New Experiences with Monkeys in India

Aug 30, 2016

By Sandra Bornstein

New Experiences with Monkeys in India

I was sitting cross-legged on a four-inch mattress that doubled as my bed. Sweat engulfed all of my pores as a simple fan hummed above. I glanced up from my book. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a medium-sized monkey open my screen door with ease. I blinked. I observed a second monkey trailing behind and then another.

My jaw dropped. I sat speechless. Three wild monkeys were just a couple of yards away.

Without hesitation, they walked toward a small round table next to my bright red refrigerator. All three admired my possessions. The taller one glanced back in my direction as if to say, “ha, ha”. With one hand, he grabbed one of my Tupperware containers. Within seconds, the monkeys vanished, leaving my door open in their wake.

I sat bewildered. Should I laugh or should I cry?

Just weeks earlier, I had started teaching at an international K-12 boarding school in Bangalore, India. As an American middle-aged educator, I jumped at the opportunity to work and travel abroad. Most of my friends and family members thought that I was experiencing a midlife crisis. Why would I leave my cushy suburban life to work in a developing country?

For years, a series of orthopedic issues had prevented me from using my K-6 teaching license. To remain an educator, I became an adjunct instructor at a local community college. I loved teaching, but something was missing.

When I was offered the primary international teaching position, one of my dreams was finally fulfilled. Once again, I would have the opportunity to work with children and use my teaching credentials. But would I be able to step outside my comfort zone and face my natural fears of living in another country?

After all, I was a middle-age woman who hadn’t traveled alone in decades. I wasn’t traveling to unfamiliar neighborhoods within driving distance of my home. I was flying half way around the world to travel solo in a foreign country. If I had any chance of being successful, I had to regain my independent spirit. I had to look forward and not scurry back to what felt safe. I relied on my inner voice that wouldn’t stop whispering, “You can do it.”

I wasn’t looking to the popular Nike slogan, “Just Do It.” I was recalling another image. Decades ago, I read the classic book, The Little Engine That Could, to my sons. How fitting that in midlife, I would look to a children’s book to instill confidence. Just like the small train in this inspiring story, I had to use daily reminders to keep me on track.

After the three thieves left my guest room, the uncertainty returned. Could I simply laugh off the absurdity of wild monkeys stealing my food or would I succumb to the temptation to long for a more predictable life? This wasn’t the first time that the monkeys had trespassed. Like ants that gravitate toward food crumbs, these larger pests could be found everywhere humans congregated. The school campus was inundated. Groups of monkeys frequented classrooms, stairwells, the playground, the open fields, the lunchroom, and the pathways between buildings.

Fanciful irrational emotions flooded my well being like a tsunami. My mind planned ways to escape in the middle of the night without a trace. While I rationally knew that I had to cope with my new life in India, it was much easier to create plans for fleeing.

I had no choice but to face my challenges head on. The monkey situation was just one example of a multitude of events. Each day was filled with unfamiliar and strange happenings.

For comfort, I listened to my favorite songs from my youth and thought about others who had successfully dealt with obstacles. I recalled times when I had to overcome challenging situations. I posted one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quotes above my desk:

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

I was working as an international teacher and I wasn’t going to let any of my fears erode my confidence or destroy my dreams. My inner voice became my daily mantra. Instead of hearing a small voice inside, I mouthed the words, “I can do it.”

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About the Author

Sandra Bornstein

Sandra (Sandy) Bornstein lived as an expat in India. Her award-winning memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, highlights what she learned as the only American teacher at an international Bangalore K-12 boarding school. After living abroad, Sandy continues to explore the world and write about her travels.

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