Burning Man 2018 – How I “Recovered” from India

While usually being someone who lives in the moment, immediacy is at the same time the hardest of the ten principles for me. Specifically in regard to taking pictures and notes for memories. Besides the odd way my brain processes those things (hence this blog), it’s such a big experience for most of us that the first day or two can feel like a different lifetime just a few days later, just like travel.
Monday was the first official full day of the burn and I was excited albeit already run down. Once again, just like the norm of the rest of my travel. Venessa, my awesome pal from the previous burn who had also met up with me in Costa Rica for their “burn” found me later in the day, first hanging at Spanky’s and then ditching her man to wander and adventure all night. Staying out until just before dawn with her rallying my tired-ass so we could get our quality time together (yay!), Jewels found me in the hot and dry early afternoon the next day, unzipping my little ill-equipped but colorful tent to say hello. Still half-drunk, the effort made me feel bad about being so frustrated with her on the ride in. I wanted to be better than that.
With a quick and hazy hello and goodbye, I ascended into what was to be my crash day of the week after one or two hair-of-the-dog PBRs. My body was to break down four times over the burn, actually, as I was also getting a cold that must have come with me given that there’s hardly any germs out there.
In a hazy daze, I barbacked a lot for a few days, often with Crash bartending, and hung around camp. Sitting under the large circus-like tent structure during the intro speech of Admiral Painjoy when the time came, the owner and faithful lead of our amazing camp, I struggled to hold onto what he was saying. Especially over the dazed and grateful emotions of being there as a part of Spanky’s, one of the first camps I had so loved on my first burn back in 2015. I also failed to notice (more like be conscious for) the morning ritual of the blasting song, Sheena Easton’s Morning Train (English followed by French editions) and the accompanying dance party to tribute the morning before heading back to bed. Or for some, to head to bed for the first time.
It was something that had been adopted from another camp, which made me love it even more as that was the way the burn was built. It was one of those great things that I didn’t notice at first but creeped in a little more every day until the light bulb clicked and it became a celebration of starting the day that will forever be important to me both as a wakeup and a song. Kind of like howling at the sunset. Just one of those epic playa traditions.
Planning on, well, anything at the burn is almost a joke. So much unexpected amazingness happens at just about every turn that it tends to be more realistic to set a destination just to have a general direction while knowing full well that there’s a very good chance of ending up in something else even more epic along the way. My only exception for previous years had been bartending during the Irish music session at my first camp, Twisted Swan. Ironically, one I was to miss for 2018 as lower-key energy handicapped me from making any direct commitments. I did still manage to actually visit twice along with making it for visits to my two previous camps. One of the three times doing that at Leopard Martini Lounge being when I made it out on Edge’s art car to see a parody of Daft Punk at the trash fence, the second to be when Vanessa was bartending for their big party of the week and the third being to just sit around on fold out chairs for a low-key hang. I had even managed to find my old friend, Brandi, four times. She blew me off most of the time, which of course upset me, but did provide a good reminder (after taking a minute to pout) that the burn is not a place for expectations. Bla, bla, bla Buddhist bullshit.
With playa boogers that tended to turn it into the biggest nose-picking week of the year and a lot of sweaty under-boob thanks to being slouched and at least half-naked over a bike on those hot desert days, I was elated when finding a huge and quite awesome camp adorned with turquoise and grey draped overhangs along a framework of misters just down the street from Spanky’s. Gifting alcohol slushies and live classical music that I hoped in vain would one day include a lovely little lady from my camp who had been playing around the playa with a full orchestra, I was in heaven. Grateful for relief from the heat and also scolding myself for not having found it earlier, I made note to self (I’m sure not for the first time) to scout the neighborhood early on in future burns to see which camps were around for close access to relief, fun and debauchery.

While not a fan of the burn’s EDM music, by far the strongest influence of those offered, many other types that I did like could be found in the nooks and crannies. Case in point, the aforementioned classical and unexpected moments such as riding up upon a man adorned in a pegasus hat and yogi pants while singing opera at a skill level that made me think he must be professional. One of those surprise sidetracked moments on my way to get glow-in-the-dark henna Wednesday afternoon. An outing that also included a sunset wedding on top of a motorhome and new friends who came back to Spanky’s a few hours later.

Thursday was usually my crash day but I had already got that out of the way so my day was opened up to doing something on my burner bucket list a bit to the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of staying up all night to see the mythical sunrise, I woke up an hour before in order to have the experience sober and with (still a very small amount of) sleep. Biking out to the dimly-lit temple in the dark chill of that desert night, I walked around looking at the hand-written letters and other tributes hung in the structure that were often made out to recently deceased loved ones (the doggo ones got me the most), observed the people in there and checked in with what was happening to me at that moment in the most spiritual place of my universe. Outside was more musicians playing impromptu, this time in the style of soft singer-songwriter, and watched someone dressed as a Chinese Death Warrior walking around while stopping to stare at the rising sun.
Biking farther into deep playa in a semi-agro-semi-curious search of the sound camp that had been shaking the entire city during all hours, I stopped first when stumbling upon a sunrise wedding and then continued on, finding it with what looked like spaceships outside and a kind of meditative chanting session beginning inside. From there I headed back to camp for the attempt of a nap, stopping along the way to check out the man and other art.
Later was the Swan’s music session where I experienced one of the most impactful moments for the year when watching a woman who appeared to be from Ireland or Scotland and was emotionally being reminded of some kind of big memory. It was fun to be able to be in the middle of the music instead of staring at the backs of others while bartending but it wasn’t so fun to bust out about half way through with an allergic reaction to all the dust that was being kicked up directly into my face thanks to the rugs of previous years being MIA during the obligatory jig-dancing and stomping with the music. Que a Benadryl daze and the third of the four times my body went down.

On what I’m not sure was that night or one of the two surrounding, I grouchily hoofed it to Go the Fuck to Sleep, Aaron and Brigit’s camp, after letting someone talk me into a different camp visit that made me miss an art-car ride that I had tried to chase down five minutes too late. Thanks to a flat tire on my bike, personal transportation had been grounded for the evening, leaving me on foot. Once making it and after hanging for a bit, our old pal Moose joined us in the special state we had opted to participate in for a designated night of playa wander. What itty-bitty-teenie-weenie little bit of it we could cover before our feet and backs started to hurt at least. We even managed to find some square dancing that Moose and I participated in (while Aaron grumbled) and live Bluegrass. Hurray for some of my kind of music/NOT EDM!
A couple nights later was the grand finale. Hopping on an art car that was a magic carpet to make our way out for the burning of the man, that huge and epic celebration full of lights and fire, it for some reason took on my spiritual highlight for the week. Even above the temple burn. When that happened the next night, after being pleasantly surprised by running into a woman also camping with us whom I had had a special relationship with years before when meeting at the event in 2013 that had first introduced me to the burn, I managed to hop onto a different art car that was a bar. As I still wasn’t fully recovered from heat exhaustion I got earlier in the day, not being fully there in head or spirit could explain why the man burning had more of an emotional impact for the year.
As was customary, I had made it to the Orgy Dome (don’t be a prude) after the man burned the night before with a great fella from my camp and a lovely couple from the UK who I had met at glow-in-the-dark body painting and hung with a couple times since. The problem was that we hadn’t made it there until the wee hours and had stayed until almost dawn before starting to break down camp just a couple hours after finally making it to bed. So yeah. Cue heat exhaustion. The grand finale of my body rebelling against such harsh conditions right after India.
Raking the dust to check for moop out there in the blazing sun where our large camp had been set up, I had eventually gotten dizzy and out of it enough to find a camp that was offering different flavor teas and set up to chill, as the one with misters I loved so much had already been broken down. Not feeling much recovery until the sun went down and even after the temple burn, I was still at half-mast for the last night’s epic party at what was left of Spanky’s. A great time complete with jump ropes of fire, I did manage to stay out long enough to want to be there as an end to my annual time on the playa for years to come.

With the odd feeling of a bubble of magic that had burst as our utopian city said goodbye the next day, for once I wasn’t bummed when reuniting with Mia and the crew to take off. I hadn’t known it would make such a difference when she had set it up before leaving San Diego but we were headed to one last burner escapade and it was already making all the difference. The adventure wasn’t over. We were off to Reno…
Brigit’s Cougar Camp where young fellas (though everyone tends to jump in) shake it for a cookie. 🍪

Burning Man 2018 – Back on the Playa Again

Waking up and driving the last five or so hours (which included a few stops for eating, gas, water and groceries) on that day, Friday August 24, 2018, we finally made it to the outskirts of Black Rock City. Pulling up to a line of loaded up often decorative vehicles full of burners on a two-lane road that lead to a dried up riverbed that, beyond our temporary city, had nothing except a tan-colored alkaline dust that was known for getting so far into every crevace that it reached our dusty souls. It only took maybe three hours to get into city limits from there, which was the main reason I was happy to be there a day before the main entry. When coming normal entry my first year on the Burner Bus, it had taken over ten hours to get in and it had taken about twelve hours to get out the year before thanks to an Amber Alert. It was always a gamble and I had learned to change my mentality to embrace it as part of the experience (might as well get out and hang with traffic neighbors) but was happy when able to avoid it.
Knowing that we had two Burning Man virgins with us, my exhaustion was momentarily lost as I became majorly pumped as we pulled up to the greeters. Between not knowing what the deal of who these people were, the traditions they carried out and complications of being on the Burner Bus my first year, I hadn’t got my chance for the initiation our two gals were about to go through. Every year since then, I had lived vicariously as the initiation speech was given, virgins were rolled around in the dust and they were given a hammer to hit the gong. It certainly rang my bell in all the right ways. Most of ours, actually. To see people first experience the level of magic I had only ever found there was the kind of wonder that could bring us to our knees.

With the miserable experience of getting there and having to set up at night more than once in the past, my lowest of lows for those years, it was a happy relief that we had gotten there midday. It gave us time to build our individual homes for the week, mine being the second dropoff after Elena (aka: Glenda the Good as she was deemed for a burner name at warp-speed) at her Russian camp, You are Healer , and to either reunite or get introed to new campmates while helping to build our theme camps. A couple of the new guys I met, by the way, that I used the last of my favorite hot pink lipstick on.
After two more of my first new pals in camp helped me set up, a couple of Indian fellas from LA who were super excited to be there for their first time, Mia had found her way back over after getting set up at her own camp, Cheesy Porn. It hadn’t been far from my own, Spanky’s Wine Bar, but was still above and beyond to bring the things I had forgotten in the RV. As was all to common at the burn in regard to expecting the unexpected and it being so easy to bond, that quickly lead to hanging. Something that included a ride on one of my most-visited camp spots for the week, a Sybian. A fascinating (an expensive) machine in that all it looked like was a simple horse saddle with a lump (attachments are an option) that can be ridden fully clothed (if chosen) while giving women an intense orgasm. An experience for Mia that entertainingly puzzled the two of us in that semi-private trailer turned sacred safe space as it made her laugh uncontrollably. Spanky’s is obviously known for wine but also for PBR (playa beer) and for being playfully sex-positive. Beyond the Sybian was erotic massage with multiple sensory stimulations, especially an experience named by the campmates gifting it as Eros Tangere, naughty games at the bar and a stripper pole in the middle of the circus-like tent space that the camp was centered around.

Adding to the gang of new burner buds was a couple who had almost immediately offered me the shower in their RV along with napping any time I needed. Crash and Rex were super awesome and, among the many I bonded with, the closer of my new amigos. In no small part, I’d imagine, due to the time Crash and I got to spend together with her bartending while I barbacked. We both took on those rolls a lot during the first few days. It was by far the largest camp I had been with and the burn brought out such an amazingly loving connectedness that it was hard to not want to give back and participate.
The next day was the official first day of the burn. After grumbling to myself about adorning my body with the weekly atire of a Camelback, a scarf to breathe through in dust storms, goggles and a whole bunch more necessities one never wants to be caught without (including a more heavy-duty mask in my bike basket and mist bottles to gift), Mia and I took advantage of the morning hours to bike around the playa. Myself, beyond the things previously mentioned, in nothing more than a fanny pack, unicorn horn and hot pants. As we peddled around checking out camps on the Esplanade (the main street all the way on the inside of the u-shape of the “suburbs” that included the biggest, oldest, arguably most fabulous and eco-friendly camps), we managed to find Hardley Saloon. A camp that had always been one of my favorites with it’s theme being an all-night whiskey bar and old-West style saloon. Svetlana even went on a date with one of their main campers when we met him at the SF Decompression event a month or two later.
Once the temp started getting too hot to wander comfortably, I headed to Brigit & Aaron’s camp, Go the Fuck to Sleep. They were part of a neighborhood full of Rangers where I would, of course, be visiting a few times throughout the burn. Something I was particularly happy about that day as the worst dust storm I experienced for the year (along with a tiny bit of rain) meant that cars would be stopped at the gate due to visibility. Also holding them up was that more people than Nevada would allow were trying to get in. More and more examples of the ways the line could take so long. A big “whoopsie” on behalf of the org and why I was so thankfully relieved to come early entry.
In addition to finding shelter with Brigit and Aaron from the dust storm, it also provided one of my most entertaining moments for the year when Aaron came looking for after he got the feeling that I’d get lost on my way back from the blue rooms. Which I did. Opting to stay and hang back at camp later on with an “early” bedtime around midnight, the official day one was complete.

Back to the Burn 2018

It was time once again to head out to my favorite place in the whole world (and by far the most transformative), Burning Man.
After my aging parents had accidentally donated important belongings I had boxed up in their garage, I had secured a semi-seedy storage unit the size of a closet but for only $40 a month. Thanks to having a place for it, I was able to save supplies, I was able to cut down in my quest for what I still needed to two or three trips to pick up items found on Craigslist (like a bike), Dixieline (swamp cooler) and four or five orders off Amazon (costumes, heating packs, etc.). Maybe a little silly, I was excited and proud of myself for being ahead of the curve compared to my previous three years.
All set with my own personal checklist, or at least as much as I was going to be for the year, I had been up until 11:30 PM the night before hanging and handling last minute prep with the help of Fuckin Jewels and then unintentionally woke up at 4 AM before exhaustedly heading out during 7 AM rush hour to meet up with my carpool in the nicer pocket of a questionable area of San Diego known as City Heights. The lead of my ride, Mia, lived there and was the only woman of the four I had previously met. I liked her instantly.
Radiating kindness, playfulness and a caregiving spirit even online, the vibes I had been getting had only been solidified once meeting her in person when I had stopped in on her enjoying champagne brunch in Old Town after a run for a fun “drinking group with a running problem” she would later introduce me to called the Hash House Harriers. Being around the same age (which, as usual, would take a few reminders for her to remember), being a nurse (my people) and constantly flashing a big and playful jokeresque smile which was endearingly accentuated by being a petite Asian-American, I was already casually hoping we would develop a friendship beyond rideshare companions.
Starting what I had come to find as an experience within itself, the journey to the burn had begun with my already being worn out and hazy from not yet having time to recover from India. Thoughts about the irony of decompressing from that trip by going to my own intense journey of pilgrimage kept me amused albeit a wee bit nervous while unloading my car and packing the RV. Mia along with Rebecca, an aging (and proving we can still live fab over 30) ex porn star with the style of a cheerleader barbie doll were the women I had originally met on the local Facebook burner page who were going to be staying in the RV and were leading the rideshare. Well, Mia was really the one holding the reigns with a pop-in from Rebecca on rare of occasion.
Heading out a couple days earlier than originally intended, the three of us who had joined in for rides only, myself and two younger women, had been caught offguard when being told about extra expenses too late to figure something else out without excessive stress and effort. Specifically, we would be staying at hotels in Lake Tahoe for two nights on the way there and two in Reno on the way back. Not only was the cost of the rooms added to our budget but also the extra days we would have to take off work. Ballin’ on a budget meant that the start of the trip was a little more stressful (in line with expecting the unexpected when it came to the burn) but was also exciting once given the OK to pay later. Specifically for the ideas not only of comfort on the way there and back but also getting to spend time in our beloved Tahoe and a huge pool party on the way back. For all the things the burn was, comfort was NOT one of them. I didn’t fully know it then but those two adjustments were about to provide experiences that I was to want to become a normal part of my annual routine from then on.
I was not a patient woman and it was only getting worse the older I got and the more I got used to being alone. In was also ten-fold at the burn thanks to sleep-deprivation and to being at my limit of stimulation. In ironic contrast, that left me with so much love to give but also very little tolerance. Something I tried to reign in as Rebecca was on nonstop mode with whippets and complaing which both tested my limits by grating on my nerves and worrying me. I was able to find some compassion for it, though, as I got the impression it was related to anxiety and, while it seemed likely that she used to be a sparkle pony, she had learned to chip in. Maybe not as much as Mia (little Mizz kick ass doing everything) and on a lesser note myself (who was feebly trying to support Mia) but still tried. By the end of the burn, I had mixed feelings about her. Something that meant I’d probably like her in a less stressful environment where we weren’t required to be up in each other’s personal space while also relying on each other so much.
Elena, a cutie-pie joining our crew who also followed in line with myself and Mia in regard to looking younger than our actual ages, something accentuated by her being tall and thin with a blond bob, was a chatty 29 year old woman with a strong Russian accent who still had an innocence to her despite how scrappy she had provento be by all she had gone through coming to America. A sign that she was going to do great on the playa.
Having issues with the air-conditioner not working in the huge RV as we all took turns driving from SD to Tahoe, the two of us woke up alone in the hotel our first morning in that enchanted lake town full of pine trees as Mia and Rebecca had left to get the RV looked at. The scent and sunshine refreshing us as soon as we stepped out in our sundress-covered bikinis to walk down to the lake, myself also being filled with memories of childhood family trips, I was happy. I was also instantly overwhelmed by nonstop chatting being directed at me as it was just the two of us (the fifth and youngest of us five, Jewels, had taken off with a local friend the night before) as we walked up to a local gal miserably trying to smile through a cold while doing her job of granting access to the lake’s beach. Talking to her for a few minutes, the attention went back to being all on me as we laid there sunbathing while I wished for quiet meditative time while at the same time not wanting to cast her spirits down by asking for it. Trying not to be distracted, it bummed me put that I wasn’t in a better headspace to meet her on that plane as she was such a sweetheart, low-maintenance and had been doing her part to chip in. Dropping her off the next day with her Russian camp, I look back and wish I would have made more of an effort to roam the playa with her. Even if she WAS on the other side of the playa. 😜
Jewels (not FJ/Fuckin Jewels), a woman in her earlier twenties, was the youngest and the one who, while I could see the sweet side of a girl who wanted to do the right thing somewhere in there, more so both infuriated and insulted me with a constant ignorance and self-importance that I could only hope was an immaturity that would be outgrown. Also because, once again, I was extra situationally sensitive.
She and Rebecca were both always running late but she was by far the worst and seemed to have a self-entitlement of expecting us to do things for her. Never having been, she loved to tell us vet burners what Burning Man was all about, talked about drugs the whole way up as if it was nothing but some kind of rave (NOT my thing) and was the first to scratch the gigantic RV after acting like she knew what she was doing before driving it. She was a festie and seemed convinced that was what Burning Man was, which was a great big no no in the community. By the time we got back, I actively avoided the brewery she worked at, though I doubted she’d be there long given the team-player work ethic she’d proven not to have. At least not yet.
Rebecca and Mia returned in the afternoon to meet up with Elena and I and were sweet to cover the majority of an expensive dinner at a restaurant overlooking the lake so we could all enjoy it together. An extra super cool gesture since the rest of us were already way over our budgets. Something that’s hard not to do at the burn and they would also be experiencing by the end. Later that night, Elena and I walked into the hotel room after a spa session that loud splashing kids had chased us out of to a cloud of bacon smoke that started as soon as the elevator doors opened and trailed all the way to our room as Mia had been prep-cooking for her camp.
Bacon and PBR. Two things that can be found in abundance on the playa. Giggling at the tasty cloud, enjoying celebratory drinks and joining in the dance party after Mia had also take off her skirt after exclaiming that she was too hot, it was time to crash out for our last few hours before hitting the playa. Well, time for them to crash out. Once again, I couldn’t sleep. Shocker.

The thing is, when we go through such a big and transitional life experience with others, regardless of how we react at the time, we are forever connected to them and that plants a seed in our hearts. In this case, those seeds have grown into love for all of them. Yes, even for Jewels. 🦄💙🦄

Back home – Two Weeks between India and Burning Man

Getting back home in San Diego after India at 11 PM, I went right back to house and dogsitting in North San Diego County for a cute little long-haired white terrier. A gig my friend Jessica had set me up with as she did from time to time. That wasn’t the only work I went right back to. Picking up my parent’s extra car, a light green Prius that I would soon add a ding to when back in San Francisco, I started back driving for Lyft. With the little amount I had been paid from EEK! that I didn’t spend in Deli, I used for half of my expenses for Burning Man but had to come up with the other half with only two weeks to go.
Struggling to fit in catching up with all that work among a humid as hell heatwave that made me feel like I was still in India, I did manage to get a couple beach days in and family time starting with lunch with the folks and my niece, Sienna. Writing at a couple of my favorite coffee shops, Eve in Encinitas with its trendy So Cal high-class hippie vibe and Te Mana in Ocean Beach was important to me for processing my latest venture abroad. Also important to me was making it to Wednesday’s OB farmer’s market for grounding at home.

Finding time to catch up with friends, I did fun things such as going out on a buddy’s boat downtown and a beach day complete with a cute little tiki bar in Mission Beach called Miss B’s Coconut club with Wendy, Kate & Nik. Big Red (Wendy) even let me drag her to The Beach Comber; a bar that had been the local haunt I ended up at at least three nights a week for “one drink” when I lived there in Mission Beach back in my twenties.
Wendy making it a point for us to go out at least once a week, I took the opportunity to wear my red sari the time we went to Coyote Ugly followed by Trailer Park After Dark. Still tired from India, I had mixed feelings about so much attention from people commenting so much on it but was also happy to put a smile on their faces. Later after Wendy had gone home and I had shown a visiting couple we had met to an underground tiki bar (yes I love them) called False Idol, the couple and I went to one of the oldest bars in San Diego, Waterfront, to finish off the night. Something that did indeed end up as one hell of a grand finale due to a a group’s friend being the bartender which meant that they were “buying drinks”. One of the crew, a big gay guy, entertained us when he took it upon himself to be fabulous and extra by wearing my sari. Finally saying goodnight to those pals of the night I took off with an Indian guy I had also made friends with for a nice piece of irony. Go figure.
One last heart-breaking item to mark off my checklist, I made it a point to visit Jewels to say hi but, more importantly, to snuggle her fur-baby Annie with the knowledge that it would probably be the last time. Sweet girl may have had cancer and was in a lot of pain but was still one of the most loving doggos out there. Saying goodbye and shedding a couple tears on my way out, I only had a day or two left to try to grasp the fast forward of being home before the adventure of the burn started the next day. Those couple of weeks had flown by and it was already, once again, time to go.

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.

A travel & lifestyle blog about the messy pilgrimage of adventure, body-positivity and personal growth. Real and authentic. All the way.