Sunday, December 29, 2013

Giving Thanks in God's Own Country

ATK enjoying some hammock time in the backwaters of Kerala
So, the ATKs spent their last vacation in India in Kerala, a state in South India which bills itself as "God's own country."  There seems to be universal agreement about this among Indians (at least the ones I've talked to) as during our two years here I have been peppered with questions like, "Have you gone to Kerala?", "When are you going to Kerala?", and "You must go to Kerala!" (admittedly, that last one is not a question.) We were very excited to spend our last Thanksgiving in India relaxing in this Xanadu. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Trip to Trash Mountain

Cows hanging out  in front of the mountain o' garbage. The little black specks in the sky are birds. This picture really doesn't do the vastness of the mountain justice.

The other day, I went on a field trip with colleagues to Ghazipur landfill, a.k.a "trash mountain" (like Space Mountain, except not at all.) A little background, December 9-11 we had officers from around South and Central Asia come to New Delhi for a conference to discuss regional environment, science, technology, and health issues. On third day, we spent the morning visiting a material recovery center and schools run by the NGO Chintan, an organization that works with wastepickers in Delhi, as well as stopping by the Ghazipur landfill, one of the oldest and largest landfills in Delhi.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Last House Guest Part III: The "I am so ready to go home" Edition

Yes, the time has come. The Last House Guest, who had been in India for about a month now, flew home early last Tuesday morning. While here, he visited Shimla, Amritsar, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Agra, Varanasi, and, of course, Delhi. He even took a few days to fly down to Bangkok.  It was quite the whirlwind for him. He took all sorts of modes of transportation on his journey--taxi, rickshaw, metro, and bus. Very adventurous of him. Mr. ATK and I had never taken the metro until now and we've never taken a bus (and we have no intention of doing so before we leave). He walked around a lot more than we generally do (because walking around these streets is incredibly stressful with the honking and cars and the bikes and the motorcycles and the cows and get the picture.) However, he did so seemingly by choice. Or perhaps because he didn't want to pay for a taxi.

I think, though, in the end, one month in India was too much time in India for him. Why do I say this? The first clue was when I went to pick him up from the airport after he got back from his last intra-India trip to Varanasi, the first words out of his mouth were, "I am so ready to go home."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Impromptu Stay-cation

So, this weekend is Veteran's Day.

Side note: Happy Veteran's Day to all our vets, with a special shout out to veterans PapaTK and Papa-in-lawTK!

Anyways, to celebrate Veteran's Day, the TKs and The Last House Guest had planned to visit Jaisalmer in western Rajasthan, a place that is highly recommend in many guide books, but also very remote. It requires a flight to Jodhpur and then a five hour taxi ride, or a 17 hour train ride (whichever you prefer.) Well, our flight was cancelled. Of course, they couldn't cancel the flight in advance. No, we were sitting in the airport for a couple hours before they finally canceled the flight. It was weird because it was canceled for weather reasons, but besides the typical pollution haze there was no inclement weather that would typically cause flight cancellations.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

And then there was one...

Oh my. The end is nigh.

That's right. The ATK in India experience is over in about eight weeks. (Well, Mr. ATK has a few more weeks than I do. I head home in mid-January with Aloo while he finishes up in early February.)

There are many things that pop up to remind you the end is near. So far, I've had to choose a departure date and send in a resignation letter for my job. Both of these tasks obviosuly serve as a reminder that it's almost time to go. But really, we mark the time by vacations and house guests. Right now we only have two vacations left (both in India) and our last house guest is currently here.

Yep. Our last house guest. Number seven of seven. And after he leaves there will be no other people who will travel across the world specifically to see the ATKs in India.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

August is (was) for Visitors

**I started writing this in August after a delightful visit from some Peace Corps Bolivia buddies (B-39 represent!).  Then I started having laptop troubles that sidelined my writing until now. So now it seems pretty outdated, but I will soldier on.**

We're halfway through our second August in India.  It's hot and humid and muggy and sticky; it is monsoon season after all.  But despite the weather, which, quite frankly I prefer to the oppressive dry heat of May and June, both Augusts we have had friends brave that horribly long flight and the mugginess to come to India and visit the TK family. (Well, mainly they've just come to see me.  But they don't mind Mr. ATK. In fact, some were meeting him for the first time.)

Last year, on August 15 (Indian Independence Day) our very first visitors came to India.  I shall affectionately refer to them as "The Sarahs" because they are both named Sarah. Mr. ATK was doing temporary duty in Mumbai so I was all alone (with the exception of our crazy dog).

It seems so long ago now, but it was a pretty fun learning experience. Since we hadn't been in country that long (about four months), I wasn't really familiar with the tourist scene.  My first trips to the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort in Delhi were with The Sarahs, as was my first bicycle rickshaw tour of Old Delhi.  It was the first time I really noticed the staring.  Fun story: While the Sarahs and I were at the Red Fort, I was reading the Lonely Planet trying to figure out what everything was (we didn't pay for the audio tour and the buildings aren't well marked) when we noticed this group of Indian dudes taking pictures of us. I think there were like five of them.  They were maybe 30 feet away and would do that thing where it looked like they were taking pictures of each other, but they were clearly setting the shot so we were in the background.  The Sarahs noticed these guys, but I was too wrapped up in the guide book ("I think that's the wait, I think it's the throne room. That over there must be the mosque.")

Well, the guys got more and more brazen as we sat down on a bench ignoring them.  They came closer and started posing next to us--not asking permission or anything.  This is super common in India actually, but at the time, it was new to me.  The complete ballsy-ness of these guys was just so unbelievable that we were laughing about it. This probably encouraged them.  One of them sat down on the bench next to us.  I kept reading the book.  Finally, one dude came over and made the universal "scoot over" motion so he could sit in the middle of us.  That was the final straw. I was like, "Nope. We're done here." And we got up and walked away.

Anyways, it was great learning about and exploring India with The Sarahs. I do feel a bit bad, though, because as our first guests we were sort of flying blind. There are lots of cool things they could have seen but didn't because I didn't know about them.  They wanted to see monkeys and elephants and I think they are our only guests who saw neither. Even the guy who stopped by from Nepal for a day saw monkeys! We've since perfected the house guest routine.  It's a fine tuned machine.

Now for some pictures (circa 2012)!

Charlie's Angel-ing it up at the Taj Mahal. We learned after taking this that you aren't actually allowed to pose like this in front of the Taj.

Here we are at the Gateway to India in Mumbai. It was rainy. I was unimpressed with Mumbai.

First time coming upon the flower sellers in Old Delhi.

Flash forward one year: It's August 2013. Two great Peace Corps friends, I shall call them Mateo and Kathy Snant, made the long journey to India to visit (Mateo even came from Bolivia via Brazil and South Africa! He wins the "Longest Flight" award). They came for three weeks and stayed at ChezTK for a week. During this time they went site seeing by day and hung out at home with us boring people in the evening. Mr. ATK got the privilege of listening to reminisce about the days of yore (2005-08) living in the Bolivian campo eating potatoes.

Of course, Mateo and Kathy Snant are seasoned and wily travelers so that whole routine that I have for guests was not needed. Still, I think they enjoyed their time here--even if it was godawfully hot. While they normally do the thrifty backpacker style of travel, they did start springing for air conditioning.

The ATK-Snant-Mateo travel itinerary included hanging out at ChezTK (where they were terrorized by Aloo) and traveling to Amritsar over Eid. Mr. ATK and I had been to Amritsar already (if you've forgotten, you can read about it here.)  Well, Amritsar was still hot and humid and crowded, but it really is a must see for anyone traveling to India.  It was nice to vindicated when Kathy Snant agreed that walking on the street barefoot is pretty gross. And this time we waited in line to enter the actual Golden part of the Golden Temple.

The Golden Temple part of the Golden Temple. Notice the line to get in. Inside is where they keep the Guru Granth Sahib- the holy book of Sikhism.

And here we are in the line to get into the temple.

There I am with a random stranger who asked to have her picture taken with me.

That said, I have no intention of ever going back to Amritsar. Waiting in that massive crowd at the Wagah Border is not something I need to live through a third time. But you definitely should see it at least once, if you haven't already. I'll be happy to give you directions and send you on your way.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

UPDATE: Crash Bang Ow Resolved

Two posts ago (Crash Bang Ow) I discussed a car accident the Mister and I had on the way to work.  I ended with a bit of a complaint about how the lady who hit ole Bassy promised to pay and then reneged and I compared her unfavorably to Ms. Lynn Eccleston of Baraboo, Wisconsin, who hit my car, promised to pay and never did.  I think I sounded a tad pessimistic regarding whether or not we would see our car repair money.  That would be because I really didn't think we would.

However, happy news, Readers! The lady who hit our car did pay for the damages, though after quite a bit of cajoling and badgering.  We joked that we had Vicky shakedown the lady, which, I mean, she owed us the money so it really wasn't a shakedown.  But I guess he bothered he so much that finally she was like, "Alright, already.  If I pay you can I get a recipe and signed statement saying you will cease and desist with the bothering." Which we were more than happy to pony up.

Regarding all this, Mr ATK and I did have a bit of a moral quandary. You see, the car repairs really weren't that expensive--about $160.  (Side note: It constantly amazes me how cheap labor is here.  The damage horrible person Lynn Eccleston did to my car was not nearly as bad as this and that cost me $800.  For some scraped paint and a small dent. Crazy.)  Now it's true we could have paid for the repairs ourselves with relative ease (thought $160 isn't exactly chump change.)  The lady that hit us was a teacher, so I feel fairly confident in saying we probably could afford it more than she could.  But, you know, she hit our car.  And it was completely her fault.  Like, if it had been close, we probably wouldn't have pushed it, but it was just so blatant.

Anyways, we decided to donate our shakedown money to Vicky's church, since he actually did all the work in getting the lady to pony up.  Although it's not much,  I'm sure the money will be put to good use.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Indian Independence Day Mubarak Ho!

Happy August 15 everyone!

As you may (or may not) know, August 15 is India's Independence Day.  Mind you this is not to be confused with Republic Day which is January 26. What's the difference you ask?  Well, Republic Day celebrates the ratification of the Indian constitution.  Now at first I thought, Isn't that kind of double dipping?  You know, celebrating independence and the constitution? Isn't that a little much? 

Then I started reading Ramachandra Guha's book India After Gandhi.  I checked this out of the library, like, last year, but didn't get around to starting it until we went to Australia.  Mr. ATK was not too keen on hauling around a 900 page book in our shared backpack which he generally carried.  Especially since I had a nice light Kindle I could have brought.  I sympathize, but I always do the most reading on vacation and I had been wanting to read it, so along with us it came.

Me in Melbourne starting the book at the beginning of our vacation. Thanks to Mr. ATK for the flattering picture.

So why the two holidays? Apparently, on January 26, 1930 the Indian National Congress passed the Purna Swaraj declaration--the Declaration of Indian Independence from Britain.  Seventeen years later, when the British finally agreed to leave, the Congress wanted the handover to occur on January 26 as that was already their Independence Day.  The British chose August 15 because it was V-J day.  So when they finally finished writing the constitution in 1949, they chose for it to come into force on January 26, 1950--the twenty year anniversary of the Purna Swaraj declaration.  So it's not just about double dipping holidays--it has a very important historical significance.

Anyways, this book, its fairly in-depth book and I'm not going to into it here (apart from the previous paragraph.) But I will say that reading the book, while living here, has certainly given me a better of understanding of India today, by teaching me about the path India has traveled over the past 66 years.  Mr. ATK and I have traveled quite a bit around India and I've really grown quite fond of this insanely chaotic yet spectacular place.  But in all honesty, the longer I live here and the more I read about India, the less inclined I am to say I truly understand it at all.  Such is India. What I do have is a much greater appreciation for all of its complexities and idiosyncrasies.  It's development as a free, independent democracy is truly amazing especially considering the incredible diversity (in race, religion, language, culture) and the challenges of developing economically and socially with an ever-increasing population.  That is not to say I agree with every decision or action India has made or continues to make (not that India is particularly concerned with my opinion anyway).  But considering the prevailing (and pejorative) wisdom in the "west" in 1947 was that India, and Asia in general, just "wasn't ready" for democracy and that it would undoubtedly crumble into chaos before becoming an authoritarian state (or perhaps break apart all together), it is nice to see India has defied the odds and proven the skeptics wrong.*

And so, in honor or Indian Independence Day, I would like to sign off with a quote from Nehru's excellent "Tryst with Destiny" speech:

It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the east, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materialises. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed!

And I would also like to share this awesome Bollywood video from the movie "Chak De India." I haven't seen the movie (it's about field hockey), but the song is awesome. They were dancing to and singing this song at the India-Pakistan Patriotic Border Competition** which I have previously discussed here


*So far. And hopefully for years to come. जय हिन्द!
**Again, not the really name of the event.  I just made that up.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Crash Bang Ow

Yesterday on the way to work, Mr. ATK and I were in our first car accident in India.  On one hand, it’s amazing that it has taken this long. On the other hand, this wasn’t the first accident Bassy the Ambassador was in.  She had been hit by an Indian general in one encounter when we weren’t in the car. The General made sure to repeat the fact that he was a general several times on the phone with Mr. ATK.  He did not pay for the damage to the car. (But it was only scraped paint so it wasn’t a big deal).  The other accident occurred with MamaTK and Best FriendTK in the car.  Bassy hit a motorcycle who turned in front of her.  It was from a stop so no one got hurt.  The car just knocked the motorcycle over and scraped up our license plate a bit.

This time the ATKs were on our way to work when we drove through an uncontrolled T intersection—we were in the part that has the right of way, by the way.  As we were just passing the intersecting road, a car turned right (which is the equivalent to a lefthand turn for us) and hit us in the back right tire.  Luckily, neither car was going very fast, but still there was the big *crunch* resulting in a dented wheel well for us and a cracked headlight and busted bumper for the other driver.

So we pull over and Viki gets out of the car to go confront the other driver.  Mr. ATK is about to get out too, until I reminded him that security briefings tell us to always stay in our car.  You see crowds gather quickly at accidents in India, and even at 7:30 in the morning, ours was no exception.  People pulled over and got out of their cars even—just for a little fender bender.  Folks who were going about their morning business stopped what they were doing and came over.  In our case, since it was really a minor accident and no one was hurt, there was no animus from the crowd, just debates on who was at fault.

Before I get into this any further, let me present Exhibit A—a diagram of the scene of the accident (courtesy of Microsoft Paint).

I think this shows the whole story. I guess the point of contact may have been up a smidge on our car, but it’s Microsoft Paint. It’s not an exact science.

So, Mr. ATK and I are sitting in the car while Viki the driver is out arguing with the other driver.  He comes back to the car and is like, “She says it’s my fault. She won’t pay.  What do you want to do?”  Now, I cannot think of one example in America where the above situation would play out and the turning driver would not have been at fault*—perhaps if there were a light or stop sign that the non-turning driver ran through.  But this was uncontrolled, so that certainly wasn’t the situation in this case.

Mr. ATK gets out of the car (I stay in, despite the fact that it’s like 100 degrees in the car) and he starts arguing with the lady.  She is all, “I had started my turn when you came through. (If that were the case, I imagine the fronts of our cars would have collided. Not the front of her car with the back/side of ours.)  …More arguing… until finally Mr. ATK calls the Embassy roving patrol to stop by.  So they show up to take pictures at the scene and talk to the folks.  Meanwhile, cars are still trying to drive on the road where this large crowd is gathered.  Hilariously, two different police cars passed the scene but neither stopped. 

In the end the lady who hit us called her brother as she continued to maintain that we were at fault.  I suppose she wanted her brother to come back her up.  I think for a second she was trying to pull the whole, “Well, we were both at fault” thing, but Mr. ATK was unyielding.  He was all, “Nope. You hit us. Not our fault.”  When brother showed up (and he brought their mom too) he was like, “How much do we owe you?” So I guess it didn’t go her way.  

They really were very nice people, though.  They are now doing all sorts of ducking and weaving to get out of paying. Well, she is.  We don't have the brother's contact information.

This reminds me of when horrible person Lynn Marie Eccleston (alias Lynn M. Klug; alias Lynn Rogers) of Baraboo, Wisconsin hit my brand new Ford Focus while it was parked on a residential street in Sun Prairie (driving recklessly, I assume). She did not have insurance and promised to pay and stupidly I trusted her. (She did leave a note. Though in retrospect, I imagine she only did that because people saw her hit my car.) I didn't contact the cops or my insurance (god, I'm an idiot.)  Guess who never paid up the $800 worth of damage she had caused?  Horrible person Lynn Eccleston, that's who. And she strung me along for a long with promises until she stopped returning my calls.  And then I got married and moved to India.

Still I wish I had checked her out on CCAPS before taking anything she said at face value.  Alas, I looked her up too late.

*If you can think of a similar situation where we would have been at fault, feel free to post in the comments. Mr. ATK and I have been trying to come up with some and we've really only come up with two pretty weak  possibilities.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The one where I meet Secretary of State John Kerry and we become best friends

So perhaps you have heard by now, one Mr. John F. Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States of America was in India.  If you haven't heard, you can read about it here, here, and here.

It was a short visit, as many of these often are, but Secretary Kerry took a short break from diplomacy to do a meet and greet with Embassy staff and families.

Last year, when then-Secretary Clinton came, the meet and greet was at 2:00 pm.  This time it was at 8:00 am.  Which means you need to be there and in the room by 7:30 am.  That's pretty early.  So early, in fact, I knew not to even bother to ask Mr. ATK.  But I personally never pass up the chance to meet a Secretary of State, much less one I voted for once upon a time.

After being stuck behind some kids, and well out of handshake range, I might add, at last year's meet and greet with Secretary Clinton, I was determined to get a prime location and a photographed handshake.  So as soon as security gave the all clear I was first in the room and scoped out some primo real estate--right in front of the stage.  I was sure to get a handshake from this spot, I thought.  Heck I could have reached out and shook his hand while he was on the stage.  That's how close I was.

Before the Secretary entered, kids and summer hires (college students working at the embassy over the summer) were pre-grouped because he was going to take a photo with each group.  I considered standing behind the kids, like I did last year, but since I had such prime real estate I thought I would stay put.  After all, I was guaranteed a great handshake photo by one of the many photographers that were around.

Remember this one? Classic ATK.

So anyways, Secretary Kerry enters--after a couple of warnings to "not push" but "calmly shake his hand and move out of the way so the next person can step up and shake his hand." Yes, even a room full of diplomats needs to be told not to push.

Basically, the Secretary greeted us, thanked us for our hard work, and proceeded to become the host of a State Department version of "Kids Say the Darnedest Things."  He asked all the kids to come on the stage with him and he talked some about how his parents were in the Foreign Service and he lived in post-WWII Berlin for a time. Then he started asking the kiddos questions, including:

Kerry (to a kid in the front row): Where are you from, young man?

Kid (one Mr. Zander Burnes): America!

So adorable and it elicited quite the laugh from the crowd! A picture of the interaction made the New York Times' India Ink blog.

Another one that was cute was:

Kerry (to a different kid): How many countries have you lived in?

Kid: Five! Including America!

He addressed the crowd some more, and was very affable and funny.  He thanked everyone for their service and he said something that has really stuck with me.  He said, "We work for peace."  I don't know. I really liked that.  We do work for peace and I am proud to be a part of that.

Anyways, after all that, Secretary Kerry got down to do his photos with the kids and summer hires.  It was handshake time and I was ready!

I think the plan the event organizers came up with was for the Secretary to take pictures with each group and then come down to the front and shake hands and greet folks as he made his way to the door to leave.

But that's not how John F. Kerry rolls. He flipped the script, y'all.  Some say he went rogue.  I prefer to recognize it for what it is--he's a wildcard!

After taking pictures, Secretary Kerry meandered through the crowd shaking hands, taking photos with people, and chatting.  Of course, he was now way behind me.  Everyone who had been in the back was suddenly in the new front row. I think this threw the photographers off as well, because they were down by me.  So they rushed to follow him and take pictures, but he didn't just walk straight through--he was moseying around shaking hands with as many people as he could.

So in the end I did get my handshake, but no picture of it.   Still it was a great experience and I did get a few pictures with Secretary which I will now share with you all.

This is the best picture I have.  It's the one where Ambassador Powell and Secretary Kerry photobombed my picture with my friends.  It's okay though I didn't mind. :)

The arrow is pointing at me. See how mine is the back of the head in front of all others? Primo location.

There I am again with the back of the Secretary's head.
There's part of my face with part of someone else's face and the Secretary and Ambassador.
*Author's note: Secretary Kerry and I did not actually become best friends. :(

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ground control to Major Tom

I assume you have all seen the YouTube video of Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut, singing Space Oddity. If you were one of the five people who didn't, here it is:

I like how he changed the lyrics so, you know, Major Tom doesn't die at the end of the song.


So why am I writing about a YouTube video that was popular like 2 months ago? Well, because today I had the pleasure of meeting NASA Administrator Charles Bolden who stopped by the marine house on post for a meet and greet (Administrator Bolden is a retired Marine Crops General as well as a former astronaut.  He was on the mission that put the Hubble telescope into orbit.  Pretty cool, right?)

Anyways, he talked a bit about current NASA initiatives like preventing asteroids from hitting the Earth (which I am all for, given the effect an asteroid hitting Earth likely had on the dinosaurs) and the Curiosity rover's upcoming attempt to scale Mount Sharp on Mars to study the history of the planet and, you know, look for signs of life.  Not like, little dudes running around (though I'm sure they would be thrilled if they found some of those), but just any signs of things like potassium, nitrogen, stuff like that.

Anyways, it was a really interesting conversation.  It's fascinating to hear people who have been to space describe what it's like to be there.  Sunita Williams, an Indian-American astronaut who is incredibly popular here in India, talked a lot about how you can't see borders in space and how easily you can see it's one world.  Administrator Bolden talked about how you see 16 sunrises 16 sunsets in one day and how incredible the burst of light is at sunrise and how dark the darkness is after sunset.  First of all, I didn't know they orbit the Earth every 90 minutes, so the 16 sunrises and sunsets was news to me.  When I was relaying this to Mr. ATK he asked, "How do they sleep?"  We decided they must have bedrooms without windows.

The other thing he said which I found very...moving, I guess, was how from space you can't see people or buildings or anything.  It's similar to what Sunita Williams said I suppose.  He said you don't see the Earth as a little ball, because they don't get far enough away from it, but you can see pretty much the whole thing.  He said when you look at Earth from space there's no sign that humans necessarily live there.  He said you can see linear patterns from far away so roads kind of show indicating some form of intelligent life obviously lives on Earth.  He also talked about how at night you can see the lights from cities, which creates quite the contrast between places like Europe, which is very well lit, and Africa, which is not.  I've seen the pictures of the world at night and you can see that stark distinction between Africa and Europe, or North Korea and South Korea. I think the pictures alone are powerful, but I can't imagine what it would be like to actually look at it firsthand.

See? Isn't this picture of the Iberian peninsula awesome?

It was all very interesting and made me think about how much I liked space as a kid.  I think space is pretty popular with kids in general (surely, I am not the only one who remembers the Punky Brewster episode where she wants to be an astronaut).  Then, of course, you get to high school and college and realize you need to do all sorts of crazy math and advanced science in order to be an astronaut and you switch to something less hard.  Or in my case, less math-y.  Still I can't help but hear all these cool stories and think, "Man I wish I had put more effort into math and science."

Eh, I guess I'll just have to read about all the cool space stuff and hope someone else saves us from any errant asteroids.  I'm not too worried, these NASA boys seem to have this stuff on lock.

Waiting while Administrator Bolden autographs a picture for me. Yeesh, I have terrible posture.

My autographed picture!
 Also, in the Q&A I asked the administrator what he thought about Newt Gingrich's "colonize the moon" announcement during the Republican primary.  He said, "Everyone laughed at him. But I didn't."  Of course, he then went on to explain that if we are going to have humans live somewhere else in the solar system, it's really Mars we should be talking about, not the moon.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Meditations on Miller High Life (It's the Champagne of Beers, you know)

Greetings Readers!

So it has been almost two months with no post. I know, I know. You've been going through ATK withdrawal.  Mea culpa. It has been a busy couple of months since my last post.  Where to start?

March (before the Thailand trip)

I volunteered to chair the food and beverage committee for the Embassy's annual 4th of July party.  As the title suggests, I head the committee that arranges both the food and the beverages for this shindig.  Now, if there is one thing I enjoy, it's planning a party menu.  I suspect it runs in the family--MamaTK's Packer parties are a thing of Wisconsin legend.  Of course, I don't have a Costco at my disposal here.  And I'm not sure that beer brats and giant cupcakes would be appreciated at this type of party anyway.  Still, it has been interesting working with my team to set up a tasting menu--there have been lots of arguments about whether anything on a skewer is too dangerous and how many types of chicken you can serve when you can't serve beef or pork. Official tastings are next week.  Perhaps I'll let you know how it goes.

Now, while I think I having pretty made food-deciding skills, my drink choosing skills are not so hot.  Really, the problem is beer.  I need to order beer and I really do not need a wide selection of beer. The only guideline I have is that the beer be American (duh!).  I offered up beer choices to other folks on the committee and nobody was really passionate about any particular beer. As a Wisconsinite, I have a loyalty to Wisconsin beers.  Unfortunately, Spotted Cow is not available in India so I am considering buying some Miller product.  I decided to consult noted beer enthusiast Mr. ATK on my decision.  I was heartened when he himself suggested, "Why don't you order Miller?"  So then I was like, "That's what I was thinking.  But what kind of Miller should I order?  High Life?"  This caused him to break into uncontrollable laughter.  Apparently he thinks Miller High Life would not be appropriate for an American Embassy function, even though I non-ironically reminded him that it is "the champagne of beers." He also poo-poo'ed Genuine Draft.  I didn't even bother suggested MD64.  I suggested Blue Moon, too, but he said it's not made in America plus it's Belgian style beer.  He did give Miller Lite his stamp of approval, though.  We'll see what I end up choosing.  Maybe it will be Sam Adams.  You never know. Wildcard, bitches!
What's so funny? It's not like it's Milwaukee's Best or anything.

moving on to...


Most notably, in April I started watching season one of The Wire.  It is now June 1st and we are wrapping up season 3.  As I mentioned before on Facebook, I am now one of those white people who like The Wire. (#85 on the list of "Stuff White People Like")  I am also now one of those people who gets upset that a random review of The Great Gatsby on Al-Jazeera spoiled the fact that Stringer Bell dies.*  Why you gotta do that Al-Jazeera? Why?

Apart from new television watching habits, Mr. ATK and I also visited the holy city of Varanasi in April.  Word on the street is if you die in Varanasi and are cremated there you get to skip reincarnation and go right to heaven.  So as you can imagine there are lots of funeral pyres on the banks of the river.  I can't really describe it to you, so I'll post some pictures instead.  I will say that we stayed on the top floor of our guesthouse and every morning at dawn a marauding troupe of monkey would descend on our front porch, swing in our hammock chair, knock on our window threateningly, and even tried to open our door to come in.  Need I remind you, Mr. ATK is quite afraid of monkeys, ever since he was robbed at the monkey temple in Kathmandu.

Anyways, behold! Varanasi!
Me putting a candle in the river.  Probably not the best thing for the environment as the river is already filthy.  

Funeral pyres at dusk

River parade! (It was Ram's birthday while we were there)

Panoramic view of the ghats from the river

which brings us to...


Well, perhaps you've heard (or perhaps you haven't) but it has been like 113 degrees consistently for  weeks.  I suppose that is not international news, but it certainly makes life unpleasant.

At the end of May, a delegation of ICT executives led by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of South and Central Asian Affairs and a senior official from the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues came to India to explore the gender gap in ICT.  This visit was my first playing a pretty big role in the planning and coordination.  The delegation was in India for four days--two in Delhi and two in Bangalore (I obviously worked on the Delhi portion).  Overall, the trip was a success.  I learned a lot sitting in on conversations the delegation had with private sector, governmental, and NGO groups to discuss why fewer girls study science and engineering, why women are less likely to pursue tech careers, and why they are less likely to hold leadership positions in tech firms. Ann Mei Chang, who organized the delegation in Washington and whose idea this whole thing was wrote a great post about the visit for the State Department's "DipNote" Blog.  You can read the whole thing here.  (Also you can see me in the picture! Way in the back, but, still counts!)

One thing I did learn from the trip is for a delegation of 11 women, it is smart to factor in time for bathroom breaks. The more you know....

Of course it wouldn't be a month in the ATK household if we didn't travel somewhere.  In May we decided to beat the heat by heading up to the mountains.  So we took the UNESCO world heritage toy train ride up to Shimla--which used to be the summer capital of India during British rule. (Because, again, it is godawful hot here right now.)

Shimla was beautiful.  I was a little concerned before going because the weather predicted highs of 97 degrees.  While this was still 15 degrees lower than the days in Delhi, it still seemed a bit hot.  I'm not sure whether it ever did hit 97 in Shimla, but walking up on the mountain ridge around noon it didn't feel that hot.  Maybe I am just sensitized to super-heat.

For Shimla, one of the key attractions is the toy train.  It's actually a UNESCO world heritage site (if a train ride counts as a site.)  Unfortunately, when purchasing tickets, I was unaware that there was a first class train and a non-first class train.  We ended up on the non-first class train.  It's not particularly comfortable (and this is a five hour ride.)  Also, though the weather in the mountains is cooler, the ride starts at noon at the bottom of the mountain, where it is 113 degrees.  As a result, the first couple hours of the train ride were hot and sweaty and I was sitting in the sun the whole way.  I'm fairly sure the Indian folks across from us were taking pictures of us, which normally doesn't bother me, but it's kind of annoying when you are dripping with sweat and cranky.  I would have probably taken more pictures but I was not feeling it. 
The toy train passing over one of the many bridges. I didn't actually take this picture

Our train at Barog station on the way to Shimla
Shimla itself is a nice town.  Picturesque and up in the mountains.  The only problem? Monkeys.  Yes monkeys apparently live in alpine forests in India.  As mentioned, Mr. ATK does not like monkeys (what with his monkey-related PTSD and all).  In fact, one day we were followed by a creepy dude.  He was not begging exactly, just following us and babbling.  He followed us for ten to fifteen minutes as we walked around one day.  While I became increasingly agitated by his stalking, Mr. ATK was focused on not crossing any monkeys.  I kept pestering Mr. ATK, "That guy is following us!"  Only to be told, "Careful, that monkey is walking right toward us."  The guy did end up following us into a restaurant, and then Mr. ATK was like, "Hey that guy is following us!"  He (the stalker) may have been harmless and maybe just a bit touched in the head or something, but it is still disconcerting to be followed. Thankfully, he wasn't waiting for us when he got out of the restaurant.  And there were no monkey-related incidents.

Also, Shimla has a famous temple dedicated to the Hindu god Hanuman (aka the monkey god.)  We did not go visit that temple.

Mr. ATK in front of one of the many "Beware of Monkeys" signs

Public enemies 1 and 2

Panoramic of Shimla


June has just started so who knows what it will bring.   Hopefully I'll get around to letting you know sometime before August.

*The irony of me spoiling String's death by writing that is not lost on me. Thankyouverymuch.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"I get my kicks above the waistline, Sunshine!"

I realize this blog called "ATK in India" is turning more into a blog about ATK everywhere but India. Perhaps after a year in India things that used to seem odd or at the very least blog worthy are now just everyday things. Who knows?  Anyways, this installation will continue in that non-India vein as I regale you with tales of the ATK family's recent trip to Thailand and Cambodia.

But first, in honor of Thailand, I bid you watch this 1980s classic video. Only mildly offensive.

So, Thailand--Bangkok, to be specific.  We had nine days planned for vacation, but because the flight between Bangkok and Siem Reap, Cambodia is ridiculously expensive, we decided to travel over land to cross the border. This meant that we had five consecutive days in Cambodia sandwiched between four days in Bangkok. The two day increments in Thailand meant we couldn't really leave the city to see other parts of the country. It was okay, though, because there is a lot to see in Bangkok (even if you ignore the creepy sex tourism.*)

Some Thailand highlights:
  •  Tourist/backpacker haven Khao San Road. You can buy almost anything here. Chances are none of it is real, though.

  • Floating market outside of Bangkok. Very cool, though very touristy. The market itself is generally on the shore, though there are some floating vendors. It's pretty amusing because if you look too long or point or indicate any semblance of interest in someone's wares, they use a hook on a stick to pull your boat in. We saw a Thai vendor in a shirt with a Nazi flag that said 'White Power'.  He ended up pulling our boat in most likely because of all the hubbub with the whole boat pointing, saying "Holy crap! Is that guy wearing a 'white power' shirt?" and the ensuing debate. I wonder if he wears the shirt as a conversation piece.

  • Delicious, delicious street food! Pad thai, chicken satay with peanut sauce, spring rolls, fried insects (if that's your thing), smoothies, coconut ice cream, fresh fruit. You might get dysentary, but c'mon, it's totally worth it.

  • Grand Palace. Which is beautiful, but hot and extremely crowded. We seemed to have arrived about five minutes after 10 bus loads of Chinese tourists. Also, as we were walking there, one clever tout tried to convince us the palace wasn't opened yet as it was early on a Sunday. Plausible since it was about 8:30 am (and already 100 degrees). But we declined his offer of a tour of the harbor and river wandered down the palace wall a bit more and, lo and behold! the palace was totally open!

After the first two days in Bangkok, we traveled to Siem Reap, Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. Over land. This was probably the least enjoyable part of the entire trip. And what's worse is we had to do it twice. Ugh.

The process of going to Cambodia from Bangkok involves:
  • Getting a visa (which we did beforehand and it was relatively easy. You can do it at the border, but it's pricier.)
  • Taking a bus from Bangkok to the border
  • Going through Thai and Cambodia immigration. The immigration line on the Cambodian side is way worse as there is no air conditioning and they take a full set of fingerprints (digitally, but still) and it just takes forever. 
  • Then you need to go wait at the government bus stop for a free bus that will take you to the bus station. Also, here there are a ton of touts trying to sell you stuff, most noticeably they try to get you to change your Thai Bhaat for the practically worthless Cambodian Riel. Since everything in Siem Reap is in US Dollars, the riel is not worth the investment.  You actually get riel in lieu of US coins as change. (1,000 riels = a quarter).
  • Then you take the free bus to the next bus station, where you can take bus or a taxi to Siem Reap. Of course, the bus requires waiting and the taxis cost $48 US dollars for the two hour ride (which breaks down to $12 per person). We did haven't any traveling friends to fill up a cab and we wanted to arrive before night, so we negotiated $40 for the taxi for a direct drop off at the hotel.
Now, we had read a ton on this process, especially about all the scams out there and how you shouldn't believe a company saying they can take you direct from Bangkok to Siem Reap (or vice versa). So, while we saw a few advertisements around Khao San Road for direct services and I even saw an advertisement at the bus station for a direct trip, we decided to do it ad hoc. We later learned that while you obviously need to get out at the border and go through immigration (the buses can't go directly because they drive on opposite sides of the road in Thailand and Cambodia), a single company will take you to the border, snag you after you cross the border, take you to another vehicle and deliver you to the main bus station in Siem Reap. So we kind of shot ourselves in the foot by being too distrusting, because our trip ended up being considerably more expensive and a pain in the ass.

You see, our $40 taxi ended up taking us not to our hotel as promised but to a random tuk tuk stand. Upon arrival we protested that we were to go to our hotel as agreed. Jack the Tuk Tuk Leader poked his head in the window and explained that all minibuses and taxis stop here and tuk tuks take you to your hotel free of charge. Why we did not realize this was a preposterous scenario, I do not know.  Mr. ATK and I are pretty well traveled and in my Peace Corps days, I would have seen through something like this in a heartbeat. But instead we got out and got into the tuk tuk while Jack the Tuk Tuk Leader started yapping about how we come to Cambodia and pay very little and blah blah blah tuk tuk drivers. Finally, Mr. ATK was like "We've already arranged for a driver so we aren't hiring you.  Now can we go to our hotel?" This lead to the following exchange:

Jack the Tuk Tuk Leader: Yes you can go to your hotel. But you will have to pay.

Mr. ATK: You said the ride to the hotel was free.

Jack: Yes.

Mr. ATK: So you lied?

Jack: Yes. 

Points for honesty, I guess, but we were both pretty pissed and I just felt stupid. Of course, the taxi had driven away by this time and we were on the outskirts of town. The driver charged us 100 Thai Bhaat per person which is like $4 per person. It probably doesn't seem like much, but it is way over the market rate (example we paid our official tuk tuk driver $14 a day. That's for 8 hours of work.)  I don't begrudge people trying to make a buck, but I really don't like being scammed.

Anyways, after that nightmare, we enjoyed 5 fun-filled, very hot days, in Cambodia.

Some highlights:

  • Angkor Wat (duh!) I think this is as good a place as any to lodge the same complaint the Mr. ATK has had to hear at least 10 times in the past 6 months. Apparently in 2007, some organization decided to pick the "new" seven wonders. (Ricky Gervais' show "An Idiot Abroad" chronicles Karl Pilkington's visits to these new seven wonders.)  Anyways, one of these wonders is Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer's inclusion on this list, which I think is ridiculous. Now, I'm not saying it's not impressive, but really, it's just a statue on a hill. It's not even the tallest Jesus statue in the world (or Latin America--shout out to Cochambamba, Bolivia's Cristo statue.)  I cannot believe it is considered a "wonder" of the world and Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples are not. To me, a wonder it something that when you see it, you are like, "Wow! How did they do that?" When I see the Christ the Redeemer, I think, "That's very picturesque," not "How on earth did they build that?" Also a "wonder" is usually really old. The other wonders are The Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza, Macchu Pichu, Petra, Taj Mahal, Chichen Itza, and the Colosseum. Christ the Redeemer does not fit in that list. Angkor Wat does. Rant over.

  •  Angkor Thom. Especially Bayon Temple. There are like 216 of those Buddha faces carved in the sandstone.  It's very cool. Unfortunately, I actually got sick the morning we went to Bayon. It was nothing a little Immodium AD couldn't control, but I wasn't able to spend quite so much time climbing and exploring. I dragged Mr. ATK down a bit this day, but lucky for me he was a very sympathetic and supportive husband.

  • Ta Prohm. A temple that is consistently described as "something out of Indiana Jones." I'm not sure which Indiana Jones movie, though. Maybe Temple of Doom or the fourth one. I haven't seen those. It didn't remind me of the other two. It is cool because it's got giant trees growing out of and on top of the stone. Also, scenes from the Angelina Jolie classic Lara Craft: Tomb Raider were filmed there. Unfortunately, we only watched The Killing Fields before going to Cambodia. Totally forgot about modern classic Tomb Raider.**

  • The floating village, which has an actual name that escapes me now.  We were there in the dry season, which is not the best time to go as the water is muddy and the channel leading to the lake is shallow.  But the village itself is interesting. It's a fishing village (shocking, I know) in Tonle Sap--the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Everything floats on the lake. It's odd seeing a floating basketball court, a floating school, a floating church...  Inside the houses, you could see dogs. I thought, "Those poor dogs!"  I wonder if they go for swims instead of walks. Do they pee and poop in the water?  And the kids. How do they go and play with each other? (That question was partly answered by the picture below.)  I did not see any life jackets in this village.  I assume everyone is a strong swimmer.

  •  Fish pedicures, foot rubs, and all the other good stuff in Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a pretty awesome town. It's developed and touristy, but not overdeveloped (in my opinion.) Also the Cambodian government has keep a nice buffer zone of forest between the temples and the city. (None of those "hotel right next to famous monument" situations.)  It can be pretty raucous in Siem Reap, with bars and nightclubs, shopping and restaurants. However, Mr. ATK and I are pretty boring people so we didn't really take advantage of the bars and nightclubs. We did enjoy the foot massages and other things, though.

One night, while we were out and about in town, we had an amusing encounter with a tuk tuk driver.

Tuk tuk driver: Tuk tuk?

ATKs: No, thank you.

Tuk tuk driver: Marijuana?

ATKs: Nope.

Tuk Tuk driver: Cocaine?

ATKs: No, thanks.

I just thought, "Oh buddy, you are totally going the wrong way."  We kept walking during this whole exchange so we didn't actually stop to engage, but I wonder what the next products/services he offers are. Heroin? Prostitutes? Babies? I don't know. It was all very blatant yet hush hush. The guy walking behind us ended up buying 3 joints for $1. I have no idea if that's a good price or not. It was just weird to be around drug deals.

We also went to the Landmine Museum, which was started by and is run by a former Khmer Rouge child soldier who defected and, after fighting the Khmer Rouge with the Vietnamese, starting disarming mines. As you may or may not know, landmines and other unexploded devices dropped on Cambodia during the war are a huge problem now as farmers and children continue to stumble across them, seriously wounding themselves. If you are interested in knowing more about landmines and the Cambodian Landmine Museum, check out their website here.

Various landmines used in Cambodia.

So overall, two thumbs up for Thailand and Cambodia (or four thumbs, I suppose, if we count Mr. ATk's.) Highly recommend it.  Just embrace the sweating.

*These twenty-somethings who were in our tour van going to the floating market kept badgering the tour guide to get them into a "ping pong show." Gross douchebags.  I won't link to it, but if you are curious I recommend not googling it while you are at work.

**We tried to watch Tomb Raider after we got home. Couldn't make it through despite a young Daniel Craig and the guy who says "khaleesi" all the time in Game of Thrones.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Kitty" Parties

Back when Mr. ATK and I arrived in India (one year ago today, as a matter of fact!) we were walking down the street when we saw a flyer for a local restaurant. On the front of the flyer was the exclamation "We do Kitty Parties!!!"

Kitty parties? What's a kitty party? Keep in mind this happened really soon after Mr. ATK and I arrived and we were still getting used to the oddities and differences of Indian English (discussed at length here.) So after some discussion, we decided "kitty parties" must be the Indian equivalent of "kiddie parties." It makes sense, right? Kittens are baby cats and, you know, I'm fairly sure that the term "kid" actually refers to a baby goat. So we figured, they must have just confused "kiddie" and "kitty," those wacky Indians. They have a slightly different word for everything.

Fast forward a year, and we are in Hindi class. The teacher asks me to say the sentence "I used to play cards at kitty parties." Well, naturally, Mr. ATK and I started to giggle. The teacher asked why we were laughing and Mr. ATK starts to explain how in the U.S. we call parties for children "kiddie" parties, not "kitty" parties and the teacher stops him confused.

"Kitty parties aren't for children," he says. "They're for women."

"What's that now?" we say.

He goes on to explain how kitty parties are where women come together and be all women-like: dressed up in their fancy clothes and jewelry, gossiping and cat fighting. You know they are called kitty parties because women are like cats—always with the fighting. And wouldn't you know, these kitty parties cause problems in the family because the mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law usually don’t like them (apparently they usually invited. Probably a bunch of killjoys.)*

So the kitty party went from something I found mildly amusing to mildly offensive. The more you know.

*Our Hindi teacher is pretty sexist so maybe a non-sexist person would have given a less sexist description.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Have you seen this potato?

This potato?

No. Not that potato. The potato I'm talking about is skinny and white. Covered in fur. Has four legs. Likes to chew on furniture.

Oh. Uh...How about this potato?

Yep. That's the potato I'm talking about!

Yes, Dear Reader, the day that every dog owner dreads has finally happened. Aloo ran away.  (Spoiler alert: I found her. I don't want you to get all sad and worried.)

So here's what happened. It was early December*. Mr. ATK had left for Dubai the week before so it was just me and Aloo and two more rescue puppies.  Because I can't trust Aloo in the house by herself (and she broke the door to her kennel so I couldn't crate her) nor could I trust her alone with the puppies, I had to keep Aloo on one side of the roof and the puppies on the other. 

At this time, there were workers in the other apartments, getting them ready for the next tenants. On my way out, I stopped by the apartment with all the people working in it to tell them that there were dogs on the roof.  I usually mark the door by weaving the dog's leash through the door handle, but it never hurts to actually verbally tell people what that means. So I pop into the apartment and tell the foreman, "Hey, there are dogs on the roof, so, you know, be careful if you go upstairs." 

The foreman is all, "Yes, I know. Dogs on the roof. Gotcha. Don't worry."

So off I went to the mall, Christmas shopping for Mr. ATK.  

Oh, but before going to the mall, I stopped by the German Embassy for their annual Christmas mela** because I heard they sold real bratwurst and German beer. And while beer isn't that tough to find here, I certainly have not come across any bratwurst. Plus, I was told there would be sauerkraut. 

Overall, it was good. Of course, I paid $5.00 to get into the mela and then $7.00 for the plate of food making my bratwurst and German potato salad (with no sauerkraut, by the way) one of the most expensive brats I have ever had. I wasn't even at a Brewer's game. 

But yeah, so I went to the mall and came home and was greeted by the guard with, "I think the white dog is gone." 


The guard's English isn't that great, so I went inside and ran up to the roof. Of course, the front door to the building was wide open and all the workers were still working. But the roof door was slightly ajar and Aloo was nowhere to be seen.

So I run back downstairs and my driver is like, "He says Aloo ran away."

"When? What happened?" 

"About 10 minutes ago. He says some workers came and he opened the gate and then Aloo ran."

Meanwhile all the workers are just hanging out painting or whatever and when I tried to ask them about it, they just shrugged. Of course, the language barrier is an issue, but still...

Now, I get that leaving my dog in a communal space is not the best move, but I can't really leave her in the house because she destroys everything (we are still working on getting her used to being alone.) It's not my personal roof for only my use, but I told the people she would be up there and they were like, "That's cool."

So here's what really bugs me about the whole thing. Someone went up to the roof and opened the door allowing Aloo to escape. But there are two other entrances between the roof and the street: 1) the front door to the building and 2) the gate to the street. Apparently after whoever let her out, she was running around inside the building and the car park area. So everyone knew there was a dog, all of a sudden, on the loose. And yet no one did anything. No one was like, "Oops, I let this dog off the roof." Or was like, "Why is this crazy dog running around?" 

So they just left her and didn't say anything. They didn't alert the guard, who could have called my driver or my housekeeper. And so when the guard opened the gate to let someone in, he had no idea Aloo was on the loose and waiting by the gate. Not at all surprisingly, when the gate opened, Aloo made a bee line out the door and was off to roam the streets.

Now the guard can't just abandon his post to chase a dog, so I don't really blame him. I blame the douche who let Aloo out and who, instead of saying something (such as, "Oh shit, I opened the door to the roof and a dog just ran out"), just went about the rest of his day while the dog was on the loose inside the property.

So anyways, the guard indicates which way Aloo ran and Vicky-ji (my driver) and I set out to find her. I figured she would probably stay around the area she was familiar with and I'd find her playing with the grubby street dogs that I never let her play with. Vicky is asking all the people we pass if they've seen a white dog. At first it seemed like we were on the right track as various people were indicating that they has seen lil' Aloo and that he went thisaway or thataway. But then the leads grew cold. Vicky and I decided to split up.

So now I'm alone wandering through the neighborhood yelling "Aloo!" which, if you are not aware, means 'potato' in Hindi. Imagine you are sitting outside on a nice fall day and all of a sudden some crazy foreigner comes down your street yelling "Potato!" repeatedly. I can only imagine what the legions of drivers, guards, and everyone else that was outside thought of me while I was doing this. Sometimes I would chuckle to myself as I'd see them giving me the side eye during my hunt. I guess that's one of the perils of naming a pet after a vegetable in a foreign language.

But anyways, I continue to walk around Aloo's standard walking route with no success. About 45 minutes have now passed and I'm starting to get worried. I mean there's a lot that could happen to a dog here--tons of cars and packs of street dogs are just two of the dangers. As I'm kind of working myself up, a guard on a Scooter drives up and says he has seen my dog. (I don't recall if he was an Embassy guard or not. He may have been, though I didn't realize it at the time.) 

Yeah... so this guy says he's seen my dog....but that she ran away from him and he is chasing her and will catch her. I tried to tell him that Aloo is scared of everyone who is not me, Mr. ATK, our housekeeper, and our driver and that the more he chased, the more she would run. That worried me, because she might run too far or cross into a different neighborhood without being able to find her way back. Still the guy assures me he is on the case and speeds away. 

I continue to basically canvas the same four block area that I had been canvas for the past 45 minutes. Still yelling "Potato" and still having Indian people look at me funny. And you know how it goes. You start thinking, maybe you won't find the dog, especially with helpful people like Senor Moped trying to chase her down but really driving her further away. After 15 minutes along this line of thinking, I started getting sad, thinking maybe I wouldn't ever find Aloo. (You know how emotional we women are.***) 

All of a sudden an SUV passes by and stops and some men get out. Their clothing indicated they were guards or security people of some kind. Then I saw the "On Embassy Duty" sign on the car. 

"Ma'am," the leader says, "we hear your dog is missing. We are trying to find it. One man saw it not to long ago."

Well, now I just about lost it. I totally started crying. And nothing makes men more uncomfortable than a woman crying.**** They were all, "Don't worry. We'll find your dog." And I was like, "It's not your job to look for my dog. You have more important things to do." Of course you have picture the intermittent sniffling occurring as I'm saying this. 

They were like, "No, no, it's our job to help you." (It's totally not.) "Don't cry, ma'am, we'll find your dog."

I don't know why I got all sniffly. They were very awkward, which I found amusing at the time, even when I was trying not to cry. Luckily about 5 minutes after they pulled up, they received a radio message that Aloo was found. There was audible relief as they relayed the message along with an unspoken, "Stop crying now, Lady."

Turns out Vicky found Aloo totally not near any normal walking route. And, since Vicky is one of the four people Aloo likes, she came right to him when he called. 

And we all lived happily ever after.

*I actually started writing this post in December but got sidetracked. So perhaps it seems a little outdated, but I can't let a good story go to waste.
** "Mela" means "fair" in Hindi
*** Sarcasm
****I find this is true in all cultures. I'm fairly sure the only reason Mr. ATK proposed was to get me to stop crying. Whatever works, amiright?