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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.


thank you, everyone. for everything.

xo al


flights, fights and applying the things you learned as a toddler.

12 May

i’d categorize myself as a fairly laid back person. ok, am i a control freak about clean sheets, vacuuming and sanitized toilets – maybe. (but really, if you’re not a freak about those things, what’s wrong with you.)

basically, i want you to know i’m just a normal, run-of-the-mill rational person.  now stick with me to the end, loyal follower, cause this is a great story. so laid back.

so my original airline ticket here was booked for march 27th with a gloriously cost-effective expedia-like company in india called make my trip.  it all seemed so easy in my naïve youth of 2 months ago: book ticket, get on flight, move to kolkata, make india love me.

but then, the indians struck their first blow and denied me entry into their spicy country. depressed, i had to cancel my flight on march 26th.

luckily, the make my trip people kindly told me that i would get a refund from the airline carrier within  6 – 8 weeks.  ok, fine.

please insert your choice of catchy intermission music here.

the weeks flew by and soon it was may 4th and, looking at my credit card, i noticed that no refund had arrived from make my trip.  i inquired – perfectly politely – with their customer service department and was promptly told over the phone that i would not be receiving my refund. their reason? i didn’t show up for my flight.


as i am sure you can understand, being accused of sleepwalking and/or memory loss doesn’t sit well with me. to make matters worse, the customer service guy  said he couldn’t answer my questions – he’d have to call me back within 48 hours. well, a week and several angry emails later, i still had not heard what the effing eff was going on.

so i made some increasingly angry calls to make my trip. but  each effort yielded the same answer: i didn’t show up for my flight, and now i would have to pay for it.

as husband can attest, at this point i was getting ready to march to make my trip’s offices with a pitchfork and torch screaming “kill the beast! kill the beast!”

but after poo-pooing my disney-derived logic, i did the only thing i could think of: i went straight to the top.

yesterday, thanks to some creative email snooping, i sent a very calmly worded email to make my trip’s ceo – deep kalra – with the subject line “make my trip organizational values”.   i did so because, after a little angry clicking around their website, i had discovered that they list customer centricity, integrity, accountability and respect for people as the cornerstone of their corporate culture.

well, the poor man! someone needed to save him from career suicide – because clearly the company  which he was so fearlessly leading was destined for failure.

my email to mr. kalra was incredibly rational. i simply explained that – as a professional courtesy – i thought he might want to know his company was suffering from a massive strategic cultural misalignment, let’s call it.

and, being a genuinely concerned customer, i said i would keep him copied on all my future emails to his customer service department. for his benefit, of course.

and wouldn’t you know it – within 30 minutes of hitting send this morning on my daily email to make my trip’s customer service department, i received a response from mr. ceo’s office. i guess he got my note.

amazingly, it’s now just 7 hours later and i have received 2 emails from senior staff members at make my trip and a phone call confirming they made a mistake regarding my mysterious out-of-body flight tardiness. they’re sorry, and will i please forgive them if they refund my cash within 72 hours?

i win.

what i am trying to illustrate here using my charming indian example is that the values you learn at 3 years old are really the only ones you’ll ever need. even in the most trying situations.

wait your turn (be patient), listen to what your superiors tell you (be respectful), say please and thank you (be kind) and – when all else fails – throw a strategic and well-executed temper tantrum.

visiting the queen.

8 May

you know, queen victoria was a fascinating lady. she fiercely led the british empire for like 60 years or something, bolstered most of europe’s monarchies with her progeny and – perhaps more uniquely – was a diva trendsetter.

(why do we all wear white wedding dresses? well good old vicky did it first. what a minx.)

no but in all seriousness, the more i learn about queen victoria, the more i find her supremely interesting.  and while i may not agree with her politics, the least i can do while in kolkata is visit her monument.

before you look at the pretty pictures, the one other thing you should know about vicksters is that she didn’t do anything small scale. even after her death, magically enough.

and now, queen victoria’s modest monument:

the first stone to victoria’s gigantic memorial was laid in 1906 by her son, edward VII five years after her death.  the building wasn’t completed however until 1921 under the reign of her grandson, george V. now if that ain’t familial devotion, i’m out.

imperialism is a tough case to crack.  while i genuinely enjoy visiting these memorials, monuments, statues and whatevers – i truly have a difficult time wrapping my head around their purpose and the politics of the time. i mean, while i was snapping away today i couldn’t help but wonder: “it’s gorgeous, but what the hell were these people thinking?”

well…after 20 years of hard labour and zillions of dollars, my insightful conclusion is that they just really really really wanted us to remember victoria.

but – no point in worrying about their questionable logic now!

what i do plan on investing future brain power into however is expanding my knowledge about victoria’s family: her sons, her grandsons, her great-grandsons and her great-great-granddaughter, or elizabeth II as we know her best.

and as a true closet history nut i can’t wait to dive in. because if nothing else, vicky and her descendents know how to keep things interesting.

you’re all i need to get by.

1 May

wise and wonderful followers, i am working on several stunning posts based on your fantastic feedback and inquisitive lines of questioning – but for now – please accept the following.

when i left canada, i was really um…unprepared…for what was to come here in tropical india.  i know – you’re quietly giggling to yourself thinking “al, you? unprepared? this is no surprise.”  – but let me finish will ya?

this time the unpreparedness was intentional. i figured that i’d try to just go with the flow as much as possible – bring only the things i knew i couldn’t live without (neutrogena face cream, vitamins, allergy medication) and just let the rest figure itself out. or not.

exhibit: unprepared in amsterdam. fail.

so it seems to be going ok.  i mean do i wish i had brought a satchel bag deal instead of a pair of 4-inch heels – yes. but sometimes you simply can’t employ logic when shoes are involved.

here is a list of the unexpected and unplanned things which are truly getting me by here in  india:

  1. marvin gaye, bach and fats waller: stolen from my darling uncle’s music collection, these greats are helping me fall asleep on the nights when i know jc is stalking my brains.
  2. undershirts: they help me keep to the conservative code if a shirt is just slightly too low cut, while also curbing the charming waterfalls of sweat.
  3. face astringent: it is so dirty here – and not dirty with 2 t’s. filthy, mucky, dusty. evil dirt particles end up almost everywhere so a quick method for dirt removal is key.
  4. 100% apple juice: i am not a juice drinker but with ridiculous level of dehydration here apple juice is ensuring i don’t pass out. man i’d be an ugly fainter.
  5. old navy flip flops: i wear mine everywhere – including the shower and the house – to avoid stepping on any rogue cockroaches or jc/jc’s evil compatriots.

so my conclusion is that preparedness ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  

and don’t worry, in the interest of sample size and your continued amusement, i will test this theory out further.  i am about to release my first indian travel destination to you, so we’ll see if a similar approach has me coming out on top. or not.

and now i’m off to the store  for some more apple juice…

the first day.

18 Apr

yesterday was the first day that i truly ventured out and immersed myself into indian life.  other than walking to and from the car that escorted me to the office in delhi, i had yet to really get out there and get busy.

and busy i got.  a colleague from the microfinance institution, sanjay, was kind enough to offer to take me around the neighborhood and get me familiar with the necessities.  the necessities…and a few other things.

clearly a necessity.

we jumped from the hotel, to an auto-rickshaw (exactly what is sounds – a 3 legged open car-type-thing that makes you both exhilarated and scared for your life), to an ancient-looking yellow taxi, to the city metro. we walked in the middle of traffic that i would normally never dare (sorry dad) and tackled markets that were sweaty, hectic, and incense-infused.

sanjay was kind enough to take me to various parts of the city – the more residential part where our office/hotel is located, the busy commercial areas and then the more westernized locales.  in the latter, you could almost forget that you were in kolkata – i even had insanely over priced gelato and saw my first indian mcdonald’s.

the beer and gelato tasted especially perfect because it was 36+ degrees celsius outside.

the heat i can deal with (apparently it will get up to 50 degrees), but the heat, the sweat and the dirt is a terribly unique combination.  i don’t think i have ever freely let myself get so – for lack of a better descriptor – filthy. and i embraced it, cause after all, keeping pristine is a battle i ain’t going to win here.

dirty and happy at the end of a long day

of course, the day yielded some roadblocks. i got stared at everywhere we went, men made lots of comments (some of which sanjay hilariously translated for me) and i truly suck at learning bengali.  hopefully these things will improve.

however, i’d say that overall the first day was a good day. and now i’m off to a different kind of first day – at my new job.

enjoying the sun in one of kolkatas parks. dont ask me which one.

good morning, kolkata.

16 Apr

last night i flew 1.5 hours east from delhi to kolkata – the city in west, bengal india that i will call home for the next 12 months.  i arrived on bengali new year – the start of the year 1418 – and everyone seemed to be out celebrating in the streets.

i, however, opted out this time as i was exhausted from the flight.  so i cuddled up in my hotel, ordered some food and feel asleep to the most beautiful sounds…american tv!

this morning, i woke up to my first views of kolkata from the hotel:


hello kolkata.

tomorrow i have my first foray into the city – but for now – i’m going to savor each moment alone with the 500 hotel cable channels.