Archive for October, 2010

While my last training was going on (a wonderful creative and very spontaneous psychodrama/Playback theatre training in Bangalore with the Yours Truly Theatre Company) Festival (Puja) was also going on outside our windows. Noisy, inventive, crowded with worshipers from all over, Hindus come to Various India 143 offer gratitude for everything that exists. The festival lasts for 9 full days into nights. On Saturday, one was to worship all machines. So everything from laptops to cars were cleaned and decorated. Traffic is hard enough, but bring in a few extra million people, and add some chrysanthemums, incense and (very large ) banana leaves to your windshield, and driving truly becomes a process of clear mind (hopefully) over matter.

Firecrackers by the thousands went off at once and at times we would stop the training so as not to scream at each other.

Last night, we came to Mysore (home of the oldest palace) and throngs of people were in the street. The palace (across from our hotel) was all lit up and Hindi music was playing. cross from our hotel, street vendors selling material, saris and other traditional things worked in the dark until it was just too hard to sell anything- Lights are not provided. But the mood was very festive. Think Mardi Gras without the drinking (that I could see anyway).

This morning it is calm. It is cooler here in Mysore- Karnataka State- More in the mountains. We are going to stroll in the Palace Gardens and go to an art  museum at one of the smaller palaces- a little more doable than the mammoth larger palace- which we can’t go into anyway this week, as the King is here with his family to celebrate the Puja.

I am nearing the end of my trip now and realizing how rich and vast this experience has been.  While I have one more training, This week is mostly about seeing temples, and connecting to India in a different way.


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As I enter the last week of my time in India, I want to take some time out to reflect and appreciate the incredibly hard work of my sponsor and main, very instrumental, collaborator for this trip, Magdalene Jeyarathnam. Magdalene is the Director of the Center for Counselling, (centerforcounselling.org)here in Chennai. She has worked as a social worker and counselor for the past 16 years and for the last 5 years, Magdalene and her counselors have been contracted to work in schools and NGOs to work with, and for, people and groups in deep distress. She works at the collegiate level, helping to plan and implementing counseling programs, and governmental level to implement policy to support people who have HIV/AIDS and also the GBLT population. She also just completed a 1 year  Expressive Arts Certificate program in Poona.

I couldn’t ask for a better person to work and collaborate with. Magdalene is a bridge.  Her deep understanding of the psychological needs of others, and profound empathy, coupled with her ability to bridge Eastern and Western ways of thinking, have deeply supported this process of bringing the use of Expressive Arts Therapy to India. Expressive Therapy  is clearly wanted and needed here, based on all the reactions from the trainees at each workshop. As well, Magdalene has an unbelievable ability to network! Needless to say, I am taking notes!!! Magdalene collaborates and works with her husband, Eric Miller, who is the Director of the World Storytelling Institute (storytellinginstitute.org). They frequently collaborate on projects around Chennai that range from fun and entertaining to deeply moving and with a focus on social Justice. It really has been enriching and special to work with both of them.

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World Vision Advance training WCC 006 I have just finished a 5 day training with World Vision, a Christian based organization that works with street children, abused children, and children who have HIV or AIDS or live with someone with HIV/AIDS)

One unique aspect of this training is that there were more men than women! There were 8 men and 3 women. ages were from 27-48 in the group. However, while the group was fairly mature in  chronological age, It felt at times that the training  was like “Herding goats”, due to a lot of male bonding behavior.Of course as this was an expressive arts course, I helped to open the energy up a bit. One person in the group has HIV and is an advocate with the organization. people came from many parts of India for this training. Some traveling more than a day to attend.puppets- A voice from within, becoming embodied.

With the background theme of working with Kids with HIV/AIDS or in families, we explored building trust, understanding materials, movement, song, metaphor and imagery,family work and looking at our social networks, Using puppets to embody parts of ourselves or to have conversations that are hard when we are ourselves, Playback Theatre and storytelling as  a way of helping children create a narrative that helps them make sense of their world and of their feelings in response. It was a very full week.World Vision workshop 039

This group, while people understood English needed translation from my English into Indian English. Magdalene and I had to reorganize a bit, and she became my interpreter. I found that although I spoke more slowly, many of my American phrases went right over their heads. I had a hard time getting concrete enough for them. Fortunately that got better as the week went on.  I am now in the groove of speaking pigeon English. Speaking Tamil is not something that I have been able to master. There is little to ground it for me- I find that I struggle to grasp the nuances. Many people here want to practice their English. And so I don’t try very hard.

This training was important for the group in the respect that they began to frame their work in a completely different way. There was a fair amount of judgment like comments at the beginning- In working with sociometry and the way I handle sharing- this level of commentary decreased noticeably after the first day. The judgments though comes not just within their group, but from a society that refuses to accept that HIV and AIDS are in fact real and need to be dealt with. What does one do when whole families refuse to be tested for fear of recrimination? Or disbelieve that having unprotected sex is not bad if you are carrying the virus? The reality of this level of understanding is frightening to those of us who understand the deep ramifications. Whether it is religion or politics, the result ends up being that there are unnecessary illnesses and deaths that are based in fear.Understanding different roles in our lives, taking them on... and off

An important day was when we did some work around taking on other roles- stepping into other peoples shoes.Roles included the government worker, the person with HIV, a parent, a child, a relative of someone with HIV. Many people remarked on the power of that and how little they have done so. Another exercise  reflected on how we felt physically- (mentioning that as we age we die a little more each minute) after which, participants then drew on a template of a human body. Sharing after an exercise

In all, I felt deeply enriched, each person affirmed their commitment to working using more arts based work. The person who has HIV told me that she felt like  pounds of weight had just dropped away with the process and that she was able to look at herself and her work in a different way. I too felt deeply moved by the sharings. We all felt like we had learned much.

World Vision workshop 016

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Poverty in India

Poverty exists in India. Everywhere one goes are people in rags, dirty, unshaven and seemingly in high distress. Hands pushing under  me – hands to mouths, imploring me that they are hungry and in need of food. Hands, some with babies, telling me that they need food, money.

However, poverty might not exist in the way that one thinks. After conversations with Magdalene and others, I am becoming aware that what I experience as poverty, is not necessarily how the Indians view it.  Poor people work, and many work very hard. So how does one define what poverty is? Even caste does not necessarily define poverty.

So what is it? There are people begging on the streets, who in fact have homes and money in the bank. Begging is a job for them. The beggars have unions and ways to stay in touch (i.e. churches and meetings). Unlike Bangladesh, one does not see children (many anyway) begging on the streets. It is compulsory for children to be in school until age 15. When we see children on the street begging, out of school, we know that the family is ignoring this important law of the land.

There are moments we are approached by a beggar, dressed in rags and looking for a handout. One is not to give necessarily, as the beggars, if nothing else,  have shelters and homes they can go to. Food and clothes are generously given by differing charities. Rags are (often) a uniform beggars put on.  One of my students noted, that being generous was difficult, when she witnesses beggars at the end of a train line, in the last car, taking off their rags and begging clothes, so that they can leave and go home.

So it is complicated. Is there poverty? Yes I see many people sleeping in the streets, near trash- living in less than sanitary homes.. But one needs to see the way in which this system is working before making judgments.

A word about pictures. I have not taken many photographs of people- especially poor people – as that makes them into objects. I have asked a  few  if I could take a photograph, and been rejected. I am increasingly sensitive to the way people feel about being photographed. As a foreigner, I need to use my camera wisely, and not make people into something they are not. I encourage you to use your imaginations as you read my writing. To the best of your ability, put yourself into the shoes of the poor people, and others, about whom I write.

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Due to unexplainable internet issues, I have not been able to pst my latest blogs (one on poverty, and another on a 5 day training last week working with staff from World Vision, an organization that works with Children) right now I am renting a computer at a hotel.

In brief- My husband flew in on Saturday, and has been having his own adventures- I have run a 5 day training followed by two 1/2 day trainings over the weekend- I start a new training this afternoon working with students at the Women’s Christian College, and later this week, a 2 full day training with students in the social work department. Michel and I then take a train to Bangalore. I will be working with a playback theatre company there.

We have been walking, a lot. Seeing a lot- digesting much. With luck, the internet will be up soon and I can post my observations. It is often like this. One can not be too dependent on the infrastructure- it easily collapses.

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Yesterday was Gandhi’s 141st birthday. It was (not by accident) also the International Day of Non-violence. Eric and I went to Gandhi Beach early in the morning to see the sun rise (we were too late). We arrived at 6:30 but the sun had risen an hour before!

Gandhi Beach With Boats

There were already ceremonies in front of a statue of Gandhi with many officials and onlookers. On the beach, and elsewhere, it was just another day of fishing, and shopkeeping. Some businesses were closed in observation of his birthday, but many stayed open due to overseas operations. A birthday of an important man does not necessarily get in the way of trade and commerce.

This week was important for another reason. 18 years ago,  a very old temple that had been shared by Muslims and Hindus alike was bombed in Ayodha. For the last 18 or so years, the case has been in various courts to determine what to do with the site. The proceedings have been fraught with tension, as it was never made clear, who in fact, did the bombing. There is an assumption that the Taliban was responsible, but they have not come forth with an admission.

This week, one of the high courts came to a decision about what to do with the site and remains of the temple. There was much conversation and fear about the decision: that if it were the wrong decision, it could be  the cause of much  violence. There were major concerns about possible violence in Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi. Interestingly, there were few concern of violence in Chennai; Chennaians tend not to get involved that way. However precautions were taken. Even if  it were the right decision, a lot of violence could come with it. Schools closed early the day of the decision, and were planning to close the next day as well.

The court decided the temple and site would be split into thirds. This was a mature decision actually, and there was a collective sigh of relief. The court acknowledge that the temple had been shared from the beginning. There are 2 sects of Hindus, hence the 2/3 Hindu and 1/3 Muslim division. For now, the temple and area is to be shared.

I have not heard of any violence in the country related to this. People are talking…. A  lot. The papers are filled with thoughts and concerns. The Muslims are not happy, yet, there is no violence. People are thinking and connecting.

The decision came at an interesting time. While Gandhi’s (Here is a link to the statue on the beach) views are still held in high esteem, one sees many fissures in the social fabric. People are not always as generous, caring, or concerned for others as he wanted us to be. But  in this case, his views and concerns seemed to, in fact, be taken into account. I do not think it was an accident that the court chose this week to come to this major decision. I like to think that Gandhi himself is still helping us to remember his important ideals.

Happy Birthday Mahatma Gandhi!

Woman coming to buy fish. Background is the fishing community-

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Creating a Collage

Yesterday we finished the first 5 day workshop. There were 5 women, organizational facilitators and therapists, present. Ours was a week of connecting through sound, movement, art, and drama. We also did dream work (including exploring dreams through dream theatre), and mandala and mask making. We discussed the history of the Expressive therapies, looking at the development of art making skills, assessment, and the use of metaphor. We explored ways to use the arts to access the deep well of creativity within each of us. We also considered what it means to embody a process, to bring it out in the open, in order for us to look at what we are experiencing within.  At the end, there were deeply shared moments of connecting to self, and others, in a way that promoted deep healing for all. Here is a link to more pictures, and a blurb,at the Centre for Counselling ,where the workshop was held. (more…)

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Walking along, one sees Kangi, a women’s traditional art form.  Women create this transient designs on their doorsteps. The process is a meditation,and a  means to release worry and guilt  a person may hold inside.

I past a man in front of a large bag of trash, picking out the papers for recycling. He was old, dirt smeared, and dressed in rags, clearly delit in caste. He read each paper carefully before putting it aside. I asked if I could take his picture but he was not happy with the idea. So I took no pictures. I was struck he could read, and was taking  the time to read as he did his job of recycling.

India is a mix of experiences. I find that I am feeling a lot of tension being here. India is not necessarily a comfortable place, yet there is so much to it.  I wonder about the lifestyle I am used to, how plush it is. Walking the streets of developing countries has the ability to make one feel very guilty for having anything.

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