Tuesday, August 31, 2010


When I left the city a little more than a year ago, there were cranes everywhere and the city was changing as fast as ever. New suburbs springing up every where. New roads. A new city in the making.

I remember feeling some sadness that I might never be able to come back to this place as I remembered it. But, you know, I think that I was wrong. What's changed in the last 13 months? My family is here. Many of my friends are here. The house that was for sale across the street from my parents house is still for sale. Stoney Trail is still under construction. My house is still not inhabitable.

Until my house is ready, I'll be staying with my parents (actually really super awesome). This just adds to the feeling of being 'home'; somewhere familiar.

In fact, my dad took my me and my sister to a reunion at the high school that we attended (and at which he taught). The school is facing demolition at the end of the school year and it was an opportunity for those who had spent time there to reconnect and reflect. It's been 14 years since I walked through those doors. It could have been yesterday. In fact, some of the clothing and hairstyles looked as though they haven't changed since I left. 

Calgary has grown a lot from the city that I knew as a kid. But it is still the Calgary that I know. It's like a big small town. And I like that.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

UK Time Travel

Leaving Amsterdam was easy. Getting to our next destination, the Hoek of Holland ferry terminal, was not. Holland is not a particularly large country, unless you have a ferry to catch and you accidentally take a train in the wrong direction.
That is how we ended up with a tour of southeast Holland.
That is how we ended up watching Napoleon Dynamite from our bunk beds on an overnight ferry to England. And, that, is how our girls trip to the UK began.

I am not going to lie to you, I had no idea what the Cotswolds were before Liz suggested that we come here. Just a short drive north of London, the Cotswolds are London's Hamptons. And, while b&b's and hikes in the countryside were a slight departure from the type of travel that I have done with these ladies, I accepted without hesitation, knowing from experience that the three of us find fun wherever we go.

The ferry here from Holland might as well have been a time machine. Cream tea, lace doilies, and sheepdog artwork. Wandering through pastures (we might have been trespassing at some point).

But our UK visit wasn't just a trip into the distant past, it became a trip into the recent past when we visited our friend, Victoria, for her 30th birthday in nearby Stamford. The theme needs no introduction. (Side note: shockingly, all of our costumes were purchased at regular department stores, not costume shops. Lace and all.).
For my younger friends from school, it was an opportunity to dress in a way that they never could because they were too young. For me, and the rest of us who were born in the 70's, it was an excuse to dress in a way that we never could because we were too good.
 I'm not advocating 80s fashion or suggesting that we should bring it back on a permanent basis; however, I will say that it makes a damn good theme for a party.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Trippin', in Amsterdam

Amsterdam might not seem an obvious stop on the way from Tanzania to Canada. That is, unless, you consider that another couple of INSEADers got married here this weekend and there were a couple of dozen others who made the journey to Holland in order to share in the celebration.
The city itself may be one of the most amenable to quality, low cost fun with friends.
A private canal tour,

a cruise around the city on bikes, 
lazy meals on street side cafe's. All with a handful of my closest friends from the year. Honestly, that would have been enough to make the trip worthwhile, but the wedding took this trip to a whole new level of enjoyment.
It's not every day that you see a bride and groom escorted from a wedding in a pink tuk-tuk under a shower of bubbles.
But then, it's not every day that you see a bride who is seven-months pregnant rocking out at an afternoon at the pool.
Or a transvestite DJ bringing the party to a reception at the bride's parent's place.
It was the sort of wedding atmosphere that most people dream of, but which somehow gets lost in logistics, formalities and other crap, It was the sort of wedding chemistry that could give rise to the following situation.
At the reception, we realize that one of us has sealed the wedding card before the signature and money collection was complete. No problem, we open the card and get the rest of the signatures and cash. Incidentally, a few people realize that they don't have many euros on them, which gives rise to throwing in some small change. That opens the door to throw in just about anything, including an 'I owe you' written on the back of a used napkin. When we go to reseal the envelope, it's clear that there is not enough original glue to make that a viable option. Being resourceful, we realize that a few of us are chewing gum, which is sticky, right? Turns out that the answer is not really. By now, the gum is on the envelope and the envelope is a bit wet. There's no turning back. 

That envelope could not have been filled with more love. And neither could this marriage. Have a wonderful and happy life together, Robin and Meik. We love you.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


'Sometimes, you just need to take the cookies when they are passed'

Of all of the things my mentors and business colleagues said to me during my adventures in finance, these are words that resonate years on. So, when my friend Anoop (aka Snoop) suggested that we take a spontaneous trip to the birthplace of Freddy Mercury before leaving Africa, I was not about to say no.
We could not get our tickets online (really, one cannot deeply appreciate the convenience of modern commerce until it is gone!) and we had no transportation or accommodation arranged prior to our arrival in Tanzania. This trip was as blind as it gets. Snoop befriended a backpacker on the airplane, and we pooled with him to share transportation and find accommodation. And to snag a few minutes with his lonely planet book.

The guy seemed to have done some research, which was helpful as we ended up finding a cheap and very lovely beach front hotel. With a bit of effort. Turned out that most of the island was fully booked. Those that had space almost invariably had 'quirks'. Like...no electricity. Or, no water, etc. These are not normally things that I feel the need to check for, so I was glad that we had someone with us who was looking!
I have seen my share of nice beaches over the last year and I feel qualified to say that the beaches in Zanzibar are world class. Inexpensive, quiet, soft, clean, safe. I'm not even a 'beach person', and I was drawn to spend hours just sitting there in the shade. It was there that we actually bumped into another INSEADer; someone from the next promotion. I would say 'what are the odds', but the fact is INSEADers seem to get around.

We eventually broke from the gravity of the beach long enough to take in a few attractions on the island: Stonetown, spice farms, and local living.
A few observations from these adventures:
  • Islam is visibly the predominant religion; with women young and old adorning full burqa's. Hard to reconcile with the laid back rasta beach island vibe.
  • Nutmeg - in the same form as you put it in your cake - can be used as a recreational drug. Wha? Yes. It contains myristicin, which causes delirium in humans. And, potentially, death in some animals...for which reason we were advised to not feed eggnog to dogs. I'm not sure that I'm going to try this one at Christmas.
  • Turns out that most of the people here don't even know who Freddy Mercury is.
  • Remnants of Portugese, British, and Omani rule give Stonetown an appearance that cannot be found anywhere else. Unfortunately, you'll have to take my word for it as the consistent warnings about the dangers of theft kept me from taking my camera to capture any souvenir pictures.
  • Toll booths are relatively low budget, consisting of a man (wielding a large gun) blocking the street with a barrel (or other random obstacle), until you pay. No pictures here, either. Mostly because men with guns make me nervous, to be honest.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kisumu Qwerks

You can buy almost anything from vendors on the streets in Kisumu. Underwear. Electronics. Chickens.


The books are my favourite. It may not seem so strange; except that on our walk today we saw a 'Journal of Pediatrics' and a 'Hormone Replacement Therapy Handbook'. Assuming that this is not the first stop for doctors to purchase books, I can only imagine that means there are some regular people walking the streets here with a ridiculously technical medical vocabulary and knowledge. Makes me a bit embarrassed about my last reading purchase; Vogue.

Another cool thing is the fresh fish market down by the lake. Although it is not recommended to swim in the lake, the fish are apparently ok to eat. And so we headed down to give it a try.
 Lisa wasn't comfortable with the 'animalness' of the whole fish, so she opted for chicken. Imagine her surprise when they served her the whole animal. We suspect this might have actually been a condor.
We discovered on the way back to the hotel one of the reasons why swimming might be discouraged in the lake. It doubles as the car wash. Old school.
And, from time to time, you come across names that give you pause. Based on the class list in the orphanage, there will be a new crop of creative names to come. My personal favourite: Daddy Punctual!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Good Surprises

When I received my invitation to Ali's wedding, I was distracted by the beauty of the embossed arabic lettering on the cover and the weight of the paper stock, not to mention the honour of having been invited to share in what is, for many people, one of the most significant moments in their lives. I never stopped to consider where in the world one might find 'Kisumu'.

In fact, it was a good two weeks after I had rsvp'd that I realized that, holy shit, Kisumu is not some small town in Alberta. It's a big town. In Kenya!

I missed the weddings of five good friends while I was away at INSEAD last year. Could I justify traveling to another continent now for a wedding of someone that I've known for less than a year? Hell yeah. In fact, it was the first of three that I'll be attending over the next six weeks.

This one did not disappoint. Although the invitation had touched on multiple festivities, I really had no idea what I was in store for. For an entire week, Ali and Salima hosted and entertained us. Festivities every day, with audiences ranging from the dozens to somewhere around one thousand. There was singing, dancing, laughing, loving and living. A few of my favorite moments of each...

We kicked things off with a karaoke night. I wasn't sure what to think when the bride got up and sang 'I will survive', but it turned out to be a pretty fun night. Some people were never meant to sing Celine Dion!

Bollywood night, featuring everyone dressed in their favorite indian garb. My favorite were my french friends Alex and Brunehild, who outdid the indians in attendance! Who actually owns outfits like this?
Then there was the Bulgarian dance troop that performed traditional indian dances for us. I still don't know what the connection was between Bulgaria, India and Kenya, but there was some vigorous action happening on stage.

A comedian who told jokes that made would make Dennis Leary blush. Nothing was off limits; diarrhea, disabilities, racism, sexism. My favorite was the african joke with the punchline 'black box'. I've never seen anything like it at a wedding.

Probably my favorite part of the Ismaili wedding tradition; the Pithi ceremony. It's intended as a beautification ritual in which the bride/grooms loved ones apply a variety of substances for the purpose of helping the bride/groom look and smell their best for the wedding. At some point over the centuries, this has evolved into the opposite. Eggs, onion salad dressing, garlic powder, flour, ketchup...anything that you can imagine. It's a lot of fun (unless you're the groom!).

After glamming it up all week, we toned it down did something for the community. Repairing and painting a local orphanage. There's nothing like manual labour to make a city dweller feel completely incompetent.
I'm fairly certain that this will be the largest, longest and farthest wedding that I will ever attend. Not bad considering that I thought that I had rsvp'd for a family affair in Calgary!

The Nature of Things

I was always envied those children who were raised in the wilderness. True, their growth is stunted, their language skills are severely impaired, and their hygiene makes integration into civilized society challenging. But, being surrounded by nature (rather than drywall) and learning real survival skills (rather than magic tricks in excel) has some serious appeal.

My safari in the Masai Mara began with a flight from Nairobi, over the rift, and to the middle...an episode of Nature of Things.


 Bush People!

 F'n cool ants that make some kind of ant superhighway
I found out that one of my friends sold ants on ebay to fund his undergraduate explanation. He seemed to know more about ants than anyone I've ever met. But, even this was new to him!

Seriously, I've seen enough of these documentaries to know better, but I was shocked by the sheer quantity of awesome animals in this park. Anyone who thinks that they are getting the full story by watching this stuff on tv is missing out. Getting out to discover the nature of things for myself was definitely worth the trip!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Taking into account my setback in Istanbul, the organizer of my safari had arranged to take care of me on my arrival and get me out to the Masai Mara at the earliest possible. I arrived in Nairobi at around 2:00am and I have a morning departure at 7:00am, so I am eager to get into my hotel and get some proper sleep.

The guides who met me at the airport were quite friendly, but that is a small consolation for the fact that one of them has forgotten to actually book the hotel that I was to stay at...and which is now fully booked.

It's now 3:00am and I am sitting in the lobby of a very nice, but full, hotel in Nairobi. I count ONE door man, TWO front desk staff, ONE cashier, THREE visibly armed security guards on patrol, and ONE cleaner. There are FIVE others whose function I cannot guess but who are wearing everything from a three piece suit to a 50 cent wardrobe and a sideways baseball cap.

One of them is wielding a baton.

That's a lot of activity for 3:00am. And, apparently, it is cold. One of the outdoor security guards is wearing something resembling a balaclava. I guess it's winter here, but that's seriously overkill. I'm sitting here comfortably in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. I'm just happy to not to be sweating like crazy anymore. Though a bed would be nice at some point.

Monday, August 2, 2010


I didn't expect to spend the first night of my Kenyan safari in Istanbul, but this is the hand that I've been dealt.

The adventure began yesterday morning at the airport in Paris. I left my place during what I consider to be the middle of the night in order to make it to the airport for a 7:15am flight. When I arrived, I was advised that my ticket was not for today (shit); rather, my ticket had been canceled since I missed my flight, which left yesterday (SHIT!).

Though we were ultimately able to determine that the error was not mine, I was not able to board the flight, which was overbooked by 19 people. So, for the first time in my life, I went shopping for an airplane ticket at the airport.

"Hi, can you fly me to Nairobi today?". "No.

"Hi, can you fly me to Nairobi today?". "No.

"Hi, can you fly me to Nairobi today?". "No.

"Hi, can you fly me to Nairobi today?". "How badly do you want to go?"

Airlines, of course, offer their best (worst) prices to the pedestrian customer wandering from airport ticket desk to airport ticket desk in search of a same-day ticket. Ultimately, it was Turkish Airlines who hit the jackpot with me; buying a full fare ticket to Nairobi (via Istanbul) just minutes before the flight was scheduled to board.

While I solved the issue of getting out of Paris, my connecting flight in Istanbul was overbooked, so I was forced to spend the night in Istanbul. Probably one of the coolest places to be stranded and I did my best to make the most of it.

Over the last year, I have become quite comfortable arriving in foreign countries totally unprepared. There is a strange thrill in using an ATM machine and having no clue what the exchange rate is. Should I take out 300? 30,000? 3 million? Do I have to barter? Do I tip? Can I wear shorts? What area of town should I stay in? Sometimes it is more fun (and a bit terrifying) to discover the answers yourself.

I arrived late enough in the day that dinner and hotel were the only things on my mind. I stumbled on an affordable hotel room with cutting edge efficiency (I call this the Shit'n'Shower layout).
Whether it was well situated or not, I really can't say; however, it was close to a nice little dining district nicknamed French Street (I can delay my 'homesickness' from France for one more day). First thought: this place has awesome food and cheap hotels!

Second thought: If it is true that it is healthy to sweat, then the people in Istanbul must be very, very healthy. I headed out early this morning to get in a bit of sightseeing before I head to the airport. There are plenty of famous things to see in Istanbul, I made a choice not to try to fit them in during this very brief visit (I have a strong desire to come back and see more of this country).

My destination for morning sight-seeing was the modern art museum at the college of art. Although I wrote down the address of my destination, my taxi driver dropped me off about 5 kilometres from it. I tried making the distance on my own, coaching myself that my sleeveless top gave me an advantage over the heavy black burkas worn by others, but I eventually sought relief in a taxi.
Side note, taxis here have the meter built in to the rearview mirror; pretty cool.
The exhibition at the art college was based on the theme of error. It seemed only fitting that error has brought me to this place...I endeavor to make art of it...and I end up in an exhibition in which art is error.