Friday, August 19, 2016

My Last SAWP Summer Institute

My Last SAWP Summer Institute
By Roxanne Henkin
June 23, 2016

June 20th, 2016

Last summer, we traveled to Haridwar, India
It was a long journey,
We flew from San Antonio to Minneapolis,
Minneapolis to Amsterdam,
Amsterdam to Delhi,
Where we waited 6 hours at the train station,
To take the train to Haridwar.

There amid the confusion,
And the mass of people,
And the honking cars and motorcycles,
We entered the gates of Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya University,
And entered an Oasis of beauty,
A paradise of tranquility,
A place to restore your soul.

Another long trip,
From San Antonio to Atlanta,
To Joburg, to Cape Town.
As we stepped outside of the airport,
We were captivated by the magnificence of Table Mountain,
And the vistas of the Atlantic Ocean,
The towering cliffs and the magnificent sea.

Haridwar and Cape Town,
Both places so beautiful,
Both places so far from San Antonio,
And yet here in the 2016 SAWP Summer Institute,
We gather from three continents,
To write, share our lives,
And learn from each other.

Last summer in India:

Monday, July 20th in the morning was the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya University and the University of Texas at San Antonio. It was one of the most beautiful and most significant ceremonies that I’ve ever had the opportunity to participate in.

There was a beautiful table arranged in a semi-circle where the Vice-Provost, Dr. Pandya of the university sat in the middle with Dean Betty Merchant and me sitting next to him.  Next to me were Kalpana and then Mary Lou.  Next to the Dean was Thomas Porter. We all then rose and participated in a ceremony at the alter where we offered flowers and received a blessing on our foreheads.  We then were offered yellow shawls that had been created in the university workshops.

Next, Kalpana’s daughter Gowri sang a song, “Sri Rama Chandra” that she had learned through the department of music on the campus.  It was long and complicated and several people sang along including the Vice-Provost, Dr. Chinmaya Prandya.  Then the Vice-Provost welcomed us with kindness reminding us that we are all one people around the world.  Betty then spoke next and talked about how she immediately connected to the Vice-Provost and the goals of his university.  She felt that UTSA and Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya University were aligned in our educational missions.

I spoke next about the San Antonio Writing Project and our purpose and goals.  I spoke about how we are an organization of teachers teaching each other to bring high quality writing instruction to students at all levels and in every discipline. Then I read my speech about writing and what writing does for us.  Interspersed with my remarks were quotes from authors and poetry from poets, including Langston Hughes.

Then came the signing ceremony.  The Memorandums of Understanding were put into beautiful folders made from the paper in the university workshops.  Many pictures were taken of all of us with the guests who were invited to the ceremony including the participants in our class, and we have a beautiful picture of all us together as we began our workshop.

What is so hard to capture is the emotional significance of the moment.  I felt like every atom in me was alive with concentration helping me to remember every minute of this event. There was a purity in the air and it felt like we were in a sacred moment.  Here we were, people from each side of the world, the East meeting the West and yet we were one in our love and respect for each other and we recognized that human beings in the 21st century can no longer tolerate hate and violence and must come together to help humanity evolve into a peaceful and just society.  These words weren’t said as much as they were felt and I marveled at my great luck to be alive and to be able to participate and to witness this moment in time.

South Africa was equally magical:

Monday, June 27, 2011, Day One of the 3rd Limpopo Writing Project Institute
Here is what I wrote during our journal time today:

I am so happy to be back at The University of Limpopo with all of you. This is truly a dream come true. Yesterday was a long and productive day that ended with a dramatic program and dancing. Then as we went to the lodge, the electricity went out and the sky was spectacular. Everywhere I looked the stars shimmered and they seemed to almost touch the earth. I've lost that view living in the city by a highway with the cars whizzing by leaving a perpetual hum and the stars obstructed by the city lights. I needed to come back to Africa to restore my sense of peace.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ramovha welcomed me to the real South Africa, as he explained that he is the 37th child of 44 children. He explained that his father is the Chief of his village and that he has 10 mothers. We marveled at that. We also looked at a map and saw where San Antonio, Texas is located. We ended the day singing and dancing to African songs and Dolly Parton's song, Island in the Sun.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

We started the morning listening too Carol King sing, You’ve got a friend.

You've got a friend. Four simple words, yet they mean so much. You've got a friend to rely on, to care about, who will be with you in good times and in bad. You've got a friend.

This workshop is about friendship to me. It's about bridging two oceans and two countries and navigating through multiple cultures and languages. It's about reaching out and making new friends and caring, truly caring for each other.

You've got a friend. I am here for you and I want the best for you. I will share all I have to offer and support you as you learn and acquire new skills. I have learned so much from my time with you and I promise that I will never forget your kindness. During this workshop we have laughed together and cried together. We have sung together and danced together. We have shared our writing and in so doing, we have opened up the deepest parts of our hearts. When I return to my side of the ocean, I will be changed because I have a friend.

June 2016, THE SAWP Summer Institute

This is my last SAWP Summer Institute and it’s been amazing beyond my dreams. We come from 3 continents; we are a global writing project. We are all ages and teach a wide variety of subjects and at many different levels.  We are intellectually curious and care deeply for the good of the world. We have shared stories of our lives and we respect each other immensely. We have deepened our friendships with our friends we already knew, and made new friends we will keep for a lifetime.  We’ll never forget Mfundos’ kind words and his love of Tejano music, or the practice of Yoga we learned from Gopal, Manaswita, and Purva. 

This time together feels sacred, and the only antidote to the senseless massacre of young gay people and their friends at the Orlando nightclub, Pulse that occurred during our second week together.  It’s the belief that there is a Thought Revolution that is alive in the world, and that changing the world peacefully starts with each of us changing ourselves, one person at a time.  We have shown during our time together, that through talking, writing, and sharing our lives, we gain new understandings about ourselves and others. In this, my 48th Writing Project, I have been profoundly changed and spiritually renewed.  The world may not be a safe place for me, but it’s also filled with incredible, peaceful people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with this month, and grown to love. 

June 21, 2016

As I walked into the university from the parking garage,
I was especially mindful,
That today was one of the last days, that I would be walking this walk,

I noticed the beauty of the blooming flowers,
The colors were especially vivid, in hues of blue and red and gold,
I noticed the brush of the warm air against my face,
And I felt the dirt under my shoes.

These are my last days as a full-time Professor at UTSA,
It’s not the end of all I want to do,
But it is the ending of a long and full-filling career.

Yoga helps me be present in the moment,
It helps me be remember,
That Today and Everyday,
I don’t want to miss a thing.

I want to be present,
And I want to be open to the universe,
So as I step down from the Directorship of SAWP,
And move into the role of Professor Emeritus,
I transition into the next
chapter of my life.

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