Untitled – on purpose

This morning, I wake up, make coffee, hop aboard the FB train and look. I look because people are sharing their news, showing pictures, posting articles and opinions. I enjoy it for the most part and also think about how open and honest people can be. Essentially inviting a wealth of people to view some part of themselves that they feel ok about sharing. I’ve been doing that for the past 10 years myself. I’ve shared my stories about my life, my work, my vacations, my opinions and opportunities.

It’s a lot to put out there, if someone were to sit down and organize my thoughts I wonder what it would say? Probably some vague posts, but also some thoughtful (I hope).

Today I share something I’ve been holding on to. Today is my last day at the detention center. I’ve been working there for a full 9 years, and I definitely have mixed emotions about leaving. I think it’s a good decision for me, because I want to do something different, and I also feel the need to re-calibrate myself personally and professionally. Maybe people will find that funny, but I’ve spent 10 years being associated with the detention center, and I’ve put my all into every single day of working there. I think I’ve had a lot of opportunities that have led me to some other pretty fantastic experiences. However, the experience of working there is taxing on most who spend a significant amount of time there.
I don’t want to downplay the stressful environment, because it truly is one of the most challenging places to teach. It’s not just because of the kids, but also the type of place, the potential for aggression and the constant barrage of verbiage that comes out of mouths. There are always noises.  Constant motion, and an underlying current of anxiety.  One of the most anxious parts of my day occurs every 50 minutes.  When a class ends, I have to round up all the art supplies by myself, count them all, and put them away.  Everyday I count markers, pencils, color pencils, erasers, fine point markers, paint brushes, scissors, rulers, stencils, and many other kinds of supplies.  I clearly don’t think my students should be limited in the act of art making.  True, I could limit their choices more, and leave out one pencil for each students, and give them one marker at a time to use.  But I have always felt that it’s ineffective and takes way too much time from the short class period we already have.
The decision to leave didn’t come easy to me.  And some might say I waited too long, or some might say too soon.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I’ve been a part of something that taught me a lot about myself.  Everyday was like staring into a big mirror and seeing a reflection of things I didn’t like inside myself, that were too painful for me to deal with on my own.  Working there was the biggest education for me, even though I was the teacher.  I am not sure if some of the students recognized that or not.  Every chance I got, I told them,”  You are my teacher too.”  I would often see so many students rise above the daily challenges, the trauma they have incurred, the barriers they had to overcome, the recognition of their faults just by the virtue of being placed in a detention home.  How many people do you know are forced to take responsibility for their actions on a daily basis?  How many people do you know deliberately avoid and overlook their own shortcomings in the world and keep on moving?  I’m sure we can count ourselves sometimes.
The fact is, yes, my students are there by court order, many of them have done unspeakable things, and many have done things only a teenager could be in trouble for.  Many of them come from circumstances that we would never understand or be able to recognize.  Some go to great lengths to cover up their circumstances and are constantly trying to show that “everything is ok”, or they’re “in control”.  We know that’s not the case.
So the daily challenge becomes- what can you do now?  All students are not the same, each of them require a lot of different kinds of services, interactions, accommodations and treatment.  All of them carry with them individual habits, predispositions, interests, histories that we may uncover or not.  Many students have realized the opportunity that education could change their course and station in their current life.  In school, they get our undivided attention, working with teachers who care and will not let them give up, or allow them to see alternatives to the path they have previously chosen.  Many struggle with letting that control go, and hold up that heavy wall of protection for themselves.  It can be extremely hard to keep up, by the way.  However, there are holes in that wall.  Some of which start to crumble, but some of which they begin to tear down themselves.  They become vulnerable and open.  Sometimes, they flail around because they may have never had such opportunities or people who care about them and want to support them.  Or, maybe they’ve  realized they have already wasted some opportunities like this.
And maybe that is one of the difficult things for me.  It has take a lot of patience to get to the student, creating  a lot of access points to interest the student in doing something, and also being ready when the moment happens.  But, when it does, it is rewarding.  For everyone.
When I started teaching, I really had no direction, or goal of teaching in a particular kind of school, in a particular kind of setting.  I actually started out as a Social Studies teacher in a tough school in Albuquerque.  I too, flailed around to see where my feet would land, and it landed at the detention center.  I had the opportunity to work with some amazing people on the education side and detention side.  I’ve learned about hard work and dedication by being in their presence and observing how my co-workers interacted with the students.  I learned that you have to collaborate, you have to ask for help, you too— have to be vulnerable and willing to fail, and willing to get back up, go to work, and try again.   Most importantly, you need to be you. Authentic, real, and compassionate.  Towards yourself and others.
I never knew all of what my students were attempting to overcome, or battle with, but it never really mattered to me in some ways.  They needed me to guide them, be supportive of them when they needed it, and offer them an environment where they could flourish in the midst of chaos.   If they were willing, they came along on that journey with me.

There is a popular saying that people use, often under difficult circumstances, but it all rings true to me.  It encompasses non-judgment, compassion, and empathy:  “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”


Road trip to Camp

The major highlight of being involved with NalandaWay Foundation was being able to attend, observe and help facilitate an arts camp called Kanavu Pattarai (dream workshop).  The purpose of the camp is to immerse youth in community building strategies. By using arts based and mindfulness practices, Kanavu Pattarai camps educate and train diverse communities to create responsible children who are expressive and positive in their choices.

Before we arrived at the camp for this session, our group stopped along to visit some other groups at some different schools who had already experienced Kanavu Pattarai in previous sessions.  The kids had recalled what they learned, shared with us the art and skits they created during camp.  I even got to facilitate some group yoga practices.  What a treat!

The best part for me was being able to interact with the kids, and noticing how receptive they were to my presence and trusting me to guide them through some poses.  What a warm reception and some stand out, unforgettable moments.

Here is a glimpse of some of the students I met, the schools I visited, and what they shared with us:

Students were game for a few yoga poses.  Tree pose is always a good one to try.
In Andhra Pradesh, the land is a lot drier and rockier.
Mural painting is big everywhere you go, although this one is fades, it’s still beautiful.
I had a chance to visit a girls school, the whole school was bright, cheerful, and boasted lots of arts integration.
Meeting with a group of girls who participated in a previous camp.
We also visited a residential school.  These kids were energetic, lively, and so friendly.
Listening carefully to a few members who were speaking about the importance of the arts, but also how the arts can be a catalyst for social improvement among peers.


Part of the camp process is to create a banner to bring back to the school.  This group worked hard to create a message about equality and acceptance.


More to come from this trip. Stay tuned.

Job Satisfaction

You never know what kind of driver will pick you up when you use Ola.  Most are not very talkative, but others talk your ear off, or ask you copious amounts of questions.  Many are truly just focused on getting the customer from point “A” to point “B”, no matter what.  This driver is one of my favorites.  He seemed really happy when he picked me up. Greeted me with a nice smile and turned on the meter quickly and without question.  On this day, the traffic was light, there was slight breeze, and everything seemed right about the world.

I was busy looking at my phone to follow along on google maps when I noticed his whistling.  It made me so happy.  At first I just listened, but then I felt the urge to capture his the joy he shared with me.  I hope you smile.

Yep, more Kerala

It was definitely a nice retreat to stay in Kerala for a few days.  It was extremely cool, quiet, and fresh.  We had great meals everyday, and had a very leisurely time.  We played games, ate food, walked around and basically felt like we were taken care of.  The quietness can be shocking after being in the city for a time.  I was used to the city traffic and constant hum.  However, once you refocus your senses to listen to the natural settings of the babbling brook, the bird calls, the monkey knocking at your door (really, they did), you then begin to feel like yourself again.

This dancer was one of the employees of the hotel.  She performed twice while we were there.  Her expression and movement we amazingly controlled.
South Indian dance tells traditional stories.  All of the performers I saw when I was in India had studied this particular kind of dance as children.
The monkey knocking on the door.  You  MUST lock your door at all times, or they will come in.
Just waiting.


We took an evening walk through the old tea farms.  Such a peaceful place and nice vantage points.


Before we leave, one last photo.


Don’t know the name of this game, but we played it.  Made our own rules too.
Daily treats and tea time.  Yum!

Kerala and the camera

As I keep going through my pictures for this blog, I realize that I’m really only half way through.  I took so many pictures, probably too many.  But it was all in an effort to remember, and even feel what it was like to be there.  Let’s face it, I am a visual person.  I like looking at things.  I definitely remember telling myself to stop taking pictures and to just be in the moment and to pay attention to the present.  That’s really hard for me when there’s so much to look at.  I guess that is a failure of technology, in a sense.  We can use it to remember things for us, when we should actually be remembering the time we spent doing, being, and living.  I do love taking pictures, but I also know it’s important to step away from the camera lens, to just let whatever happens, happen.  I love that I can capture moments, or observe something in a different way with a camera.  That’s exactly it’s job, because even then, you can alter what others see.  Your first edit is deciding what you are taking a picture of.  I don’t alter my photos much, I usually just leave them the way they are. That is also giving that environment, that moment, that object, that person a particular point of view.  These pictures are a view of what I saw, what I wanted to remember, but it’s definitely not the way it was or is.

We could have opted for the tree house experience, but had a villa instead.  Maybe next time?
One morning Charlene and I went for a nature walk with a naturalist.  It was all up hill, foggy, and humid.
Our guide, as we lag behind– or are taking pictures.
Fog was slowly lifting, but it wasn’t very clear that morning.


Later that day we went to a nearby lake,  it was very reminiscent of Burke Lake in Virginia.  A place where people go for a walk, rent a canoe, and picnic.


Emerging from the mud.


These blossoms were all over the place.  I have no idea what they’re called.  I nicknamed them “fraggle flowers”.  Obviously.


The old playground is still used by children (and adults).  This monkey looks a little concerned.


On the way back from the Lake, we stopped along one of the view points.  The view was foggy at best, but we were definitely a long way up.
The boy and his family were so sweet. He wanted to make sure we knew that he knew English.  They asked if we could take photos with them, and then I asked them the same.


Seriously, Burke Lake?? or India?



The long awaited break came when a friend visited me from her teaching post in China.  She came to Chennai and then we took the bus to and from Pondicherry.  After that, we flew to Kerala.  We didn’t do the typical trip of going on a river house boat, or going down south.  We went for the cool air, the breeze, and to coexist with the beautiful green forest way up on the mountains.  There we took a few hikes, a yoga class, chatted, had a massage played games, and watched some cultural performances.  Maybe it was just what we needed to get a way from the hustle and bustle of the cities both of us had been living in.  One thing for sure, is that I want to get back to Kerala and experience all the other amazing historical offerings and more of the beautiful landscape that makes up this huge state.  The food was good, the people were welcoming, and the air was fresh.

After we landed, it was quite  a journey to make it up the mountain.  We went from desert, through palms and into jungle.


Masonry– everywhere.  There’s nothing like stacked stone walls.  I love the craftsmanship.
I never was never tired of the tall palms.
Finally up in tea and coffee farms!


Our hotel villa had a lovely stained glass window that separated the sleeping area from the sitting area.
High ceilings, a sitting area outside to hear the brook behind the property, and no air conditioning.  We actually didn’t need it.
Bridges were everywhere on the property, taking us to meals, the pool, the game room and spa treatments.


Tiled roofs of villas.  The traditional Kerala tile, which helps maintain a nice temperature for the whole place.
An interesting abstracted map of Vythiri.
Hello friend.  They were everywhere, more pictures to come showcasing the animals, flora and fauna.
We were headed up there! Way up there, even beyond up there.
A view from one of the 9 hairpin turns on the way up.  Can you see the elephant?
Unfortunately with beauty comes waste.  Always a duality in this country.



The Aura of Auroville

After my experience at Auroville the very first time, of course I told everyone about it. So when people came to visit me, I had to take them to at least see it.  So on the second and third trips I took my good camera and got some better shots that were closer to the Matrimandir.  Still think it’s one of those amazing experiences that will live with me forever.  I still can’t get over being inside the Matrimandir and how quiet it was inside.


You take a little hike to get to the view point.  When it’s over 100 degrees, that can seem like an awful long walk.


Charlene and I taking a selfie break.


View point.
In all it’s golden glory– some day it’s supposed to be surrounded by bodies of water, like moats.
Parting peekabo  shot.