and work now (again) in the United States of America. Very, very few of us here can claim to be impoverished (by world-wide standards). Yes, many of us are struggling here, but here, “struggling” usually still happens with a place to live, food, power, and running water. Of course there are exceptions, but generally, that is true in the USA: poverty is relative. This relative affluence (even in poverty) explains why so many hate us and still try mightily to come here. Where they are doesn’t come with relative affluence in poverty. I get that.

I understand that I am blessed beyond measure just by the happy accident of being born where I was to the parents who had a hand in creating and raising me. No, they weren’t perfect. Who is? I am mature enough (always have been, in this regard if not in others) to appreciate what they did for me. They were certainly quite good enough.

They raised me right, which I tried to pass along to the children I have contributed to this planet. I did wrong on my own – which any adult worth the title has to own. We don’t get every decision correct, and there are also the things we have left undone – even when we had good excuses/reasons.

I have had a good life – even the chapters I dislike, skip over, and just choose not to re-read. Thank you God, for being far more merciful to me than I ever earned.

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408: Testosterone…for women????

I have known for quite some time that I am one of those females that needs testosterone. When I discovered this, it explained a lot of my life decisions to me. I understood why I majored in college in a career field that was overwhelmingly populated with men, and it was not because I wanted one, or wanted to be one. That’s just the way I think.
My mom gave me a little book by a medical doctor (Kathy C. Maupin) called The Secret Female Hormone, written in collaboration with a doctor pf psychology. This book (small – a quick read) explains why women over the age of 40 need testosterone replacement therapy, now that women live for forty and fifty years beyond our reproductive lifespans. Know all those tired old jokes about how your sex life just disappears after marriage? Some of that is because of increased and competing demands: job, social, family, children, etc., and some of that is a reduction in your own female body’s production of testosterone. Yep. This doctor explains that all women produce testosterone, too. Particularly after the age of 40, testosterone really drops off – and so does libido (desire), for women. MEN don’t feel this drop-off in hormone production until their mid-fifties. PLUS, the reduction of testosterone in women brings up a whole host of other symptoms which, for most women, are only treated individually. That means no doctor ever connects all the dots to understand that most of these problems will GO AWAY with ONE treatment – the replacement of testosterone – to older women. !!!!
The problems listed include: frequent urinary tract infections, thinning skin, dry eyes, accumulation of body (especially belly) fat, fatigue, clinical depression, increased cholesterol, obesity, reduction of red and white blood cells (anemia and increased infections), loss of muscle tone and tissue, migraine headaches, loss of balance, immune disorders, decreases in bone density, increased incidence of cancers, Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and auto-inflammatory disorders. Wow. I am nodding my head, reading this awful list, going: yep, yep, yep, yep……..
I knew I needed testosterone when I underwent a hysterectomy. My OB-GYN started me immediately after the surgery on hormone replacement therapy – with estrogen and progesterone only – and I went into major, suicidal depression within weeks, despite being on the replacement therapy. ONE injection of testosterone fixed it, within HOURS. However, it wore off, and I needed another injection ahead of schedule, until I got regulated and had enough in my system to make it a week or two between injections.
And then, I decided to become an international teacher. I don’t regret this decision, BUT – you can’t get testosterone easily for women even in America. MEN can, but not women, unless you can find a physician who has brains and actually continues to go to conferences or seminars to learn about breaking research – and not all of them do that. Few of them do that, in fact. However, you can get it in America if you search hard enough for the right physician – I did. Overseas is a whole ‘nother story. My husband could get it in Morocco, but I could not. So, he got it, and I took it. Hey – you do what you gotta do.
Then, we moved to Panama. Well. I hit the desert, or the brick wall, or whatever you call it, and things have not been going too well. I have finally found an endocrinologist that I think will treat me (meaning, give-me-testosterone-treat-me), but he wants a full lab workup beforehand, and the lab work alone is six hundred bucks. I have not had the money to pay for this work last year, and I have suffered for it. Next month, I will finally have enough to take care of myself, hopefully to get the testosterone I need to recover some motivation to keep living. Wish me luck!

397: Panama versus Morocco

As an international teacher (at least since I sold out and left the USA) I have lived and worked in two lovely countries in different parts of the world: Morocco and Panama. While each country is unique, worth seeing and visiting for its own special reasons, I can’t help but make comparisons between the two as I move through the routine of daily living and working.

Living and working breaks down into several distinct categories for comparison. Housing, transportation, utilities, food/shopping entertainment and income are all important to living, and are different experiences in each country. So, which is “better?” Your answer and my answer might not be the same, depending on a lot of things. Our situations are not the same, nor are our resources. If you are Bill Gates, you are pretty much going to have a darned good time, no matter what country you are in. I am not Bill Gates, so my experience of each country varies significantly, partly in relation to my resources – which vary according to the country and the work I find there, and partly because the countries are just plain different.

Plus, your experience of each country will be affected by what you want and are willing to accept. If you live more like a native to the country, your expenses will plummet. If you live like an American in either country, your expenses will rise considerably. Central heat and air don’t come cheap anywhere – but usually, the natives have figured out how to live comfortably using fewer costly resources. And I like the smell of line-dried laundry, anyway, compared to tumble-dried.

HOUSING: My apartment in Morocco had two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a ginormous family room, a den, a kitchen, a balcony AND a rooftop terrace, for 176 USD a month. My four BR, 2 bath Panama house with a tiny living room and an eat-in kitchen (galley style) with a front porch costs 800 USD a month. Approximately the same size apartments in square feet. Yes, the complex in Panama has a pool, an exercise room (sort of) and it is located on a polluted beach, and the apartment in Morocco adjoined a mosque, so we got the call to prayer five times a day, starting at 4:30 am. In Morocco, I was robbed three times in three years by maids my husband hired, and in Panama I have been robbed twice (once in the house and once on the street) in the first year. Points to Morocco.

TRANSPORTATION: In Morocco, you can travel in a taxi 80 kilometers for about five bucks. In Panama, you can travel in a taxi about five kilometers for five bucks. The bus in Panama is cheaper – and safer. Morocco has trains that are pretty cheap, Panama does not have trains. Both countries have cheap buses. Both countries have good airport services – about the same.

UTILITIES: Moroccan veterinarians are FAR less expensive than Panama ones – and doctors and dentists compare about the same: Panama costs FAR more. Morocco wins HANDS DOWN for cost and quality of medical and dental care. Total utilities in Morocco are also far cheaper than Panama, and they work better, too, with fewer outages in services. The one thing you need in Morocco that you don’t need in Panama is firewood during the winter, which Panama does not have. Points to Panama on that one. Water quality in either place is good, but Morocco water tastes better – at least in the mountains. Overall – Morocco wins.

FOOD/SHOPPING: In Morocco, produce and limited meat for two people for a week costs about 12.50 USD – 20 bucks if you want imported things, or fancy meats. There is no way in the hot place you can buy food in Panama, anywhere, for that kind of money. Food in Panama is three to five times as expensive as Morocco. Restaurants are similar. I could eat at a local restaurant in Morocco for three dollars or less. Only at a street stall (quality and sanitation iffy) can you do that in Panama. Points to Morocco. Shopping is pretty amazing in either country, but then, I am female…….

ENTERTAINMENT: Where we were in Morocco, there was little entertainment you didn’t make yourself, or that was not sponsored by the local University. In Panama City, where this school is located, entertainment abounds – if you can pay for it. I still end up watching movies online, mostly, and popping my own popcorn. It’s a wash.

INCOME: Morocco paid less on paper, but I had more money. Panama pays more, but the costs of living are correspondingly more, so I have less available cash, even with greater income. It is a wash, pretty much.

Final judgement? I don’t like Panama nearly as much as I liked Morocco. I will finish my contract here in Panama, and start looking for another place to go and see. That is why I became an international teacher – to see some of the world!

354: Retiring…..in MOROCCO????

Morocco 078

Published February 25, 2014, in the Herald Leader, Fitzgerald, Georgia (USA) weekly newspaper.

Lately, most Islamic countries have been pretty much OFF the list as desirable places to live, work and retire. Political unrest is not attractive for those in the market for a place to live. This black eye, however, is undeserved in several cases, and Morocco is close to the top of the list as a pleasant place to consider living. Morocco is located in the upper north-western corner of the African continent. Morocco and the United States share a companionable history – did you know that Morocco was the first country to officially recognize the fledgling USA as a nation? Morocco is an Islamic country in that Islam is the official state religion, and the majority of its citizens are Muslim, but there are people of other faiths here as well, and tolerance is the theme, espoused and endorsed by Morocco’s progressive king, Mohammad VI, as well.

A lot of Morocco is hot, often too hot to be comfortable without expensive air conditioning. After all, the Sahara Desert begins in eastern Morocco, and hot was invented there!  However, Morocco has mountain ranges that run lengthwise down the middle of the country like a backbone: the Middle and High Atlas Mountains. In the Middle Atlas, you will find the lovely little city of Azrou. Azrou is a little less than a mile high in elevation, and has a comfortable climate that is much cooler than other locations in Morocco, even seeing some snow during the winter months. There is a ski resort in the neighboring town of Ifrane (10 miles away), which incidentally, is home to Morocco’s only English-speaking University (Al Akhawayn University). For those who enjoy winter sports, there are African slopes waiting!

And, unlike some other places, Morocco enjoys excellent water. Several brands of bottled mineral water originate near Azrou, and water here is delicious straight from the tap. Being in the mountains does no damage to the views, either! There are lovely, rolling hills all around Azrou, and the drive to either of the larger cities nearby, imperial Meknes (UNESCO World Heritage site) or imperial Fez (UNESCO World Heritage site) includes some breathtaking scenic spots begging for your camera. Meknes is surrounded by vineyards, and local wine produced there and elsewhere in Morocco is both tasty and relatively inexpensive.  There is a good selection at prices less than 10 USD a bottle. The extensive Roman ruins of Volubilis (yet another UNESCO World Heritage site) are a little over an hour’s drive away from Azrou.

Morocco 034Azrou adjoins one of Morocco’s National parks, and there are Barbary Macaques (monkey), that make their home there who are accustomed to being fed by park visitors, though for your safety consider photos only. Hiking, biking and camping opportunities abound nearby in nearly any direction, including being able to explore some nearby extinct volcano calderas and some lovely waterfalls. Outdoorsy people will find plenty to do.

My husband and I moved to Morocco knowing not a word of Arabic or French, the two most common languages spoken in Morocco, and we have done just fine here for three years. The Moroccans are lovely people, helpful and generous, and many speak enough English to be able to transact business, even for us Americans, and are appreciative when you do your best to learn and speak Arabic. Azrou is primarily a farming community, with a few tourist shops featuring handicrafts thrown in for good measure.  The weekly souk (farmer and flea market) here is on Tuesdays, with inexpensive,  fresh produce, all manner of household goods, clothing and livestock sold weekly, but anything you might want is also available from small shops all over town any day of the week. There is also a fish farm in town that sells smoked or fresh fish, dressed fresh to your order. Restaurants in town range from inexpensive sandwich shops (where you can eat for less than two dollars USD), to dining experiences featuring the finest in French cuisine, without the expensive European price tag.  Medical care and dental care both are good and inexpensive. My husband’s recent oral surgery cost us 125 USD, and his bridge will be made by a Boston University-trained dentist, for thousands less than what the identical services would have cost us back home.

Our two-bedroom, two-bath rooftop apartment, with a balcony and a private roof terrace, sets us back 1,500 Moroccan dirham a month, which is 176.50 USD.  Water, gas, electricity, phones and Internet run about 500 dirhams more a month: 63 USD more. We can do just fine here on much less than a thousand USD per month – our living expenses alone run about 650 USD, without including the costs of our small car, which accounts for the rest of the thousand per month. We bought the used car for our occasional trips around Morocco and to Spain, which has two toeholds, nice little cities, five hour’s drive away from Azrou along Morocco’s northern coastline.  Morocco has excellent, inexpensive bus service and the trains are quite nice, too, as well as inexpensive, for those who’d rather not maintain an automobile.

For those considering locations around the world for potential retirement, Morocco has a low cost of living, a good standard of living even on a limited budget, and a very nice proximity to vacationing in Europe, while not paying Europe’s often higher costs of living. A small, but efficient, regional airport in nearby Fez serves cities in Spain, Italy, London, Paris and more, on one of several low-cost carriers. Seasonal fares can be so low we can actually afford to fly to Rome for just the weekend, occasionally. Try THAT in the US! We had high hopes for Morocco when we made the decision to move, and it has certainly fulfilled them. If you are looking at international locations, consider exotic Morocco!

Resources:

Moroccan Arabic Phrasebook (2nd ed.), Bacon, Andjar and Benchehda, 1999. Lonely Planet Publications, ISBN: 0864425864.

Moroccan consulate in New York: http://www.moroccanconsulate.com/, requirements for Moroccan visas and other information for travelers to Morocco.

US Embassy in Casablanca, Morocco: morocco.usembassy.gov/news.html, has hours of operation, directions, visa, passport information and more resources.

Friends of Morocco website: friendsofmorocco.org/, friendsofmorocco.org/

Above: Site has MANY useful links all about Morocco, in English – including links for learning Moroccan Arabic.

Learn Arabic free online: learnarabicfree.info/, learnarabicfree.info/

Above: Free Arabic lessons online. For beginners – starts with the alphabet!

Learn French free online: www.lsfrench.com/beginners2.html, http://www.lsfrench.com/beginners2.html

Above: Free online French lessons for beginners.

Map of Morocco: http://www.journeybeyondtravel.com/news/travel-morocco-map

351: )*(^&&^%@^%)&$@@ PEOPLE!!!

I once took a group of High School students to Washington, D.C. for a student vocational group national competitive conference (the Technology Student Association). One of the off-conference things we did was to visit the Holocaust Museum there. We had previously seen the Mall, and the Smithsonian, so I was fed up with all the other people (doing what we were doing) who were in my way.

As we passed through the Museum commemorating the unthinkable numbers of people who were slaughtered, represented by heart-breakingly pathetic, sad little piles of personal items: discarded, confiscated eyeglasses, or toothbrushes, and shoes; some new, some very worn, some large and some appallingly tiny……the idea was implanted very irrevocably that these humans were killed just because they were in somebody’s way -a somebody who had, at that time, the power to remove them, and no conscience to prevent him from doing it.

It has been many years since that eye-opening, mind- and attitude-altering tour. Powerful impressions do fade over time, and I was just recently contemplating how that “people are in my WAY, dammit” viewpoint creeps back. I see it every day while I and everybody else is driving….Panamanians, Moroccans, Romans, Dominican Rebublicanos, and Americans (heck, let’s just indict EVERYbody) clearly demonstrate that road rage mindset on the road: others, regardless that they are engaged in their own personal life business, which may or may not be as pressing or as important as MY personal life business, are obstacles in my path towards accomplishing my goal. It’s Hitler on the road….isn’t it?

And what about those people (who are employed by the government, usually) who are doing their jobs, obeying the incompetent idiots who are their supervisors, who are causing me inordinate amounts of stress, aggravation, and general-pissed-off-ness when I am trying to get something done because they are doing their tiny little mind job like they were told to do it? OBSTACLES IN MY WAY. meh.

I’m not saying I like this personal revelation about myself and my attitude towards others, mind you, but like AA, recognizing the problem is the first step in solving it – assuming I want to actually work on solving it – which is another issue altogether.

348: Renewing a tourist visa

Costa Rica 016I am a temporary resident of Panama. My work visa (temporary resident’s visa) is held up because some document thieves in Miami stole the first copy. Somebody is getting a USA green card using my stolen FBI Criminal Background check document, apostiled by the Panama Consulate (total cost to me for this piece of paper, plus postage -more than 100 US dollars). Meh.

So, because this document has to be replaced at long-distance, my residency visa is delayed, meaning that my tourist visa that I entered the country with is expiring in a few weeks. So, as a consequence, I am lounging in a resort in Costa Rica in order to re-enter Panama after the Christmas holidays with a new six-month tourist visa. I hope this one will last until the real visa can be processed….otherwise I will be vacationing here again. This could be worse, actually. ALL my problems should be solvable this way……..

However, I was told by all the online articles I could find that Costa Rica is cheap living…and these mofos lie at least as much as the ones who wrote that Panama was cheap living. MOROCCO is cheap living. Panama and Costa Rica cost out the a**. I do not understand how people here can afford to eat, and I have gotten used to doing that at least once a day…it is a habit I’d like to continue indulging.  Food costs a LOT here, and I am not someone who buys brand name items, much less AMERICAN brand name items. I buy produce off the street from street vendors – and I eat at street stalls, too. Cheaper and good food, usually. I have been thoroughly shocked at the prices here in Costa Rica, and this town is not a tourist haven. Clothes and shoes are expensive here, too. At least in Panama, you can buy inexpensive clothing and shoes. Costa Rica 022

However, I was able to buy some street food, and plan to return there once a day while I am here, because it’s less to eat there than to buy it from the grocery and cook my own – no kidding.

Costa Rica 044

AND, it’s not like I came here for the sight-seeing. I came here because I need a new tourist visa, so hanging out in the resort by the pool is about the height of my ambitions – plus learning how to make my gift Kindle actually let me read some of the books it came pre-loaded with. I hate electronic gadgets – and I am the Technology Coordinator at my school – meh. Still…since I have one, I am learning how to use the dad-blasted thing. It is annoying, like any new electronic gadget.

There is a small shopping mall nearby that has a movie theater…and I have not been to see a movie in God Himself only knows how long. So, I guess my husband and I will go…it will be Christmas day in two days – tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas, world – and peace and goodwill towards all humans and living things.

340: FRUSTRATION plus one, times infinity

I don’t KNOW any expletives of sufficient strength and quality for this, and I have an impressive vocabulary of both G and X rated cuss words. Cuss you never know when you’re gonna need ’em, and when you might just need to use all of them at once. Like now.

I have a sincere, abject apology to make to Morocco. I just thought they had their head up their a…….bums. Not so. I have learned that Morocco is astonishingly efficient and competent in handling government documents……compared to Panama. Now, Panama has had a long and intimate relationship with the USA, and you would THINK (and you would be WRONG) that the get-‘er-done American attitude would also have taken effect in Panama – oh, heck no.

I believe, honestly and sincerely, that the attitude in Panama for government employees (hell, spread that toe jam out to any employee in any business here whatsoever) is that the longer you can delay doing anything useful to help anybody, the more secure your own job will forever be, because the line of people waiting for your attention (read: lack thereof) NEVER, EVER gets any shorter, thus proving that you are a vital and necessary part of the Panamanian economy, and therefore, worth keeping in the position you currently occupy. I am not joking. I wish I was joking.

These people specialize in the art of delaying progress. There is another document you don’t have that is vital to completing this mission – and when you have it, it must be photocopied (and they don’t make copies here, thank you very much) and notarized first. When you have THAT one, then there is another one you also don’t have, that we did not tell you about when we told you about the first one you did not have, that you now do have – do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars. And believe me, there is NO LIMIT to the number of times they can play this game out – I think there is an office lottery for stringing people along using this particular ploy………..

Then there are the “professionals” who you pay money to, who then just don’t show up – and then who call you AFTER the scheduled meeting which they did not make it to, to reschedule: MULTIPLE times. NEVER pay these mofos ANY money up front for ANYthing. That is the only way you have a prayer of getting anything accomplished before you DIE.

FML. Seriously.