Iris Chiang
Iris Chiang
India 2016-2017
I studied psychological science and art studies at Belmont University. I am going to Auroville, India to work under an art therapist for a program called Sankalpa. Read More About Iris →

Festival of Lights

Firecrackers are not allowed in Auroville. They are not environmentally friendly. They leave a lot of litter in the streets and sewers. The noise pollution scares away wildlife. The poor air quality peaks during Diwali weekend in every city in India as the crackers release unnatural chemicals. When you’re actually bursting firecrackers, ashes will burn your skin when you’re too close, you have temporary blindspots in your vision from staring at colorful fire at night, and you suffer from temporary hearing loss when the little bombs go off with a surprising amount of force.



But it’s all part of the festival! Have you really experienced Diwali in India if you haven’t giggled like a crazy person while running away from a firecracker you just lit and having waited a long, full minute, watching the small glow at the end of the string get brighter and dim, thinking it’s a flop, and then being convinced that you’ve lost your ear drums when it blows up after everyone uncovers their ears?


We were invited to celebrate Diwali in a home in a nearby village and greeted warmly by a local school principal. We probably bursted over 100 firecrackers. Then, we sat on the floor with the family and had a home cooked meal on banana leaves. Tummies and hearts full, we drove back through the village on the motorbike. All around us, fireworks explode colorfully in the sky and firecrackers burst brightly on the streets. Celebrations like these reflect so clearly the culture I have been immersed in: the hospitality, the generosity, the in-the-moment mindset, the joy. It’s been one month and I’m still blown away by this place every single day.

A Warm Welcome

Indians laugh when I tell them about our green, fenced-in pastures particularly sectioned out for our american cows. It is no joke: there are so many cows roaming the local streets and highways in India.

cows blocking our path, undeterred by beeping scooties.

Cows blocking our path, undeterred by our beeping scooties.

My new favorite scent is jasmine flowers sold on the street, tied delicately with thin, white string to decorate women’s hair. I am learning to eat food without utensils (though still feels wrong in my western-trained hands.)

Suraj and our very large dosa.

Suraj and our very large dosa.

On my second day, I received a bindi and got my first mehndi (henna) during a city festival that my internship participated in. We invited individuals and families to sit on blankets and add onto our “garden weave” themed embroidery project. That night, local bands performed and we danced underneath the stars. A few of my new friends took me to the beach afterwards. We sat on a beach house rooftop overlooking the shore, listening to the waves, and watching a huge slice of the moon on the rise.

First henna!

First henna!

Garden Weave

Garden Weave

It’s been two full, full weeks of Auroville, India. Eventually, I will explain a bit about the uniqueness of this city. I’m finally getting things together: finishing up my visa process, slowly figuring out how to get around town, learning my roles in my internship, etc. Time moves differently here. It certainly feels longer than two weeks. Scheduling is almost non-existent. Often, we just say, “I’ll see you when I see you.” I’m still getting used to that.

I am unsure of why, but today I am particularly overwhelmed with love and hospitality from patient and good people who care about my well being, getting me to the right places, and having a good time. My new friends are talented, fun, curious, and brave. I know I have lot to learn from this place and these people.

Hello, India!

Due to wifi issues, I’m a few days late. This is my first post, written three days ago on my layover in Mumbai. Enjoy!

After many delays and cancelations, people and consulates, approval letters and stamps, 24 hours of travel time (and counting), I am very pleased to announce that I made it to India! And let me tell you, it has not been an easy journey!

When I first heard about the Lumos foundation about three years ago, I immediately knew I was going to do it. To be honest, I didn’t have many leads for my project, so naturally, I googled it. I don’t think it comes as much of a surprise to anyone that I couldn’t find many search results for “international art therapy interns”.

When I found Sankalpa, it seemed perfect. An accredited art therapist serving a community made up of about 50 different nationalities of all ages. And now, I get to be a part of it. I will be supporting young women at an education center, assisting in an after-school program, shadowing in art therapy sessions, manning an art station in the city welcome center, helping out in other art-based community outreach events, creating and executing a research project about the efficacy of art therapy, and so much more! At last, my beautiful baby Lumos project (almost 12 months in the making) is finally coming to life, friends!! I am excited to begin.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an easy decision to say to the least. There was an excruciatingly slow process to communicate and prepare for this trip, and there were the worried looks and discouraging comments about a place like that for a girl like me. I mean, India! What did I even know about that place?

I admit that sometimes, when I stop for a minute, I still look at my situation and think: how did I end up here? I am going to India alone for over half a year to a place I know so little about, a place where I don’t know anybody. Maybe they’re right—maybe this trip is crazy. But it’s just about time for me to say goodbye to the world as I know it. And I think that’s something to celebrate.

The more I learn about India, the deeper I fall in love with it. This coming month, I hope to learn much more about the rich history of India and complexity of the city I will be residing in. I hope to learn how to embrace and engage. I really hope that you will join me in this very exciting adventure.