Tag Archives: travel blogs

some art.

27 Oct

well, the stupid camera that i was so excited about and on which i took all the awesome pictures from bihar totes decided it was just too good for india: that little f*&ker up and died on me.

(and noooooo, i did not drop it down the toilet like the ‘great blackberry incident’.)

the stupid battery just won’t charge – it’s criminal! ugh! so i’ve been left sans pictures for my last month here, which is really quite unfortunate if you think about it.

and the worst part is, because i literally have nothing left to say to you for the next few days other than “i’m so f&*king excited” and “hey bitches, did you hear i am going home? i’m so f&*king excited!” and “#$DF43#$%2r1JSF21LK!!!!!!!!”, i was going to depict  my journey through photography!

however, since my camera has failed, i have had to get a little creative. (where a door is shut – art is born. and a window is opened. or something.)

today i will represent my excitement through the gloriousness of microsoft-paint-on-canvas. capturing the rich detail and life-like-ness of my emotion. it’s moving. it’s prolific. it’s art!

enjoy al’s excitement from afar:

looking casual, enjoying the flora and fauna

now, please enjoy al’s excitement up close:

my face. fact.

see ya in a week, kittens!

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you’d better bring a poster.

14 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

yah, i know, it’s totally f*&ked up.

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

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

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

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

all together now: “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”

yahoo bitches!

what a magical time.

4 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a happy post.

1 Oct

i have always been one for feedback, because i think it helps us all become better versions of ourselves. versions 2.0, if you will.

so if you told me that my mink hat, half lit cigar and glass of chilled chardonnay made me look like a very fancy, yet clearly washed up, 1920s hooker, i would take your criticism and work incredibly hard to make improvements. (you know, by removing the hat and cigar, at least.)

and if you implied – ever so carefully of course – that my posts had perhaps become a pinch morose over the last little while – i would also accept this and type vigorously to incorporate your thoughts.

yup, i really am this obliging. it’s fun – right?  jazz hands everybody!

so, in the spirit of being happy, i should tell you that i have a big announcement.

but before i proceed, no, i am not with child. and nope, i have most definitely not found a real-life job yet, and no, for godsakes, i am not leaving the husband for a love affair with my awesome new camera, the tv or a bottle of wine…while those are all highly tempting items.

but i am coming home in december – for good. (um, at this point you are encouraged to jump around at your leisure while chanting: “al, al, al!“)

this decision was signed, sealed and delivered a few weeks ago and it’s just killed me not to reveal it until now.

frankly, my mum-ness on the issue has occurred because i’ve been trying to figure out how exactly to explain my reasons for leaving a few months early – without looking like i quit or gave up. although i am many strange and wonderful things, i do not throw my hands up and walk away when things get shitt-ay.

but after eating several packets of india’s fantastic version of the oreo (l’oreo, if you’d prefer to be fancy), consuming many pitchers of sangria and singing along to marvin gaye like a ferrel cat – i simply can’t figure out how to explain my reasons.

i guess they’re just too complicated for this ‘ol teenaged telephone convo of a blog.  and you know what – hey – that’s life.

bah, anyway, what’s truly important here is that i am coming and staying home in just 2 short months. home, where things are sometimes challenging, but where i can find the babies who call me auntie al, the good vino, the diabolical tap-dancing dog, my apartment pants and a good percentage of of you, kind readers. of course.

so you see – this really is a happy post. now come on everyone, let’s go twirl around our bedrooms with our arms open really wide screaming: “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

the happiest looking picture for a happy post

you’re beautiful.

30 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

so yeah, it’s been a good week.

the things we think are normal.

26 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

but by day 2, something funny happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i actually stopped traffic, bitches!

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

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

yup, i guess this is poverty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

end scene.

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

15 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

us

hey it’s me, husband: the market.

8 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

insanity

glad i am tall so i can take these shots

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

bud!

hey it’s me, husband: the first days.

5 Sep

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

it's the husband - blogging!

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

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

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

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

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

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

all of these ways are very terrifying ways to travel.

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

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

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

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

the thing about india.

1 Sep

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

frankly, it gets to be a bit exhausting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and i think that’s probably important.

an auspicious occasion.

16 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

so fancy

an invite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thumbs up for bucket lists.

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.

girls just wanna have fun.

27 Jul

no joke, i am totally listening to ms. cyndi lauper whilst i compose this piece of literary genius. i kid, i kid.  we all know that nothing i write is genius.

anyway, i wanted to pop on and say “hey ya’ll” because it’s been almost a week since i’ve posted anything.

actually, now that i think about it, you’re all kind of bastards.

this is the longest i’ve gone without posting and not-a-one of you  has inquired as to where i’ve been.  what, do you have something better to do with your time? do you really?

hey mother, i’m talking to you. for shame.

bitterness aside, my silence is not stemming from a lack of interesting content. (because clearly i can pull interesting content out of my ass if i really wanted to.)

no, what’s been going on is much more exciting – i got a life!

not that sitting around drinking wine and listening to dirty southern rock is not fun, because lord knows it’s among my top 3 fav activities (behind making fun of strangers and having in depth socio-economic discussions with my diabolical dog), but it’s nice to actually be out of my apartment with real-life friends at real-life places.   like a real-life person!

and while i can’t fill you in on all the deets right now, mainly because i’m casually trying to post this while making every effort to hide what i’m doing from my overly inquisitive co-workers, i have so much to tell you.

so stay tuned, kitties.

and for now i leave you with this kicky movie poster the 80’s sjp and helen hunt classic ‘girls just wanna have fun’. god, i just love her arabesque in this picture.

that's all they really want bitches!

“..when the working day is done oh girls, they wanna have fun. girls just wanna have fun!”

who do you think you are.

22 Jul

i am a self-proclaimed nut in so many ways: i talk too much about things that happened a long time ago, i do things like get married and then move away and i’m in a very committed – and delicious – relationship with nachos.

all that aside, perhaps one of my nuttiest traits is that i just love all things old.

so while other kids were watching ‘90210′, i was locked in my room reading about the holocaust until 3 am. and when my (idiot) teenage compatriots were getting drunk and making out until their mouths exploded, i was learning about the russian revolution. yeah ok, it’s all very morbid and ridiculous, but it’s the truth: i love history.

but even more than just world history, i am fascinated by family history.

so when former ‘friends’ star lisa kudrow – or phoebe bouffay as i’d prefer we call her thankyouverymuch – produced a show this past winter called ‘who do you think you are?’ – i was immediately hooked.

i don’t know if you saw it, but basically it was all these fancy pants celebrities hunting down some aspect of their family’s history with the help of genealogists.  while i initially scoffed and quietly muttered: “oh phoebe, what are you up to now for god sakes…” – it was actually pretty cool!  most of the celebs learned about connections to major historical events and got a sense of who their ancestors actually were as people.

now i know you can’t believe everything the tv tells you (although i sort of do anyway…shhh), but phoebe bouffay’s show got me thinking – who do i think i am?

thanks to my brilliant grandfather i know a lot about my mother’s british family. he has kept – and more importantly shared – pictures, stories and family trees with me over the years which has painted a decent picture of who our family was.

but what has always been a complete mystery to me for 27 7/12 years is my dad’s family. it’s been on my bucket list for ages to talk to him about this stuff, but life happens and people move to india (as you do) and then you kind of forget to do things.

well, something interesting happened this week: i accidentally stumbled across my paternal grandmother’s family tree online – don’t ask how. and no joke with just those few clues, i have spent the last 48 hours falling down a veritable rabbit hole of my father’s family history – giddy as f&^k the whole time.

what i have learned (thanks to nova scotia’s amazing virtual records depository) is that on my father’s side  – both on my grandmother and grandfather – are among the earliest families to have settled in nova scotia in the 18th century.

my grandmother’s family lived in an archipelago off cape breton island called the isle de madame as far back as 1793, a part of the region’s hardcore acadian history. and on the other side, i learned that my grandfather’s family has been in lunenburg and the small hamlet of martin’s river since about 1750.

wowsers, i say.

isle de madame off cape breton island, nova scotia

honestly, i have always had suspicions about our maritime roots. but learning that we have significant history in the region is something different altogether – i never would have guessed our lineage is so rooted in canada’s early beginnings.

maybe, just maybe, the fact that we are from salt-of-the-earth maritime stock explains why i have always felt such an undeniable pull to nova scotia for as long as i can remember. it’s no secret really that this is where my heart lies.

anyway, all this jibber-jabber is just the beginning. now, armed with a few crudely constructed family trees, i want to know who these people were. what were they actually like. were they nice? did they struggle? what were their joys? what were their tragedies? you know, all the good stuff.

so, next summer – with husband and dog and dad in tow – i will make my annual pilgrimage to nova scotia. but this time we’ll head to the isle de madame and martin’s river to further explore our 5 + generations of history in the area.

and all because i’m a bit of a nut, bitches.

lunenburg, a unesco heritage site

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

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!