Wow these days being at KISS have been completely life transforming! The first day i arrived in Orissa i rested. The second day i woke up early like a little school girl excited for the first day. Bags packed. Healthy breakfast. New outfit. I was ready, but for what i wasn’t sure. A driver picked me up and upon arriving i was given the tour - which had to be done in a vehicle so see the massive scale of what KISS (organization that houses, educates, and feeds 27k indigenous kids) and KIIT (private leading university in India with 25k students). I drove around seeing each school and the beautiful facilities. I was in awe of what had been created here since 1992, the year i was born! My first meeting with the kids was completely breathtaking. I was guided to the hall where they eat and have their morning prayer, it was about 10am. As i walked in i could have not be prepared for such a sight. Looking back at me we’re 10k beautiful faces and as soon as i have a smile all of a sudden 10k hands jumped into the air to wave at me!! I burst into uncontrollable laughter and then it hit me. All these students, about a third of the organization, had left their home, their families, and the lives that they knew to pursue their education to make a difference in the world. I fell into tears and had to hold them back in front of all the students and Anurag, my tour guide and new friend. My heart was heavy and yet elated. Hopefully and full of sorrow. This was how many kids have been helped, how many more are still suffering, malnourished with no education. My life’s perspective has been changed for life.
I spent the next 10 days at KISS. And i has a blessed stay, getting hosted in a beautiful guest house with an amazing chef (Guru was his name) who helped me even when my pants completely ripped! I would wake up around 7am to a cup of hot chai tea. After a few days i realized i had fallen into an emotional state after seeing so much poverty and feeling a bit homesick. Luckily i had a dear friend, lover, who gently reminded me of the importance of exercise! Oh yea, he was right i had been so swept away into my travels that i had barely been exercising my normal amount. He also recommended i write a song about it, another thing i hadn’t done in about a week. And so i took his recommendations and would wake up early to work out in my room. At 9am i would get a ferocious knock on the door until i would answer and there would be Gurus blank face letting me know breakfast was ready. I would share with him my biggest smile of the day and he would then return it, showing his tenderness and care. There was a feast that he would prepare for me! So i would eat and each time he’d ask me multiple times if i wanted more. I had to deny him because i had already gained so much weight in this trip from the delicious food! Afterwards there would be a driver that would come to pick me up to take me to the school. I went into the office to do work on my mentoring program i was leading, but most of the time i would end up talking with everyone in the room. Beautiful Adi, Indian woman with a bright smile, heart of gold, and a slight British accent over her Indian accent would accompany me to lunch each day where we’d have a huge plate of food and always laugh as we ate lots of sweets and desserts after. Then I’d head off to the dance class with Madhustia, 23 year old bombshell Indian dance teacher. I learned Orissa traditional dance and tribal dances from the girls (ages 5-15) and they were so kind to let me jump into the dances with them! I also taught a bit of ballet which was very fun. We spent time singing songs, me to them and them to me. It was amazing and i got some beautiful recording of them. It sparked an idea for us to do a music video which ended up happening later in the week. I also attended some music classes and learn how to play Indian flute and then was gifted one from the music teacher!!! I have a lot of practice to do on that thing
Dwiti ended up inviting me to speak at KISS’s International Women’s Day event with some other very influential leaders from around the world. I was on a pannel with 6 others and it was a truly memorable experience. I remember sitting on the pannel in front of all the girls of KISS 10k+ students getting ready to do my speech, which i was not prepared for at all! Luckily i had just bought a nice yellow shirt and had some old black jeans that would be ok to wear. Little did i know that there would be media and all sorts of important people there! I gave my speech and then sang my brand new song, “let’s take a walk” and before i knew it i was looking out at 20K hands waving in the air as they sang back with me. The whistles started going off as the girls began to dance and the teachers were trying to keep the very large crowd under control! The hum of my song continued for at least 5 min after as they wanted me to sing more. I have never felt such a high before, seeing so many smiling faces look back at me. Wow.
Afterwards we were invited to a fancy dinner at The Trident, fanciest hotel in Orissa, and there we were met by many more important people of India. Music and film directors, celebrities, fashion designers, and the speakers. There we drank, ate, danced, and talked until the wee hours of the morning. Luckily Cecelia (one of the other panel speakers) had an extra dress for me to borrow for this fancy dinner.
Later in the week i got to meet up with Ajanta, a friend who was originally from Orissa and was living in New Jersey now. We met at a conference, Hive, just this past dec. she took me under her wing and we went shopping, visited temples, caves, animal shelters, fed monkeys, grabbed coffee and treats and went VIIP to a big concert with India’s top musicians. At the concert Ajanta, Anurag, and I danced and danced and had so much fun!m
Anurag took me on a beautiful drive the day after the concert, we went to visit some temples and then drove to the sea! We had a lovely lunch on the beach and then walked around to the sea. I dipped my toes in and the water was so warm!! I had to go in. Before i knew it i was naked and jumping through the waves! Anurag was definitely shocked and i just laughed. He was not used to crazy American girls. After we drove to the beautiful Sun Temple and he told me all about the history of the temple. We took our time driving back and enjoying each other’s company.
My last day was spent making music videos. Ajanta draped me in a beautiful Saree and we took a video outside of the guest house. Then i went to KIIT and had their videographers help me shoot a music video with the youngest dancers i had been working with. They dressed traditionally and we played, laughed, and skipped through the park. I can’t wait to see the footage from that!
My time in Orissa was the hardest part of my India trip so far. There were many times I felt homesick as i was staying a the guest house as the only English speaker and there was no WiFi. I spent most of my evenings singing and playing music while trying to not be too loud. I felt a bit like an intruder, being the only white person. I had literally only met one, Cecilia at the dinner, but besides that i never saw one. I felt stared at, confused as to why i was there. And yet being able to work with these kids was one of the biggest gifts i was given.
Now off to Goa!