Tiger Heart: My Unexpected Adventures to Make a Difference in Darjeeling, and What I Learned about Fate, Fortitude, and Finding Family Half a World Away

Tiger Heart: My Unexpected Adventures to Make a Difference in Darjeeling, and What I Learned about Fate, Fortitude, and Finding Family Half a World Away




Katrell Christie was a thirty-something artist turned roller-derby rebel who opened a tea shop in Atlanta. Barely two years later, her life would make a drastic change—and so would the lives of a group of girls half a world away.

I chose the name of my tea shop—Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party—because it sounded whimsical. India wasn't part of the equation. Not even remotely. I didn't do yoga. I had no deep yearning to see the Taj Mahal or tour Hindu temples. Indian food? I could take it or leave it.

Yet on a whim, Katrell did go. She witnessed the throngs at the Ganges River, toured the tea fields of Darjeeling, and helped string pearls in conservative Hyderabad. But it was in a crowded Buddhist orphanage where she crossed paths with some girls who would change the course of her life.

One night we had a conversation about their futures. What did they hope to be when they grew up? They didn't have any answers. The fear that consumed them was leaving the orphanage. What would happen on the day they were asked to gather their things and leave—to walk out the door and be all alone on the street with no one to turn to and nowhere to go?

With her mind racing about their grim futures, Katrell reached the simple conclusion that she couldn't walk away. So instead she walked forward—on a mission to help them in any small way. Once back at her shop, an idea for The Learning Tea was born. By selling tea, cupcakes, scones, and other treats, Katrell raised enough funds to provide life necessities for the girls—safe housing, uniforms, medical care, tutoring, and ultimately, a college education for each of them. To date, The Learning Tea has helped eleven young girls who once faced the bleakest of futures.

Tiger Heart recounts Katrell's riveting adventures back to India, through the chaotic streets of Mumbai, to tiny villages with roadside tea huts and hot samosas, to elephant crossings and snow-capped mountain switchbacks of the Himalayas—an unexpected backdrop where she fell in love with a country that was gorgeous and heartbreaking all at once, where tragedy, humor, resilience and kindness were inextricably bound. From dodging feral monkeys, to slamming shots of whiskey to win acceptance at a local Rotary Club, to forging lasting friendships with the people who stepped up to help her cause, Tiger Heart offers a shot-gun seat on an inspiring trek across the globe, capturing the essence of India: its quirks, its traditions, and its people.

Fate may have led Katrell to a tiny spot on a map, but it was a kinship that brought her back home a half a world away. Tiger Heart is a life-affirming look at the ties that bind and the power of each of us to make a difference.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780757318580
Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/06/2015
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Katrell Christie is the founder and owner of The Learning Tea, a project which provides schooling and a safe haven for impoverished young women in India. Through her efforts with The Learning Tea, Ms. Christie has changed the lives of many women living in Darjeeling, India. Visit: www.thelearningtea.com.

Shannon McCaffrey is an award-winning reporter focusing on investigative stories for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She is an avid reader, a mother, and a runner.

Read an Excerpt

'I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.'
—Rabindranath Tagore

The Indian defense minister wants to see you. Be here in twenty minutes.'

The voice on the phone makes clear there is only one answer.

Moments later I am up and shivering, rummaging through my luggage in the dark, tugging on my least dirty kurta, and twisting my hair into one of those fake bun makers I'd bought at Walgreens. When one of the most powerful men in India requests your presence, you don't ask for time to dillydally. I'm thankful that on this trip I remembered to pack something other than my navy blue combat boots.

At the appointed hour, I'm sitting in a wicker chair perched on the side of a mountain on the terrace of the Windamere, Darjeeling's most opulent hotel. Fuchsia bougainvillea spills over a green lattice outdoor trellis and the snowcapped Himalaya Mountains are splayed out in front of us. I can see K2 between the clouds. We are ringed by a circle of staunch, beefy men with thick moustaches. Their uniforms are crisply pressed. They are all armed with AK-47s.

I am about to have tea.

Before I sit down, three immaculately dressed lawyers give me precise instructions on how to behave.

'You have ten minutes. Don't be foolish enough to actually order anything. You are not allowed to ask for food, even if the waiter offers. His assistant orders your tea. Do not even think about a second cup. After ten minutes, you are out of here; get up, thank him graciously, and ask to be excused.'

I am half expecting them to ask me to pee in a cup or, at the very least, give me a pat down. In front of a lattice arbor dripping with flowers, they pat me down.

Then, the last in this group of lawyers tosses in a postscript: I am, he says, allowed to ask for three wishes.

'You know what you want, right?' he asks casually. His hands are clasped tightly and he gives me a head bobble and a curt smile.

Um, uh, yeah. Sure.'

It's early. I haven't had any caffeine. I'm hungry and I've had no time to prepare. I'm covered in sweat after running through town. I'd hurdled women roasting corn over hot coals on the ground and dodged dogs and roaming monkey families all while wearing a fancy kurta and some weird, crappy, lightweight rubber wedges I had purchased for a 'what if' moment like this. I had taken the stairs two at a time up the switchback path that led to this hotel on a hill, and I'm still trying to get my head on straight.

I didn't know I was supposed to ask for anything. I thought we were going to get to know each other. Talk politics. Swap backstories. Banter over what makes Georgia clay red. Compare our favorite desserts. Discuss world issues. Not wishes. But I also realized this might be the break I need.

My name is Katrell Christie, and I was named after my dad's favorite hardware store.

How I've come to be sipping tea in this place, half a world away from my home in Atlanta, is part of the strange patchwork of tales that make up my life.

A sampling:

I skated competitive Roller Derby under the alias Takillya Sunrise.
I once made my living tromping around Italy buying art for a client.
I spent part of my childhood growing up in government project housing.
I opened a tea shop, even though I really prefer coffee.
I watched my favorite uncle die of AIDS.
I have big hair, a big butt, and big boobs.
I clogged with Billy Bob's peewee cloggers.
I was held up by a pregnant wanderer in Paris.
My mom was diagnosed with stage-four brain cancer.
For ten-plus years, I kept a weekly dinner date with a flamboyant, fantastic, and very sarcastic gay man.
I own more than five hundred vintage costumes that were gifted to me.
And, on a restless whim, I took a trip to India.

In India, what was supposed to be a spontaneous jaunt turned my life in a new direction after I crossed paths with three painfully shy teenage girls at a Buddhist orphanage in Darjeeling. When I learned they were going to be put out on the street once they turned seventeen, I reached the simple conclusion that I couldn't walk away.

There was no grand plan. When I flew to India for the first time, I was not-so-secretly wishing I'd gone to drink margaritas at some beach in Florida instead. I did have a vague idea that I might be able to link my small Atlanta tea shop to an education project in Darjeeling, where my tea came from. But I had no clue that one day I would be responsible for a houseful of female college students.

They are some of India's forgotten girls. And it's quite likely they could've been sex trafficked, earned a living carrying bricks on their backs, or become domestic servants. Some of them might've disappeared completely without anyone to look for them or care where they went.

Let me say this right away: There are a lot of amazing people out there who are doing far more to help than I can ever hope to. I am in awe of them. I'm also here to tell you that I have had some pretty spectacular failures along the way. Big, embarrassing screwups. And I have been disappointed by people who promise to help but only seem interested in following through when someone is watching. Other times, I have been surprised by complete wildcards who have stepped up to the plate just because it was the right thing to do.

A lot of people out there are looking for happiness. They buy books and meditate and get facelifts and occasionally drink lots of wine. What I've found is that sometimes you can also find true meaning and contentment by looking outward and focusing your energy on helping someone else.

For me, I'm just doing what I can. There is no real solution but to try my best every day and hope I can make some positive change somewhere—even for one second. Having someone smile when they weren't or knowing that those young women aren't begging on the streets at this moment is an accomplishment and a solution in the right now. I can't save the world, and I might not make an earthshaking difference outside of one isolated town, but I am changing the lives of these particular young women forever with the help and resources I have collected from my mentors. You never know who these young women will become. They have a wide path ahead of them, and I know they are going to do amazing things. Great leaders come from everyday people and all villains and heroes have a moment to decide which side they are on or who they are fighting for.

If there is one thing my life has taught me, it's that sometimes you just have to lean into the curve and let go. Life is pretty fantastic if you let it take you where it wants you to be . . . which is how I have come to be sitting on a hotel terrace with one of the most powerful men in India. It's one of those 'only in India' stories.

©2015 Katrell Christie NAME. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Tiger Heart: My Unexpected Adventures to Make a Difference in Darjeeling, and What I Learned about Fate, Fortitude, and Finding Family Half a World Away. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.

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