Tuesday, July 27, 2010
During the final days in India, we completed our art/journaling ritual which we did each evening (see photo of covered door), created chalk art which covered the roof of our B & B, participated in our final cultural self-awareness ritual stating what we would like to let go of and take with us, and had a celebratory farewell dinner. While it is always lovely to return home, what I will miss the most is creating art together and reflecting on the day as a group and connecting with students on a deeper level and witnessing their outward- and self-awareness increase with each new experience. Each of us has grown and stretched, learning from cultural experiences and from each other. While the whole purpose of this course is to increase self-awareness, knowledge and skills, what I love about this course is the development as more empathic, aware, and culturally conscious humans--as a professor, what more could you ask for?
Friday, July 23, 2010
The final day was filled with last-minute errands, shopping trips around the city and discovering new places and sights within Chennai. An impromptu trek to Parangimalai – St. Thomas Mount – revealed one of Chennai’s many hidden treasures. Tucked away from the quick-pace of most of the neighborhoods we visited within Chennai, the town stood as a metaphor for India. In the three weeks that we were in India, I was constantly awed by the unexpected, never-ending dichotomies and constant discovery. In the middle of a predominantly Hindu country stands one of Christianity’s holiest sites – a shrine to St. Thomas and the myriad miracles associated with the area. Looking over Chennai from atop the mount, I wondered how many more neighborhoods were still unknown to me and what other treasures lay within Chennai, wishing I had more time to explore the city and India; even if only for just a few more minutes…
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
There are so many moments when in the midst of chaos that there is a moment of clarity--a moment when I say to myself "this is why I love doing this class!" There was just such a moment this weekend.
This weekend provided each in our group a host of challenges and opportunities (depending on how you look at it!): taking a train through the Indian countryside and using the "hole to the tracks" bathroom, winding our way up the Yercaud mountains with 20 hairpin turns while our drivers passed slow moving vehicles on the curves, sleeping on hard mats in our tents while it rained and the wind whipped outside, hiking down a thorny, billy goat trail with machete and sticks to a beautiful waterfall, driving another 6 hours with numerous near misses to reach Pondicherry, exploring a new city, getting blessed by Lakshmi the elephant, and finally returning "home" to Chennai. But each individual rose to the challenges and made them into opportunities--opportunities to connect with each other, to prove that they weren't a quitter, to understand another culture just a little better, to try something new, to explore the unknown or untried--and in the end, we all benefited from it.
But there was a moment of unity and connection when the class was gathered on the top of a mountain and a student was presenting on the benefits of ayurvedic breathing for physical and emotional health. A moment in time when you stop and think that this is the whole point of travel learning--the whole point of exploring another culture while exploring who you are as a human--the whole point of connecting with the self and the other.
Our students rose to the challenge and marked a moment in time.
This weekend we transformed from city folk of Chennai to humble campers. I have always been torn when thinking about which environment I prefer, the city or the great, open outdoors. I have settled on the fact that I favor both, equally. However, there are pro's and con's to both atmospheres. I will use this blog post to settle the differences my peers and I experienced while on this trip.
Friday, July 16, 2010
My first post to the blog, I am shocked by the realization that time is running out for our class. What I assumed would be plenty of time to write a few blog posts has turned into an endeavor to sum up all of my emotions, all of my experiences, into a few words and pictures. Today is the last day of our internships, our last weekend together, and we will be departing for our various destinations around the world....in about 5 days.
That being said, each new day has presented a series of serendipitous opportunities to meet new people, try new foods, buy new things (a lot of things), and realize with each encounter, I know less about myself than I assumed. I have felt the anxiety of walking down a street at dusk, my ankles and calves visible to passersby--the bliss of seeing children playing on the beach, jumping off dunes into the wet sand below, the serene feeling I get from painting in watercolor and doodling kolams--or the deep sadness and frustration of coming to understand the intense family dynamics prevalent in India--and the ripple effect this causes for the lives of so many women.
I am in awe of the strength and resilience of the women of India. Their passion, their spirituality and devotion, and their light-heartedness.
Today, I asked for the assitance of the head gentleman who works at the Bed and Breakfast--looking for a tailor to make two dresses before we leave. Five minutes later, I was on the back of a motorcycle, blowing past rickshaws, cars, and buses on my way to the tailor. Most women sit side-saddle on the backs of these motorcycles, holding their children on their hip or carrying groceries. Facing forward, my hands gripped the seat tightly-aware that I was not wearing a helmet, and my life was in the hands of this kind man--it was the most fun I have had all week. The tailor's shop was only a few blocks away, and then ride ended minutes after it began.
While I cannot even say I understand a little Tamil, I have come to not only understand, but internalize many of the customs, removing my shoes at the door to the tailor's shop, knowing that the tailor's horizontal wiggle of his head (symbolizing "no" in the U.S.) actually means "Yes, I can do that."
Fresh from my motorcycle ride back to the guesthouse, I am re-energized--present and truly aware that I am alive, the chaos of the streets both exhilarating and humbling. I am ready to embrace my last day at TTK Hospital, working with men of all ages to understand their alcohol abuse through art.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Friday, July 09, 2010
That moment of connection that we seek when we meet new people, when we are introduced to a new culture. I have experienced that connection so often here in India. Whether it is watching our students work with their clients at their internship or whether it is while walking on the beach and hearing children call out "picture, picture!" I am not always aware of the connection in the moment, but when I look at the photos--there it is--in the eyes. That connection of human to human--soul to soul. We are in each others' world and have become a part of each other. There are children I photographed years ago who still remain a part of me--eyes to s0ul. I wish I could carry that into each moment, each interaction that I have with my students, people on the street, shopkeepers, auto rickshaw drivers--pursuing that connection--eyes to soul.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
A morning walking tour takes us through city streets that wind around humble traditional homes and breathtaking temples. Anchoring the bustling streets that surround it is the Kapaleeswarar temple. This Hindu shrine, dedicated to the God Shiva, keeps a watchful eye over the city of Chennai.
So many Gods and so little time... Even Shiva has thought of a solution for the modern worshipper! There is a spot in the far corner of the Kapaleeswarar temple that provides a perfect view of all the shrine rooftops within the temple walls. With a good view of all the Gods you can quickly offer your prayers and be on your way.