I Am Home

I am so thankful to be here in India right now. I have such an amazing YMAD expedition team and amazing village team. Megan, Angie, Mallory, and Jaden were all total rockstars when it came to teaching the kids and I have been so impressed with each of them. Saying goodbye to our Kullu kids at Chhurla school was difficult, but it was a happy time. We spent our entire last day basically just dancing and playing with the kids. We tried to teach as much as we could, but there was so much going on. The girls wore traditional Kullu suits and performed a dance for us, and the boys wore jeans and t-shirts instead of their uniforms to try to be more like our culture for a day. It was so cute. The teachers were beyond nice to us the entire time. They presented gifts to each of us - we all got an Indian hat and a shirt, and Jaden got a hat and a scarf. Our gifts to them were 10 new desks, soccer (football) balls, dolls, backpacks, hygiene kits, education kits, and first aid kits. They were all very grateful. As far as our portion of the cultural exchange... my team definitely did the line dance to "Cotten Eye Joe" hahah, that's definitely "American" right? We had the locals peaking out their windows and sitting on the road watching us and laughing. But we were all just excited to be together. We were all having so much fun that we didn't have time to get too emotional about leaving, and I am really grateful for that. But let's be honest... I'll probably cry about how much I miss them when I'm back in the U.S. 

The last little bit of our expedition we have spent at Jibhi camp, and it feels like a home away from home. I love it here. It is so quiet and secluded compared to Kullu. Most of my team has been to Jibhi on previous expeditions, and we wanted to go and visit our old schools for a little while. We brought them some art supplies and extra toothbrushes and toothpaste. It was so amazing to see our kids again after 3-4 years. I actually saw my girl, Godavari, walking home from Jibhi school. She's 11 now so she is done with primary school. She recognized me. It was unreal. She's grown up so much and she speaks such good English! But she's still her sweet, shy self. I definitely ugly cried for an hour or so because I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.

Today we went to all of the Jibhi schools. Jordie's school was first, and she was in tears the entire drive and hike up to her school, and all of the kids recognized her. Megan's was next, and she too lost it in the car ride and on the way down to her school. I was so happy she got to see her kids again! We then went to my school. Kandi school. The hike. The views. Completely unreal. Some of my kids from Kandi school now go to Mihar, but none of them were there today, and none of my kids were at my school either, they were all at the festival in Banjar. But I wasn't upset, this won't be my last time to India and it certainly won't be my last time to Jibhi. After that we had lunch and then walked up to Jibhi school right next to our camp, and we saw so many of our kids! Gite Ram and Suresh are 13 now, and Suresh straight up has a mustache. They've grown up so much! And of course, I saw my Godavari again and gave her photos of us and a friendship bracelet. I can't even put into words how amazing it was to see her and some of my other kids again. Now I have even more kids from both Jibhi and Kullu that I get to love and hope to see whenever I come to India! 

I walked around Kandi school today, reminiscing about it last time I was here. There were no bathrooms and no kitchen. The kids couldn't use the restroom or eat lunch during their school days. They had a furnace that was broken and would smoke up the room if they turned it on, so during the colder seasons the kids weren't warm at school either. Today, there is a kitchen, the furnace has been fixed, and there are bathrooms. I burst into tears when I actually got to see the good that our YMAD money does for these schools. My school. Not many people get to see that. They don't have to be hungry, cold, or uncomfortable at school anymore. I can't possibly ever thank everybody who has helped, supported, and donated to my YMAD expeditions enough. I promise, your money and support truly DOES make a world of a difference. Thank you. 

Being an expedition leader has been such a unique experience, and I have been so lucky to have such a great team. I love doing what I do. I love being in India. I am home. 

Atalee