Friday, July 31, 2009

Posting by Lisa Raye Garlock

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.

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