Archive | June, 2011

my imperfectly perfect sidekick.

29 Jun

you may or may not have noticed that india and i have been in a small fight for around three weeks now.  india has been hurling metaphorical dinner plates at me and i have been responding with snide and well-timed insults. like a minx.

how is it possible to be in a fight with a whole country, you ask? well if you take a gander at this, this and this – you may be able to read between the lines, and understand.

so i figured that india and i should have a temporary separation while i work on drawing up a peace treaty for the next eight months.

and because i can’t actually escape this crazy country of mud (formerly dust) and spice, i will do the next best thing: ignore it on my incredibly popular and widely read blog for a while.

take that india!

so today i will discuss my sister.  my beautiful, strange and unknowingly strong sister.

my mom tells these stories about how i was enamored with my little sister from the moment she waddled into our lives. while i feel like i was probably a skeptical and somewhat scheming child, one look from my chubby-as-hell baby sister – with her eyes that looked like 1/2 moons and giant smile – and i’m sure i was melted beurre. (that’s french for butter, i’m feeling fancy today, ok?)

what i remember from her as a kid was that she was always happy. you know, one of those kids to whom you could give a box and she’d be pleasantly mesmerized for hours? while she was never the most outgoing, she would almost always go along with whatever activity was the gout du jour with a spring in her step.

(cat fights between barbie and her bitch friend midge – check. swinging around on blankets on our basement floor – check. making a chalk city in our cul-de-sac – check. check checkity check check.)

but more than just happy-go-lucky, my sister was/is also wonderfully quirky. as a kid, she did awesome things like wear underpants on her head and play ‘office’ incessantly for days – days i tell you – on end.

and as an adult the tradition of quirkiness continues. while she has retired the underpants-on-head routine (as far as i know anyway), i have frequently caught her walking around wearing a garden bag engaged in controversial political discussions with my dog. (ok the latter is a lie, but it could happen. everyone knows my dog is very political. and sister does wear garden bags a lot.)

at this point, i’m sure you’re thinking: “al, so she’s a bloody ray of sunshine, we get it.”

alright, fine you caught me – while she is a ray of sunshine – there is a flip side: the girl has a temper. reddening face, semi-violent outbursts, screaming matches  – she’s probably the only person i am actually scared to see angry.  i like to call it her propensity to  ‘rule with an iron fist’  – or (the less politically correct) ‘stalin chic’.

she can be overbearing and outrageously irrational and she’s wildly stubborn and unwavering in many of her decisions. and sometimes, just sometimes,  i think she wears her hair too slicked back.

but hey, no one is perfect. like most things in life, my little sister comes with the good and the somewhat less good.

but what i want you to know about her, more than anything else really,  is that she’s got unquenchable inner strength.  she’s so strong, that she often doesn’t even know it.

and yet, she always finds a way to harness her power within and come out on top.  sure, the path to get there never seems to cut her any slack, but i am always amazed that she navigates it with a sense of humor, integrity and kindness. (she’s a much nicer person than me, let’s be honest.)

so sisters are weird. we love them, but they drive us crazy. they make great sidekicks, and the worst enemies.  and through it all we somehow can’t help but wonder if they’re not the most imperfectly perfect reflection of ourselves.

so i’m thinking about you sister, in the country-that-will-remain-nameless. because man, you’re pretty cool shit.

gangsters

i think she's fun

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looking out for number one.

28 Jun

ever since i got to india people have gone from calling me “that stupid selfish newlywed” (whatever, you were totally thinking it) to calling me ” self-less and inspirational”.  scoff, scoff.

what’s fun for me is that this strange turn of events has kept me highly  amused over the last few months. (10 points to gryffindor for that one.)

i think what i find so hilarious about being  labeled as some kind of hero is that all i’m truly doing here is pursuing my dream job. i’m just a regular joe. josephine.

alright, ok,  my dream job just happens to be in a sector that helps people improve their lives, but this doesn’t make me batman.

(my god i love batman – or do i love christian bale – hmmmm food for thought. anyway.)

i think, if anything, people were right on the money with their initial selfish perceptions.  moving to india was the ultimate in selfishness – a means to a much better professional end, if you will. with high levels of personal collateral damage along the way.

did i really want to move to 12,952 km away from my husband 3 months after we got married? no.  did i want to miss all the exciting events that are going on back home? hells no! did i want to have ongoing ‘digestive events’ for 11 months? you get the picture.

but as is written on my chalkboard-paint wall in our 120 year old office: “nothing worth fighting for is ever easy, bitches” (yes it actually says bitches – obviously – because i’m awesome like that)

and it’s true. whether you’re like me, hoping to move your career forward, or if you’re battling a disease or desperately trying to support your family – nothing worth the fight is ever easy. i guess life is kind of a jerkstore like that.

even though i may not be in india to hand out free pencils and bags of congealed food-like substances to the poor, i know that my being here is going to help me get to where i want to be – and likely do some good along the way.

while  selfish, these two facts make this crazy whole thing worth the fight.

so you know another one of my secrets – i’m really just another overly ambitious selfish 20-something. huh – what’s interesting is that i still don’t know any of your secrets, kind readers. well be warned, i’ve got you right where i want you….

mwhahahahahaha!

the invention of alcohol.

25 Jun

when i was working in communications last year we would always tell our volunteers heading to africa the following: “write a blog post and then save it. go to sleep. hit publish in the morning when you’re less in the moment.”

but you know what – f&*k it – that’s terrible advice.

i’m angry! i’m really flipping angry, and if i have to sit here and stew about today, i’m exposing you to it as well.

i spent the entire day (from 5.45 am…vomit) in the field today visiting another branch.  while i love getting out of the office, these field days kick the pants off of me.  i get dirtier than i’ve ever been (the air is brown here – the flipping air!), travel bumpy roads for hours and always have a digestive ‘event’ the day after.

(yah, i signed up for this, but i’m still allowed to say it sucks. get over it.)

and while i normally just take the good with the bad on these field days – the things i saw today have left me sitting in my apartment with a slight twitch.

basically, i’m pretty sure that the guy that invented alcohol did so after a day exactly like this one.

today i saw two funerals (where the body sits outside the house and gets burned nearby, both of which i witnessed), scores of wildly grieving family members, several dead and near-dead dogs, some of the worst in-home living conditions i’ve yet to experience (a rickety floor in a house over putrid lake water), an old man crawling through mud like a crab and shaking uncontrollably (parkinsons?), and an incident of disrespect to our clients that has made me question our staff members’ intention

ok, so maybe to you some of the above doesn’t seem like a big deal. honestly, it’s not so much the events themselves that are anger-inducing, but the fact that here you aren’t protected from anything.

no matter what the situation – dead body, desperate client, disease-ridden man – you have to witness unapologetic instances of unfairness and tragedy that aren’t easily deleted from your memory.

today at one point i actually stopped looking around when i thought something in my sight line might be upsetting. i literally started repeating to myself: “this is not a memory you want. this is not a memory you want.” while trying to look away.

so yah, i’m angry. i’m angry i had to see those things and i’m angry that we live in a world with so much random injustice.

you know, i hate those people who preach about how we should all be happy we weren’t born into poverty. because while their lives are more difficult, the poor are just as dignified as anyone else.

so  after today, i simply want to ask you to just be grateful for something – for anything – in your lives.

one of the better memories from today. what a cool scene.

the question that never got asked.

24 Jun

my parents have openly admitted that they never thought i’d find someone who could “keep me in line”. i’m not sure if those were their exact words, but the implication was the same: i’m a handful.

i’m bossy and stubborn, i get anxious over stupid things and i procrastinate everything. (point in case, i’m writing this at 11 am on a friday to avoid an increasingly ridiculous work situation, but let’s not get started on that.)

no one’s perfect i get that, but i think it was generally agreed that after a series of moderate to severely unsuccessful relationships that i’d be lucky to find a ham sandwich that could put up with me.

enter the most patient man on earth in a vodka and tonic induced haze. and while i know my husband is not flawless – he generally applies the perfect level of patience with my antics.

and i often remind him of the importance of patience – especially when i do things like move to india and demand we buy a 120 year old house with the one goal of  locating secret passageways. (still no luck, but the search continues.)

so when we decided that we’d like to get married, i did what any girl would do: i posted a picture of the  most beautiful ring i could find on the fridge and asked him everyday for six months if he had saved any money.

but to no avail. nothing. nada. zip.

after months of harassment about getting engaged, in typical al-is-a-handful style,  i was almost 100% sure that my husband was either a) going to smother me in my sleep or b) run away with the dog in the night. god, i was even starting to annoy myself.

but then, one rainy day mid-week last april he was picking me up at my sister’s work and i noticed he was fidgeting a lot.  and i mean guys, he’s a giant man – if a giant  man fidgets you take notice.

he wouldn’t take his damn hand out of his pocket, so i immediately thought that maybe something was going on. however, only about a split second passed before i had convinced myself that there was no way he had saved money for a ring. i’m a frigging detective – i’d have figured it out if he had.

sitting in the car about 5 minutes later getting ready to go he turns to me and whips out the ring. he said:”i love you” and proudly showed it to me. i, ever eloquent and graceful, responded with: “oh my god this is not happening” as i smacked the car dashboard with my hand.

i probably stared at the ring for a good 30 seconds in disbelief, saying nothing.

eventually, i managed to say: “can i put it on?”

and this is more or less how we got engaged – in a car on a rainy day with neither of us actually asking the other anything.

what amazes me to this day is that he somehow managed to stay patient throughout what i can only imagine was an annoying six months. and on top of that, he truly surprised me.  it’s moments like this that prove i’ve met my match.

so why am i telling you this amazingly ridiculous story?

well, in celebration – naturally. ye old ball and chain has finally booked his indian sojourn! in 2 months we will once again be together – for three weeks at least – him being his wonderfully patient self and me being the handful that i am.

yee haw bitches!

first comes love, then comes engagement, then comes a pre-legal wedding freak out

the deal is sealed. (legally we got married in a randoms living room for $200 bucks, did i forget to mention that?)

the trial run.

23 Jun

i am writing this in between waiting for my cable to come back (it has cut out  right in the middle of wipe out, bastard cable company) and eating dinner.

for the last few months dinner has primarily been one of two things: 1) processed grilled cheese sandwich with veggies or the more popular 2) fried veggies, rice and cheese.

yum?

anyway, safe to say my meals have been less than appealing over the last little while.

so a couple of weeks ago i decided to hire a cook for a few days a week. i wanted to begin trying more bengali food and just vary up the meal situation a little.

i went to my caretaker, tapas, in hopes of procuring said cook. this is how it went down:

al: “tapas i need you to find me a cook. 2 days a week, they’d have to shop for the food.”

tapas: “cook?” [motions as if he’s frying bacon, naturally]

al: “cook. monday and wednesday. bengali food.”

tapas: “i cook good!”

al: “hahahahahaahahah oh tapas you’re so funny. no, really, you can’t be my cook.”

tapas: [confused]

al: [also confused. slowly realizing he’s not joking.]

tapas: “no i cook for you!”

al: “fine. you have one week.”

and that’s how my caretaker went from being the guy who kills my roaches, to the guy who cooks for me.  charmant, really.  i’m lazy and a little bit weak – what can i say?

so was i alarmed on monday night when i went home after work knowing that his first meal was waiting for me? naturally. but did i take it like the hero that i am and eat every bit of it? you know it!

honestly, the food was amazing – he’s right – he can cook.  but while my taste buds have been tickled,my digestive tract has been fighting back – we shall see what my new bengali food regime means for my overall health.

i guess digestion aside, the trial run went surprisingly well. tapas will now be with me 2 days a week for the foreseeable future. and i figure i’ve done a good karmic thing in addition to expanding my culinary horizons – while i probably don’t really need a cook, tapas and his family probably need the money.

may i present tapas’ creations:

day two results!

tofu, peppers, some saucy thing and what i think are tomatoes

potatoes and chillis. this was incredibly spicy but so good.

all together now.

this. was. so good - chickpeas mmm..

ochre and tomatoes and some kind of yellow sauce thing. quite spicy.

deer gone wild.

21 Jun

i just got back from 12 hours of traipsing around rural west bengal. it was my first foray into exploring our branches outside of the metro area – which meant a whole new look and feel to poverty.

i’m literally exhausted. i have a layer of dirt so thick on my face that i look like i’ve just stepped off a 7-day 6-night royal caribbean cruise and i have a headache that could cut nails. but, i just had to summon up my last tidbits of strength to post the below pictures for you.  (i’m so selfless)

because my brain honestly can’t convey all the things i saw today, i will sum it up like this:

my old boss (from the halifax days) had a deer – a f*&king deer – break through a plate-glass window at one of his stores yesterday morning.  apparently it scared the bejesus out of everyone – a natural reaction i suppose.

i emailed him to say sorry about the deer and all, and this was his 2-word response:

“crazy shit…”

i feel confident that his response also doubles as my reaction to today’s events.  if i ever get enough strength to relive them – i might tell you the stories someday.  but for now, a few choice shots – picture, not drink  – will have to do.

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i’m pretty much a daredevil.

20 Jun

kittens, i suppose that, when you compare kolkata to where i grew up (i.e. the whitest place on earth), it may seem like i am living life dangerously on edge.

but remember, i have a safe apartment (one no more unsafe than my 120 year old house in canada that anyone just has to look at the wrong way and they can break in. please don’t rob me, ok?), 2 bathrooms for alternate usage depending on what species of wild creature is present and a tiny moustached caretaker who takes my garbage out and kills my roaches.

frankly, this is more than i expected.

when i think of what could have been (i.e being forced into bird murder just to eat or not having access to american tv, the horror.), i am honestly pleased as punch.

so here i am, all thinking i’ve got it good – like really good – only to realize that not only am i am pretty much living in squalor, but that i’m a f*&king hero for doing so.

enter, the americans.

jesus h. christ the americans are so awesome.  they host fun events, they cunningly enter and exit conversations exclusively using the phrase “by the way…” and they love wine.  good wine. imported wine. wine wine wine.

so anything i say about them you have to take with a grain of salt because i’m not joking when i say they are a great bunch.  i may just love them a little. or maybe that’s the wine talking, who knows.

anyway, so last week, as i mentioned, miss jp drove me home after a night of making mid-week love to several pitches of sangria.  (by the way, she has this awesome hunter-green ambassador car that looks like it’s straight out of castro’s personal collection circa 1953, by the way.)

here is how the conversation progressed as we turned onto my street:

miss jp: “wow, i am so impressed you know where you’re going!”

me: “yes, haha, well i don’t really have a choice. no driver!”

miss jp: “so this is where you live. huh.”

me: “yup, it’s great! it’s really safe and my neighbors are nice and oh there’s my office – see how close it is! i’m so glad i don’t have to commute and i can just roll out of bed and go to work. winning, right? hahahaahahahahaha.”

miss jp: “…wow…[awkward pause followed by a few deep breaths and what may have been a gulp]…i’ve never seen a neighborhood like this before.”

i literally was speechless.  speechless on the outside, but my inside voice was screaming: “are you f&%king kidding me!”

miss jp has almost been in kolkata for a whole year.  she speaks really good bengali and spends her whole day interacting with indians. it’s her job to understand their culture. all this and she can’t navigate the 3 km from my house to hers and she has never been in an upper-middle class bengali neighborhood before?

say what?

by her stunned reaction you’d think i had taken her – against her will – into the slums while i stroked my fake mustache, tipped my top hat and said “mwahahah”. gawd.

so after cracking jokes to myself at home that night,  i totally wrote this off as a one time situation.  she’s a really nice person.

but then, this weekend after the murder-mystery dinner party hosted by miss jp (yup, it really happened) – something magical took place as  i was being driven home by mr + mrs abc.

(they’re a super sweet couple, also newlyweds, and he does a mean german-chinese-elmer fud accent, for the record.)

so the conversation went like this as we headed to my house:

mr abc: “hey, you are so good at navigating the city! i can’t believe you’ve only been here 2 months.”

me: “well it’s kind of been a necessity, you know, seeing as i would never eat if i didn’t figure things out…”

mr abc: “so how do you get around?”

me: “sometimes i take taxis, but the drivers are total bastards, so mostly i take tuk-tuks.”

[stunned silence]

mrs. abc: “wow! that’s crazy! you take taxis? we’ve only had to do that twice.”

mr. abc: “wait, by tuk-tuks, you mean those crazy three-wheeler things? woah.”

and here is where my head exploded in the back of their new car.  goodbye cruel world – i’ve given you all i can!

"those three wheeler things"

so mr and mrs abc are pretty much the same story – they’ve been here six months and his primary job is to deal with indians on a daily basis…so…yeah…those three-wheeled car things, you know, that only everyone takes. right.

i guess it’s not so much that the americans avoid integration at all costs which amuses me – because i get that they have to stay pretty western-ized to do their jobs. it’s more their blatant amazement at how i am living here that i find funny as hell.

i figured that expats = adventurers, but in reality, i think their drivers, live-in security guards and budget for importing american food has warped their ability to cope.

so what i am taking away from all this is that i’m pretty much a flipping daredevil. and gosh, please feel free to address me as such from here onwards. everyone’s doing it.

what would dad do?

19 Jun

if i think about the many things i have learned from my dad (e.g. how to drink wine out of fish-bowl sized glasses, why mushrooms must always be eaten with steak and pounds of garlic, how to love dirty southern rock and motown like your life depended on it), the thing that resonates the most is this: “al, always do the right thing.”

ya, it’s a mantra that is somewhat soap-box-ish, but it seems to have sunk into my sub-conscious and i just can’t get it out.

i’ve made my mistakes, but when it comes to the things that really matter i have always tried to think “what would dad do?” – usually knowing right away what his moral code would say.

and while the right thing is almost always the much more annoying and difficult thing –  in the end it’s usually the best choice. god, i hate it when my parents are right.

so when i thought about how to mark father’s day, you know, to say “thanks dad” for the moral compass and all, i knew that my usual embarrassing pictures en masse approach just wouldn’t work.

my dad, while clearly strong in morals, is weak in picture-taking abilities. and he totally does it on purpose, making a stupid face or talking while we’re all saying “cheese”, so as to sneakily ensure all shots are terrible.

where’s the fun in sharing those pictures, i ask you?

so after several minutes of procrastinating by hunting cockroaches and eating cheese slices, it hit me that what he would like, more than anything, are some shots of my charming neighborhood. monsoon season and all.

these are for you dad – happy father’s day from a land far, far away. xo

just around the corner - almost home!

i can't read bengali, but it's probably something political.

the construction site is looking a little swimming pool-esque.

it's raining. it's flooding. the view from my bedroom balcony.

walking to the main road, hoping the rain holds off.

no choice but to go through it.

disaster preparation and other unexpected surprises.

16 Jun

one of the most ridiculous parts of a completely foreign country is the element of surprise.

each time i step outside the gates of my apartment building i have to mentally prepare myself for all of the crazy things that will inevitably happen, which i can’t explain or understand.

for example, seeing a dude whip out his ding-a-ling the middle of a busy street and take a casual leak. or watching someone overtly take my picture in a public place because to them, i look sorta like that bald guy from ‘powder’.

and while yes, there are hundreds of highly annoying and cringe-inducing surprises that i could share with you –  in the words of dr. frankenfurter – it’s not all bad.

last night i was out again with the americans, the feisty little beasts that they are, for sangria and tapas. a few of them, miss jp especially (she’s the ring leader),  wanted to take  me to the giant western-style mall here for a taste of home.

after exploring the mall and adjacent grocery store, where miss jp was beyond excited about the advent of blackforest ham,  we got quite seriously inebriated on sangria and whined about india for 2 hours. i’ve had a particularly shit couple of days,  so i was happy to unload my frusterations and enjoy a mid-week buzz.

i think what has been so surprising about the americans is that they have been genuinely welcoming.  maybe it’s the perpetual bitch inside of me (we’re trying to keep her quiet these days), but i expected the embassy workers to be clique-ish and exclusionary.

and, most wonderfully, they’ve turned out to be the exact opposite.

i finally realized this last saturday when miss jp informed me: “honey, if anything happens here – like an earthquake or something – you just call us.  we’ll take care of you.” lol, i just laughed and thought to myself: “well if that ain’t friendship…”

the americans are just the tip of the iceberg of good surprises.

a couple of weeks ago i bought my caretaker’s kid, habib, a giant toy car at the market.  i figured that it would be a nice gesture, and you know, it might butter them up for the few times i will stumble in at 3 am.

(sidenote: yes, i still don’t know baby “habib’s” real name. and actually i’m lucky i know that he’s a he at all, seeing as they dress him exclusively in pink frilly outfits. while i get that this is a different culture and they probably don’t see gender in the way we do,  his outfits always trigger this awful sensation in me that i’ve been calling a she a he for 2 months.  thank god the babies don’t wear pants here so i can reconfirm now and again.)

so when i handed the bright red car to tapas’s wife she took it, smiled ever-so-slightly and turned away. i was pretty shocked because, while i didn’t expect a parade and a chick jumping out of a cake,  i sort of thought she’d express some glimmer of gratefulness. well, she didn’t.

to make matters worse, i didn’t see that damn toy car for weeks. honestly, i figured they had sold it. although i guess i could understand if they had i was still a tad miffed. well last friday, having completely forgotten about the car, i entered my complex and tapas came running up to me exclaiming: “it’s your car! look!”

lo and behold, there was the red car with habib toddling around beside it.

it made me feel so good to unexpectedly see that stupid car. i had totally written off my gesture at this point and resigned myself not to bother trying again. but see, this is where suprises are awesome and assumptions are a bitch.

finally, and perhaps most bestly (real word, shut it), is unexpectedly realizing what one night of drinking and dancing can accomplish.

the last full weekend i had off i went out with 2 co-workers and their friends/husbands. the one chick works in the operations department here and effectively is the go-to person for anything that’s of any importance to me work-wise.

frankly, things hadn’t been going so well with her and her department. although i’m sure it was unintentional and i’m being oversensitive, they weren’t being too responsive to my requests and emails. everything was a struggle.

but sweet lord, enjoy a few g + ts and some awkward dance moves with someone and then bam: you’re besties. the last few weeks she’s coming to me for advice, asking me over to her place and helping me out a lot more at work.

don’t ever tell me that alcohol can’t accomplish important things – things like world peace and the reversal of global warming. because it could, i’m sure of it.

anyway, the point is that as much as i want to hide in my apartment some days (most days, actually) to avoid the parade of peen and other such unwanted surprises, doing so would make me miss the good stuff. the best stuff, really.

and that’s that.

the ones we try to forget.

13 Jun

this post has nothing to do with india,  so if india is all you care about well here is your update and feel free to move along:

i worked this weekend (balls) and then went with the americans on saturday night to eat pizza, drink imported chardonnay and watch saved! (god shouldn’t be taken seriously anyway, right?) on sunday i didn’t exit my apartment. and, um, frankly i only left my air-conditioned mecca of a bedroom to feed myself and pee – because i found a baby cockroach in my ensuite.

end scene.

so i feel like i’ve talked a lot about things that have happened over the years that were a little bit funny and a little bit failure.  but there is a column (c), a third party in the trilogy of awkwardness, a tiny footnote if you will, that i have not mentioned thusfar in our relationship.

oh hello, regret.

the idea of regret has been on my mind lately – as often happens when you have too much time and only bastard reptiles to talk to. in recognizing my need to bring it up, i have been carefully thinking about how to handle the topic with ya’ll – because i made an idiotic promise to be honest.

well the honest truth is that i lied.

simply put, as much as i know you’d get a kick out of my most cringe-worthy situations, i can’t unlock the these moments of deep regret for you with unabashed honesty. it’s like…archeology.  the details of my regrets are hidden away one on top of the other, each one changing the last, interwoven with 27 years of secrets and untruths. over time, i’ve even tried to systematically forget them. (and failed, of course.)

i will remain mum on the details, but i will say that my most heinous regret-inducing situations are thematic.  they all come together around one thing: a lack of compassion.

i know this will wildly shock you, but i am a little bit selfish. so while others may regret things like not following their dreams,  i’ve always been perfectly perfect at demanding better for myself.  it’s when it has come to demanding better for others that i have historically taken the back exit and slipped out unnoticed.

in other words: i sucked.

i’ve given friends their marching orders in terrible ways, i’ve disregarded love, i’ve said horrible things to wonderful people, i’ve not stood up when i knew something was wrong, i’ve let jealously lead to cruelty and i’ve been untrustworthy. a lot. and these are just the things i can remember.

and while im not – admittedly – upset with the outcome of most of these situations (for reals, i’ve had some totally shit friends who needed to go), the path to get there was all too often devoid of basic compassion. it’s this that i regret more than anything.

but you know, life is tricky, tricky, tricky and somehow it always finds a way to come back around with the good and the bad. or as some may choose to put it: karma’s a bitch.

about six years ago there was a a fairly life-altering, earth-shattering, mind-blowing (and other hyperbole hyphened words) incident that shook everything i thought to be right and true to the core. sadly, it involved some of the people closest to me, and was so devastating that i’m not sure i will ever be over it.

it changed me. full stop.

listen, i’m not saying i deserved said injustice, but i choose to think that i had a lesson to learn – and karma decided that this was how i would learn it.

i realized is that whether it’s the worst experience of your life or just some minor infraction – it feels completely hideous to be denied basic human compassion. just by way of all being people, we each have the capability to anticipate the feelings of others, but often do not have the kindness to apply it. if you think about it, witholding compassion is really a betrayal of the highest form.

so this is what i learned from my personal implosion: sure, kick the bitches and the losers to the curb, say what you think and don’t back down – but do it in a way that applies the golden rule. be kind, be empathetic, be compassionate.

while i have been taking my own advice for a few years now, i  still f*&k up from time to time when it comes to being compassionate.  so the regrets, sure, they still trickle through.

and i guess i’m ok with this – because i’d be really bad at attempting perfection:  i fall down too much in public.

and that’s a story for another day, kittens.

i googled 'compassion' out of desperation for a picture, and this is the first hit. enjoy.

eight if by sea.

10 Jun

tomorrow is the 2 month anniversary of my self-imposed indian exile. i know – time flies when you’re having fun, right?

i am a terrible packer, so as soon as i hit the ground in april i realized that i had forgotten some key items. things like bug spray, medication, mosquito net and so on. yes, i realize i’m an idiot – thanks.

my parents rushed to the rescue, and today – as a fitting marker of my 2 month milestone – i received the package they sent in april with these key items.

enjoy a peek into what they sent:

it's here! it's here!

oooooh excitement mounting...

the booty!

eye drops! thank jesus!

look at all this good stuff

how cute is my dad sending bug spray with a COMPASS?

i heart packages

hannah beat my parents out of the first package, so the lesson we learn here is the expediency of air mail.  one week by air- eight if by sea.

thanks family!

the science of getting married.

9 Jun

kittens, i’ve specifically chosen to avoid being all preachy and political on this blog. i guess i figured that cracking inappropriate jokes and using the f-word a lot would be more fun. (i was right, by the way.)

but i had a conversation last week that was slightly more on the preachy/political side that i have to share with you.

my office has a cute little balcony where my 4th floor cubicle is and sometimes my colleagues and i (miss j and mrs s) take breaks out there to watch the afternoon storm clouds roll in.

miss j is sweet – she’s my age, is pretty western-ized, speaks perfect english, lives at home and is unmarried.  frankly her life is a bit like mine was at 14: her actions are mostly informed by the will of her parents.

as we watched the clouds become increasingly ominous, my wedding came up – as it often does.  after answering a few questions about my family, i had the nerve to ask miss j if, when the time came, she would have to take an arranged marriage.

she said, smiling coyly: “i don’t know. i guess we’ll have to see. maybe in a year i’ll ask my parents.”

a little shocked, i said: “well, do you want an arranged marriage?”

miss j answered: “i’d prefer to find someone on my own, but where would i find them? my parents still have to approve so why would i waste my time on someone who they might not like?”

mrs s piped up at this point. while also very sweet, she’s shy about her english so we communicate mostly in a series of smiles and wild hand gestures.

she said: “either way, in the end you still have to do what your husband says.”

miss j, nodding seemingly in agreement said: “this is why girls go to work or study in america – so they can have the freedom to date who they want and live how they want.”

while stunned, i nodded in agreement and proceeded to get lost in my thoughts.

listen, generally i try not to have overly defined views because i truly believe that life is fluid and can’t be understood through static opinions. but in regards to this arranged marriage stuff, it does blow my mind that miss j – a 27 year old woman with an mba and a promising career in finance  – is leaving her future happiness in the hands of her parents.

at the same time, i guess i can’t blame her either.

arranged marriage has likely worked for her parents and their parents before that.  and though not everyone forces their kids into this type of union (mr. s for example won’t need to take one), it is a socially acceptable way to roll here.

culture takes a long time to shift. and while things are undeniably changing in india, we can’t fault people for upholding their traditions in the meantime.

(i should point out here before you go all nuts on me, that this post is in no way meant to  condone or address marriage or women’s issues in india that hinge on human rights violations.)

that being said, miss j proves that some people remain perpetually un-excited by the concept. does she want to choose her own mate? hell yes. but if her parents decide that arranged marriage is her path, she will have to oblige.

and until she has that parental tete-a-tete on the science of marriage, the delightful miss j remains in romantic limbo.

this morning she proudly tapped me on the shoulder and said: “allison! have you ever been to brazil? no? well i’m going there on my honeymoon!”

i replied: “hey, at least that’s one thing sorted.”

an after dinner snack.

8 Jun

on sunday night i went out for dinner and a beer with my colleague mr. s – it was a nice quiet close to what was a weekend that could rival some of the best ones from my early 20s. (in the words of my husband: “i’m too old for this shit.”)

anyway, after dinner mr. s wanted to get what i can only guess is an indian after dinner snack.  it’s some kind of grain thing, with edible tin foil on top and wrapped in a leaf.  the street vendor puts spices, honey and rainbow sprinkles on top.  yummers?

here it is:

the before

the after

i tried this snack for the first time about a month ago and what  mr. s had forgotten to tell me at the time is that you’re not really supposed to swallow it.  kids, it doesn’t taste very good if you do – kind of like licorice attacked your insides. with a dull hacksaw.

mr. s tried to tell me what this snack was called during the first encounter, but i couldn’t understand him. so after a couple tries at the name i just gave up and nodded complacently…and now i still don’t know what it’s called.

so this sunday when we stopped by the vendor of this  mysterious after dinner snack, i kindly declined a taste and opted instead to take pictures.  while it doesn’t taste good, it sure looks pretty.

how she is really doing.

6 Jun

so while i am living in self-imposed exile in this godforsaken country of dust and spice, life is continuing on quite vibrantly back home.  and though i’m mostly ok with the fact that people’s lives are moving on without me, there are days when my heart breaks a little bit.

mainly when i see things like this:

sienna elizabeth caroline - born may 18th, 2011

bootsy anne (with mom + dad!) - born march 13, 2011

the adorable babies in my life are just one of the many oh-so-sneaky things tugging at my heartstrings  from home. and while logic implies that these babes will never remember the 1 year absence of their auntie al,  i still miss them.

and sitting around missing the babies turns into missing my dog, which turns into missing readily-available toilet paper, sour cream, freedom from jc and nachos.  and then it’s all over.

so when bootsy’s mom asked my husband (who i also miss, calm down people) this weekend: “how is al really doing? because her blog only tells us hilarious stories and not really how she is feeling.” (i may have added the ‘hilarious’ in there for emphasis…although let me be straight with ya’ll: i am hilarious) – i could only think that maybe a few more of you were wondering about this.

and so i answer you that how i am really doing is ok. alright. fine. so-so. medium-rare.

are there days when the pictures of your daughters and sons make me both smile and sniffle? why yes.  but do i still understand why i’ve exiled myself here and why i have to stay in said exile? yes.  and does that sometimes suck? affirmative.

so like many other things in our crazy lives, how i am really doing is complicated.

which is why i choose to write about a mélange (you like that word?) of things on this blog: a bit of life in india, some friends and family and a buttload of stuff from my past that makes me so uncomfortable the only solution is to share it publicly.

and it’s this freedom to unload (usually pointless) shit on you, my kind readers, which is truly getting me through the complicated-ness of being so far from home. so thanks – and make sure to tell your friends about me – because i’m hilarious.

the moments that shock you.

4 Jun

as we have previously established, i wasn’t a fan of being a teenager. not only was i an emotionally fragile baby bird 95% of the time, but ‘life’s big realizations’ hit me a lot harder than most because i grew up in a verifiable bubble.

for example, the day i realized that people were actually having sex in my high school i was standing in a kitchen eating fried eggs and listening to a classmate talk about how her and her long-term boyfriend  had ‘done it’. a lot.

i remember thinking the following: i just turned 14 and that seems too young to be having sex. they’re only 14 too so how in the bejeezus have they been dating for so long? and f*&k, does this mean i need to find a boyfriend and have sex now to be cool?  (don’t worry mom and dad, the latter never happened. obviously.)

this day brought me from playing barbies to listening to my idiot friends talk about bjs.  and i was completely not ready for that – being as vanilla as i was.

further example: when i was 16 i had a brief flirtation with more-substantial popularity. so there i was,  was sitting in a study room with 3 bitches who were much cooler than i listening to them talk about making out. (at this point i still had no real first hand understanding of what that meant, to contextualize.)

bitch #1: “you know i really like zach*. i really like him a lot. i think i might  even love him.”  

bitch #2: “that’s so awesome.”

bitch #1: “we made out last night for hours. in fact, we made out so much  that my face started to hurt.”

bitch #3: “i know exactly what you mean.”

bitch #1: “have you ever made out so much that you get that white stuff in the corner of your lips?”

bitch #2: “oh yah. totally.”

bitch #1: “yah, we made out so much that i got that.”

bitch #2 (turning towards me): “you know all the guys like your boobs. they say you have the perfect amount – a handful.”

me: “WHAT?”

*name changed to protect the bitch. not that she’ll read this anyway – that bitch.

pretty much.

this whole exchange produced a couple terrifying realizations.first was that you could actually make out so intensely that you would produce some sick white subtance on your face. (frankly, to this day, this concept alarms and seriously disgusts me.)

second was that guys actually noticed what i looked like, and worse, that they were f*&king talking about it.

with this shocking new information in tow my typical 16-year old body images issues went into full-blown overdrive.

for the next several years i struggled with my ‘i’ll always be just a little bit fat’ self – trying to wear the right clothes and unsuccessfully lose weight to fit in with the bitches and the guys who liked to hold girls’ boobs in their hands…apparently?

but today after 12 years, fantastic friends, a promising career and a ballin’ husband who can literally kick asses – i don’t give a care about body image hang ups. actually, i’ve gone the other way: some would say i’m arguably too pleased with myself.

and now – as  life so ironically goes  – without even trying i am losing weight like crazy here in india.

while i’m eating enough, drinking enough and taking my vitamins, the combination and frequency of meals is doing a number on my drive-through curves without any effort on my part.

(somewhere in the sands of time my 16 year old self is literally punching a kitten out of anger.)

what’s shocking about this situation is that for the first time i am realizing that not only am i ok with my body, but i actively don’t want it to change. i love who i’ve become – i’m effing hilarious and my shape is a part of that. what a strange and wonderful thing to realize after so many years of wishing i was thinner and prettier.

so there you have it – and before i keep talking and this turns into a jenny craig commercial – i’m off to buy some indian-style sour cream and onion chips and oreos and sit on my (slightly less fat) ass.

the night we choose to remember.

2 Jun

the night i met my husband i was wearing what might be the most unflattering and inappropriate outfit ever. if possible, i find the memory of this outfit more embarrassing than bra head al, so i share it reluctantly:

hello poofy gold skirt and backless tube top at a formal event.

sometimes i wish i had decided that this blog was about lying, not honesty. lies are your friend.

if you can believe it i was wearing this dashing ensemble to attend a graduation ball at my university. terrible poofy skirt? a tube top? really? to make it worse, as a well endowed girl gravity was (is) not in my favor – and the tube top was backless. jesus, i need to sit down.

regardless of my impressions now, in my haze of 4 1/2 years ago i thought i was quite possibly the best ever.  awkward tan and all.

anyway, every 20-something knows it’s crass to show up to an event sober, so my friends and i had planned on attending a ‘pre-drinking’ party before the graduation ball. it was at this charming little gathering – dressed like a pirate hooker – that i met my future husband.

but let’s back up for a quick sec. at the risk of sounding like a total jc-esque [juan carlo – the bastard lizard] creeper i need to tell you that while this would be the first time i’d meet him, this wouldn’t be the first time i’d seen him.  my university only had about 8,000 full-time students and because we were both in the commerce program, i had caught sight of  him a few times.

honestly folks, he was totally ‘that guy’ on campus for me. each time i had seen him i had stared awkwardly while telling myself to forget it:  he was obviously a football player, obviously into 5″2 110 lb blondes and obviously a total jackass.

flawless logic – obviously.

so you can see why when i quickly scanned the room upon my arrival at the pre-drinking gathering, i noticed him right away.

he was  hanging out in the back corner of the kitchen with a football buddy, and i could hear them making fun of people and cracking ‘anchorman’-themed jokes from afar. making fun of people? i invented making fun people. so i downed some liquid courage and went over to chat with them.

and much to my surprise it went well! i was being hilarious, he was laughing at said hilariousnsess – and my boob hadn’t fallen out of the inappropriate top yet. all around aces.

but something was still bugging me. stereotyping had never failed before so what was this guy playing at? where was the football a-hole underneath his suspiciously nice exterior?

after more chatting at the graduation ball  i had an unfortunate realization: i was really into him –  and it wasn’t even the several million vodka tonics talking. he had been nothing but charming, kind, interesting, sarcastic, witty, confident, smart – and i dug it. a lot.

despite my inside voice (head, not indoor) telling me to run like mad, i pressed on.

as the ball was winding down he casually invited me out to a bar with a smaller group for further dancing and drinks.  i thought this was a good sign – he must be digging me too.

but  shortly after our arrival at the club my jock-ahole-tiny-woman-loving fears were confirmed: he disappeared!

that bastard – he had obviously found someone hotter, skinnier and drunker than me that he felt would be less work to hook up with that night. theory proven – kablamo – he was a jackass!

a while later as i was quietly fuming in a corner  he had the nerve to find me and ask if i wanted to go get pizza. (inside voice said: his hotter-skinner-drunker plan b fell through and now he wants to take you home with him.) so, naturally, i sweetly said sure and told him to get his coat.

as he wandered through the crowd in the direction of the coat check, i did the only i could think of: i left him there.

and thus, kind readers, concluded the first night i met my husband.

(to answer your lingering queries: yes, i really did leave him at the bar. no, i am not a giant bitch all the time. yes, my behavior only further intrigued him and now we’re married. for real.)

of course,  we have laughed about this ridiculous night on many occasions.  he’s given me hell for abandoning him (saying “i really just did want pizza you know – i was hungry!”) and i’ve reconfirmed my second impression of him a million  times over: he truly is just an exceptionally sweet, genuine, hilarious and well-intentioned dude.

and as much as i hate to admit it (because it makes me sound painfully dull)  i knew from that first night – you know, the night we choose to remember – that he was it for me.

so all of this is to say happy birthday dear husband – without you i’d most definitely still be in someone’s dingy apartment, in a horrible outfit, drinking vodka and quoting ‘anchorman’. so thanks instead for our awesome life together.

what it takes to be nice.

1 Jun

so today i spent most of the afternoon in the field with our clients for a ‘customer refresher meeting’.  these meetings are designed to bring clients together so they can air any grievances with the branch head and field officers, ask questions and be reminded of key loan terms.

it’s a neat concept, especially since the success of microfinance depends on the client’s respect for the repayment process.

branch head updating the clients on industry issues

anyway, while these meetings are meant to be informative and collaborative, they are also intended to be fun. the group plays games and sings together, and they leave with a box of sweets and other prizes. i figured that this low-key setting was a great opportunity to get some 1-on-1 time with clients.

listening intently

in doing so i met kalvita – a fifty-something woman who runs a small handicraft group that makes hand-embroidered sarees for trade fairs.  kalvita’s husband,  biml, owns a pipe fitting business which he has had for the past 35 years. kalvita and her husband have two grown sons –  bani and brath – and two grandchildren.

kalvita

kalvita told me that she took her loan (valued at about US $ 125) to help pay labor and buy stock for her saree business so she could attend more trade fairs and increase her income. since she took the loan last year she said her plan has been pretty successful, and as a result, she has been able to help out her sons.

she said her primary reason for taking the loan was so she could make more money to support her son bani, who became disabled after 2 accidents.  kalvita is helping to send his kids to school as well as paying for some of their living expenses.

in her own words (in english!) she said: “i am a friend to my children.”

how poignant, i thought, as  i told her that she was a wonderful mother. kalvita was proud to tell me that she could truly help out her sons because of her business – and i think that’s pretty cool. as i have said before – family really matters here.

not only did i get to learn about kalvita today, but i was asked to sing in front of the 40 women (‘mary had a little lamb’ – i panicked, ok?), sign a few autographs, take pictures and shake everyone’s hand. my face still hurts from uncontrollable smiling – it was awesome.

at the end of all the excitement a client called tumpa managed to sneak a kiss on my cheek as she was leaving, saying: “you are a very nice person.”

well i’m not about to argue with her, now am i.

tumpa