Friday, July 31, 2009
As Heidi naps in her comfy Footprint bed, I find myself tired, but also wide awake. We’re leaving for the Chennai airport in a couple hours, where we’ll wait for a few more hours until our plane leaves to take us home. I always cry at good-bye, and saying farewell to India is no exception. Saying good-bye earlier to some of the wonderful people who have helped make our stay smooth and comfortable, my eyes filled with tears; processing with students what it’s like to leave, my voice cracks and I try not to cry; and even just thinking about not climbing up to the rooftop terrace to do my morning tai chi, I well up with emotion. Everyone says that India changes you. One would hope so, as it is a vast culture- infinite over generations, extensive in diversity, and immeasurable in complexity. I doubt it’s possible to understand the depth of India without being born and raised here, and even then, one probably would need to spend years in concentrated study of its history, people, religions and arts.
Thankfully, our goal was not to understand India, but to learn as much as we could, while at the same time, learn about ourselves. The focus of this diversity class is self-awareness, knowledge and skills. Not a minute passed where we weren’t becoming more self-aware: looking at our reactions to less than comfortable or clean conditions, figuring out how to make sure we had enough clean water to drink, seeing whether we could communicate simple questions, and how, as individuals, we could do art therapy in such a different environment. India is in the birthing phase of art therapy, which is a crucial and exciting time. There are places ripe and ready for it. Some of the most socially and economically challenged people, such as women with mental illness living in shelter and people in a program for children and adults with mental/physical disabilities were able to use art in a new way. At the shelter, the art told the women’s stories, stories the staff hadn’t heard before. Art was able to reach deeper than words; art enabled the words to flow.
So it is with heavy heart that I say good-bye to a place like no other. I’m so proud of our 15 students who bravely set out, some never having left the US before, to learn about themselves, each other, diversity issues, and a microcosm of India. It will take time to process and integrate all we’ve seen, done and experienced. I look forward to flashes of memories, jogged by colors, smells, sounds and tastes, that will invariably come over time, and the insights those memories will bring.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
It is so difficult to come up with something "earth shattering" to say as a summation for my experience in India. Mostly, it is because we have all had a voyage with rewards beyond recognition. Any attempt to consolidate this trip would be doing an injustice to the wealth of cultural knowledge and self awareness we have earned. Although this is the case, it does not make for an interesting blog entry. With that being said, I will say this:
First, I will never, ever again tell my significant other how he should drive his car. There is much more to what happens on the streets of Chennai than being on the "wrong" side. These are things that you just have to learn through attempts to cross the street and sitting in the front of the bus several times.
On a second, more serious note, I can say with confidence that the people in this country are what make it so beautiful. I may never fall in love with the flavor of mango, or the idea of having a "monsoon season." However, I hope to never forget the rich relationships that we were able to make here. Never have I felt more welcomed and more befriended than by the children, staff, drivers, helpers, tour guides, and men who sleep in the kitchen.
Finally, the last insight I feel comfortable elaborating on is this; I will not be upset if I never have to eat masala dosa ever again.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
It's 7:50 am and we're scrambling to pack and get on our bus at 8 (actually the bus just arrived). We are heading out to DakshinaChitra for a few days. Apparently it "is an exciting cross cultural living museum of art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts and performing arts of South India. You can explore 17 heritage houses, amble along recreated streetscapes, explore contextual exhibitions, interact with typical village artisans and witness folk performances set in an authentic ambience." Sounds a bit like Colonial Williamsburg done Indian style.
Ready for another fascinating fact? DakshinaChitra literally means – “a picture of the south.” We're all ready for a change of scenery at this point.
Posting By Hae Min Lee, from July 27, 2009
This past weekend our group traveled away from the Footprint Inn to learn more about the history and culture of South India. We learned several traditional crafts at DakshinaChitra, visited Krishna's Butterball at Mahabalipuram, saw the meditation chambers at Kanchipuram, and toured a lavish Hindu Temple. It was a packed weekend and though the sites we visited were beautiful and amazing, our accommodations away were not quite what we expected and everyone seems to be extremely happy to be back at the Footprint Inn. I did a quick survey of a few students upon our arrival back, and these are just a few of the things they are most grateful at this moment: 1) Reliable electricity to supply constant air conditioning that doesn't give you allergies and having less than 10-light switches per room. 2) Soft pillows you're not scared to put your head on and fuffly comforters and towels that don't resemble or feel like a table cloth. 3) Toilets that you can sit on and not have to turn two knobs or use a bucket to flush. 4) Showers with hot and cold water that don't have a rusty shower head or flow onto the toilet. 5) Bug-free living space where you don't have to push your bed from the walls and chase geckos out of your room with a Gatorade bottle. 6) The thoughtfulness of Viju and Radha who turned on the hot water heater ahead of time so we would all have hot water for our showers upon our return. Two more days in India! I'm sure the list of memories and things we'll miss will be much longer...
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Quite a bit has happened since we began our internship at a High School in Chennai earlier this week. We set out with the lofty goal of utilizing art therapy techniques to help the students create a mural on one of the school’s most prominent walls and although we lacked any specific method or plan, naively thought that the project would pan out relatively easily. However, we were initially confronted with what seemed like every possible obstacle: an absentee supervisor, teachers who spoke English, but not Tamil, others who spoke Tamil, but not English, 105 degree heat, makeshift supplies, and possibly the worst of all, a culture that values “staying in the lines” over artistic expression. I began to get discouraged. I worried that we’d bitten off more than we could chew and that we were going to leave the School and India with little more than a primed wall and the best of intentions.
As the week progressed, things began to come together. We interns got clearer in our goals and how to implement them; using a combination of sign language and interpretive dance, we fumbled our way through the language barrier; we made art supplies out of twigs, old water bottles and baby wipes; we drank more water than we ever had in our lives and best of all, we introduced the concept of art for art’s sake and celebrated the outcome alongside kids who had never before held a paintbrush, but who couldn’t wait to add their personal touches to the piece. And against all odds, the mural project is complete, it looks fantastic and I am so very proud to have been a part of it.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Two weeks have passed since we embarked on our journey halfway across the world. As a group, we have experienced the initial culture shock of chaotic traffic, spicy curries, and what we lovingly refer to as "the bobble head." It seems that after we have finally gained some ground, feeling comfortable with both our surrounding culture and ourselves within it, we are preparing for the end of our trip. Tomorrow is the termination of our internships; the culmination of an exciting and challenging week of doing our best to expose small Indian populations to the world of art therapy. Our goals have waxed and waned as we realized that our role was so much more concentrated than "bringing art therapy to India" as we had all originally imagined. My thoughts each day are now consumed with the things I will miss about India: the smiling faces, the simultaneously sweet and sour smells of the street, the exhilarating autorickshaw rides that take me on thrill rides while completing everyday tasks. I wonder how much of myself will stay here. Here, the clock runs on India Time and rides around town cost less than a dollar. Still, the luxuries I thought I could never live without back in the states seem so trivial to the real things people need to survive in the world. I hope to bring back with me the compassion and respect for other people and cultures that I have gained here, both from my internship, as well as from my peers. I hope that, when I return home, I will feel the same sense of possibility every morning and find a really good Indian restaurant that makes masala dosa as well as our apartment staff do. I hope one day to return to India, to revisit the places I have come to know so well in such a short time, and see if the small impact we made here- the murals we left behind, the people we touched, the approach to art we offered to everyone who would listen- have taken root and blossomed into promising outlets for people in need.
Waking up at the crack of dawn to watch the solar eclipse was supposed to be this amazing breath taking experience but to our dismay it was a typical smog filled and hazy Indian morning. We constantly guessed and hoped that we saw the moon slowly pass in front of the rising sun but ultimately we gave up and saw nothing. But when I went to my internship later in the morning the children nonchalantly claimed that they could see it perfectly. Ironically, this morning reminded me a lot of the ongoing theme of our trip. Initially, we were all so excited to come to India to have these amazing life changing experiences and have a profound impact on people's lives here; however, that overall tone changed when we started our internships this week. Some of the sites started the week off with high hopes and optimism, while unfortunately some of us were only met with mixed feelings and doubt. After the second day, it was tough to hear the ongoing discouragement in people's voices, yet today seemed to have an overall different tone. As tiring as it was I realized that I needed to stop looking for a way to make a profound impact and instead enjoy the moments of joy and hopefulness that I was handed. Like the eclipse, today was one of those days where I thought I was seeing nothing, yet when I wasn't looking for anything I tasted the type of experience we all crave.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
It is disheartening to come to a place and discover that their intentions differ from your own. I understand that many people, especially in India are unaware of what art therapy is, but what’s even harder to deal with is when people don’t understand the basic human rights of individuals. The behavior of the staff that Chris and I witnessed today at our internship site was shocking and hard for me to sit with, let alone describe. I feel the experience was profoundly captured in Chris’s words tonight. With his permission, I will repeat them now: “You ask me if it is possible to integrate into the general population—I tell you yes with all my heart, yet you stare back with blank hazed eyes. The real question is, can you integrate love into your touch? You strike and tie up the child as though he were some barbaric animal, yet on your streets I see God’s true animals run free. You dodge and weave in order not to reflect pain. We try to show by example, yet you laugh in our direction. You mock our methods. You ask what is our ‘plan’? I ask, 'What is your plan to strengthen the faded hearts before your glazed-over eyes?'”
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Walking into the Olcott school today, I was full of excitement and hope about what an internship in a different culture would be like. Unfortunately as soon as I stepped into the office of the school, my hope turned into fear and frustration when I was told that the headmistress of the school – our only contact there, the only one who knew we were coming and why, and the only one around who spoke more than broken English – was out of town and would not be back until Friday, the day we leave the site. A young girl came down and led us to the closest English-speaking person in the school, a young Canadian woman volunteering at the school who, although she did not know why we were there, let us take over her class to do our art therapy assessment and mural planning.
What struck me most today was that although the language barrier was strongly present, and we could not always accurately communicate through words, I was able to feel personal connections to the children with whom we worked. They were genuinely happy to have us there working with them, and proud to show us their artwork and tell us their names. I learned that sometimes translators become a bigger barrier to effective communication than the lack of our own language skills. Through the actions and emotions of these children, I learned the power of the shared human experience and the commonalities that we all share despite being from different backgrounds and using different words. Even without words, we can all communicate and work together to accomplish something truly meaningful.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Chennai can be summed up in two words: sensory overload. There is so much chaos, beauty, and movement all around me. Thankfully, amidst the whirlwind of my emotions and experiences, I have found a source of stability and peace: my classmates. Since high school, I haven't had a close group of fellow artists who I felt I could connect with on a deeper level besides making art together. Being able to live in close quarters, eat meals, and converse with these people has made the artist in me feel more complete. It has been the little things that make me feel so comfortable here. For example, my roommate mentioned how she sometimes feel burdened by her artist's eyes that constantly want to compose things and make sense of all the inspiration around her. I feel connected to these people whom I've only known for a little over a week. To be honest, the thing about this trip I was most dreading was not the potential filth, discomfort, or digestive problems; it was the people I would be living with. So much about travel is who you travel with. They can make or break the journey. I am grateful that this trip to India has been made more memorable by the people who stand beside me.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
I have made it through my first week in Chennai. Sounds of car horns, barking dogs and exotic birds are commonplace. My taste buds crave curry and spices. Busy streets and crowds of people generate a sortof energy that forces me to feel alive. Being approached in stores and asked if I am from here is now a common occurrence; I simply reply, “No” and proudly state, “I’m from the U.S.” I look forward to my free time when I can jump in an auto-rickshaw and explore the town. Moving rapidly through the streets dodging people, bicycles, buses and cars is an adrenaline rush unlike anything I have ever experienced.My previous night mingling with the “in-crowd” at Chennai’s Leather Bar in the posh Park Hotel has left me feeling groggy as we shared our knowledge about art therapy with the community through oration and art-making at the Forum Gallery. All I could think of all day was going back to Radha Silk Emporium to buy a sari. I was engrossed in a color vortex as the salesmen pulled out elaborate silks with sparkling jewels and intricate embroidery. As I contemplated about what color combination to buy, flashes of the poor and hungry locals on the streets clouded my mind- so much beauty and wealth in the midst of so much poverty. Before leaving for the silk shop today, Martina, HaeMin, Suzanne and I decided to take our leftover food with us to give to people in need. After shopping, we handed over the food to a man and a woman on the street asking for money. They seemed grateful. Now, as I reflect on my day, I wonder if they ate the food and whether or not they will find shelter for the night. Will my philanthropy bring them as much joy as my shopping spree has brought me?
Saturday, July 18, 2009
The quote stated by one of our students is “Whatever you can say about India, the opposite is also true.” This has been proven to us each day as we encounter the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich—the warmest and most welcoming and those who have been stand-offish and treated us as tourists—the most rewarding experiences and the most challenging situations. This dichotomy has allowed each of us to explore within ourselves and question our values, our beliefs, our routines—and decide what is important to keep and what is superfluous in leading a fulfilling life. I have been extremely proud of the students and the discussions that have ensued in response to really understanding each others’ unique cultures, not just in a textbook manner, but asking the difficult questions, exploring the challenging topics, and making this a life-changing experience that can be carried back to the United States and not just be a part of a summer travel class. This has all occurred within the first week, I can only imagine what week 2 and 3 will bring.
Posting by Lisa Garlock
When discussing multiculturalism and diversity, the subjects of slavery and genocide obviously come up. Those deep, collective traumas don’t just disappear, and are actually perpetuated when ignored. We have been discussing Asian and African Americans and American Indians, cultures which illustrate so acutely, in different ways, how oppression carries down through generations, particularly when living in an environment where the dominant culture expects adherence to a very narrow range of behaviors, beliefs and appearances. India has experienced its own unique set of collective traumas: colonialism, civil war, partition. The vestiges of colonialism are everywhere. In restaurants, even though it’s family style, the waiters serve you; there is always someone there to open the door; and we are addressed, as “Mum,” by children and service workers. In the grocery store, young girls appear to carry our shopping basket, while a man at the check out unloads and then bags your groceries. Though India has abolished the caste system, an economic caste system remains as seen by the very privileged class in their flashy cars, frequenting posh places, and the people who are untouchable: scantily clad, emaciated men, sores and scars marking their bodies, begging for something to eat.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Simplicity in commodities and abundance in people, these are two things that come to mind as I reflect on my first week in India. What these people lack in possessions, they make up for in heart. As we visited our internship sites this past week, we were greeted with huge, friendly smiles and refreshments that were safe for us to eat and drink. I can’t remember the last time anyone had put so much thought into ensuring I would be comfortable and feel welcome. They have what seems to me so little, yet what they do have, they are more than willing to share. There is so much to learn from this culture. The people of India live entirely in the present. They are unconcerned with the fortunes or misfortunes of yesterday. What the future holds doesn’t matter because it hasn’t arrived. These people live entirely in the here and now. In school each child writes on one small chalkboard, when it is full, the board gets erased. The child begins again. Each morning women draw beautiful chalk drawings outside their homes to begin their day, knowing that they can appreciate the beauty of the drawing for today only. Tomorrow it will be gone and another in its place. At the internship sites, the women would spend the entire day showing us around, if we let them. Amount of time is unimportant, only quality matters.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Posting by Lindsey Vance
Life is a challenge not a competition You can still smell the roses and be on a mission Just take a moment to get in touch with your heart Sometimes you feel like you’ve got something to prove Remind yourself that there’s only one you Just take a moment to give thanks of who you are Early in the morning It’s the dawn of a new day New hopes, new dreams, new ways I open up my eyes and I open up my mind
and I wonder how life will surprise me today
~ India Arie
This song epitomizes the feelings of my day. I woke up with renewed energy despite the long hours in the sun yesterday, and my overworking mind's refusal to sleep last night. Arriving at TTK this morning, after riding down the bumpy roads full of trees banging the roof of the van, and enduring traffic jams greater than 495, I realized that even worlds apart I can complete a mission so dear to my heart. I have been enjoying myself so much, I started to question whether or not I am digging in and doing the work I came here for, and will I leave the stamp that my purpose will transfer? Remembering there is only one of me was key, but knowing that there are people here working with such fervor, doing work that I deem so important, allows me to sit back a moment and take in the sights and sounds of Chennai. Life is full of surprises and today was no exception. At Vidhya Sagar I saw a site that encompasses the very things I advocate for in the states, such as inclusion and holistic and complete care. I am so grateful to have that experience and recognize the work that the people here in India are so graciously giving to others. This placement’s mission is to move towards a world where we are all equal and with their holistic approaches they are definitely on the right path within the mental and physical health field.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Posting by Christopher Kelly
Today I entered their world, breaking the barrier of the world divided by the vast Atlantic Ocean. No longer where we simply viewers of this foreign land; we became one. The women, in bright colored saries, with hands and feet stained blue, purple, yellow, green by the delicate grains of dyed salt, worked until the circle became complete. What once seemed to be an overwhelming barrier of the spoken language became non-existent as the movement of the art formed a bond which will last even after the rain has cleared our collaborative work. Though the brilliant green dye no longer stains the palms of my hands, I will never forget this experience.
Monday, July 13, 2009
I've been walking down the streets, through the temple, the church, and staring out the bus windows at a million faces. They are all staring back at me. We look so different; our skin, our facial structures, our clothes, our jewelry, and our hair. We speak such different languages and even our body language is dissimilar. We live on opposite sides of the world that right now seem far more opposing than similar. It's only been a few days but I feel like there is a thick and vast wall between me and the people of India. I want to break it down, to get to know them, to understand them, to find all the ways that we are the same. I just don't know how or where to begin and I want so badly to find out.
Today though, we visited three internship sites bustling with children. Instantly the children were smiling, giggling, and waving. The "Hello"s and "Good Morning"s were abundant and balls were kicked our way for us to kick back in a game of pass. I did not feel like an American surrounded by Indians, I felt like a human surrounded by energetic, beautiful children who were eager to connect, play, and be together. I felt no barriers. What happens between childhood and adulthood that builds these walls? How do we even begin to break them down?
Posting by Martina Martin
Black Like Me
She was the first person that greeted us when we arrived at the Temple. Somewhat bewildered at the prospect of walking barefoot along the hot, glass strewn pavement, her wide grin was a welcome sight. "50 rupees" she exclaimed, as she quietly exchanged our currency for baskets filled with offering flowers. As the group wound its way along the narrow corridors of the "Ohm" shaped temple, she followed closely behind. It was not long, however, before her curiosity got the best of her. Using what English she knew, and unbeknownst to me, she inquired among my colleagues, "How did she get her hair like that?" gesturing towards my palm-rolled locs. "Oh, she probably twists it," replied a classmate. With my ears burning, I turned in the direction of the conversation as the temple girl whizzed by to offer assistance to one of our guides. "She was really interested in your hair, but was afraid to approach you directly because she said your face seemed stern," replied another classmate. "Really?" I thought aloud, "Me, stern?" As I considered the girl's perception of me, I was reminded of a poem by Maya Angelou entitled, "Human Family" which declares that in spite of obvious racial, ethnic and cultural differences, people share more similarities than differences. Watching the girl from afar, I began to see parts of myself in her. In addition to sharing the same black skin, I realized that we also shared the same level of respect and consideration for the feelings of others. Given the sincerity of her interest, I invited her to touch my hair. "Wow!" she exclaimed with bright eyes and a bubbly laugh. Fascinated by the differences in our hair texture, she proceeded to style my hair--ultimately adorning it with a single red rose from my offering basket. We posed for a picture together and shared pleasantries before parting ways. As I boarded the bus I came to realize that in spite of hailing from different parts of the world, we really were more alike, than we were unalike.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Many of us welcomed the dawn on the rooftop terrace, where it was cool and breezy, and the morning sounds gently wafted over the rooftops. The students had a million questions, and we were happily able to answer most of them. We accomplished many things in a short time—breakfast, orientation to place and the class, grocery shopping, banking and lunch, but judging from how we were on our first day in here, we’ll see how much sinks in. ~Lisa
“I can’t believe I’m in India! I don’t think it has sunk in yet!” one of our students exclaimed . . . a common feeling that comes over me often. I can’t believe I’m in India—what on earth am I doing in India . . . but it has also felt so very right. The energy of another country is quite potent and as I donned my salwar khameez (tunic and baggy pants) this morning to go and meet the students, I could feel India slide over me and envelope me. Not home, but comfortable, energizing, ancient, alive . . . even through the students’ exhaustion and sense of being overwhelmed, I can see India working her magic. The wonderment in their eyes, the excitement of what is ahead in the next three weeks, the potential for learning and growth . . . this will be a life-changing experience as long as each of them allows India to envelope them and work her magic.
Friday, July 10, 2009
The sounds here remind me of improvisational jazz: random horns in various pitches; the cawing of crows and whistling of squirrels; pigeons cooing; squeaking of brakes; putt-putting of motorcycles; wind in the trees; occasional shouting voices; whirring of fans. ~Lisa
We climbed into the rickshaw wondering if we were taking our lives into our hands—rickshaws are little motorized scooters with a covered seat behind the driver and open on the sides. They are the main method of transportation here in Chennai (similar to a taxi) and zip around buses, cars, motorcycles, bikes, oxen carts with aggressive abandon. A ride across town costs about a dollar. The rule of the road here is whoever is in front has the right of way; therefore, all on the road are trying to wiggle their way to the front, using their horn to announce their coming. We videotaped the entire ride and may be able to post at some point, but it just doesn’t give the near collision experience. But what a fabulous rush—it is like riding a rollercoaster! And we arrived safe and sound—Americans should come to India to learn defensive driving.
Our students arrive this evening/morning (4am) and we will be there to greet them in the throngs of people waiting outside the airport. We have bought our salwar kameezes (long tunics with pants) so that we blend in with the crowds (HA—right!), plus they are exceptionally comfortable in the heat.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
We had a refreshing breakfast of papaya with lime, corn flakes (??) and idlies—soft, round lentil flour “biscuits” with two spicy and wonderful sauces. Our walk around the neighborhood afterwards showed us that blocks aren’t square, you take your life in your hands when crossing the street, and car horns are a language of the road where there are few signs, no demarcation lines, or stop signs, and no crosswalks. One road sign did stand out: “Accident prone area. Drive slow.”
We also found delicately beautiful bougainvillea vines, mango trees and funny little striped squirrels that make high pitched bird chirps when agitated by cats; school children heading to school barefooted, some accompanied by their mothers in vividly colored saris; and Ganesha shrines.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
It is great to finally land back in an atmosphere I am familiar with (having grown up in the Middle East). I have been trying to view it through my students eyes to determine what might seem different or confusing or exciting. I hope that they are able to take it all in and explore. We head for Chennai in about 2 hours and there will be another 8 hour flight (this is a large world!) We are expecting great culture shock as everyone I have spoken to says, “You can’t prepare for it! It is overwhelming to your senses!” We are looking forward to getting settled and prepared for the students to arrive on the 11th.