The Passage to Happiness

Assignment 3: Capturing Voices. Visit a place where several people are gathering. Eavesdrop on their speech, behavior, body language. Revision 11/29/15

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It’s Professional Development month. The teaching staff has survived another semester and now spends their break desk-warming and evaluating their futures. Paint by Numbers sets, knitting needles, and outdated books teaching formal Arabic have worn out their excitement. Each desk holds a pushpin board of extremely ambitious goals or countdowns to the next “break”. Hidden under her hijab, a comatose employee is stretched out on the couch, using her abaya as a makeshift blanket.

In sequence, teachers glance up at the clock wondering if the battery has died. Eight hours tick by slowly as clusters of women busy themselves with Koran study, sample potluck dishes, or share the all-too-familiar story of what has brought them to Saudi… money.  One woman, intending to be homebound when she is next inconvenienced, strikes away at job applications on her laptop. Next to her is yet another American/British debate.

“Why are they called biscuits and gravy?! Those are definitely scones and sauce!” Then comes a needed explanation of how the two ingredients go together anyway. “You Americans will eat all kinds of bits n’ bobs together. Especially when it comes to peanut bu–uh!” says the Brit, as they laugh in agreement and list off peculiar peanut butter combinations.

“I’m ready to go home”, the applicant says undirected at anyone in particular, as if thinking out loud. She has been a popular bet in private discussions of who would flee the country next. Unable to get job experience after university and having received one too many “We’re sorry to inform you” letters, it has turned a once optimistic professional into a chronic sigher.

“Should I go home to a life and family that makes me happy, but be jobless and dodge student loan collectors all month… and ruin my credit, if it isn’t already? Or be miserable and bored to tears, here, just to keep them paid and off my ass?” Her ‘pros and cons list’ has been drafted at many points throughout the year.

The questioning begins, where co-workers assess her skills, the job market, and her potential. “Well, are you, you know, like a ‘teacher-teacher’, or just teaching?” asks a real teacher who has found this her calling.

“I’m an Architect major..”

The group winces.

Doctors, lawyers, and hopeful retirees have found themselves teaching in Saudi after the downturn of the economy. The  moment of silence from the group says enough.

“Just one more month.. That’s all I can take..”

“Well, love, look at it this way. Here, you work half the time for double the money. We’ve been taking the piss this whole month! I don’t know about you lot, but we’d never find this back in the U.K.”, says the Brit with the obvious solution.

A few more opinions and trampled American Dreams and the applicant has impassively stated that she’ll finish the year. Unmindfully, she is shaking her head while voicing this decision.

“Just imagine how much you could save if you stuck it out for 5 years, got married to a teacher here, and doubled the income..” chimes one of the ‘lifers’.

With no response, the applicant’s eyes glaze over as she looks through the computer screen.

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My Hometown in 500 Words: Madison, North Carolina

First assignment (final revision, 11/9/15): Give a hometown narrative in 500 words.

At the top of Hanging Rock, 30 minutes from Madison.

At the top of Hanging Rock, 30 minutes from Madison.

My Hometown in 500 Words: Madison, NC

A dead deer lies on the side of the North Carolina road. A year-long of traveling separates me from the airport and Madison, my hometown. As always, I feel myself slipping into a mild trance. Time moves slowly here. I enter a past of when things were simple and no one was in a rush. I open the car windows and breathe in the scent of honeysuckle. The rickety barn at the end of the long gravel road to my right is still standing. Barrels of hay, lie in the seemingly endless fields. And that old, unchained dog still sits on a peeling porch. Several minutes pass by before a car is behind me. They ease past me without hitting their horn.

As I get closer to Madison, activity slightly stirs. Everyone who I’ve grown up with, seem to be present at the town’s only shopping center, Wal-Mart. The cheapest gas rates would be found here. As I get out to pay the attendant, it’s common knowledge for me to smile and nod to the unfamiliar African-American two cars down. Surely she’s attended my baptism, is a friend of a friend of my grandmother, or has chaperoned a long-forgotten elementary school trip. “Aren’t you so-and-so’s daughter? I remember you when you were a little thang. Look at ya’ all grown!” she says with a lazy Southern accent. Conversations are never short and sweet. I give my update on how every member of the family is doing, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

Nearing my old house, I drive under the old, stone bridge. The passage always holds a puddle, which questions its foundation. Low and narrow, it was likely built during the same era as the colonial house that neighbors it.Dalton-St

Turn right and you are on our old street, a steep road that we dared to ride our bikes down as children. I smile as I reminisce. Parents had absolutely no idea where to find us. From the finish of our Saturday chores until the signaling of streetlights, we would play “Hide and Seek” near sewers, through woods, and across train tracks. We acquired an impressive collection of cicada shells and lightning bugs. Someone would then receive a “triple double dog dare” to turn the glowing bums into earrings.

Today, though, there’s an unearthly silence, with not one child in sight.. perhaps glued to a TV screen or the over-protective eyes of a parent. The tree house that we attempted countless times to create now stands professionally built by grown-up hands.

Manicured hills that held my old house on its peak, have now been overtaken by forest. My old residence was once named best-kept houses in Madison. It was postcard worthy. However, “It’s a money-pit”, they say. With the constant change of owners, its appearance has fallen into the same lazy rut.

I finally reach my destination, my mother’s new apartment. After the elation of reconnecting with the family, I close myself in a guest bedroom filled with generic decor. The pace has slowed, but time did not stand still here. I lie in bed and realize that the Madison that I remember is long past gone. But then I hear it… the chorus of cicadas outside of my window, a familiar lullaby.