It's been a hard 48 hours for me. I am wrestling with emotions and decisions and I wish there was someone who could make my decision for me.
Okay, here's the thing. As you know, after Uganda I come home for one month and then am due to head off to India (New Delhi) in January to work with the street children and their families in the slums. It's something I have wanted to do for so long and I have been very excited about it. When I found Project Why, I was bowled over by what they were doing there and I felt instantly that this was where my heart was. I have looked at their website so many times that I feel like I already know the children and was eager to get out there. After a few emails from one of the staff, it was all but confirmed (although I am yet to book my flight for financial reasons).
However, I emailed the project three times in the last month asking specific questions about accommodation, personal budget required, and who will meet me at the airport (if anyone). Nothing has been forthcoming. Looking at their website, and various blogs, it is obvious that they have regular and consistent access to the internet. So I was a bit confused. And wary.
Yesterday I took it upon myself to telephone the project and speak to the lady who I have been emailing. Wasn't quite the reaction I was expecting. Every single question was met with a sigh and then a fairly bored tone while she was giving me very vague information. I tried to keep the convo light and figured "maybe she's having a bad day" but you know when you're talking to someone and you get the impression they would rather be doing something else? Hmmmm. She was also not very friendly when I explained that I needed to change my dates ever so slightly to accommodate a friend's wedding back home. Very luke warm reception to that and I was told that they have "a lot of volunteers" and that my new dates weren't very convenient. This has all resulted in my losing confidence in the project, which is a massive blow for me. If I was going with a friend, or had ample finances in my bank to make a u-turn on arrival, no problem. But I am very limited with time and budget. Also, because of my initial problems with my Uganda trip, I am probably a bit sensitive now to things "not being what they seem".
These feelings have been going on for a few weeks and, during that time, I have been looking at various other volunteering opportunities just in case. I have been open to anything - working with children, eco-tourism, conservation, animals. I have looked at South America, Europe, Africa (again), Asia, Russia. I am now an expert in the world of internet research, haha.
Everybody who is a friend of mine knows how obsessed I am with elephants. I am the equivilent of a teenager lusting over boy-bands when it comes to elephants (although during the 80's, New Kids on the Block were a very close second). Any photograph in a magazine, I want a peak. Any ornament in a shop, I have to find loose change to buy. I have elephant toys, pillows, candle holders, picture frames, purses ... my house is a shrine - but a tasteful shrine I might point out. If in doubt, buy me something with an elephant on it and I will be your friend.
So I must admit, when this volunteering idea hit me, the first thing I did was look into working with elephants. And it looked near impossible. Surprise suprise, this is quite popular in the world of 'gap year students' and as such it is actually extremely expensive. Also, there are hardly any independents on the internet, thereby forcing you to go through an agency such as I-to-I (rip off merchants) or such other 'gap year' organisations. I am not an 18 year old who has never travelled without my family. I know how to book a ticket, sort out visas and check whether I need injections. I have been ripped off twice and robbed once whilst visiting foreign countries. I have become very sick from having ice in my drinks. I don't need to pay an organisation hundreds of pounds to check all of this for me.
But by a stroke of luck, whilst looking for an alternative to India, I found one!! It is in Nepal and is well within my budget and looks amaaaaazing! Not only do they care for the elephants but their work directly benefits the whole community and I will have the opportunity to work with local women and learn basket weaving and how to make paper out of elephant dung. I am still finding out about it at the moment but I have received two emails from the project and an email from a UK volunteer who was there in the summer and raves about it. I'm psyched!
And so to my dilema - India or Nepal? I can't stress enough how much I wanted to go to India and to this specific project. Honestly, my heart is already there! But like I said, the lack of interest in response to my questions and the luke warm reaction I got when I telephoned does not fill me with confidence at all. And I need this sorted before I leave for Uganda because when I come back, it will be right on top of Christmas and I don't want to spend my four weeks at home with my son stuck on a laptop frantically firing off and responding to emails.
My son thinks it's a great idea to go to Nepal. His opinion was that I will have spent 6 weeks working with children, so why not flip the coin and spend 6 weeks working with animals?
My dear friend C, who I recently stayed with in France, explained to me that this whole 'journey' I'm on is meant to be one of self-discovery and, by the very nature of that, I should be a bit selfish and get what I want from it.
And quite a few friends have said to me that I can go and volunteer with children the world over at any point in the future. But how often will I get an opportunity to run off and work with elephants?
Decisions, decisions .......