It was finally time to put all that studying for the organization I was about to start working for into action (we’ll call the company EEK! for the Experience & Education the Kids would be getting) though in reality I wouldn’t end up using most of it as the job seemed to require more instinct and experience than book knowledge once there. Either way, it was once again time to hit the road. This time I was to fly out of LAX which meant either a 2 1/2 road road trip or 4 hours of Lyft trips and a train for around $80 all-told. As luck would have it, my mama was due for an overnight visit to check on my grandma’s secret garden in Glendale (an area of Los Angeles) with it’s vibrant red, pink and yellow flowers that smelled of spring and lots of different shades of green plant life to show just how much it had been loved over the years. A visit that provided an opportunity for the cheaper option as well as a warm overnight goodbye and reminder of the roots from which I came.
Hitting the airport after our mamma-daughter breakfast the next day, I grumbled as I made my way toward the China Eastern Airlines counter. Less than two years before I had sworn I would never fly that airline or through China again, though I had already known amidst that internal temper-tantrum (I get it from my daddy) even back then that my budget may prove otherwise.
Pleasantly surprised once in route, the two flights and one long layover didn’t end up being as bad as I had feared. I didn’t know it then but the rough stuff was apparently being saved up for the ride back a couple months later.
Arriving in New Delhi a couple of days later exhausted, disoriented and jet-lagged, there was one more puddle-jumper to Kangra that I would be taking with the other mentor I was about to start working with. Recalling my mention from the last post about already seeing flags regarding the director I was to be working with, I instantly saw the beginning of her own set the moment I walked up. An American expat living in Mexico, she seemed a little off: manic, immature and drunk. All of which I hoped was due to the large amount of travel we had been doing, lack of sleep and her having been drinking for hours, I was guessed, based on the copious amount of wine radiating from her pores that and that almost double knocked me out every time she opened her mouth. I like having drinks just as much as the next gal but I don’t think I’d ever want to show up drunk and smelling like booze when meeting a new colleague. Especially when we were going to be taking care of a bunch of teenagers in India together. Just saying.
Trying to make light of the warning signs and, in the spirit of bonding, we stopped to grab some Indian whiskey along the beautifully expansive and cloud-filled (though carsick-triggering) mountain views on the tiny Himalayan road that was taking us via a taxi that had been sent to pick us up. Clouds End Villa, our home for the next six weeks and a highlight of my time there (minus the always moldy everything), was a royal estate-turned-hotel. Something we were to find out out had become a normal source of income among royal properties in India.
I originally thought our boozy purchase would be used for an initial celebration only (I already sure knew we all liked to drink) but would soon regret it as Chris (no last names), our local director, and Jessica were to drink all day every day, pressuribg me to do so as well, while we were in “training” with his excuse being that we needed to get it out of our systems before the kids got there. A flimsy validation that I knew was a load of BS and made me worry about the potential problems in relation to how it was going to affect the program. Dun, dun, dun…
Fueling to it further was my habit to second-guess myself. A behavior based on that failed attempt to stay humble and open-minded due to lack of experience. While they did try at first, Chris longer than Jess, the seeds of contempt, disrespect and bullying had been starting to grow since day one and were to eventually consume them to the point of being one of the reasons they were sent packing a few weeks later. Thank God I grew up learning how to cope with bullying and had learned to find the strength to get through it.
Chris couldn’t have given two shits about my well-being when pushing us to walk our way around the entire town to check out the things we would be doing. When I protested in part because of the above problems, he went so far as to make defensive comments about how it wasn’t his responsibility and insisted that I had to pay for any taxis that I ended up taking when I couldn’t handle any more.
It just didn’t match up. How could I be so upside-down about what EEK! was all about and how they ran things? Or maybe it was just these two. The jury was out and I wasn’t anywhere near ready to close the case.
Walking around town on that trial run to the spots where we were going to place our teens was a lot of fun regardless of how much those hills and stairs sent me spinning. The balwadis (Indian daycares), some that were little more than deteriorating closet-sized shacks by American standards, excited my imagination with thoughts of how our kids would be impacted by teaching and playing with the local littles while also beautifying which locations they could. The structures provided one of a kind reality checks that can only be experienced through being there, regardless of how many times hearing about it, and I was finally doing just that. Us Westerners expect as much from India but even pictures still don’t stop that initial shock, regardless of how much we know it’s coming.
Labooze was a restaurant that turned into a loud and obnoxious club (not my thing) full of strobe lights in the evening with the odd twist of babies and families getting down who had stayed after that transition. It was where we met with the man, Raja, who was the head of the team we partnered with. An odd place to match the odd experience of him resentfully telling us how he was over working with EEK! and was stepping out after our program ended. Another thing that added to the flags piling up that I had lost track of.
There was so much wonderful with the place, connections and kids to come but if I had only known the full extent of the challenges those first few not so great experiences were foreshadowing, maybe I still would have ran like the roadrunner. Maybe but I’m not a quitter so maybe not. Either way, thank God I didn’t. At least for the kid’s sake…