Archive | September, 2011

you’re beautiful.

30 Sep

yup, it is no secret that this place often pisses me off. there are days when i want to burn the entire country to the ground whilst laughing diabolically, tipping my top hat and smoking a cigar. fact.

but then there are really good days too – and i’ve had a few of them lately.

thanks to my new awesome stolen camera (sorry, husband!) i have been able to capture a few of these moments in a way i feel does them a scooch of justice.

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a little sideways glance, the casual way a woman folds her hands, a look of unadulterated suspicion –  i find something beautiful about these moments.

this place has taught me that people are people are people no matter where you go – we are all the same in so many ways.

the women here are still pretty vain – even if they do live in a house with a thatched roof. the kids just want to play and act silly, even though they may have worked 10 hours that day helping at the family business. and the men – sure, they’re brutes sometimes – but they really just want to improve their lot in life through hard work and some luck.

i see the beauty here – and it goes so much farther than just the typical touristy crap that everyone loves (brightly colored statues, majestic temples and the bustling colors of the streets, oh my.) for me it’s those really pure moments that make us all the same.

so yeah, it’s been a good week.

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the things we think are normal.

26 Sep

so, i am not sure i completely think that the concept of normal actually exists.

i mean, i know for a fact my ability to watch the first 2 seconds of any friends episode and then tell you what season it is from along with the general synopsis of the entire episode – including the quippiest of quotes – is not normal. actually, it’s a little messed up, let’s be real here.

and even the people who we yearn to be like, because they are so incredibly normal, are probably not even anywhere near the embodiment of this phenomenon.

so when everyone had told me that bihar, a state in northern india, is “not normal” – i was keffuffled. what exactly is normal, especially in the context of this country of dust slash mud and spice?

last week i headed to bihar via train to visit our regional operations. when i got to patna (the capital city) i looked around, saw the typical delights of rickshaw drivers, hustling autos, mud, a bajillion people and honking vehicles and thought “what’s the big deal, yo?”

even arriving to my hotel, i kept thinking that this was nowhere as ghetto-fab as everyone (including my american industry colleague who called bihar “gangster” – no joke) made it out to be.

but by day 2, something funny happened.

the more i actually looked around, experienced the people, met with our clients in their homes, enjoyed the regional office and moved from place to place i realized that yup, holy f&$kballs, this place is pretty freeking gangster. indeed.

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the streets were actually infinitely dirtier than those in calcutta – meaning there were piles of garbage on the “sidewalks” and gutters that didn’t get removed at the end of each day. it was a veritable archeological dig of 5 years of trash. moreover, the garbage dumps – which  can sometimes be found on the side of the road here – were literally everywhere in patna.  a true feast for the senses!

a good portion of the buildings were dilapidated, or barely hanging on. there were very few new buildings, and a myriad of shacks and thatched-roof edifices that frankly, i’m surprised survived any kind of rumble from the recent earthquake.

and speaking of rumbles, bihar’s famous ‘7 km long bridge’ (maybe you’ve heard of it? no?) over the ganges river actually shook violently as we waited in traffic about ½ way across. maybe it was the deteriorated cement, maybe it was the insane amount of vehicles – who knows.

as i told the perpetually-paranoid miss jp yesterday, i was 96% convinced that i was going to die on that bridge. she said: “well i didn’t want to say anything, but we aren’t even allowed to travel by train. i’m just glad that they didn’t blow up your train tracks.”

(um, so i still have no idea who “they” are, but i nodded my head enthusiastically in agreement, nonetheless.)

so as if the garbage and infrastructure wasn’t enough – many of the people were really vulgar. the status of women is not great in bihar as it stands, and because it’s generally not recommended for tourists, they don’t see many white women. to say i was obsessively open-mouth gawked at would be an understatement.

i actually stopped traffic, bitches!

the scratching, snorting, spitting, peeing, farting and general disgusting bodily functions made me feel physically nauseous – and i like to think i am able to handle a lot of crudity. (cruditay? cruite? sounds like a delicious french hors d’oeuvre.)

and of course, what goes hand-in-hand with this is the general lack of cleanliness and sanitary living conditions in bihar. almost everyone i met was wearing dirty clothes and many of them were living uncomfortably close to cow shit.

yup, i guess this is poverty.

but what gets me, is that our clients in calcutta, who are generally pretty poor themselves, have higher standards of ‘normal’ for cleanliness/manners/infrastructure etc than the ones in bihar. so that makes me wonder what exactly is normal?

our ceo said to me today as we were gabbing about these differences: “it’s about what people are used to.”

and that’s just it: what’s normal for me, isn’t normal for you because we have different life experiences and expectations.

and even if the biharis knew that they could improve their situation, maybe buying solar lights to deal with the rampant power cuts for example, well would they? my guess is no, because power cuts are just normal and dealing with them is just…well…normal. their lives have adjusted to everything that the place they call home as to offer – good and bad.

to wrap this up, i have been implored to tell you that on this trip i got fairly fantastically shit on by a cow.

the cow was stationed only about 3 feet behind me, so perhaps i should have seen it coming. i was simply trying not to look like the holier-than-thou white girl too good to sit on the ground.

and when the cow shit on me, after laughing awkwardly loud, i thought: “well f*&k it, i guess that right now this is my normal.”

end scene.

should disaster strike.

18 Sep

well don’t panic, but we had an earthquake here in ye old eastern india tonight. strangely enough, it seems to have originated just north of darjeeling where the husband and i were sojourning not 5 days ago.

walking through the tea gardens in darjeeling

speaking of the lovely man who is no longer in india, i was skyping with him when i felt the whole apartment shake-shake-shake it’s booty in a serious way.  now, sometimes when big trucks drive by to drop bricks off to the construction site outside, the apartment shakes. (real comforting, i know.)

but this particular shaking went on for a little too long to be truck-related. i was suspicious.

i thought: “is this a for-real earthquake? no! wait…is it? bah – impossible.” and then kept talking to the husband about the diabolical dog and his tap-dancing ways. as you do when disaster is imminent.

it wasn’t until i got a text from miss jp – the ringleader of the americans and slightly disaster paranoid charmer – saying: “earthquake in calcutta?”, my tiny little lid flipped ever so slightly.

what would i actually do if there was a real true-life emergency?

step 1: cry.

step 2: call the americans.

step 3: resume crying and get a drink. (preferably something grape flavored, but who’s making demands really?)

step 4: run away.

i mean, sorry mom and dad, but this is about as far as my disaster planning goes. i literally know nothing about actual disaster preparation and management – and my guess is that it’s probably time to learn a little something.

if i’m being honest, i’m kicking myself right now for being a wee bit of a see-you-next-tuesday: i have entertained many a bengali colleague with the level 45 american paranoia about disasters.

basically, all of the americans keep bags filled with emergency-related items like…rolled up wads of US dollars, snow gear lest they be evacuated somewhere chilly, extra undies, pagers, boxes of kraft dinner, fur hats and so on. you know, the essentials in case of disaster.

alright, i’m lying about the kd thing (although that would totes be in my evac bag bitches!) but the snow gear and wads of US cash points are true. they’re thinkers.

ugh, and while i have mocked them in good-humor for this ridiculousness, tonight’s events have made me think that my propensity for poor in-case-of-emergency planning should be reviewed.  how dull.

so…um…do you guys have any good ideas in this regard? cause after quietly, yet intently, staring at the blank computer screen followed by adjusting my mosquito net and sashaying to the washroom, i can confidently say that i’m fresh out.

the reasons we wake up.

16 Sep

i have been keeping a secret from you, oh loyal band of merry followers. well, many secrets actually, but now is not the time for all – just for one. a very special one, nonetheless. one that you can be a part of if you really wanted to.

my dirty secret is that i have lost a little of my gumption, my purpose, my what-for, if you will. yup, it’s the truth – this place has literally beat the shira out of me and i have started to wonder “why the f*&k am i here again?”

anyway, these days, in addition to going on a bear-hunt to rediscover my internal kick-ass-tastic warrior, i am working hard to find my inspiration in places other than my work. and one of these places is my sweet caroline.

now normally i try to avoid real-life names on this ‘ol teenage telephone conversation of a blog, um mostly because i like making up fake names and all, but this one is real. her name is caroline, and she is in fact very very sweet.

if you’ve been around for a while then you have heard me talk of the fav family – and sweet caroline would be one of them. they are well-known around these parts for many things: they brought the baby who calls me auntie al into the world, they got married in the most wonderful of ways and they sent an infamous box of love to india.

and well, they also got diagnosed with cancer.

sure, they didn’t collectively get the big ‘c’, but upon finding out that the fav daughter – aka caroline – was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer earlier this year at just 23, they may as well have all been diagnosed. that’s just the way they roll, and i love them for it.

a few weeks ago when i was thinking about my stories, you know, the ones that keep me up at night writing posts in my head -miss caroline came to mind. simply put: her story, and her, have helped inspire me to keep on keeping on despite feeling like i’ve lost my reasons for being.

when i asked her if she’d be interested in making an appearance on the blog, the much obliging caroline enthusiastically agreed to let me share her tale. and oh lordy, i had all these super grand plans to mould her story into a work of literary genius, using techniques like pathetic fallacy and foreshadowing. pulitzer quality stuff you guys, freeking pulitzer.

but in the end after a few tears and some failed attempts, i realized that caroline’s own words moved me more than anything i could ever write. so, here she is:

it all started in late october or early november 2010 when i found a lump in my left breast. i instantly panicked and asked my mom to check it out – she said that while it’s common for young girls to have cystic breasts, i should still get it looked at. so i went off to the doctor that evening.

my doctor assured me that since the lump was ‘shallow’ (i.e. close to the skin), was painful (breast cancer is most often not painful) and that it was close to the centre of my breast (breast cancer is usually under the armpit and deep to the ribcage), that it was not cancer.

regardless, he did a needle biopsy right then and there. he sent the sample away for testing and a week later it came back as a fibroadenoma – which is just like a cyst but fluid filled. to try and reduce the swelling – which was causing all the pain – he put me on a water pill and off i went. 

well, a few months later nothing had changed. i was not sleeping and could no longer wear a bra with underwire because the cyst was still so painful. so i went back to my doctor and begged, yes begged, him to remove the cyst. he was really reluctant because of the scarring potential, but on march 23rd of this year i finally had it removed.

on april 4th i was at sickkids hospital doing my work placement with the brain tumor research lab when i got a call from my mom saying i needed to get in touch with the doctor’s office right away. the office receptionist told me that i should come home immediately as the doctor wanted to check my incision. i found this weird because he had already checked it since the surgery – so naturally i ran to catch the next train home…stopping only to grab a mcflurry!

on the way to the doctor’s office my mom and i stayed calm, not speaking about what we thought the real reason for the visit might be. i cant quite remember what happened from the moment we got into the doctor’s office, only that i recall him saying: “well, it’s worse than we thought,” and “a very rare form of breast cancer”.

i cried very hard for what felt like an hour but was only really a few minutes. my mom hugged me and tried to stay calm, i really don’t remember much else about that appointment except for him telling me that i had a bone scan, mammogram, and ultrasound all booked within 2 days and that i should inform my university that i wouldn’t finish the semester.

honestly, the very first thing i thought after receiving the news was if my pregnant sister, who was 8 months along at this point, would be ok when she found out. i was so scared for her and the baby.

after finding out the news, we immediately called the whole family together and told them. everyone cried, asked questions and googled (obviously!) the disease and treatment processes.  from this point on, the whirlwind truly began. 

within a week i had MRIs, 9 biopsies, meetings with one of the most world famous breast cancer oncologists (due to the rarity of my case and my age), meetings with my new surgeon, and multiple family doctor visits to make sure mentally and emotionally stable.

originally it was thought that the doctors could just go in and do another lumpectomy to get the rest of the cancer – end scene! but as it often goes with cancer, nothing is ever quite as it seems. they decided to do a full mastectomy when the tests showed that the cancer, all 9 cm of it, was multi-focal (i.e many lumps all over the breast).

the big surgery was quickly set for april 27th. a week before the mastectomy my friends threw me an amazing “bye bye boobie party” and i made a mold of my breast with my sister and best friend. 

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the surgery went well, all things considered, and my whole family was at my side until i came home from the hospital on the afternoon of the 28th. i had home-care nurses for about 5 days to monitor healing, change dressings, and eventually take out the drains that were needed to get rid of all the fluid.

luckily my body healed ahead of schedule and i was up and moving just a few days later. i did many puzzles, took a whole lotta drugs and watched quite a few movies. i finally got a tv in my room because of this, hello bonus!

during the mastectomy they took out a number of lymph nodes from under my arm to test to see if the cancer was spreading through my body. we all waited anxiously for the results, which would help to decide next steps with the treatment. 

when the results came back clear a few days later, my mom, sister and i cried our eyes out and danced around to “sweet caroline” in the kitchen. ah-mazing!

so with this important information, i had appointments with my radiation oncologist and my regular oncologist to decide whether or not further treatment was necessary. it was determined that i would need preventative treatment, so nearing the end of the summer had a 28 day cycle (6 weeks) of daily radiation.

my mom drove me each and everyday to the hospital where i had my radiation treatment. to my surprise, the treatment didn’t hurt at all or anything. however, after heading home i was usually exhausted, so i would often sleep for the rest of the morning into early afternoon. when my treatment was over, my parents took me on a celebratory trip to the bahamas – a much-needed vacation!

and that brings us to today – cancer free.

while this whole thing has been difficult and painful, it has also been an empowering adventure. yes, i have been sad, but i did my best to not feel sorry for myself as it would not have accomplished anything. i didn’t cry very often and i didn’t whine very often – i just tried to get up every morning and smile and know that i’m going to be okay and that something good has to come from this.

my new saying is “ikigai” – it means “the reason you wake up in the morning”.  i just have to believe after all of this that my reason is to make a difference. i don’t know how, or when, or why right now – but one day i will know and i will take action.

although a life-event of this magnitude can often change people for the better, i can confidently tell you that caroline has just simply always been this pure of heart. and while i have long sat in admiration of her, sweet caroline’s story has reminded me that i must rise each day – the frustrations of kolkata or not – with a bone fide sense of purpose.

i am grateful to her for being so bad-ass and showing me the importance of being positive and proud – despite whatever real or metaphorical pile of shit you have stepped in that day.

so, with her story and general awesomeness in mind, those around caroline have rallied together to express their gratitude and support in the form of the ‘care bears’ – a brilliantly named team participating in the october 2 canadian breast cancer foundation ‘run for the cure’.

well, you may or may not have noticed, but i live in india. thus, i am not able to truly join in with the ‘care bears’.

instead, i am asking you, wonderful followers, to help turn my dirty-little-secret around by supporting one of caroline’s siblings – the fav family – in their fundraising pursuits as the ‘care bears’.  if not because you were moved by caroline’s story, but because you have a similar tale of strength you wish to celebrate. and celebrate it, you must.

donate now to a member of the fav family running on caroline’s ‘care bears’ team and support breast cancer research. to donate, choose a campaign page: fav brother, fav sister-in-law, fav sister or fav brother-in-law.

(huge high fives and thanks to those who can offer their support!)

well, i will soon start back at work after 2 weeks off. i can guarantee you that – while i may still be searching for my broader purpose – i will be applying “ikigai” in honor of caroline to rediscover my reasons for living here each day.

hey it’s me, husband: i came, i saw, i was sweaty.

15 Sep

well, it seems like just a moment ago that i was getting off a plane, tired, but very happy to see my lovely wife. now two weeks have flown by and it’s almost time to get back on that plane. sad.

i will miss some things about kolkata – and i wont miss others. let’s start with the former and end on a good note with the latter.

i won’t miss the sounds of kolkata – honking horns, mid 90’s ringtones, wild packs of dogs yelping and barking. i won’t miss the less desirable sights, such as children begging at every street corner, public urination, piles of garbage and dead animals. i won’t miss the smells, like human pee, and i won’t miss the heat. (if you’re one of those “i love the heat” people understand this heat is unbearable. especially for a big man. enough said.)

if you’re thinking that’s a lot of negatives…well you’d be right. this place is challenging, but that’s because life is always happening around you – the good, bad and ugly. and in a way i can see the beauty in that.

frankly – and perhaps obviously – the thing i’ll miss most about kolkata is my lovely wife. in the past 5 months she has impressively adapted to this crazy city: yelling at cabbies who try to rip us off, dealing with the crowds and counter attacking the indian staring habit with great determination. just by living here, she is making me so proud.

i can be anywhere,  including this crazy place, as long as it’s with her. when we’re together i just know that everything will be alright. she’s my p.i.c – partner in crime.

so that’s it from me in india…now back to your regularly scheduled al.

us

when skies are grey.

11 Sep

it’s 1 am and i am getting up in a few hours to leave for darjeeling (tea, mount everest, not kolkata) but had to tell you something i learned tonight about the husband.

we have this slideshow our wedding photographer put together of all the “best shots” from our tiny (well, miniature really) wedding in december. it’s a magical slideshow set to the beatles ‘here comes the sun’ and it makes me smile each time i watch it.

sometimes i watch it at work. sometimes i watch it while drinking chilled chardy and shedding an oh-so-tiny tear. sometimes i watch it with other people.

i thought that i was probably alone in this quiet little ritual. i mean, we’ve been married a while now, i figured the sheen of the day had somewhat worn off – especially for the husband.

but tonight, as i showed the slideshow to miss jp (aka the ringleader of the americans) the husband said: “i love this slideshow. i  love it. sometimes i watch it at work when i really miss you.”

my heart skipped about 34095 beats.

apparently the big man watches our little wedding slideshow at work when he misses me the mostest. in doing so he reflects on our special day, which in turn brings him just a little closer to me on the days when skies are grey.

what a revelation – i thought i was the only one sneaking a peek at this slideshow 7, 8 and 9 months out!

even though these drab and dreary days aren’t here right now, i just had to tell you that his tiny admission made me smile. and, if you haven’t already seen them, it made me want to share these very special wedding moments with you all.

if you are so inclined, you may view our small wedding slideshow here. (pictures courtesy of the brilliant andria lo of orange photography)

while we are off to darjeeling tomorrow to make new memories, i’ve realized that the moments of love and commitment from our wedding day will help carry us through trying times – no matter how many years pass. and this makes me think we did it right.

hey it’s me, husband: the market.

8 Sep

having the need to leave the apartment – as you often have to for food and water – i have quickly realized the reasons why kolkata is sometimes described as “simultaneously noble and squalid, cultured and desperate…a daily festival of human existence…all played out before your very eyes on teeming streets where not an inch of space is wasted.”

i found this wonderful uplifting quote in a travel book a few days ago – and my experiences over the last few days got me thinking about it. (it seems the authors have been here before…)

our adventures began yesterday morning heading to the mall to eat and run a few errands.  arriving at the mall you walk thought a metal detector that might be working but all in all i’m not really sure.  the mall is comparable to the eaton center in t-dot: very large, fairly expensive stores. you know.

after a quick tour, some groceries and lunch it was off to the market.

now this was unlike anything i’ve seen before.  you hear of the street markets and the millions of people, but until you’ve been in the middle of one, words can’t describe the insanity that takes place.

frankly, the mass amount of people really stressed me out – not to mention the the beggars, the street kids, the market vendors  all competing for our attention. also, i don’t think it helped that i’m a foot taller than everyone else – and we were the only white people there.  everyone was staring.

i guess after the initial shock, it was alright. we bargained for everything, fought though crowds, and avoided the odd car that drives down what seems to be a glorified walkway. we ended up coming away with some nice items.

it was crazy and it almost pushed me too far – i lasted about 30 minutes before we had to leave. regardless, i’m glad it was something i got to experience here in kolkata!

insanity

glad i am tall so i can take these shots

and as always great to see the marketing boys hard at work!

bud!

hey it’s me, husband: the first days.

5 Sep

a note from al: well ya’ll, the husband finally arrived on saturday safe and sound and tired. so i gave him a glass of chilled chardy, told him to buck up, and now he’s ready to make the first of a few guest appearances on this crazy teenaged telephone convo of a blog. so, enjoy india through his eyes – just for a scooch.

it's the husband - blogging!

the first thing i noticed at the airport – besides my beautiful wife – was the insane amount of people. from walking out and seeing the thousands of people lining the gate, it was overwhelming and gave me more of an understanding of what india is: the land of a billion people.

after jumping in miss jp’s big green car (her driver was nice enough to take my wife to pick me up!) – the long drive to al’s palatial pad meant me staring out the window at the massive amount of people on the streets. i thought it was funny that the cars were bumper to bumper and the cows roamed freely on the medians of the highway.

i was overwhelmed with everything around me, at that point al informed me that i was going to be writing some guest posts and to start thinking about things to write…..so in true sports fan fashion i’m going to do a “top 5” (actually, it’s a top 4) of my first two days in india.

1)  maxiums and grantus, be happy your daughter is safe and very brave, you’d be proud of her and seeing this place make me so proud of everything she is doing, words cannot describe how crazy this place is!

2) horns the f*%king horns, the drivers honk  all the time. maybe because a two lane road is being used as a four lane or that people on bikes like driving on the wrong side, either way they honk all day and night.

3) getting around you have a couple of options: car dodging aka walking is a dangerous way to get around. cabs are scary but fast, autos –  imagine a motorcycle with a little back to it and seating for 6 – are fast cheap and effective. my favourite are the rickshaws – not made for big men though.

all of these ways are very terrifying ways to travel.

with so many methods of transportation on the very busy roads you’d think there would be lots of accidents, but no – everyone here pays attention when they are driving. no cell phones no texting no tim hortons, just focusing on driving and not killing me. what a novel concept.

4) finally the food oh the food, so the first day i had very traditional meals of subway and dominos pizza, a nice way to ease into the diet here. yesterday got right at it with bengali food at an indian/chinese restaurant – i don’t know what it was called just that is was very good.

today was al’s cook turned up and he out did the restaurant somehow. he only used veggies but the end result a great meal. it made me think why don’t we have more flavour in our dishes in canada? everything here, expect the pizza and subway, comes packed with these wonderful spices.

well that’s it for now – its only been a few days and i’ve already seen a lot. more to come…

reunited.

3 Sep

and it feels so good.

he's in india. finally.

the thing about india.

1 Sep

so the funny thing about being thrust into this whole india situation is that i’ve come into contact with events almost everyday that have made me question life, my existence and the choices i’ve made.

frankly, it gets to be a bit exhausting.

but i think that, in addition to a deep appreciation for the more hilarious events in my life, what i’ve derived from all this is a true sense of”make it count“. (thank you jack dawson)

i’ve seen so much crazy stuff – kids getting hit by cars, animals taking their last breath, men having the shit kicked out of them and so on – that you know – i figure that if today is it, i want to go out feeling like i did it the right way.

so i’ve started saying what i want to say to those who need to hear it.

for me this has meant a simple “i love you” or “i am grateful for you” – to more complicated admissions like “i’m sorry i was a total see-you-next-tuesday”.

i think the latter is the more interesting of circumstances because it means having the guts to put yourself in a situation where you are likely to be told off. it hasn’t happened yet, but as i hit send last night on one of these “i’m sorry” notes to someone from a long time ago, i realized that i was opening myself up to a possible shit-storm of insults. so it goes i guess…maybe i’ll just avoid my inbox for a while.

(or only read emails whilst drinking chilled chardy. yes, this seems like the more reasonable option.)

the point is, that because of india i feel i truly understand how f*&king short life is. i think i get it now -and not just as a saying on a t-shirt or some shitty motivational cat poster – like i really get how fleeting our existences are. because i’ve seen it go down.

i kind of want to punch this cat in the face.

so i am trying to live my moments by being as honest as i can be. i want to know that when my time comes i can be confident that i left nothing unsaid that needed to be said, and nothing undone that should have been done.

so this is the thing about india: this insane – totally insane – country is teaching me to be humble and kind to those who have touched my life in a way i never imagined.

and i think that’s probably important.