Everyone has finally arrived in India after very long flights, a last minute approval of a visa, and a miraculous luggage retrieval–but we are all here safe and sound and ready to begin. This morning we had orientation by the hosts of our B&B, Footprint Inn, and my now dear friends, Rucha and Ashish Gupta. They gave students a mini history lesson (there are 14 million people living in Chennai!); some cultural tips (Indians will never say “no” they will say ” I will try” and will do the head bobble, this means that it probably won’t happen); and a list of area shops, restaurants, grocery stores, and ATMs. The students then set off to explore the neighborhood.
One of the greatest talents they will need to master is the art of crossing the street. First you must recognize that humans never have the right of way, even when the light turns red and the sign says walk. Therefore, you must look both directions, remembering that they drive on the left side of the road here, gather your courage, double check the road, step into the street, walk/run a few steps, keep checking the road, side step the puddle, stop abruptly for the motorcycle that suddenly appeared out of nowhere, jump up onto the concrete block–and then you are halfway across the street. For those of you familiar with old video games, it is much like the game of Frogger.
Tonight we begin our nightly ritual of creating art and writing journal entries accompanied by music. These are then shared with the group. The ritual provides connection with group members, a place to process the events and thoughts and feelings of the day, and a method to integrate the new knowledge and self awareness. Even within the first 12-18 hours these students have already begun the introspection and exploration that is so essential to this trip. For me the return to the ritual is like a return home–I so look forward to the next 3 weeks.