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Happy Valentine's Day to my Love: Work

For those of you regular readers, you know that I frequent the phrase "I love my life." My philosophy is: in order to love life fully, one must also love their job-- it is a huge percentage of life. So, I'll be loud and clear: I love my job. It shouldn't be too shocking, then, that today: Valentine's Day 2011, I spent devoted to my job - traveling yet again to Cleveland. Sunny Cleveland!

I couldn't sleep last night. The stress of the upcoming week of travel overtook my usually soothing time for rest. I haven't boarded a plane since November. For most people, this seems like a fairly short period of time. For me, this feels incredibly foreign. It's Valentine's Day. I'm stuck alone, traveling - again with baggage. Bags I wish I hadn't packed. Bags I wish I hadn't needed.

I stuffed my bags early this morning, forcing my suitcase to a tight close, with the fur from my boots popping out at the zippers - all the while, completely oblivious to the fact that today is a Hallmark Holiday and that my bags were yet again a painful symbol. To be honest, when I booked my travel to Cleveland a couple of weeks ago, it was very clear in my mind that today was the ever special day of loneliness. So, I needed to runaway. This is what I did.

This morning was beautifully melancholy. I whipped and whirred up a routine smoothie, dripped coffee into a to-go cup, and ran out the door with my overstuffed luggage - tears welling.

Sobs escaped as Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe" blasted sorrowful notes through the salty Camry's blown speakers. I let the tears roll as I tried to remember the last time I felt their gentle warmth wet my sun-dried winter cheeks. "Yup, I remember - about a month ago. Break up # 999. 1000th time's a charm? Not so much..." I rubbed the tears from my eyes as I saw a handsome, young, urban professional man carrying a bouquet of flowers to his vehicle. I secretly wanted someone to witness this awkward juxtaposition of tears and roses, and ponder the pitiful nature of this stupid holiday.

As I clicked the "back" button on my stereo's dashboard to hear the beautifully melancholy tune again, my now dry eyes caught themselves on the morning sky as my car veered north. There was a dark, stormy gray-blue cloud covering the majority of the sky, except what lay ahead. The jagged edges of the ominous blanket over my head gave way to a sky full of spectacular hope-- smooth and serene in its pastel pink and orange simplicity. This sky triggered a switch inside of me that I failed to realize until later...from one of self-pity to one mirroring the shy joy shown on the faces of those sauntering through the poor ghetto streets I passed by on the way to work.

A teen punk waiting for the bus with hands full of pale pink presents for his young, innocent love at school. A plump adolescent and her teenage partner, embracing with fresh young love written all over their faces. Another hard-looking teen sheepishly showing off his fluffy white teddy bear speckled with pink and purple hearts to impress his approaching love. These are the scenes that teased out a smile from deep inside my heart.

We are all mirrors.

When I arrived at work, the seeds I planted in my cubicle months ago were finally popping fragile but bright petals and the sun was shining across the clear blue sky.  Today was a good day.

Back at it again. Or never really stopped?

"Where have you been? I haven't seen you in forever."  For me, that question isn't exactly easy to answer.  Maybe I'm getting a little bit spoiled with the travel here, but I literally cannot remember all the places I have been.  I keep trying to count the number of countries I have been to this year and come up with a different number each time. I feel like people have a strong distaste whenever I start answering their question for real.  Umm...let's see.  Do you really want to know?

"Last week I was in Orlando, the week before that Miami. Oh yeah, and before that I was in Mexico City.  Before that, Milwaukee, the Nortwoods, Denmark, Sweden, Michigan, Cleveland, Arkansas, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Germany, France, Netherlands, England.  I'm sure I'm missing some. Repeats aren't included."

Technically speaking, I have a home now. My keys are actually metal, not plastic credit-card look alikes.

Did I say that I'm back at it again, though?  It's kind of up for debate whether or not I have actually stopped any of the travel.  I am comforted by the fact that I can sleep in my own bed for 6 nights this week...pretty sure that's a record.  I guess I shouldn't be too shocked that, although I moved into my apartment in July, I still haven't felt settled?

Well, anyways, Sunday I depart again.  Surprising I haven't gotten an upgrade in any Frequent Flyer status yet?  Worthless.  This time, the route looks like: Cleveland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, maybe Finland, or skiing somewhere in the Alps...maybe Home Depot...I don't know. I don't know if I'll have enough time.

Happy and Healthy in the Homeland

I am finally back up to speed - 98.314151659% better.  It is fabulous.  I will never again take my health for granted.  I love life.

Transitioning back to life in the US has had some interesting quirks.  I am currently working remotely from my parents house, which is currently up for sale and they are also in the process of moving - the boxes are a constant reminder that I still do not have a home even though I am back in the states and will continue to live out of my baggage for an indeterminate amount of time.

A few things I have observed while being back over the last week:
 -I have been freezing my ass off.  I keep a personal heater on while I work at the desk.  Apparently I got used to the scorching 40 degree Celsius weather in India.
-I have an insatiable hunger.  I thought that I would have a hard time eating, especially meat,  because I have been a vegetarian the last 6 weeks and eaten very little (reference: 12 pounds lost).  Nope.  I am eating everything in sight.  The Clean Plate Club has a new CEO.
-People drive slow and while the flow of traffic is civilized (with everyone in their own lanes and obeying traffic lights that actually exist here), people have intense road rage.  A honked horn here means F off, while in India it means "Hey, I'm here."
-I do not fear everything I touch and put in my mouth.  Fresh lettuce means so much to me right now.
-People are chit-chatty.
-I get other people's humor and they get mine.  I have to explain less.  Meetings last 20 minutes less and people think I'm crazy when I repeat myself three times to get the point across.
-The air is fresh.  I can see the stars.
-The moon does not smile here.
-There is no litter.
-Animals graze farms, not busy intersections.  Dogs are on leashes and I can pet them.
-Electricity does not go out 3 times a day.
-I wake up between 2 and 6 in the morning and am not working until between 6:30-8:30 at night.
-Lots of skin is shown, even though it is freezing out.
-People are fat.
-Everything is green and blooming.
-I see Indians everywhere.
-Things are expensive and no one is picking up my tab.
-Men on motorcycles ride single, with helmets on.  Absolutely no babies are riding them.
-I am not drinking 5 liters of water a day.
-Beer tastes good.
-Bread does not.
-My ribs are not poking out anymore.
-Skin is really white.
-No one cleans my room for me.
-I can brush my teeth with water in the faucet.  And drink from the faucet!  This still freaks me out.
-There are sidewalks.
-Men are not shy towards me.
-I can drive and walk wherever and whenever I want.
-My previously jobless friends are finding jobs.
-People don't look at me like I'm from another planet.
-Pakistan doesn't appear that threatening.
-There is less visible religious diversity.
-No one is poor.
-Obama's personal life is featured on the front page.  His major decisions are not hidden on page 13 of the national newspaper.
-The news is America focused.
-Terrorism is a huge threat.  That actually doesn't change anywhere I go.
-I work in my pajamas.
-Chicago appears small, quiet, and clean.
-Roads are bare.
-There are sidewalks.
-Work is lonely.
-I have a better life attitude than before my travels.
-The only "veg" meal on the menu is fries and cheese.
-Cars are big, new and clean, rarely transporting more than one person.
-I have lots of baggage and stuff that is unnecessary.
-I make my own coffee and my own breakfast.
-I can run again.
-Air smells good.
-"Everyone speaks English."
-It is quiet.

Can you believe I miss the Beautiful Mess?

Protozoan Parasite Peeling Pounds in Pune

So, I've got the bug again.

Which means I will be heading home.  I am sure you can guess how I feel about all this, so I won't go into the heavy details.  I will be heading home to the States shortly.

Baggage Blog and Mini Taj Blog coming soon...

Big Tall Awkward White Girl in India

Is it bad that most of the time I do not care if I am super awkward and people are looking at me?  Maybe I have just been here long enough to not really care.  Still, even though I don't care, it is impossible not to notice that people notice me.  I looked at a picture of myself with my teammates and I immediately understood why. I am a bit tall white awkward girl, who dresses differently, eats differently, talks differently, smiles differently, nods her head differently, dances differently, treats people differently, works differently.

I'd be lying if I said that some other these things didn't bother me here and there, but for the most part they don't, especially in the cases where I may stand out more than others.  In my previous life, I would have been so embarrassed that I would have wanted to curl up in a ball in a dark corner somewhere.  At this point in my life, I could give a rat's A.  In these situations, maybe I would have cared as an insecure teenager:

-In the canteen (ie. cafeteria), at friend's house, at formal dinners: attempting to eat everything with my right hand.  I had no idea that there could be a proper, clean way of eating with your hands.  Then I got food all over my face every time I tried.

-Dancing at a work function to Indian songs.  Shockingly, American music has not taken over the DJ spot here.  It probably wouldn't have helped in the awkwardness (since I am also awkward in the US).  I got over the initial fear to bust a move in front of the near 100 people present, since I knew that everyone would be watching the tall weird white girl's every move on the dance floor (and shoving the video camera in her face), and went out to have a blast.  Let's just say it was probably not graceful.  I think I mastered the men's moves easier than the beautiful belly dancing moves.

-Hanging out in my driver's village.  Children were taking turns peering through the doorway as I visited my driver's home in the middle of sugar cane fields.  As we left, there were around 30 kids from all over the village running after the car smiling, waving and laughing.  As I was writing this, in fact, I received a text message from my driver, Londhe, requesting that I call him.  That has happened a few times over the last week, so I knowingly fulfills his wishes, so he can put me on speaker in order that his family, friends, and children of the village can simply hear the funny lady speak.

This brings me on a short tangent, again, about the common, misguided myth: "Everyone speaks English".  Ha.  Needless to say, I have been learning a bit of Hindi here.

Back to my awkward white girl list...

-Attempting to speak Hindi.  The only things more awkward than me speaking in Hindi are the moments of silence during which I get stared at with a blank smile and then my every move and thread on and off my body  is memorized, because we have run out of things to say to one another.

-Walking across the office in my "formal professional wear".  Again, needless to say, women do not wear the same outfits we western women do.  Even if I weren't white as a sheet of paper, people would still stare at me as if I were an alien due to my style.  That's ok - gives me the excuse to further my clothing addiction and purchase kurti/as to wear to work to minimize the impact of my alien nature.

-Eating dinner alone.  This was the first and most difficult thing I had to tackle on this extended business trip of 4.5 months.  Quick and easy method to overcome loneliness, and rogue eye contact: reading a book/newspaper, and/or writing in a journal.  Advanced method to overcome loneliness in this situation, in cases where you forget the aforementioned items: befriend the staff and force them to teach you their native language.  Even with the use of these methods, the awkwardness is not mitigated.  For example, since my stomach has shrunk (reference: previous post), I cannot eat very much.  The entire staff had a quick huddle last night before the host confronted me about it, interrogating me as to what was wrong with the food.  Traditions in India now tell me that I am supposed to clean my plate, no matter how much it hurts and  burp at the end.

I know I have a billion more awkward situations to document, being a big tall white girl in India, but my battery is dead and so am I.

Thank you to everyone for the "get well" and "gain weight" wishes.  I have seen more mass in my face the last couple of days and I think anyone who knows me beyond acquaintance level would be pleased to know that I cooked and ate an entire box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese this evening.  Clearly, I am returning to the normal state.

Losing Pounds in Pune, India

I finally have it in me to blog again.  Working 10-11 hours a day here in India, staring at a computer makes me really not want to touch the thing when I get "home" to the Oakwood hotel.  This hotel is amazing...I was in tears when the staff showed me my room.  If you had to live in a hotel for 4.5 months, you would cry too.  It is  a full apartment, with a kitchen...all the tools required to make everything I want - which at this point has been Betty Crocker's Mac and Cheese recipe, Ramen Noodles, and PB&J's.  It is a precious oasis that keeps me grounded during my long stay here, yet I find it surreal and awkward to be waited on hand and foot here, when just outside the gates there are people literally living in hand-crafted tarp covered structures.

There is so much to talk about, so I figured I will give a glimpse of Pune, India through my eyes on my commute to work every morning.  It is a 15 minute commute, during which my driver miraculously maneuvers and weaves meticulously through unmanaged clusters of motorbikes, rickshaws, trucks, elephants, cows, you name it, unscathed and for arrival on time to work...  Here are some of the things I have born witness to *keep in mind this is a city of 8 million people:

- A rainbow of sari-wearing women with jewels all over contrasting with the thick layer of dirt coating everything surrounding them
- A small concrete temple in which people pray every day and my driver says a short silent prayer to on the way to work
- Hand-crafted "huts" made of items found from the litter that exists everywhere
- One nice stretch of road with hand-laid bricks followed and preceded by dirt roads, potholes, roads in construction
- Women balancing bags, baskets, boxes, water jugs, etc on their heads as they walk
- Men with rifles guarding the more upscale or "western" hangouts
- Bamboo scaffolding on the hundreds of buildings in construction
- Men in turbans
- Entire families of four riding on a motorbike or moped
- Beautifully hand-painted cargo trucks, that say in all caps on the back "Please Use Horn - OK"
- Hand painted road signs in English and in Hindi
- Hundreds of thousands of people
- Children, bare butted, pooping on the non-existent sidewalk while their mothers stand guard
- Cows and bulls creating traffic jams
- Road workers sleeping on the sidewalk in forts created by placing sheets of plastic between the oil barrels that they use to fix the bridge during the day
- Beautiful condos under construction
- An elephant with the Hindu "Om" symbol painted between its eyes carrying two boys while another boy (~8 years old) guides it down the street with a whip in hand
- A herd of goats of all different colors (so cute!)
- Stray packs of dogs eating garbage
- Hand painted corrugated metal homes with women sweeping the doorsteps out front with hand made straw brooms
- Teenage boys bathing in their underwear by dumping buckets of water on themselves
- Three wheeled rickshaws carrying 6 people
- Cargo trucks carrying dozens of people in suits to work
- Horns constantly beeping, whose tones vary depending on the size and authority of the vehicle
- Poor, skinny, dark, dismembered and dirty people (young, adult, and old) with hands cupped begging for money and food
- The only cat I've seen thus far in India; the chicken I ordered at the Chinese restaurant didn't taste like the chicken I'm used to
- People riding a camel
- Bulls in stables next to neat piles of their hand-pounded round dung cakes used for fire-starters
- Men hand- turning a mill that produces sugar cane juice next to a messy block-long line of people waiting for their sugar fix
- A focused boy around the age of 9, with screwdriver in hand, repairing a grown man's motorcycle while the man scrutinizes his impeccable work
- A fish and chicken market
- Oranges arranged perfectly in pyramids on carts lining the street
- Three grown men on a moped
- A green river stuffed with litter on whose banks bulls are grazing and huts stand in a chaotic order
- Dry sunny heat (I wake up every morning and wish for rain)
- Women with their heads wrapped driving motorcycles in kurtas to work
- Much more eye opening beauty

I am here for another three weeks and will never feel like I could sufficiently scratch the surface in describing what I experience every day.  I think that is also partly why I haven't blogged - it is an overwhelming task...There is so much to say that words cannot hold a candle to.

Up until last week I was thoroughly enjoying myself here.  I love it so much.  I find Pune, India to be a beautiful mess.  I was eating all the foods the locals were eating, partaking in all the local activities.  Then, of course, I got sick.  I knew it was coming, but I had no idea how rough it would hit.  I figured since I was going to be here for so long (~1.5 months all together) that I should be able to eat what I want to eat.  WRONG.  I fell terribly ill and have lost around 10 pounds as a result.  After one week of eating hardly anything, I am able to eat bananas and rice.  That's actually an exaggeration, because I went to McDonald's today for lunch and had a McChicken Sandwich (note: no beef on the menu - Holy Cow has a different meaning here).  I did not touch the Coke because it came out of a fountain, which was probably supplied by local water, which probably has amoeba, which is probably what infected my body, which made me feel like death, which made me currently very afraid to eat anything.  And it comes full circle. I do not think I can afford to lose another 10 pounds.

Enough about pain and suffering, because I felt great today! Going to bed now.  Have to rest what my doctor called a "delicate western body" because I was dancing to traditional Indian songs all night tonight on a rooftop overlooking this wonderful city.  Have I mentioned that I love my life yet?

Tips for travel from Geneve airport

Top reasons why you leave over 3 hours ahead of flight time when flying out of the Geneva International Airport

1.  You need to check out of your hotel
2.  You need to return your rental car
3.  You may forget what country you are in because it may be 4 in the morning and you have been in 5 over the last two in a half weeks.  When you try to pay in Euros while in Switzerland, you will be told you need Swiss Franc coins to pay for parking on your way out of the parking lot at the hotel, which may require extra minutes for digging through luggage to find coins resting at the  bottom
4.  You might get to the parking gate and realize that you cannot get out because you were probably supposed to pre pay somewhere else
5. In a fluster, you then might back into a parking spot to figure out how to prepay for parking, and not see the pole there because you arent used to driving a Mercedes hatchback, which was a free upgrade that you now regret taking because the collision damage probably costs more.  You may not see the pole, but you will definitely hear the crunch.
6. After fighting back a panic attack, you will probably figure out to pay for parking, but the next challenge will probably be how to fill up your gas tank.
7.  You might find a gas station, choose the one that you think probably means unleaded in French, but realize that you somehow need to prepay and there is no one working because it is 430 a.m.  You may manage to find the credit card machine, but accidentally bypass the English language selection because you slipped your credit card in early and then the machine assumes you speak french fluently.  After attempting to translate and click what you think are the right buttons, you think you have successfully prepaid because there is now a green flashing light. 
8.  You might now lift the gas pump that is probably unleaded, but realize you dont know how to open the tank.  You frantically might search for the gas tank opener button (yes, this is the technical term).  Then, desperately, you might open the user manual and pray that someone else might need gas and miraculously speak english and coincidentally own a mercedes.  For approximately ten minutes, you might search through the user manual three times because, clearly, it is all in German and you probably dont speak a lick of it.  After failing to find how to open the tank, you might again try what you had tried three times before -- pushing the tank door on the side of the car in various positions.  Great success.  After refuelling, you will search for a receipt of some sort to no avail, then proceed to the next challenge: finding the airport and rental car return, which probably wont direct you in english.
9.  You will probably find the place to return your rental quite easily, with some minor five minute setbacks and U-turns due to wrong translations of signs.
10.  You will probably find this whole process quite easy, but may have some extra depressor moments added due to re-reading what you signed up to pay when you confidently signed the rental agreement a day earlier.
11.  You will most likely now have to wait 10 minutes for the airport shuttle bus which adds another five minutes in transit to the airport.
12.  You then may have to pick up your luggage which you left in the railway station 7 days ago because you didnt want to carry huge bags to 4 different countries in 1.5 weeks.
13.  You will first need to figure out where exactly the railway station is, which takes 3 to 4 minutes.  Once you see the sign, you will probably now begin to run in your heels through a bare and lonely railway station where nothing is open because it is only 5 in the morning. 
14.  Your pace might quicken as you have a minor attack of fear when you realize that all the restaurants with Ferme (Closed) signs might actually be predictors of what you will probably see at the Baggage storage.
15.  Indeed, that is probably what you will see at the Baggage storage. 
16.  You will probably then work to fight back another anxious fit and seek any soul that looks like they hold any power or keys to unlock your bag.
17.  Five minutes later, you might see some souls and lights on at the Baggage storage.  You jump up and down happily because this is the most hope you have had all day and you want to get their attention.
18.  With no English, it will probably be communicated to you that you need to give them your ticket and after freaking out because you dont know where it is, they add icing to the already well iced cake...No ticket, No baggage: this well rehearsed line, to your fortune, is the only thing the baggage keeper knows in english.
19.  You will probably spend approximately 15 to 20 minutes pulling apart your bags for the treasure ticket that you dont even remember what it looks like.  After going through around 100 receipts you have kept in various locations throughout your luggage for your expense reports, you finally find the cute, lovely little plain white ticket that looks nearly identical to all of the other 100 receipts you have.  Even though the baggage keeper has repeated many times that they were closed and locked the door on you, you manage to grab his attention because of your waving arms and tears falling down your face.
20.  Clearly, you need to dig through your bags again because they need exact change for 70 swiss francs because he communicates with hand motions and facial expressions (picture hands up in the air surrender stance) that he cannot open the money drawer, since they are closed.  After realizing the baggage keeper has a very tiny heart and is trying to get an extra 30 francs for his hard extra work, you stubbornly stare at him and wait for him to open the drawer to get you your change for 100 franc.
21.  Finally you can shove all your receipts in your bag and go to Check in for your flight, that you think are borderline late for because you have probably been through the headache of security and check in at Geneva to know. 
22.  When you check your flight number on your Blackberry to figure out which gate to check in at, you realize that your flight is an hour later than you thought.

And that is how it is done.  Also, you will need extra time to document this in the airport lounge because the kezboard has switched the z and y kezs since it is French.