An arts camp, with the future in mind.

I took thousands of pictures while I was in India on the Fulbright. I carried my camera around with me wherever I went. The one time where I ran out of memory and battery power was the time I spent at the arts camp in Kuppam at the Agastya Foundation. I wanted to record everything I witnessed all the days I was there. The Kanavu Pattarai arts camp was something I wasn’t sure I was going to experience. Fortunately, I did. The experience was something that I will never forget.

This particular Kanavu Pattarai camp is supported by collaboration between the NalandaWay Foundation and the Agastya Foundation. NalandaWay provides the teachers, the curriculum, the resources, and Agastya Foundation provides the space. The camp pulls from near by towns. Both boys and girls, ages 13-16, attended this camp. It was not a residential experience but a day camp for 3 full days.

The first day students were introduced to each other and jumped right in on camp activities. The teachers organized the whole camp, and when there was some spots that needed an activity I filled in with yoga and a quick lesson in making origami cranes. I also participated in a trust exercise, which was really fun for all of us.

All the students were extremely excited to participate. They made a large amount of art in just three days, and presented on topics that were important to them and their school community. It just goes to show you, that when students are given a chance to perform, act, interact, create, make, design, and do—THEY WILL! Most of the students were really into the arts projects and produced a lot of amazing work together.

Collaboration is a big piece of the puzzle for this kind of camp, especially since the goal is to build a community of peers. One of the best parts of the camp for me was when the students were tasked with creating a group song. It was a huge challenge. Many students were very happy doing visual arts, or even making posters, and speaking. BUT singing? That was a big leap for some of them. Many of the students didn’t know what to do, or how they should attempt that particular task. However, there were a few girls who would not give up. While the group took a break from song writing, a couple of girls stayed back to finish the melody and lyrics. They were the only ones in the building, and I don’t think they were even aware that I was paying attention. What I saw was true collaboration, respect for one another, and the desire to come together to accomplish the task. These girls continued working on the song until everyone came back in the room. They shared their lyrics and taught the whole group of students the melody of the song. The other students were amazed, excited and couldn’t wait to be a part of the musical task once again.

As a group they practiced (led by the girls and a few other boys). The way the girls problem solved and helped their fellow peers was amazing. They reached out as a team to put something together that would bring a lot of joy to everyone in the whole entire room.

On a whole, this group exhibited a wide variety of talents and problem solving skills. I thought that this was a strength because they all had a particular way to exhibit that strength. It made the group of 30 kids extremely strong.   Students exhibited a lot of empathy and compassion for each other. Most times when one member of their group was having difficulty another would job in and say,” Maybe we try this?” The students always seemed like they were looking for ways to solve problems, think creatively, use the set limitations to their advantage, think outside the box to use limited art materials in a new way, and most importantly not give up on the project or each other. Only a few students really needed some extra help, but I think it was only because they had never had this much going on at once. Not much exposure to arts, not much exposure to group work and collaboration.

The Kanavu Pattarai camp is much more than a few days for kids to get away from school and have fun. This program is creating ways for kids to build their self-esteem, gain leaderships skills, practice problem solving, and be more self- aware. Without the arts, students are unable to see some the values that already exist within themselves. By providing arts camps, NalandaWay is essentially strengthening the school communities. The students who participate in these camps take everything back with them and share it at their school. They are able to talk about their experiences and show what they accomplished by participating in the camp.

 

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The camp space.
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Student receiving a welcome pin!

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Camp rules.
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Students creating their small group poster.
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Student beginning work on her self portrait with a tiny mirror.
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Decorative self portraits.  Using color and pattern as symbols.
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Students had a lot of discussions with each other for collaborative projects.

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Working on their community poster, discussing issues that are important to them and their community.

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Presenting their community posters to all the other groups.

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Me!  Teaching origami cranes, step by step.

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Uma and I on a tour around Agastya.
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All the camp goers and the teachers.
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The lovely girls who put the song together.
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Traveling to the camp spot.

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Shadow puppets to tell a story.
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Clay figures.

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Trust game– “Crazy taxi”.

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I was delighted to collaborate with NalandaWay on this program. I was able to expand the camp to five days, and add additional components like yoga and mindfulness. The more time we spend providing meaningful programs for youth to connect to each other and their own communities, the stronger we build the future for all of us.

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A peak at what’s around

I had the chance to visit the Kanavu Pattarai camp in Andhra Pradesh.  I was mostly in the very southern tip of that state where Tamil Nadu and Kerala come together.  First we traveled by train, and toured around in a car until we got to Kuppam.  That is where the camp was held.  The landscape was very similar to the southwest.  Dry, arid, blue skies, and puffy clouds.  It felt like a very familiar place.  I loved the Southwest when I lived there, and I really got used to being in this type of environment again.  If felt so familiar.

It was the perfect setting for the camp.  Very quiet, serene, beautiful.  Rambling vistas everywhere to just stare at, and take a very deep breath.  I think students would have no problem feeling inspired to create in this space.  In the morning and evenings it was quite cool.  However, just as you may have guessed, the day time was hot.  You really had to keep up your fluids up here, or else, heat exhaustion.  I loved visiting the Agastya Foundation and staying on their campus for those few days.  It was a great break from the traffic, humidity and people-packed city.  It would have been great to see more of the State itself, but I was happy I got to see  this small corner.

 

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The conductor of the train, wearing  nice jacket, but what you don’t see is the clipboard.  It had a very colorful cartoon character, and a unicorn on it!
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AC.
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Trains fill up fast, sometimes it was standing room only.  Not to mention 3 people to one long bench.
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Everyone has there hustle.  There are people selling everything: toys, jewelry, games, food, snacks, tea.  You name it, you can probably get it.
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Part of one of the schools we visited on our way to Agastya.
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Streets are far less busy here than Chennai.
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Trucks, palms, and mountains.
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Watching the sunset, was lovely.
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Small town we passed through to get to Agastya.  We had some tea and chips.

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We drove far away from the towns and villages to a huge plot of land that is the campus of Agastya Foundation.  We crossed over this big water body and we realized there was a full moon. 
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Outside of our dorm they are building a shrine to Agastya.
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After breakfast we walked the road to the art camp building.
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View from art camp.

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Another view from Art Camp.

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Typical South Indian Cuisine! That big spot is for the rice!
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You can tell it’s hot.

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View from camp.

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:

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

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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.

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More to come from this trip. Stay tuned.

Reflection

Get ready for  series of reflections since I am back from India.  It was a big struggle to try and update while I was in India and now that I’ve been looking through thousands of pictures and organizing them into the weeks and months.  I realize that there is so much that I want to share.  Even though it will come from a different point of view, it still reflects the different things I learned, what was important to me then, and how I think about it now.

One of the best experiences I had in India was creating a workshop for the organization I was working with.  Each of the project managers presented me with what work they did and a few weeks later I prepared a full day of experiential learning activities and lectures to figure out ways we could collaborate on arts education programming for kids in India.

There was a lot of interest in what kinds of work I was doing in my own classroom in the United States and the goal for me was to expose them to art education theories, the use of mindfulness and yoga modules in the classroom, lesson planning, and a bit of about the importance of being a trauma informed educator.

One of my main goals for the day was just to get my coworkers to make art and become aware of the experience of making. I know all of the people in the organization are connected to the arts in some way, but I was curious about how often they immerse themselves in creating art.  I also felt that it was extremely important to let them be students and experience what it might feel like to be a student of art.

I decided to share a lesson that was open, expressive, and allowed for collaboration and exploration.  To facilitate those ideas, I decided to use music to direct the art making, and this is the result.

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I provided a wide variety of tools and media so the artists could choose the supplies they thought were appropriate for them.
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The result was a variety of symbols and objects that emerged from the interaction of the music, that conveyed a variety of moods and emotions from the artists.
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Many artists expressed a certain story and explained symbols contained in their work.
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The layers of tone and color mimic the layering of instruments in the music piece.
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A variety of textures in this piece.
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The pattern and color are bold over a background of light colors.
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This piece shows use of other paper, creating a truly mixed media piece with collage.
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A musical art composition.
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Sometimes a landscape emerges.
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Or a boat at sea.
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The group checking out the completed pieces.
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Artist at work.
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Creating texture with glue.
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The artists set up, ready to add more to their piece.
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The workshop space.
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Ready to go.
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Awesome ladies of NalandaWay.
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The workshop participants and co-workers.
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Ready to present, with electricity or not.

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Tuning in and out, and tuning back in.

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Empty seats, before I started a workshop for my host affiliate, NalandaWay.

I feel like I should apologize for the long absence.  I have been wanting to blog about my experiences more regularly but so much is going on that it’s hard to settle in and write.  I think that has been an ongoing battle for the entire time I’ve been here.  That, and trying to post with poor connection quality.  Posting, adding pictures, and videos has been quite a challenge.

I hope to maintain more of a balance for the next 2 months while I’m here, so I can share more of my experiences with you.

One of the goals of my Fulbright program is to create more lessons, curriculum and programming.  Not only for my host affiliate, but also for my own use.  I’m going to be spending the next few weeks focused more on what that looks like, and try to put it all together in more of a complete package.  A lot of people don’t really realize how much work goes into planning lessons that are well rounded.  Writing lessons that other people will understand and use effectively is actually really challenging.

One of the the things I hope to include in this package is identifying ways to include regional and local arts into the curriculum.  What I’ve been noticing in the school visits is that they WANT to include more arts programming, but are having a hard time fitting it into their curriculum.  I am hoping to make some short lessons that can be used anytime, across the curriculum.  It can be a challenge for teachers of other disciplines to buy into the importance of the arts, but if we figure out small ways to make learning more artful…then we got the hook.

I’m also creating some mindfulness exercises.  Short 15-30 minute mindful breaks that teachers and students can do together without any extra materials.  One of the biggest concerns here is testing pressure.  In fact, schools begin testing next month, and it lasts for about a month.  There is immense pressure on students to perform well so they can move on to the next standard (grade), and also pursue higher education.  They have pressure they put on themselves, peer pressure, teacher pressure, and maybe most importantly parental pressure.  Wouldn’t it be great to implement these activities to help students (and families) be more aware of their situations so they could act to change how they feel about their situation?  I think so.

So there is still a lot to do, in a very short amount of time.  So, I apologize for the delay in sharing the experiences I’ve had.  I will be taking time this weekend to share pictures and hopefully post more lessons that I’ve created since I’ve here.  When I first started this blog my goal was to post at least 5 times a week, but I just had to let that dream go.  My new goal– just try to create blog content that is meaningful and maybe sparks new ideas and generates conversation.

So don’t tune out, tune back in!  I’ll be here!  Keep checking back.

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Graffiti art in Pondicherry/Puducherry. This kid looks like he’s waiting, I hope you’ll wait while I figure out my blog posts.

More from “Pondi”

Just some snap shots around my friend’s neighborhood.  There were some fun shots being taken as I looked down from the roof of their apartment building.  It seems like you get even more of a peak at real life when no one things you’re watching.  Big thanks to the little boy busting a move on the top of his roof top!  But, my roof top is higher then yours!

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This kid was dancing, jumping off the tall stool, and stretching. He was hilarious to watch.  We made our presence known when we were looking out the window, but that didn’t seem to stop him.
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Yeah, why don’t we give time a break.  Come on.
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Cracks in the street started my map series for my artwork.  These cracks are amazing.
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Color, floors, a quaint doorstep to where?
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Nice empty streets, not too many of those in Chennai (except on Sunday mornings).
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More quaintness from Puducherry.
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So many of the gates are extremely decorative, you could just take pictures of these all day long.
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Don’t front, city style.  Such a strange representation on a main street in Puducherry.
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Inspiring color combos and pattern.
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Old, rusty doors.
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These are IN FACT chocolate butterflies stuck to the ceiling of a chocolate shop.
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Roof tops.
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More roof tops.  You see a lot of variety.  There are thatched ones, flat ones, corrugated ones, plastic covered ones, and a mixture of all of them.  People make due with what they can get.
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Roof advertising, “Vote for him”. (I’m not really saying vote for him, this blog in no way supports any candidates of any political background or country)
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These bikes were just propped up against this wall, we followed the line of bikes and it led to a bike shop.  All the parts are used and re-sued for other bikes.
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Duality of it all.
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We thought there was a lot going on here.
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Old, yet colorful. Showing it’s wear well.
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Train, cathedral.  Both are really easy to hear from this vantage point.
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Zooming in.
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I’ve noticed this in Chennai too.  There are quite a few buildings that are just cut off, or 1/2 torn down.  From what I can tell, at least in Chennai, they decided to knock part of the buildings down to build the road through the area.  I am not quite sure what is happening here, but that’s what it reminds me off.
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Little side street, where my friends live.
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Chartreuse, if there ever was such a color!!
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Thatched roof on top of the apartment building!
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A look from below.
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Signage.
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More gates.
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More color, another thatched roof, kolam, and tree poles.
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COLOR!
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ferme, for sure.
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So much happening.
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No goats this time, and no train….hummmmmm.
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A simple one to end on.

Auto rickshaw drivers, the ultimate symbol of adjusting and overcoming

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When moving to India, one of the first things that come to mind is the traffic. You hear stories about how the streets are clogged with all sorts of transportation, inclusive of pedestrians and animals with all the modes that come with them. It’s a barrage of sensations when you take your first ride through traffic. The honking, the jerky movements that ebb and flow with each corner. There is also the passing, the abrupt stops and the very many bumps you hit along the way. It’s a lot to take in. Since I’ve been in Chennai, all I do is ride in autos. That’s my main mode of transportation, except for my feet. It’s not exactly the cheapest way to get around, but it does get me there fast and amazingly safe and comfortably.

I’ve probably ridden in 64 autos. I’ve had the same driver twice. By the time I leave India I could potentially ride in almost 400 different autos. The one thing I’ve picked up on with the drivers is their intensity. It doesn’t matter how they drive the auto. They can be aggressive, assertive, or even relaxed. Anyway you have it, they’re still focused. They have to be. Everyday I come with in centimeters, no millimeters of the person next to me. Sometimes, I think, there is no way he can get out of this one. But he does.

These drivers know their vehicles. They know how much pressure to put on the brake and how much gas to give. I have to tell you, I often get a little nervous for the open road because it’s the pedal to the metal for these guys. They see an open road and all of a sudden you feel the wind whipping through your hair, you’re looking for something to hold on to, you grab tighter to your belonging….. Then you realize- you’re really only going 35 miles an hour. It’s a sense of awe, freedom, and the ultimate thrill ride!

Drivers pay attention here, such minute attention to everything around them , that they’ll call out to someone to “Move over”, or “Watch it”, or ”Put your lights on”. Once I even understood that my driver was telling a driver in a car that his door was open, and another auto driver that he was about to lose his sandal. There are hand signals, there are waves, horn beeps to communicate with other drivers and pedestrians. There’s also a lot of giving directions. Many times I have witnessed a brotherhood of auto drivers actually helping out one another (particularly the younger ones) with directions or maybe explaining which roads to avoid. There is a strong camaraderie, to a certain extent.

Let’s get back to their nerves of steel and being able to adjust and overcome. Not only do massive amounts of drivers know the ins and outs of the different parts of the city, they’re focused on the streets themselves. Just this morning I was noticing the eyes of my auto-driver.   His eyes were wide open, awake and focused. He appeared to be very vigilant in watching almost everything that was happening right before him. He knew how to gauge slowing down and when to pass. How does he remain so steadfast and aware? What does he do to train the brain to stay so aware?   Driving is a learned skill, but to drive like this is even more specialized.

I’ve met old drivers and young drivers and the things they seem to have in common is the ability to know when and how to adjust their driving. They don’t seem to hold on to near misses and slamming to a screeching halt. They don’t seem to even worry when they are within millimeters of an object or person. It just is. They adjust. They do what they need to do to get me to my location, but they have to be flexible in how they get me there. No one can really predict the quality of the road, the amount of people who are using the roads, or what other obstacles get in the way (cows). He knows he has a job to do, and he will do it.

We can learn a lot from sitting in auto rickshaws. And I’m pretty sure someone has already studied the mindset of an auto driver, but one thing I can tell you, it’s not just know the roads, and being able to maneuver around all the obstacles that get in the way all day and everyday, it’s the focus and intensity they bring to their job. At times they too must feel that they are so in it. Is there a perfect ride for an auto driver? Is there a certain feeling they get from getting some from point A to point B? Or are they not really attached to the outcome? Do they just do what they need to do? Are they focused on the present, and being in the moment?

Either way, I’ve gotten used the auto. No matter what, I usually really enjoy riding in them. Everyday I thank my driver and I’m truly amazed that he navigates his way from where I work to where I live safely and seemingly undisturbed from the experience. Yes, they have a job to do, but I think in a way they are teaching me that you can find challenges everywhere in life, but you always have to adjust and overcome.