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.


Living Like a Traveler at Home – Mucho Video & Picture Edition

Finally home and falling right back into the category of “no rest for the wicked” , I flew into San Francisco and went straight back to putting in a couple hours behind the wheel Lyfting on my way to the casa of Aaron and Brigit, my burner pals, (and a second home of sorts for me) in the Santa Cruz Mountains. San Diego would have to wait, though the excitment of finally being able to check out the idea I’d had for years of flying back and forth every week or two did help to fight off too much homesickness. A new goal achieved that almost instantly proved too exhausting and expensive to keep up with once at it.

Between driving for rideshare and studying for the work I was to do with teens in India over the summer, I didn’t have much free time. Even so, Brigit, Aaron and I managed to find some fun to get into during the small windows I managed to carve out while there. Pedicures, our coveted hottub coctail hour of skinny-dipping under the stars, St. Patty’s Day, a dinner party, my favorite Felton log cabbin bar and Pedelyte to help recover from it all.

Once back in San Diego, I was excited to move into the new place I had found for (what ended up only being) the next month at home in OB. A spot that would end up costing me $450 more than I had budgeted, half-week’s pay (ouch), but worth it in order to avoid the confusion of figuring out an unstable daily back and forth amount. The roomie was also super flexible and chill which was appreciated. Plus she had doggos for me to love on.

Still forever trying to catch up with my writing, I was back in full school mode while still studying for my new gig. Visiting my favorite cafes along with dog and housesitting helped to get some quiet time for those things but my social and family life, along with catching up with that beach town that I loved so much, still (poor me) consumed an ansorbinant amount of my time.
So did falling in love.
Stephane and I were magic. We both swept each other off our feet to a place that brought old black-and-white romance movies to colorful and vibrant life. Our kind of chemistry put those around us in a whimspical state of euphoria. Minus the subpar sex life (but at least he tried), it was as close to perfect as I’d ever had. He not only admired me, the lifestyle I was leading and my dreams/goals but also supported them. He was also just as busy with his multiple companies, tennis and properties as I was with my stuff, which meant that we didn’t have the constant issues I’d in the past of lovers suffocating me.
So yeah. I went from the person who never falls in love to a level teenage girls dream of.
As mentioned, I was exhausted from the commute back and forth between San Diego and San Francisco within a couple trips. I’d imagine that to be, in large part, because of lack of routine and needing to figure out last minute when it made sense to go. A detail that made travel expenses jump from an expected $200 to double that per tri0. Ouch x 2. To triple it, I found out that I needed $1,000 in vaccines that the company I was to be working for would not cover. At least if I wanted to follow the reccommendations of the main immunization and travel clinic of San Francisco. Something my new regional director, concentually, hinted at me to not get in order to avoid overhead. Direction that still bothers me two months later. I’m 40 years old and don’t know my tits from my ass in regard to diseases in India and which vaccines to get in order to protect myself. Sorry dude but I’m trusting the professionals. Extra cash to buy another sari or two ain’t worth risking my health. And I know you mean well but I resent defending high overhead by reccommending otherwise.

Flying back to the old SDizzle again, I headed directly to my homie Bradley’s boat to hang with him and his girlfriend (who so happens to be one of my favorite gals) Juliette. It was fun watching the rideshare driver be surprised at how close it was (the airport is along the water downtown) and that there was a large sailboat pulling up to get me. Score for putting a smile on a random person’s face. Daily goal met.
Back to the Bay once again (head spinning yet?) where I managed to catch a comedy show by one of my favorite comedians (Kathleen Madigan) in Napa and then SD again, Big Red took me out for a Brothel & Bar history crawl in the Gaslamp quarter. I also got the chance to hang for one of Nikki & Brent’s son’s birthday parties and cheer Nik on for a thriathalon she rocked. Something she was to do a repeat performance of a couple weeks later. Kick-ass crazy woman.

Somewhere in there it was May. The month of my parent’s and sister’s birthdays as well as the anniversary of when I had lost my fur-baby in 2015 and four people the year before. Relieved that the losses (that will probably forever haunt me) didn’t take over the celebration, we had a great time at the pool at Harrah’s Resort & Cassino, starting with just Wendy and I so we could get our grown-up time in (AKA: coctails) and then were joined by our parents and my niece’s a few hours later.
One of my weeks in So Cal was consumed completely by an intensive WAFA (Wilderness and First Aid) certification course. It was the first time I met the man who was to become my local director and he instaintly rubbed me wrong. My instincts had me on alert but I told myself that it may just be because I had an aversion to Marines (he was a vet). Reasoning that, based on past experience, I would be able to be tolerant, compassionate and professional regardless of what was to come, I also tried to tell myself that polar-opposites have different strengths to offer which can create a kick-ass team as a whole.
Another flag was how obvious it was when he talked about the other mentor that he, at the very least, had a big crush from when they had crossed paths the summer before. I wouldn’t have been all that surprised to even find out they had even already danced the horizontal hokie pokie, minus the details that he was physically unattractive and socially awkward by traditional standards.
I hoped for the best and even reached out to give him rides along with going out to an awkward dinner with him and one more colleague for the sake of team building. What could I do? I tried and I tried and I tried but holy shit did it turn out to be worse than I ever expected. Just wait until that blog post of horror comes out…
Things with Stephane and I were ramping up. He and two of his closest friends headed down from Orange County (where they lived) to go with me to Brent’s birthday a week or two before leaving for India. A ton of my closest friends from our twenties and also my family (as far as he knew) were going to be there.Thank God they (my family) pulled out thanks to my mother being uptight about his being separated as opposed to divorced and sister not wanting to go after I got upset about her bringing Sean into my safety circle.
Drinking champagne before heading over, one of Stephane’s friends raved about how good we were together and what a good guy he was. A good time and good vibes that were to continue until a couple hours into the party. Drinks kept flowing, friends were made and the laughter amped up. Somewhere soon after, my world crumbled. As the minds of most women work, at least in my experience, I don’t just shrug and let it go if something seems to have even a little stink of fishiness. Instead, walls stay at least a little up while I bide my time, keeping myself in a “we’ll see” mode.
I had been in that “we’ll see” mode about the details of his separation since first finding out about it. His daughter, being an Olympic-hopeful for volleyball (according to him) and the kind of man he was, I could see how he could still be supporting his supposedly-separated-wife as she played manager to their daughter, but also knew that I was giving significant trust and was taking a big risk.
Stephane, once drunk at the party, said something that put me on alert at a time when I saw the door open to get a more honest answer. So I asked straight out in that moment of seeing an opportunity to finally get the whole story. And he responded.
Yes, he was still married.
Instaintly breaking down in alcohol-fueled tears, I refused to let him say anything more as I demanded he gather his friends and leave. Juliette showed up soon after, unknowing to what had happened, but was the one to sweep me off the floor, even without the details. Most of those people who used to be my closest friends didn’t even check on me as it happened to see if I was OK, let alone send me a text the day after. Another harsh reminder about what happens when not around to nurture relationships. C’est la vie.
Wendy had been through a lot with the type of guys she had dated and surrounded herself with. It had hardened her to men and made her defensive toward any sign of risk. Sister-syndrome likely making it worse, she had been against Stephane and my putting myself out on such a long limb since the beginning. With a question the day after the big reveal that was so obviously leading toward the opposite answer, she asked me if I regretted it. No. I did not. I would risk myself over and over again for something so wonderful. Even if only for a moment and even if not totally real. Sometimes, in a world that can be so cruel, it can be easy to forget that the best and most beautiful things are just as big abd worth it all. The look on her face made me think that maybe I had reminded her of that. And that started the strings of my heart to already start pulling back together again.

My mind has always shut out the most traumatic experiences for a few months before having enough distance to process. It gave me those last couple weeks to hang in OB with loved ones (including the mermaid who was up for a few sweet weeks), hiking in La Jolla, cheering Wendy on with billboards I had made of her face while she ran the Rock and Roll Marathon, dinner at Cafe Sevilla with Big Red that was followed by salsa lessons (in which Mom and Kate joined us later), wine tasting and a very satisfying afternoon of organizing my storage unit. The closest thing I had to a stable and constant space of my own, it gave me a great sense of peace and getting my affairs sorted right before leaving again. Even more, when my heart needed sorting as well.
That was it. Once again, it was time for this free Robin to fly.