Adventures in mapping

God is good! These were the words singing out of my head as I left my class in Geographic Information System (GIS) my last remaining subject in my urban management masters program. I had turned in the second part of our finals, a practicum on map making using Quantum GIS (QGIS) a software my class had been learning to master these six months. I was the first to finish the practicum which surprised the Professor. Why? It’s a longish tale but here’s the gist of it.

When I showed up in class this school year, everybody knew everybody else and everyone was talking about things I couldn’t relate to. I had been absent in the first two classes due to conflicting work schedules. Obviously, there were a lot of exercises I had missed and assignments I still had to turn in. In fact, the situation was beginning to go down the same path as with the first time I took the subject three years ago. Then, I failed to attend all but one class and take the finals. I negotiated for another set of exam and requirements which was approved by the school (in consideration of my research work at the time with a national agency, which was related to my study program) but still work schedule did not permit me to be in school which was required at least for the finals. And it’s the same professor hence the pressure on me this time to go the extra mile.

The modular once-a-month face-to-face mode of learning in open universities is designed to work around the schedule of full time workers, but as things were in my workplace, schedules and demands were at their craziest on the last semester of the fiscal year which is the time for budget modification, planning, program development and proposal writing for the incoming years. Throw in too regular tasks of project management, training, workshops, and travel. It’s why many in development either focus on their graduate studies first or work full time but not both. Why I’ve attempted to do both is on hindsight…stubbornness on my part.

The first part of our finals, a month apart of the practicum, was on theory hence a written exam. I read up the night before but nothing was going in. My thoughts were still on work as we’ve just concluded the day before a week-long program review. I was also texting with a classmate about how crazy it was. And then she mentioned that the Professor had informed the class at last month’s meeting that she’d be giving a take home exam. I either missed that or have totally forgotten. Nonetheless my antennas were on alert. I texted her back that the first thing I’d do in the morning is to remind the Professor. That, or face the possibility of getting a minus on theory which I’m not going to have if I can help it.

8 AM. I sent a text to the Professor. A very discreet and indirect reminder via a clarification whether we should clear our schedules that afternoon to do the exam in class or is it a take home as I remembered it being mentioned in our last meeting. Half an hour after sending the message, I was still waiting for an answer. I felt anxious. Was I too forward? Did I offend her? 11 AM. Still no response. I was already in a panic. I was convinced I offended the Professor. What more, I wasn’t mentally prepared to take the exam which was to start at 1 PM. I got to school half an hour early to find just one classmate inside the lecture room.

Hey, he said. Did you receive the Prof’s email?

Yes, yesterday evening, I said. You look ready.

My panic level had upped seeing him. He’s a GIS practitioner, meaning, his knowledge of the subject is light years beyond mine. He’s so prepared. And I’m not.

No, not that email, he said, breaking into my thoughts.


Check your email right now. The Prof’s sticking to a take home after all.

It took a moment for his words to sink in. When I came to, I was capable of just this response: oh. my. god.

During the meeting and even afterward, the Professor didn’t call me out on my text which I thought was cue for me not to bring it out to her so I didn’t as well. The exam was quite a list and complicated. But at least we had a week to research and work on it on our own time.

The weeks approaching our practicum was also the height of program development and proposal writing– more or less PHP10M worth of projects for the next two years. One doesn’t slack off on this amount. There was a week-long workshop with the donor team who helped us polish everything in anticipation for the budget defense. Those days I slept at 3 AM. All the while, a voice at the back of my head intrudes into my work– what about your mapping skills? what are you doing about it? But I was simply exhausted and useless beyond three (in contrast to my younger days when I could do 24/7 if I must). The children and young people and their communities who my organization serve – supposedly the reason why I’m climbing to bed at that hour – were the farthest thing in my mind as my face hit the pillow. My words as I nod off had been, fuck them all. To no one in particular really. Maybe those were really an address to myself.

I was only able to finalize and package the proposals on the Monday of the week of my practicum exam (Saturday). In between, I had three days to clean up and prepare my turn over report. And one day to do the group project which was the last of our class requirements.

Friday evening, I hied off to the office of a classmate who was the only other member of this group. She was on duty for the night. We were going to do our project there. But when I arrived, I became an instantaneous witness to a proposal. My classmate was taping the event for the young couple who I later learned are her colleagues. That lasted an hour in which time I watched fascinated and disconnected at the same time. I felt ancient.

As soon as the happily-engaged couple left, we hit the table and began doing a map on QGIS following the procedure on our module. We added features, exploring and discovering the science and art of map making. We completed the project at around 9 PM. By then, the guy who proposed had returned to be on duty as well and with another of my classmate’s colleague who’s also on duty, we celebrated the first ever map my classmate and I made entirely on our own.

Afterward, my classmate and I decided to stretch the time and go through the exercises on our module. We did the more challenging ones until after 10 PM and then called it a day. I went home realizing I do love making maps. And that I now believe in having study partners (before this, I thought of them as disturbance).

The afternoon on the following day, I read the instructions for the practicum. My heart sang. The procedure was exactly what my classmate and I studied and did as a project the night before! It was still fresh in my mind I could do the map with my eyes closed! In fact, I completed the practicum in under 30 minutes while the rest (first batch of exam takers. My classmate/study partner was on the second) were still beginning to figure out how to proceed. It was why my professor was surprised.

I was jumping with joy inside and wanted to hug her and tell her oh, ma’am, I too am surprised and if only you knew the journey I had to make into this day! Instead, in my usual objective self, I thanked her, thrice I think, and told her I’m over-the-top happy to finally know how to do maps.

The thing with joy is it compels you to share it with others. I did, with colleagues who knew of my anxiety over possibly not passing the subject again. They reiterated that God is indeed good. Them saying that made me realize that another, if better observation, is, God does provide although the researcher side of me says how is God even connected to this and that this shouldn’t be an excuse for me not to do better next time but I am grateful nonetheless.


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