I had three very intuitive people contact me around the end of December and all tell me that for my own safety, it was time to quit the project and remove myself from the situation. I STILL didn’t want to give up, I believed in the girls and what I was doing so strongly.
I was advised to find a place to stay for my last month in India, then to separate my tools and supplies from the NGO’s tools, and pack up my personal belongings, without letting the sisters know what I was doing. I was told that if they knew I was leaving, that my belongings would be stolen or the tools damaged, out of revenge.
I was told to not let the sisters know what I was doing until the last minute. If they got wind of what I was doing, they would find a way to block me, so very quietly and secretly, I started packing. This is not an easy task when you live in a home for street girls with 10 girls, a house girl and two nuns and you have no privacy.
I made arrangements to stay with my friends Shoko and Ryosuke. Anant volunteered to move my personal belongings in his car. Since I would be sleeping on the floor in the office room of Shoko’s flat, he lent me a mattress, sheet/cover, pillow, blanket. Remember that I was volunteering with the project. At this point, I haven’t had an income for 5 months. The NGO cut off funding for the project, and now I was leaving. I had no money, and I was in a jam. My friends stepped up and helped me. They are simply the greatest.
I was in the process of packing up when a more dire and urgent warning came. A friend contacted me. She had 3 dreams about me and told me I was in danger. The nuns were still plotting to discredit me. According to my friend’s dream, this time I would be accused of inappropriate behavior with the girls, and incarcerated in India.
This warning scared the CRAP out of me, and it was the one that woke me up and made me work harder and faster to make my escape from the sisters and the project.
Many of you have contacted me in the days since my return to the west to ask if there was any truth to my friend’s intuition, or was it only a warning? I’ll present the facts, and let you decide for yourself.
Intuition and seeing the future is not an exact science. Sometimes it is a theme, or a metaphor for what will happen. Sometimes by knowing what might happen, one can avoid a disaster and change the course of future events. I’d like to think that is what happened in my case.
Armed with this warning, I went into a defensive mode to protect myself from any future accusations. I KNEW that I would be accused of something, I didn’t know what, but I knew I’d be accused.
First, I separated all the tools and supplies. Anything that was given to me through a donation from my personal contacts, any supply that was bought by me, any tools or supplies donated to me from my friends, my personal tools and supplies, the huge enameling kiln that I shipped by freight to India. ALL of that went in one pile and Every. Single. Thing. was inventoried on a spreadsheet. I was very thorough in this. I listed every tool, who donated it, the value of that tool or supply and where it would be stored safely in India. I separated out the tools that the NGO bought with their money and did the same thing, on a separate spreadsheet. This was FOUR suitcases of jewelry tools, several huge boxes and an enameling kiln. It took the better part of a week and a half to do this.
Then, I had to find a place to store the tools safely where the sisters wouldn’t find it and sell it off for scrap, where it wouldn’t get stolen or damaged, where I could access it again. I had to make some decisions pretty quickly. All the intuitive folks told me that I would be coming back to India to continue my work, but I wouldn’t be working with my girls again, or with the NGO. For a long time I fought this knowledge, but once the final warning came, I knew I had to cut all ties and never contact my girls again. This broke my heart. One day I hope they’ll understand.
I made a decision about which NGO I wanted to work with next, I found a safe place to store the tools, and then I had to figure out how to move all of this stuff to 3 separate locations across Bangalore, without a car, without being fleeced by someone with a truck, and without alerting the sisters what I was doing. Moving is bad enough in any country. Moving in India, by stealth, by rickshaw, with almost no money was, well…challenging to say the least. I was pretty proud of figuring out how to do it by myself when I was done.
I informed the NGO that since I would be leaving India soon, I would be moving equipment and supplies from the project that I wasn’t currently using back to the Provincial House. Since the sisters were so busy (at this point, I was completely ignored, other than having someone keeping tabs on my daily activities and reporting back the sisters in charge, and making up things that I was doing wrong daily and reporting it back to the NGO), I told him I would move it myself and figure out how to get it there.
One of the foreign ladies offered me the use of her mini van and driver, so I made plans to drop off tools at the Provincial House and then take the balance of tools that would be stored in a safe location in the same load. Getting from one place to another in Bangalore is no small feat. It takes hours in traffic. She wasn’t doing me a small favor, this was a HUGE favor. I also needed a witness when I went to the Provincial House. I was so glad I had the foresight to do this.
I told the head sister where I was staying that I would be moving some of the equipment back to the Provincial House and that someone was coming to help me move it. I told her this last minute, so there was no time to object, or block me. I called the head sister at the Provincial House as I was on my way over to inform her I was coming. My friend witnessed the whole phone conversation, and was absolutely incredulous at the conversation. It made me feel better to finally have someone witness the blocks and double speak that I had been dealing with for months.
First I was told no, they would move it, don’t come, they would send a vehicle to get it after I had left India. Can you imagine leaving several thousands of dollars of equipment and trusting the sisters to take care of it? No way was I doing that after all I had been through. I KNEW if I simply left it, that it would be sold off for scrap and I would be blamed. I had to follow it through and make sure that the NGO’s tools were put in the sisters hands there were witnesses, and it was inventoried. If something happened to it after it was delivered, it was not my responsibility.
Next the sister told me they didn’t have room to store it. I pulled rank and told her that the NGO had instructed me to take it there and that I was already on my way because a vehicle had been arranged. We went back and forth and up and down and all around, but I nicely but firmly informed her I was coming.
When we arrived at the Provincial House, she changed tactics. When she saw that I was with a foreign lady she was all smiles and became nice. She told me, “I didn’t realize that it was only 2 suitcases, of course we have room! There’s a locked closet it can go in.”
She also started making conversation with me, chit chatting—“had I been in touch with my girls, what news?” In the beginning I would have been naive and thought this was only a conversation. After the warning, I KNEW she was gathering information. I told her no, I hadn’t been in touch with my girls. I asked her how they were and what they were up to. In this moment, I confirmed that I wouldn’t be able to be in touch with them. Every piece of mail that I send to them will be read, every phone conversation I have with them will be overheard, anything I say to them, the sisters will ask the girls what I said. The girls are powerless to refuse to give the information. They are raised to obey their superiors and respect their elders.
I stood outside myself and witnessed the conversation, through my new-found wise eyes. It made me sad to see this woman that I had trusted, that I had considered to be a friend, turn on me. I was mad at myself for being so naive, for being so trusting and open with the sisters. Just because someone speaks English and is friendly doesn’t mean that they understand you, your culture, or your intentions. She had made up her mind that I was dangerous and I had to go. The whole thing just broke my heart.
Coming back inside myself, some men were called, and some equipment got moved to storage. I watched it be carried away, I didn’t witness it being locked away. I looked the sister dead in the eye and informed her that all of the tools had been inventoried and that I had emailed the list off to the NGO and informed him I dropped off the equipment for safekeeping with the sisters because I knew it was the safest place. (I’m sure you all see the irony in that?!)
We were invited for tea, the foreign lady was wined and dined. She was white, she was foreign, she lived in Whitefield, she had a driver. Yes, it was the Indian hospitality, but also, through my new jaded eyes, I saw her as the sisters saw her—rich and a potential sponsor. My friend was wise to what was going on. I sat back and watched it all unfold through my new jaded eyes.
The sister walked us out to the vehicle and saw that there was still equipment in the vehicle. NOW, she tried to get these tools in her hands. Suddenly there was room to store the tools! Where was I taking them? The foreign lady informed here nicely that she had lots of room and had offered to store them at her house. The sister attempted 3 times for me to leave the tools with her. Where was I taking the big machine? How would I manage to carry it? On and on, up and down and all around she went, trying to get the tools from me.
I finally looked her in the eye and spoke firmly. I told the sister that actually the big MA-cheene (the enameling kiln) was actually owned by ME, not the NGO. I had donated it to the project (actually it had been donated to me by a great friend, and NO WAY was I leaving it with the sisters after I had put in on a ship and gotten it to India!), along with the rest of the tools and equipment in the remaining suitcases and boxes. They were coming with me, and they would be stored at my friend’s house. End of story. The foreign lady smiled told her nicely that it was no trouble for her to keep them, but we needed to go because it was getting late and we would be caught in traffic.
I said my goodbyes and we got in the car and drove away. The Catholic driver was stunned into silence. I have no idea what he was thinking after what he witnessed. My friend was incredulous, and I was sad, but also relieved that I had just safely removed my tools and those donated to me for the project out of the sisters hands and into safety.
Stay turned for Part 3 of this story.
So many of you have been following the trials and challenges of dealing with the sisters and the NGO. I’m back safely in the US, and I just had a phone conversation and ended things amicably with the NGO.
I owe them 1500.00 for my kidney stone operation in India. I’m not real happy about this, but I just want the ability to pay them off without generating any bad karma and be done with them. They will return any supplies that were donated to the project through my contacts that are still in the US and were never carried over to me in India. We’ll wrap those two things up and be done.
Now, I am free to post Part 2 of The Nun-ja Assassins, and tell you the full story of what happened, how the project was intentionally sabotaged by the sisters, why it happened, why for my own safety (and stubbornly resisting the entire time) I had to shut things down and walk away, and what will happen next.
My intention is to be totally transparent in what happened, to take responsibility and own whatever my part was in the mistakes that were made, and to show culturally from everyone’s perspective why these things happen in India.
This is also a story of my own personal transformation, many of you have asked interesting and hard questions about how I got to India in 60 days, why I would quit my jobs and life, give up my home and studio, and go and work with poor and orphan girls for no pay.
It’s not always a pretty story, in fact the time right before I left for India was mass chaos, and I owe some apologies to some really great people that helped me during that time. I wasn’t always graceful, some of you had to deal with a Total Meltdown. I am very sorry to you all, and I am eternally grateful.
Some of this story is deeply personal, and where I can I will protect the privacy of those involved, and give them the opportunity to tell things from their perspective. Parts of this story may be offensive to some. If it is offensive, please respectfully, hit unfollow, and walk away. You won’t hurt my feelings.
This is my story, it is true, it is honest, it is raw. It is also a story of laughter, joy, love, transformation, and redemption. It is a story of my love affair with India, of the amazing girls and women I work with, and it is the story of an amazing friendship that was the true gift and gem that I brought back from India. It is incredibly funny, and it happened to me. I hope you will continue reading.
With love to you all,
While making cards for my girls, I starting having an interesting discussion on Valentine’s Day, and on the nature of love, on the differences between love in India and the US, with my friend, Sathish. He’s one of the smartest and fascinating men I know, and I had endless interesting discussions with him in India, over cups of tea, riding in Anant’s car, riding in rickshaws, walking through the market, hiking along the river. I adore him and I miss him so much. Now we continue our discussions via Facebook, but I look forward to the day we can talk again in person.
During our conversation, I discover that Sathish has never received a Valentine’s card, so I immediately started making cards for my dear Indian boys. I remember being in grade school, when Valentine cards were exchanged. I recall that feeling of hope that I would get an extra special Valentine from that boy in my class that I had a crush on. I can’t re-create that feeling for my boys, but I can make sure they get their first Valentine.
I’m really excited to provide this first for my boys. These men made me feel welcome, loved, protected and safe in their country. They showed me many firsts, like celebrating my first Divali in India. I’m making cards for them because I adore them all and I want them to know that I’m thinking about them.
Sathish tells me that in India love is celebrated always, in every corner of the country. He tells me about Kalidasa’s Meghadutha or shakuthala, about how in Sagama literature there is a rite to celebrate welcoming the spring called Vasatha ustavam, where one selects their lover.
Sathish teaches me many things I don’t know, things in literature that I would never discover on my own, things about Indian history that aren’t written in the history books, he teaches me about art, ancient religions, temples. He is my own personal Indian Wikipedia. I would choose him over a Lonely Planet guidebook any day.
I agree with Sathish. India is all about love. It is in the people, it is in India itself. I was shown love and kindness every day when I was there, and I miss it so.
I sum up our discussion about Valentine’s Day by telling Sathish this:
I personally choose to view Valentines Day as a celebration of love, in all forms, not just romantic love, not just heterosexual love, but ALL love. I am a hopeless romantic, I believe in love, I operate from my heart always.
My heart was blown wide open by India. In every heartbreaking hard and beautiful moment, India grabbed a hold of my heart, and it never let go. As a result, I left a piece of my heart in India, so dearest India, the India that is all about love, please take special care of my heart until I return.
And to my dear friends, Anant, Sathish, Tara, Ajay and Pavan, on this Valentine’s Day, I’m sending you a Valentine’s card, from one country to another, to celebrate love.
Sending love to India, today and always.
On this Valentines Day, I’m making home made Valentines cards for my girls. I don’t have any money. I just spent 6 months in India volunteering and not working, so I’m not going to buy useless “things” for my girls. I know what their needs are, and they are great. I’ll save my money up and get them something they really need, for their education, or to feed or clothe them when I can afford it.
I’ve become Indian. I don’t believe in wasting resources if I can help it. I just spent 6 months living in a convent, I know how to take things that others throw out and make them into something useful. I’m an artist. I know how to make something beautiful, from my heart, with my hands.
I know that a simple handmade card, that’s really girly and full of sparkles with a personal handwritten note from Gretchen Aunty will be treasured, kept in a special box, and taken out to be re-read over and over again. Knowing that I can do this small thing to let the girls know that I am thinking about them makes me really happy.
On this day, I send all my love to India. Happy Valentine’s Day, girls! With love, Gretchen Aunty
Words cannot express how deeply touched I am by your outpouring of support and donations of supplies and tools. A huge, huge, huge shout out to Mark Criswell, and his students, Jim Adams, Julia Burger Newton, Jaclyn Anthony, Staci Sawyer, David L Feldman and Metaliferous, Kim Kirchstein, Mickie Digan, Belen Perez-Rivera, Robin Andrews, Beth Clough Bock, Mike Lyons, all those of you that contributed to the indie gogo campaign, and the rest of you that wish to remain anonymous. Thank you and so much love from India from the girls and from me.
Many of you have asked if you can donate supplies directly to the project, the answer is YES, I’d LOVE this. Perhaps you have something in your studio you’d like to clean out, perhaps you have some of these items lying around your house. I’ll take all donations for the studio, the girls and the school. If you wish to donate, please email me directly at email@example.com and I’ll give you the info for getting supplies to the person who is carrying them over. He lands in India October 14, so please mail to him soon, and thank you for all the support. Please feel free to forward this post on to someone you think could help out. Here’s the second of an extremely long list:
Studio Supplies-things marked with an asterisk are desperately needed right away. I’d love to have 6 of everything, but I’ll settle for one and make do. You many find these things at a hobby supply store like Michael’s, an office supply store, hardware store, or I may have a source if you can’t find it.
The last item for the previous list:
*larger welding torch for melting metal
Many of you have asked if you can donate tools or supplies directly to the project, the answer is YES, I’d LOVE this. Perhaps you have something in your studio you’d like to clean out, perhaps if you’re a jeweler or blacksmith, you have an extra tool or two. I’ll take all donations for the studio, the girls and the school. If you wish to donate, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll give you the info for getting supplies to the person who is carrying them over. He lands in India October 14, so please mail to him soon, and thank you for all the support. Please feel free to forward this post on to someone you think could help out. Here’s the first of an extremely long list:
Jewelry Supplies-things marked with an asterisk are desperately needed right away. I’d love to have 6 of everything, but I’ll settle for one. If you want to buy one of these tools, please let me know and I’ll give you info on how to order directly to ship to the man carrying over for me.*1roll 20 gauge round copper wire*Batterns flux and bottle dispenser