India – Group Two

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Unsurprisingly, the dynamic completely changed once the terrible two had been given the boot. It was a lot of picking up the pieces but I loved having someone I could believe in to do it with. I was also happy to focus more of how interesting it was to see the differences of the second group of kids from the first. Many of them had been on an EEK! program before and were much more confident as well as cliquish. Not necessarily in a bad way, just in the natural progression of the way groups form. While I was bummed to feel like more of a director without getting enough bonding time with the kids given that there was 22 of them and just Tim and I, the time I did get to spend with them made me super happy.
We continued on the work of the first group by painting the schools as part of the community service we were doing (Lit was so proud), experienced Buddhist ceremonies, visited the Dalai Lama’s house, almost got bit by monkeys, visited a local farm and an animal rescue, the Taj Mahal, Norbulingka (a unique institute dedicated to the preservation of arts and culture of the Tibetans) and, my favorite, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. A “central religious place as well as a symbol of human brotherhood and equality”.
I managed to stop saying “rally” five times a day (as I had been with the first group and had been teased for), hid my disapproval about the animal pelts lining the walls of the king’s parlor (from the queen’s kills on safari) and didn’t even try to go on the treks. Besides already knowing the incline was beyond my physical ability, I had previously found out the hard way how the answer from our local fellas was that everything we asked about was “easy”, “5 minutes” and, for example, the 45 steps they had told us for one trek actually ended up being somewhere around 134 according to the kid’s count.
As was proving to be the norm in my travels, there continued to be tiny and unexpected new experiences that entertained me in a way that was part of the magic. On and off switches were flicked the opposite way as the US, Hindi wasn’t the only language – Bajadi was the local while Gurti was the language most of our staff and many ground-level stores as well as construction was often shut down because of ridiculous governmental politics that sounded pretty corrupt from what Alexandra told me.
Tim continued to be worn ragged from a combo of being thrown into everything about the terrible two, the program shenanigans and helping with the kids. I felt bad and responsible for some reason though at the same time incredibly grateful while he still managed to “bring it”. We were a great team and always managed to find something new to appreciate in each other. Even down to how well we got along despite the contrast of his conservative and my liberal views. After the was Chris had treated me, it was extra appreciated and healing when he went out of his way to make sure I wasn’t pushed too hard physically along with little things such as how he didn’t get upset with me for taking notes via phone instead of by hand.
Day to day life continued. Not being able to snuggle the doggos, as well as their state and treatment, never stopped upsetting me. So much so that it continued to leave me with an uneasy feeling that it would eventually effect how I travel. A more positive observation was that, while the prince and other folks back home (but from India) had told me about it being one of the things Dharamsala was known for, I got a kick out of actually seeing the weed that naturally grew all over the place. Also the kid’s reactions to it. Another observation that I had heard about but was quite shockingly different to experience was to see was a kid shitting on the side of the road when we were on our way to the Taj Mahal at the end of the program. Aha travel…
I had great moments with our second group. Like a few of our kids, one of our traditionally attractive and charismatic boys, a kid from Spain who had shown up with a hickey, proved to have more depth and compassion than the bullying or elitism that so many of us experience at that age from “cool kids”. It was refreshing to see teenagers be open to us grownups both with the more sentimental stuff as well as being silly. In his particular example, he made myself and his two roommates crack up, me laughing with apprehension while telling him that he couldn’t pull up a leg on the back of his shorts to show us a bug bite while in the midst of dealing with the chaos of their room flooding during a monsoon rain. There’s something so special and fleeting about that last age of innocence.
I have stories about so many of the kids that made me love each one of them. Continuing on with moments of his story, despite having the ability to play the field and stick to other superficial fun, he had chosen to be a bigger thinker. Something he shared by telling me that he thought he might want to be a mentor himself one day.
*insert touched moment of pride*
Another one of our kids that added to his story, a sensitive gal on the younger side of the group, became his “camp” romance. Though both denied it at first, she owned up pretty quickly when I helped with their temporary and nostalgic relationship of that age. She had been crying a lot and he had been sulking when I had picked up on what was going. After talking to, or should I say at him about how important verbal communication was and why, they worked it out were back together in puppy love. Sometimes the best advice is something we already know about. Even us adults need a reminder from time to time. Even from ourselves.
To tell the stories of each one of the kids and why they meant so much to me would take another half dozen blog posts, so I’ll just use one more example of one of the gals you’ve read about before. Our Australian darling, the one who was not feeling well previously and, consequently, seemed to be one of the leaders of the cool clique, made a comment about what a good person I was. As one of the kids I expected to be more likely to rebel, it hit as one of the many, many moments that made me feel so touched.
Being a disciplinarian wasn’t what I was most looking forward to but the time did come. I suspected there was sneaking out and drinking at night, especially considering little noises I heard along with the way a big group of the kids seemed suspiciously reserved when I went to hang with them before bed, but I hadn’t caught them yet (not that I had been trying too hard) so decided to enjoy our time together
while it lasted.
There were some new people of leadership and outside individuals who also played a roll in the changing dynamic. The king’s twenty year old grandson showed up for a couple weeks to visit and was excited to join in with the kids. He, as well as the staff, warned me against Alexandra as they considered her the king’s rude mistress. An unfortunate situation that created conflict for me but nothing too bad. The king’s billionaire son, a man who came off a little too arrogantly ruthless, and daughter-in-law – a woman of intelligence, warmth and good humor as well as someone doing great things in the world, also visited for a week. And then there was Avi.
Avi (Avaret) was a talented 21 year old photographer originally from India who was traveling the world with his career and had been referred by a higher-up in the company. Like Tim he had also been brought in last minute for the program though this time is was due to EEK! being in the hot-seat, not Chris, due to the first group’s complaints about having next to nothing set up for the photojournalism aspect of the program. It had just been Jessica as a photographer and myself as a blogger with no warning or plan to the program.
I liked Avi but saw warning signs from the beginning. Cool dude but a but too comfortable. Reminding me of my brother’s presumptions, he assumed that I was a stoner and freely admitted to being one to himself, suggesting that he was stoned during times he worked with the kids. It also didn’t take long for him to start getting waisted with the prince at night.
Perplexed as to why EEK! kept bringing in such young guys when I so blatantly saw the problems that could easily arise from that closeness in age with the kids, it was taking more effort to stop myself from questioning the company. It was also becoming more and more clear that he didn’t think twice about lying to Tim and I whenever it benefited him. I wondered at first if it was possibly due to not feeling part of the team while Tim and I struggled to manage the mess of everything without seeing how to include him all that much, but it quickly showed itself to be much more about his being young and wanting to get what he wanted without caring much about the consequences.
Things had been brewing, what I considered normal things, but shit didn’t hit the fan with the youngins until the night before we left Dharamsala. Kids not a part of the “cool” clique finally got fed up with being kept up at night when the kids who had indeed been sneaking out to party got particularly rowdy. There had been hinting comments before but it became the first time a few of them finally came to Tim and I with solid information. The top two kids being the troubled young lady from Hawaii and a boy who was my most…challenging in that I was seeing signs of his following his father’s footsteps in regard to sexism, overpowering anyone who tried to contribute to a conversation and thinking the best way of managing others was in an overly harsh and controlling manner. He was the only kid I had noticed feel positively about Chris in any kind of way.
I would have supported him as his mrntor either way, and had love for both of them for going against teen-code to help, but was pretty much done with his antics about the third time I saw sexist behaviours and watched him start to scold Tim (and to a lesser degree myself in the rare moments he would address me) about how the kids took advantage of us for being laid back when we should have acted different. Not OK.
Taking it and feeling bad instead of checking the kid on the spot was the only time I strongly disagreed with Tim. Of course I still had his back, though, and understood how we were both being caught off guard by one shot after the next as these things came to light. It was also murky territory to check one of the kids when they were one of those bringing info to us. Still, I wasn’t cool with it, thought didn’t take it any further as we were both struggling through our exhaustion to grasp and manage all the new information that was coming out at warp speed.
After the beginning of the kid’s shenanigans had started to come out we still decided to have India Funday, though it was much more low-key. We watched a local award-winning documentary called When Hair Got Married, got henna, ate a late dinner hosted by the king of (which only three quarters of the kids attended) and did a much less impressive version of the first group’s dancing thanks to Ahmad and his sweet moves being gone.
I had been more surprised that the kids of the first group hadn’t been sneaking out and drinking as we were finding out for sure that the second group had. It was something I expected from teenagers, as well as some of my own best memories, though I had known I’d be a part of managing it since before the program. It had always seemed to be a big part of fun and bonding at that age but it was also a dangerous age of taking a lot of risk without knowing better. That part of their behavior might have been what I expected, and I was ready to play disciplinarian when I had to, but the extreme of Avi’s behavior is what did catch me off-guard. The first part of what he had been up to that floored Tim and I when finding out was that it had allegedly been him as the ringleader and, to a lesser extent, the prince who had been providing the booze and potentially other party favors to the kids. The grand finale was when it came to light the night after when we found out that he had made out with one of our seventeen year old girls. If we had been standing at that moment, we both may have collapsed to the floor.
When leaving Dharamsala the morning before finding out about Avi, we had a long and windy road ahead of us that was easy to get sick on. Still, it hadn’t quite made sense yet as to why some of our kids were dragging so excessively and our Aussie gal was throwing up so much. Avi hadn’t been any help as he still seemed drunk from the night before and had started to act like a defiant kid more than one of the leaders. At one point he, in response to their question, told a few of the boys that they could get out of the car on the freeway by the Taj Mahal when we were stopped in traffic. At another time he told some of the girls they could stop at an airport Starbucks when we were dealing with the chaos of trying to get all 22 kids from one flight to another. His shenanigans didn’t last long, thank God. After finally finding out later that evening about his and our gal’s make out session, Tim and I talked to her and her mom before firing him in the middle of the night. Feeling like Rose on the wooden door while Leo told her to chill (pun intended), Tim let me sleep for a few hours while he stood guard from there. Our last full night was about done.
In between leaving Dharmasala and the Taj Majal, we had an afternoon of visiting the Golden Temple. A place that would have been a magically spiritual experience if it hadn’t been for EEK! setting it up for us to have such a small window to be there (same with the Taj) and the insane heat had reached well over 100°. With kids almost passing out, no doubt due to some of them being hungover, it was the only time I was noticeably upset with Ishan for putting the kids in danger by not doing his job in that we didn’t even have water for them. Something I had been asking for days before as well as for spray bottles and electrolytes. As had unfortunately shown to be customary, he had just nodded toward my requests as a blow-off and had never actually got the supplies. A break from the other chaos, we had walked into the kind of more primal survival. Lucky us.
After the Taj Manual the next day, it had been time to say goodbye. Tim was gone that evening taking first group of kids to the airport when I found out last minute that Ishan wanted to leave a bunch of the kids at the hotel alone while the two of us took the second. After one of the kids brought it to my attention, I told him to stay and I would take the second group. That decision would be what gave the remaining kids the window to text Avi and for him to sneak back into one of their hotel rooms. Not that Ishan was anywhere to be found. Tim coming back before me to find Avi. Not even trying to hide, he even went so far as to blow Tim’s mind even farther by trying to shake his hand. It was a level of cluelessness, and possibly confident arrogance, that I had never experienced.
It was done from there. The kids were gone and Tim was to leave soon after. Sad to know the reality that I was likely to never see the man who had probably done more for me than any other colleague ever, he helped me sort out a hotel room with EEK! for a couple nights before heading out. So we said goodbye. And I knew that he would always be one of my heroes.

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