Third Person Animal Narrative + Random Pictures

So this is kind of old news, but I didn’t have time to quite finish my story for this week, so here we go. Also some random pictures including stories.

In this segment of Adventures with Auntie, we had a common problem within open-air Indian households: intruders. For this one, I will try to write through the lens of such intruder. Let us call him Monty.

On this particular full-moon evening, Monty was likely enjoying himself. He, roughly the size of a butterfly, was out and about picking-off a good helping from the bountiful monsoon insect harvest. As he fluttered past one of the higher apartments, he saw a very strange sight. A strange, six-foot something light-skinned creature tapping frantically on some glowing plastic device.

Monty thought so himself, “I must get a closer look at this creature, my furry friends will not believe me”.

So Monty decided to glide his way through the window and flew a few circles around the creature when, suddenly, it jumped and moved to a corner. Monty was intrigued by this action flew to a curtain to observe. The creature grabbed a towel of beautiful brown color and started to approach Monty. Shocked, Monty flew out just before he could be collected and took the high ground of the room, dodging fan blades and keeping a healthy distance from the lengthy creature. At this stage, a wide-eyed Indian woman entered and began sending soft, comforting calls. Monty became calm and decided to land on a bed. Just as he was getting comfortable, the wide-eyed Indian woman swooped in with a purple dustpan. He narrowly escaped once again, returning to his ceiling circling position. The wide-eyed Indian woman then instructed the creature to turn off the glowing tube in the wall. Seeing the creature blinded, Monty swooped in for a closer look. He landed softly on the creature’s right thigh and stared up at its face. When the switch was reverted the creature looked around its gaze finally met his own and for a moment, there seemed to be mutual understanding between the two of them. For a moment, Monty felt he had made a friend. This was quickly squelched once again by the soaring purple dustpan and he booked it for the window. Seeing it closed, Monty feared for his poor, leathery little self. To the rescue came a straight-haired Indian boy who calmly opened the window and coaxed Monty out the window. Having freed himself of the alien’s room, Monty took a quick selfie to confirm the sighting and merrily fluttered his way back to the gol park mango tree.


So you may be thinking to yourself, “Is this some sort of devil worshiping ceremony?” Well think again, I think.

On this particular day, I was feeling particularly adventurous. After walking random allies for a few hours, I came across Calcutta University. I really wanted to look inside the university which was founded in the mid-19th century, only one problem, it was surrounded by police vehicles. So what is a traveler to do? Go anyway, that’s what. So as I carefully moved through the grounds, I heard a commotion coming from the auditorium and decided to investigate. The atmosphere told me that I wasn’t supposed to be there (seemed exclusive), but I acted like I fit in and sneaked by the transfixed guards into the auditorium. I found a spot in the left corner of the box seats and kept a low profile. This show, whatever it was, looked like it was going to be good! After 15 minutes of waiting a woman came on stage and started thanking the Kolkata police force for their generous sponsorship and then quickly proclaimed.

“Welcome senior citizens of Kolkata! Are you ready for some fun!?”

This threw me off my guard a bit and as I slowly rotated my head around to look at the crowd I saw hundreds of slightly amused-looking senior citizens wielding small multi-colored flashlights. Not one person in the complex was a lick under 60, except the police officer purposely approaching me. Part of me was intrigued enough to hide and part of me would have been fine with being kicked out. As he got closer, I decided the later would be better, but, when he was just a few feet away, he asked me if I had a flashlight in Bengali, handed one to me and walked on.

I decided I might as well stick around and see the commotion for a while, and was treated to one of the most rowdy concerts I have ever seen. The lady was singing a lot of jazz and traditional Bengali songs, but in the middle of the second song some of the senior citizens arouse and began yelling out requests. This trend continued throughout the next 5 songs until I decided to leave due to being late for dinner. I handed off my flashlight to a surprised old lady and stealthy moved out of the building.

"Trained Dogs" Hanging out at a random train station.

“Trained Dogs” Hanging out at a random train station.

"Floatel" On board the unique river hotel on the Ganges with Howra bridge in the background.

“Floatel” On board the unique river hotel on the Ganges with Howra bridge in the background.

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Sorry for the Delay! About Fulbright

Post #1 Sorry for the delay:

So, you may be wondering why I have not posted yet. Well, that I have no good excuse, only that I am limited in time and too much of a perfectionist to put just anything out there. But ignore that, I have so much pertinent information to share and so little time, so here is an introduction to my life in Kolkata, India.

Why am I here?

I have been summoned by the governments of India and the United States to relinquish the veil of cultural understanding between citizens of the two countries and enlighten teenagers of the ways of American English. Okay, that’s way more flowery than the truth. In reality, I applied for a Fulbright grant, India seemed to have liked what I had to say and now I am charged with (1) “Increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of India.” To “strengthen ties between countries,” to “Promote international cooperation for education and cultural advancement, “ and to “Assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and India.” Essentially, I am a public diplomat for the U.S., spreading culture by making friends and teaching English.


“Kolkata Street Scene” Kolkata’s metropolitan area is about 16.7 million people strong. Much of the population boom came after 1947 when many Hindi refuges moved here from the newly formed East Pakistan (became Bangladesh in 1971). Today, the population boom is coming from rural communities moving to the cities.

What do I do?

On the first of August, I began teaching grade 6 and 7 Spoken English at A.K. Ghosh Memorial School in Kolkata. In a metropolitan area of roughly 16 million people, building space is intimately crowded, and A.K Ghosh is no exception. For four 35 minute periods per day I navigate classrooms roughly half the size of those in the U.S. but over-capacitated at 60-70 students each. One of my classes is so crowded I cannot even shut the door (I can’t imagine if there was a fire). In addition, there is no air conditioning (yay!) so the windows are always open exposing the class to the incessant honking of the street (boo!). This, combined with my naturally low voice and unruly students, leads to an overwhelmingly loud classroom. In all, there are about 2000 students in the school with roughly 20-30 teachers, depending on the day. But that is enough harping about my situation. My students are extremely talented and, as soon as I learn the ropes, we are going to have an incredible time together.


Students performed Alibaba and several Bengali plays at the annual function last weekend. The program was absolutely astounding. Students also performed a puppet show and a mixture of contemporary and traditional dance.

In addition, I am studying Bengali, the language of West Bengal (the state Kolkata is in). I am blessed with a wonderful set of teachers at the American Institute of Indian Studies. I spent my first month taking classes 5 hours per day and have now switched to two classes per week as I am teaching. I have progressed a great deal, but Bengali is extremely difficult to learn coming from an English background. While English sentences follow Subject Verb Object format, Bengali is SOV. So the verb is always at the end of the sentence. In addition, there are several sounds that do not exist in English, making it difficult for native speakers to understand me.

Here are a few early lessons I have learned from teaching:

  1. Sixth graders are uncontrollable.
  2. Once you earn the respect of your seventh graders you can accomplish anything.
  3. Facebook pages for students can be super helpful in explaining culture, especially when you only have 35 minutes a day with them and no projector.
  4. Slam books are a thing.
  5. My voice still cracks.
  6. The favorite movie among middle schoolers is Titanic
  7. Chalk boards really suck, especially with knock-off chalk.
  8. Primal glares work better than yelling at students
  9. Checking student notebooks may take the whole class period and it is very important your word choice in their notebooks. Ex. Very good does not equal excellent.
  10. I do stand out, even after I grow a mustache.
  11. On that note, more mustache=more respect from other teachers.
  12. My schedule is unknown until the day/hour before the classes begin.
  13. When you don’t speak the language, staff rooms are a lonely place.
  14. Even though I can throw an obnoxious kid out the window doesn’t mean I should.
  15. You can be the tiger or the deer, but you have to choose one and stick with it.
  16. Markers tend to explode here.
  17. I love the feeling of leaving after a good lesson and I hate the feeling of one that doesn’t work.

Where do I live?

A was person once said “Patience is a virtue,” and it is a virtue I live out every day. Many words come to mind when I try to explain my living situation; mayhem, religious enlightenment, smoky, clear, tribal and first class. Essentially, I live with a 73-year-old Indian woman whom I refer to as Auntie and a 23 year-old Indian master’s student named Atuno who studies online courses from 9am to 4am every day. Up until a week ago, Auntie’s deceased husband’s slightly insane sister Rita also lived with us. Each morning, Auntie has a cook come and prepare the food, a man come to do dishes and wash the floor and a woman to sweep and mop the floor. The apartment sits on the fifth floor yielding a spacious balcony view of the city. Literally every day is a new adventure. Here are a few lessons I have learned:

  1. You should never sleep with your feet facing a religious idol.
  2. Auntie has a natural remedy for everything.
  3. Auntie is always right (even when she’s wrong)
  4. Bengalis spend about 30 seconds greeting each other before leaping into an animated fight over seemingly silly facts. (I often look up the answers on the internet, but don’t tell the answer until they stop arguing).
  5. Bengalis can never put enough salt in their food.
  6. To Auntie, medicine never expires.
  7. Insomnia is an epidemic and there is no possibility I could have it.
  8. Toilet paper is not a thing.
  9. Cheese graters are not a thing (finger nails)
  10. Sanitary has a different definition in India.
  11. Cold showers are preferable to using the gizzard.
  12. According to Auntie, I am too young to understand Khaled Hosseini and Gabriel Garcia Marquez books.
  13. Auntie is an incredibly sweet and intelligent lady, but sometimes she drives me insane.
mime jpg

“Mimed” Another image from my student’s annual function.

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Leaf Cutter Ants: The Farming Insects

"Fertilizer" A male adult worker ant brings back a leaf that will be used to grow a fungus fed to the larvae.

Whether walking through the forest or through the middle of a city, the leaf cutter ant is a common site in Costa Rica.
You think humans are advanced? These little guys have been growing their own crop for probably millions of years. In their “gardens” below the soils surface, mature adults shoulder a perpetual supply of clipped leaves to a collection of fungus. Ant larvae are weaned on the fungus until they reach adulthood.
But, like our crops, the fungus requires more input than just feed. The rodents and pests of the ant farm equivocate to parasites, mites, molds all trying to feed on their precious harvest. The disposal of these pests is a risky process as some parasites can infect the ants and cause their heads to explode, so the task is left to the elderly, who are more dispensable. These “grandpas” are charged with constantly shifting material from the crop to a waste heap. They even contain antibiotics in their stomachs that help keep the fungus healthy.
By the way, did I mention that the leaves these ants are carrying can be 10 times their weight!
When mature females have an inkling to start their own colony, they start by having sex, a lot. She needs to collect 300 million sperm before flying off in search of suitable caverns and when her 50 million larvae are born, she is ready. Queens contain a pocket in their oral cavity where they store the harvested fungi which they begin growing as soon as the new colony is formed.
While excellent farmers, these ants can be very destructive to human cultivation activities. One colony can wipe out an entire acre of crop and reduce the amount of fruiting in trees. For this reason, many farmers use pesticides and, in cities like Heredia, the trunk of the trees are painted to deter the ants from climbing them. Interestingly, the ants seem to sense the effects of pesticide laden leaves on their crop and will stop using a particular tree in these cases.

"Deterrent" Trees in Heredia painted to keep ants from climbing and taking the leaves.

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"Cloud Cover" A volcanic cloud drapes Areanal just after sunrise.

La Volcan Arenal looms over the tiny city of La Fortuna in central Costa Rica like a sleeping giant and was where I called home this weekend.
After taking a five hour bus ride from Heredia, three friends and I bargained our way into staying in a hotel for 8 dollars and a free haircut. After a solid night of partying, we spent Friday climbing the steep, humid jungle near the base of the volcano. There were frogs investigating the leaf litter for insects, toucans probing the trees for fruit and spiders the size of my hand waiting patiently for dinner to come to them.

"Toucan" A Toucan probes for various nuts and fruits in the canopy.

The hike took us through nine microclimates from rigid pine trees to vascular Eucalyptus trees, everything was covered in moss. After descending the rigid back of the Arenal, we scaled a smaller volcano, at the top of which was a massive crater lake. The lake, named Cerro Chato, was full of decaying material and as I stepped into it I sunk into the silt up to my waist. The water was a turquoise color and the walls of the crater were consumed by forest. Upon our decent, we were greeted by an uninterrupted view of Costa Rica more than 60 kilometers to the ocean.
Arenal is one of the top ten most active volcanoes in the world and the city has felt its wrath before.
After being dormant for more than 400 years, Arenal suddenly erupted in 1968 violently killing 87 people and burying the villages of Tabacon, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luis in tons of rocks, lava, and ash.
In the wake of the disaster, Arenal Lake was created to reduce the impact of another explosion. In the dry season, the lake sometimes dries up and the villages can be seen covered in volcanic rock.
On Saturday I climbed Arenal to the top of the tree line and entered an obscure world. The air smelled of sulfur; all plant life lay petrified in the recent lava flows. Walking was hazardous as the rocks easily slipped out from beneath me. Smoke bellowed out of the top, developing ash clouds.
Since the explosion in 1968, lava flows and mini-explosions could be witnessed almost every night, but ten months ago they stopped, and locals are worried it may be building up for another burst.

More photos can be found at

"Rio Celeste" We swam in a pool adjacent to this 150ft plus waterfall colored in rich blue.

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Tamarindo: Sunset and Surf

"Rolling over the Rocks" Sunsets on the beach are incredible, this one was accompanied by a thunderstorm.

This weekend I found myself on the very west coast of Costa Rica at the beaches of  Tamarindo. Here the sunsets are tantalizingly beautiful, the waves are smooth and the beaches are full of shells. It was an incredible location; I only wish I hadn’t been surrounded by gringos.
I would have much preferred an eco-friendly hostel that served us traditional food to the imposing, expensive five star hotel that only served breakfast and offered me little opportunity to practice my Spanish. Along with that I had to deal with the normal pressures of staying in a tourist spot. I was offered pot approximately 16 times, needed to consistently be worried about being mugged and paid way too much for my meals.
That being said, I had a great time. The beaches went for miles and miles and I realized why there are so many surf-bums in the world. The coast mostly volcanic rock and was full of huge shells, sea urchins, crabs and even lobster parts.

"Breaking Waves" Surfing turned out to be a lot easier than I expected and really is a spiritual experience.

On Saturday, I spent most of the day surfing. This is an experience I think everyone should encounter and was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I have been told that riding a good wave is an indescribable sensation, and I believe this is true. The closest analogy I can think of is standing in a bus as it accelerates only you have full control. The experience was powerful and will definitely be repeated in the near future.
On Saturday night, I watched the sunset speed across the sky as a thunderstorm rolled in behind me. This left me a little confused on which direction to photograph as there was a gorgeous sunset with a great reflection off the tide pools, and a stunning rainbow with the moon sitting next to it behind me.
Tomorrow you get to hear about the wildlife of Tamarindo, Enjoy!

"Bring on the night" The sun sets quickly on the ecuator and the moon rises at the exact same time.

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Pura Vida!

"La Puma" The streets are filled with colorful and unique artwork.

Welcome to Costa Rica, the land of peace and ecotourism. The intent of this column is to take you with me on the adventures and cultural perspectives on my study abroad. From the depths of daily life to the frontlines of the conservation movement, I hope to translate everything I learn back to you through writing and photography. Up first is a little background about what makes this country special and the principle of Pura Vida.

Costa Rica was the first country ever to abolish its military and it has been this way since 1949. On the conservation side of things, more than 25 percent of the land is protected. It is one of the most biodiverse locations in the world with 4.5 percent of all known species on the planet, which is significant as it only covers 0.03 percent of the earth’s surface.

The people of Costa Rica do not referrer to themselves as Costa Ricans, instead they call themselves ticos(men) and ticas(women).

Pura Vida is the country motto and this way of life is very unique. Basically, it translates to “pure life” or “this is living,” but the expression is used as a greeting, farewell, “thank you,” “your welcome,” and, from my experience so far, just about anything else. If it’s a beautiful day ticos say “Pura Vida,” if the weather is miserable, “Pura Vida,” if someone steals your car, “Pura Vida;” life goes on.

This portion of my blog will be daily from here on out, which means my photos may not be the best. But they will improve with time and cultural immersion and I hope I can give you a true perspective of life here.

"Explosion of Life" Ferns and colorful trees are abundant

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Photo Tip 1: Using your Camera’s Histogram and Exposure Compensation

"King of its Domain" This photo exhibits near technical perfection with the histogram slightly to the right.

Almost every digital camera has a histogram and an exposure compensation option. Using these correctly will help you create a technically perfect photograph with a complete tonal range. This means your photo will exhibit detail whether the shot is in black and white or color.
Cameras see in tones of black, gray and white. When your camera is in automatic mode, it exposes for an 18%  medium-gray tone, regardless of whether the object you are photographing is black, gray or white. Because it attempts to make everything this gray tone, snow becomes gray instead of brilliant white, and black labs become grayish instead of slick black. To make sure the camera is seeing the way you want it to and expose tones faithfully, use your exposure compensation tool, which will look like a little metered line on your menu. In order to exposure for lighter toned objects such as yellow and white flowers, move the compensation slider up to +1 or +2, for darker, slide it to -1 or -2. To technically determine just how much to compensate, use your histogram.

"Shattered" In order to get detail in this rock I needed to decide what tone it was. It was darker then medium 18% gray, but brighter than black, so I choose to compensate negatively at -0.3.

Histograms are graphs that show the complete tonal range of grays from black to white, left to right. Graphs too far to the left result in underexposed pictures and loss of detail in shadows. Graphs all the way to the right result in overexposed, clipped highlights. The key is to keep the graph somewhere in the middle, preferably leaning a little to the right, as this will keep all details in the photo. If your histogram is too far to the left, slide your compensation to the right, making it more positive. If the histogram is too far to the right slide it left, making it more negative. This will make a noticeable change in your histogram allowing you to adjust for a better picture.

Here is an example of a well composed histogram.

Even with this option, some scenes are just too dynamic to capture. Without special equipment, you will not be able to get detail in a black rock and the bright sunset in the background. Using the histogram helps you get the desired picture in camera and will save you time from trying to brighten shots or fix overexposed highlights. I rarely look at my pictures directly after taking them anymore, instead I look at the histogram to make sure it is composed well and trust I put myself in the right location to make a strong composition.
Please let me know if this is helpful for you or it flat out sucks. If specific sentences are too confusing let me know and I will clarify. I am a

huge proponent of feedback. I hope this helps! To see more pictures visit

"Digging in" Holes in the rock created by the ocean smashing in. In order to expose for the depths of the holes and not just leave them black, I compensated negatively, or underexposed the image.

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