Wednesday, June 30, 2010


We had the opportunity to walk on the grounds of the Theosophical Society yesterday morning. The Society property used to have the largest banyan tree in India, but now there are only the many offspring of that tree, surrounding a large empty circle where the mother tree once stood. The flora was remarkable, as were the lizards, insects and sounds. The smells ranged from the dry, dusty earth smell, to rotting fruit, to frangipani and cactus blooms. Orgies of red and black bugs startled me with their exuberance and multitudes, as they covered the ground under one tree, and raced from underfoot as we walked along the paths. The Society property was truly an oasis of calm and quiet in the midst of the relentlessly hustling and bustling city.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On the streets of Chennai

Apparently on the streets of Chennai, the cows are safer than us measly, little, unholy humans. During a grueling walk searching for a working ATM, where we got lost, walked in circles, and Lisa almost passed out from heat, we came across this family of holy cows. They sauntered down the center of the street criss-crossing from side to side with cars, bicyclists, and people moving out of their way as they stopped to drink from a puddle or explore the garbage bins. One would fall behind and the others would stop in the center of the street to calmly look back and wait for the other all while traffic snarled around them. To put this in context, when we step into the street to walk or cross, we look both right and left and behind and above, then right and left again, then when there is a tiny break, run halfway into the street, backwards, forwards, breath held until we reach the other side (imagine the old video game of Frogger!) The totem pole of seniority on the streets is: cows, buses, trucks, cars, auto rickshaws, bicycles, and finally people. I think even the dogs are above us because they have street smarts! :)


As we walked back to Footprint B&B, the sounds of a celebration filled the air--voices, instruments, and a heavy bass drum. We converged with the raucous procession of the Major International Band, horse-drawn gold and brocade carriages and a crowd of men. Children and women brought up the rear, while police loosely directed traffic. A man in a red turban and gold jacket sat in the center carriage, looking pale and, as Heidi observed, "terrified!" We deduced that it was a wedding, which was confirmed by a grinning, elfin man, flitting among the crowd gathered to watch the event. The procession stopped in front of a luxury hotel, where men commenced wild and noisy circle dancing. The women, all dressed in brilliant, embroidered saris, lined the entrance and stairway of the hotel. As the dancing and music ended, the man in the red turban, who could only be the groom, gingerly climbed down from the carriage and walked through the entrance toward the women. At that point, we were able to walk past the dispersing crowd and entourage, to continue on our way. As we passed the horses and the disbanding musicians we couldn't help but notice how skinny and sad the horses looked, in their tattered, worn and torn, though once splendid tapestries. The band members were thin, ancient-looking men, with tarnished instruments and bare feet. And the carriages, up close, were shadows of what they once were. But who cares? It's a wedding party that has only just begun.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Adjusting . . .

It is Sunday morning and we are doing art surrounded by the sounds of India after having eaten our curry, chutney and dosas for breakfast. There is always a period of adjustment after travel from one culture to the next (the sounds, smells, tastes, weather, customs, etc.); jet lag always seems more difficult when the culture is drastically different than one's own comfort zone. And travel seems to strip away any semblance of structure and self as you are put in lines for ticketing, customs, passport control, bustled onto a bus and loaded into a plane where there is no personal space and you become well acquainted with your seatmates, then dropped off into a foreign country to transfer planes and search about for food, bathrooms, a place to sit and your next gate--but isn't that the joy of travel, the unknown, the shattering of regularity to explore something new? So, this morning our patterns--making tea and doing art--seem to ground us as we adjust to our new environment and possibly our new selves (?) as we sit here in our salwar khamezes (tunics and loose pants) surrounded by the sounds of India.


The first day in Chennai, after 20+ hours getting here and arriving at 4am, is tough. Staying up through the day in order to get a regular night's sleep creates a surrealistic experience of life as it swirls around us. Time flows in slow motion, and decisionmaking becomes excruciatingly difficult.  
Our drama for our first day was monsoon rains. I've been through typhoons before, and that's what this looked like to me. The sky grew dark and greenish and then snarling, raging wind whipped the trees around as if they were trunkless; the rain poured from all directions. It lasted for maybe an hour and then just rained for a little while. It's sunny and wickedly humid this morning, with only puddles to show that it even rained.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Within a few hours, I should be on my way to Chennai. I'm almost all packed, checking everything twice, and am trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach. I checked the weather in Chennai and it's almost exactly the same as it is here, only it's cloudy. We'll feel right at home!  Sangeeta, our alumna native of Chennai, and the students will be coming on the same plane early next week. Heidi and I should have everything ready for their arrival, and will be over jetlag by then. Stay tuned, and if you want the blog updates to come directly to your email, click here now.
~Lisa Raye Garlock

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


Our 2010 International Social and Cultural Diversity class heads off to India later this month! Sixteen students will spend three weeks in Chennai, exploring the city, working at service sites and learning about the culture.  Cultural and art side trips to temples, the towns of Yercaud and Pondicherry, and Auroville are planned for the weekends.  We'll be posting reports and photos daily to keep friends, family and colleagues abreast of our activities.   Click here now to sign up for email updates so you don't have to go to the blog, and you won't miss any of the action!