Tuesday, July 27, 2010


So, the class has ended and eight of us returned back to the US, the other ten are continuing their journeys in India. Just as we dealt with culture shock on our arrival in India, I find I am now dealing with reverse culture shock upon our return. The streets are surprisingly quiet--no constant honking horns, crowing roosters, barking dogs, scooters scootering, people calling. But, strangely our restaurants are louder--noisy pop music and people effusively talking. The other unexpected aspect is all the "scantily" clad people. We returned to DC in the midst of a heat wave and everyone is naturally in shorts and spaghetti strap shirts attempting to stay cool. However, for three weeks all of us have worn loose, long sleeves and pants and draping scarves as Chennai is very conservative and the clothing protects you from the hot sun, pollution, and stares and gives us the impression that we are blending in. :)

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


"The City of Dawn," Northwest of Pondicherry, was designed by French architect Roger Anger in 1968. Conceived as a utopian paradise by The Mother, Mirra Alfassa, it was devised as a international city where people would live together in peace. 2,100 people live there, including a friend of mine. As she cheerfully gave Janna and me a tour on her motorbike (yes, we were three on the bike and it was fun!) and by foot, I was amazed by its serene nature, as well as its avant-garde architecture, merging together modernity and a multicultural flair. I was surrounded by reminders of different cultures, from Japanese gardens, to tropical fruit trees, to peacocks roaming the grounds, to Ukranian and Brazilian Aurovillians at the delicious European/Indian cafe where we ate. I left feeling tranquil and content to have visited my dear college friend in her fascinating environment.
The first image above includes the Matri Mandir, a meditation center. This spherical marble chamber has a crystal placed inside it, reflecting the sun's rays. The concentrated light acts as a focal point to aid meditation. The second image is of the garden where my friend grew up, one of the many houses built by her father.


I don't know if there is such thing as "quintessential" India; ask anyone and each person will have their own idea about it. The India of today is not the same as it was yesterday, and it will be different tomorrow. It is ever changing, rapidly, and hopefully with forethought. Ashish said today that South India is too focused on its traditions and religious values to change too radically. But to me, after only one year, the changes seemed remarkable. It is possible, I suppose, that I was able to see more, and see more clearly this year. Tonight half of us said good-bye to India and to half of the group. The other half is travelling on to northern areas, on to another, very different adventure. It would be almost impossible to come to India and not have an adventure; perhaps that is the quintessential India--adventure: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually...


In Pondicherry we heard of an elusive elephant that blesses it's visitors outside of a temple. Of course our curiosity was piqued by this, so many of us made sure to visit this temple to be blessed by Lakshmi the elephant. What we found was both beautiful and heartwrenching, much like many things on this trip. Lakshmi is a beautiful elephant, adorned with chalk designs on her ears and silver ankle bracelets on her front legs. Give her a few rupees change in her trunk or food, and she'll bop you on the head in blessing. What a beautiful elephant and so seemingly tame! Look a little closer and you'll see her trainer by her side yelling commands. I found myself wondering where the money in her trunk went, it didn't seem like it would go to her care, she had skin discoloration on her back and marks on her back legs where a rope may have tied her. I question whether the money continues poor treatment of this animal, or whether it fuels this community ritual where people from all over come to celebrate and be blessed by this elephant.

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.


We woke up early this morning hoping to fit in all the sights of Pondicherry before a noon departure time. First on the list - the market place. What an adventure. We arrived when unloading produce was still in process but the market was well underway. Weaving through the fish, we made our way to the produce section and finally to the flowers. With each step came stares as we were definitely the only foreigners in sight. Individuals either avoided the camera or asked to have their picture taken. New sights and smells surrounded us as we got lost in the bustling of the crowded market.


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.
The city of Chennai.. Pro's: extreme visual stimulation, many options for dining, shopping, site seeing, a fast-paced flow that makes you feel that moving quickly is your only option and it can be exhilarating, observing how many people can fit on one motorcycle seat (I have seen 5). Con's: Pollution that makes your throat sting, the fear that crossing the street could be your last moment on earth.

Camping in Yercaud... Pro's: Beautifully breathtaking landscapes, fresh air, silence, animal life, less stimulation that allows for your mind to be clear. Con's: Sleeping on the hard earth, ants that bite, thorns on branches
that are so small you cannot see them, but they
prick you just as hard.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Tomorrow at 5:30am we set off by train to Yercaud, for an overnight camping experience; then on to Pondicherry and Auroville, by vans, for two nights. We return Tuesday and will post then. Before we know it, some of us will be boarding the plane for home, while others board a plane for other parts of India to continue their adventure...


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.


This is Lisa and my stomachs on bad Indian seafood--urp!

Thursday, July 15, 2010


We named them the "Rangoli Girls" last year. The women at Bambino School usually are helping with the children and doing chores around the school, but this afternoon they transformed the courtyard into a beautiful painting. The materials were wet chalk, rice powder, rock salt and pigments. They showed us how to create the rangoli and kolams, and encouraged our participation. Working together, we connected the lines, shapes and colors while at the same time, connecting with each other.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Sunrise and sun saluations for me....waking up for the sunrise felt great. The feeling was calm and quiet, compared to the busy street noises of Chennai.


At the Mamalapuram temple on Sunday, Heidi and I were befriended by a bright-eyed, young Gypsy boy who showed us the beach shortcut to the temple. Unlike the other Gypsies selling beads in a pleading and desperate manner, he was charming and didn't try to sell us anything. Instead, he asked many questions, and we entered into a bantering, relaxed conversation. He showed us his extensive coin collection and stayed with us or the group until we left the temple. We did buy some of his beads, which he discretely hid while on the temple grounds. Gypsies are not high in the Indian class hierarchy, and are persecuted here much the same way as they have been and still are in other areas of the world. Mulee was such a sparkling child, exuberant and endearing; he can't afford to go to school, yet he has a sharp intelligence and is so eager to learn. He really touch my heart, and every time I think of him, my eyes well up with tears as I wonder what will become of him.

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.



At my internship, I have struggled with the idea of communication, and how to do it. Because the patients speak primarily Tamil or Hindi, much of our dialogue has to be completed through a translator, which makes creating a therapeutic rapport nearly impossible....or so I thought. In the past few days, I have realized that the best gift I can give the women of The Banyon Tree is being present with them. Seeing, feeling, experiencing, and offering encouragement through smiles and gestures has helped me to be more present with them, and in turn help them to be more expressive and creative. For example, in four short days, I have witnessed a woman progress from filling in her mandala with only one color, to choosing three the next day, and then five the day after that, and then today coloring in her mandala with not only five different colors, but also filling in the space around the circle. The progress in expressiveness has been incredible.

Today when asking the women what made them excited, many of them said that it was US being there with them that made them feel excited. Hearing this made me feel an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude. Little do these women know that the truly lucky person in the room is me, because I have the honor of being present in this wonderful moment with them.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Facilitating an in-service for teachers yesterday was exhilarating and rewarding for me, and hopefully for them as well. The group of 23 teachers of special needs kids jumped right into the art experiential, asked probing questions about art therapy and seemed to enjoy the process and interactions (of a different kind) with each other. The two students at the site also participated and were able to show some of the kids' art and talk a bit about the children they're seeing. They say here that "guests are like gods," meaning that it is part of the culture to make visitors feel at home. We certainly felt welcome and appreciated throughout the in-service, and left with many expressions of thanks.. The warmth, helpfulness and friendliness of people in Chennai has been the one thing that has been consistent through all that is inconsistent.

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.


As a self-proclaimed photographer, I came to India eager to photograph the women in colorful sarees, innocent children, and market vendors. To my surprise, I feel extremely uncomfortable behind the camera, and am realizing that there is a fine line between capturing and exposing the people of Chennai. As I struggle to find a respectable balance, I am embracing the opportunity to redirect my lens to the fine details and vibrant colors of the land.