Thursday, October 06, 2011

Nightmare Student

Me: "Your essay is due on Monday. Use your outline as a guide - it's ok if you want to add, delete, or change the order of some of the information. You don't need to redo your outline even if you change any information. You don't need to ask me, just do what you need to do to complete the assignment. Remember that each paragraph needs to have a minimum of 5 sentences. Any questions?"


Class dismissed.

My nightmare student lingers behind.

Nightmare student: Miss, I only have 4 sentences in this paragraph, is that ok?
Me: No. You need at least five.
Nightmare student: But I only have 4.
Me: Well, you need at least five so, add some more detail.
Nightmare student: I don't think I can, so can I just keep it with 4 sentences?
Me: Ok.
Nightmare student: Ok? Really?
Me: Yes. I mean, you'll lose points but you can do whatever you want.
Nightmare student: Hmmm. Ok, so if I need to add some more information that's not on the outline, can I do it?
Me {trying unbelievably hard to keep my cool at this point}: What did I say in class?
Nightmare student: You said to use the outline.
Me: And?
Nightmare student: I don't remember.
Me: Do what you need to do to complete the assignment. All the instructions are in the book.
Nightmare student: So can I add more information.

{Kill me now.}

Me: Yes.
Nightmare student: So should I retype my outline?
Me: No. {I had to put a stop to this} I explained all of this already before. I'm sure you understand. Read the instructions in the book. Ask a friend if you're unsure. I'm not repeating any of this information again.
Nightmare student: Ok. But you said we can email you if we have any questions, right?


Me: Yes, but I will not answer any questions about things I've covered in class or that are in the book. Only specific questions related to your assignment.

I am NOT looking forward to checking my email this weekend. There's always one student every semester that makes you dread walking into class. Sigh.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shame on you Kuwait Airways

From the moment you step into the airport to check your bags in for the flight to Bangladesh it is absolutely clear that the Kuwait Airways employees feel like they are dealing with a sub-human species. Usually there are only two employees behind the check-in counters and more often than not they are joking with each other, on the phone, or walking away from the counter to do who knows what ... and that leaves all the passengers standing there waiting.

Checking in for a flight takes an hour if you're lucky. I have waited in line for almost 3 hours before being able to check my bags in. Any particular reason why? Nope. They just couldn't care less - I mean, we're Bangladeshi after all - the street cleaners of Kuwait. The ones who are not even worth paying the less than $100/month that they were promised ...

There are several horror stories I could tell you about the experiences I have had with Kuwait
Airways - starting from ticketing, to checking-in at the airport, to the flight itself ... like when the flight attendant spilled a whole tray of water on a passenger and didn't even apologize. Why should she? He's Bangladeshi. He must be a street cleaner. He's not really a human worth an apology.

However, the latest story has me completely riled up.

My parents were due to leave Dhaka on Saturday morning ... of course that didn't happen. For what reason - who knows. Nobody gives any information. Now, this particular flight was heading to New York via Kuwait -- so Dhaka, Kuwait, New York -- the one good thing about this flight is that at least you knew you were getting a slightly better plane than the ones just doing the Kuwait-Dhaka-Kuwait roundtrip journey (yes, they give us the shittiest planes in which the seat belts hardly fasten, the TVs don't work, and the seats are being held together with scotch tape). Anyway. This flight didn't take off. It was going to be delayed (they never said cancelled) for who knows how long ... so what do they do?

They put the passengers bound for New York in the 4-star Regency hotel ... and they put the passengers bound for Kuwait (including my parents) in a barely 1-star 'hotel' ...

It makes me way too upset to think about how terribly my parents as well as all the other people on that flight were treated. Such discrimination is horrific. Did these laborers who work practically all day for next to nothing - who haven't gone home in years!! - not pay for their ticket? Did they not deserve the same treatment? (I'm not even mentioning the 3 Kuwaiti 'business' men who were taken to the 5-star Radisson hotel - because surely they can't stay with the Bangladeshis.) I'm not making a distinction between the Bangladeshis who are doctors, lawyers, teachers, architects, etc. etc and the street cleaners, gardeners, taxi drivers etc. etc. and apparently, neither does Kuwait Airways. They see our passport - see Bangladesh - and automatically - Yup. They're not worth treating like humans. Push forward the shitty airplanes. We'll just dump them in there at our convenience.

Kuwait Airways has a sweet deal with all the government employers who give free tickets to their employees. Ya, a free ticket home - but totally at the expense of your dignity.

Shame on you Kuwait Airways. The attitude that is displayed by your employees is disgusting.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Don't Bank on It

Having to do errands while I'm trying to finish my PhD thesis in the next two weeks is stressful because the errands are always time consuming ... but I don't really mind when the errands get done ... today I made the mistake of going to NBK to deposit my scholarship check. Guess how that went?

Getting this scholarship money is proving to be more difficult than I thought it would be. Getting the check itself was easy enough, and I thought it would be smooth sailing from there. Shame on me for thinking that bank work would actually be easy.

In London I took the check (in my name) and forms of ID to Lloyd's TSB (the issuing bank of the check). In my previous experience cashing a check in the States that was all that I would need. However, this experience taught me that in the UK (not just at this particular bank branch the bank employee told me) you need to have an account in that bank in order to receive the cash ... because first they will deposit into the account and then you need to fill out a withdrawal form and then they can withdraw the cash.

Me: If you were depositing the money in my account, wouldn't you note that the money came from the issuer's account?
Bank: Yes
Me: So why don't you just get the money from that account and give it to me instead of all the unnecessary steps in the middle.
Bank: We don't do it that way
Me: I don't live in the country, nor do I have an account in England. What do you suggest I do
Bank: You should go to the issuer and ask them to give you cash.

I'm sure the British Association of Applied Linguistics is going to be thrilled by that request.

I asked D (who works at NBK - the National Bank of Kuwait) to look into what would be involved in depositing the check in my account here. He asked and they said - 3 days for it to be cashed; no charge at all.

Great news right?
Correct news? Of course not.

Today's exchange at the bank:
Me: I'd like to deposit this check into my account.
Bank: Ok. Oh. Only your first and last name are written here.
Me: Yes, that's my name.
Bank: Well, we need a minimum of three names listed.
Me: But that's my name.
Bank: Can I see your civil ID? {I hand it to her} See, it lists these names as well (all in Arabic)
Me: That's not my name. That's my father's name that has just been added to the rest of my name, but as you can see in my passport, this is my name. This is what I use as my ID since the locally issued Arabic ID is not really considered valid anywhere else.
Bank: Hmmm, well, we still need three names. Besides, are you sure you want to deposit this check? It'll take at least 40 days and we'll charge 7 KD.

I can't go on with the exchange because just typing it out is pissing me off even more.

Her advice was also to go back to BAAL and figure something out with them ...

So not only was the visit to the bank a waste of time but it was also frustrating and stressful. This is not the frame of mind to be in when trying to write.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

A Thin Line

Today will be another day filled with train rides. I usually love train rides – but the train rides over the past 17 days have left me absolutely exhausted. In the beginning it wasn’t so bad … but now, it’s becoming absolutely painful. Part of the pain has to do with carrying around almost 15 kg of luggage. That may not sound like a lot, but try running (ok briskly walking) though endless hallways and up and down flights of stairs (while maneuvering yourself through hoards of people) with a bag in each hand. It’s not fun. It’s not easy. It IS a bloody pain.

All that and you get to the platform to find out that the train is delayed … signal failure, vandalism of the tracks, or some sort of drama that is delaying the train – if you’re lucky. More often than not on this trip it has been Rail Replacement Works – and that usually means one of the things I dread the most – Rail Replacement Bus Service!

I had avoided traveling on a Sunday in fear for the Rail Replacement Bus Service – but ended up not being able to avoid it even on a Saturday … add the usual closer/delays of the Circle & District lines (why do they bother to still have those lines if they run such a shitty service?!) and you have chaos.

Chaos and Crowds.

That’s when you stand on the platform and curse the public transport system and then try and catch a glimpse of the tube/railway map (that everybody else is crowding around as well) to figure out what alternative route you can take (particularly those that avoid the rail replacement service)!

Anyway. In the past 17 days I have done 14 different train rides. While I am absolutely grateful for the public transport system that has made it possible to independently travel from city to city, I.Am.Exhausted. Yes, definitely a thin line between loving and hating the transport system here in England!

I cannot wait to get back to my car and being in control of my own journey at my own pace using my own route …

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

August 2, 1990

August 2, 1990 is a date that I’ll never forget. I can’t believe that it has been 21 years since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. While I don’t remember every thing that happened on that day, I do remember the feeling … the feeling of hearing the news – I was in Bangladesh but my parents and brother were in Kuwait. I remember trying to process what it meant. I remember hearing my mother’s voice on the phone … and I remember the sinking feeling that intensified through the day, particularly after all international phone lines were cut and we heard that the airport runways had been bombed … Would I ever see my parents or my brother again?

August 2, 1990 marked the start of a new type of life for me. I was in a new country – well, my native country, but still a new country for me. I didn’t have any friends – only my family members. I started a new school. I saw a whole new side of Bangladesh … and though I slowly started making friends who provided me with a world of support and acceptance (Nadia, Triplets, Mimel) it was still shadowed by the fact that my parents and brother were still not with me. Would I ever see them again? Fortunately for me, there is a happy ending as we were all reunited. However, I know that many were not as lucky as we were.

August 2, 1990 was a date that created a bond among those who went through dealing with the separation from our home (Kuwaiti or not Kuwaiti – Kuwait was our home) and dealing with the uncertainty of the future. I remember when one of my friends (Shimul) from Kuwait finally managed to escape and make it to Bangladesh, I was overwhelmed with relief that she was safe … and felt a different type of comfort being around her as she knew what had been left behind. She understood what the invasion signified. I don’t think it’s an emotion that can be described to somebody who did not go through the events of those seven months.

August 2, 1990 is now used as a marker in time – a gap between how things were ‘pre-invasion’ to how things changed ‘post-invasion.’ To many, it’s just another date. To me, it’s the date that set a whole new set of events in motion in my life. Yes, August 2, 1990 is a date that I’ll never forget.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sundays at PostSecret

I’ve been a follower of PostSecret for several years now. My friend and I discovered Frank Warren’s book back in 2005. I remember us picking up a copy and spending the next few hours pouring over the postcards – reading them in silence, occasionally sharing a laugh, pausing several times to take it all in, and once in a while brushing off tears from our face.

I am truly amazed by Frank Warren’s project and I am even more amazed at the wonderfully passionate, honest, uncensored confessions that people make through their postcards. It must be so therapeutic to be able to finally confess a secret that would otherwise have been locked up inside – festering away. Is it healthy to have a fear that causes you to self-censor? Is it only natural to do so? Would people be better off if they didn’t feel the need to hide their rage, their anger, their sadness, their fears? Or is that the way it’s supposed to be?

If you haven’t stopped by at Frank Warren’s website do take a moment to check it out. The site is updated every Sunday. You can also check out this article published on CNET News:

Feeling courageous enough to share a secret via an anonymous comment on this post? Go for it. J

Picture: PostSecret postcard found on

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hello? You're Dead.

Phone rings.

Me: Hello?

Caller: This is nurse X. We need you to come back to the hospital immediately.

Me: I’m sorry, what did you say?

Nurse: Some further test results have come in and the doctor wants you to come back immediately. We need to do a CT scan.

Me: But I was just in this morning, he said there was nothing to worry about.

Nurse: Yes, but you really need to come in.

Me: Tonight?

Nurse: Now.

Ok – so what would go through your mind during a conversation like that? I had gone to see the doctor because I’ve had a bit of a cough/shortness of breath recently – I just figured it was my annual episode of bronchitis. Not too big of a deal (though very annoying). I had just started feeling poorly so I hoped the doctor would give me my antibiotics and I’d be good to go.

Unfortunately, my regular doctor was on vacation. In fact, it seemed like all the doctors were on vacation and only one was available … great, I got to see the most spaced-out doctor I’ve ever had a consultation with. My first impression of him wasn’t great … so now to get this phone call had me freaked out. Really, really freaked out.

On my way to the hospital one thing was for sure – I was not going to go through a CT scan without a second opinion. I think too many tests are ordered too quickly nowadays. Anyway. I asked D to come with me for some extra support.

We get to the doctor’s office. He calls me in – I tell D to come in with me.

Doctor: I’d want to do a CT scan.

Me: What for? You looked at my x-ray earlier and said that it was fine.

Doctor: Yes, I know, but the radiologist looked at the x-ray and said that he detected a slight thickening in your lungs. It may be nothing, but still I want to be sure. It might be pneumonia.

Me: Hmmmm, pneumonia.

D: But she doesn’t have any symptoms of pneumonia.

Doctor: Yes, that’s what I thought too. It’s probably not pneumonia, but I thought maybe we can do a CT scan.

Me: Is this really necessary? I don’t want to have to take any tests that I don’t need to.

Doctor: No, we can wait if you like. You can finish your medicine and next week when you come for a follow-up we can see if you need the CT scan. Is that what you’d like?

Hmmmmm let me just think about this for a second.

Of course that’s what I’d like!!

Why the hell did you have the nurse call me up and ask me to come in immediately to do an unnecessary test for an illness that I don’t even have symptoms for?! WTF?!

I was so furious. Relieved. But furious.

Do they not learn anything about how to talk to patients? Did they not even consider how a phone call like that could be interpreted?


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hospital Waiting Rooms

I hate hospital waiting rooms – they’re full of sick people and there’s no privacy!

You get to the hospital and walk into the waiting room, and you know that as soon as you enter everyone looks at you and thinks ‘I wonder what’s wrong with her.’ Come on. You know you do it too when you see someone else enter the room … or when you’re looking around the room to search for somewhere to sit and you think – who looks least sick?

Then there are always a few people who break the unwritten

waiting room ‘etiquette’ rules – which I believe should be written down and enforced … such as.

1) If you’re going to use your mobile, please do it in the hallway or at least speak softly. There’s no need for the rest of the waiting room to hear about your whole medical history.

2) If you’re going to bring children into the waiting room, monitor them. It’s NOT OK for them to jump up and down on the sofas or run and scream all around the room.

3) If you’re going to use a personal media device, use headphones! I’m surprised by the number of people who actually listen to their music or watch their TV programs either on such a high volume that the person sitting next to them can clearly hear what’s playing or without any headphones at all!

4) Don’t jump up and run to look into the doctor’s office whenever the door opens. Sometimes the nurse has to come in and out to get papers or other things. The second or two that the door remains open is not an invitation for you to peer into the room. Obviously the doctor is not ready to see you yet. I’m sure you’ll know when it’s your turn. In the meantime, sit down!

… and finally,

5) Please keep your personal conversations at a reasonable volume. There are people in the waiting room who are genuinely sick or may be very nervous/scared about having to see the doctor. Hearing endless, loud conversations between people shows a complete lack of consideration. Come on people – show some respect!

So yes, I dread any time I have to spend in the hospital waiting room. I just try and keep my head down and read a book until I hear my name called … and pretty much avoid inhaling to stop myself from catching anything that may be going around.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mac'd Out

A few days ago, I was finally on a roll with my writing. I typed away furiously and was pleased with what I wrote. I went to save my work and screen just went blank. My heart skipped a beat. My muscles tensed. Flashbacks to when I lost my Masters thesis the night before it was due flooded my mind. I cautiously reached for the keyboard and pressed the spacebar.

Operating System Not Found.

WTF? I thought to myself … but tenderly pleaded with my Vaio. ‘Come on. You can do it. I’m sure you haven’t lost your operating system. It’s gotta be in there somewhere. Come on. Please.’

Pressed the escape key … Operating System Not Found.

I felt the tears welling in my eyes. I wasn’t completely panicked because fortunately just the day before I had backed up – not just my PhD work – I mean EVERYTHING! So, aside from losing the work I had done that morning, I knew that aspect of it wasn’t bad … it was the fact that my computer wasn’t working that was freaking me out. I can’t buy a new laptop. Not now. It’s not something I wanted to deal with at all.

I waited a while longer and pressed another button the keyboard. This time nothing at all happened.

I decided to just leave the computer and head to the gym. Escapism has always worked for me (or so I like to think).

When I came back there was still no life in my laptop. I decided to turn off the computer completely from the main power source. I waited ten minutes and tried again.

Well, whatdaya know? It worked. Word had retrieved the document I had been working on and all other files seemed to be in order.

So what happened? Who knows.

All I knew was that I was getting too close to the end of my PhD to really risk this happening again. I didn’t know what to do, but I thought – why not look for a new computer. Just in case.

I’ve been using a Sony Vaio for the past 5 years. Before that I used a Toshiba laptop. I loved both. I decided I wanted to stick to a Sony but I didn’t find anything that appealed to me. I ventured past the Mac store and I thought – let me just take a look. I have to admit, they were gorgeous. Sleek. Simple. Sexy.

But after having only ever used a PC would I be able to make a switch to a Mac? I was very hesitant.

So, I asked my friends – which one is better?

I was overwhelmed with the pro-Mac response. Out of 32 people who I spoke to, only 1 was completely pro-PC. Everyone else was pro-Mac.

Still, is it worth the price? I didn’t want to buy a MacBook. If I was going to buy a Mac I wanted it to be a desktop (since I already have a Vaio notebook to travel with). I was nervous about the compatibility of all my documents. Isn’t it a bit risky to make such a big move when I should be comfortable with my computer as I work on finishing my thesis? So many questions. I didn’t want to take the risk of my laptop breaking down without having a proper computer to work with … but … really? Hmmm … the indecisiveness went on for ages …

… well, not really. The next day I bought the Mac.

It’s been a few days that I’ve had it now and I LOVE IT!!

I’m still working out a few things, but overall, I have had absolutely no problem transitioning from a PC to a Mac. All my documents are in order. Whew. What a relief!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Two bags only, please

I am appalled at the number of plastic bags that are used to bag groceries at the grocery store. I have never understood why or how 12 plastic bags can be used for just 15 items. I totally agree with separating detergents and other non-edible goods from the edible ones, and I also understand keeping breakable/squishable (is that a word?!) items separate from heavier, more sturdy ones … but why do the cucumbers have to go in a separate bag from the cauliflower? Is it not possible to put the milk and

the salad dressing in the same bag? What is the logic behind not filling a bag up to the top before reaching for another one?

I haven’t really made a big deal about the overuse of plastic bags in the past. Inevitably I would reuse them at some point or another, so I didn’t really bother to say anything … but now, my plastic bag container has reached its limit and I have realized that I can’t use them fast enough!

So yesterday, I decided to follow my dear friend Raine’s lead and tell the guy who bags the grocery ‘two bags only, please.’ He looked at me quizzically as the cashier slid the items towards him. He started to put the detergents in one bag and the food in another bag. However, after only putting a packet of milk in the bag he reached for a third one. I quickly put my hand out and said – no, only two. Fill them up. He stared at me blankly. Another guy came up to him and asked him (in Bengali) what was going on. Not knowing I was Bangladeshi, and that I could understand them, he complained and said that I was crazy and that the bags would be too heavy if he put everything in two bags. They continued to have a bit of a laugh about the situation – I wanted to explain why I only wanted two bags (in Bengali) but decided against it as I did not want to go through the usual reaction that most Bangladeshis seem to have when the find out that I'm Bangladeshi as well (they simply don't believe me - even when I speak Bengali!) ... plus I was in a bit of a hurry. He tried, one more time, to reach for a third bag, but I just shook my head and repeated – only two please. He shrugged, reluctantly put the last item in the bag, and handed the two bags to me, and I left – happy with my two bags in hand.

At the moment, there really doesn’t seem to be any awareness or concern with recycling in Kuwait. Occasionally I will see a recycling box – but I don’t know if people take them seriously. I’ve seen all sorts of garbage dumped in the paper recycling boxes that are at work. What’s worse, I’ve seen our office assistant shred all the papers that were in the recycling box and dump the shredded paper in the regular trash … the concept just doesn’t seem to have caught on – and I really don’t see any steps being made towards making a change. I do know that there are one or two companies in Kuwait that have facilities to recycle – now it’s just about promoting the idea and getting people to participate.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Parent's Just Don't Understand

I wish I was writing about something more humorous and referring to Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s rap – but unfortunately, that’s not the case.

It’s the end of the semester and once again, the parents are on the prowl.

When I got to work last Monday, I was just about to turn the corner when I noticed a man pacing in front of my office. At that moment, H (our department secretary) caught my attention and signaled me to come to her office. She whispered that it was the father of one of my students who wanted to talk to me about his daughter’s grades. I was a bit surprised as I knew she had done well in my class. I didn’t think it would be a problem, so I went ahead and spoke to him. Our meeting went well, and that was the end of it … or so I thought.

He showed up again … and again … and again. First talking to me, then talking to our director, then talking to me again … and then talking to one of my colleagues! Now, seeing this man’s desperation about his daughter’s grade you’d think she did really poorly – but no. She got an A-. She needed another 1.5% to get an A and her father couldn’t stand it. He was one of those creepy parents who smiles and pretends that they appreciate your efforts as a teacher and claim that they are not asking for points … “but if you could just do something to help my daughter, I’d really appreciate it.”

I’m sorry. I must speak a different language from you because in my world – that statement = begging for points.

I’m amazed. Every semester I think it won’t surprise me, but it does. The number of parents who come in and insist on their child being GIVEN points so that they can get the grade they want. “Just give my son/daughter two more points.” “Just pass my child.” “Just help us out.”

It’s driving me insane. I just want to scream – Just F off!

Having parents come in is not easy to deal with, but what’s worse is when they have people they know call in favors. Over the past few years I’ve had random strangers call me up and tell me that they work in the university and that their friend’s son/daughter was in my class and needs a few extra points to get to the next letter grade – so if I could just help them out. All I can think in these situations is – who the *uck do you think you are? Why are you calling me? Why should I help you?!

I have always told my students that I would discuss their grades with them (at the appropriate time – not after the final grades have been posted). They know that I have no problem going through their work and even giving points in places where I’ve made an error. I’ve also told my students that the grade they get is the grade they earn. While there are some students who are a bit of a pain, it’s the parents and their righteous attitude that drives me crazy. They’re the ones who need a lesson in ethics and politeness.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

First Swim of the Season

I went for my first swim of the season today and it was great! Those who know me know that I’ve had an intense fear of the water for years and years. I’m happy to say that the fear has now become more of a discomfort than an all-out-panic-attack-inducing event. I still don’t have the confidence that I’d like to have, but I have to say, I felt good today. I hadn’t realized how much my improved arm strength would help with my ease of swimming. The first 12 laps were no problem at all. The next 8 were a bit more trying, but not a struggle. I was pleased.

Everything about today’s swim was great – well, except for the time when I was in the middle of a lap and a pigeon started flying way too close to me and I started to panic a bit (yes, I have a fear of birds) and all I could imagine was that this bird was going to be the death of me … and that while I was panicking, they’d open that cage under the swimming pool and let out the sharks (as JH has threatened … joked … ummm, no threatened!) – Major panic … but then the bird flew away … and I cautiously searched the water for sharks and didn’t see anything … and continued on my swim.

Whew. That was a close one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Boom Boom Pow

I had my first boxing lesson two days ago! I would have typed this blog entry sooner, but my knuckles were all bruised and swollen!

I had been looking for something to change up my routine, so I decided to learn how to box … and I love it! Several of my friends have asked me why. They think it’s about the actual boxing and my mom is terrified that I’ll actually get punched in the face (especially since H’s fist came very close to my face several times whenever I let my guard down), but they’re getting waaayy ahead of me.

Right now it’s about the training. It’s about the technique. It’s about developing the skill.

I’ve totally been inspired by the Gleason’s Gym training handbook. What they’ve said about developing mental clarity, calm of mind, strength in one’s soul, and confidence in one’s abilities is something that really moved and inspired me. So, I put my boxing gloves (yes, they’re pink), hand wraps, and all other paraphernalia into my gym bag and headed for my first training session.

OMG. What a workout. The sweat was pouring, my heart was racing, my muscles were working – it was awesome! Punch after punch after punch. Learning that so much of it really is based on technique. It was exhilarating. The bruised and swollen knuckles – though alarming (and painful) at first – are totally worth it!

I can’t wait until my next lesson.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


When you hear a fire alarm, what would your reaction be? Would you stop doing whatever you were doing, just grab your purse/wallet/phone and follow the emergency exit route? [I know that when a fire alarm goes off you really should leave everything behind, but I'm being realistic here.] Well, ideally that's what I think should happen.

Do you know what happens at the place I work? After the unbelivably deafening alarm that shocks everyone (nearly to death - or the loss of one's ovaries ... don't ask, it's a long story) ... we jolt to attention, clutch our heart [yes, it's that loud], and then just get back to work. A few minutes later, the alarm will go off again ... five or ten minutes go by and the alarm goes off again. Aside from the 20-30 seconds of shrill ringing that makes it impossible to focus or breathe we basically ignore this alarm. This happens while we're in the office and while we're in class. Do we do anything about it - no.

I am absolutely sick and tired of this fire alarm. It's useless and it's a hazard. Just the other day I was walking to class with J and the alarm happened to go off as we were in a narrow hallway. I kid you not, I thought I was going to vomit from the intensity of the alarm. Every part of me was shaking. If there was a real fire, there's no way we could hear somebody's cry for help - actually, I'm convinced that if there was a real fire we wouldn't be able to move because of the shocking sound ... plus we've given up considering it as a warning bell - now it's just a nuisance.

So much for health and safety.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Writing ... writing ... writing

So, I feel like I've been glued to my desk for the past three months. I managed to streamline everything and reserve just a bit of time for family and the gym, but other than that, I've just been at my desk - researching, reading, and writing.

My first proper draft of my thesis is finally complete. I know that I have a long way to go, but I also feel like I've come quite a long way. I would love it if I could complete my PhD this year, but I don't know. I have been so overwhelmed by the task ... it's not easy to have to read and refer to 200 sources and fit the analysis and exploration within 80,000 words ... it may sound like that's a lot of room to play with - but trust me, it's not.

Anyway. I feel relieved -- and definitely want to take a bit of a break before getting back to work.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Patience is not My Virtue

I totally freaked out when I went to see W today. I knew that things had changed given my new exercise routine and the continuous studying. I didn’t need to go to her to confirm that I had lost muscle mass. I guess I should be relieved that I hadn’t gained any weight, but I still felt frustrated. I had been working so hard and was making such good progress and now this writing has set me back. W was wonderful, as usual. She’s been so supportive and encouraging. She gave me some good advice and once again got me to focus on my nutrition since I just haven’t been able to put as many hours at the gym as I’d like to. At the same time, she tried to convince me that cutting back to only 1.5-2 hours at the gym was actually a normal routine. She didn’t convince me, but I appreciate her effort.

Do I sound foolish? Does the outcome of getting my PhD sound like a much bigger achievement than continuing toward my fitness goal? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It’s all a matter of perspective and priorities, isn’t it? I know what I’m doing is important – and I (think I) know that the progress I am making, both in terms of my writing and my fitness, is fine given the circumstances but still – I’m frustrated. It’s emotionally exhausting – and you have to understand that this emotional worry has an effect on my writing as well.

I know I just need to be patient and stick to the program. I can’t/shouldn’t let little obstacles (i.e. life) set me back. I know I can’t operate in a vacuum and in control of all the variables … but still. Being patient and sticking to the plan is definitely more difficult than I thought it would be.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One of those days ...

Today was one of those days … you know the days I’m talking about. Those days when everything is actually kinda ok, but at the same time everything is slightly off sync – just enough to throw you off balance and make even the smallest of tasks feel like a struggle.

I hadn’t slept well and ended up waking up earlier than I would have liked. I decided to try to do a bit of reading – I managed to get through the article, but I didn’t feel like I had gained anything from it – what a waste of time. I couldn’t decide whether or not to go to the gym. I wanted to … but I didn’t feel like it. Still, I got my things together and went. I finished my routine – but every step was a drag and every rep was exhausting. It just felt like I was going through the motions with no emotion behind my actions. As I said – absolutely exhausting. With this type of start to my day I was totally dreading facing my class. I just printed off a worksheet for them to complete and stood there for 2 hours, staring at them. More wasted time.

I was somewhat consoled by JH in the afternoon when he told me that there were days that he struggled with his workout as well. I would have never imagined … so at least I felt like I wasn’t alone. I decided to use that bit of motivation to get some writing done. I wrote a few pages and then decided to take a break and check my emails. Bad move. More distressing news about my aunt’s deteriorating health. It’s the helplessness really that gets to me. What can I do to make her feel better or to cheer her up? It seems like an impossible situation.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rumor Has It ...

My oh my. Won't locker room rumors and gossip just make you blush?!
You'd be amazed at what's said in there -- and about who it's being said!

Now, I'm not one to spread or believe rumors, but I am guilty of not turning away when something is being said to me. Maybe it's because I seem a bit uninvolved in the social politics of what goes on at the gym that people seem to have opened up to me – I really don't know what it is that makes them talk, but boy have I heard a lot! Most often the source prefaces the statement with 'I'm not sure, but I heard ...' but there are quite a few times when they're making an outright statement of 'fact.' There are definitely a few that I've heard lately that I know are not true ... and there are others that would be amusing if indeed they were true ... and still others that I hope are not true!
How do these rumors start and what possesses people to start them? I think it's just to get a reaction out of people - and perhaps catch a hint from the reactions about whether or not the rumor is true. Most of the rumors really are just speculations about what quieter (but popular) members of the gym are really like/what they really do/who they are really into or with ...

I think I should take a moment to distinguish between rumors and gossip. When I say rumors, I’m referring to things I’ve heard from others – usually as statements of fact. They’re usually those absurd statements that you hear from some random person … they may make you stop and think, but I think those outlandish claims are the easy ones to just shrug off and ignore. They’re often tempting to hear but usually difficult to believe …

Gossip, on the other hand, is just talk – speculation, if you will. We tend to keep the gossip among just our circle of friends and save our observations and speculations as an inside joke that we can refer to for a pick me up – it’s harmless and not really to be shared with the public – A quote by Erica Jong comes to mind: “Men have always detested women's gossip because they suspect the truth: Their measurements are being taken and compared.” ~ How’s that to spread a bit of paranoia and speculation?

And the gossip and rumors continue …

~ Did you know that she’s bulimic?
~ I heard he takes steroids.
~ She says she’s single, but she’s really not.
~ I heard he’s quite the womanizer.

… whether you like it or not.

I know that there are some people who are definitely very careful about what they say, who they are seen talking to, and even when they wear at the gym … and then there are others who don’t care what others are saying about them. I think the one thing that I have found out is that people will talk no matter what efforts you think you’re making to avoid drawing attention to yourself. I think it really is best to just ignore what’s being said and continue to be however you are most comfortable with yourself … because no matter what, those rumors will spread …

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Tango and Trance

I’ve been having trouble finding my focus while writing. Part of it has to do with being stuck at home, at my desk – the same surrounding day after day. It’s making me feel a bit claustrophobic. I would study elsewhere, but frankly, I find it quite distracting. The noise of coffee shops – plus all the distractions with people walking in and out as well as inevitably running into a few people that I know – doesn’t help me concentrate. I wish there was a nice library where I could just go and work peacefully for a few hours – proper desks and chairs and an inspiring ambiance. Kuwait’s national library is supposed to be opening soon – but I hope that I’ll be done with my PhD by the time it actually opens. In any case, I think the stage I’m at in terms of my writing prevents me from working anyplace other than home. I need to have my books/research articles at hand as well as all my notes and research diaries. It doesn’t make sense (nor is it really possible) to lug them around where I go. Anyway, I really can’t complain about my home office – it’s absolutely ideal. I’ve got everything I need organized just the way I want it … so it’s really just about being able to mentally focus without getting bored or distracted … and to do that, I turned to music.

I remember once upon a time when I absolutely could not work without music. It was everything to me – and it helped motivate and inspire me. Unfortunately, I had been having a bit of trouble finding the right type of music to listen to while working on my thesis. I found all my favorite songs to be distracting … classical music and other instrumentals were a bit boring … and then I hit the jackpot with Tango music and Trance music.

Odd combination, isn’t it? But it worked perfectly for me.

The soulfulness of the tango tunes and the hypnotic effect of the trance beats put me in the perfect zone.

[Suggested Albums: La Revancha Del Tango (Gotan Project) and 40 Summer Trance Hits 2009 (Various artists)]

Friday, March 04, 2011

Dealing with Life ... and Death

I don't think I'll ever be able to forget the sound of my aunt's voice as she told me she was dying. That's it. She's dying.

She beat breast cancer and lymphoma ... but now, after being in remission and healthy for the past five years, she was sick again ... and this time, the cancer had spread to her brain.

How do you process information like that? How do you continue to hear what the doctor has said after being told that you have 6 brain tumors and less than a year to live?

There's such an unbelievable amount to process. Reality is reality, but still, the steps one has to take to come to terms with that reality can seem endless and futile.

While I was talking to my aunt we cried a little, we shared our thoughts and our fears, and then we laughed about some of our favorite memories with each other. It was good to laugh, but the laughter was accompanied by pain though I think we both tried to ignore it - for the sake of each other.

There have been many phone calls back and forth. What do you say to someone who is dying? She wants to know what's happening in my life, but it all seems so trivial now. Everyone is telling her to be strong, but I don't know if anyone is giving her the space to grieve. It's normal, isn't it? Isn't it normal to take a moment and say F this. At this moment in time, I don't want to be strong. I want to curse and cry and yell and be angry at everyone and everything. That's allowed, isn't it? For after that outburst is over, there is no choice but to return to reality. Return to the fight. Fight to the death ... fight for your life.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pushing through

It's been hectic lately.

Time has just flown by with lots of travel the past three months. Now I'm finally back and boy is there a ton of work to get to. I've come to the decision that my previous plan/schedule is just not going to work. I really need to put aside all distractions and just sit at my desk and get my PhD work done.

The thing is, I've come to realize that it's not really about my schedule (gym schedule to be more precise). I have been able to come up with a routine that I am satisfied with and doesn't freak me out too much. It's the other stuff that's been overwhelming.

There's been a lot of family drama lately that has kept me very distracted. I've been amazed at how cruel people can be and have been devastated at how the actions of one person can affect so many people in such a harsh way. I think what makes it most difficult is when you can't see an easy or direct solution. Your mind thinks one thing, and your heart thinks another ... and between those two is the harsh reality of the situation. It's been stressful to say the least - yet I have to push through.

I have to push through.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Confused much?

I must have stood outside the ATM cubicle for a good 15-20 minutes as the woman in front of me was using the machine. Yes, you read that correctly. I'm sure you're wondering - as I definitely was -- what in the world is taking that woman so long? I couldn't figure it out. She couldn't seem to make up her mind about any of the prompts at all.

Put in your card.
Choose your language.
Enter your pin number.
Select your transaction.
Take your card.
Take your money.
Take your receipt.

I watched this woman stare at the screen ... press a few buttons ... stare at the screen for a while longer ... press a few more buttons ... continue to stare ... and stare ... and stare ... press a button or two again etc. etc. etc.

Meanwhile, I'm standing outside the cubicle, tapping my foot on the ground, resisting the urge to step forward and ask the woman if she needed any help ... seriously. What took her so long?

The thing is, this is not the only time that I've been behind a person (a few people) who seem to be completely confused by the buttons/instructions/possibilities related to withdrawing cash from an ATM machine. Why? What is taking them so long? Have they never used an ATM machine before? Is the font too small and they're having trouble reading the print? What is it??!! I just can't figure it out.