Turbulence. (#Algiers #Algeria)

Finally. It was time to go.

I booked this flight about 6 months before departure. Accommodation sorted. At least 1 tour sorted. Basic foundation was already set.

But since this is me we’re talking about, nothing goes smoothly. So of course, bulls*** started just a few hours before my flight. Money, of course, because why not. But I wouldn’t let it deter me. It’d been almost 2 years since my last proper vacation (and I still have to finish those blog posts from that trip… so ashamed of myself.). Yes, there have been a few short jaunts in between, but nothing as long and far away as this. So no matter what, I was leaving. I needed a break from work, from life.

From New York City to Paris, France; a 5 hour layover there; then from Paris to Algiers, Algeria. I know that going through customs in a different country is annoying, but it’s to be expected everywhere and I deal with it. However, I wasn’t expecting to be interrogated by Algerian police.

You read correctly. I was interrogated by Algerian police.

I handed over all of my travel documents at the customs desk and thought that all was well, until I was told to “hold on for a moment”. I knew that some bulls*** was bound to happen because again, that’s just my luck.

Here we f***ing go…

Along with being exhausted, tired/sleepy from limited sleep, and in some pain, I was also angry and kinda scared. My French language skills are very limited, despite my attempts to practice before I left for this trip, and I don’t have any Arabic language skills. So while an officer was telling me that I’d be fine, my face clearly showed that I knew otherwise.

(As an aside, it “helped” a bit that another American woman – a government worker at that! – was also being interrogated. She said to me, “This is terrible, isn’t it?” I nodded with a scowl on my face.)

They opted to interrogate me outside of the officers’ quarters. A female officer who spoke English interpreted & translated for her fellow officers, and asked surprisingly specific questions about why I was in Algeria, what I do for a living, who I see and the age range of the population, etc. ad nauseam. Thank goodness, I didn’t have any reason to lie and was also smart enough to have access to certain things on my mobile phone to prove myself.

TIP: if your mobile phone allows, store your most important documents on something like Google Drive, and make those documents available offline while traveling. It may make a big difference for you in case of emergency.

After what seemed like forever, they let me go. One of the officers hailed a taxi for me and I went to my hotel. But alas, as is my luck, there was more turbulence ahead.

To be continued…

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Then and now.

Who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side. –The Talmud

(NOTE: this is a long one, with a bit of cursing, disclosure, no punches pulled, and vulnerability. Don’t like any of that? Don’t bother reading any further.)

Picture it: October 2013.

Aside from a few pieces of luggage filled to the brim with whatever I could carry, I returned home with almost nothing. The life I was trying to build in the United Kingdom was snatched from me.

I’d been placed on unpaid leave on August 9, 2013 – in contemplation of dismissal – by a shady employer that misinformed me about my work visa, among other things. Because of the employer, I accidentally overstayed my work visa by about 2 months by the time I received notification from the Home Office on August 8, 2013. I then had to report to the local immigration office like a criminal – once per week initially, then once every 2 weeks. I was evicted from my beautiful apartment in October by what turned out to be a shady landlord (I’ll never forget, Gary Sheppard of southeast London). I’d been his tenant for over 3 years and even offered him my security deposit, but money over everything, right? For 3 weeks before leaving the United Kingdom, I stayed with someone who insisted that I stay with her after my eviction. (I won’t mention her name here, but can’t thank her enough.)

I asked the male DNA contributor to please help me get a ticket home; there was no real response. Things were so bad that an American colleague took the male DNA contributor’s number from my phone to call and explain how bad things were. (Even though I knew it was a waste of time, she insisted.) Male DNA contributor begrudgingly bought a ticket, didn’t accept my thank yous, and treated me like shit. After almost 3 months of no contact (didn’t even check to make sure of my safe arrival to the U.S.), the male DNA contributor e-mailed me – not to say “hello” or “how are you?”, but to tell me that “you owe me (insert U.S. dollar amount here)”. No exaggeration – that’s what the e-mail said. When I responded that I was living from couch to couch, the male DNA contributor stated that I was exaggerating and need to look for work to pay back the money, along with some other really fucked up things that I can’t remember off the top of my head. Male DNA contributor would’ve known that I was looking all day every day, including weekends, at employment opportunities, had there been any effort to check on me. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good.

Bye.
Bye.

The female DNA contributor isn’t much better. (Boy… if there’s a higher power, he or she sure knows how to pick the people whom they want to create new human beings. 😐 ) Complete narcissistic waste of time & energy. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good a while ago. At least I don’t discriminate, right?

Another person from England, whom I’d known for 10 years, insisted that I pay her back $50.00 I owed her in spite of full knowledge of my situation. Yes… $50.00. I was so stunned that she had the nerve to ask me for money she knew I didn’t have, that I just responded with “not a problem”. I gave her the bit of money (and boy, was it just a bit) I got from the former employer about 5 weeks later and after that… *crickets* –  no “hello” or “how are you?” or even “f*** you” after that. I waited 1 year for her to say something to me on any form of social media or technology… still *crickets*. I was there for her during some really difficult times (including an abusive relationship), before and after my move to England, and she threw everything away for 50 U.S. dollars. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good.

Bye. (Or, in British speak, off you go.)
Bye. (Or, in British speak, off you go.)

At one point, I don’t think that even my aunt & uncle – who are like real parents to me – realized the gravity of my situation. And I’ll admit, I was angry at & frustrated with them for a bit before my return home. But once they realized how bad things were, that was it. I began staying with them before Xmas 2013.

I forgot to mention that since I accidentally overstayed my visa because of the former employer, along with reporting to the local immigration office, I was banned from returning to the United Kingdom for 1 year. Once I gave up all chances of returning after being shafted by recruitment agencies, I gave up trying to get back to the country and sat out my 1 year ban.

And so many other painful stories of betrayal and outright dismissal, from so-called colleagues, friends & relatives, that I could recount since I hit my rock bottom. (I’m not sure if those people deserve my energy, though.)

But then there are people such as:

  • my (ex-)stepfather who, in spite of us not speaking for 1 year because of an issue, picked me up at the airport upon my arrival home even though he lives in another state and carried my luggage – no questions asked – and gave me money for public transportation to get to interviews without me asking.
  • Joana, who insisted that I stay with her upon my return home, free of charge and refused any of my offers to help otherwise. I didn’t stay long due to other reasons, but for that and her I’m eternally grateful.
  • my aunt & uncle, who’ve housed me, which has helped me rebuild my life slowly but surely. Among countless other things, aunt bought me a coat and interview clothing also.
  • Dashima, who supported my fundraiser and sent me flowers when I finally got a job after almost 8 months of no luck.
  • Juma, who gave me his old coat until I got a new one, and provided other support.
  • those who gave me emotional and/or financial and/or other support and didn’t have to – Ellen & her husband storing my stuff in England, Sherri helping me pack, Sherri (again) & her husband cooking for me, Nadine helping me pack, Dacia, Gary, Johanna, Uzma, Twana, Sharon S., Natalie & Emmon, Ruth, Atiba, my 2 main Facebook group members, and so many others I wouldn’t expect.
  • the many people who sent me job postings.
  • the people who don’t know me in real life or online but believed me and believed in me more than enough to help, no questions asked.

I know I’ve forgotten some names, but I hope those people know my heart.

I think things are beginning to look up.

  • I’ve worked since March 2014, after almost 8 months of unemployment with no benefits of any kind.
  • I’ve paid down some debt.
  • I joined a gym to return to healthier living.
  • I’m studying for my next highest credential (or qualification, for those of you overseas).
  • My aunt, uncle and I get along very well overall, which is definitely a challenge for an introvert like me.
  • I have travels coming up within the next 2 months; my travel bug is finally back. (I’ll leave the travels as a surprise for now.)
  • And last, but certainly not least, I’ve been able to help others with no strings attached. It warms my heart to help those who can never pay it back (nor do they have to try). I’m just grateful to be able to do it. (I’m very selective, however.)
Finally (little by little).
Finally (little by little).

I sit here, typing this with tears in my eyes. (A few of ’em even fell.) Some feel like sad tears, but more feel like grateful tears. For those who left me when I needed it most, farewell. For the rest of you, I’m eternally grateful. I thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart.

Little by little, step by step, day by day.

The world returning to my fingertips.
The world returning to my fingertips.

13 portraits of homeless people.

This link resonated with me so much that I decided to post it on my blog.

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This link resonated with me so much that I decided to post it on my blog. It resonates with me more than most people will ever know (but may discuss at a later date?). You never know who’s going through what under the surface.

The portraits are from the United Kingdom (London, to be exact). Thanks to Alternet for this link.

13 portraits of homeless people as they want to be viewed http://www.alternet.org/culture/13-portraits-homeless-people-they-want-be-viewed-slideshow

In Memory of …

Nothing else to add right now. This is my hometown. Enough said.

D'NALI

the three thousand plus lives lost,

the feeling of uncertainty while in the smoky subway station directly under the first tower after it was hit, not knowing my own danger,

the terror of standing in the street and watching the first tower crumble,

knowing that life had been changed in a way that I’d never experienced before,

confusion at the volume of hate and deception that caused this to happen to innocent people,

the trauma and paranoia that led to the counting of every single man-hole exit on my subway journey post attack … just in case …

9 – 11 – 2001.

source

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Hell hath no fury.

No one paid attention to her warnings; she said she’d be back. Many brushed her off.

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No one paid attention to her warnings; she said she’d be back. Many brushed her off. The man sat around, laughing with the other non-believers, and ignored his ex’s warnings. After all, she’d made threats before and never followed through, so why should he or anyone else believe her now?

There was 1 consistent thing about her, though: She didn’t always follow through, but she always gave a warning. Hindsight is 20/20.

So when she struck, boy, did she strike. She threw, flipped, and broke everything in her path. And when she was all finished, the man would have to pick up the pieces of his shattered life and start over from scratch. He’d know better next time – hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Like this woman, Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast of the United States with strength and furore. Meteorologists gave warnings which – unlike in the above scenario – most people heeded, and they did what they had to do to prepare and/or get the hell out of the way. Sandy started in the Caribbean, leaving death & destruction in her wake, and made her way up to the United States, where she first caused some problems in the southeast. But even that wasn’t the beginning. Over 2-3 days, Sandy lost a little strength but quickly made up for it as she went further northeast. The Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, northward… most states weren’t spared Sandy’s wrath.

Sandy was a bit temperamental, though, hitting some areas harder than others, as if some were less deserving of her wrath than other areas (even though they still felt her wrath). One of those areas is my hometown, New York City, and especially my borough. And watching everything from 3500 miles away is hard.

I’m one of those people who, when disaster strikes, wants to do whatever it takes to help – whether it’s a small cash donation or a big volunteering effort. 3 years after Hurricane Katrina, I volunteered with HfH for a day to help build a house. I couldn’t volunteer when Hurricane Katrina hit, so when I got the chance, I took it even though it was 3 years later. So being 3500 miles away from home, worrying about my loved ones and being unable to help, weighed down on me.

Along New York City’s coastline, people lost their homes, cars, and businesses. Trees and electrical live wires came down. Some schools and banks are still closed for a while. Public transportation shut down for a while (still experiencing a few glitches). And worst of all, some people lost their lives, with the youngest victims being 2 little brothers (photo). There are people who still don’t have electricity, heat and/or water in the middle of December.

I’m glad that my loved ones are safe, but my hometown is forever changed and my next visit will be bittersweet.

My hometown is still in dire need of help. Please give to reputable charities & causes so that we can rebuild again. (But please stay away from American Red Crosshere’s just one of many reasons why. And here’s yet another reason why. ) Thank you.

Links:
Volunteer and/or give responsibly (again, please stay away from American Red Cross – please see links in the last paragraph) http://www.fema.gov/volunteer-donate-responsibly

Personally, I donated to this organization because they have earmarks for Sandy’s devastation in Haiti, the United States, and general charity causes. They’re also ethical, and my currency converted to U.S. dollars. http://www.ftsociety.org/sandy-relief-fund/

I also like HfH. Donate to the one in my hometown – it’s rated 4 stars. https://www.habitat.org/cd/giving/one/donate.aspx?link=470

I’ve also heard great things about Occupy Sandy. Help them out – I may join their efforts when I visit home. https://www.wepay.com/donations/occupy-sandy-cleanup-volunteers

Bodies of missing Staten Island boys found http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20121101/south-beach/body-of-two-year-old-missing-staten-island-found-thursday-police-said

Staten Island boys laid to rest http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20121109/dyker-heights/thousands-mourn-boys-killed-when-flood-tore-them-from-moms-arms

Comprehensive, ongoing & local Hurricane Sandy coverage http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/tags/hurricane-sandy

President Barack Obama surveys New Jersey storm damage http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/11/01/president-obama-tours-storm-damage-new-jersey

President Barack Obama tours storm damage in New York http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/photogallery/president-barack-obama-tours-storm-damage-new-york

Hurricane Sandy in pictures – D’NALI http://dnali.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/sandy-in-pictures/

So much on my mind that I can’t recline – Jose Vilson http://thejosevilson.com/2012/10/30/so-much-on-my-mind-that-i-cant-recline-on-hurricane-sandy

Stop stupid. Vincenzo screams – Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge http://philosophermouseofthehedge.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/stop-stupid-vincenzo-screams/

WebMD blog post: managing through a storm http://blogs.webmd.com/art-of-relationships/2012/10/managing-through-a-storm.html

WebMD news post: riding out a storm http://www.webmd.com/news/20121030/riding-out-the-storm-safely

Fashionably late.

I attended my first ever, bona fide fashion show with 3 women. (Meetup is the best.) But before you see the photos, I’ll briefly open a window (just a bit) into a small part of my life.

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09.22.2012

I actually was “fashionably late” due to missing the train. I’d say that my style reflects New York City, but… well… suffice it to say that no one asks me for fashion tips.

Pardon, I’m rambling.

Anyway, I attended my first ever, bona fide fashion show with 3 women. (Meetup is the best.) But before you see the photos, I’ll briefly open a window (just a bit) into a small part of my life.

Before moving here, I was small. Throughout my life I was either teased for being too skinny, or told “I wish my body was like yours” (or some variation thereof). I could eat almost anything I wanted, in any amount, when I wanted. Freshman 15? Never happened to me. I was never overweight. In spite of this, I didn’t like myself.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve gained weight since moving here – never been overweight in my life until now. You never miss what you had until it’s gone and in my case, I wish that I appreciated my health & body more. I’m not used to it and it affects me a lot, negatively. (NOTE: This is not about looking down on overweight or obese people, so don’t pen any hate mail.) Being unable to fit most of my old clothing, yet not knowing where to find affordable & fitting clothing, made me look & feel slovenly (along with any other negative feelings). This was especially so in 2011.

Toward the end of 2011, I re-evaluated many things in my life and decided that working just to pay bills wasn’t worth it – mentally, financially, physically or emotionally. I resolved to make myself more of a priority in 2012 and beyond, and I’ve done alright so far. However, figuring out clothing sizes & cuts & colours & etc. was/is still a bit of a challenge. I also sustained an injury that has made it hard for me to work out & lose weight. (Getting older isn’t much help with weight loss either.) I found out about a stylist’s Meetup workshop and got a free ticket. Her tips gave me some ideas about where to start, as fashion has never really been my forté.

Little by little, the tips are helping, along with attending the show. Not only did I see women of different shapes & sizes (dressed better than me, no exaggeration), races & ethnicities, I also got a look into some of the latest trends. I know that I’ll never be a true fashionista (mostly because I generally hate shopping), and I may never dress like a true European (of any race or ethnicity), but I’m developing my style and now have an idea of what’s classic, current & fitting for me. I’m trying to work with what I have, no matter my size.

Alright… enough about me. I and the 3 women had a nice time; we wandered around for a few hours & each got something to bring home for ourselves. One even scored a great DKNY denim jacket for a decent price. Check out a small sample of the show’s offerings.

Kat & Bee. http://www.katandbee.co.uk/
Kat & Bee. http://www.katandbee.co.uk/
The Branch. http://www.the-branch.co.uk/
The Branch. http://www.the-branch.co.uk/
MariaFrancescaPepe. http://www.mfpepe.com/
MariaFrancescaPepe. http://www.mfpepe.com/
Vivienne Westwood. http://www.viviennewestwood.co.uk/shop/womens-accessories/shoes/
Vivienne Westwood. http://www.viviennewestwood.co.uk/shop/womens-accessories/shoes/
American vintage. www.cashmerebytania.com
American vintage. http://www.cashmerebytania.com
Free (and purchased) goodies.
Free (and purchased) goodies.

The following photos are from the ALICE by Temperley catwalk show. ALICE by Temperley is a collection under the Temperley London line.

Caroline Flack, host for ALICE by Temperley catwalk show.
Caroline Flack, host for ALICE by Temperley catwalk show.

And here’s one of my small purchases from Kat & Bee.

If you’re a fellow expatriate, have you experienced body changes? How did they affect you (if at all)? How did you adjust to the changes? Are you pleased with the changes, or are you learning to work with what you have?

Re-blog: Cleaning Out The Clutter In Our Homes And In Our Minds.

I’m agnostic, but can definitely identify with the overall theme.

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I’m agnostic, but can definitely identify with the overall theme. I have an injury which has kept me from doing lots of things (including extensive blogging – about 20 drafts still waiting for me) and as a result, my house isn’t in the best shape. Well, last night I finally folded all the clean laundry that’d been sitting on one of my couches for months, and I felt accomplished. Now I just have to put them away, which will be easy, and iron a few items.

It’s also very important to declutter one’s heart & mind; carrying around so much emotional & mental clutter (outside of genuine mental health challenges) is harmful to one’s overall health. As an expatriate, this can mean the difference between some resilience by adjusting to one’s new country and returning to one’s home country. Just take a look at the tags on this post to see what I mean, then read the original post.

Customer service.

One of the best inventions known to man is online grocery shopping. As someone who has a hectic job, no car (yet) or energy sometimes, this is a (lazy/tired/exhausted/working) woman’s dream come true. So once I got settled into my own flat, I took full advantage. I pick up items from the big-box versions of (online & non-online) stores when basic items run out or I need something quick, but most is online.

Most people in the United Kingdom get paid only once per month, so we’re careful with grocery shopping. While I don’t have a family to feed, I make sure that I have enough cash to buy food along with paying annoying bills. So I was quite annoyed a few months ago when I missed my grocery delivery from a certain store because of its terrible customer service.

I’d just been paid and, as usual, placed my grocery order. I thought that everything was fine until I received a text message from the grocery store (something to the effect of)

Please contact customer service as soon as possible at (phone number), otherwise today’s order is canceled.

Again, I don’t have a family to feed, but I have to eat just like everyone else. So even though I was on public transportation and hate talking on the phone in public, food is important so I called back. The customer service representation, a woman, said “We’re having trouble getting your payment for your order.” I said

Alright. I’m on my way to work, so I’ll go to the bank and see what’s going on because I know that the money is there. I’ll call back afterwards; maybe there’s an issue at the bank.

So instead of going to the office, I went to the bank first. After waiting in the queue for a few minutes (rare), the bank teller (known as “cashier” in the United Kingdom) was ready for me. I explained the situation, she checked my account and said

Everything’s fine. You have more than enough to cover the order.

I said

Would you mind if I called (grocery store) in front of you to see what happens? For some reason, my order isn’t going through.

There were very few people in the bank (rare) so she let me go ahead.

I called customer service & spoke with a different representative. I explained the situation, requesting that he attempt the order again. He tried it and the order didn’t go through. He said (something to the effect of)

It’s isn’t going through. You don’t have enough money, so you need to go to your bank and see what’s going on.

I said

Sir, I’m in the bank now standing in front of a cashier who already checked my account, and there’s more than enough to cover the order. Please try again.

He tried again and said

It’s not going through. You don’t have enough money. It’s not a problem on (grocery store’s) end.

I repeated myself again and added

It has to be on your end. I’m telling you, the cashier is showing me the computer screen with my account information as we speak and there is more than enough to cover it. You can even speak to her if you’d like.

(By this time, she was speaking loud enough for him to hear that the account is fine and that it has to be on [grocery store’s] end and not the bank’s end.)

He stated that it wasn’t necessary because it was the bank’s fault and “the bank needs to fix the problem, not (grocery store).” I asked to speak with a manager or supervisor, and he said that no one was available (liar).

By this time I was late for work, annoyed & hungry since I didn’t have breakfast, and pissed that I wouldn’t have groceries because my refrigerator was close to bare. I also had a strict exercise schedule after work so if I had to go to the store myself, it threw a wrench into my after-work plans. So I let him have it nice & loud. (That’s also the day that I realized the strength of my New York City accent and boy, did it come out that day.) I can’t remember every word, but it went something like this:

I’ve lived here for a year. I’ve ordered groceries from this store ever since I moved here. I’ve given you my business each month without fail, and this is how you wanna treat me? I told you for the hundredth time that I’m in the bank in front of a cashier and the money is there, I asked you to let me speak with a supervisor and you said no, and you refuse to bend. You refuse to consider that (grocery store) have the issue, not me. So you know what? Cancel my order and my account. I’ve had it. You’ve lost another customer.

He said “Okay.” and I hung up on him. Friggin’ jerk.

I thanked the teller, apologized for being loud in the bank (she understood), and went to work. I told my co-workers what happened and while they found it amusing, they also found it annoying. I didn’t know that customer service in this country was so… lacking.

Coming from the United States, I’m used to better customer service overall; some representatives even brown-nose when it’s unnecessary. I salute good customer service representatives because I know the nonsense they have to deal with – rude & downright disgusting customers, terrible pay, sometimes no health or vacation benefits & terrible bosses/employers. I’ve worked in customer service as a teller & in other capacities and know how bad it is. I’ve walked away from a few customers in the past – didn’t wanna catch a case. 😐

So, I “get” it. Customer service isn’t the best job to work in. Been there, done that, the customer is not always right. I also understand, having been to European countries, that Europe’s overall culture isn’t into customer service that brown-noses like the U.S. But no matter the country, representatives should offer a level of service such that the customer is helped as much as possible. That level of service is lacking here overall; even native Britons complain about it. (I’ve heard that France is worse.)

I doubt that it’ll ever change and that’s fine. I don’t have to like it but I’m used to it. I’ve written this rant for wanna-be expatriates and/or travelers: no country is perfect, including so-called First World countries. You’ll run into annoyances like this sometimes. You don’t have to totally assimilate into the adopted country’s culture, but understand that some things are standard & may never change. Figure out ways to deal or return to your home country.

Epilogue: I e-mailed a complaint to the store. A woman e-mailed me and her response was utter garbage – no apology for her colleague, no request to stay with the store, no offers to make me reconsider leaving the store – nothing. That evening, I skipped the gym and went food shopping at another store. I order online from the new store instead & haven’t had any issues since. I also found out that the former store is a Wal-Mart affiliate. Now it all makes sense. 😐

Does anyone have any annoying customer service stories? What’s customer service like in your adopted country? Do you prefer customer service in your home country, or is it better in your adopted country?

Melts in your mouth.

What does chocolate remind you of? Does it bring back childhood memories?

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What does chocolate remind you of? Does it bring back childhood memories? Does it bring back adult memories? (*evil grin*)

When I think of chocolate, I reminisce about being a kid and drinking Nestle Quick chocolate milk. I remember learning how to make S’mores in home economics class. I reminisce about the different varieties of chocolate chip cookies that my mother would bring home – Chips Ahoy, Keebler, Pepperidge Farm, Mrs. Fields, Sean’s cookies, local grocery store bakeries. I think of my all-time favorite ice cream cake, Carvel, with the layer of chocolate ice cream and chocolate cookie crumble. Baskin Robbins ice cream cakes aren’t too bad either.

The memories. *drool*

While I’m far from a chocoholic, based on my nostalgia I can understand how millions of people worldwide have such unconditional & undying love for chocolate. So when I found out that the annual Chocolate Festival was coming back to town 12.09-11.2011, I decided that unlike last year – when I was more lazy & colder than I am now – I’d definitely attend to see what the big deal is. I wanted to go with at least 1 person, but life doesn’t work out the way that I want it to so I went solo. And as usual, it was nice.

(Well… except when the cash machine laughed at me when I tried getting cash to buy some chocolate. Maybe that’s a good thing for my health.)

The Festival was held for a full weekend and took place on 2 levels – street level and inside a venue. I didn’t feel like going into the venue so I stayed on the street.

Street level.
Street level.

For someone who isn’t a die-hard chocoholic, that was enough for me. Check out these photos to see why:

Red velvet & chocolate cakes.
Red velvet & chocolate cakes.

Santa Claus.
Santa Claus.
Pretzels.
Pretzels.

Along with buying ready-made chocolate products, one vendor sold kits for people to make their own chocolate and has a program specifically for 16-24 year olds to make & sell their own chocolate – entrepreneurship at its best. One of the partners, Kieran, said that he & his business partner are available to visit schools to showcase the business. In this terrible economy, I applaud them for giving others the opportunity to make a little legal change.

Click me & make your own.
Click me & make your own.

Although I couldn’t buy anything, I took many samples and collected many business cards. I plan to give 1 or 2 of them my business in the future.

Chocolate sesame.
Chocolate sesame.
Chocolate with raisins & etc.  I HATE raisins but didn't know until afterwards that there were raisins inside.  That's how good it was.
Chocolate with raisins & etc. I HATE raisins but didn't know until afterwards that there were raisins inside. That's how good it was.

Did you miss the Festival? Don’t worry… it’ll be back and it might be in your area when it returns. In the meantime, check out the long history of chocolate (Wikipedia).

Thanks for coming.
Thanks for coming.

Alone (but not lonely?)

Speaking for myself, being solo (along with introversion) allows freedom like none other….. There are drawbacks from time to time, though…..

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‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life.
Trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to the money then you die.
I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down.
You know the one that takes you to the places where all the veins meet, yeah…..
Well I’ve never prayed, but tonight I’m on my knees yeah.
I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah.
I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind. I feel free now.
But the airwaves are clean and there’s nobody singing to me now.

The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony

Speaking for myself, being solo (along with introversion) allows freedom like none other. No worrying about dependent children and/or partner, very little (if any) concern about my actions affecting family or friends during my travels, doing things on my time, etc. There are drawbacks from time to time, though. Here are a few that relate to my experience; everyone is different, of course.

– There are moments during my travels that are great to experience solo. However, there are some moments that are even better shared with another person (friend, family member, romantic partner).

– Sometimes it’s hard to put myself out there to meet people. It’s a double-edged sword: enjoying solo freedom while wishing to meet like-minded others.

– If I need a shoulder to cry on, there’s none available.

– If I need someone to talk to, no one is available. People have their own lives and, while living their own lives, forget about whoever isn’t in their immediate circle. (People also include friends & family.)

– If I buy groceries (or any heavy items for that matter), there’s no one to help.

– If I hurt myself, there’s no one around to check on me; I’d have to call a doctor or ambulance on my own. If I died any time soon it’d probably take time to find out because I’m solo and, because of issues that I’d rather not get into here, don’t have any true next of kin.

– Sometimes it’s possible to be in the midst of a crowd and still feel alone.

This list isn’t exhaustive. Are there other expatriates who experience these things (or anything else that I didn’t list)? How do you deal (if at all)? If you don’t experience these things, what are your secrets?

And all the wonders made for the earth
And all the hearts in all creation
Somehow I always end up alone
Always end up alone.

The Bee Gees – Alone