I believed in EEK! I still do. Apologies if I sound like a broken record but I believe it important to remind that, just because there was so much drama and they were responsible for some big missteps, something speculated to be due to growing too much too fast, it doesn’t mean that their foundation was “bad”. I’ve dealt with plenty of shade throughout my life; especially working in the subprime mortgage industry through my twenties. This was one of the rare places I saw heart and good intentions at the forefront, even if they were for-profit.
Back to the battle…
Up to the point you have come with me on this fantastic voyage, Anna had been my salvation. She kept my head on straight and helped me see not only a bigger picture but behind the scenes in the ways she could without revealing info the company would have opposed to her sharing. I had been trying like hell not to put her in the middle but she was literally the only person I had to turn to for some realistic perspective. EEK! had all but dropped us by parachute in a foreign land isolated from communication and help. She was my lifeline. That was until shortly after the shit hit the fan with the complaints from parents, kid’s reviews, my notes and the potential lawsuit about Jessica.
It had been easy to tell that a storm had been-a-brewin so I hadn’t been surprised when Chris relayed that someone from higher up in the company was being flown out to help. I didn’t buy the story, though, that it was just for extra support. Being the bully that he was, Chris had gone at EEK! saying that he would only tolerate someone below him. They had brought him in as the director and needed to trust him as such. So that’s who they told him they were sending. If someone told me cats were dogs, I wouldn’t believe them just because I’m a dog-lover. Apparently for him, that’s all his ego needed in order to justify that it was still “his” program. The real story was so blatant to me that I found it surreal that he could be so disillusioned.
From what I could tell, based in large part on what I had been told, someone was being flown out primarily to see if there was any way to salvage the situation with the three of us individually and as colleagues. The goal was to lessen the chance of upsetting the parents of that second group of kids. Something that was more likely to happen if they found out that one or two of the only three Westerners who were supposed to be on the ground with them had mysteriously disappeared. I knew that Chris and Jessica, especially Chris, was going to do their best to get rid of me. I also suspected the company thought it would be less of a mess to get rid of a first year mentor as opposed to the two higher positions. Even so, I knew it likely that it would take about two seconds for Chris and Jessica to dig their own graves once the person coming saw what was really going on.
Knowing someone was coming out, I instantly started to exhale for the first time and unfortunately began losing my composure in dealing with the two of them. Chris was back to rarely trying and blatantly taking advantage of his position as Director for personal gain, often to take jabs at me, and I started to stand up to him in a more direct manner. Even, unfortunately, in front of one of the kids when he told me I had to stay back with her on another one of my supposed days off instead of going to a meditation workshop I had been looking forward to. At the time I had been furious. Soon I was to get a kick out of the result, though, when it turned out to be only be a lecture without any of the expected meditation. On the rare occasion Jessica and I were around each other, things were a bit less hostile and catty. Partly because I did my best to stay away and ignore her, partly because of her becoming more and more checked out and “off” in ways that I suspected related, to alcohol.
Tim was the man who was emergency flown out on last-minute notice. He was a kind and laid-back dude in board shorts and flip flops who could have easily passed as a coastal San Diegian though actually from North Carolina. He also joined Anna as one of my angels in the program.
Not giving him a chance to rest when touching down after the two days of travel to get there, Chris took him to get a SIM card instead of having one of our local guys do it so he had a chance to trash me. One mistake Chris made during those first couple hours was in thinking it would be easy to pull him into the patriarchy boy’s club bullshit as he and Raja had done. More specifically when admitting to Tim’s question that, yes, he and Jessica were shacking up.
Shortly after getting to Cloud’s End, Chris and Jessica took off together for the evening and the next day. Tim, disoriented and shocked that they would not only take a day off at that particular time but also together, apologized over and over before heading off for a nap. First, however, he did manage to tell me how the company had only heard good things about me as well as to acknowledge how I must be feeling and to validate it. Already in those first few moments it was the most support I had gotten. Even when I pushed him to take the whole night and wait to dive in until the next day, he still insisted he was going to try to get up after a couple hours to help and felt bad when he did indeed end up sleeping until that next morning.
After apologizing multiple times the next morning for sleeping the whole night instead of just taking a nap (silly), Tim jumped on top of both trying to figure out what was going on with the program and helping with the kids. I was so used to being all but alone in taking care of them that when they came to me for help and Tim said he’d take care of it, I almost didn’t know how to let him. Sitting there disoriented, it was the first time I could remember being able to eat an entire meal without having to get up.
So many of the things that hadn’t seemed quite right started to make sense as he began to express his insight about what he was seeing. Right away, he was livid at the quality of food, Ishan being unfairly thrust in above his head, not having program drivers and other things that should have been better quality. Even most of the excursions that had been chosen were free ones. Suspecting it due to Raja pocketing more of the money EEK! allotted for his side of running the program than he should have (and maybe giving kickbacks to Chris?), something that could have been avoided if he had been more realistic with stating what was needed to make a reasonable profit, Tim was laid-back livid. My heart was exploding with love for this man actually caring so much that I was fighting tears. Looking at him with wide-eyed gratitude, I had to stop myself from all but tackling him with constant hugs. I felt like a Margaret Keane character who was finding comfort after just being stung by a million bees.
When Chris and Jessica came back late, I wondered if Chris was trying to make a statement about his being in charge or they had already given up and were trying to get fired. I was also pissed that they would so blatantly be disrespectful and defiant to Tim when this poor guy had just got there. Another reason I respected and was thankful for him – he was communicative, honest and tried to be forthcoming with information to all of us, always trying to keep it chill and positive. And hey, the craziness wasn’t my problem any more. Or at the very least I had someone whose lead I could trust and follow.
Even with their shitty-mc-shitterson actions and knowing that I still may be the one getting the boot, I trusted Tim’s morals and judgment so much that I would have believed him if he thought that the best move for the kids was for me to go. That didn’t happen, though. When going to talk to the Terrible Two, he was once again shocked at how venomous Chris was and how his only goal seemed to be to get rid of me. An attack that was even more damaging for Chris as I had been trying to point out the good they had done, take responsibility for my own shortcomings and had been making an effort to come up with a solution regardless of believing it a lost cause. Chris had no interest in trying to work with the situation, didn’t give any sign of caring about the kids and even went so far as to play hardball with a “she goes or we go” attitude. Further signs that the contemptuous and insolent personality that he had said he had as a kid (surprisingly to me as I would have thought him a nerd) had never gone away, only likely made worse in the Marines. I was the only one around to see it up to that point but found it pretty upsetting when finding out after the program that his director from the previous year had told EEK! about it. And yet they had still hired him as a director…
That was one of the most shocking “dropping the ball” actions on their part, in my opinion, as it had so much to do with my being treated so horribly as well as, and more importantly, affecting the kid’s experience negatively.
Tim tried as hard as he could to find a way to make it work, but once realizing that Jessica showed up not only even more late later but also drunk when we were working with the kids, he gave into the reality of it being a lost cause. She was so incredibly checked out and, just as Alexandra had mentioned more than once before, unhappy. Poor guy already looked like he was going to fall over and he hadn’t even made it through the first full day.
In line with his upfront way of running things, he came to my suite where I was hanging with Alexandra to tell me that Chris and Jessica were toxic for the program and had to go immediately before poisoning anything further. The second group of kids was still within their first couple of days there and he was hoping that we had a chance to salvage the program before they were too negatively affected. Having already told Chris that Jessica was going to be fired before he had come to me, Chris had made it easier for EEK! as they wouldn’t have to officially fire him if he really walked with her as he had threatened he would. Homie got played.
I admit to feeling a bit of gloating over “winning” and relief that I was able to stay there with the kids but, more than anything, I felt sad. Like having to give up the good along with the bad in a breakup, there’s a permanent loss. I pride myself on one of my strengths being my abilities with people. It had been a long time since I couldn’t work through it with someone, even with all of my own idiosyncrasies. It was more than a loss…it was a failure. Regardless of how horrible they had been to me and annoying I to them, I wished we could have worked through it and come out the other side with a happy ending. I so desperately yearned to find a way to tailor the more challenging parts of my personality and actions to not upset them so. Sadly, heart wasn’t enough and it just wasn’t meant to be.
Reflection helps now but validation and a good outside POV back then when there was no time for the former was a lifesaver. Tim told me that with them being together since the beginning, I never stood a chance. He also found it amusing that Chris tried to deny his episodes of shaking in anger at me as he had done the same on a joint conference call to headquarters when recommending firing Jessica. He continued to be supportive and understanding about my concern with unraveling a bit since I finally could and continued to give me the positive reinforcement that I so desperately needed. One way of which being to comment on how sometimes the best mentors (referring to me) are the best because they don’t have any preconceived notions or egos related to experience or extensive education (I only had my BA and Chris his masters). Apologizing for my not getting the next day off, I knew he meant it when promising we’d figure out another one. I also knew that wouldn’t happen…
Firing Jessica the next day was comically in line with the oddness of India and the program in that I was brought along for the ride. Literally. Not just me but also the gal who I had stayed back with a couple days before who still wasn’t feeling well. Ishan was going to take us to a medical clinic but Tim also jumped in the car last minute to stop at the placement Jessica was supervising to break the news. Already knowing it was coming and seeming relieved for it, she gave him (what I found to be) a grossly fake hug and got in the car to be taken back to homebase while he stayed with the kids. Can someone say awkward? Watching Chris and Jessica grab their stuff and hit the road likely with, we would find out later, an expensive camera that one of the gals from the first group had accidentally left behind, Ishan finally started to take us to the clinic but again made one more random stop. That poor kid had been stuck in the car sick and on a fantastic voyage that had gotten so loopy we just sat in the backseat together and laughed.