Would You Like to Buy a Troll?

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How I got my first job in Canada.First job in Canada - Reboot Social

The interview was scheduled for 9:00 AM. I was excited.

Potentially, it was going to be my first job in Canada. The hiring company was an International Distributor of consumer products.

The office was on a street lined with warehouse looking buildings. Not quite what I had expected. Far more people than I anticipated were present for the interview.

The competition is going to be tough, I thought to myself.

After a brief wait, a few of us were herded into a small meeting room where four people from the hiring side were waiting for us. One of them, John, identified himself as the manager of the operation. The other three were introduced as Territory Managers. To me, they looked awfully young and underdressed.

As the only one wearing a suit, I was clearly overdressed for the occasion.

John launched into a brief spiel about the company and its success in the distribution business. Each of us was given thirty seconds to introduce ourselves and talk about our sales and distribution experience. John went on to explain that we were picked based on the strength of our resumes, and he was satisfied that we would do well with the company.

“You guys are going straight to training” John announced.

I was elated. It was easier than I thought.

We were quickly paired up with Territory Managers.

I got Brian. He did not look a day older than twenty years.

Since I didn’t have a car, Brian offered to drive me to the training location.

As we headed out of the building, Brian grabbed a very large duffel bag and slung it over his shoulder. He threw the bag in the boot of his beat up Chevy and enthusiastically announced:

“Let’s go kick some butt!”

A little unsure, I responded, “Sure.” I was all for it, whatever that meant.

As we drove along to the training location, I wondered how much money I was going to make at my new job.

“This looks like a good spot,” Brian said, interrupting my thoughts.

I was expecting another warehouse complex. Instead, we were pulling into what appeared to be a plaza, housing small offices, and shops. As we got out, Brian pulled out the duffel bag from the car. For a second he contemplated passing the bag to me, then decided against it. I had to admit that the giant-sized duffel bag wouldn’t have gone well with my suit. In his jeans and T-shirt, he looked a natural to carry it.

I trudged along as he purposefully walked up to a small office with a sign on the door that read “Stationery and Computer Supplies.”

“Can I help you?” the lady at the front office asked.

In dramatic fashion, Brian dug his hand into the duffel bag and whipped out what appeared to me like an ugly doll with bright blue hair and asked:

Would you like to buy a troll?

Troll? I had no idea what he was talking about.

“What part of do-not-solicit don’t you get?” The voice came from the back of the office. The man appeared to be the manager. I looked back at the door, and sure enough, there was a sticker on the glass door that clearly read “No soliciting or loitering allowed.”

Not missing a beat, Brian pulled out another troll, this time, one with bright green hair and flashed it in front of the receptionist.

“C’mon bud, it’s Christmas, they make great gifts.” The comment was targeted at the Manager who seemed to be in two minds about enforcing the no soliciting rule. Clearly, he was drawn by the ugliness of the trolls. As he walked up to us, Brian handed over the trolls.

“Just twelve bucks each; they are a steal,” he was in full sales mode.

As the rest of the office staff circled around, one of the guys phoned home to check with his wife if a troll would make a good gift for his nephew, Andy.

He bought the blue-haired troll.

As we walked out of the office with thirty-six dollars, Brian said nonchalantly,“It’s as simple as that; now, why don’t you try?”

I finally got it.

This was my training. I was being trained to be a door-to-door salesperson. Trolls were the hot gift item of the season! I had missed the Ninja Turtles, and the Cabbage Patch Kids boom.

Our next few stops were less fruitful. I got strange looks as I carried the bag and tried to sound like Brian. The suit did not help. As we wrapped up the first phase of my training, we did a quick count. I had made one sale, Brian had two more. Seventy-two dollars for nearly two hours of work.

“We make a clean 30%, and that would be…” Brian trailed off. Obviously, mental math was not his forte.

As we headed towards the nearby McDonald’s for a bite, I did some soul searching. I had made a deal with myself that I would take on any job to gain Canadian experience. But, was I ready for a switch from the corporate world to a career in door-to-door selling?

As we wrapped up lunch, I broke it to Brian: I was quitting.

He appeared disappointed, but not surprised. I let him keep the commission for my sale – $3.60.

As I wished him luck and caught a bus home, I reflected on what had just transpired.

My first job in Canada was not going to make it to my resume. However, I now had a better appreciation for door-to-door salespeople and cold callers…

What do you do when you find out that your child is dying?

I have spent the past year waiting for my daughter to die.


Your child is dying

Findings and opinions were many.

One in billions genetic mutation. 

Only three known cases in the world. 

She’ll be dead by fifteen months.

Enjoy your time together.

That was the initial prescription – enjoy your time together.

Everything had been fine.  I was living the dream.  Beautiful little girl, loving family, fulfilling job.

It is really shocking how abruptly you can lose everything. Or, think you have

Anakha had been fine.  There were no alarm bells.  She was a typical happy little nine-month-old.

Then, one day, she stopped crawling.

She’s just tired. It’s the heat.

You’re crazy Mama!  She’s fine!

Over the next four weeks, she lost independent sitting, rolling, grasping, and finally neck control.  She stopped babbling.  At ten months, she had the motor functions of a two-month-old. An MRI showed progressive cavitating leukoencephalopathy, which means there are holes in the white matter of Anakha’s brain, which controls all motor functions, or movement.  The doctors hinted at a “mitochondrial disease”, but would not provide further information without a diagnosis.

At thirteen months, the official diagnosis came. Multiple Mitochondrial Dysfunction Syndrome – Type 3.   A rare genetic condition. Only three cases reported in the literature. The doctors told me that she will only get worse, that next to go would be the ability to chew and swallow safely.  She would need a feeding tube.  Then a breathing tube.  And by around fifteen months old, she will be gone.

Anakha was written off.

So what do you do when you find out that your child is dying?

I will be honest.  At first, you cry and scream. You grieve.  You mourn.  Your hopes and dreams, your future is shattered.

Allow yourself enough to feel the pain.  You will carry the horror of that moment for the rest of your life. And when you emerge, you will have become the strongest version of yourself there is.

You will do everything for your child.  Anything for your child. You will push yourself to extremes unknown. You will tirelessly advocate for the needs of your child.

Mothers of children with special needs, imminently terminal or not, are the toughest people I have ever met.  I am proud to count myself amongst them.  If you need to get something done, call a mother of a child with special needs.

We are warriors.

You learn how precious time is.  Every moment must count.  No wastage. You weed out everything superfluous in your life. What used to be major calamities to you are now laughable.  Oddly enough, you ease up and develop a very dark sense of humour. You learn to live with the grief. It is always there and catches you in unexpected moments.

One of my Achilles is while driving alone, glancing into the rear-view mirror, and seeing that She. Is. Not. There.

It reminds me that one day she really won’t be there, permanently.

You become financially instable.  Medical bankruptcy is real.  You find creative alternatives for employment, just to survive.  I started my own legal practice, something I never thought I could do, as it gives me the flexibility to be home with Anakha and still engage in meaningful employment. It’s going well.

People you expected to lean on in a crisis either step up hugely or cannot handle it and fade away.  You are hurt at first, but then move on, because they do not matter anymore. And people you never expected to care become your rock.

So what did I specifically do for Anakha?

I did not listen to the doctors.  I would not write her off. I could not give up.

It is astounding how common Anakha’s story is, of children being written off, only to defy the odds.  She should be an outlier, but I have heard the same story repeatedly from other families.

As soon as I heard “mitochondrial disease”, or as we call it, “mito”, my science background kicked in.  I researched, advocated for medications and services, contacted doctors and researchers around the world who study her specific condition and gene.

Anakha is now twenty-seven months old.  She has regained head control, grasping, rolling, independent sitting for short periods of time, and weight bearing.  Her vision has improved. She gets around in a homemade wheelchair, made by my crafty mom. She can speak in short sentences and understands everything.

And her favourite words? “I did it!”

As a caveat, hope, love, prayer, belief and hard work do not mean your child will survive.  But it will give them a chance after everyone else has given up.

Anakha is surrounded by a supportive group of doctors, therapists and family who believe in her, and her potential.

Now, instead of waiting for my daughter to die, I live and laugh and enjoy our life together.

We live.

Savitha Thampi - Reboot SocialAUTHOR: SAVITHA THAMPI

Savitha is a corporate/commercial lawyer, with a specialty in intellectual property and media law. She is proud to advocate for the rights of children with special needs. Her current focus is finding education opportunities for medically fragile children. Savitha can be reached at savitha.thampi@gmail.com.

The Elusive Canadian Experience

The well-dressed lady behind the counter was polite. Canadian experience - Reboot Social

I had seen the “Now Hiring” sign on her store window and had walked in to see if she would consider hiring me for the job. As she glanced through my resume, I looked around. The store had an expensive feel to it. The sign outside had said “maternity wear.” Until then, I wasn’t aware that there was such a thing as maternity wear. I just assumed that women wore loose clothing during their pregnancy. I made a mental note to check with my wife.

Do you have any Canadian Experience?

We both knew that it was a rhetorical question. My resume had clearly indicated that my last job was in India.

I had heard it before, it was the Catch-22 situation that most newcomers to Canada faced. If you don’t have Canadian experience you don’t get hired; if you don’t get hired, you don’t get Canadian experience.

“Thank you, we’ll keep you in mind and contact you if something comes up,” she was ready to move on.

Clearly, some job-hunting subtleties were lost on me. It hadn’t quite occurred to me that a brown-skinned, thirty-something new immigrant may not make the best sales person in an upscale maternity fashion store.

Landing in Canada in November had its advantages. Christmas lights and decorations were popping up in malls and around the neighbourhood. Everyone appeared to be getting into the spirit of the holidays. On the flip side, it was probably the worst time to be looking for a job, especially for someone without any Canadian experience.

It took me about a month to figure out that responding to employment ads in newspapers was a waste of time. While job-hunting, I preferred the “Now Hiring” signs over the “Help Wanted” ones – there was a sense of immediacy to the former.

I gave up on my aspirations to become a gas station attendant after I was blatantly told that I was overqualified for the job.

My wife’s experiences weren’t any better.

The corner store that needed a cashier found her lacking since she could not pick out nickels and dimes from a bunch of change. It took us a while to start calling five-cent coins nickels and ten-cents dimes.

Some friends who had moved back had warned me – unemployment was over 11%. I had no real appreciation for what that meant, but the media appeared to be very bearish about the prospects of job seekers.

Not good.

As days progressed, our searches went from the more prominent career sections of the newspapers to the classified ads sections where the jobs were oriented towards what was referred to as “entry-level” jobs.

It took a few rejection letters in the mail for me to realize that the telephone, not the mail, was the preferred mode of communication to set up interviews. When I went to pick up the mail, I kept my fingers crossed, hoping that none of the letters was for me.

Trying to keep my spirits up sometimes took effort. My goal was simple – gain some Canadian experience and earn some dollars.

How complicated can that be?

And then I got the call, I had been picked for an interview!


The Retirement Calculator

The retirement calculator was not complicated, but detailed.Retirement Calculator - Reboot Social

My friend Dino had sent it to me.

Conversations among the folks that I hung out with at the club seemed to always drift towards retirement planning.

No one was getting any younger.

I had met Peter, my financial advisor, at the club. And then there was Alan, an Engineer turned financial advisor, always reminding us that we needed to save more.

“How much money do you need to retire?” The official term in the calculator was “Annual Retirement Income Goal.”

Everyone had a number, but nobody knew for sure that it was the right one.

The general consensus seemed to range between five and eight thousand dollars a month. “Your expenses go down when you retire,” the folks with the lower retirement income goal would argue.

So, I decided to plug in seven thousand and see what the calculator had in store for me.

For a moment, my thoughts drifted back to the first full year of working in Canada, twenty-four years ago. Our annual family income was a whopping thirty-two thousand dollars. I wasn’t all that young, I was thirty-seven. We were happy. Now, taxes alone added up to more than what we jointly made that first year!

Canada had been good to us. We weren’t hurting.

Working in the ever-evolving technology space came with its challenges and uncertainties. I had survived many rounds of optimization, restructuring, rationalization, and integration. Been to the edge and back a few times. The retirement conversation was timely; no harm being prepared, in case I get blindsided.

I took a quick mental stock of all the things that I will have to worry about if I did not have a paycheck coming in every two weeks.

Thankfully, my wife had a job, for now.

Selling the house and moving to a condominium was a good move.

I patted myself on the back for the foresight there.

There were the car leases. Good thing I went with the larger down payment; the payments were manageable. Prescription drugs would be an issue. For a second, I wished I was older, old enough to get prescription coverage from the Government.

I quickly banished that thought. I was in reasonable shape – still playing squash and tennis a couple of times a week. Moreover, my wife’s insurance would probably cover me.

I could find some part-time work if things got bad. I had kept up with the technology.

“When can I retire?” It was my wife asking from across the hallway.

“The calculator says that you need to work till you are sixty,” she didn’t appear very happy with my reply.

I may have to rethink that African safari next year. Maybe not, it was a gift from my daughter and son-in-law.

I cursed myself once again for having voluntarily left the company’s Defined Benefits pension plan in favour of the Defined Contribution Plan.

Biggest mistake ever!

“Can we still do the river cruise?” It was my wife again.

I went back to the calculator.  “Yes, we can,” I sounded like President Obama. “All I have to do is lower my life expectancy from ninety-two to eighty-nine,” I added.

She seemed content with that.

I didn’t blame her…


The Landing

“Welcome to Canada!”

Reboot Social - The Landing

The agent behind the Customs and Immigration desk said routinely as I handed her three passports and the landing papers.

I had deliberately avoided the urge to down a couple of beers on the flight from London Heathrow to Toronto Pearson. After all, I wanted to create a good first impression on the screening official who I believed had the final say in accepting us as landed immigrants, or not. Alcohol in my breath may not sit well in the scheme of things.

As the Customs Agent shuffled papers and cross-checked our information with a computer terminal on her desk, I turned and flashed a reassuring “I got this covered” smile at my wife and six-year-old daughter. I wondered what was going through their minds. I felt a pang of guilt as I looked away. For all practical purposes, we had walked away from what was considered to be a reasonably comfortable lifestyle, family, and friends. All in pursuit of the Canadian version of the American dream!

“Sir, how much money are you bringing with you?” The agent had stopped typing and was now looking directly at me.

I froze! I was not sure if this was a trick question.

Surely, the Canadian immigration officials ought to know the restrictions imposed by the Indian Government on foreign travel. Unless you were travelling on business, the limit was twenty US dollars per passenger. Sixty dollars to move and settle in a new country!

Until then, it had not occurred to me that it did not make sense. I had made arrangements with my sister, who lived in Mississauga, for some “seed money” to tide me over the first few months. Sensing my hesitation, the agent smiled and said: “I know that you are only allowed twenty dollars per head.” She paused, and added, “It’s OK if you are bringing more, we like it.”


As she handed our passports back and wished us good luck, I mumbled something about my sister and having a place to crash for a few days.

As we walked out of the terminal to be greeted by family, my emotions were mixed. I was happy that we had made it through. Yet, I was anxious about what the future would hold for us.

Stepping out on the curb, I breathed in the cold November air. I had never been to a place that was as cold as this before. Slipping into the spare jackets specially brought for us, we piled into the waiting cars and onward to my sister’s home.

As I settled into the car and took in the clean streets and the traffic, I thought to myself: if most Canadians were like the Immigration Agent, we would be fine!

My spirits were back up; I couldn’t wait to get home, and try some Canadian beer!

Welcome to Reboot Social!

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Sometimes life needs a hard reset…

The idea first came to me while I was watching the movie “Up in the Air.” The movie featured George Clooney as a corporate downsizer and dealt with the devastating effects of job loss – something that I deal with on a regular basis.

Reboot Social Stay Positive

Reboot Social

Then, there was the issue with a colleague who went home one day to find that his wife of over twenty years had left him and their children. He appeared clueless; had not seen it coming. In the scheme of things, the reasons would have been purely academic.

And there was my niece, Bob, and others…

Welcome to Reboot Social, a blog series about coping with the unexpected – some involving positive changes and some not so much.

From life and death issues to awkward moments, we all deal with situations that often add stress to our lives. Over the course of the next few months, I hope to share some of my own experiences along with contributions from some close friends who have had to deal with unexpected situations of their own. If you have an experience that you would like to share through this blog series please let me know.

The name of the series is a spin-off of my other blog, Racquet Social, which sought to bring racket sports enthusiasts and social media together.

Ironically, there was no life-altering event when I hit the reboot button on my life and moved to Canada, nearly twenty-five years ago. Nevertheless, the move came with its share of social, emotional, and financial uncertainties. As I reflect upon the bygone years, I realize that most of my experiences have been positive. Fitting into the cultural mosaic of Canada came with some challenges which occasionally felt like situation comedies.

The posts are not meant to be in any chronological or logical order.

Note: I have taken the liberty of adding the subscribers of Racquet Social and few friends to a mailing list for this blog series. Please feel free to unsubscribe from receiving Reboot Social updates; you will not hurt my feelings.

Well, maybe just a little…