Once upon today in a land far, far from there but close to here, where the mornings sound like spring and smell of summer – there lives a little girl named Olivia.
Olivia is sweet, except when she isn’t. ISN’T is in the mornings when she yells at her brothers because… well, that’s what nearly 12-year-old girls have the right to do, apparently.
But IS is the rest of the day – through which she sings and sings and sings. She makes everyone smile.
Olivia enters the gates of Paradise when she goes to school. Inside, the campus rises like Never-Never Land and stretches as far as her little girl eyes care to see. It blooms with flowers and cheerful faces. Statues by India’s famous mosaic artist Nek Chand blend into the landscape, peaking from behind bushes, calling from corners. Rumor has it that they dance and feast at night…
Outside the gates is a kaleidoscope of Chaos: pilots with fake licenses fly airplanes, poor children poop on sidewalks because there isn’t any where else to squat. Monkeys attack pedestrians and turbaned workers barrel-down the highway in the open air on top of trucks, scarves and kurtas blowing in the wind. Malls teem with families at 10:30 at night.
Olivia knows the privileges of Paradise and the indiscriminate realities of Chaos. Let it be said that it takes an extraordinary child to navigate the two.
Armed with courage that she doesn’t know she has, Olivia will travel this week without her family, something she has never done. She is going with her school for a “week without walls” to Corbett National Park in the foothills of the Himalayas. Tread lightly… whisper… for Corbett is the protected home of the Bengal Tiger.
And Olivia is really, REALLY scared.
Yes, a few imaginative things could go wrong on this trip. Security is always a concern when one hundred citizens of Paradise travel far from home in a place where everything and nothing can go wrong. The roads in Chaos sometimes look like the highway to hell – they’re pitted and narrow and dangerous and they wash-out in the rain. Protesters from a lower caste are blockading popular travel routes in northern India until they get job quotas in the government. These are her mama’s worries, though. Olivia knows nothing of them.
Instead, she worries about the darkest dark, about Sher Khan creeping around her camp terrorizing mere mortals, about mischievous monkeys crawling into her tent and catty pre-teens who might laugh at her lovey, “kitty”.
Olivia won’t return the same little girl who reluctantly left her mama standing outside the gates of Paradise at 4:15 this morning.
She may have a tear and fear or two along the way, but when she alights from the bus on Friday she will know that Once Upon a Time ends in Happily Ever After.
Lala won’t get to sleep in her bed when she returns friday – she will have just enough time to take a proper shower before I drag her to the airport. We leave that night for Beijing and Hong Kong.
Yesterday, Eddie and his best friend, Markus were playing soccer in 94-degree temps barefoot on concrete – this is how much they are addicted. Look at this photo, (2004?) – little did we know it was a foreshadow. That’s Ed in green and Markus in Orange… barefoot and ready to play ball. Two little chunky monkeys well-fed on mama-milk!
Gitanjali – director of our sponsored child’s school:
Lala with Ritika. Ritika is a year older, yet look how much smaller she is compared to Lala:
Ritika’s classmates. They have just finished their exams and will graduate to 7th grade in April. Lala was shocked to hear that they don’t have summers off. I explained that school is the safest and happiest and most interesting place for Ritika to spend her summer:
George insisted on selling old toys Saturday. He set-up at the end of our driveway at 2 pm. Our nanny, Bina, warned him that everyone was sleeping then. “Why is everyone sleeping in the middle of the day?” He asked.
And sure enough – two hours later, come four o’clock, he had buyers!
That’s 160-pounds of love on me!