Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Deutschland Diaries Part 2: Mittenwald

Mittenwald is a small town in Bavaria, Germany, that the mother was dying to visit. And so we did.

The train from Munich pulled into the Mittenwald station at 8.30 pm. The town was dark and deserted, as though there was a curfew on. As is habitual with us, we had no hotel booking. It was 6 degrees Celsius, I was wearing nothing warmer than a windbreaker and that damned trolley bag kept slamming into my thigh as I carried it for about 600 metres until a group of young men that got off the train with us pointed us in the direction of what they said was a hotel, but turned out to be a beer garden guesthouse wherein we rented a small room that we later discovered had no heating and no WiFi, all for a ridiculous 80 Euro.

The best of beginnings it was not.

As I dragged the bag into the garden up to the entrance of the guesthouse, I spotted a huge white mass of soap suds by the gate and wondered what became of the normally active environmental consciousness of the Germans.

After a good dinner of pizza and pasta at an Italian restaurant around the corner while fully exploiting its WiFi connection, we spent the night shivering beneath one blanket (the mother refused to use hers after she found strands of hair on it that didn't stray from either of our noggins). After a miserable breakfast, the mother set out to find alternate lodgings, while I got ready to get the hell out of there (I must admit however that I had no wish to venture into what I considered was below freezing no matter what temperature the weather app displayed). It was Monday and apparently the staff's day off; there wasn't a soul anywhere in the guesthouse. The keys to the room included one to the front door, which had to be locked. Nobody had thought of mentioning to us where we were supposed to deposit the keys after locking the front door when checking out. So I kept them (with the key card to the luggage room from the hotel in Munich that I'd forgotten to return to reception), thinking I'd return them the next day

The mother called me to the garden as I got the bags out.
"I want to introduce you to someone."
"There's no one here.."
She pointed to the white fluff. "Meet Snow."
"That sludge is snow?! I thought it was a mass of soap suds!"

The pile of 'snow' was adulterated with fallen leaves, dirt and mud. What happened to its purity and fluffiness depicted innumerable times on TV? I felt cheated.

The second hotel was a far cry from the first. The room we rented (for the same rate) was equipped with every amenity and both the interior and exterior were very pleasing to the aesthetic sense, as the balcony looked onto the craggy Alps that towered over the edges of the town.

The room with a view. Breathtaking, innit?

More craggy mountain tops

My only complaint was of the miserable WiFi connection, but at least it existed.

A walk about the town revealed more of its inhabitants and visitors—old people. There was no one there under the age of 50. I felt weirdly out of place.

It was Eid that same day and the first one ever without sheer khurma. Not that I missed it but the occasion necessitates the satiation of the sweet tooth. We celebrated with baklava from a Turkish restaurant and Kinder Bueno ice cream from a shop selling gelato. A very satisfactory break from tradition.

I might have forgotten to mention that with regard to clothing, I was grossly unprepared. My only thought had been the Munich run, and besides a waterproof windbreaker, compression tights and a couple of tees, all I had for the Alps was a thick sweater and jeans. I moaned as I thought of the warm coats back in Prague. This is the story of my life. Pitiful. Oh, so pitiful.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Deutschland Diaries Part 1: Munich - The München Marathon

Ladies and gents, I give you... The Deutschland Diaries. 

Hereon, I solemnly swear to chronicle the entirety of my experiences in the fatherland in The Deutschland Diaries, with narratives and pictures, no matter how long it takes and not get sidelined until the series is completed. 

If someone had told me last year that I was capable of running a kilometre, let alone 10, I’d have laughed right in their face. But that was before I started running with the Q8FootSoldiers every Friday morning.

It was with trepidation that I registered for the 10km event of the Munich Marathon. I’d run 10km just once, in 81minutes, however this race required completion in a minute less. Even though a trickle of self-doubt seeped into my consciousness like a noxious gas, the excitement grew with each passing day as this would be my first official run.

A few days before the event, friend and fellow runner Lord Aymz—to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for bullying me into joining the Q8FootSoldiers—sent me an image of a runner with the following text: ‘This time I will be great. This time, I will fight harder than I ever have before and never look back. This. Is. It.’

That was the final boost of confidence I needed.

The day before the race, I traversed the picturesque five-hour train journey from Prague to Munich’s main station and then took a tram to the Olympiapark to collect my race kit and number. The lush green park, with its rolling hills and lake, was an unexpected sight. The proceedings at the event arena were so well-organized that despite thousands that signed up, there were no queues. Several companies were exhibiting and selling sporting goods, and I somehow got talked into splurging on a pair of barefoot-running shoes (how’s that for an oxymoron?). There was a pasta party as well, for participants to stock up on carbohydrates that would contribute to their strength and endurance for the marathon the next day.

The Olympiapark. 

Why does this remind me of the Shire?

Who agrees that the Olympiaturn (tower) has an uncanny
resemblance to Kuwait's Liberation Tower? =D Or vice versa
I suppose, since this was built in 1968.

A ChampionChip kept track of pace. After the run one was entitled to a souvenir medal, refreshments like flavoured milk, pretzels, apples and bananas, physiotherapy and showers.

The Day dawned clear and bright. The Underground station was dotted with several dark pink race kits strung over the shoulders of commuters and the exhilaration escalated as I realized I was part of something huge. I befriended two lovely German women who were also doing the 10km run.

Excitement was fever pitch as we walked as close as we could to the starting point amongst the 3,000 or so runners. My breath fogged before me; it was 7 degrees Celsius. I wasn’t used to the chill, having begun my running journey in Kuwait’s sweltering heat, but it was without a doubt much more preferable. I noticed jackets upon the cordons; apparently these were placed there by runners for charity. 

The human barrier at the start line.

The gunshot echoed through the street, the smoke from the barrel rising above the heads of the runners. We were off!

Note the smoke!
It had rained the night before, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the deep blue of the sky, the autumn gold of the trees lining the path forming a stunning contrast against it. As if in agreement, my iPhone played Michael Bublé’s It’s a Beautiful Day to start off with. I could hear the synchronized thudding of feet pounding against the damp road over the music. Spectators stood behind the barricades, cheering us on.
The sun bore down but the canopy formed by branches of trees on either side of the path never let us feel it. 

Autumn gold.
After about 2km, loud cheers and applause rose from around me as a runner flashed by in the opposite direction with a BMW in close pursuit. The car had a timer upon it; 17 minutes. He must have completed 5.5-6 kilometres. I was awestruck. Somehow, witnessing his incredible feat and the determination behind it motivated those present to go a bit faster, as evidenced by runners suddenly overtaking me!

Water was handed out at the 4km mark in front of the majestic Siegestor or Victory Arch. I spotted a bystander holding a poster that said, ‘Good luck random stranger’. Grinning, I went on. Bands played at different stages, bolstering resolve. More water and banana quarters close to the 8km mark. At this point, my knees implored me to stop but I silenced them. Just when my resolution began to waver, I noticed two little girls on the pavement holding their palms out to the runners. I high-fived them and felt a tingle of energy thrusting me forward. I’d never felt anything like it.

The Siegestor in the distance. It has an inscription on the back
that translates to: 'Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war,
reminding of peace.'

The final kilometre led into the Olympic Stadium. With just about a 100 metres left of the track, my iPhone very obligingly played my power song. Adrenaline pumped through me, eliminating the exhaustion. Fussy knees forgotten, I bolted towards the finish line, my spirit soaring as I noted the time displayed. I’d finished in 70 minutes, shaving 9 minutes off my predicted time. If it was possible for your heart to explode with joy and satisfaction, that would have been my moment. I have miles to go in terms of fitness and endurance, but this is a decent start.

At the end of the run, I had a pleasant encounter with a friend of a college friend (this one) from Pune. It was slightly amazing that we found each other in the multitudes of runners, considering we'd never met before. I also reunited with one of the German women I befriended, who invited me to Mannheim and Heidelberg to visit her. I might just taker her up on the offer on the next trip.

There were a few heart-warming moments from the run that have stayed with me. I spotted a family of four running with their two children, neither of which could have been older than twelve, and marvelled at their stamina. At one point, a woman went past me pushing her baby in a stroller. Later, I passed a woman running determinedly with a prosthetic leg. The most touching however was a man charging forth with another in a wheelchair. The runner had a paper pinned to his back with the words: ‘Beste Freund’.

Why do people sign up for runs such as this? For some, it is steeling themselves to completing the challenge without chickening out due to the witnesses present. For others, it may be to share their passion with those that participate. Some might run to raise awareness or funds for a charitable cause, while an elite few for the glory and to officialise their triumphs.

Whatever the underlying reason may be, it’s always you you’re competing against. You that is defying the odds and shattering the limits the voices inside you may place upon you. There is no stronger contender.

Image courtesy: The mother.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

prelude to the lauf.

The prolonged interim in posts has been brought about by an amalgamation of factors, the most dominant of which is inherent languidness, coupled to a degree with not enough time to write, what with the ten days in Germany being very full with activity, explorations and some interesting culinary experiences.

I've been in Europe a month now; I can't keep track of the days and it's not really important to me what happened on precisely which day so the numbering's gone to the dogs. Posts will follow depending on which experience most readily jumped out at me and I felt like writing about at the time.

I had to traverse the distance between Prague to Munich by train for the 10K run (lauf in German), one of the events at the Munich Marathon. As I packed my running apparel, I thought gleefully of the trolley bag we'd be wheeling around as opposed the odious monstrosity I had to struggle with and lug all over the Czech Republic. I pulled the bag's handle to wheel it to the elevator.

It refused to budge.

With just thirty minutes left to catch the train to the beautiful Bavarian city, there was no time to repack. I seem to be cursed to carry malfunctioning luggage if I'm travelling within Europe...

(post on the 10km lauf to follow)

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Europa Day 5 and 6: Prague - Embarking upon a Quest

The days are beginning to blur. I'm having a hard time keeping track of what happened when. Guess that calls for more discipline in maintaining this record of my trip.

Moving on to Day 5. For those of you inquiring what became of Day 2 and 4 know that the days that aren't mentioned weren't worth writing about. No epiphanies, glorious discoveries, awesome happenings, explorations or the like, just me being more lazy than usual.

Day 5:

Finally went for a run! While traversing by tram I scout out areas suitable for running. What with the cobbled streets and uphill paths, it took a bit of time (even the parks I'd come across were on hills). Finally, I took to running on a path by the riverside. The view was quite appealing, and the blood congealed in my legs due to the cold finally got moving.

The glistening Vltava

I spotted a dirt trail and followed it.

Gosh it's so pretty. And clean.

To my surprise, I ran 7 km. I hadn't had a decent run in over a week and I still haven't run more than 10 km (which was just once, last month). While running in Kuwait I always stop by one of the four water coolers that lie on my usual route for a sip of that cool liquid; this run was a bit momentous as it was my first without any water breaks, simple because there was no water fountain on the way. And it didn't deter me at all. Just goes to show how you can subject yourself to limits without even realizing your true potential.

I suppose it also helps that the temperature here is thirty degrees less than in Kuwait.

Runners are sparse in Prague (or maybe I haven't come across that many); cyclists on the other hand, are all over the place. So when I see runners, my heart warms to them. Especially when they wave and smile in encouragement in passing just when the aching legs decide it's time to take a breather. Perfect timing!

After the run, I walked to the Old Town Square—MAJOR tourist attraction, also one of the reasons I disliked Prague when we first visited 2 years ago, the zillions of tourists and tons of tourist traps—to meet up with the mother and the sister. While walking past the infinite overpriced, cheap souvenir shops, I discovered a stall where a young man was baking and selling 'trdelnik', a traditional sweet pastry home to this part of Europe. It smelled divine. The board hanging outside the shop stated there were different kinds, and Nutella was one of them!

That did it. I had to have one.

And here we digress for a little background information on my history with the hazelnut chocolate spread:
Nutella is my weakness (one of them anyway, I'm only human). The mother would often buy us a big jar when on the monthly romp to the supermarket and I would clean out the jar straight out with a spoon, having little patience spreading it out on bread for a sandwich which was how the sister preferred to have it. Fed up of the sister's complaints of me wiping out all trace of the delectable delight, my mother bought us a smaller jar each. There was no evidence of the contents of mine in a couple of days. The sister however, is the kind that takes pleasure in every bite over a period of time. She'd taken the pains to hide her jar, but it wasn't hard to find. I then proceeded to serve myself generous dollops of the sweet stuff and soon there was nothing left of it.

As a result of my feeding frenzy, relations with the sister were strained and that was the last time the mother got us Nutella.

*End of flashback*

I stood in queue, feeling a tinge of guilt for the transgression I was about to commit. All the benefits that came from the run were about to be smothered and drowned in the gooey goodness that is Nutella.

The mother called then and I had to leave much to my sorrow, as she was waiting for me to join her for lunch. I left, determined to return and gorge on the Nutella lathered trdelnik. After losing my way a few times, I finally found her and proceeded to feast on the best tuna salad I've ever had (can't recall the restaurant's name but it was opposite the University Bookstore on Ciletna 13).

(Author's note: I am really annoyed right now as I had another 3 paras typed which somehow due to the Blogger app's retardation are currently on a boundless journey through cyberspace, never to return to my blog.) 

I described the heavenly sight I had witnessed to the sister which got her mouth watering as well. We set off to find the stall. There were several baking and selling the pastry but none of them offered the Nutella option and we deemed them all a waste of space. Try as I might in retracing my steps back to the alley containing the original stall, I couldn't find my way. It was like the alley itself never existed, like Platform 9 and 3/4 to a muggle. Disappointed but also secretly glad that my run hadn't been wasted, we gave up the search and went home. But I hadn't conceded defeat.

Day 6:

The sister was busy so I went back the exact same route I'd taken to enter Old Town Square alone, determined to find the stall. Past Charles Bridge, through the tourist trap market (the souvenir shops), past the Museum of Torture and then T.G.I. Friday's and then.. wonder of wonders! There it was!

I stood in queue once again, drinking in the aroma wafting in the air.

The baking of the trdelnik

Life is so much better with a spoonful—or six—of Nutella. 
I had it with cinnamon sprinkled over it. The first bite was bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss. That right there, ladies and gentlemen, is what good things are made of.

The fifth bite wasn't as appealing. My enthusiasm began to wane.

The eighth bite just made me want to throw up.

I couldn't finish it. I couldn't even look at it. I tossed the last piece (there wasn't really much left) and decided I couldn't have it again anytime soon and definitely not without sharing it. It's weird, maybe the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility is finally beginning to apply to me where Nutella is concerned.

One of the really great things about Prague are the concerts. If you're a classical music aficionado, you'll never be wanting for entertainment in Europe. I bought a ticket for a string orchestra concert and the guard insisted on selling it to me at the student price (half the adult price) despite me telling him I wasn't a student. "Well, if you insist..."
The programme included Vivaldi's La Folia which now tops my list as one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. It was an enchanting evening. Live music evokes such strong sentiments in one; there is absolutely no comparison when listening to the same tracks through a device.

That reminds me, I should hit the opera soon. *blissful smile*

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Europa Day 3: Prague - A Walk to Remember

Zooming by the Vltava this afternoon.

Post a core strengthening class at the gym I discovered close to the hotel, I decided to check out the antiquarian bookshop I'd spotted earlier. 

You will NEVER guess the content of a book I saw there. 

Uncanny. Very Uncanny.

What are the odds that I'd find a book on Kuwait in a second hand bookstore in Prague?! Of all places.. I've never even seen this one in Kuwait.
Having made a decision in the morning not to get carried away while shopping, I'd left with just about 500 crowns. 200 went to the gym. Of course I couldn't leave a bookstore empty-handed...

My loot.

With just 50 crowns jingling in my pocket, I debated whether to go back to the room, pick up some more cash and have a meal or risk going out into the unknown in search of adventure, somehow making the money count. 

I'd been cozying up in my comfort zone for far too long. I picked the latter. And then I saw this:

Great advice :)

But what does one eat besides junk with just 50 crowns (about 750 Kuwaiti fils)? The answer lay into two ginormous peaches and a large bottle of mineral water (neperlivá!) bought at a fruit vendor's. Fruit is unbelievably cheap here; I even had some change left over. I set off, munching my juicy peach.

The roads all seemed to be going uphill into a residential area. My legs didn't bother me at all. What might have been an arduous task a few months ago is now just a walk in the park. Guess all the running has paid off! 

Twilight set in and I gleefully stomped the leaves that had been cast aside by the boughs above. It was a lovely area to live in, except for the cars that kept whizzing by. It wasn't even cold. Here's the funny thing about Prague. It isn't as chilly after the sun sets. The wind dies down. It's odd, but I'm not complaining.

I came across a park that seemed to be laid out upon a hill. I climbed up the track, a little nervous now that it was dusk. Since I was a child, the mother would stop me from walking from under the branches of a tree around maghrib (evening prayer) time, warning me that the djinn residing amongst its trunk would possess me. After I read a story by Ruskin Bond in which one of the characteristics of a djinn was that it liked long black hair falling loosely over a girl's shoulders, I started taking this a little more seriously. Call it superstition or whatever you will, but I took extra precautionary measures by putting my hood up, running whenever the track had branches overhead, and praying the ayat from the Quran that wards off evil. No djinn was gonna take over my mind, no siree. 

I left the park, continuing my ambulation and taking turns that led uphill, thinking I'd get a great view of the city from the top. But it never came. As soon as my feet reached the 'top', the paths just went downhill or straight past more houses. There was no view to speak of, just picturesque homes. Unless I trespassed into a private garden and climbed up to a rooftop, I wasn't gonna get a view.

So I took another path that led downhill in the direction of whence I came (or so I thought) to go back to the hotel. Trouble was it didn't lead anywhere to familiar territory. I was well and truly lost, with no 3G—and therefore no Google Maps—and not a soul in sight. Another funny thing about this city? The residents all vanish soon after sunset, as though there are vicious vampires on the loose or some such fantastical creature that has the place terrorized. Even the cars had stopped whizzing by. I like silence as much as the next person, but it wasn't very comforting then. Think more on the lines of unnerving.

A different path went past ramshackle houses and a howling dog. Wary now, I ventured on into uncharted land, hoping to get out of what gave King Minos's labyrinth a run for its money. I walked for about a kilometer and sighed.

The path went uphill again. 

I walked on, finally catching a glimpse of the city from between two houses. No sooner did I have my iPhone positioned and ready to click, a dog started barking furiously from behind the gate, giving me a minor heart attack. View be damned. I fled. It wasn't that great a shot anyway. I walked in the middle of the road keeping well and truly away from the gates, lest I disturbed any more overprotective hounds.

When I reached this point (pic below) I got slightly desperate. Where the hell was I going and would I ever find my way back to the hotel?

Kolonial Charlie. Like Charlie Chaplin.
I've no idea what this is.

And then, hallejulah! I saw a middle aged lady walking in my direction. I darted towards her keeping her well in sight, half afraid she was an apparition that would disappear. I asked her where the mall in the area I was residing in was. She didn't speak English. Another apparition appeared, a man in his early thirties perhaps. He didn't speak English either. I thought of walking back, but then one of them mentioned 'tram' (thankfully most terms of transportation are the same in Czech) and I asked where the stop was (I had a valid day pass). The man asked me to follow him and I thought well, what's the worst that could happen?

Don't answer that.

He led me to an eerie looking flight of stairs going down and instructed to follow the route to the tram stop. I skipped down them, calling upon God to protect me again.

From the top..

..and from the bottom.

It was freaking creepy.

Finally, I was back in civilization. There was a drunk old hobo at the tram stop who started calling out in Czech as soon as he saw me. Suspecting he was passing racist slurs and afraid again, I paid him no attention and hurried on. I passed a restaurant and debated going in. "You stupid fool," I said kicking myself, "you only have 10 crowns!!" I had to cross the road to get to the tram stop. Trouble was the hobo was there too. And he was still going on.. Thinking I'd be safe around the two women that were waiting there, I crossed the road. If he was being racist I wasn't offended as much as I was scared. I didn't give a damn about what a sloshed vagrant was saying, having seen a lot worse in the desert from Arabs and my own countrymen (Indians.. most racist people in the world!). I couldn't understand it anyway. Thankfully, the tram came a minute later and I drowned the unpleasantness by listening to the Man of Steel OST.

There were a couple of street musicians on the way to the hotel. I love the street performers in Europe. Dropped the rest of the miserable amount of change I had for them.

I entered my room a few minutes later with my mind well and truly under my own control, unpossessed by the supernatural, and unhurt.

Lesson learnt: Stay off the streets of creepy residential areas after dusk when alone.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Europa Day 1 - Prague

Yes, I'm in Praha. 

Lord forgive me if I sound ungrateful, but I'm so happy to be out of the desert for a while. The status 'Unemployed in Kuwait' doesn't suit me very well. 

The day was pretty uneventful except for when the sister accidentally took the cab driver's jacket believing it to be mine. We realized the mix up only when the cab had whizzed off.

We hadn't been in the city for more than an hour and had already committed a theft. Is it any wonder that Indians don't get visas on arrival in European nations? And a host of other countries but who's keeping track..

Fortunately, the sister had reminded me to take the receipt from the cabbie to keep track of expenses. Wise move; the receipt had his cell number on it. The sister made the call, mortified. The cabbie returned and claimed what was his and all was forgiven. The sister breathed deep sighs of relief on having been absolved of her sin. 

Later, I headed to Tesco to buy fruit, some perishables and mineral water. It took a while; the text on every product and aisle sign was in Czech and I forgot the water in the process of interpretation and misinterpretation so had to go back for it. 

What had also slipped my mind was the European fascination for sparkling water. Having gone off carbonated drinks a few years ago, I was damned if I was going to drink gassy H2O. I despise the stuff and curse the blasted man/woman that came up with the crap. 

I gazed down the aisle. There were several different brands of water staring back at me. Perlivá (sparkling), perlivá, perlivá.. I couldn't find 'neperlivá' (still) anywhere. I shook a few bottles to try to discern whether there was gas in them but couldn't really make out.  Finally after a few more rounds of intense cross examination of about a dozen brands, I came across the store's own brand of drinking water. It didn't say 'neperlivá' but then again 'perlivá' wasn't mentioned either. I'd finally found normal mineral water!

Having accomplished my mission, I carried the bottles in my backpack (after purchasing them obviously) and scourged the mall for a decent windbreaker that didn't cost the earth to no avail.

After a relaxing meal in a cafe reading Further Travellers' Tales from Heaven and Hell (apt isn't it?) and indulging in a delicious smoothie, I returned to my room. 

Dehydrated from the smoothie, I opened the bottle of water with a mighty heave and then groaned inwardly. The bottle cap had released a *fizzzzz* as I turned it. 

Dammit. This place is more of a desert than Kuwait is. 

Lesson learnt: Never buy a brand of water that has 'sycená' (carbonated)  on its label. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

The CELTA Games - Part 2 - The Watermelon Incident

It was lunch hour. Ms. Fish and I skedaddled out to her car, intending to eat at Pizza Hut which was a few minutes' walk from the British Council.

It was 44 degrees. Walking was out of the question.

The car wasn't much better, suffocating us with its trapped heat while the seats burned our posteriors. I strapped on my seat belt, yelling out as my fingers accidentally touched the flaming hot buckle. Right then, we were distracted by a pick up truck stacked with dozens of watermelons parked on the side of the road. One lay cut up at the edge of the truck, its pink flesh exposed and inviting. Ms Fish and I exchanged a glance, lips curling into impish grins.

Pizza Hut could go to hell.

We stopped on impulse, bought one after due consideration, got half of it sliced by the vendor but still intact so as to have no difficulty breaking the pieces apart, smuggled it into class past beaming security guards (I had a sudden thought as to whether they'd ask to screen it while I expended all my strength on not dropping it) through a side entrance of the building and gorged on it with our delighted classmates.

There are few joys in life that are as fulfilling as eating watermelon straight from the rind after being subject to a blistering 44 degrees. It was a pain to clear the seeds strewn across the floor and mop up the juice with wet wipes and toilet paper, and even then we didn't manage to get rid of all the evidence in time as one of our CELTA trainers walked into the room wrinkling his nose, exclaiming, "it smells like hamburgers in here!"

It was worth cleaning up all the muck. The spontaneity and glee put us all in a good mood and took our minds off the stress that was beginning to take a toll on most.  I was slightly surprised at how excitedly everyone had indulged in the act despite there being no cutlery; I'd expected a couple of our older classmates to turn our offer down in slight disdain.

But then it would take one considerable willpower to turn up one's nose at sweet, juicy, joy-inducing watermelon.

On that note, a piece I wrote called Bringing Out Your Inner Child was published in bazaar magazine's September issue, which should hit stands by the end of this week. You can read the digital issue here.

Part 1

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The CELTA Games - Part 1 - Getting Around to It

I once wrote about how I don't really feel at home living in India or Kuwait. As a TCK (third culture kid) I don't really have a problem blending in with people, but I don't feel that sense of belonging anywhere. And then I came across a quote that made me realize I don't really need to:

"Language is the only homeland." - Czeslaw Milosz

Another epiphany! It is within the boundaries of the English language that I thrive, with grammar that I feel most at home and in control and words with which I snuggle in contentment...words that gush comfortingly within the nooks and crannies of my mind. And let's not forget the in-built, grammatical error detection radar that unfailingly goes berserk every time it's put to good use and won't cease until the cause for its suffering has been corrected.

So when it was suggested I teach English for a living, it really wasn't too preposterous a thought. Marketing had lost its appeal; I wanted no part in encouraging people to spend more on gorging unhealthy meals that offered obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol at no extra charge and on purchasing things they didn't need. Unless it was books, of course. Books are about the only things worth buying.

In Kuwait, the British Council is the only Cambridge approved CELTA center. The CELTA application included a pre-interview task, and if you passed that, you'd score an interview. It took me some time to be completely satisfied with the task; there were a couple of concepts I was unfamiliar with, and a section on grammar that required some pondering upon. I said a silent prayer as I emailed it. Fast forward to the longest interview of my life; it lasted about 2 hours 15 minutes as it included two written tasks of 40 minutes each, but on the whole, it went pretty well.

By now I'd gotten a fair idea of what I was signing up for, from all the research online to the information I received about the course from the interviewer herself. Every single source said that it wasn't necessary to have any teaching experience; in fact it was better if you didn't. Every forum I read emphasized on how challenging and extremely stressful it was, and how most trainees pass but that it was virtually impossible to get Pass A or even Pass B and that you could fail the course if you didn't pull your weight. The stress factor had me a tad worried but more than anything else I was desperately looking forward to the challenge and being involved in something I loved; I was so bored with my routine.

Another reason why I knew the CELTA was the right choice for me? The first day of class began the day after my last day at work. That's too much of a coincidence for me. There was a Greater Power at work here.

The first couple of hours of the first day were very laid-back with warmer activities intended for us to get comfortable around each other and build trust. My classmates and I knew a little about each other through introductory emails we'd exchanged a week prior on the request of our trainer, which was a fantastic idea. Every single one of my classmates was either a teacher or had a degree in literature, or both. I admit, I was slightly envious of the latter.

Part of what I loved about the CELTA is that it involved teaching an actual class of students who were attending for free, as a way for the British Council to give back to the community. That made it even more worthwhile. As the day progressed, we were divided into groups and were introduced to our students. Our jaws dropped when the students came in. I'd expected them to be young students around my age or even younger (they'd still be adults!). Most were in fact 10-15 years older, working in hospitals or hotels.

My luck ran out and I had to teach the first 40 minute lesson in front of a class of 17 adults, almost all of which were men, the very next day.

What the heck had I gotten myself into?

Part 2 coming soon! Be patient with me :*
Title credit goes to Ms. Fish, my adorably awesome friend and fellow CELTA survivor.

Monday, 29 July 2013

courting a career change.

Have you ever felt a gaping void within you? A void created because you were dissatisfied with or enervated by your job or line of work?

The past few months (especially the last) have been pretty eventful. Perhaps the most of my life.

For one thing, I was fired.

*pause for dramatic effect*

I enjoy observing people's reaction to that statement. In actuality, my company was winding down and I was let go along with all my colleagues a few months ago.While serving my notice period, I gave some serious thought to what to do next. Was social media marketing what I really wanted to do until the Next Big Thing came along, whatever that was? Hark! An epiphany! No, it wasn't. I realized then how crucial it was for a person to have goals. At the time, I had none. No purpose, no direction. What would I do if not continue pursuing a career in marketing (my major), I wondered while listlessly browsing for job openings that fitted my profile.

The fact remained that I no longer cared for marketing, commercialism or the corporate world, and felt far removed from them all. It isn't in me to spend over 8 hours shackled to an office desk doing something I'm not interested in; thankfully, I'm not in dire financial straits or family obligations because of which I'd have to. I learnt a ton of stuff from my awesome manager and colleagues and gained an incredible amount of exposure and insight into the inner workings of the industry, but it was time to move on to another field. What I really wanted to do was take a break from working (yes, I had been working only for a year and a half and had travelled several times in that duration) and retreat into a shack on some God forsaken island and write. I could write but I am nothing if not realistic and brutally honest with myself: writing wasn't going to get me very far, especially considering how underdeveloped my skills are, and it wasn't going to help me sustain myself financially.

I needed to find an alternate career when my notice period ended, but came up blank. I was plagued by insouciance and cared about nothing. I felt my mind wasting away which frustrated me beyond measure.

It was in the midst of all the uncertainty that my life is so often afflicted with that I was asked, "since you love grammar so much, why don't you get paid for it?"

And that's how I stumbled upon the CELTA*.

*Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. More to come in upcoming posts.

Monday, 22 July 2013

learning creative compassion - published pieces (July)

If you're observing Ramadan, I hope you're having a productive month!

Keeping in tune with the essence of this holy month, my piece on Learning Creative Compassion was published in bazaar magazine's July-August issue. Read bazaar's digital issue here. If you prefer to peruse a physical copy, you're likely to find one at your local Starbucks.

I crave constructive criticism; do share your thoughts in a comment below.

And yes, I'm back. Torrential outburst of posts coming up.

Monday, 24 June 2013

published pieces (June)

"In learning you will teach
And in teaching you will learn.."
- Son of Man, Tarzan (Phil Collins)

I've been very tied-up with a new endeavour that I took up on impulse. So far, it's been a lot of fun (and a lot of work) and I'm enjoying it. More on that in a later post sometime in the foreseeable future.

To make up for my sporadic posts, I have for you two articles that were published in bazaar magazine this month (June):

You're Someone's Type!
Live Painting Comes to Kuwait

Critical feedback is always welcome. For the piece covering the Live Painting event (an edited version of the blog post published earlier in May), I'd recommend bazaar's digital version (Page 49) so you can view all the gorgeous pictures, courtesy of Kuwait Music. If you live in Kuwait, you still have a few days to pick up a copy of bazaar, before the July-August issue hits the stands. You can find one at most Starbucks outlets.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

dedicated to diva undecided.

The day I met you, I thought, "God, she's so cool."

And you are. You are hands down the sweetest, coolest girl I've met in Kuwait.

We've been friends a few months at best, but after spending time with you, whether panting by your side during the Friday morning runs, or conversing while we stuff our faces with delicacies in a restaurant or samosas and chai in Souk Safat, I've gotten to know you a lot better and now look up to you like you're my older sister (stop taking this in the wrong spirit; it's not like I said you're a wise old aunt!).

It was with you and only because of you that I made my greatest and most cherished achievement so far in 2013: completing a 5k run. A memory that always reverberates in my head when I'm running and feel like I can't go on is this: you once asked me how I was doing during a run and I said, in between my gasps for air, that I'm good. And you said, 'you're not good, you're excellent.' This pretty much sums up the positivity that you exude that is such an inspiration to me. It keeps me going and reaffirms my faith in myself.

One thing I admire about you is that you prioritize and manage your time like a boss! You're committed to so many different things yet manage to keep everyone involved happy. And no matter how long your day has been or how little sleep you've had, you're always ready with your infectious smile, and it never fails to lighten my mood.

You're one of the few people I know that is so in touch with their humanity. I have never met any girl as empathetic as you in Kuwait. Each of the Q8FS inspires me in different ways—you inspire me to do good and be good, and I love you for it.

Happy Birthday chameli. Here's to tons more conversations, runs, and disastrous musicals. 

(for Diva Undecided)

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

the awesomeness that was the MEFCC.

Recognize this?

I bought the One Ring at the Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC) in Dubai last year. It's the ring I'm going to put on my husband's finger the day I get married.

I attended the Con again this year. It. Was. Epic. I bought some more merchandise this time, an Avengers tee for my sister and a two sizes too big Captain America one for myself (that I usually wear on the Friday morning runs to motivate me not to give up), and a couple of Superman coasters.

I'd initially planned to leave by 5 PM and head to Dubai Mall to watch the fountains and maybe visit the Underwater Zoo again, but ended up leaving after 7 PM. I had to tear myself away; I needed to leave the emirate with at least one pair of shoes (and I did) since I have such a hard time finding my size in the wretched malls here.

A narrative of my experience at MEFCC 2013 was published in bazaar magazine's May issue. Yes, I realize it's June. I apologize for not enlightening you earlier. I still expect you to read the piece and this post and share your thoughts on both. I care more about your thoughts on the article though. Just sayin'.

There was a limit to the number of pictures that could accompany the article. Scroll down for more photos for your viewing pleasure.

Max Landis! Safe to say I was crushing on him along with half
the girls in attendance.

If you've watched Chronicle and liked it, this is the guy that wrote the script. He was supposed to hold a scriptwriting workshop but for some reason it didn't happen. That was disappointing.
He is however, officially the coolest person I've ever met, and also the only person that can get away with saying 'Holy Tueldo!' without sounding like a dweeb. I was too tongue-tied to make any coherent conversation, but he was nice enough to take pictures with me!

Unbelievable the number of people
that freaked out on spotting them.

This artist's signature was adding in stormtroopers
to her paintings!

Way cooler than the Batman statue that stood beneath it.

Last year I spotted a guy clutching an actual Death Note
(Not the manga! THE REAL THING! Or as real as it can get.)
Couldn't get it off my mind for weeks.

Stormtroopers in a rendition of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's
Lonely Hearts Club Band. Painting by the same artist
mentioned above (don't know her name, sorry!).

He was so in character, that when someone
remarked, "It's Jack Sparrow!", he said:
"It's Cap'n Jack Sparrow, love."

Zero from Code Geass. He bowed when I thanked him for
posing for a photo. Threw me off completely.

I love this chick's cosplay.
No idea who she's cosplaying though.

The spectacular venue.
Yet again.

Can you spot Mario and Luigi? And the Akatsuki?

Interesting project. The first is a comic for kids on Ali Kashwani,
an Emirati martyr that died protecting the island of Tunb.
The second is a take on the Arabian Nights.

Young Emirati artist's renderings.

I liked this best.

It gets pretty crowded at the Con and if you're interested in meeting and greeting the celebrities, then investing in VIP tickets makes sense, as that allows you to enter earlier. There was a press conference (which wasn't stated specifically) in one section of the venue and I was an idiot not to head there earlier while exploring. I only encountered Max Landis, Warwick Davis and Manu Bennett as it was ending, I've no idea where the rest of them were holed up (when they weren't in the autograph section—you had to pay to get photos and autographs...something I refuse to do). I would have liked to see Ioan Gruffud (from watching him depict Horatio Hornblower back when I was a kid) but I stopped caring after I witnessed Manu Bennett's jaw-dropping, rib-tickling Haka demonstration. It was HILARIOUS! Read my piece to get the lowdown. 

And then share your thoughts here :)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Live Painting & Music: Ganga Mix ft. Heol at GUST Kuwait

The canvas came alive, right before our very eyes.

The artist's deft fingers moved quickly and decisively. A dab here, a stroke there. He was bold in his choice of colour. But the vibrant hues never clashed, and each touch of paint augmented the harmony of the colours. They just were. It was incredible, witnessing his imagination transition onto the canvas. You almost felt as though you could follow his train of thought...

On one side of the canvas was the outline of a man. The colours appeared to come out of nowhere as he began to take form. He grew a goatee and wore a puff-sleeved tunic. His hands held an oud. His eyes were closed and his brow furrowed. He didn't seem to be in the present moment—his music seemed to have drawn him away, miles away from where he sat strumming the strings of his oud. His face reflected the inner peace his music evidently gave him. What was he playing that affected him so deeply? Who was he playing it for?

Upon the center was a vague mass with menacing holes in it. Defined lines and strokes of paint were added, and a woman's eyes emerged, beautiful eyes, each mirroring different emotions—one, pensiveness, the other, shock. The artist kept enhancing them with finishing touches, and his talent leaped out from the canvas.

The other artist worked mostly on the other end, highlighting contours of veiled women, and then a man in a ghutra, adding more details and definitive features.

Work in progress

A close up of the soulful musician

There was live music accompanying the art, reverberating through the hall, played by two French musicians on drums, trumpets, a keyboard and some very peculiar-looking percussion instruments. One track conjured up an image from an old Western: that of a rattlesnake rattling its tail in a desert, with the wind gusting through the land. They played several tracks, some soothing, and some:

(L-R) The artists: Heol, Amira Behbehani
The musicians: Pierre-Yves Prothais, Nournours Lhoumeau,
Hashim Al Nasser

I must note how big a difference it makes to attend an event like this with someone who expresses their interpretation of art (had a lovely time with you S!).

Overall, a remarkable event. A huge shout out to Institut Français du Koweït for bringing it to Kuwait.
If you live in Kuwait, stay updated with upcoming concerts and events with Kuwait Music.

Artists: Heol, Amira Behbehani
Musicians: Pierre-Yves Prothais, Nournours Lhoumeau forming the Ganga Mix duo, Hashim Al Nasser

I am in no way an art or music critic. This is just my interpretation of the artwork, a narration of the thoughts it aroused in me.