Chalk With S: For Whose Amusement?

Today, my sister got home after her day at college, and was quite upset about a video her class watched. I would like to share her experience with you here.

The video points out that many schools in rural India have teachers that are unqualified and are teaching their students incorrect information. It focuses largely on the incorrect spelling being taught in English, starting with the days of the week. The teachers are interviewed and asked questions, which they are unable to answer correctly.

While the video points to issues that need to be addressed, my sister found it quite sad to watch. There are sound effects to encourage the viewer to laugh at the teachers. The way the questions are phrased are meant to belittle the teachers and mock their lack of knowledge of the English language, and ability to teach the same. My sister observed the reactions around her as they watched the video, and was disappointed to see that there was laughter, that some people found this entertaining.

In my opinion, whether or not you understand Hindi, this three minute video’s intention to make fun of the teachers is quite clear. Look at the writing on this chalkboard:

I agree with my sister on her view that drawing attention to a problem such as this need not include mocking the English language skills of those involved, when what needs to be looked at is the system. It brings up questions about media ethics, and how to write a story, and for whose benefit or amusement the story was written.

What do you feel about the effectiveness of stories told this way?

Chalk With S: Awkward Santa Claus

I was last home with my family during the holiday season five Christmases ago. I have spent this December between my two homes, Kenya and India. This got me remembering all the Christmases I have had in these countries, including the one where I was an awkward Santa Claus.

I must have been around seven. We (the Deanes) spent that Christmas with my aunt and her family when we lived in Mumbai. Food, music, and family; all was festive and fun. Then, it came to present-opening time, and I was stoked. By then, I had accepted that someone had to put on a Santa costume and pass around presents on Christmas, because it just wasn’t practical for Santa to make an appearance at everyone’s gift-distribution sessions. What I hadn’t anticipated was being asked to step into his shoes for the occasion.

My aunt came up to me and asked me to be Santa Claus. She told me it would be fun, and she makes everything fun, so I took the fake cotton beard, and red clothes she handed me. But then I had my doubts. I put on the costume, thinking “no one is going to buy this”. I was seven, a girl, beardless, and Indian. I was not a large, old white man named Nick. Everything was working against me. But, I did it, because someone had to do it, or no one would get presents. It ended up being quite a laugh playing Santa, and my family enjoyed seeing the little one in costume,  but I did feel like a fraud. I kept thinking, “you know it’s me, and I don’t even look convincing”.

Can Christmas look like this?

Can Christmas look like this?

Now, I understand that moment a bit better. I had this idea that Christmas was only really Christmas if it looked like it did on American TV. My family are Christian, and have been celebrating Christmas for generations, but it still felt to me like we were not the real deal because we did not fit the image. I had many questions as a child, trying to understand being part of a minority culture seen by many I interacted with as being closer connected to the “West” than India. Were we believable? Church looked like churches from around the world, but did we fit the image? What about Church services in different Indian languages… were they considered authentic enough? Could you really wear Indian outfits to Church? Why am I called ‘Anglican’, and not ‘Catholic’ like the people I go to school with?

Being asked these questions in India, and the other countries I’ve lived in did play a role in solidifying my identity awkwardness. But, because I was asked, I looked for answers, and I understand all of this better as an adult. I now know Christmas can look different everywhere, and that the rotund man from the North Pole can be played by anyone, and is, in fact, optional.

Chalk With S: Before You Turn The Corner

What goes through your mind as you are about to step into a new space? 

Before you walk towards something new

Before you walk towards some place new

I am sure we all have different questions, fears, levels of excitement and concerns about going to new places. What are yours? How do you feel when you are going somewhere new, or even venturing into a different space with new people?

There are few things I love more than travelling. But, I have to say I do have certain anxieties about how people will respond to me, worries about offending them by saying the wrong thing, or making an inappropriate joke, or just not being informed enough about what is going on there. To summarise, I think my concerns revolve around a fear of being seen as an ignorant and insensitive outsider. This is usually what I am thinking of… along with excitement at the prospect of discovery, of course 🙂

Which of these chalk faces represent how you feel when you come across something new?

We’ll be back on Dec 29th to talk more about Wandering and Wondering!

Chalk With S: A Different Kind Of Souvenir

What matters to you? What matters to other people?

I am in Diani, Kenya at the moment, thinking of all the things I brought here with me. When I travel, I take a lot more with me than just the stuff in my suitcase. Ideas about the place I am going to, what I imagine life to be there, and many other thoughts. I’m sure this is true for you, too. This weekend, we suggested three things to consider while wandering and wondering. Today, I am thinking of another preconception to ask yourself about: what issues or concerns matter?

Thinking of different souvenirs by the beach Diani, Kenya

Thinking of different souvenirs by the beach
Diani, Kenya

I think we all have a sense of things that matter, in terms of social justice, human rights, animal rights, and so on. This is something you can take with you on your travels, as you encounter new places. You may be surprised by how the attention given to some issues varies, in comparison to where you come from. While it is important to note this, and make suggestions, I do not think limiting it to one-way flow of ideas is a good idea. It is also crucial to consider the issues that the people who live there are concerned about. What can we learn from these?

For example, whenever I am in Kenya, I think more about animal rights issues than I do anywhere else. This offers me some fresh perspective, and points to things I should thing about in other places, too. I can then go back to India and Canada (my other homes at the moment), and think about these issues are being addressed there. It’s something I can take back with me and keep; a different kind of souvenir 🙂


Chalk With S: Seat Belt Conversations

What do you tell people you meet on planes?

Travelling by myself means fewer conversations and more listening to the people around me (when I don’t have my headphones on). On my flight from Vancouver to Frankfurt on Friday, I decided to pay attention to the questions strangers asked each other while confined by seat belts for almost half a day. Culture and family seemed to be the top two topics.

Seat Belt Conversations

Seat Belt Conversations

I heard people narrate very personal issues, related to why they were travelling. I know I have had excellent conversations with people, who have given me useful input and fresh perspective in a very short amount of time. Perhaps it is the shared mission of getting from point A-B that lends the sense of having something in common with a stranger on the plane. “Why are you going to place B?” seems to be a kind of shared curiosity.

That shared curiosity combined with a shared destination is what appears to drive the conversation, and allows people to learn about lives different or very similar to their own. I think this could apply to learning processes in general, when information is shared and people work together towards a common goal.

I also noticed that many assumptions about culture surfaced in that space. The kinds of questions people asked each other were telling of their perceptions of what other people’s lives were.

How do you introduce yourself? What kinds of questions do you ask people you meet on a plane, or similar situations?



Chalk With S: Distraction/Direction

What words rhyme with “unattainable”?

Inspiration posing as diversion is something I am learning to pay attention to. When Heidi and I chalk, we find ourselves in new places, spaces, chalking constantly evolving messages on different surfaces. Sometimes, something we stumble upon fast becomes integral to our chalk work of the moment. Ideas and opportunities often whizz, whirl and cartwheel past us. We may notice them, but may not offer them fair consideration. New ways to attain goals can be missed, or dismissed as distraction.

Distractions or Direction?

Distraction or Direction?

Pausing to look at something fascinating can be more than just a moment of wonder that takes you away from what you are working on. Even if the eye-catching thing is unattainable, it could offer you ideas on a new direction to move in, a different way of operating, or just something to aim for.

Walking around outside, and coming across new chalking spaces is one of my favourite ways to go about chalktivism. It helps reach more people and places,   and challenges us to see what we can do with the ideas that present themselves to us.

How do you deal with things that you come across while working on something of interest?


Chalk With S: A Few Feet Away

Are there things you prefer to think about from a distance?

Watching from a Distance

Watching from a Distance

There are some issues and ideas that find their way into many of our conversations frequently and repeatedly. There are others that we are less comfortable with, or are just not ready to talk about. For me, this happens when I feel like I do not know enough on the subject, or have strong enough opinions on it, or simply when I do not feel like it is my place to speak.

The way I see it, this could stop even those who are interested in certain social justice issues from joining conversations on them. How can that safe distance be overcome? It happens for me when people encourage my questions and thoughts, and express an interest in the same, regardless of my familiarity with the issue.

What puts that distance between you and an idea or discussion?
In what other ways can we encourage everyone to offer ideas and listen to thoughts expressed about the subject in question?

I would love to hear about it, and chalk about it!


Chalk With S: Stopping In The Streets

Stop, look, listen

A poem in chalk is a wonderful thing to leave outside an art gallery; that’s what I learnt this weekend. Have you seen it? Our Remembrance Day poem outside the Vancouver Art Gallery? What made it more fun was observing it from a distance, watching people discover it.

Observing More

Observing More

I went back to the chalk site about an hour or two after we finished, just to see what was happening there. I stayed a good distance away for about fifteen minutes. In that time, I noticed a few people stopping to read the words. That made me feel great! Some didn’t see it at first, began walking over it, and then did an awkward, apologetic hop away from the text so as to not ruin it. There were others who did not see it at all, engrossed in their own thoughts, or focussed on wherever they were hastily heading to.

This made me curious about how people typically observe things in public spaces. A large chalk piece on the street gets a whole range of reactions from people, which I love.  I think I typically spend about thirty seconds to watch or listen to something happening in a public space. That time has increased since I started chalking outdoors, because I realise how encouraging it is to have people stop to observe and/or ask questions. Also, I am beginning to consider public art more genuinely, instead of only expressing polite, fleeting curiosity.

How much time on average do you stop to consider art or other activity occurring in public spaces? It would be interesting to spend just ten seconds more than that, to see what more you can get from and give to the art in progress.  This could make a difference to both you and the artists. Please try it, and let me know what you find!


Chalk With S: Talk The Chalk

I’m inviting you to talk about what you want to chalk about! 🙂

Any time there is an event or occasion that interests a few people, there is room for different viewpoints and concerns. I did not grow up celebrating Halloween. The idea of joining people in celebrating a day dedicated to being a different character or object was intriguing. Sure, I had seen in it movies, books, TV shows… but apart from one year in kindergarten, I was never in a place that took the day seriously, before I moved to Canada.

Participation is what I am thinking of today; how we join in, the questions we ask, what we contribute when we join. As an outsider, I found myself looking at many problematic costumes wondering how they were acceptable or even funny, but feeling like that discomfort was because I lacked an understanding of them. Because I felt it was not my place to judge, I did not voice my opinions, or ask my questions to more than a handful of people.

This year, however, I was able to take the discussion beyond the small network of people I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts on this with. Instead of repeating what they already knew about how some costumes are insensitive to sex, ability, culture, age, identity, race, class and gender, amongst other things, I managed to convey my thoughts on the subject to people I had never had such conversations with, hopefully without being didactic. How?

Respectfully invite people to participate respectfully :)

Respectfully invite people to participate respectfully 🙂

Through chalk. Rather, by referring to the chalking we did on the subject. I was able to point people in the direction of our website, so they could see the message in chalk with left on Granville Island the weekend before Halloween: what does your costume say?

In our last post, we talked about how we want to celebrate more occasions and events, and think of our involvement in them as we do. Raise questions, highlight some aspects of them, and look closer at others that need to be re-evaluated. Give us suggestions for more events and occasions that could use some chalk messages to highlight an important issue! We want to participate, and do so thoughtfully, considerately and respectfully.

While you think of occasions and days that are important to you, feel free to use our chalking in conversation. I found this to be a great way to start telling people what I thought, without being condescending or preachy.
“Oh, I actually did some chalking on this… We left a message, because it is an important issue. Check it out! “

Please don’t hesitate – talk the chalk! Respectfully invite people to participate respectfully; everyone has thoughts and ideas to chalk 🙂


Chalk With S: Concerning Interests

Your cares, concerns and questions?

Last week, I drew this little picture about some of my sources of knowledge. I think that each of us has a unique knowledge base, that forms because of the people and situations we come across. This week, I’d like to think about how that affects the things we care about, and what we can bring to a conversation on equality.

Think about how you were first introduced to the things that are important to you. Did someone tell you about that book, movie or song you love more than any other? How did you get your job, choose the things you study, learn the skills you possess? And, how did you develop an interest in the social justice issue that concerns you the most?

Social justice and equality are concepts that are made up of so many different aspects and issues. We might know more about, or try to find more information on a few of these, depending on the interests we develop. With the knowledge we collect, we put together different sets of concerns, and each of these is essential to the conversation on equality.

Each of us has something  unique to add :)

Each of us has something unique to add 🙂

Whether you want to talk about issues around ability, age, animal rights, class, culture, education, gender, sex, identity, race, privilege, or anything else that’s going on in the world, you bring your specific knowledge and interests to the conversation, and this is important. Each of us has something to contribute, and something to introduce the people around us to.

Chalk With Me needs your unique knowledge, and wants to incorporate your concerns into this project, to get more and more ideas on equality. Heidi and I put our different sets of knowledge, concerns and ideas together on a daily basis to chalk, and I know I have learnt a lot from Heidi and this process. It can lead to fantastic things, like this bit of chalking we did over the weekend.

Share your concerns – we’ll listen 🙂