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.