India – New Delhi with Alexandra & Goodbye

The kids were gone but every noise made it feel as if they were still in the hall coming to me and I had dreams about them for three nights. It was even a bit of a relief to find an excuse to stay in that small, plain hotel room of cream walls, maroon curtains and a small window facing a brick wall for three days when getting a moderate case of food poisoning. It was a welcomed air-conditioned place to catch up on rest, make some food for local homeless, wrap up some clerical work and being sad that my time with them was over. Besides, I had dealt with MUCH worse in Krabi.
Writing stories of both groups for a time capsule the kid’s would open a year later, my heart both ached with the knowledge that I would probably never see them again and at the same time, swelled with the love I had for them and our experience together.
EEK! was awesome about paying my broke-ass early once I wrapped up all my end-of-program work. Well, almost wrapped up. It wouldn’t be until I got home later when I finally lost faith once they crushed me by acknowledging the roll I had taken on but refused to pay me for it. As a for-profit company, I was not OK with being given excuses instead of fair compensation. With all their words about how I had been one of the program’s rockstars for all around the world as well as how they couldn’t believe I stuck it out, it was heartbreaking to know that they found it better to lose me than to make an act of good faith, and good business in my experience, by doing right by me. C’est la vie, I suppose, and while that last decision halted the potential of working with them again in the immediate future, I still believe in them and what they do. Like dating someone hoping they’ll change, they seemed to be looking for young poorly-paid interns without experience instead of those with real partnership potential. I suppose what they’re looking for very much fits some people. Just not me.
Meeting up with Alexandra, I stayed with her at her house in a gated community in Delhi for my last few days. Walking into the dusty surfaces of a white-walled simplistic style penthouse apartment that hadn’t had anyone in it for months, we sorted ourselves out during those first few hours while waiting for the maid. Spending those last peaceful days away from the chaos, she took me to some of her favorite restaurants, only passing our from the heat once during our four times out shopping (she got a kick out of getting the salesmen to try them on) and just hanging at her home with cocktails. During one night, we stood outside on her large rooftop patio watching a lightning and one continuously rolling thunder show like nothing I had ever seen as she pointed out how that meant it was raining in Dharamshala. It was the grand finale of that magical time in India.
Always with an ache in my heart, I said goodbye after three or four days and started my journey by heading to the airport late in the night followed by a long delay as the beginning of two days of travel began. Including a layover in Shanghai and train ride from Los Angeles home to San Diego after stopping to get a new SIM card (due to the maids having thrown out the one that I had carelessly left out during my first couple weeks in India), I was thankful for details of home such as getting back to English as a first language and away from so many cultures who do things we think are rude.
Playing a roll with the kids that had a necessity to shut off parts of who I was, I was also thankful for the burneresque-style dance party that happened to be going on at the LA train station when I was there. The way participating started to help me feel young, hot and sexual again even in my exhausted and haggard state, I felt fabulous. It was still the perfectly symbolic place to celebrate being home.

Time Capsule Letter – Session 2
Time may fly but it can also be a precious gift when processing such big experiences (and places) as India.
You should be proud of yourselves. We’re sure your friends and families are. And amazed!
*Special shout-out to Alison as our gal from a super small town with no travel experience for making it through like a boss!

Looking back, can you believe that we stayed with royalty in the clouds with moments full of monsoon storms, all the while with monkeys landing on our rooftops?🐒 Or that we got to make a real impact on those kids, their families and the teachers we worked with?

At the time, it didn’t feel so big, did it? We were pushed our of out comfort zones in ways that included all those mountain roads with their steep incline/declines, conditions of the homeless dogs and people we’re not used to and some of the biggest spiders many of us had ever seen. Not to mention the trash everywhere, moist everything and smells we’re all happy to forget. Facing constant challenges, inspiration and fun moments such as shopping at McLeod Ganj and creating bonds organically during our free time, such as experience was just…big. It felt like rolling with the punches at times but what an impact it made on who we are and who we want to be.

We could have chosen an easier and smoother program/country but we didn’t want that. We wanted India and all that comes with. Well, we got it and that will forever impact us. So will the people we bonded with, even if just for those moments. That’s the travelers life and, dare we say, even the Buddhist way. To live, love and be forever impacted in the moment without any expectation of the future. Time to shake up our sand mandalas, kiddos.

You are all at such a magical place of not only being both a new adult and child all at once, you are also at a time in your lives that the platform of who you will forever become is built. You have given those of us lucky enough to be a part of that a peek of whimsical transport back into our moments of life when being the most alive and leave us with humbled gratitude for the gift of being a part of yours. Take what you have learned into your worlds, our little EEK!ers, and let yourselves be the light that others grow from.

We would tell you to make us proud but you already have. Even by only knowing you for a couple short weeks, we also already know that you always will.

Some special moments from our trip:

Getting out saris and suits made.

Teddy! 🐕

Shopping at McLeod Ganj…three times.

Mentor groups – Story of Self

Taking in the wonders of Dalai Lama’s temple and learning about the Tibetans flee to India and peaceful fight against China.

PJ Sessions, lessons and all the great photos we took.

Seeing what it’s like to live off the grid at Priyanka’s family farm.

DAR – Darmashala Animal Rescue – helping all those pups we see out on the street.

Yummy dinner hosted by, and dancing with, the king.

Surviving the heat at the Golden Temple.

Enjoying the romance (and cooler weather) of the Taj Mahal in the rain.

So now we say one last namaste,

Mentor Robin, Director Tim and the STL India Crew

2019 – Well Hello!

While I’ve never believed in New Year’s Resolutions, I do see why January is a great month to get back on top of shit. The exhausting amount of chaos, distraction and expenses of the holidays are finally over, so much so that it creates a hunger in many of us for productivity, action and self-focus in multiple ways.
Earlier in the day on that third day of 2019, I enjoyed a $10 burger and a beer deal that I have for years at oube of our crusty and beloved local dive bars, The Tilted Stick, while my laundry, filthy from an underground NYE burner festival I went to in the Los Angeles mountains (SO COLD!), washed at the equally old and beat up Voltaire Coin Laundry next door.
Earlier in the morning, instead of jumping right in the car to hustle driving for Lyft and delivering for Amazon or Office Express (no shifts came up to grab anyway), I forced myself to sleep in and then curl up in a blanket while doing “real” work. Being that self-care in the relaxation sector was a weakness of mine, I was already in for a good start. From there, it was both good and bad. Coming down with a cold = no yoga or hiking. Bummer.
On the upswing was refreshing research on getting out the book I wrote years ago, which gave confirmation that I was still on the right track. The results of that not so much on the upswing, however, was that I was once again reassured that the $10k to pay an editor and cover designer, what has kept it dormant for years, was still a requirement if I want to keep creative control by staying an indie writer. The only realistic way I had found to make those funds was through a plan to teach ESL abroad. Relevance due to my book being set in the backdrop of the subprime mortgage industry, the lengthy time of getting the book out was a concern either way but at least the story would stay mine.
Teaching ESL required a TELF or TSOL certification and I’d been sadly rethinking the plan of heading to Barcelona to get one due to costing an also painfully high amount of around $4k. Talk about taking money to make money. Looking at the details of that plan again as well, it still seemed close to if not the most cost-effective of my options, so whoo hoo to still going to Span.
Then there’s this, my blog. Oh my blog. I’ve been better at consistent content but need help cleaning up the web design as well as SEO, marketing and monetization. So there I was at Te Mana, the Hawaiian-themed coffee shop I most regularly hung at, while my clothes dried. As always seemed to happen when I’d been frequenting a cafe a lot to write, my social cirlce there had grown too much to get any work done. Luckily one of those people was Chuck Hardwick from Dancing Panda Marketing, a man who had run our local business networking group until teceltly and whose services I had been looking at just that morning for design, SEO and marketing. Setting up a consultation for the following week, my awesome day of advancement wrapped up.
Folding and dropping off my laundry at home, it was finally time to go Lyft. What a day of reflection and touching back into the big picture. 2019/2020 was looking to be a year of accomplishing finish lines of lifelong dreams. It was finally time. Just…wow.

India – Group Two

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.

India – Terrific Tim and cleaning house of Chris & Jessica

EEK’s mission was to “inspire the next generation to realize their potential to transform the world and their roll in it”.

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.

India – Calm before the monsoon

It was quiet at the villa after the kids left. The staff had been given the time off and even the king had left with Teddy to meet up with his wife, a badass politician who was also from royalty and attending the funeral of thousands for her mother. I wish I could have met her.
Besides making and hanging new program materials and managing communication that was increasing from headquarters, that few days was to be the closest thing I had to down time during the program. A good thing given the storm that was brewing.
It had all been so surreal that I felt like didn’t know my ass from my hat so had started documenting what went on as of a couple weeks before. That way, if I felt it got to the point of turning in those notes to headquarters, I could hopefully trust them as an outside(ish) source to see it clearly. Next post will be that document, BTW.

It was my first time to process. I thought about the things I wish I had done differently, what I could have done better and ways I behaved in difficult situations that I was proud of. For instance, trying to point out how we all had different strengths and weakness to the kids. For instance, Chris being better at keeping the kids together and therefore safe when we were out. Something I wasn’t so great at. Also when painfully humbling myself to tell Jessica that, regardless of what I thought of her letter, I was sorry for anything I had unintentionally done or said that had made her feel bad (she had deleted the convo on FB so no way to reflect), that my only intention was to make her laugh and feel supported and that maybe I was overcompensating to make myself look competent (after the way her and Chris had made me feel). Sadly, I wasn’t surprised when it fell on deaf ears as she focused on being livid at me for speaking up to the kids following her about gossip (about her) in a feeble attempt to try to show support. She took it instead as my undermining her authority. Regardless of my intent, maybe so maybe not, but either way it showed once again how I could never win.
On July first, eight days before the first group of kids left, Gustav (Country Field Manager for Asia and the Pacific – guy above Chris) had called me worked up about a lot of the same stuff that I was having issues with regarding Chris. He was also adamant that I needed to get my time off but didn’t help to figure out how to do that when up against Chris. A sign that he had no idea what was really going on. It was nice to finally see acknowledgment about the issues but also surreal and frustrating to have the negative energy of those things that I was the only one dealing with at ground-level.
Not getting help from Gustav (cool guy besides) about the letter from Jessica (which I felt fueled her confidence in continuing hostile treatment of me) along with having the time to sort through it while not under fire, I finally decided to turn the document in. At the same time, consequently and unbeknownst to me, I did it at the same time that the company was facing a sexual harassment lawsuit about Jessica as well as when the kid’s reviews were coming in with shockingly horrible feedback about Chris (running the program like the military) and Jessica (who was called a snake). They were the worst the company had ever seen. Mind you that the organization had felt pressure from the parents since the beginning of the program to get rid of Chris.
The sexual harassment lawsuit that had resulted from Jessica’s being inappropriately affectionate toward one of the boys (long hugs, holding his hand when watching a movie with her mentor group, etc.) after he had a mental break. Kid had lost his grandfather and then not too long after had found his dad dead (natural causes). Started shouting anti-Semitic remarks at another boy and threatening his life followed by sneaking into his (and the boy who told me) room that night to watch them sleep. He told them the next day.
Consequentially, when one of the boys brought this to me (and I had two other groups of kids coming to me with other things at the same time), Chris and Jessica were MIA. Chris apparently because he was headed back on Raja’s bike after one of their “meetings”.
So much shit was going down. Before they left I had warned Ahmad about the girls who had crushes on him causing issues amongst themselves and how it could cause trouble for him. Sadly, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference as he still got caught in the crossfire and was not allowed back with the second group. Instead he worked only with the UK group the local team was also running at the same time. What also happened to be the reason why the local guys who were more experienced and supposed to be running their side of our program were MIA. Regardless, Ahmad was coming to me still confused and heartbroken months later. Such a sweet guy. Maybe there’s more to it than I was aware of but as far as I know, he was little more than a casualty of war.
The calls and inquiries about everything I didn’t yet know was going on (and probably still don’t fully) didn’t take up too much of my time. I was mostly enjoying the swag I got from pricey stuff our well-off kids had left behind as trash (think pricey toiletries, good travel meds and one of the rainbow umbrellas that were so popular there) and time with Alexandra.
She read my cards (did you know my heart chakra is green?) we went out to eat, had drinks (of course) and went for walks with lots of shopping. Dodging and weaving around the cows (as always) I noticed how the Seek men who were often as attractive as their colorful turbans were beautiful so often made me uncomfortable with their intense staring. Something I didn’t notice so much when the kids were with me and was surprised by when Alexandra told me that even my white T-shirt with a V that ended at the base of the neck with a tank under as a second layer was still considered revealing.
She taught me that mala beads are similar to a rosary in that they are often used for different forms of meditation (think chanting the same thing in repetition) and that of the 108 beads, the one at the top is a Buddah Bead. Also that the bracelets (amongst other adornments) of a young couple we saw who were so obviously in love symbolized new marriage.
Excited to have finally got the green sari back my sister had sent me money to have made for her and bummed to have been moved back to an even more humid suite than the room I had been moved to a few weeks before (the word “moist” wasn’t so funny after staying for so long in a place that was always too much of it), my last few moments of part-time freedom were coming to a close. The new group of kids was coming, as was the grand finale of Chris and Jessica.


India – Going Septic

During the entire program it was ironic that Jessica, one of the (supposed) leaders was the one to get really sick. So sick, in fact, that she ended up in the hospital for three days after spending one of the only nights she actually stayed in our room shitting and puking her brains out. It happened at the beginning of the first program, too, which gave me a chance to bond with the kids by default. Something I later on had a sneaking suspicion to be a big part of what turned her into the devil. Still, I’ve always felt bad thinking about how traumatizing the experience in the hospital was for her. Being poked and prodded in so many ways while in intense pain, worried about unsanitary needles making her even more sick, being kept in for money against her wishes… Chris (as usual) took advantage of his position by making excuses as to why I couldn’t go check on her while he did time after with a level of concern noticeably above the norm; especially for him.
Cue my continuing to deny how obvious the favoritism and fact that they were hooking up was. Partly because I celebrated connection, which made me want it to be OK, and partly because I hadn’t figured out anything I could do about it. At least not yet.
In addition to the situation with Jessica, Chris continued to take advantage of his position in multiple ways. One of which was constantly making excuses to leave to meet with Raja for what I saw signs to be a boy’s club of sort that consisted of drinking beers and hatching some kind of competing program that I’m still not fully aware of but have a sneaking suspicion was a direct betrayal to EEK! Besides how he treated me, it was just so crazy how much he took advantage of the company’s trust and resources. I still get pissed on their behalf.

While the times the two of them were around was just about always some kind of horrible, I had plenty of time alone with the kids and my local guys to bond and run the show the way I wanted to. My way appeared to resonate, thank god, and they all seemed to enjoy it. I tried for way too long to find a way to work as a team with Chris and Jessica before finally raising the white flag when constantly trying to back them up, even against my best judgment, and still didn’t get anywhere. Eventually I got the message that I would never be able to do right in their eyes and learned to stay in the shadows as much as I could when they were around.
Back to the good. My favorite experience of the year was when we had a mentor group called Story of Self that Chris had suggested as a success from the year before. The focus was for every kid to tell the story of a challenge currently being faced and one that had been overcome. One of our amazing girls set the foundation by going in raw and exposing the vulnerabilities of her pain by talking about having to take care of her mom with MS. Opening that door for the rest, the room instantly filled with tears and continued on as the kids talked about being torn between cultures (Jewish in a Christian school, one parent French and the other American, etc.), diseases they’d survived, scars and some of the things in their lives that filled my heart with even more love for them as I fought like hell to keep my composure. They were so desperate to be heard and helped, each one looking directly into my eyes as they told their stories. Standing there, I thought about how much of a foundational age they were at and how moments such as those were so desperately need yet come so seldom. Scared of saying or doing the wrong thing, I was humbly grateful for being able to be a part of that for them. To see teenagers let their guards so far was one of the most meaningful moments I’d had in years. Maybe forever. There was just so much love and support in that room. It was one of those magically surreal moments where I knew I was doing something that really mattered.
While our mentor group was amazing, Jessica’s was the opposite. A couple of the girls came to me later upset about how she had made the stories about herself when telling her own relating tales after every kid’s turn and had gone so far as to shut down one of the girls who made a positive comment as an attempt to fix the damage one of the other girls unintentionally did by tuning her heart-breakingly horrific story into a situation that downplayed others as she had pointed out that they hadn’t been through anything compared to her.
Both of those situations looked to cause further damage during a time of emotional vulnerability when they had been reaching out. Though not OK with it, it was one of the times I tried (unsuccessfully) to make Jessica, Chris and I seem like a united team while also making the girls feel heard and validated. Unsurprisingly and despite my well-intentioned efforts, Chris was defensive and slightly hostile (as usual) later on when telling me that I should have brought it to both him and Jessica, not just him (I mentioned that I didn’t want to hurt her feelings unnecessarily) and that I should have shut them down from saying anything at all. It was around then that I reached my breaking point any told myself that I was going to do what I believed to be right by the kids regardless of what they (and what Chris represented EEK!) to instruct. If we were not on the same page, I was just going to have to live with getting fired or worse. What I was seeing was just too far off too often from what I believed to be the right thing for taking care of them and they were what mattered above all else. EEK! had dropped us there all but isolated with little to no check-ins, even when going to HR with a shockingly left-field letter of personal attack from Jessica that Chris and the regional director had blown off, so I was going to have to trust myself. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for that gem.
Feeling like I was the only one there for the kids and loving my time with them so much, I felt guilty when it finally came time for my one day off (as opposed to Jessica’s four) but it was essential as it gave me a little destimulation time. For the first time, I finally had a few hours to make it down to the local bizarre where I was able to have a chiffon Punjabi suit made and then make it to the McLeod Gang market for blissful pizza eating at a spot called Namgyal Cafe while writing away for my last few desperate moments as an outlet in the way I process. Finally a sweet, sweet reprieve from the chaos and the same stock food constantly provided at home. Among other things, it was during that time that I happily realized that I had made it halfway through my time in India on $300 without scrimping. Included in that was all the times of going out with Raja, Chris and Jessica before the kids got there, buying souvenirs, paying for taxis and taking our super homesick little lady out for our day on the town at the beginning of the program.
I wasn’t the only one who loved the McLeod Gang market. The kids did even more than I and we managed a small victory by getting there three times before they left. As their last couple days with me came to a close, I reflected on all the great pictures we had taken around that beautiful town (it was supposed to be a photojournalism program after all) along with the amazing workshop I had put on matching word to those photos (even if no one would see the final product thanks to Chris stealing the content) and fun down time when we were hanging at home. Something that often included the local guys and some of our kids playing chess. A game I used to love but didn’t get to participate in myself given how few moments I had where kids weren’t coming to me for different things.
Minus a lot of the kids being bummed that they hadn’t had traditional clothes made for the group picture at our end-of-program celebration, we had a blast. We watched a Bollywood movie, had henna art drawn on by local ladies and were given a great show with lessons of traditional dance that brought down the house. The dancing was especially highlighted by Ahmad’s amazing skills (check out the video in the previous post) and Ishan’s endearingly awkward moves. I had been surprised that none of us had broken our neck on that beautiful but constantly slippery marble floor of our humid home in the clouds and became even more so as it was absolutely soaked from the body heat of everyone getting down. It was my last night with them. The next morning they left for a whirlwind couple days of travel with a brief stop at the Taj Majal and Golden Temple with Jessica and Chris. I stayed left behind in tears of love and goodbye.
It’s been months and I still miss them. How I wish I could watch them grow and hear a hello with an update from time to time. I would never stop telling them how much they mean to me and what a difference they made in healing the scars of my battered heart.

Tibetian Parliment
Some of our teens telling one of the children’s caregivers that they had set up a fundraiser that would pay for the rest of her schooling. 🥰

India – Check out Ahmad dancing in the last video!

We were only together for three weeks but I loved that first group of 18 kids to the point of tearing up the last few nights before they left. I’d go so far as to say that they even made me start to question my preference about not having kids. It probably helped that I seemed to bond with those who would have been the troublemakers, the boys and those who had a more challenging time. Also, I’m sure, because they saw Chris and Jessica as such monsters which made it a lot easier to run to me.
The boy I bonded with the most was a jock who openly admitted to, and even bragged about, not being interested in most people unless he was manipulating them to get something he wanted. Finding it especially curious considering what a strong interest he seemed to have taken in hanging with and confiding in me about what was going on out of eyesight with the other kids, I asked him what he wanted from me. Puzzled for a minute his eventual response was “I don’t know…knowledge?”
Me. The wild and eccentric one who was used to the people in my life all to often telling me that who I was was wrong and that I needed to be different. He really did see me as a mentor. Those kids looked up to me. The adults (minus Chris and Jessica) even seemed to. I was used to living a type of life common to those with similar personalities where my free spirit and way of going about things was frowned upon as irresponsible, unrealistic and needing to change. Those things along with the way I loved were what made these kids and other adults think To them I, what I was doing and what I was all about was amazing. I had waited my entire life for a moment like that.
The young lady I was most proud of in the program was a 15 years old slightly awkward, shy, nervous and anti-social gal who had never been to a foreign country and yet had chosen to go to India for three weeks. Even though proud and impressed, I wasn’t at at all surprised when she started struggling with wanting to go home within the first day or two. During one of our first “working” days with the local kids the two of us stayed back when the rest of our group headed out to those placements and I took her to a place I liked called McLlo Restaurant for lunch. I was determined to remember, relate, look at it through her shoes and be as patient and compassionate as I could (“examples of basic psychological needs are: Belonging, Freedom, Respect and Fun”. As those efforts slowly seemed to make an impact, even if only giving a nudge toward her to find her own way, it felt amazing being able to get through to this smart young lady who so obviously didn’t let people in easily. It also came with an even bigger wow moment when I received a message from headquarters after they relayed a message from her parents that I had probably saved her from leaving. *tear*
There were so many kids I was in awe of. One of the young ladies, absolutely beautiful on the inside and out, hadn’t let her diabetes or having almost died from a mystery health scare within the previous year stop her. Another little lass came from a family of severe situations and mental health challenges that was shocking enough to cause me to struggle to hide a surprised and concerned expression when she confided about it to me and a few of the girls. One of our boys had Aspergers, which caused even more challenging situations for him as it wasn’t disclosed to the other kids. One of the other boys, a sweetheart of a young man, took him under his wing. I’ve never seen such a kind and strong care-giving personality in a fella so young.

All of those kids were so amazingly special and I love, love, loved them within days. Being able to see more of them, both through their records and what they confided in me, gave me a real-life example of how much we really aren’t alone in our struggles and pain. Also how much we really do need each other. One example being how many of the kids had recent suicide attempts. I don’t know if the program had somehow been marketed in a way that made parents think it could be utilized as a therapy program but I definitely found myself surrounded with kids who had much more immediate needs than I (or the company) had been made aware of.
The kids weren’t the only ones who filled my heart. Our local team (which included two twenty year old young men named Ahmad and Lalit) was amazing. Ahmad was an attractive Seek man with beautiful eyes and a shy disposition, though boy could he dance. Lalit was also attractive though had an opposite disposition in that he was outgoing, charismatic and funny. While young, he was already a natural leader and was sharp to pick up a bit on potential problems with the crushes the girls were developing. Ahmad had been more naive to it which sadly lead to his not working with the next group. A casualty of war, I suspect, because of all the hot water the company ended up in thanks to Chris and Jessica. Both boys, though especially Lit (his nickname), were all smiles and added to my own on the daily. Lit was also one hell of a support when the rest of the team came in short. I still smile when thinking of his calling me by the nickname he loved for me: Robbo Robbo.
Another fun aspect was the King of Kangra and his royal family who we were staying with at his home and property. Something I learned had become common was for royal families to use their properties as hotels. He was a jovial old man who loved drinks, women and socializing. Something proven by the servants that were sent on a constant basis to summon us for drinks, often causing me amused frustration as it was done around the kids when we were leading activities. So yeah, I was hangin for cocktail hour (after the kids went to bed) with a king on a normal normal basis. Oh yeah – and he loved my rhinestone cat ears as well as calling me kitty-cat since the first time we met when I had been wearing them.
His close friend Alexandra, a fiery expat from the Netherlands, was often there and we also developed a friendship. I think the strong smell of the Raat Ki Rani flowers that filled the air with the fireflies at night will always remind me of her. Also the impact of her knowing smile and comments about how I had the body of a mother along with comments of “yes you are, look at you!” when I claimed to not be a kid person. Those kind of constant remarks from her had an influence on my next step toward becoming an overseas ESL teacher. I can still hear the way she pronounced the name of those flowers.

India-ing

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…

Entering India

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…

Besides alcohol seeming to fuel Jessica’s tendency to lecture me, it turned out to be the least of my problems during that first week as they both (especially Chris) cut off and shut down just about everything I tried to contribute. Making it even more miserable, they would expect me to participate in random breaks for stupid shit like watching unrelated YouTube videos that I didn’t find funny, held all training in Jessica and my shared room (though she had taken to sleeping with Chris by the second night) while Jess chain-smoked (I admit to participating when boozing) and both had a tendency to peacock about how much they had done, seen and how great they were. In reaction, I tried to stay humble and supportive (in opposition to my occasionaly defensive posturing when being shut down), but they took it as agitating weakness and an insecurity (their favorite word to throw at me) of mine that triggered them to act even nastier to me.
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.
The first group of kids hadn’t even gotten there and I was already questioning if I had been all wrong about the company, my fit within and if I was failing before I began. Still, the enchantment of Darmasala, that small pradesh in the clouds that was literally built into the side of a mountain, and what I would be doing with our teens brought enough magic to keep my hope alive. Even though it’s hills and stairs were already kicking my bad knees and out-of-shape ass.
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. In contrast to dilapidation and financial poverty being the first details to make an impact (and remembering that not to be anywhere near all that makes the culture what it is), beauty in ways such as when we walked through the tea gardens is what stuck out and proved how resplendent the peace and grace of nature can be, even in the form of farming. Also the Norbulingka Institute, which gave us our first real touch into the magnificense of the Tibetan culture both literally and figuratively. Within its alluring buildings visitors can watch Tibetans hand-craft art pieces, paint and more. It was not only an experience that made me appreciate the handcrafting of art to a level I hadn’t in the past but also to form a deeper respect of the culture within. That particular institute was making a conscious effort to keep Tibetan tradition, cultures and family values alive while also supporting education and employment; something not particularly easy for refugees. Venturing on, we might not have known it then, but hitting McLeod Ganj market was to give us the grand finale of our scouting when presenting what was to be the kid’s favorite spot to hang as well as where I would find some reprieve from the mostly disgusting and repetitive food the program was to provide (thanks to be what is speculated to be some of the funds aloted for better quality being pocketed by the local lead mentioned below) when chowing down on pizza and enjoying time to write on my one (until dinner) day off.
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…