Monday, November 27, 2006


Thanksgiving dinner went swimmingly... even though I didn't have a single bite of turkey. I couldn't do it after spending 2 hours ripping his little guts out with my bare hands the night before. It was enough to make me go veg (for a couple of days). Everyone else said it was delicious though. We had an unbelievable spread. I've never seen so much food in my life. I'm still eating pumpkin pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I consider that a bonus. :)

Pics are up of the Goa trip finally. I haven't labeled any of them yet, but at least they're there.

And in other news, my stepsister had her baby this week. I'm an auntie, kinda.. at least my brother is an uncle... *sigh* My family is complicated. In any case, he's beautiful! I can't wait to meet him when I come home next summer. Keep the pics a'comin, Mama TriStar. Congrats to both of you.

Not much else going on these days, so I'll sign off for now. Pics of Thanksgiving to come soon.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Turkey Day

Holiday cooking in a foreign country is always an adventure. Finding the right ingredients, making do with what you can get your hands on, etc. Today I picked up my Thanksgiving turkey that I ordered from the butcher last month. (You have to give them enough time to fatten them up.) I was hoping and praying it wouldn't still be alive and walking around, because you never really know. He told me that he could keep it in the freezer for a couple of days for me. That was reassuring. At least I wouldn't have to kill it and clean it myself.

So anyway... I get there this morning and he opens the bag to show me the 15 lb. bird, flat on it's back, feet (yes, FEET) up in the air, with his little frozen turkey head looking at me. I about died! I guess this is what I get for growing up thinking that steaks come in packages and turkeys come with built in pop-up meat thermometers, but I sure wasn't expecting it to look at me. After the initial shock wore off, I kindly asked him to remove the head and feet before I took the bird home.

Once I got here, I had to make sure it would fit in my oven. It's a tight squeeze, but I think we can manage. I have not been able to find a roasting pan as of yet. That is my mission tomorrow morning. Otherwise, it's improvization time again. I'm getting very good at it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dinner is served

Anyone who has ever traveled has probably seen some pretty funny things on menus. I just got back from 10 days in Goa and thought I'd share some highlights:

As a starter:
Tandoori lamp chops (a distant relative to the Duchess of Sconce and Queenie Candelabra, the poor little fella never saw it coming)

For dessert
Candid Fruits and Nuts (gay men from California that will tell you honestly that , "Yes, those pants do make you look fat.")

and for the main course, try the pasta (middle right hand side):

Just out of curiosity, what do you think they did with the rest of the fish?

p.s. Photos and stories from the rest of the trip coming soon!

Friday, October 13, 2006

It's a sickness

I'm addicted to Grey's Anatomy. Yes, the TV show. One of my friends here had season 1 and I've managed to watch all 9 episodes in 2 days. I have no life. She just got season 2 in the mail from Amazon, except I have to wait for her to finish watching it first. The problem is, unike me, she has a life. I may have to wait two whole weeks (or more) to find out what happened with Dr. McDreamy's wife showing up at the end of season 1... dammmmit. Don't tell me, don't tell me. I know I could google it and find out all about it, but that takes all the fun out of sitting at home on a Friday night and watching 4 episodes. (I really need to get a life...)

Friday, October 06, 2006

American English

There are some who say there is no such thing as American English and British English, and for that matter Indian English. Some would argue that they are no more than dialects of the same language and some would argue that they are separate languages all together due to variations in vocabulary, sound, structure and usage. What all this talk is leading up to is a strange offer I had this week to do some voice-over work for an animated film. They were looking for people with regional American accents. Unfortunately, I don't think they really get what dialects are all about. For example, they were expecting two completely different sounding people for Alabama and Georgia. Unless you are a native of either of those two places, or a sociolinguist specializing in American dialects, you probably wouldn't be able to recognize the difference. There's a hell of a lot more difference in a Boston accent and a Texas accent than between Alabama and Georgia.

Another point they were missing is that it's not just so much the way we sound, but the way we use language that differentiates the regions. For example, that carbonated sweet stuff we all like to drink is a soda in some parts of the US, a pop in others, and God help us Texans, everything is a coke. The underground floor of a house is a cellar to some and a basement to others, and that thing I fall asleep on half the time could be a couch or a sofa, depending.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that whatever your accent, whatever your vocabulary, we all speak the same language, so why make such a big deal about the differences? Man, it's a good thing I don't have an accent. I feel sorry for you Scots, Irish, Kiwis, Brits and whatnot, though. Y'all talk funny.

So, being the Texan at heart that I am, I sent in my sound sample liberally sprinkled with "y'all"s. I haven't heard anything back yet but my friend Gamey has. She was told by a non-American, non-native English speaker that her accent sounded like an African American forcing a Texas accent. Yep... that's her all right. Never mind that's she's a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Cheesehead from Wisconsin. That might have something to do with the forced bit, but the other??

My Linguistic Profile:
65% General American English
20% Dixie
5% Upper Midwestern
5% Yankee
0% Midwestern

Thursday, October 05, 2006

And the Lord says...

I just had to repost this. My friend took this photo whith her cell phone this morning as she was dropping her daughter off at her private Catholic elementary school. She couldn't drive for 15 minutes because of the tears of laughter running down her face. Evidently, the school has since replaced the sign.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Officially Old

Happy birthday (you old fart) to meee! I'm officially one week closer to 40 than I am to 30. Last Wednesday was my 35th birthday. Someone please tell me where the last 10 years went?!?! Wasn't I just 25?? *sigh*

Well, I'm definitely not 25 anymore. I proved it last weekend by traveling with three 25-year-olds and foolishly trying to keep up. By day two I was off for the old-timer's afternoon nap while the young 'uns went for beer and pool. By day three my liver went on strike. Day four I gave up and lost the ability to speak all together. I had a great time, but I seriously needed a vacation from my vacation.

Seriously though, it wasn't all party party party. Kerala, Kovalam in particular, is stunning. When it wasn't raining, my days were spent lying on beaches of the softest black sand I've ever felt between my toes. While fending off the beach-vendors can be challenging, it only adds to the charm of the place (she says while crossing her fingers behind her back - it's totally annoying!). There was an old-fashioned red and white striped lighthouse at one end of the beach, and at the other end of the arc, the beach disappeared into a swath of thick coconut palms. Add to that 4 hottie French surfers running around without shirts and you really couldn't ask for better scenery. Evenings were spent watching breathtaking sunsets like this one. My hotel room door opened onto the boardwalk, and I slept to the sound of waves crashing onto the rocks every night. Every morning, I woke up to the sound of the fishermen's chants as they hauled their gigantic nets in from the sea by hand. Talk about fresh seafood!! I had lobster for dinner twice, just because I could. It was damn near a perfect weekend, and exactly what I needed to get my head back on track.

p.s. I'll post more pictures later this week - I've got some pretty good ones.

Friday, September 15, 2006


I've had one of those "God-it's-so-frustrating-living-in-a-foreign-country" kind of days.

Incident #1: I got dumped by my yoga instructor first thing this morning (which is actually mid-afternoon for me, thanks to working nights). Because of my work hours, I couldn't actually make any scheduled classes at the local yoga studio so I hired a private instructor. I was paying him a boat-load of money to meet with me for 1 hour a day, three days a week. After three classes, he decided that it just wasn't all that convenient for him, and that he really didn't like missing his afternoon nap. He was firing me as a client. Boo!

Incident #2: Yesterday afternoon, I received a phone call from the local post office telling me that I had a package, could I please come down after 9:30 am today and collect it. I needed to speak to a man named Danayam. No problem. I went to yoga, got dumped, headed for the post office. When I arrived at the post office, I was told to go around back to collect my package. I don't want to scare anyone away from sending anything to India, because the system actually works, but what I witnessed was the most frightening thing ever. Stacks and stacks and stacks and bags and bags and bags of mail dumped into the middle of a large table with three skinny scruffy little men in sarongs sitting around hand sorting things into random piles. There was mail on the floor, on chairs, in cubbies, in boxes... utter chaos, just like the rest of India. Anyway, so I had gone around back to the package-place, only to be sent back around front to find the mysterious Danayam. Danayam was not in the office. Danayam would not be back today. Evidently this Danayam is the keeper of my packages and my packages only, because when he was called on his cell phone, no one used my name, only the lovely monniker "Madame", as in "Madame is here for her package." And he knew who I was and where my package had been sent. Shockingly, it had been forwarded on to the address that was on the package. Now there is a novel idea. However, if they were going to send it on to the address on the package anyway, why in the hell did they call me and tell me to come down to the post office to pick it up? It must have been one of those "Let's mess with the white girl" things. They do happen.

Incident #3: Shortly after my experience at the post office, I receive a phone call from reception at my office. I had a package. Unbelievable. My package had made its way from the post office to the address on the box. Funny how that works. "Great!" I said, "I'm not in the office today, I'll pick it up later." Then the receptionist asked me the oddest question. "What do you want us to do with it?" Evidently, in the history of the entire company, this was the first time they had ever received a package or piece of mail. The mail room had been completely unused up until this point. I politely suggested the unused mailroom, what the heck - give those boys something to do, until I was able to get around to pick it up. She said ok, and we hung up the phone. No worries, easy right? Welllllll... later on I decided to stop by and pick up my package from the office. My company has two buildings in this large business park 'campus' kind-of thing. I work in building A. My desk is in building A, right around the corner from the never-before-used mailroom in building A. The receptionist that called me was also in building A, so I assumed that they would send the package to the mailroom in building A. No. No no no. Of course not. They sent the package across the campus to the mailroom in building B. So after a ten minute conversation with the under-worked mail boy in building A, we finally determined that my package had indeed been sent to building B. I went to building B. I went to the mailroom window to request my package, knowing full well that I only had 10 minutes to collect my package and make it down to the basement to catch transport home, which only leaves every 30 minutes. If I missed this round, I'd be stuck sitting at the office with my package for another half an hour. I explained this very carefully to the woman in the mailroom. She nodded and smiled and head waggled all while talking on her cell phone for the next 15 minutes, then she handed me my package that was sitting next to her the whole time. I missed transport. I sat in the hot, un-airconditioned basement for 30 minutes waiting for the next round to take me home.

Incident #4: The ride home in transport was uneventful. Never mind that no one offered to help me load the medium sized, heavy box along with a backpack and two bags of books that I was struggling with, into the car. I managed. No big deal. I was used to this day going badly. When I got home, I got out of transport and tried to get my things out of the back of the hatchback. I walked around the back of the car, and for some reason, without looking behind him, the driver threw the car into reverse and began to back up.. over me. I started backpedaling as fast as I could and beating on the back window of the car. Only then, did he actually check his rear-view mirror to see if anything was behind him. Seeing my panicked face did not immediately stop him. It was the other person in the car literally slapping him across the back of the head and yelling at him that got him to stop. I had already jumped clear at this point, realizing he just wasn't going to stop. When he stopped I stepped to the back of the car, opened the hatchback, removed the backpack and two bags of books and put them on the side of the road. As I stepped back behind the car for the second time, to get the box out of the back, the idiot starts to back up AGAIN. If I could have reached him to smack him myself, I would have. But the other passenger managed it for me. He stopped. I got the box. I went home.

It was all worth it for the contents of the box. Care packages from Mom are always good. I was expecting most of the contents, since I'd asked for them... but she always manages to sneak some little cool surprise in there too. This time it was a beautiful Japanese style cast-iron teapot and yummy gourmet tea. I'm sitting here finishing the last of a pot while writing this. Thanks, Mom! You turned an otherwise yucky day around.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Trying Really Hard to Like India

I read this article about India today that made me laugh out loud. Probably because, even after the very short amount of time I've been here, I can totally identify with it. In part 4, Seth Stevenson writes:

Back home in the States, it can feel like we've got life figured out, regulated, under control, under wraps. But here in India, nothing seems even close to figured out. Nothing seems remotely under control. You're never quite sure what will happen next, and you're working without a net. Terrifying? Yes. But also invigorating.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Take for example, the simple act of walking down the street here. It seems like something you should be able to do in peace, without conflict or disaster raining down on you from above. It seems so. It's not.

The Indians have a fondness, shall we say, for the horns on their vehicles. Cars, motorcycles, buses (these beauties sing entire songs for your listening pleasure), scooters, autorickshaws, even crusty, rusty lame-ass bicycles with pink baskets, all come equipped with bull-horn type honkers. These are used for everything... to say hello, to signal the approach to an intersection, to notify other drivers of your existence, for passing, for turning, for going straight, for going in reverse, for approaching another vehicle (which in a city of 8 milion people and nearly as many drivers is fairly constant), and for letting pedestrians that a car is there. All of this leads to a pretty noisy street scene of 8 million drivers, one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand on the horn. Chaos. Pure, unadulterated chaos.

The other morning, I was minding my own business, strolling along the nice quiet side streets of my neighborhood on my way to yoga class, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and thinking to myself how happy I was to live far enough away from the main drag that I didn't have to deal with all the noise all the time. As it was mid-afternoon on a weekday, there wasn't much traffic at all. I was actually marvelling at the fact that I had the wide, tree-lined lane all to myself. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, and as I was exhaling, I damn near had a heart attack because the driver of the only car on the road waited until it was less than two feet away from me and mashed on the horn as long and as hard as he possibly could.

Once I was able to breathe again, I pondered what could possibly have been the motivating factor for that action. Let's look at the scene... it was a wide street - plenty of room for 4 cars to pass each other side by side. It couldn't have been that the driver needed space. There was not another moving vehicle within miles. He wasn't warning another car that he was coming. There were no intersections nearby, so that wasn't it. I was the only pedestrian within sight. Granted, since I was on my way to a yoga class I hadn't showered yet and wasn't looking my whole-hearted best, but did I look like I had a deathwish? Like I would suddenly and inexplicably turn and hurl myself in front of the only moving object on the road? Obviously. The driver must have decided to save me from a slow and painful death from being run-over in favor of a quick and shocking heart-stoppage instead. For that, I thank him for saving me from myself.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What a week it's been...

Congratulate me. I've not had a cigarette in 10 days now. My intention was to quit after my birthday anyway, but circumstances sort of forced me into it a bit early. Remember that last little nasty post about the sinus infection? Well, it kinda never got better. Actually, it kept getting worse... and worse... and worse. It traveled from my head to my throat & ears and eventually settled into my lungs, landing me in the hospital for a week. Don't worry, Indian hospitals aren't as scary as you would think - at least not where I was.

Last Tuesday morning I went in for my 4th doctor's appointment in as many weeks. They finally determined that the course of drugs they were trying wasn't working and that I needed serious help or I would be pneumonia bound. I didn't even get a chance to go home to pick things up. I was immediately whisked to a private office labled "International Patient Registration". I knew right then that I was getting rooked. However, I didn't really care, since insurance was going to pay for it. Once all the paperwork was signed, I was shuffled off upstairs to the 11th floor. When the elevator doors opened, you had two options: turn right to the old, chipped blue tiled, poorly lit, scary wing OR you turned to the left and sunshine and happiness awaited you through frosted glass doors. It was like a 5 star hotel. I had a private room with an incredible view (unfortunately, the central point of that view was my office), satellite TV, a personal dietician who visited me every morning to discuss my menu for the day, and I could get just about anything I wanted with the push of a button.

The nursing staff was so incredibly sweet, and sympathised with me completely when I threw myself a pity party because I wanted my mom. I may be 35, but I still want my mama when I don't feel good. The nurses are all living here in a hostel far away from their families in other parts of India, but it's the best place to work - so what to do? They even offered to sleep in the room with me if I wanted. I may be a bit of a baby, but that was pushing it. Finally, they threatened me with a BIG injection, if I didn't cheer up. By the end of the conversation, we were all giggling instead of crying.

Basically, I spent the next four days being pumped full of antibiotic IVs, steroids, nebulizer breathing treatments, sleeping pills, cough syrup, and fever reducers. By Friday, it was time to go home. FINALLY. Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there. It seems I have a bit of a mold problem in the walls of my apartment, and that was probably what was exhasperating my condition.

People from work were so incredibly kind. The Prince of Perth came to visit everyday, bringing me contraband cookies, chocolate and such. :D A couple that I work with really came to the rescue with a little care package of clothes to go home in, toiletries and whatnot. They also managed to get my consulting company to step up to the plate, as they were being a little slow on the response of their end of the bargain. I don't know what was said, but within an hour of his visit, the whole team was in my hospital room, had paid the deposit, painters were being sent to my flat and my leaky boiler was being replaced. I spent the weekend at a friend's house while they replastered and painted my flat, covering the mold in a temporary fix. The fella who lives upstairs has a leaky pipe or something, and if he doesn't fix his problem, I'll never be able to fix mine. The paint job seems to be helping though, I haven't had any issues since I've been home.

As for not smoking, the doctor made me swear not to start again, but he didn't really need to. After 5 days of not being able to breathe, and being forced to be smoke free, there's really no point in going back. It's been a breeze so far. I've had one or two little urges, mainly in habitual situations, like after a big meal. I just drink a glass of water instead. I was a little worried about going back to work because EVERYONE smokes. Going to the 3rd floor balcony was a major social event 3 times a night. However, when I got back to work, the 4 people who sit near me had all quit over the weekend, just for kicks. YEAH! Moral support all around.

Anyway, now that I finally feel like a human being after a month of being sick, I've been nesting like a mad woman and finding all the things I've been wanting to do since I got here. I've started going to the gym, I found a yoga studio, and I've been cooking again. I bought beadspreads and curtains and new dishes. I've rearranged furniture and reorganized cabinets... now that I think about it, it sounds a little more like I've gone crazy than like I'm getting settled. I think a big part of it is finally having energy again. Whatever it is, I'm glad to be BACK.

How's things with you guys? It's been a while....

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


WARNING - evidently not for the weak of stomach (sorry Sambo!)

I am an incredible secreter of mucus lately. I had no idea it was possible for one person to produce this much snot. I've had sinus infections in the past, but this one takes the cake. For the past two weeks, I've done nothing but blow and blow and blow my nose, turning it into a red, raw, sore chunk of cartiledge protruding from my sad little face. If I don't blow it, I can hear the gunk rattling around inside my head, and if I do blow it, it almost kills me. *sigh* I'm on day 5 of anitbiotics, and while it's getting better, I'm still a prolific producer. I'm almost a little proud. I wonder if there's a world record for this sort of thing... hm. (that thought has gotta be the product of of the fever...)

p.s. New pics have been posted on FLickr

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Monkeys in a cage

Yesterday was Indian Independence Day, a free play-day off work. The Prince of Perth and I decided that it would be a great day to go hang out in the park, get some sun, read and generally be lazy. I also wanted to take my camera and see if I could capture just a little of the feel of Bangalore and India. After a half-hour stuck in traffic in a rickshaw, being gassed out by busses, trucks, scooters and everything else, it started to pour down rain. It is the monsoon season after all. Not a great start to our adventure, but we stuck it out, hoping that the rain would get tired and go away. And 15 minutes later, that's exactly what it did.

The rain left, but we were still stuck in traffic. As we rounded the bend, and the entrance to the park came into view, I was suddenly very aware of why traffic had been so bad. I have never seen so many people in once place in my life. It seemed the entire 8-million-person population of Bangalore had the same idea as we did. A sea of color unfolded before us, dotted by thousands of black-topped heads. In the distance we saw our goal - the iron gates of Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. With a deep breath, and hands over pockets with phones and valuables, we dove in head-first and made our way to the ticket line. PoP went in first and paid. He took his hand off his pocket for 5 seconds. Unfortunately, it only took 3 seconds in the crowd before PoP was shouting at me, "Call my phone call my phone!! Someone's just nicked it!!" It rang a few times, but in vain. The thieves shut it off immediately, and disappeared into the swirling masses. C'est la vie.

Once we had our tickets, things took a major turn for the better. I hung my camera around my neck and through the gates we went. The crowd thinned a little. Not much, but enough where you could walk without touching someone else.... Kind of... ok, ok.. it was REALLY crowded. But it's India, everything is crowded. The park itself was stunning; I could only imagine what it must be like on a non-holiday afternoon. Wide lanes cut through the central area of the park, while narrow dirt paths wound through the trees and grassy areas, allowing you a glimpse into a world of peace in the midst of so much chaos. The trees in this park are even more amazing than those I have described before. One of them had 7 full-size trunks that melded into one at the base. Massive. Beautiful. Around another little dirt path is the lake, which is fenced off so that you can't get in it or near it, but you can watch the water birds like egrets, pelicans and geese from the sidelines. While we were standing there, a cast of hawks (yep, that's the official name for a group of hawks - I had to Google it) soared above us, circling in the drafts and waiting for a fish to make the fatal mistake of coming too close to the surface.

As we walked around I took pictures of people, plants, birds, and the scenery. Snap snap snap. So many colors, so much contrast. Interesting faces, unbelievable greenery, totally indescribable - I'll post the pics this week as soon as my internet is up and running (should be Friday!!).

Finally, we found an empty (shocking!) patch of grass nearby, shook out the blanket (or rug as the evidently call them in Australia) and proceeded to do exactly what we came to do. We pulled out our books and had a little lie down in the sun. It didn't take long before I got that strange feeling that we were being watched. Not such a strange feeling I guess, when 5,000 pairs of eyes are watching your every move. I sat up and looked around and literally every person within my field of vision was staring at us. Men, women, children, whole families... all staring with mouths hanging open at the foreigners. Soon I started to notice even stranger things. Like the brother and sister team (about 8 years old) that circled our blanket about 10 times in a row, sneaking shy glances over at us when they thought we weren't looking. Like the couple leaning up against a tree who took out their video camera and filmed us for half an hour. Like the boys playing catch who kept throwing the ball closer and closer so that they would have an excuse to talk to us. Like the 20 people who asked to take our picture. Like the 3 and 4 year olds that families would send over to shake our hands, and once they touched us went running away with huge grins on their faces. It was crazy. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to relax when you know someone else is watching your every move, some even documenting it. Somehow, I think I finally understand how animals in a zoo must feel. No wonder certain animals don't breed in captivity. It's a little disconcerting. I went to the park to observe, and ended up being the observed.

Once we'd had our fill of being the afternoon's entertainment, we shuffled off to find a tiny restaurant purported to have the best dosas in town. Again, we were the only foreigners in the place, so it had to be gooooood. We were seated at a shared table with two sweet old gentlemen, who took it upon themselves to make sure we knew what things were, and to stir our tea. even though PoP speaks Hindi fluently, the gentlemen wanted to help us out anyway they could. We pigged out on dosa masala, idli and puri. After the meal, we had a cup of the best tea I've ever had - spicy, creamy and piping hot. All this goodness was a grand total of 100 Rps - just over $2. We've vowed to do more exploring to find the great local places like this one, and stay out of the larger, fancier, more overpriced restaurants. And just after we made the declaration, being the hypocrite that we are, we promptly went to the Library Bar in the Leela Palace, a Kempenski 5-star hotel, for a glass of posh red wine to wind up the day. Sometimes, it just has to be done. I went home exhausted, stuffed, and completely satisfied with life. Not bad for a mere monkey in a giant zoo.

Monday, July 31, 2006

First impressions....

So what’s India like?? On the surface, it’s not to far from my last home in Kosovo. It’s dusty. There are rolling blackouts. There are stray dogs and begging children everywhere. There’s trash in the streets. It suffers from lack of infrastructure. And like Kosovo, the people are warm and kind. But underneath all that, there’s something more.

The smell in the air is a combination of spice, cow dung, exhaust, jasmine and humanity - a complete assault on the senses that slaps you in the face, wakes you up and screams at you that this place is ALIVE. One of the fastest growing cities in the world (the population has doubled in the last 10 years thanks to the booming tech industry), Bangalore has a heartbeat, a rhythm, a seething blend of calm and chaos that is difficult to put into words. The neighborhood where I am soon to live is calm and quiet, the streets lined with gi-normous trees whose name I have yet to figure out. The trunks are as big around as the giant redwoods of California, and as the branches split over and over and over they form a canopy that offers shelter from the driving sun, when we see it. It’s the rainy season now, and although the rains haven’t come often, when they do, it’s fast and furious, and without much warning. Clumps of people gather under the giant branches and wait out the tempest. Just around the corner of this quiet sanctuary is 100 Feet Rd., a bustling commercial center full of wonderful shops, eateries, veggie stalls, basically anything you could ever want, and hordes and hordes of people.

It is impossible to carry on a telephone conversation on the streets here. Evidently, it is mandatory that you drive with one hand on the horn. You honk when you are passing someone walking down the street, you honk when you come to an intersection; you honk if there’s a car anywhere near you, which, due to the traffic is always. You honk if you’re turning; you honk if you’re going straight… it’s a cacophony of reverberating chaos, forming a distinct disharmonious symphony everywhere you go. After the first few days, the sudden HONK behind you, doesn’t make your heart stop anymore, and the noise fades to the background, either that, or I’m slowly going deaf. I like to think that I’m just learning to tune it out.

As for the food, my god, I’m in heaven. I’ve yet to try anything I didn’t like. I’ve been eating like a horse and my whole theory of putting on a little weight before I got here so that I could afford to lose some has completely backfired. Wonderful roasted meats, vegetarian dishes that are out of this world, a thousand different kinds of rice and breads… absolute foodie heaven.

If Kosovo was lacking in color, India could not be more opposite. From the brightly colored saris and salwaar kameez the women wear, to the outrageously colored stucco buildings, the painted temples, the red dirt and the lush green gardens dotted with hot pink blossoms, it is a veritable feast for hungry eyes. Bright yellow auto-rickshaws (the easiest, and by far cheapest, way to get around town) clutter every corner. Even the people come in every shade of brown imaginable – from latte to deep, dark chocolate. My American colleagues and are a bit of an oddity, and being fair-skinned and somewhat blondish, I stick out like a sore thumb. Westerners tend to draw stares on the streets, not only for the color of our skin and hair, but also for our style of dress. Just about everything I brought with me is culturally inappropriate. Tank tops are a big no-no outside of the house or a dance club. Sleeveless shirts at work are acceptable as long as they are not too low cut. I went shopping last week for kurtas (long, tunic type blouses) and other more “appropriate” dress. While the younger crowd has begun to adopt western styles more readily, a little modesty does go a long way here, and in the office, nearly everyone sticks to traditional Indian fashion.

While fashion is catching up with the times, culturally speaking, women still have a long way to go. They are educated, they work, but their role in society is still very traditional, and the men here seem not to have had much interaction with women outside their families and therefore don’t really know how to act around girls. At least that’s the conclusion I’m drawing. My first night taking transport home from work, I jumped into the front seat of the shared cab, as there were already two women in the back seat. Within seconds, the transport supervisor arrived at the car window and kindly asked me to move to the backseat, as women weren’t allowed in the front. Whether this is because they don’t trust their own drivers to keep their hands to themselves, or if it is culturally inappropriate for women to sit in the front seat, I have yet to figure out. I didn’t ask too many questions, just quietly moved my rear-end to the back of the bus.

The house I’m living in now is huge, and spacious and wonderful, with two massive balconies off either side. One overlooks the street and loads of construction. The road is unpaved, so in the rains, it gets a bit soupy. From the back of the apartment, I see a lush green wooded area, a small slum, and the runway of the airport. Watching the planes take off is pretty amazing, as they literally soar directly over my head. On the down side of this, they take off about every 15 minutes and the windows rattle. Ok, if you aren’t here during the day. Unfortunately, since I’m working nights, I haven’t been getting much sleep. I’m torn between staying where I am, because I do like the apartment I’m in, or moving to a better location but an apartment that isn’t so great. I’ve got a week to figure it out.

Once I get settled into permanent living arrangements, I’ll be able to get settled into a normal routine, get my internet hooked up at home, find a yoga class (I’ve already been doing research), and get a life. I’ve made some friends here already – mostly people I work with, so I haven’t had a chance to get bored. Plus, there’s a whole country, a whole continent at my fingertips to explore. I’ve got so much to learn, and so much to see. It’s going to be a phenomenal year.

Monday, July 24, 2006

It's aliiiiiiiiive.....

Seriously, I'm fine! I've been in India for over a week now (actually creeping up on two) and have been completely deprived of internet access except for a few minutes here and there. But today i finally got my desk and computer at work, and now that we've gotten most things fixed, i'm up and running.

I've got tons to tell everyone, but it's not going to happen now.... it's 1am and I'm officially done for the night, so i'm a-goin' home. I'll fill you in on all the gory details tomorrow... I might even bring in some photos. ooooooh!


Friday, June 23, 2006

Home... sort of

After 22 long hours in apirports and planes I arrived home Tuesday night virtually in a coma. My stepmom picked me up at the airport and it was a miracle I stayed awake long enough to get home. As soon as we arrived, I sat down on the couch and promptly fell asleep. Not such a good idea, as I was wide awake and puttering around by 3:30 in the morning. Jetlag really sucks coming this way. Most people have trouble with it the other direction, but not me... it kills me coming back to the States.

I can't even begin to describe what it feels like being home right now. I'm unpacking my things in my dad's house, but not feeling settled. Everything is a disaster because this isn't my place and I don't know where my things belong. I have a closet and a dresser and places to put my stuff, but I can't seem to get it to all make sense. I'm feeling so incredibly discombobulated. (that word is there especially for the Queen of Sweden) To make matters worse, I feel more like I've disappeared off the face of the planet than like I've come home for a visit. I don't have many friends in Texas anymore to call up for a coffee or lunch or things, there are no little sidewalk cafes within walking distance to pass the time, I don't know what to do with myself if I don't make a "to-do" list in the mornings. I feel like I'm a person without a place - it's like my life has just stopped for the next two weeks. Does that make any sense? Maybe that's a good thing. I desperately need some down time to detox after Kosovo, but at the same time, when I leave my mind to it's own workings, I start to freak out about all that I left behind and get a little scared that I'm making a huge mistake and that I'm going to hate it or... or.. or... it's just my imagination running wild. I'll be fine, I always am.

On the flip side of that, it's soooooooo good to be with family. It's almost like I never left. I've been hanging out with my sister (one of them, anyway) and my stepmom and loving it. My dad will be back tonight or tomorrow (yea!). D, my youngest sister on my dad's side, is getting ready to go off to college. She came home from her freshman orientation wearing a Baylor t-shirt, Baylor pants and with a Baylor sticker on the back of her car. Gee, ya think she's excited about going to school? She's even talking about pledging a sorority (something I never thought I'd see her do). Our other sister, the Duchess of Sconce (don't ask), is coming over from Dallas tomorrow. I can't wait. When the three of us get together, it's like there's no age difference between us at all. That either means that I can still act like a teenager, or that they have matured into 35 year olds. I prefer to think that they have matured rather than that I have regressed so far into my youth that I'm truly deluding myself. We're all so much alike in so many ways, it's a little frightening. We definitely have our differences too, but geez it's like someone took one personality with some strange quirks and split it 3 ways. We have the same dumb little happy dances, same facial expressions, say the same things at the same time... it's kinda creepy sometimes.

I saw my grandfather yesterday, and suprisingly, he was in a pretty good mood. He can be a bit of a crumudgeon, to put it mildly, and he hasn't always been so nice to me. But as I get older, I'm learning to ignore the mean grumblings of a tired, sick, old man, and look for the things that make him remember the good things in his life. I keep him away from U.S. and family politics (always sore spots) and get him talking about his youth, and his time in the Navy, my grandmother... anything to avoid discussing family and politics (or family politics). Those are two areas where we don't agree - never have, never will, and I've just chocked them up to lost causes. Pick your battles - those are two that I can't win, so why fight them? Now, we manage to have a pretty good time together, and I like to see him smile. It's nice to finally make some peace there.

I've still got aunts and uncles to see, a stepsister, and a few friends that remain in the area, so I think I can manage to keep myself busy. I'm off to Houston on Monday to see my mom and the rest of my siblings. Woohoo!! I'll spend the 4th of July floating down the Guadalupe with on eof my dearest friends (we've known each other since we were 8), then back to FW to finish up packing for India.

Preparations for the trip are well underway. I got 3 more injections yesterday (for a grand total of 7 - OUCH), had a doctor's appointment, got all my blood work done. Oh boy - another needle. I feel like a damn pin cushion. I've signed my contract and sent it back, and visa paperwork is in hand for a visit to the consulate in Houston next week. Another new adventure, another new place. It's going to be amazing. When I'm sitting in bed wide awake at 4 am, I just start looking at my India travel books and I get all excited all over again.

It's no wonder I can't sleep. Maybe it's not jetlag at all. Maybe its just my head trying to wrap itself around all of this - there's a lot going on in my world right now. Instead of overthinking everything for once, maybe I should just kick back and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Done and dusted... well, almost

I am in packing HELL. I've been working on this for three days now - cleaning out, packing up, sorting, throwing away things that were so important two months ago, but I can't be bothered to pack them up and haul them back across the planet now... It is truly incredible how much s**t one person can accumulate in two years. It's kind of cathartic to purge yourself of all of your worldly goods. I'm having a party/fire-sale tonight so my dear friends can come raid my creature-comforts for their own homes. That and I had inherited a full bar, and we don't want to see that go to waste.

I guess at this point I should back up and say that after two years, I am leaving Kosovo. I'll be in Texas for 3 weeks or so, then it's off to Bangalore, India to be a Language Specialist at Microsoft. I'll be teaching culture and pronunciation to software engineers - now there's something new and different!! I'm running through a whole range of emotions right now - all the goodbyes and all the relationships and habits and comforts and inconveniences and so many other things all swirling around my head.... As I've said before, I didn't just make friends here, I've made family, and the only way I've kept myself from having a mental breakdown in the past week is by keeping myself incredibly busy. I've got so much to do I can hardly see straight. I've finished up with work, I've shipped stuff home, and now all that's left is to pack up my suitcases (god help me, that is going to be a disaster) and clean out my apartment. This time Tuesday, I'll be stepping off a plane in the Vienna airport heading home. Wow.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Salsera sidelined in freak dancing accident

Last weekend, experienced salsa dancer Twinkle Toes was knocked out of the game early due to a stress injury to her big toe. Thinking it was only a strained tendon, she ignored it completely for 3 days, expecting it would heal itself. After the third day, when she could no longer pick her toes up off the floor, TT went to the physio only to discover she had dislocated a small bone in her foot. Evidently it is an old injury that has been continually aggravated by repeated foot abuse in the form of dancing, running, and even walking, and has resulted in an arthritic toe and weakened tendons. Intensive torture in the form of electrotherapy and bone manipulation is improving movement in the affected areas. She is well on her way to recovery, and has been cleared to run again, but she is still experiencing odd tingling sensations in her left foot. With 4 days left in her rehabilitation program, TT hopes to be better than ever shortly.

(This will teach me to dance for 4 hours in high heels.... seriously, this is one of the most bizarre things that has ever happened to me.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

It's life's little accomplishments....

... that mean a lot. Last Sunday I ran a 5k. It damn near killed me, as I haven't really trained, nor have I quit smoking. But I did it. And I did it in 25-28 minutes (there's no official time because the idiots at the finish line weren't recording anyone's numbers with their times. Well done, fellas.) I couldn't have done it without my running partner, whose encouragement kept me from giving up and walking on the last kilometer. Thank you, sir!!

Note: this photo was staged, as our photographer missed us actually crossing the finish line. We were already having coffee by the time he showed up. Oops.

As proud as I am of me, the real kudos go to the Queen of Sweden and the Kiwi Fruit (he's going to kill me for that nickname, but whatever). They both ran the half-marathon, and she ran with no training. The Queen is still limping 4 days later, but she finished. The woman is a machine!!

I blame the Kiwi Fruit for my new found obsession with exercise. I have been going to the gym a lot. For me that usually means going at all, but I've been trying to go at least 3 times a week, and I am actually enjoying running. I really never thought I'd say that. Ever. But it makes me feel good and my ass is starting to crawl back up off the back of my thighs and back up to where it's supposed to be. (Gravity sucks.) I haven't felt this good physically in a long time. I even discovered a stomach muscle yesterday that I could swear wasn't there two weeks ago. My goal, by the time I leave here in 4-6 weeks is to not ache after every time I go to the gym, but I think that's just a part of getting older. *sigh* Posted by Picasa

Monday, May 08, 2006

Winding down

It's almost over. And it's just now starting to truly sink in. I've spent the last two years of my life in a place I'd never really heard of, doing a job I never thought I'd have, for reasons I never thought were important to me. I'm not sure who has learned more in the past 20 months, me or my students, but I know I'll walk away from Kosovo a changed person.

I arrived here optimistic, idealistic and fully energized to change the world, thinking I knew it all and ready to impart my knowledge on the good people of Kosovo. I am leaving knowing that having the know-how to affect change is one thing, actually getting it done is something different all together, and that change isn't always what is necessary - sometimes it's just a little empathy.

I arrived here full of desire to share my world-view. I'm leaving having shared in the world-view of others. Sometimes it was tragic, sometimes inspiring, sometimes infuriating, but it was always from the heart.

I arrived here alone, a one-woman side-show in a circus of international insanity. I'm leaving with a circle of friends (well, family now) that will be with me for the rest of my life.

I arrived here a teacher. I am leaving here a student.

My life has been touched by every person I have met and every experience I have had. Although it hasn't been easy, it was worth every moment in the dark, and in the cold, and every flight of stairs I had to climb carrying 50 pounds of groceries, for the people who shared their stories with me. I arrived with my knowledge, I leave with their wisdom.

St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg
Originally uploaded by mgaston123.
Just a little note to let everyone know that I've finally uploaded the pictures from Russia. I'm working on Prague next, but don't rush me. ;P

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Pisser's just on a break...

Since poor Pisser Bear got left in San Francisco in January (I think he was getting a little homesick anyway), I needed a new mascot for my travels, especially since I had such a monumental trip on the horizon - Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Prague. For the record, Pisser is still my most cherished traveling companion. He is lost, for now, but not forgotten. In the meantime, however, meet Willie Wiki. There's a troupe of wandering Wiki's in all sorts of places now (yes, there's a website to come... more on that later). But this one is mine.

Wiki Slideshow

Riots in Bangalore

I've been pursuing a job opportunity with Microsoft in Bangalore, India (third interview to take place next Tuesday) and then I read this article (click on the title of this post to read it) about riots closing down the city over the death of a film star. Can't I ever pick any place normal to work??

The job search isn't all that I had hoped it would be. It mostly consists of mailing out countless CV's, getting random emails from the positions I don't really want and not hearing anything from places I do want to go. I've got 2 and a half months before I'm officially unemployed, and frankly, I'm starting to get a little worried. If I didn't have a kazillion dollars in student loans to pay off, I could take a job with a little po-dunk language school in a beautiful seaside village somewhere, but unfortunately, until I take care of these other obligations, I'm really not at liberty to do so.

At the moment, I'm on the roster for UN Volunteers, I've taken the Foreign Service Written Exam (again), I've had nibbles from International House in Moscow (too cold) and Kuala Lumpur, and two technology companies in India. We'll see what pans out. New things pop up on the net everyday, and I'll continue to plug my CV to whoever will look at it and see what happens. If all else fails, I'll take my savings and go to South America and see what turns up. (Not a very strong contingency plan, I know, but it beats the alternative - coming home, dejected and unemployed at 35, to live with my parents like a big loser. Not that I don't enjoy spending time at with my family, I totally do, but nobody wants to admit that they live with the parents when they're my age.)

Well, I'm starting to babble now. I guess I'd better sign off. I promise to write more later... have much to tell. I just returned from Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Prague. *sigh* It was fab.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Beautiful day

The sun is shining, the city is covered in a blanket of crisp, white snow (after two days of near blizzard conditions), and I'm feeling positive about things again finally. I'm re-energized about my work, and my students are a huge part of that. (The sunshine helps a bit too.) They made me laugh so many times today, and they've all got something new and exciting in their lives. One student finally got his camera after 6 months of trying (shipping is a huge problem here), another has decided to go to Bulgaria for an intensive English course, and another will take the TOEFL in 2 weeks in hopes of going abroad to study. There's a general feeling of optimism that has been missing for the last few months.

The oppressive bleakness of things has been hanging over me like a terrible, suffocating weight. I have had nothing positive to say for a long time; thus, I've completely neglected this blog for fear of sounding like a whiner. Just walking out of my house would make me angry and frustrated. Frustrated at the difficulty of accomplishing even the simplest tasks. Angry at the general chaos and craziness that pervades everyday existence here. Tired of cold and gray and no water and no electricity - I was craving convenience and ease.

Then, yesterday, I was chatting with a student online, and he asked me if I was tired of being here and working with these people (was it that evident?), because even for him, in his country, sometimes he gets frustrated. He told me how lucky I was to be able to leave when I wanted. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. No matter how bad it seems here to me, I can leave. For them, this is existence, reality, with little to no chance of escaping it. They're all clamoring for change, but it's a slow process. Time time time time time...... In that moment I realized that my work here is really important, and that it does make a difference, at least to some, and that a little cold and lack of electricity is a small price to pay for helping someone. So for the first time in a long time, today, I feel like I can breathe again.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The times they are a chan-gin'

I witnessed something great this weekend. Serb, Macedonian and Kosovar Albanian university students talking, laughing, singing songs and working together to make something happen. I was asked to be a faculty mentor for a group of students from the University of Prishtina that were participating in an international negotiation similation. I really had no idea what to expect, considering the current political climate, but I was truly impressed with everyone there.

The students came from 4 different universities in 3 different countries, and had to put aside personal politics and disagreements to work together to create a "contract" for protecting cultural heritage sites in the Balkan region. Each country's delegation consisted of a student from each of the different universities. The head of delegation for Kosovo's team was actually from Serbia and the head of the Serbian delegation was actually from Kosovo - just to make things interesting. They even assigned students to their hotel rooms to make sure that everyone mixed it up a bit. The first evening, people stayed somewhat with their own crowds, but by the end of the weekend, everyone was singing, dancing, learning words in each other's languages, and generally just having a fantastic time. They really took their task seriously - I overheard a couple of people still ngotiation percentage points at 2 am over beers in the disco. In the end, they managed to come to a consensus on the contract and an "official document" was signed.

I know it seems weird that I should be so surprised by all of this, but there is still so much mistrust and misunderstanding here, at least from the conversations I've had with students, that seeing it all melt away in a matter of days was fantastic. I feel really lucky to have been a part of it.

Just when you thought it was over

The past week and a half have been fantastic, weatherwise anyway. It's been sunny and warm... and thennnnnn... today it's snowing so hard that I can't see the ground from my 11th story window. I guess my building has some sort of draft due to the other buildings around it because at the moment, it's snowing UP. Yes, UP. I'm confused too.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hell has frozen over....

I recently told someone that I had learned something new about myself this year - that I can actually handle winter. I didn't think I could before the last two years. I mean, I grew up in Texas (snow?? what's that??) then moved to LA (what do you mean white stuff falls from the sky??). This winter there has been snow on the ground since mid-November and I didn't die. Until today.

Today, the high was 17 degrees Farenheit. The low, well, I don't think we've hit it yet and it's 3 degrees outside. It's 6:30 pm. With wind chill we're already below zero, it's snowing like mad, electricity has been shit (pardon my French) which means so has my heat, and I am miserable. I can't do winter. I really can't. Not like this. I don't WANT to do winter like this ever again.

I have a fellow ELF visiting this week too. Poor thing. She thought it would be an adventure to come see Kosovo, and this is what she gets. We just sat here in the dark this afternoon drinking hot buttered rum (made on my one burner camp stove in the middle of the living room) laughing at what a horrible time for her to visit this was. Oh well - what to do?

On the brighter side of winter, I just got back from 3 days of skiing in beautiful Bansko, Bulgaria. I finally get what all the fuss is about. I took 8 hours of lessons, learned how to turn and how to stop and actually had a fantastic time!! I am hooked and can't wait to ski again. We're going to Serbia in a couple of weeks to do it again. YEAH!!! That kind of winter I can handle.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Back in the U.S. of A.... (big sigh)

I'm lying in bed this beautiful Saturday morning, pilfering wireless internet off Goose's neighbor, looking at the lush hills of Marin County, and smelling the salt air from nearby San Francisco Bay. I couldn't be happier to be alive right now. Even though anything that could have gone wrong with my trip yesterday, did, I arrived in one piece, and now have 10 beautiful days to enjoy this city... ok, not really... I do have a ton of work to do, but still, I can do it in SF instead of Prishtina.

It's raining here, and evidently it has been all over the West Coast for a while now. Goose just came back from Seattle, where it's been raining for 27 days straight. Wow. We had big plans of hiking Mt. Tam today, but that isn't going to happen. It's not just the weather stopping us... I don't have any shoes. Or clothes for that matter. My luggage never made it past Vienna. Ratz.... but I digress, there's more to this little travelogue than lost luggage. Flashback to 11:30 pm on Thursday, Prishtina...

I was packing like a mad woman, trying to figure out what to take, what to leave home. I had to pack for business and casual, warm weather and frigid, and get it all in one bag. Optomistically, I pulled out my small roll on bag, thinking I'd be able to do a little laundry at Goose's place and not have to worry too much. HA HA HA. I'm such a girl. I boiled it down to 6 pairs of shoes for 16 days... I didn't think that was too bad, really - flat black boots, high heeled black boots, black loafers, brown boots, trainers, and flip flops to pack, wear the Ugg boots on the plane. Perfect. But all those shoes alone took up the whole roll on bag. Grr. I broke down and went fot the giant suitcase, but packed lightly in anticipation for the shopping in San Fran. About 1:30 am I finally nodded off to sleep, but not before setting 3 alarms to make sure I was up at 4:45. (Gotta love 7 am flights!)

I got up the next morning on time, only to find that the water in my building was turned off for the first time in months. Crapola - that meant a 27 hour trip with no shower. Ewwwww! I wet my hair down with bottled water, and made the best of it. Svengy called from downstairs about 5:40 and I headed out the door... to find the elevator was BROKEN. In case you don't remember, I live on the 11th floor. Svengy lugged everything down the stairs for me (thank god) and we headed out.

[It's 6:30 pm on February 6th now, and I've completely forgotten where I was going with this story, since I started it about a month ago.... so I'll just tidy up the loose ends and get back to the current situation in Prishtina.]

So as you may have guessed from my earlier comment, I arrived in the U.S. with no baggage, got practically strip searched in the DC airport thanks to a brass button on my belt, bought a sweatshirt in the airport to tide me over (for the next THREE days - yes, that's how long it took them to get my luggage to me), and off I went to begin my adventure. I got an impromptu party with the Spain IP crew on Sunday night - so very cool as I hadn't seen most of these people for 3 years. And then it was back to work.

I worked like crazy to get all 47 pages of my security clearance paperwork finished and printed at kinko's at the mere price of 50 cents a PAGE (jinkies!), stressed out for 3 days over the Foreign Service exam, and then tanked myself and didn't pass. I completely choked on a section. I mean totally choked. I couldn't get three words down on paper that made sense. (See, my students, it happens to all of us!) Oh well. I'll take the written exam again, and start the process all over again. I think. Still considiering it. However, that night, Goose and I met up with some old friends from Redondo days and had the best sushi meal I've ever had in my life. If I could get sushi that good everyday, I'd never eat anything but - this coming from a woman who used to never eat fish at all, much less raw. mmmmmmmmm.... sushi.

My seeeeester came out on Friday and we spent the afternoon having margaritas at the marina in Tiburon, then headed out to the city for a night on the town. Alio showed up to meet us at Sam Wo's (the best all night Chinese place in ChinaTown). The next morning we all rolled crustily out of bed and headed up to Napa for a little wine tasting, and had big plans of heading out that night. However, laziness set in with all the weary travelers, and we ordered pizza and watched tv. It was just nice to be home with friends and family, even if it was just for a few days. Sunday we headed to the Exploratorium, FIsherman's Wharf and Alcatraz - yep - played tourist. Such fun. Then it was off to Budapest for a presentation... that my friends is a story all in itself. So I'm going to stop here for now....