Tag Archives: kolkata

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

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.

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…

the logic of fish and fear.

18 Aug

there are several things in this world that make me…for lack of a better phrase…highly suspicious. the first of these things are butterflies. the second are birds. and the third, oh the third, are fish.

while it is primarily by coincidence that these are all living things, my guess is it is not coincidental that each of these creatures has one unifying characteristic: unpredictability.

butterflies constantly flutter around getting all up in your business, birds can attack literally at any moment and fish – well for god sakes – they just slink around in a slimy state acting as if they own the joint. those bastards.

well, despite weeks of protest, the husband is about to embark on a 4 day fishing trip in northern bc where his primary goal will be to interact with most, if not all of the above. most terrifyingly of which are fish. more specifically, salmon.

have you ever actually seen a salmon? if not, well enjoy this visual feast:

evil bastards

they are really f*&king ugly! and what’s worse is that i’m almost positive they are the al capone’s of the ocean – ruling the seas with an iron fist (fish) looking for unsuspecting victims to maul.

this hardcore scientific reasoning is why i am completely and utterly beyond panicked about husband’s fishing trip.

i’m seriously not kidding when i say that for the last week i have been having these insane visions of le husband falling off a boat into seriously deep waters, freezing to death and/or being carried away by a band of salmon. which sounds sorta like fun, until you factor in their innate evil-dom.

was i scared about getting married? nope. moving 12,952 km away to india? nah. walking around seriously putrid kolkata slums day in and day out? come on now.

but am i – no joke – terrified for my husband’s safety as he takes those tiny putt-putt planes to no-cell reception no-internet northern bc to taunt salmon for 4 days. and narwhals. but don’t even get me started on narwhals.

so the things we fear are sometimes idiotic, but does that make them any less valid? probably not.

this being the case, today  – like many days come to think of it – i thank god for chilled chardonnay.

what the what?

the arrival of an infamous box.

10 Aug

the favorite family is so-called for many reasons: some of them do things like make the babe who calls me auntie al and create perfectly perfect wedding dresses.  others teach me the value of appropriately timed ‘friends’ quotes for almost any social situation – a skill i take seriously.

but more than anything, the favorite family is favorite because when they’re around i know that, no matter what happens, i will never be alone. it’s kinda like a never-ending hug.

so you can understand my excitement when i learned that they were sending a box – a box of love, if you will – all the way to india! (lord knows i love to stock-pile me some love – and chardonnay – for the crappiest of days here.)

but after successfully leaving canada the box-o-love went POOF and disappeared.

panic ensued.  hair was frantically pulled out. a few tears were shed. dramatic scenes took place with postal workers named wendy. (man, poor wendy)

but then something strange happened. just as curiously as the box vanished, today it showed at my apartment! sure, it was mostly bottomless and looked as if a ferret had rifled through the contents seeking out tiny top hats for an all-ferret production of ‘chicago’, but it was here – and that was all that mattered.

wowsers! the fav fam certainly delivered on their promise of love in a box.

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so tonight i spent the whole evening casually rearranging my new tokens and singing along to adele. it was beyond stellar.

i can almost 100% guarantee that thanks to the love box, this weekend i will be dancing around my apartment  wearing a canada t-shirt and an eye-sleep-cover thing whilst drinking chilled chardy and licking what was a bag of chocolate chips and is now just one giant chip. thank you heat.

so with that mental picture in mind, consider your mission accomplished fav fam. xo

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?

what we do to get by.

13 Jul

hannah told me a while back that you gotta do what you can to cope while living in a developing – or in india’s case, a transition – country.

(in hannah’s case this meant flashing the florida gator’s flag to every tanzanian, singing disney to herself and sneaking into the congo. you know, the typical stuff.)

for me, coping sometimes means drinking a bottle (or 46) of chilled chardy and then dancing around my apartment to 60s rock and roll.  sometimes it is allowing myself to feel brave, even if it’s just for a moment.

but mostly it means relying on the  the man i married.

the husband and i got into several good habits as soon as i landed in this crazy country of mud and spice. right off the bat we both bought tiny computers (1/2 because it was practical and 1/2 because he likes things that make him feel like a giant) and brushed off our skype accounts.

we committed to talking at least 2 times a day – at the beginning of my day and end of his, and at the end of my day and the middle of his. confused? sure ya are.

just carry the 2 and divide by 54.3 and you’ll deduce that what i’m trying to tell you is that we’re basically conversational wizards.  even if it’s only for 10 minutes at a time.

he's my #1

another thing we started a few days after i arrived was the ‘nighttime picture’. now i know this sounds like some kind of creepy sexual reference, but it’s not.  because that would be really awkward. for everyone involved.

anyway, l’epouse simply takes a picture of himself as he is wrapping up his day and sends it to my email. i usually receive it when i’m just booting up my computer at the office, so i always feel a little more connected to what he’s up to.

you know, seeing his face is not a bad way to start the day.

and our modest strategies seem to be helping me (and him) get through each day.  sure, we have our fights – lordy we’re both far from perfect – but we always figure it out. because that’s kinda the deal with the rings, i think.

so maybe it’s weird to lump the husband in with chardonnay and shameless self promotion tactics as coping mechanisms – but what can i say – he’s always going to be the #1 way i get by here.

but wine is a close #2.  (sorry sweetie)

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

conehead.

7 Jul

if this blog really were one long teenaged telephone conversation, like i aspire to make it, today’s post would start something like this:

ohmygosh – i have so much to tell you heather! but i can’t now cause mom just called me for dins – that wench – and if i don’t go right now she’s totally going to take away my croquet set. again. but i’ll call you later – m’kay? loves ya! [blows double kiss to the phone receiver]”

this dramatic monologue, other than attempting to loosely recreate the 80’s cult classic ‘heathers’ with a pinch of ‘mean girls’, is to inform you that i do have so have so much to tell you, but i don’t have time to divulge it now.

i’m on the first day of what has turned out to be 3 days in the field and i just can’t end my fight with india right now to fill you in.

actually, i guess i could have spent 3 hours filling you in tonight but instead i decided to continue my ‘arrested development’ season 2 and 3 marathon. (i realized on tuesday that i had actually been lying for several years when i said i’d seen, and subsequently loved, the entire ‘arrested development’ series.)

but something did happen yesterday evening that i couldn’t keep from you all, my fine loyalists….or some other less political, less 1837, less creepy sounding nickname.

may i present to you our formerly-fancy-turned-slightly-handicapped conehead dog:

now accepting cuddles and other outpourings of sympathy.

well, there was an incident mid-ball throw at the park yesterday and the furry member of our little family cut his right leg (as evidenced above) quite severely on some mysterious object.  blood everywhere. husband highly panicked. white carpet ruined. several stitches. gigantic vet bill we can’t afford. tempers flared. it’s all very lame really.

and while i am obviously gutted by this turn of events, i can’t help but chuckle just a smidge. there is something so wonderfully ironic about a dog wearing a red doggie car seatbelt and a cone at the same time.

so apparently car safety was covered, but we never thought to get him protective leg warmers and moon boots for the park – dammit!

so please send le husband and le conehead good vibes (i suggest working in the use of a carrier pigeon for dramatic effect) – because they’re feeling the pain this week. the no-al pain that is.

how to light a fire under your butt. like a minx.

5 Jul

as we previously discussed, india and i are on a break. so if you’re looking for pictures of cute babies and spices and other indian whatsits – move along for today okthankyouverymuch.

so i think i have finally pinpointed what’s been driving me bat-ass crazy about work for the last month: i’m completely and perfectly unmotivated.

i guess i never realized how much energy i derived from those around me until i came here. i mean, the days i’m in the field are obviously ripe with disney-song-esque inspiration, but as far as my day-to-day work environment goes it’s all very….meh.

at every job i’ve had so far i’ve had the pleasure of working with high-energy and ridiculously bananas people. so to experience less-than-bananas has been a real drain on my desire to do much of anything. (anything except eat sour cream and onion chips – because those little bastards have me hooked.)

my colleagues just don’t really seem to enjoy their work. personally, i don’t think they see how dynamic microfinance is in the big scheme of things. or they do, and they’re hiding it really well. either way, it’s meh.

so after weeks of moping around, depending on solely on the pounding of grape (real phrase) to make me happy – i am actively trying to find my groove. just call me stella, bitches.

and what i’ve decided is that i’ve been really afraid of moving projects forward without any clear support. while my projects are finally interesting, i know it’s going to be a complete disaster trying to make any of them successful based on how decisions are made and implemented here.

but that’s a totally lame reason to not try, right?

what popped into my head on saturday when i thought about this was the following experience:

about 13 years ago i was in muskoka visiting my most favorite family’s cottage. my most favorite auntie, being as sporty as she is, proposed going for a long distance swim in the lake.  now i have never been one to turn down a challenge, but i do not enjoy fish and other such lake-dwelling creatures. gag me with a spoon.

regardless,  i said something along the lines of “f*&k it” to myself and went for the swim anyway.  i was literally scared shitless the entire time – scared of touching logs in the water and of being slapped by fish fins. these are real-life fears, ok? god.

but despite how beyond panicked i was, i finished that swim like a champ.  and all these years later i still remember that it felt completely amazing – i was/am so proud.  there truly is nothing like taking something scary head on and saying: “nobody puts baby in a corner!”

(you’re thinking: “oh snap, she did not just quote patrick swayze!”- well i did. i freeking did.)

the aforementioned feat – no matter how seemingly small –  is actually motivating me today to not be paralyzed by all the failures that are surely about to rain down on me at work. while it’s sometimes ok to fail, it has never been ok in my books to give up trying.

so now what i’m going to do is say “f*&k it”, dive in and then keep swimming. like a minx. or is it mink?

this was a poorly thought out ending.

don't think that finding my groove = giving up pounding the grape. cause it doesn't. cheers friends!

my imperfectly perfect sidekick.

29 Jun

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

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

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

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

take that india!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gangsters

i think she's fun

the invention of alcohol.

25 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the question that never got asked.

24 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

but to no avail. nothing. nada. zip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

so why am i telling you this amazingly ridiculous story?

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

yee haw bitches!

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

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

the trial run.

23 Jun

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

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

yum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

tapas: “i cook good!”

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

tapas: [confused]

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

tapas: “no i cook for you!”

al: “fine. you have one week.”

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

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

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

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

may i present tapas’ creations:

day two results!

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

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

all together now.

this. was. so good - chickpeas mmm..

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