607: Independence and Subsidies

 

AntGrasshopper

It used to be that Americans were independent and took care of their own.

Why is it now the responsibility of other citizens/taxpayers if I fail to adequately plan, provide for, and save for my own retirement (what used to be called my ‘declining years’)? When did that personal failure become a subsidized ‘right’?

Was it when the US government established the Social Security program in an effort to ameliorate the fallout from those grasshoppers who foolishly played and spent their lives away, while the ants prudently saved and stockpiled against an uncertain future?

Now that social security is firmly entrenched (even if the last generations of lawmakers have plundered the fund to help offset their own grasshopper profligate spending) Americans save even less than they ever did – and our performance as a nation never was too good on that score in the first place.

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Yeah, I’d LOVE to have spent my productive years engaged in pursuing my own interests (financially supporting or not) instead of reporting to work – but having proved myself stupid enough to be willing to work, I don’t qualify for any benefits for sitting on my fat behind.

The idea is that people work to support themselves. Each one responsible for him/herself – unless you have turned over your financial future to someone else who agrees to be responsible for both themselves AND you (this is what many women believe marriage is for – absolving them from all responsibility). If you put your care into the hands of another person and they fail to make adequate provisions for themselves and for you in the event something happens to them, well, they failed you.

My first husband did that – he let more than a half million life insurance policy lapse a few months before he unexpectedly died. Thank God I was already a working wife, and didn’t have all my eggs in his little basket, so I had something else to fall back on besides Uncle Sam. Plus, in the past, families cared for each other. When a family member became disabled or elderly and needed care, they were cared for within the family unit – not handed off for the government (really, other citizens/taxpayers) to care for.

It isn’t the fault of the citizens that you failed to provide for yourself – it isn’t even the fault of the citizens that you are disabled, and need assistance. Neither is it their fault if accident or illness befalls you that you didn’t plan for. Yup – it’s a tough break when that happens. Thankfully, assistance is available for those who are unable (legitimately unable, not having simply purchased their disability from an unethical physician) to provide for themselves, but it still isn’t the fault of others that they are disabled, such that others are then required to pay their way.

THAT is what used to be called charity, before charity became a dirty word, and it used to be the province of faith-based people who took up the slack and provided that assistance locally. They knew their neighbors, and they knew who really needed the help, and who needed the harsh life lessons earned by making very poor decisions.

You know, like the grasshopper.

375: Retirement Income

I will get, assuming the USA does not implode in the next few years (a distinct possibility, unfortunately) a small teacher’s pension. I’d like more money than that to live on in my “golden years.” It won’t be a luxurious amount unless I can supplement it with some part-time income. I COULD continue to teach, but who in their right mind wants to continue doing that? That is like voluntarily joining the line for physical and mental abuse, as discount prices! Besides, there are only a few countries that allow older folks to teach, so as I age, my options shrink considerably for teaching. I’m wanting something ELSE.

What I WANT to do is start a co-operative business with some like-minded people, so that nobody has to tend the shop full-time. Each co-owner can work one or two days a week, and enjoy the profits from sales made every day. Plus, not having to mind the shop every day creates free time for people to create, either in an in-store workshop, or at home in their own studio. I’d like a varied sort of co-worker/co-owner: perhaps someone who grows herbs or fresh produce to sell, perhaps someone who makes soaps and bath products, perhaps a furniture maker, some artists and craftspeople, a potter, someone who does fiber arts….a range of people means a range of products that can be offered for sale in the shop.

I need a PLACE to do this. Location is paramount. I don’t want to pay rent on a store, because I don’t want to have to make the choice to prop up a business either at the start, or later on during an inevitable sales slump. I need to own the property. Or, ONE of us in the group needs to own it. Ideally, it would be in a location appropriate for a specialty shop of this sort. A touristy sort of spot would be ideal.

Then, I need some FRIENDS. I need some friends who do these sorts of things as their hobbies, or as their living, or as their part-time jobs – and they make quality things that people will buy. I don’t mind having some of them who just contribute stuff to sell, those who are working a full-time job and can’t volunteer to take some days at the store, to help them get established. AND, I think 15-20% of sales is a good commission for the store to take to pay for electricity, seeing as how it is my intention to own the store location outright.

Plus, co-owners could teach classes in the shop if they would like to do that: painting, making jewelry, crochet, knitting, sewing,  etc. Some people want to learn how to make their own, and are willing to pay for that privilege. I think we might could accommodate that!

I expect it would start slow, and grow accordingly…which is just fine by me, especially if I live on an upper floor of the place. That would be ideal. It is something to plan for, anyway! Everything starts with a DREAM, right??

 

374: Responsibilities

Tomorrow, I have to go back to work. I have just finished an eleven-day vacation. Spring Break of ten days, plus one  more day because some union in the city is protesting/demonstrating, and they specifically block traffic and bridges when they protest so that people either can’t GET to work, or can’t get HOME from work, so school called off another day of class. Tomorrow we are supposed to go, but if the protesters are doing their thing for a second day, we may go home early to be sure students can actually get back home, not to mention the staff.

I’d love to be irresponsible and not go. I get a lot of sick days on this job, and I can cheat and say I am sick, and I can go and get a doctor’s note for the grand sum of six dollars here in Panama. However, Thursdays are my busiest day at work. My partner and I teach seven classes on Thursdays, so to lay out on a Thursday is not being kind to my co-worker, who is a nice, decent guy. It would be nice to ignore my responsibilities, but I don’t know how to do that and still look myself in the eye in the mirror. I’d like to be that selfish, I just can’t seem to actually do it. I can THINK about it, I just can’t make myself do it.

We have a substitute teacher here – a part-timer who follows the sports circuit. She travels around the world, competing in various events from kayak races to skiing competitions. I don’t know how to live like that. First, because I don’t have the money to do that, and I’ve never not had a job except for the six years I took off from work to have my children and try to save my marriage. That was more work than work, and I was glad to get back to teaching, which seemed like a vacation after full-time mommyhood and housewifery. That six years sucked big time, seriously. 24/7, and I did not even get to pee in private. For YEARS. Sheesh.

I am, however, in retrospect, glad I had the time to be a full-time mommy, especially since my husband dropped dead about five years after that. I didn’t kill him. Really. At least my kids had me full-time for a while when they were small and needed somebody there.  I could do that, and I did it. Responsibility weighs heavily on me, and I feel the yoke. I waited until both my kids were graduated from high school and off to college before I sold all my stuff and abandoned the USA for overseas teaching (instead of the messed-up USA teaching scene).

I am, however, getting more and more tired of working. The money is nice, BUT……..  As soon as I can start collecting teacher’s retirement, I plan to stop doing it. I have found that I LIKE gardening. I LIKE painting and making jewelry, sewing and crafting. I LIKE doing things my own way and in my own time. I’m still busy, and I enjoy myself.

I want to open a shop, though, in concert with others, so I am not on duty every day, and I can still earn some extra 18_istanbul-handcraftsmoney. Some artists, some craftspeople, some fresh garden produce, some nursery (for plants), maybe a furniture builder and a potter…..a shop where each minds the store a day or two a week for the others, and everyone brings for sale what they produce. I just need a PLACE to do that. Maybe that place is here, and maybe that place is in the next place I go. At least I know what I want!!

326: Panama Paradise…sort of

Whales 023Nowadays, and for some years, Panama has been touted as the retirement paradise of Earth. Great weather, cheap prices, good infrastructure, conveniences, safety, security and great living.

Well. Sort of. When you read those glowing, first hand reports from people on the ground in Panama, pay particular attention to all the QUALIFIERS they add to the claims meant to entice you here. Pay particular attention to the few trouble spots they mention briefly, and then gloss over.  Not everyone writing about Panama gets full coverage by sites that are promoting Panama as THE place to retire.

Firstly, Panama MIGHT be inexpensive, compared to SOME places on Earth – but not compared to many of them. Especially near the capital city, where the infrastructure, services and amenities are plentiful and good, you will spend very much what you would pay in the USA: more for some/many things, and less for a few things.

Used cars, for example, are not cheap here. They hold their value very, very well. Good for sellers, not good for buyers. Groceries here, unless you are willing to purchase from street vendors, are outrageous, even by USA standards. Four medium tomatoes were priced at over three dollars recently, prompting me to plant seeds. SERIOUSLY.

Bus fares are cheap, but how many Americans want to ride the bus? I do. You will spend hours on the bus. Hours.

Security can be a problem. I’ve been robbed already, and I’ve been here less than three months. You have to be cautious, careful and suspicious of people, like most other places.

Apartments are not cheap. One thousand a month is a low-priced apartment here. That is not cheap compared to many places in the US. Getting a bank account is a time-consuming, aggravating, form-filled, expensive process. So is getting a Panamanian driver’s license. So is getting your visa to stay. The tourist visa is good 90 days, and then you have to get out of the country and re-enter to renew it.

The weather? Well – it rains a lot. When it isn’t raining, the humidity is high enough that your laundry will often sour on the line before it dries, meaning that you smell like a homeless person if you don’t machine dry them.

You can live cheap if you live and eat like a local. That means fans, not air conditioning, and foods you may not know how to prepare, or be accustomed to eating. However, that is part of the experience of living as an ex-patriot. There is good, and there is bad, and then there is just plain annoying. You get some of each. Paradise it isn’t. Liveable, it is.

248: A Better Place

Many people today are looking for a better place: a better life, a better job, a better climate, less expensive, to boot. Why do you think so many people move south to retire? You seldom hear of someone moving north to retire – staying there because the house is paid for and the family is there, sure, but moving there? Not, for various reasons: costs more to live there, buy property, the winter is too cold and too long, etc., etc., etc.

I was also one of those looking for a better life. I am a career teacher, so you already know by that admission that I am middling well-off, not rich, making it monthly from one paycheck to another. Every time something happened (dentist woes, medical emergencies, car trouble) we slipped a little deeper and deeper into debt.  That is stressful, and it was getting very old by the time my children hit high school. I started investigating other possibilities. I could stop teaching public school, K-12, and move up (sic) to college teaching. Then I looked into what colleges pay, and their retirement plans. There is a lot to be said for public schools, particularly the Georgia public school system retirement plan. University teaching did not appear to offer me any more than K-12 did, and the retirement was not as good. Then I considered moving to another state, since Georgia does not pay their teachers as well as some other states do. Then I looked into the cost of living in other states that paid more, but found that it correspondingly COSTS more to live in those states, and decided that there is a lot to be said for the standard of living in Georgia, and how little it costs to live here. But still, even though I was discovering that where I was was not as bad as I had initially thought it was, I wanted more. And less (cost), at the same time.

Then, surfing online, I ran across an issue of International Living. www.internationalliving.com  This is a publication that is aimed primarily towards older people looking to retire overseas, advising them about being able to maximize their limited retirement income in another country with a less expensive cost of living.  Well – yeah, that’s great, but I’ve got 12-17 years worth of teaching left before I can retire, and I don’t want to wait until retirement to make my life better, if there is any way to do it earlier than age 60-65.  Then my charming husband, who sometimes can see the forest (instead of the trees), far better than I can, said to me, “Why don’t you just teach at a school over in another country? Then we can live there while you work there, and we won’t have to wait on the retirement money to be able to do it?” Well, DUH. Sometimes I am an idjit.

So, I began to look into teaching overseas. I registered at several Web sites that list both advice for international teachers, and possible jobs, too: www.joyjobs.com, www.TIC.com, www.tieonline.com, www.educatorsoverseas.com, and even the Department of Defense, since I found out they operate international schools for the families of service men stationed abroad. I looked into what teaching at a school overseas was like. I read horror stories and I read glowing reports. Hmmmmmmm. Kind of like teaching public school in Georgia. I looked into what international schools paid. WHOA. Some paid a lot, like schools in the American north (expensive cost of living) and some paid not so much (lower cost of living), but nearly all of them provided furnished housing, medical insurance, and a LOT of other very nice perks that public schools have never heard of. Like NO United States taxes on the income that they pay. (!!) Like free plane tickets, and resettlement allowances, and other such niceties.

So, My husband and I did some math – yeah, I know, I hate math. However, he likes it, and does sums in his head for fun (I DO NOT get that), and together, with my research and his math skills, we figured out that with the advantages, we would be earning roughly equivalent to what I was earning in Georgia. Plus, we would, of course, have to sell our belongings in the US, and the proceeds from the sale should cover all of our outstanding debts. It would be like making a fresh start. Except…..our children.  So – we waited another two years until the last child at home was graduated and ready to move on to college. In the meantime, I took an online TESOL course (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) – just in case.

Then I began to apply. My school in Georgia was making noises about closing the art program I was teaching, since the budget was getting tighter and tighter, and arts, music and vocational programs are usually the first casualties when there are budget cuts. Plus, they were WAITING and WAITING to present the next year’s contracts, and I did not know if I would even have a job, the clock was ticking and time was a-wastin’…..and jobs overseas were on offer. I conducted a telephone interview one chilly morning at 6 am with a school in Morocco. Where was Morocco? As I paced around my front yard, walking though dew-covered grass that morning, answering questions about pedagogy and teaching, discipline, grading and parents, I realized that I really wanted this job. When they offered it, I accepted with alacrity.

Then, we sold our things, paid off debts, arranged for shipping some stuff by ocean freight, packed bags and booked flights.

After teaching here for three years, I can say that the job is better. Kids are the same everywhere, but they are marginally more respectful of their teachers overseas. It is almost like stepping back in time 30 years or so. Plus, the classes are smaller – WAY smaller in some cases. My biggest class ever has been 12 students. I routinely taught classes of 28 in the US. AND, there are fewer classes per week. I used to teach 6 classes on a  seven period day. Here, I have 25 class hours a week maximum – A WEEK. Much better. The furnished housing is not luxurious, but it is perfectly adequate, and I had the choice to rent a private apartment if I wanted, which the school would subsidize with a monthly housing allowance.

Actually living overseas is truly a dream come true. We can afford to hire a maid. Seriously. And we are living on half what the school pays me, the cost of living is so low. We have visited various destination here in Morocco, and have been modestly to European countries, too: Spain and Portugal, while keeping inside our half funds budget. I could, literally, hardly ask for more.

I have one regret: that I did not do it sooner. I have learned so much that I wish I had brought my children with us, so they could also learn these eye-opening things about other cultures, how things are done in other places and how people live (well) on far less than Americans think it takes to live well. 

Oh, well – I am doing it now – and perhaps they can come and visit for a few weeks and see for themselves!

247: Cave, Sweet Cave

I have this really strange fantasy – I want to live in a cave, like Fred Flintstone. Except I want the house to be like Dick Clark’s Fred Flintstone house,  in a real cave I found in Morocco, when I retire. Really. No kidding. Before you think I am TOO nuts, take a look at the house: http://www.ibtimes.com/dick-clark-malibu-flintstone-home-sale-photos-709721

See what I mean? Except the place that I found in Morocco actually IS a cave – or rather, a series of caves – that would make a super-fantastic house, if I can figure out minor things like electricity and a well for water, and a septic tank.

My future cave home

My future cave home

I want a corridor that is a greenhouse that connects the two main cave parts: one side (cave) we will live in ourselves, and the other side (cave number 2) will be my art studio and shop. OK, it’s a fantasy for retirement. But it is an achievable fantasy.

Skylight

Skylight

What makes the difference between a pipe dream and a goal? Only the dreamer’s determination to see it through! If you are going to dream- dream BIG!

Ocean view!

Ocean view!

The place is just across the road from the ocean (Atlantic), so it even has a delightful ocean view! And both caves, while not connected underground, have lovely big “rooms” inside, and already nearly level floors. I can SOOOOO see the possibilities!!

roomy rooms

roomy rooms

244: Just ONE more paper……

Retirement life - I hope!

Retirement life – I hope!

Morocco is a truly great place to live and work. Truly. ESPECIALLY if you do not have to get anything done legally or professionally. If you just go to work and live your life, things are GREAT here. It has one of the least expensive standards of living that I know of. You can literally live here on 350 US dollars per month, including rent. I am not kidding. I will probably return here to retire, because I can actually afford to live here, fairly well, on my puny little teacher’s retirement pension. Well – not HERE, where I am living at the moment,. because Azrou and Ifrane are on the top of Middle Atlas Mountains. That means, folks, that it is far too cold here for a south Georgia (USA) native. I will return to Morocco and retire here a good bit further south than where I am now – somewhere outside of Agadir, which is twelve hours’ drive south of here, and on Morocco’s Atlantic seacoast. Now, there is a retirement haven!

The only real glitch to living and working in Morocco is when you need to get any paperwork done. O.H. M.Y. G.O.D. See – Morocco was for decades a French possession. It is still the second most often spoken language here, after Moroccan Arabic. The French are absolutely legendary for bureaucracy. They INVENTED it. And they have thoroughly infected Morocco with it. You would not BELIEVE the hassles of getting A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G legal done here. It took my husband six months to register our little plastic car – and multiple trips to Meknes (one hour’s drive away) and Azrou (twenty minutes’ drive away) before he could get it done. Multiple, multiple trips. Every time he would go, they would look at his stack of paperwork, and tell him: you need one more paper – and they did this repeatedly – one more paper at a time. They would not tell him all the papers he needed at once, it was literally one paper at a time, like it was a state secret how many papers he would eventually have to have, and Morocco would fall into the sea if they told him at once all the papers he needed at the same time.

Plus, everybody in the government offices goes to lunch at the same time. See, in America (which Morocco is NOT) government employees go to lunch at staggered times so that the office is always open. HA. Not here. Plus, in America, lunch is at most one hour. HA. Not here. They think nothing of a three-hour lunch – and they don’t even drink. How can you eat lunch for three hours??

Now that I have accepted a job in Panama, I have to obtain documents here in Morocco before I can ship my belongings there. I have to ship because airlines have gotten real shirty about letting you bring any luggage, unless your ticket costs a gazillion dollars. I fly economy coach – they let me bring, like…a toothbrush. No, really, I can bring one checked bag and a carry-on. For a two-year contract in another country. Try condensing all the stuff you need for two years into one bag and a carry-on. I am female – are you serious?  So, I ship stuff via ocean freight, because it is the cheapest way I know of to get stuff from one place to another. But, but, but….I have to have the documents before I can ship. This explains why I am starting months early. I am worried that still might not be enough time, given what I know about getting papers here  in Morocco. Seriously. Still – hope springs eternal!