289: Riding off into the sunset

I, like a great many other girls, am and was a horse freak. I adore them, even their warm horsey scent. I had horses and ponies in my young life since my great-grandfather had a farm, and he liked horses, too, so he kept a little Welsh stallion and a pony mare for the grand and great-grandkids. Their progeny over the years I broke to ride, learning most of what I know about horses from them.

Before I was old enough to associate with live horses, I still adored them. I got into trouble at nursery school when the teacher gave us all ONE crayon each to draw with, and mine was purple. No self-respecting horse is purple, and she was so mean she would not let me trade my purple one for a black one.  I was so pissed, I stuck out my tongue at her, and she caught me doing it. Rats.

Anyway, I still rode horses, even though I was too small for real ones. My dad was a Methodist preacher, and as part of his pastorly duties, he’d go and visit his parishoners. I got to tag along. If they did not have a propane tank, I’d find the bookcase, and read a book until dad’s visit was over – but if they had a propane tank, I’d ride horses instead. A propane tank, in that region of the US, was a big silver tank that contained the propane gas used to heat the home’s water, cook and perhaps even supply heat in the winter. They ranged in size from smallish ones, about 50 to 100 gallons, to big 500 gallon tanks. They were usually installed on their sides beside the house for easy fill-ups. They made GREAT pretend horses. I rode thousands of miles on those things. It was great practice for real horses, and it kept me out of dad’s hair – and he always knew where to find me when it was time to go.



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!!