Friday, June 09, 2006

Travels With Glenda

from Jacqueline

I had another email from my friend Glenda this week, along with some photos taken high up in the mountains of Darjeeling, where she is working at a school run by an elderly Jesuit priest. The photos are gorgeous, with Glenda standing on the terraced gardens she and the children are creating on a steep hillside surrounded by a clinging mist. It’s almost like one of those old sepia photographs, except that she’s holding a flowerpot with a bright orange bloom of something that looks like a marigold.

There’s another photo with Glenda standing by a bus. This is an important shot, as the funding for that bus had dried up when she first arrived back at the school a month or so ago, so she and the children had to walk about 10 kilometers each way up and down the mountain, and Glenda had to put in a full day’s work as both head gardener and art teacher.

Glenda’s pilgrimage began in the spring of 2004 – no, that’s wrong, it actually began a few years earlier, when she realized how much her job as a real estate agent in California was driving her crazy. Sure, she was doing well, and sure she had managed to set up her grown children in their own homes, but something was missing. Something akin to having her her soul touched every day.

In her past lives, Glenda has been a teacher and actress, has traded in vintage clothing, and lived in places as far flung as Afghanistan and Alberta, and even had a cross burned in her garden in Alabama for daring to produce a play for African American kids – she must have been all of twenty-three at the time. I met Glenda when I lived in England, where she spent most of her adult life before returning to the States so that her son could experience living in the country where she was born and raised. Then she stepped onto the real estate merry-go-round.

With her 60th birthday looming, Glenda knew she wanted to do something big, to discover some new things about herself, perhaps – and she knew that such learning can only come with pilgrimage. Now, we all know that a pilgrimage doesn’t have to take you far from home, but she’d had a yearning all her life to travel the route of the Old Silk Road. Of course she wavered, so as I had my own plans for that year – a trip to the Great War battlefields of The Somme and Ypres – I suggested that we set off together so that she’d have someone to take that first step with.

After London, we went to Sicily with our friend Vicki and her friend Stephane, then when I left the group to go on my way, Glenda returned to London to start the process of gathering the necessary visas. And off she went. With her one suitcase and a lot of courage, over the course of a year Glenda traveled through 14 countries, braving hours on buses teetering on the edge of cliff-faces in Turkey, four hour walks between visa checkpoints in Uzbekistan, monsoons in Vietnam and severe sickness in Thailand. Her emails – often hilariously funny – spoke of a journey of the soul, and I can still remember that email from India when she said that she was on her way up to a school-orphanage in the hills of Darjeeling, which she heard had been founded by a Jesuit priest who was now old, so he needed help. She stayed there for weeks, leaving only when the rains came. She returned to the States to welcome new grandchildren into the world, then went back to India, and that’s where she is now, undertaking back-breaking work to create gardens for the children.

I have no idea why I’ve written about Glenda today, though those photos from India have remained in my mind’s eye since I received them. Her communiqu├ęs have captivated a very long list of recipients since she embarked upon the journey to find out who she might find herself to be as a woman reaching a certain age. And this whole posting has absolutely nothing to do with the literary, though it has much to do with life – because that’s what I can see in my friend’s eyes as she plants marigolds while surrounded by kids at a school in Darjeeling.


  1. Oh, but I want to see Glenda!!! What browser are you using when you're posting, and do you have a jpeg of the photo?

    WHAT A WONDERFUL POST!!!! I want to go to Darjeeling DESPERATELY... my husband always speaks of it so wistfully....

  2. I never get tired of hearing about people who actually do the thing they want to do. Fab story and thanks for sharing!

  3. Your wonderful post is certainly about life but it may also be about literature. Memoir anyone?

  4. from Jacqueline

    Cornelia, I'll send her latest photos to your email address - and yes, she's a pretty amazing friend, and is a LOT of fun to be around.

    I hope she writes a memoir about her travels, because her take on everything is really interesting - in Turkey, for example, she ended up having coffee with an American mercenary working in Iraq. He probably wished he hadn't sat down because she interrogated him for two hours. She was befriended by a very strong-willed lady politician in India, who insisted that Glenda accompany her to several events and stay with the family for as long as she wanted. She's kept her emails and of course her journals, so ... perhaps one day!

  5. Dear Jacquline: I hope your Glenda can hear the ovation and deafening applause from here. It sounds as if she's found her true path to 'herself'. It's one thing we all look for in our lives, and for many, rarely find. I glimpse it sometimes when I paint, and more rarely, when I write. Life interrupts those journeys so often. :-D

    When I look at marigolds, I'll now always think of your Glenda on her dusty mountainside with her garden of children as well as her gardens of flowers, feeling content in herself. I perhaps don't need photos (although, I'd love to look at one), because I don't have a visual imagination - I cannot 'see' what I read. I receive impressions instead, and build with those.


  6. What a lovely post...Glenda sounds like someone to emulate....

  7. from Jacqueline:

    If Glenda goes back to Darjeeling next year, I hope she won't mind me tagging along with her. I've been going back through some of her emails - here's a recent snippet, just before she was made Head Gardener:

    "Well, I am now convinced that Father is trying to either kill me or find out how sincere I really am. He pulls this wonderful scam on me every time by telling me that if I do the work of the ordinary people they won't feel they are set apart. Soooooo, this time I am to meet Dimple (yes, that's her name) in the mushroom barn at 8am to help dispose of the blighted mushroom baskets. It seems that the last lot of hay was infested and ruined hundreds of these balls(comprised of hay, manure and mushroom spoor).
    Off I go to end up carrying 150 (approx) of these balls, weighing 3 kilos each,crawling with larvae, up a flight and a half and down the same amount and tossing them over a wall---well what can I say?? A stairmaster with 15lb weighs!!!!I will be the laughing stock. My reputation will be ruined. I have always believed that exercise is bad for your health and made a point of never indulging ..."

    PS: Cornelia is coming to my rescue and adding a couple of pics to the post - she can now be Jpg Maven of Naked Authors! And thanks, Patty, for your instructions - how about Head Techie for a title?

  8. Yeah! The photos are awesome.

  9. Ah, Darjeeling.... About 25 years ago I spent some time there. Warm memories flash into my mind. The funny little train corkscrewing up the hills. The total bliss of bed-tea on a cold morning. An ancient Scot-made tea processing machine working perfectly still. Watching for high peaks between the clouds. The shock of seeing Micheal Jackson t-shirts worn by many local teenagers clashing with survivors of the old British Hill Station. Tibetan refugees and their self-help center where I bought a little chair rug. It's been with me ever since. Now it's a favored place for my dog's afternoon nap. Thanks to you and your friend Glenda for making me think of Darjeeling again.

  10. As I am also a Glenda, I have just decided I am proud to have the name. I have never met another, probably due to my being 28 and the name being unpopular at the time of my birth, so it's good to hear about one so amazing. I would love to follow her footsteps and have already begun by teaching in poverty stricken areas of the States, living in China a couple years, and now residing in Turkey. I hope she has many new stories and if she write about her life online I would love to know the link. Hail to Glendas worldwide!! Heehee :D