Tag Archives: random

the trouble with al.

9 Nov

the last few weeks in india were some of the best, as it often goes when one chapter of your life comes to a quick and dirty close. the americans said: “al,  you are going out with a bang!”

so, there was copious amounts of shopping, chilled chardy (champers, pinot and sauv blanc oh my!), high heeled shoes at inappropriate times, tacky 90’s tv, un-inhibited dancing in public places, street food and other such poor life choices that may or may not have involved flavoured vodka. and tequilla. and whiskey.

whiskey? sweet baby jesus. well, there you have it folks….bang.

and the funny thing about all of this coming-to-a-close stuff, is that when things have finally closed, you remember these ‘bang up’ times and not the times you were walking around with shit on your foot from stepping in a sewer during a black out.

fact.

so, as much as i didn’t think it would happen, i am sitting here today watching the last few leaves fall from the trees outside, and wishing i could get a nice moist hug from calcutta’s unreasonably hot-air climate.

you know, the climate that i bitched about for 7 months. yep, that one.

nostalgia aside, india feels like a dream now that i’m back to everything oh-so-familiar. and besides trying to figure out how to process my experiences for a canadian context, i can’t help but continually think “heyyyyyyyy, so what’s next?”

and really, i  have no f*&king idea. which is not a great thing, let’s be real with each other here.

(no idea, that is, unless we’re talking short term. because i can pretty much guarantee you of a few things i will be enjoying later…things which i figure that after several months together you can probs fill in the ‘ol blanks about.)

the way forward.

anyway,  i do know, that nothing seems quite as valuable or interesting as what i was doing just last week. and i do know that, even though i’m craving unadulterated normalcy, this thing inside that always pushes me to chase-the-crazy, won’t let normal define my choices for too long. which is really annoying.

and you see…this is the trouble with being me, al.

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the crazy dance.

18 Oct

a strange kind of thing hit me today as i was sipping too-sweet tea (india – god) from a too-small cup (double god) and listening to my tunage. as i often do to drown out the 40 bajillion decibels of bengali yelling that surround me each day. (as a further digression, how this country is not filled with deaf people, is literally beyond me.)

there is this line in a city and color song that goes: “i’ve seen a palace in london, i’ve seen a castle in wales – but i’d rather wake up beside you – and breathe that old familiar smell.”

it made me realize that, for probably the first time in my entire ridiculous life, i want complete and utter normalcy.

i know exactly what you’re going to say: “al, listen, you’ve been gone for a while and we all know you’re going kind of crazy. you’re totes homesick, so stop being so drama. lord.”

you’re perhaps right. and yet – while i am admittedly eager to get home for a number of reasons – i’m not sure you can sum up how i’m feeling to just missing the familiar.

i think i’m just really tired of being a complete wack-a-doo.

specifically, i’m tired of running around making exciting, exuberating, extreme choices that cause ripples – then big-ass waves – through my personal and professional life.

and this goes beyond the insane india factor, trust me. this is about the last 5 years chasing a  career path that, while super exotic, is consistently challenging from every possible angle. relentless, actually.  (blah blah blah – i know not the first person ever to feel this way, but hey, it’s about me al, remember?)

so yah, i can honestly say that for the first time in my entire life of always wanting things to be radically  non-standardized –  all i want right now is  unadulterated, inexplicable dullness.

frankly,  it’s making me kind of vomit in my mouth to admit all of this,  but what’s the point in holding back from you now? we’ve come so far together, kind readers.

within 2 weeks i’m going to be prancing around my kitchen at 11 am in a mink hat screaming at the top of my lungs to marvin gaye, drinking champagne (chardy after 12, where do you think i was raised – a barn?) while the diabolical dog perform his newest – and perhaps most highly anticipated – tap dance routine.

yup, normal.

eyes on the prize

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.

a good old fashioned bitch-fest.

19 Aug

true story.

so for me, the last three years have been one big  never-ending job hunt. while others have been climbing the corporate ladder,  i have been traipsing around from one thing to the next trying to build up a professional focus in economic development.

and alright, it’s going ok.  i have this gig  in india, i’m finally experiencing field-level microfinance operations and i am broadening my understanding of humankind. blah blah blah.

overall, i guess this crazy fellowship is removing some of the barriers to better economic development job opportunities.

despite what i am reaping from this year, it’s time once again to renew the perpetual job hunt in anticipation of my return home in six months.  so, over the last week i have been prowling the job boards looking for neat opportunities and exploring the qualifications.

all good in the hood right?

or not. holy f*&kballs – what i have sadly discovered with this new round of job hunting is that apparently a masters degree is the new bachelors degree! what a simply stellar turn of events!

not only did i have to spend a year away in the merde (that’s french for shit –god  i’m so fancy) to get a decent job at my current professional level,  i now have to go back to school for an mba or some other ridiculous business masters?

pretty sure that’s total crap.

because i can literally see some of your heads exploding (cough, hannah, cough), i will say that i see the value in higher education – obviously. actually, i hope to one day get an advanced degree.

but to have it so viciously imposed on me for non-executive, non-specialist roles is beyond annoying. i just honestly don’t buy it  that a masters is needed to realize success in these roles.

i am starting to think that this push for higher education qualifications is a conspiracy to get us to spend more money on degrees.

actually, right now i”m trying to work out the economics of how this would benefit the world’s rich – as the best conspiracies do – but a chorus line of dancing ferrel cats just plowed through my train of thought. and i’m now envisioning them in tiny little cabaret outfits. ohmygodyouguys they’re so cute. do do dah do do, heel toe, heel toe.

um, where was i?

ok while my conspiracy theory may be lacking real proof, the point is that i would just much rather pursue an advanced degree when i’m ready to sharpen my skills in an area i’m passionate about – and not just to satisfy a recruiter.

in the words of liz lemon: blerg.

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?

nothing that you are.

3 Aug

when i was about 13 i wrote a letter to my 30-year-old self that went something like this:

dear 30 year old al,

hey, how’s the future? well all’s good here i’m just kicking it in 1996 at my best friend trish’s* house and we’re totes planning what our lives are going to be like. she wants to be a dinosaur expert and marry ray* and live in australia.

as for me, i want to be an advertising executive, marry greg mcdaniels* and live in a 4 bedroom house with a terrier named irish.

so self, i hope that no matter where you are that you will find this letter one day and it will help you stay true to what you once really wanted.

love, al

*names have been changed to protect the guilty. and also because it’s fun to make up fake names for real a-hole people and talk about them  publicly. hey, just saying.

although i don’t have the letter in front of me, i give you a money-back guarantee that this is almost exactly what it contained – save a few details about being best friends for life with trish and wearing our broken heart be/fri  and st/ends necklaces to the grave. classic stuff.

bff 4 life. not.

so fast forward just 5 short years later my lost 18 year-old-self wrote yet another letter to future al.

this time it was an attempt to capture myself at 18 – because apparently i going through some kind of crisis like the plot of the 1991 movie “hook” where figured i’d grow up, become a yuppie jerk and forget how important it is to follow your dreams. or something.

i found this second letter shortly before leaving for india as i was rifling around looking for my travel neck pillow. i opened the letter, laughed hysterically, cried a little (both ironically and seriously) at how ridiculous i was and then 3-pointered it back into the box.

(i then watched the diabolical dog do a jaunty tap dance routine to “i got rhythm” for about 12 minutes. but that’s a whole other post.)

anyway, what made me think of these letters is our only-human propensity to sometimes be  so “in it” we can’t see “past it”.

ok sure, in my examples i was just a stupid angsty kid, but the phenomenon itself can be applied to about a bajillion (real number) things in this life: break ups, jobs, friendships, family, and yes, even moves around the world to countries comprised mostly of mud and spice.

something sneaky happens when we are blindly passionate, scared or committed – our rational thinking takes an indefinite caribbean vacay and we’re left romping around lost in the cold with no snowsuit having to pee.

basically, we lose our ability to see what really matters through all the other crap.

and really, the only way to find our way home, so to speak, is to surround ourselves with honest and hilarious people.  sometimes we all just need to be told to buck up, get our shit together and focus on the big goal. all in a way that doesn’t make us want to put our heads in the oven.

as evidenced by the above anecdotes, i could have probably used a few of those good people in my life over the years. but now, as i quietly and carefully “approach 30” (it’s not real if it’s in air quotes), i have several wonderful people helping me stay focused on what really matters.

and more than this, i’ve learned how to be one of these voices-of-sanity for others. most days, that is.

i didn’t become an advertising executive (do they even exist) and i didn’t marry greg mcdaniels, (he was always kind of a douche anyway) and i will never punish a dog with the name “irish”. so i guess, in the end, i am nothing like the person my younger self had so desperately hoped i would be.

but then again, what did she know?

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?

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?

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!

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?)

i’m pretty much a daredevil.

20 Jun

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

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

frankly, this is more than i expected.

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

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

enter, the americans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

say what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mr abc: “so how do you get around?”

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

[stunned silence]

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

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

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

"those three wheeler things"

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

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

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

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

disaster preparation and other unexpected surprises.

16 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and that’s that.

the ones we try to forget.

13 Jun

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

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

end scene.

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

oh hello, regret.

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

well the honest truth is that i lied.

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

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

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

in other words: i sucked.

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

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

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

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

it changed me. full stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

eight if by sea.

10 Jun

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

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

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

enjoy a peek into what they sent:

it's here! it's here!

oooooh excitement mounting...

the booty!

eye drops! thank jesus!

look at all this good stuff

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

i heart packages

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

thanks family!

an after dinner snack.

8 Jun

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

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

here it is:

the before

the after

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

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

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

how she is really doing.

6 Jun

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

mainly when i see things like this:

sienna elizabeth caroline - born may 18th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sent with love.

31 May

there is a running joke in the team goodtimes family about hannah’s ability (or inability) to wrap packages for the mail.  to put it bluntly, upon arrival most of her packages look like a carefully-crafted letter bombs. awkward for everyone really.

since sending things to each other is almost a pre-requisite of being in our trio, hannah’s handicap (i use that in the most pc way possible, of course) has yielded many hilarious moments over the last 5 years.

however, i regret to tell you that i have never had the foresight to photo-document these incidents. this being the case, i sadly have no contrast for the package i happily received this past friday from hannah.

it looks like an adult sent it.

i hope you will take my word for it when i say that, in comparison to her previous works of ‘art’, this looks like an adult wrapped it and not a sugar-crazed toddler. even better than her wrapping job was the fact that it was chock-full of useful things for life here – like gator-gear (duh) and bug spray!

candy (my coworkers love!), itch-stick (i love!) and jello (for jello shots - everyone loves!)

to take blog notes?

attacked the ants, but they've only multiplied. bastards.

happy 1st wedding anniversary hannah + pete! thanks for the picture!

thanks hannah!

so thanks dear friend for abstaining from your typical mail bombing ways to make certain your love-filled package would clear indian customs!

punching ants and other pointless activities.

25 May

well i officially have an ant problem.  these red little buggers seem to be following me everywhere – they’re in my apartment, in my purse and on my desk at work.

in the words of derek zoolander: “what is this? a school for ants?”

and they’re not normal ants either.  they carry stuff. they play mind games. and i’m pretty sure they’re building some kind of ant-super-ship to take me out in the night. (they’re just a little too busy looking for my comfort…)

anyway, here’s a summary of the situation at home:

living room

kitchen part 1

kitchen part 2

well i’ve finally had enough.  i’ve asked them nicely (“please sirs, take your parade somewhere else!”) and i’ve tried punching them with my index finger – but nothing seems to work.  they’re either incredibly smart, or really stupid.

my guess is that it’s the latter, because now i’m about to unleash a world of hurt on them in the form of bug spray.

ants 23 al 3948534598239

listen to the music.

24 May

the scene outside my apartment last night:

(sorry i know the above is a bit fuzzy but you get the idea.  the video is so much better – check facebook. and if you’re not on facebook i repeat: what is wrong with you?)

indian mariachi band + flowered car + neon light up sign + band of random merry followers = goodtimes.

ma’am. ma’am? MA’AM! MA’AM!!!!!!

23 May

if you watch the tv show ‘family guy’, you know exactly how i feel when i am in the market.  remember the episode where stewie griffin, for about 5 minutes, says to his mom lois: “mom. mommy. mommy. ma. ma. ma. mum. mum. mummy. mummy. mom. mom. MOM. MOM (ad infinitum for about 4.5 more minutes)” and lois eventually turns to him and goes: “WHAT!?”

yeah, well when im getting constantly harassed with “ma’am” stewie-style at the market, i feel like turning to them and doing just that.

so despite this highly annoying reality, today after work i invited myself out to gariahat – the market near-ish to my house – with a few female colleagues. they’re nice girls, although i’m 75% sure sure they talk crap in front of me and say i’m a stupid white girl and my clothes are weird. (or as one of them says: “those canadian clothes”)

regardless, the girls have been seriously intrigued that i have been getting shirts at gariahat for just Rps 100 when apparently the best price they know is Rps 120-130.  so they wanted to go hunting around for my awesome cheap shirt-seller man. (and i’ll tell you up front that there really is no secret, i just look for the sign that says Rps 100. duh, girls.)

as we headed on our way, about 10 minutes from work my gap sandals broke apart:

fail.

so i walked back to my house with no shoes,  and if you read saturday’s post , you know that was a feat of bravery. the girls surprisingly waited while i walked back with my tail between my legs.

shoe catastrophe aside, we eventually made it down to gariahat via the city  bus – an experience in itself.  tons of people, no doors, jolting stop and highly acceptable levels of pushing.

and after all of this drama – inviting myself out, breaking my shoes and being the newbie on the bus – we couldn’t find the guy who has been selling me the cheap shirts! i went up and down the street secretly praying to the elephant gods – or whoever – that the guy would show up and make me a hero.

sadly, not. and now i’m preeeeeetty sure they think i was lying.

so whatever, bitches be frontin’, but i’m over it. if i can get through high school, i can get through this.  i actually think they’re generally nice girls, but just highly suspicious of me. and fair enough – i guess we can all agree that i can be a little weird.

so here is the bounty i’ve been getting from my mysterious shirt-seller man:

what do you think?

it has become really important to quickly adopt indian dress because of the heat.  my “canadian clothes” really aren’t cutting it here – so i’ve been trying to buy up things when i can. and even though i have to deal with the constant attention when i’m out shopping  (ma’am. ma’am? MA’AM! MA’AM!!!!!) – i know i always have an out thanks to lois griffin:

WHAT!