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Chris, and on a lesser note Jessica, had reasoned that it was better for me to stay behind to make and hang banners along with other menial BS while they went to pick up the kids in New Delhi. It was great to have a break from them but also meant missing out on part of the program and getting around to a little more of India than just (the amazing town of) Dharmashala. A little bummed but more relieved for the coveted peace I got during that time, what was even better was having the king’s youngest fur-baby Teddy all to myself. It was then that I made the executive decision that he with his cute overbite was to be our new mascot. All of the king’s Jack Russell’s reminded me of my Layla. Something I was both thankful and saddened by. Oh how I missed her…
It was the middle of the night when they all arrived at Clouds End Villa. Excited and proudly standing there in my EEK! staff shirt, they were too tired to notice me or anything else for that matter. I wasn’t though. Chris walked up those three flights of long stairs of flattened-boulders wearing the hat that he had taken advantage of his position to grab from the swag provided for what I had been under the impression was to be given to the local staff. He had done it right in front of Jessica and I without any shame or asking if we wanted one. Lame but not a big deal if it was a one-off but it was a behavior that had already started to show it’s ugly face as the norm. Flashback to my days in the subprime mortgage industry when my lover-turned-boss had, right in front of me, taken the laptop bag our corporate office had sent me as a reward for the kick-ass job I had been doing. Great leadership skills, huh?
Throughout, and even more so after my experience in India, I remember thinking about how in my twenties everything had seemed to meld together into one big experience. The idea of compartmentalizing was so foreign that I had no idea where to even begin trying. Funny how age and experience take us 180 around so many things, my experience in India being an extreme version of one of them. I knew from the moment Anna told me about EEK! that it was something that could provide the kind of experience that I had been looking for since I had started volunteering in my younger twenties. Even with the hardships the experience did prove to be true. In no small part, I’m sure, because I was too inexperienced to get frustrated and/or pissed at times when others would have. The situations instead just felt strange. When they did feel wrong I often found myself thinking that there must be components I was unaware of or that I was at the bottom of the totem poll and it wasn’t my place to take too much initiative by stepping on toes fix them.
Chris, Jessica and the other not great stuff that presented itself couldn’t hold a candle to how much the good stuff brought to my heart and soul. Dharmashala for sure, I’d love to go back there on a spiritual quest, but being a part of those most foundational years of the kid’s lives was something that has been one the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had. Well, next to Burning Man. Naturally. )'(
One of the things that did manage to bother me pretty quickly was how the terrible two, especially Chris once again, would pull answers to questions the kids would ask out of their asses. None of us had more than the couple weeks experience in that town. I believed doing so to be irresponsible, arrogant and dangerous. It also triggered my agitated memory of the training Chris and I had been at back in the US where he had told me that there wouldn’t be mosquitoes when I was contemplating if it would be OK to skip my second $300+ Japanese Encephalitis shot. Well there definitely was and I got bit a bunch.
The first day to be way too intense. Poor kids…and poor me. Our local team grew up there and were right on par with billy goats getting around on that mountain terrain. They never looked back to see how the group was doing with keeping up as we made our way around the entire town stopping at the placements where we were going to be working with local kids. Everything was “five minutes” and when asked about difficulty level it was all easy no matter how excessively off the response. Great guys whose friendship I was thankful for but they hadn’t been anywhere to know any better and it was a problem. Personally it wasn’t great for my vertigo, knees or physical ability though I was at least happy to find out a few days later that my struggles and the short breaks to catch my breath that came with had helped those kids having a hard time with the terrain but too embarrassed to say anything. A painful reminder of how humiliating everything seemed to be as a teenager and what hell that age was. The five-millionth reason I’m relieved those years are over and cringe at the idea of reliving them.
Adding to the fun of the trek that actually did make it a great intro to the program was a scavenger hunt where we were to munch on some of the only good food I was to eat while there (Tibetan vegetarian momos = yum) thanks to only one day (but not night) off and there being way too many kiddos under my watch for me to be able to get away with sneaking off for an hour or two. In addition to the placements and scavenger hunt, we also made it to the local and harder to take Kotwali Bazar with all it’s trash, honking horns and hot pavement. Understanding why it would be too much for our kids on that first day, I was confused why the local staff would take us there, especially on that first day, until realizing too late that it had been when the kids were to buy local clothes and take them to a tailor. As was to become the norm with the actions of our local guys as well as Chris and Jessica, I took on a feeling of responsibility though I was proud of the laughs and lessons we turned it into about learning to go with the flow. An important must of travel. Still, having that traditional clothing made was to be such a big and fun part of their experience and it upset me that most of our kids ended up missing out on it. However, what they did get was to see the Dalai Lama and his entourage driving by. I missed it due to hitting my limit and taken a taxi back home just minutes before though I did get to live vicarionsly. Especially through one of the more serious girls who was so excited about his making eye contact and waving directly to her that she came back manically rambling about what had happened before even managing to sit down. Super cute but hard to follow as I was feeling pretty woozy from pushing myself too far past the limit of my physical abilities thanks to the local team’s “easy five minutes” and Chris believing that the well-being of the staff wasn’t his problem (as he told me many times). I was so out of it, in fact, that my head was bobbing as I tried to stay coherent during a Hindi lesson put on by our local guy (who was supposed to be running the local side under Raja but rarely there), Kapil, and had to sneak out to go lay down. I hadn’t thought it necessary to tell Chris since I wasn’t a part of the lesson and had been sitting in the back of the room (he was sitting in the middle of the group) and was too dazed to think about texting him. All things considered, it had seemed less disruptive to sneak out. That was until he showed up to my door so angry that he was shaking. Queue flashbacks of my violent PTSD marine vet brother. Take orders, get violent, don’t ask questions. Peas in a pod.
Back to compartmentalizing and the little things of that fascinating place I was so so happy to be experiencing. No matter how many countries I’ve been to it’s still seems so easy to forget what an impact the little things have. Bugs weren’t scared like in the US and would fly right into our heads, often going straight for the eyes. Locals didn’t turn off their cars when getting petrol, spiders were hand-sized, seat belts were discouraged as a nuisance and metal straws were used in the Illiterati coffee shop we frequented. Reality checks were everywhere. The straws being one of good vibes regarding how we can make an effort to help our environment Rougher ones included the garbage that had been tossed down the beautiful hills and how it sparked thoughts of how, just because we were spoiled by having it taken away by others in our countries, it didn’t stop the reality of landfills. Also how lucky we were to be born in places that were so much more clean and sanitary.While a less than appealing culture in regard to so many ways women were treated, the dazzling smiles of the men and beauty of how affectionate they were to each other put a light on how hard men in the American culture have it in regard to expressing their emotions. We were all both excited and sadden by the street dogs, though I found it interesting to see the difference in perspective between the kids and I as those dogs were in much better shape than what I had seen in other places. Something I was to find out during an outing (that I put a lot of work into making happen) was due to people like my kind of hero: Deb at the Dharamsala Animal Rescue.
Taking it back to Chris and Jessica as it will over the next post or two, yes, there were an over-all horrible experience, but I think it important not to bust out the pitch-forks just yet and to mention that we did manage to have some nice moments before everything turned to shit. When originally finding my way through the New Delhi airport, Chris and I had been texting back and forth with jokes about the bidet guns that I call butt blasters and love so much. His response had been to call them bum guns, ass splashers and pooper pistols. Another little moment I remember fondly was when Jessica, myself and our cook cracked up after staring at each other in confusion when he brought ketchup for French toast instead of the syrup we had asked for. Yeah, it had been super rocky, but have managed to do OK reminding myself that we’re all both heroes and villains depending on when we’re caught. I’m sure I have plenty to own up to that they could point out. Three sides to every story and such. Anyway, I never did luck out in finding much of the hero within either of them, and it was about to get a whole lot uglier, but I did manage to let my love of the kids and the place win. The storm then, though, was-a-brewin and wouldn’t totally hit until after Jessica got out of the hospital due to a bad stomach bug that was to take hold a couple days later. Just you wait…

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