Leaving home is difficult. Entering the unknown and being surrounded by the unfamiliar can be overwhelming. But I planned everything. I was in regular contact with all of my volunteer projects and everything was confirmed. There was nothing to be worried about. There was no room for uncertainty.
Before you read this, please do not let my story deter or discourage you from visiting India. This was my 6th visit. The first five were INCREDIBLE and I had such inspiring experiences and met wonderful people. This trip was an anomaly and I’m sure you’ll be fine. It was not my last trip to India.
As many of you know, the plan was that I would volunteer for a month each in many different states of India. There was an orphanage, animal shelter, literacy program, farming, reforestation, a hotel, a school, and a lot of others that I was looking forward to. Starting in the south, I’d break it in easy with helping out a BNB in Kerala before hopping over to an animal shelter in Tamil Nadu then up to some farming in Karnataka and reforestation in Andhra Pradesh. I was also looking forward to the aforementioned projects in UP, Delhi, Rajasthan, Mumbai, and Goa. My whole year was pretty much planned out and I had saved enough money to live for 2 years (contingent on the projects following the guidelines of the volunteer website that states any work is in exchange for free food and accommodation).
That was the plan. But despite my confirmations and regular communication, it did not work out that way. Below is the complete series of events that led me home, in chronological order.
It all started with the flight path from hell. Remember my blog post about the 30 hour trip that ended up taking three days? It was apparently just cruel foreshadowing of what was to come.
After landing in Trivandrum, I went to Thekkady which is just a few hours north in the same state. I had previously arranged with the owner that I would be joining the project that weekend, but I needed to relax a bit after my stressful journey so I called to ask if I could postpone it to Monday. There was no answer. I sent an email and a text, since voicemail isn’t a thing in India, and 24 hours passed with no reply. I called again the following day. Then I called the second number. And the third. All of them went unanswered. I called the fourth and was told that they were no longer in business despite having spoken two weeks prior. Ok.
I called the next project which I had confirmed for the month of February. Their January volunteers decided to stay throughout February so my space was filled. I called the March project and they were full, but March was still on. I called the April project and they said that they were not yet in their busy season so I had to wait at least a month. Finally, after frantically scrolling through the website for a backup plan, one new project said that I could come immediately.
So on I went to Tamil Nadu. Remember the video I made about being kidnapped in India? That’s where it happened. The project ended up not being what was advertised. Long story short, because this is going to be insanely long and I don’t want to bore you to death, it was super remote with absolutely no signal and my accommodation didn’t have a lock and there was only one other female and everyone was drunk and they wouldn’t allow me to leave. Maybe it’s not actual kidnapping? But I didn’t feel safe and I couldn’t secretly call or go online to get help. I was terrified though and with some quick thinking I convinced them that my parents would call the police if they couldn’t get ahold of me. So they drove me back to the nearest village and I left the state immediately the next morning.
After arriving back in Kerala, I contacted every possible organization that I could find. I posted in my facebook groups dedicated to travel and volunteering in India and abroad. No luck. I did get an offer to act in a Kannada movie but ended up turning it down because I’d never even heard the language spoken and didn’t want to ruin their production.
Faced with having no work to do, I rented a house near Thekkady in Kumily, Kerala. It was amazing, especially for only $4 per day, and the owner was a policeman that lived downstairs. Everything was looking up until a day or two later when
I fell and broke my hand and my wrist in one go. I had never broken a bone before this. And since I was staying in a village, I had to go an hour to reach the nearest decent hospital. Unable to take the bus in my condition, I had to hire a private car each time. It wasn’t expensive by American standards, but it did eat up my budget. I had a splint for a couple of weeks but
just a day or two after being able to remove it, I had the worst pain of my life that I thought was the after-effects of being bitten by something poisonous. Luckily it was only kidney stones. lol only. And I had to hire another private car to go to the hospital and get a CT scan. I’m in the process of filing all of this with my travel insurance so hopefully it gets sorted, but we’ll see. It lasted about a week and then I hoped I was in the clear. Then I got the flu.
When I initially purchased my ticket, I bought it round trip because sometimes you face problems with the immigration desk if you only have a one way ticket. I didn’t plan to use it, so I just picked the cheapest date. That date was March 15.
By now with my series of worst-case-scenario events, we’re approaching the end of February. My budget was already severely drained, and I didn’t feel optimistic about things. I literally didn’t go more than three days without another event striking and I didn’t want to keep waiting for whatever was next. My March volunteer project was still on in Tamil Nadu, but honestly I was afraid to go back after what had happened last time I had gone. And as one of my friends from school mentioned on facebook, volunteering can be done anywhere. Especially animal shelters.
So I went to Bangalore. I have friends there who I’ve known for years so nothing could go wrong. I went out with them to their favorite places and learned about the city. I saw beautiful gardens, went to movies almost every day, and had a week of uninterrupted fun. I thought about postponing my ticket because the curse had passed. A week without issue, everything is fine now. Right?
The house I rented in Bangalore had a bit of a cockroach problem. I woke up one morning to SIXTEEN giant dead ones writhing on the floor. Like two or three inches long and terrifying. I complained to the owner of the house that I was renting and he said that he would take care of it.
The next night I got home and my door was locked because he said it was being fumigated. Ok. So I asked him for a blanket to sleep on the recliner in the living room and he said there was no need. I was a paying guest so I could use his room and he would go to his friend’s house. I was astounded by how kind he was and agreed. I went to sleep then woke up with him above me in a kind of exchange that I had definitely not consented to. I won’t go into huge detail, but he did back off after I made it extremely known that I was not interested. And he is married with a two month old baby. Like, really?
Then this happened. Guess who?
So I decided that I’d just get a traditional hotel room for my final week. Complimentary breakfast and super kind staff for only like $20 a day. I rode out my final week in peace and gladly came home. The flights were uneventful and on time. Let’s hope my life continues on this new path for at least a couple of months.
This may have been, quite literally, a trip from hell, but it won’t be my last. Don’t let this discourage you from visiting India. These are all completely unrelated events that somehow aligned especially for me and I’m sure you’ll be fine. It was my sixth trip and, like I said earlier, the other five were completely perfect. See all the fun.
Bad things can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Don’t let them stop you from living your life, but maintain caution and don’t be afraid to step away if you need to.