On Not Giving Up


After writing about my vacation I started scrolling back through my old entries and reading, horrified, about the spelling bee. I am still glad this project is behind me, but I’m remembering now that I didn’t write about everything having to do with the bee. I wrote, a lot, that my school was a huge help, but I was too exhausted/sick all last month to write about making the certificates for the final bee, which will give you about as good an example as there is of how lucky I am to be working where I’m working. Also, that Albanians are a heck of a lot more persistent than most Americans I know.

Meredith (the other volunteer working on this project) had made the certificates for the semi-final winners, so we agreed that I would do the certificates for the final. But owing to a string of events/character traits (my laziness, illness, writing a grant for my school that was due right after the final, having the terrible Open Office instead of Microsoft Word), I didn’t get this done.

Mere came in to town the day before the bee began so we could handle any last-minute things that came up, and print out the certificates I hadn’t made. She designed them for me (thanks, Mere) and we went to my school at four to print them out on the special glossy paper my school’s vice-director had bought for us.

We didn’t get into the office until about quarter to five because the director and vice-director were doing classroom observations. When we opened the certificate files on the vice-director’s computer, the partially transparent image (of a giant bee, of course) in the certificate background was no longer transparent, necessitating some panicked redesign so the image would end up solid and centered, rather than acting as a background.

This done, we printed a certificate on the color printer. It wasn’t bad, if a little discolored, so we went ahead with printing some more; but the printer stopped working. Flashing red lights on the printer, error boxes popping up on the computer telling us that the printer was out of two colors of ink, and rising panic levels since it was now after five pm.

But still, an easily solvable problem if we just abandoned the dream of having first-, second- and third-place certificates in color. We shifted over to the black-and-white laser jet printer, printed one certificate that turned out well, and went ahead to print the rest of the first-place certificates.

The second one came out okay, a little weird and smudged, but all hell broke loose by the time we got to the third copy, which was smeared beyond recognition. We yanked the rest of the papers from the printing tray, staring at the results of our hard work (one kind-of color copy, one nice black & white, one smudged, one horror show certificate) and trying to understand how and why this was happening to us.

Well, because the paper was glossy and in the laser jet the ink smeared right off onto the roller, where it would smudge across the next certificate. Duh.

We’d been at it for about 45 minutes at this point, and Mere and I were both ready to give up and walk to the local copy shop to run off certificates, but my vice-director B. wouldn’t have it. He called the library supply store to order more ink cartridges for the color printer, and said they would be delivered to the school in about 15 minutes. While we waited, he told us we could print everything we needed, so we ran off word lists, participation certificates, and competition rules until the cartridges arrived as promised.

B. put the new cartridges in the printer. Six pm, flushed with the idea of our impending success and going home to have a beer (a terrible idea, since the bleeding lesion in my esophagus was well established by this point), we put a sheet of glossy paper into the printer, hit “print” and….saw a flashing error message on the computer screen.
Wrong type of toner.

B. pulled the toners out, shook them, compared them to the older toner in the printer, concluded they looked exactly the same, and reinstated all the toners. We tried to print again. Again, nothing. After ten minutes of hitting “print” to no avail, B. called the store again, explained what was going on, and asked them to bring more toner.
Twenty minutes later the man was back with two plastic bags of toner. They dug through for about ten minutes, until finding the suitable toner. The delivery guy left, B. put the new toner in the printer, we were again relieved that we would be getting home pretty soon, and there was again an error message proclaiming that the toner was not the right sort of toner.

B. kept playing around with the printer while Mere and I tried to organize our massive stack of word lists in rules (which were all in Macedonian, Albanian and English). It was about seven by this time, and finally I asked B. if it wouldn’t be easier for Mere and me to run to the copy shop and try making the certificates there.

He checked his watch. “Too late.”

At this point I was in complete despair. Keep in mind, too, that I had a giant bleeding lesion in my chest (though I didn’t know it at the time) and that every time I breathed, let alone held in my panicked sobs and weepy vows to never again run a regional spelling bee, it felt like someone was stabbing me.

It is hard to keep exact track of time at this point in the night. I was hungry, and both Mere and I were near to slumping over our printouts and dying on the spot. B. went to the closet and found an unused color printer (seriously, where do these things come from?) that we thought would save us until we all figured out we didn’t have any toner for the printer. He made some more phone calls and then, as if out of nowhere (or as if summoned by the vice-director’s mobile), the gym teacher appeared with his color printer under one arm.

The gym teacher hooked the printer up to B.’s laptop and Mere and I shifted desks. Slipped one sheet of paper into the printer, expecting a jam, smeared certificate, or error message; but it worked. For thirty minutes we printed the certificates one by one, checking them for smeariness levels and laying them out to dry so we wouldn’t accidentally smear them.

Around eight o’clock we finished. And the best part? While we were printing the certificates, B. and the gym teacher were fussing around with the other color printer. And fixed it.

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