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a beginning, a middle and an end.

25 Nov

i have been putting off this post for weeks.

instead, i’ve been rightly filling my time chasing the mouse-maybe-rat (thanks for nothing, 120 year old house), consuming oaked white wines and nourishing my deeply committed relationship with cheese.

and while i’d like to think of myself as almost a seasoned professional in my procrastination abilities, the time has come to face the inevitable. to walk the metaphorical plank, so to speak, to put my head on the guillotine whilst violently screaming: “vive la france!”

no? too far? anyway, point is – i need to wrap this shit up. and well, kittens, it’s been a real ride, hasn’t it?

like most things i do, you may recall that i was wildly unprepared to write this blog linked to my rando move to india.  in the beginning, i knew that i didn’t want to write about, like, all the creepy-ass goats i was seeing on the street and so on, highlighting 24/7 how completely different life was in calcutta. i mean – it’s a scooch implied that life is different in india – it’s f*&king india.

so i quickly realized that the best way to your wonderfully weird little hearts was by telling you some of my best secrets, trash talking the laundry list of jerks i’ve known in my 28 years and enlightening you on exactly how two bone fide crazy newlyweds make it through their first year of marriage -while 12,952 km apart.

and so it was: one long, swear-word encrusted (bedazzled, really) teenage telephone conversation – that sometimes referred to india.

but by the middle of it all, finally finding my voice simply wasn’t enough – it had turned out that randomly moving to india wasn’t so easy afterall. work became difficult, the thrill of living in the country of dust-turned-mud-turned-dust-again and spice had quickly worn off. basically, it blew. hardcore.

and frankly it was you, kind readers, who came to the rescue in so many ways. your mostly-insane comments, your revelations of devotion to this humble teenaged telephone conversation of a blog, your personal messages and – in some cases – your packages filled with booty (pirate, not ass – here and here too!) helped me get over my self-imposed exile.

(and let’s be honest here, the americans filled in the rest of the blanks with their exceptional taste in imported wine, unwavering devotion to western tv shows and propensity for hosting mexcian-themed murder mysteries. ole indeed, bitches.)

then just as quickly as i began this craziness, got over the fact that india – yes, all 1.2 billion of it – was a jerk, things were over. because for the many oh-so-complicated reasons, i left my work early for the homeland where the nachos are free range and the sewers are closed.

but doing as i have done leaves you different. even now – and probs for a while to come –  i am struggling to figure out what it all meant. working to convince myself that it’s ok to let this experience change me – even if it’s maybe not for the best.

this has been our journey together. and this is where it ends – for now.

listen, you don’t realize it, but you owe me. i’ve rarely preached to you about crap like “politics” and the “economic crisis” etc and so on. i’ve kept it to the interesting stuff  – like how i ditched my now husband while dressed like a pirate-hooker . the truly important discussions, ya know?

so now, you must listen to me as i take my moment to preach atop the metaphorical soapbox.

whoever, wherever and whatever you are – i am telling you that we are all able to do almost anything we want in this life. the path that is defined for us – whatever that path looks like in your world – isn’t always the way we have to play it.

it’s totes ok to take b.f.r’s (big f&*king risks) because not only do they give you mad street cred (“well when i was living in calcutta…” = kind of bad ass) but they are often the ones that are the most worthwhile. remember i told you once that nothing worth fighting for is ever easy? well it’s true.

i leave you with this: sometimes when it’s a bajillion degrees celcius during a 2 hour black out and you’ve just frantically stepped in a sewer that reaches your almost-knee-cap, whilst skinning your arm trying to protect your face from the garbage which you will surely fall into because of the whole leg-in-sewer thang, you enjoy a good old fashioned motivational quote.

this is the one that i repeated to myself that night, covered in shit, while being laughed at by probably 50 + indians:  “at any given moment you have the power to say ‘this is not how the story is going to end’.” and that’s a fact.

fact.

thank you, everyone. for everything.

xo al

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you’d better bring a poster.

14 Oct

well, i will be back in just a few short weeks. yup, you can still giggle with excitement over this – i am, bitches.

it’s an exciting time! the babies who call me auntie al, plates upon plates of nachos, crisp fall weather, good wine, the diabolical tap-dancing dog and my car named veronica all await me. anxiously.

i’ve been trying to envision what it will be like to walk back onto canadian soil after almost 7 months living in this insane country of dust and spice, but i really can’t figure it out.

i play different scenarios in my head. i put varying forms of theme music to said scenarios –  as i do for all the important moments in my life, let’s be honest here. (often ending up on ac/dc’s ‘thunderstruck’ – obviously) but this is tough nut to crack – i can’t figure out what it’s going to be like.

brenna said something to me a few days ago that go me thinking. she said that  i would probably be feeling slightly nostalgic about india in the coming weeks. i kind of scoffed at this at first, but then the more i thought about it realized that my darling brenna was right.

i was riding in an auto the other night and i caught myself feeling sad that i would no longer have to risk my life to get from point a to point b. and then i started thinking about the heat, and how, while it sort of tries to suffocate you every time you step outside, it feels kinda like a big hug from mother earth.

yah, i know, it’s totally f*&ked up.

but i guess this is the way it works. while we have something, we aren’t fully satisfied with it. and when it’s gone, we realize that maybe it wasn’t so bad.

or maybe it was really that bad, but it was still mostly worth it. yes…that sounds better.

so i have no idea what it’s going to feel like to be back in canada.  but i do have a sense of what it’s going to be like to say goodbye to india. probably 37% sad and 63% happy. i feel like that’s a fair assessment given that i spent half of my time here being angry at 1 billion people. so it goes.

actually lovelies, i lied – i do know one thing about my return to canada. when i get to the airport and see you all standing there (because you will be, right?) you’d better be holding glitter-encrusted posters and putting forth your best twirling efforts.

all together now: “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”

yahoo bitches!

what a magical time.

4 Oct

durga puja: it’s basically the bengali version of christmas.

everyone buys everyone else presents, you get new fancy-schmancy outfits and you race around under twinkly lights eating a butt-load of food for five glorious days. wait…this is how everyone’s christmas is – right? right?

so i still haven’t figured out all the religious ins and outs of this holiday – 50% because i’m not sure i really care and 50% because i’m still fact finding by way of the americans. (they’re good for so many things.)

but here’s what i’ve gathered: they make large ‘pandals’ (read: highly elaborate temporary giant fort-thingys constructed out of bamboo, glitter and fabric)  to house the ‘idols’ – one or several of which are maa durga and her children running away from a lion and potentially an elephant. the devil is mixed in somewhere there too in the form of a man wearing a mustache. naturally.

anyhoo, each pandal has a theme as does each idol-scene.

one of the pandals i visited today was themed with the works of a famous indian artist, another was themed to look like an old castle. all jokes aside, these things are mindblowingly artistic. everything for puja is made without any modern technology – unless you call mud and sticks modern, bitches.

although the idols literally scare the bejesus out of me – they’re an honor to see up close.

here’s a few pics from today’s festivities:

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sigh, there’s so much more to tell but i’m getting up at 7 am to go ‘pandal hopping’ with the americans so i’d better get some sleep. yup, what a magical time.

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.

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.

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

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.

the things we tell ourselves.

26 Aug

the moment i met the husband – in addition to thinking he was using pizza to get into my pants – i pretty much knew that he was for me.

(what can i say – the heart wants what it wants. and it wanted pizza, evidently.)

so after just 3 months of dating, when i made a big move to both be closer to him and get a better job, we had the hilarious task of sorting out our living arrangements and our oh-so-serious feelings.

would we move in together after just a short period of time as a couple – or would we bear the cost of two apartments? decisions , decisions.

well, even after a lot of casual side glances at each other and drunken professions of love (as you do), we decided to just find a place for me – he would continue living at his parents.  while there was no denying we were smitten, we weren’t ready to profess it to the world in the form of a shared apartment.

i mean, what would people say after all? my stars!

so we found the most perfectly perfect 1 bedroom place in an old converted century home for “me” to live in. the curved walls, warm paint colors and creeky floors were charming, and exactly what i’d hoped for.

except a funny thing happened on the way to not living together: we kinda started living together. despite the official party line being he was living at his parents, not-a-one night was spent apart in that small little pad. we cooked, ate, cleaned and cohabited as one – all in the name of living separately of course.

well, it took about 4 months of this fairly ridiculous charade before we finally threw our hands up, moved all of his shit over and started calling it “our” place.

after the admitted co-habitation.

it’s funny now looking back because i realize that while we both wanted to live together, we weren’t ready to face it.

so instead we put on a little show. we kept quietly saying stupid stuff like “oh you’re just staying over here a lot” and “your stuff is still at your parents so it’s not like you live here or anything!” to feel alright about what we really knew was going on.

these are the things we told ourselves. they may have been ridiculous lies that were fooling no one,  but they are what helped us get up each morning, put on our pantaloons and march firmly into the world feeling comfortable and calm. (tipping our tiny top hats along the way, of course.)

it’s not much different here in india. i often tell myself  what i need to hear  to live in a state of bliss (where the chilled chardonnay and sour cream n’ onion chips roam free), even if it’s just for a few moments.

and you know what – i’m totally 100% ok with this deal. india or no india – this is the way in which we sometimes face the un-face-able – no matter how big or small.

now when i tell people our story, they are still a little shocked by the fact that we actually moved in together after just 3 months.  so i always follow our beginnings, with:

“hey, you think that’s crazy – we got engaged, bought a house and got married within 6 months! and then i moved to india! that’s right, bitches!”

an auspicious occasion.

16 Aug

there really weren’t many things that i had on my indian bucket list for the year. this is probably because, as you may recall, i put about 2 seconds of pre-thinking into this whole india thing before i actually stepped foot on the airplane. so it goes.

but poor planning aside, i did know that all i really wanted was to attend an indian marriage in some shape or form.

well kittens, tonight i am proud to say that item 1 of 1 on my bucket list is now accomplished! so i guess i can come home now. not.

don’t be mad, you little vipers, but i have been keeping the deep dark wedding invite a secret from you now for few weeks. just for fun, really. my colleague went around the office at the end of july handing out the invites and spreading the news of his impending nuptials.

it was all a very dropping-off-valentines-into-shoeboxes-circa-grade-3 kinda thing.

so fancy

an invite

and while i have been looking forward to the wedding, i have been super stressed about the dress code. so i sought outfit advice from the wonderful brenna d. and ended up pulling together this little number yesterday.

long chemise + leggings (typical style here) and VERY blinggy earrings borrowed from a friend

although i was invited to the full marriage, i only attended the reception with the rest of my co-workers. it was held at the groom’s home and everything was done up pretty intensely: layers of cloth in red and gold, exotic-seeming flowers and about a bajillion sparkles. man, indians love them some bling.

overall, it was a quiet affair. everyone was sitting around talking calmly and eating – definitely no ‘don’t stop beleiving’ sing-a-longs breaking out at this wedding. not that i was really waiting around for one. ahem.

the bride was quite done up, as i guess the bride usually is. basically she was sitting on the top floor of the house in a big ol fancy chair wearing garlands, layers of rich fabric, head dresses and tons of jewelry. frankly, she looked like a christmas ornament – but totally don’t tell her i said that m’kay?

the bride was just kind of awkwardly receiving guests, while the groom ran around greeting people and making sure everyone was pleased with the spread.

kindly taking a bit of a detour here, i will tell you that as i’ve poked around the issue of marriage celebrations with a few bengali friends, i’ve heard  many say that while they hate the meaning of the wedding rituals, they love the tradition of it all.

in other words, they fully get the wildly sexist undertones (such as making the bride sit around like an inanimate object, the least of the examples really) but still they find comfort in them as a rite of passage.  i can totally understand this mentality: being stuck somewhere between the past and present as we all are really.

anyway, let’s put a pin in all that talk for now.

so, after admiring the bride we all went to eat. bengalis are literally all food, all the time so there was a 10 course feast of fish, mutton, more fish and tons of desserts.

i haven’t mentioned this as of yet but im a practicing select-a-tarianism here – meaning i very very rarely eat any meat.  gross cuts, gross preparation, gross bird murder – end scene.

and well, because i’m delightfully anaphylactic with fish, it really bums the bengalis out when i attend their dinner parties. they fret and freak out over my eating habits and it’s generally very tiresome for everyone involved.

(tiresome in particular tonight for me because i was video-taped whilst eating the food with my hands in the traditional bengali style.  sigh, i guess it’s  a strange deal to have the tall blonde canadian girl at a wedding, so i tried to keep my cool with their crazy antics. but thanks to my newfound temper, this wasn’t easy.)

after seeing the christmas-bride, complimenting the house/food/dress to the groom and eating tons of grub – that was it. we went home.

generally, everyone was happy, warm and really welcoming at the marriage reception. small annoyances aside, it was nice to be a part of this special time in my colleague’s life.

that being said, i’m glad i didn’t attend the other days (yes, days) of the marriage. i feel satisfied that after tonight i have a good sense of what the full monty would be like: hopeful, beautiful and undoubtably exhausting.

in the end, i think the word auspicious about sums er right up.

thumbs up for bucket lists.

he’s a good egg.

2 Aug

i have no idea what the phase ‘a good egg’ really means or where it originates from, but in my almost-asleep-dom i think it refers to someone or something being kind of awesome.

so tonight as i fall into my advil cold and flu slumber, (because apparently food poisoning has morphed into a cold? yeah, i said what the f*&k too.) i am using it to describe my husband.

because man, he’s a good egg.

i really won’t regale you with all the exact reasons, because there are lots and that could get boring really fast for everyone involved, but basically today he said all the right things at all the right moments – and i just really appreciated that.

(appreciated it in general, yes, but also appreciated it more specifically because my day consisted of breaking down in uncontrollable tears-o-rage in a hospital parking lot during a rainstorm. a story for another time, perhaps? then again, maybe not.)

whether it’s listening as i gab about my coworkers, the people who are disappointing, the people who are uplifting, the ever-plotting diabolical dog or our high maintenance house – he just mixes a mean cocktail of 1 part support, 1 part humor and 1 part love.

so as i literally drift off i am, more than anything, just really grateful for him today. as my friend and my more-than-a-friend.

(cause forget all the marriage crap, what’s obviously most important is that he’s totally dreamy.)

‘night bitches!

you are not alone.

31 Jul

it’s been a crazy week.  i am literally  not joking when i say i haven’t found a good opportunity to hit up the b-log (real word) and tell you what’s truly going on.  basically, as i hinted in my last post, i got a bit of a life this week and basically chose that over you. get over it.

monday was a write off (cause it’s monday, and they suck), tuesday i was in the field, wednesday i was drunk off sangria, thursday i was drunk and then at harry potter 7 x 2, friday i got food poisoning, saturday was still poisoned and then sunday (i.e. today) was still poisoned but drunk.

(hey, doesn’t alcohol kill germs? no? bueller? bueller?)

basically the theme for all of these events has been the americans – as their kindness and excellent taste in wine has continued to make my life good.

for example, miss jp often lets me take advantage of her driver, comfortable beds and hot running water when i need it. she’s very considerate of my situation – which is much different than her own.

and today was no different, as i was invited to brunch with a whack of consulate workers. i was all thinking: “great, greasy bacon and eggs and maybe a little toasty-toast thrown in there – just what the doc ordered.”

oh but no. no no. no no no. i knew i was in trouble when mrs. a and mrs. b showed up in dresses and i was in boyfriend jeans and a white t-shit. f*&k.

in response to my obviously horrified face at their outfits miss jp’s exact words were: “i knew if i told you that we were going to a 5-star hotel you wouldn’t come. you look fine. this is on me.”

needless to say my glorious bacon-and-egg theory was shot to shit.

the hotel was super fancy-pants and the food was unquestionably deelish. everything was tiny versions of itself – tiny asparagus, tiny sangwiches and tiny tartlets – which is how i truly know it was 5-star.

when the yum brunch was over about 4.30, most everyone decided to head across to the hotel bar to continue the booze-fest. i was, of course, excited at this because as you may recall: girls just wanna have fun.

naturally, on the way over miss jp told me that: “rounds 1 through 3 are on us, so just enjoy.”

and while i was starting to feel like a bit of a charity case, i do enjoy beverages, so i figured i’d repay them all in hilarious jokes, early 90’s dance moves (you can’t touch this!) and snide remarks.

of course, i repaid in full.

three indian-cosmopolitans later i’m pretty sure the alcohol had killed all the food poisoning germs still living in my body and i was feeling good. like batman good.

but it was time to go, as all good things – even afternoons of drunken debauchery – must come to an end.  as we stepped back outside from the fancy lobbies-and-tiny-food of the 5-star hotel to get into the car i exclaimed: “wow, i almost forgot that i was in india there for a while.”

and i totes wasn’t kidding. i had actually forgotten for a while that i wasn’t at home, hanging out with a bunch of friends making jokes and dancing to mariah carey. as you do.

but then something really weird happened: mrs. a started to quietly cry.

i felt really awkward, seeing as i was sangwiched in between mrs. a and her wife in the car and i had no sweet f*&king idea what had upset her. so, like a minx,  i just tried to casually keep the conversation going so she could gather herself. (because for serious, there is nothing worse than being uncontrollably upset and having everyone ask you what’s wrong. i literally want to punch babies when that happens.)

as i got out of the car at miss jp’s i asked her what was wrong with mrs. a – honestly worried about her unexplained upset-ed-ness.

miss jp said, and i quote: “she just really hates india.”

oh, just that, eh? sure. no big deal. (!!!!!)

now don’t get me wrong, this place is the armpit of india: it’s dirty, crazy polluted, technologically-stunted, vulgar and just generally hard to live in. but for diplomats – with their giant apartments, huge salaries and drivers – i figured that hey, life wasn’t so bad here.

but no matter who you are, what you have or what you don’t – it’s just hard to be in this situation. mrs. a is here as a diplomatic spouse, she doesn’t have her family, great professional opportunities, good networking or the ability to do all the things she likely enjoys. so yah, it probably sucks for her.

and i guess before today i never really saw all of that. i just thought – what the frig do these jokers have to complain about?

but i was wrong. and in thinking about her tears i couldn’t help but tell myself: “al, you are not alone.”

while i feel for mrs. a more than anyone, it’s good to know that, upswing or downward funk, the bottom line is still the same: we all miss our lives at home.

now, i’m off to listen to some 60’s rock and think about the husband’s arrival in exactly 1 month…

hannah told me this was a nice picture (of me, duh). and even if it is old, im vain enough to believe her and put it on my blog.

the best days of my (indian) life.

19 Jul

for the first two months that i was at work, miss j had bryan adams’ “summer of 69” as her cell phone ringer.  and like, not the whole song – no no – just the first guitar riff – you know bah, bah bah. bah, bah bah.

it was awesome – the first 3 times.

anyway, when i sat down to write this after a 14 hour day of traipsing around one of our branches – this little bryan adams memory popped into my head and i thought to myself: “f*&k that was an annoying ringtone – but the song is damn appropriate for today!”

today was one of the best days i’ve had here so far – and i’m going to walk you through these best moments right now! because like a flipping genius – i have photo documented all of them!!!

cue my standing ovation, please. no? ok. onward then.

moment 1: a roadside pick-me-up.

i was pretty conservative on roadside anything for my first couple months here, understandably of course. but since i seem to be have a new-found stomach of steel, the last six weeks i’ve been testing the roadside food waters. and man, the waters are delicious.

hack hack

today it was coconut milk, freshly hacked, followed by eating the soft coconut on the inside. it was the perfect morning pick-me-up. and as shown by this truly hideous picture of me, i needed a pick-me-up.

this is what 5.30 am and not caring looks like.

moment 2: the kids are alright.

as previously shown here, the indian kidlets are pretty cute – but capturing them on camera is not always easy. i usually have to go through several rounds of open-mouthed gawking (guess they don’t get a lot of white folks round their way), sometimes rude comments (“are you a man?” – really happened today thanks to an 8-year old) and genuine fear of the unknown.

but i have prevailed – mainly by dive-bombing them and taking their picture anyway. (like a minx.) i make sure to show the kidlets their pictures right away, because experience has shown me that they love love love seeing themselves on camera. and as soon as they see the shots they generally ham it up big time.

all except this girl – who i tried to capture several times, to no avail:

a last minute turn around from the camera - shy!

ironically, it’s my favorite shot of the day because in the end it captured her so completely perfectly as she moved away from me at the last second.

this motley crew was also a tough nut to crack. they were all watching me intently from afar and i totally camera dive-bombed them after being rejected a few times for a picture. (they literally scattered like flies at the sight of my camera but then slowly crept back to check me out)

completely un-posed. completely skeptical of me.

happily, this photo is completely un-posed. this is literally how they stood watching me, looking wonderfully skeptical as hell.

moment 3: monkey-ing around.

monkeys are preeeeetty much right up there with birds and fish for me – they’re just a little too unpredictable for my taste. so i’ll keep my monkeys in the zoo, thanks.

anyway, today i saw my first indian monkey. my colleague, we’ll call him mr ss, decided to taunt him by practicing his monkey calls – great! sadly for us though, the attempt ended with the monkey calling his monkey buddies to come kick our asses. we ran. the end.

little bastard

moment 4: and speaking of zoos.

we often get spectators during our repayment (photo documented here!) but today i was definitely the main attraction as we conducted the meeting. check it out:

checking me out through the window

they kids et al. were clamouring to get a peek at me, which struck me both as uncomfortable and endearing. and a bit zoo-ish.

moment 5: don’t go around it, go through it.

it’s the monsoon season here, as i have noted a few times now, and what this means is it’s all rain, all the time. a lot of the communities where we work have terrible drainage, so even when it’s not raining there are giant puddles of water.

well, mr. ss and the branch head decided to wear their fanciest dress shoes today (i wore my uniform of flip-flops – win) and they paid for it handsomely.

standing at a fairly substantial lake of water that separated us from our clients’ home, with no hope of tip-toeing around it in sight, i screamed: “shoes and socks off boys! we’re going through it!”

and while i was 50% joking, they actually obliged.

i thought that this was pretty awesome – considering the water was highly putrid. since something so hardcore would never happen at home, i was smiling the whole time – ankle-deep in shit and piss water for 1/2 a kilometer.

so, while i am sure you will draw your own conclusions about the overall greatness of my day, there is no better way to end this than with mr. adams:

“when i look back now, that summer seemed to last forever. and if i had the choice, yeah, id always wanna be there – those were the best days of my life.”

the things i wanted to ask you.

15 Jul

the husband told me not too long ago: “i love the blog posts that are funny. the other ones are ok too, but the funny ones are the best.”

and while i, more than anyone, appreciate the hilarity of an uncomfortable story at my expense,  i’ll tell you in advance husband (et al.) the following is sort of long and not really all that funny.

but you should read it anyway.

so i spent yesterday in the field not too far away from our office. the day started with two repayments in the morning – where we go to the ‘center’ (a pre-agreed client’s home) and collect their weekly loan installment.  i’ve seen probably fifty to sixty repayments so far, but yesterday morning’s was particularly amazing.

we turned off the bustling semi-urban street into an alley about 1.5 meters wide and maybe 1 km long. being a self-proclaimed giant, i had to crouch a good part of the time we were walking to save my head from being taken off by the roofs (rooves? who knows.)

well it may have been a tight space, but man was there ever life happening.

the water taps had just turned on so everyone was carting fresh water back to their houses. brightly colored and buckets were stacked outside almost every door. women, wearing their day dresses that look like nighties, were washing clothes and dishes in their kitchens and kids, cats and dogs were roaming around looking for trouble.

it amazed me how life can carry on, and carry on so vibrantly, in a confined space such as this one. it was like its own self-contained  world.

the alley

after finishing repayment and eating some lunch, we hosted 20 clients in the branch for their loan disbursement. with the indian microfinance crisis still affecting our business, disbursement is few and far between these days. t’s a real treat to see it go down.

the women arrived dressed to the nines  – quite a contrast from their housework attire in the morning. they had on brightly colored sarees with gold edging and they talked quietly among themselves while they waited.

disbursement day is an exciting time for them – one that has the potential to make things a little easier for their families in the coming year.

waiting for their loans

as i was sitting in the room with these women, i couldn’t stop staring. something about the contrast between the morning’s living conditions and the well-coiffed people sitting in the office really hit me more than usual.  so many things were running through my mind:

are you nice to your friends? do you ever bully your loan group members? do you treat your children with respect? do you worry if they will always take care of you? what will this money do for you? will you respect the process and repay? have you been truthful, or will you do anything to get money?

when the branch head eventually gave them their money about 30 minutes later they were beyond elated. they got almost giddy, but then tried to tone it down when they thought i was watching them. (which i was, like a jc-esque creeper)

with huge smiles on their faces, a quick goodbye “namaskar” (pronounced namoushkar) and carrying their purses filled with cash, the women left the branch. we then rushed off to facilitate a loan test.

these tests are administered to sanction a loan so that we can be confident that they understand the process and terms.  this is one of the realities of dealing with often uneducated clients who are – at times – desperate for money.

we meet the group in a community that is quite possibly the most active i have seen so far. it’s an urban slum located, almost ironically, across the street from a new crop of luxury apartments and a big shopping mall. 

kids and dogs were running everywhere,  rickshaw and motorbikes were trying to squeeze through the lanes, cooking, laundry and baths were happening by the pond – all in a small space like you could never imagine. the houses themselves had thatched walls and clay tile roofs – like most i’ve seen so far – and were finished off with tarps or garbage bags to protect the structures from the rain.

once you enter inside these homes you almost forget that they aren’t made of much more than bamboo.

the house for the test had two rooms, a separate kitchen with tiles and a gas stove like my own – they even had a table for eating. the other room had a tv, fan and a giant family bed with plenty of floor space for sitting. (although these houses perpetually smell damp and musty, this one was among the better i’ve been in)

the group was made of four women ranging in ages from 25 – 50.  the youngest, and the most vocal, was absolutely beautiful. she had lovely white straight teeth (fairly uncommon) and a warm face at which i just couldn’t stop staring. i am fully aware that this sounds weird – but hey –  beauty is beauty.

and seeing as she was so enchanting – and close to my age – my mind started to once again race with questions:

are you married? is your husband good to you? do you have children already? do you enjoy life? do you want more than this? do you know that there is more than this? what do you hope for? what do you look forward to? what is your biggest fear?

and as we wrapped up the test, i found it oddly hard to say goodbye to this woman and walk out of the slum.  for the first time since i got here i felt really struck by the poverty juxtaposed with how life goes innocently – almost unknowingly – on. it’s a sort of beautiful thing really, if you think about it.

and with another day under my belt, the journey continues to understand our clients.  my mind is, and always will be, buzzing with things that in any other context i could somehow manage to strategically ask and understand. but not here.  here, i have to observe and make my best guesses – and in many cases – i have to keep wondering.

so to the women who i have met, and who i will meet, if you somehow read this in a distant time, please know that these are the things i wanted to ask.  these are the things i wanted to learn from your lives.

whats behind door #1?

about 90 days.

11 Jul

when i was 18 i put a countdown up on my bedroom wall noting the days until i was free from the evil grasp of high school. because my brain is full of random shit, i distinctly remember that this countdown started at 87 days.

i guess that at that particular moment 87 seemed like a lot of freeking days to be stuck hating your life every moment – as you do at 18. (wait – or was that just me? awkward.)

but as time has a tendency to do, my countdown slowly wore out, i graduated and then moved away for a very long time to recover from 5 years of self-inflicted emotional distress. higher education, jobs and a wedding happened – and soon it was 3,650 days later and i was living in india.

as of today i’ve been in this crazy country of mud and spice 90 days. and just like i did after graduating high school, i’m feeling pretty proud that i’ve made it this far.

(cause lord knows i never thought this whole “india” thing out very carefully – step 1: get a job, step 2: get on a plane, step 3: [crickets])

i am so proud of reaching day 90, in fact, that today when someone called me ‘brave’ – which i normally kind of hate – i secretly thought to myself: “dude, i am kind of f*&king brave! yeah! [insert end of the ‘breakfast club’ fist pump here please]”

but, admittedly, even with this perfectly fantastical 90-day milestone, i’m still counting the days – just like at 18. i’m really not trying to wish this year away, but i can’t help but be a pinch forward thinking.

it’s 51 days until le husband comes to hang out and 240 days until i will be toasting on canadian soil to my oh-so-super-brave year-long achievement. it’s 241 days until ill be driving around in my car named veronica to see the babies who call me auntie al. and it’s 241.5 days until i’ll be drinking a chilled chardy with said baby mamas. perfection.

my guess is that, much like my ridiculous tenure and subsequent escape from high school, on day 246-ish we will all be laughing about this whole crazy thing together.

me: “hey, remember that time i moved to india?”

you: “yeah…that was weird.”

july 11th is also 1/3 of team goodtimes - the italiana's - birthday. happy birthday darling girl! xox

the end of a really big fight.

10 Jul

well, its been almost 2 weeks since i took a break from india  prompted by the fact that the entire country (yes, entire) was acting like a bitch towards me. so i started talking about other important things, like my sister, minxeses (minkseses?) and my handicapped dog. as you do.

but now that’s all over. i am pleased to announce that after some heavy drinking, new earphones to listen to marvin gaye and an empathetic email from my friend josh – i am ready to end my really big fight with india.

i’m a little sad actually, because it was kind of fun being angry at 1.2 billion people for a while. sigh.

no, but realistically, i guess now is a good time to start an upswing because i had a good week. minus the fact that i caught the flu during the first half, i had a stellar few days visiting clients and their businesses in the field.

since my interest is primarily in financial services small businesses, it was wonderful to finally meet some truly amazing entrepreneurs who have literally pulled their family out of poverty.

at the risk of losing your easily-distracted interest (you’re basically cats, people), i will only tell you one story.

i met a  guy who takes old pants, pulls them apart and recycles them to make kicky shorts. he uses scraps of cloth from other garment vendors to add design detail to the new shorts and even resells the zippers from the original pants to make additional profit.

so not only is the guy running a highly environmentally-friendly social business, but he’s making a killing while doing it. he has been able to transform his family’s lifestyle.

it’s so f*&king badass!

on top of my field visits, work in general has been going suspiciously well.  i feel like i might be earning a smidge of respect from my colleagues and that my projects have a small hope of being successful.  don’t get me wrong, i’m still my perpetually cynical self – but at least there is a glimmer of hope now.

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so in celebration of the end of the big fight and my better-than-most week – i am currently drinking around 2 L of homemade sangria for which i trekked across the city this morning to procure the fixins.

now, i plan on getting completely belligerent and dancing around my apartment for the next 3 hours to 60’s rock and roll.

wish you were here yet?

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!