Lost Luggage and a Bribe -or- India Series I

First, there was Rajan.

After a 14 hour flight and the airline having lost my luggage, I was walking out of the New Delhi airport empty handed and having no clue where to meet with my yoga teacher training group. As I shuffled nervously toward the exiting doors, that’s where I first saw Rajan, leaning casually on the railing, holding a light smile and a sign that only read one word.  “Y O G A.”

I slowly made my way over to him, unsure if he was who I should be speaking with, his smile grew a mile wide as he saw me and exclaimed “yoga! ….Vishva-ji?” 

“Yes!”  I sighed, relieved by recognizable name of Vishva-jiketu, owner and teacher of the Anand Prakash Ashram, where I had enrolled in a month long 200 hour yoga teacher training course in Rishikesh, India.

My yoga instructor from my hometown had been in the past a teacher of the program, and close to Vishja-vi. I believed in her the way you would believe your favorite teacher in highschool’s opinion of which college to attend. I had no question this program was the right choice me. My sister having met Vishva-ji on her own yoga retreat years earlier. I was heading in never meeting the man, but knowing I would adore him and his teachings. I was right, by the way.


Rajan was immediately the nicest person I had ever just met. During my time at the ashram, I saw Rajan do just about every job known to man. From front desk reception, food preparation, ashram maintenance, even the IT guy on occasion, he was, to me, always the friendly face that could and would answer any question. You would never feel led astray by Rajan, his care was genuine and was always there to guide you with a smile that never wavered. A few moments later, there were three of us from the program, in small gaggle behind Rajan, as we scurried out of the airport together. He guided us to a van and with another big smile and wave goodbye, he stayed behind to wait for others, as the three of us drove off with the cab driver to our hotel for the night in New Delhi.

In the van, there were Sophie and Melissa.

Sophie was a woman from Quebec, a slight french accent on her lips and a soft melodic voice. She was on the plane with me and had suffered through the same fate of her luggage. We had both jumped, light without our bags, into the taxi slightly joking about wearing the same outfit for weeks on end.

Hopping in beside her, was Melissa. Melissa had long wavy brown hair and smiled with her eyes. She carried a hiker’s Backpack almost the size of herself as her only piece of luggage and it was clear she was a traveler. The kind that you’d like to hear stories from while sipping big mugs of tea.

Blue lights pierced the night behind us as we felt our van gradually stop on the side of the road. All of us were quiet. 

“Nothing to worry..just bribe.” the van driver said casually as he absentmindedly waved his hand in the air. 

Welcome, to India I thought, mildly entertained now that we were driving safely the rest of the way toward to our beds for only the night, tomorrow- Rishikesh.

Krishna and Flowers -or- On the people of India

I had given a flower to a little girl with no shoes. She’d had been dancing all evening near me, staring up at me like I was magic. My group from yoga teacher training had been invited to join in on the celebration at a Krishna Temple. Nestled near the Himalayan Mountains in India, we were all staying at the Anand Prakash Ashram up the road, living and breathing yoga and it’s philosophy for 5 weeks straight. I think we all welcomed the opportunity to leave the space, just for a little, eager to get a little more than just a taste of the country where we were living. We had all walked delicately into the Temple that evening, memorized by the red, purple and green lights spreading over the white walls of the building, piercing the darkness of the usually softly lit Rishikesh. As we entered, color came into my sight from every angle. Massive paintings of Krishna hung on the walls near ornate chandeliers dangling from high ceilings. A gated off altar was set up at the front of the room depicting colorful versions of Krishna with light blue and hot pink backgrounds, flowers and golden framed photos.

I don’t remember where I had gotten the small white flower, honestly. Someone had passed one to me so I could pin it in my hair for the event, I think. I do remember being led out into the crowded dancing by an elderly Indian woman with a gentle face. The kind that smiles with her eyes, crows feet feathering outward in all directions. I remember the little girls that ran to join in, giggling as they danced, staring at all of our western faces with expressions of curiosity and excitement. So with men on one side, women on the other, we had danced, chanted, smiled and celebrated with the local families for what seemed like hours. Laughing and jumping until the tempo gradually eased and many of the locals began to take seats on the floor, still chanting and smiling as they lazily swayed to the beat.

I was sitting near one of the giggling girls who had been staring up at me as we danced. I knew my group and myself had probably been some, if not all, of the western people she had ever seen in her life in the Himalayas. I had never been somewhere where I couldn’t blend in, and sticking out like a sore thumb had made me extremely aware of the eyes that were locked on me at all times. She was staring at me as I sat, spying at me from the corner of her eye, pretending to play with the hem of her dress. I took the flower out from behind my ear and placed it in her view, smiling and gently waving her on to take it.

She was surprised by the small gift. But, after a few moments, a wide smile began to spread slowly on her face as she delicately pinched the flower between her fingertips. She inched closer to me and we sat there together chanting the next few rounds of Hare Krishna, she, lightly spinning her flower in between her fingertips, that smile still captured on her face.

Sarah, an Australian friend of mine I’d met in the program, came dancing over to us.

“I like your flower.” she had whispered over to the little girl as she sat down beside us, momentarily tired from the dancing.

The little girl peeked over at Sarah, her eyes lingering over her face and long blonde hair. Reaching for a small, sparkling pink clip that lay collecting her bangs, a soft smile grew on her face. Hair spilled out over her eyes as she removed the pink clip and placed the flower’s stem in between it’s clasps. I watched as she stood up and looked Sarah directly in the eyes as she clipped the flower into her light hair. She pulled her hands away slowly, admiring her work and flashed the same toothy wide smile she had when I had given the flower to her.

We heard a voice calling something in Hindi from across the room and the little girls ears perked at the sound. She took one last look at us, grinning from ear to ear, and the little girl who had danced all evening by my side, skipped out of the building toward her family.

An act no more than ten seconds made me fall in love with that night, that temple, that country. We all went back to the ashram later that evening, not wanting the celebration to end. Sarah, still wearing the pink clip in her hair, promising to keep it and the memory of the night with her.

I think we all knew that night would stay with us for a long time, reminding us of the kind faces and smiles of people, who didn’t need wine or liquor to dance and laugh with each other. To the men and women of Rishikesh who welcomed strange foreigners into their Temple and led us out on to the dance floor, sharing their space and Friday night. And to that little girl with no shoes, that reminded me to stop clinging on to what we are given, and share the beauty.

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Tantrums and Curls -or- On not being a kid person

It had taken me almost exactly 2 years, but that’s when it happened.  20 months, one week, and 2 days, to be exact. I only know this because somehow, as I stood there shaking in anger yet crying in my defeat, the left side of my brain suddenly clicked on for the first time since grade school. In that eternal 35 second flash of mental collapse, I effortlessly and involuntarily calculated, to the tee, my precise breaking point.

Almost 2 years of awkward Dad conversations, critical Mothers, countless nods of fake comprehension with pretending smiles and language barriers, yet it was a little French girl with saucer brown eyes and delicate curls that threw a tantrum so high and lasting, with screaming cries and kicking legs, that it was on that sunny Wednesday morning in Paris… I reached my breaking point.

 I exploded with a voice so deep and raging, it was as if the boiling blood of all past nannies who had ever had to deal with a demanding tantrum of a spoiled child was stabbing through my voice like an enraged demon set free.

The 7-year-old girl stood frozen, staring up at me in her Louis Vuitton shoes, with her mouth open in shock, left over tears staining her doll-like cheeks.

15 minutes later, she was giggling in the garden asking me to do cartwheels with her.
I was an Au Pair in Paris.

 ____________

I’m not very maternal. I’ve never awed at little girls giggling or had my ovaries skip a beat when I see a baby. The first time I even held a baby was when I was 21 years old, and it was only because a friend of mine had to pee during a wedding reception and shoved him in to my hands before I could gather an excuse or my wine glass. I have, in fact, been in a room multiple times where one friend held a newborn, the other her toddler, and myself, holding a heaping golden glass of Chardonnay.

I was not jealous.

For the past two years, however, my entire financial stability revolved around children. I was an Au Pair, in Paris and before I moved people I knew were amusingly confused when I told them this would be how I was going to make my living there.

But you’re so not a ‘kid person’, Kendall
would be a general response from many of my friends and family members.

They meant it well and I knew that. I think maybe even a lot of them just thought I was somehow not aware of that already. But I was. The complete truth being the only reason I took these child care positions was straight up visa and travel wants. I wanted to move to Europe and Au Pairing was and is the fastest, simplest route to getting a visa for France.

The grey zone of the job is vast, having to remind myself, weekly, that I was a 25-year-old ‘adult’ instead of a 15-year-old lady-child idiot the French mothers would like you to believe you are. Unlike an office job where it’s about your actual work or a restaurant job where it’s about the service or food, being an Au Pair is sometimes just plain ol’ being judged on how you would raise a child, and how most of the time that is entirely and completely…Wrong.

I didn’t hate my entire time as an Au Pair, I really didn’t. I had moments where the kids and I got along and the parents were friendly enough. Where I felt I made a difference in a child’s life in some small way even if they won’t remember or maybe I just learned a new French slang word from eavesdropping on afterschool conversations. If nothing else, I never had to pay rent and made just enough to buy a bottle of wine and sit with other expats that have since become some my best friends.

Overall, I’m actually glad I was an Au Pair.

Because, even with the spoiled children or the demanding parents, those two years gave me more insight into my deeply hidden maternal instincts than I ever even knew existed.
Without meaning to, I actually developed an affection for all the little boogers.
Subconsciously noting, that at the end of the day, all kids are sticky little piles of screams sometimes.
While other times, they can actually be pretty cool to be around. For all the dramatic and spoiled there’s a knowledge thirsty and little love seeker in there. And, most importantly, the type of parent they have makes the biggest impact, not the yearly Au Pair who makes them dinner…which they never want to eat anyway.

By no means am I saying I am magically Mary friggin Poppins of child care love. I’m not. I still enjoy my Chardonnay and am in no rush to be a part of any birthing situation. Plus, if your kid’s a shithead…I still don’t want to hang out with them, pay or no pay. But I don’t actually cringe in fear, or annoyance, at the sight of my friends’ kids anymore. Instead I pop a squat and am more than willing, sometimes even happy, to sit with them while they show me their 27 different kinds of dinosaur figurines, none of which of course they want you to touch.

Hell, I might never have children of my own at all or maybe I’ll shoot out more babies than the Duggar family. At this point, I have no clue. But either way, I’m grateful that I’ve had that experience of stepping out of my comfort zone, of having a job that wasn’t always easy and I didn’t instantly, if ever, excel at.

Because maybe you don’t need to be a ‘kid person’ to become an Au Pair. Because working as an Au Pair is what led me to finally realize I might just be a ‘kid person’ after all.

 

 

Oh, London… Part 1

The first time I went to Europe I was 15.

My Aunt and Uncle had invited me to go along to see my cousin, who was at the time living in Spain.

“Shes only 15,” my mother had continuously warned my Aunt, “She might act older. but she’s a kid…Watch out for her.’

I thought of this, almost a decade later, not as a kid but an adult to all regular standards, yet I had forgotten my keys, and more importantly my phone… in another country.

The problem being annoyingly amusing until I realized that the passport I was about to hand over to border control, at this 3am, seemingly straight from a Horror Flick location, also contained my 3 month old expired visa.

 

Well, shit.

 

The bus had come to a harsh halt moments before, I taken a ragged breath and inwardly cursed myself for being so naive that there wouldn’t be another passport check. I peered out the my window as my hand unsuccessfully searched through my cluttered purse, yet again, for the iphone I already knew wasn’t there.

 

I needed a cigarette.

 

but, sadly, there was no time for that. My clouded lungs could wait.

Ushered off the bus, I was hit by the sudden shock of wet cold. The 3 am night air cemented my lungs as I nervously brushed through my hair with my fingertips, trying desperately to think clearly.

 

How could I have been so stupid to not know any of my numbers by heart?

I begrudgingly drifted toward the only lit building in site…border control.

Not even the drunken French kids who had boarded the bus with me, only hours before, made a sound. Everyone, except me,  was in a sleepwalking daze, drifting toward the border officials desperate to climb onto the bus again to doze uncomfortably until the arrival into Paris.

All I could think was that I was going to go jail.

…without being able to contact anyone.

 

My mother would have been so pissed at me.

 

I am honest at least…It was entirely my fault.
I took another shaky breath as I inched forward in the line, the florescent lights beating down on me. After 6 hours sleeping on a bus and staying up for three days straight, I was not at my best.
London had been a risk and I had, stupidly, known that.

My visa renewal had been rejected due to a technicality the week prior and it would have taken weeks to get the simple document needed even to make the new appointment at the bureau. I already had a non-refundable ticket, a three day weekend, and a best friend I hadn’t seen in months just a hop, skip and 1 hour plane ride over a tiny little body of water.

I’m not proud.

But I couldn’t resist.

I needed to get out of the city of lights and into London, if only for a weekend. I loved Paris and all, but space is needed for any couple.

 

not one of my best choices, I assure you.

But I have no regrets.

It was one of the most memorable weekends of my life, that visit.

 

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…Yet as the guard looked up at me from his podium, while keeping a firm hand on my expired passport, I entirely regretted such a ‘meaningful’ weekend.

 

But then I noticed his glance.

 

He glanced to the clock hung crookedly to my left, as he let out a long, annoyed sigh.

It was a quarter to 4 am.

I could only guess his shift was nearly over because he looked down one more time at my visa, glanced over his shoulders and then back at me, who was smiling all too fakely.

Slowly and hesitantly he returned my passport and visa.

 

“Bonsoirée” he whispered tiredly. Flashing me an aggravated, warning glance while gesturing toward the Exit sign with my passport slung in his hand.

 

“Too much paperwork” is what he really meant to say.

 

But I didn’t say a word.

I snatched my passport out of his hand and didn’t exhale until I was seated back on the bus with the doors closed tightly.

 

 

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my last event to deal with…

as I pulled in to Paris bus station, I realized the I had a whole other set of problems to deal with…