After four long months of planning, details, logistics, phone calls, emails, drawings and 66 lbs. of colored powder from Colorado .. we finally had our day in the sun. And literally – the sun was shining. In Central Illinois. In April. Believe me, I’m as shocked as you are.
Our Holi Festival of Colors was originally intended for April 19. On the way in to the office that day, it hailed. It had rained almost all week and the quad was a disaster. At 10:30 a.m. we called it off, and postponed to April 26 – the last day of classes.
With all approvals signed, sealed and delivered – I woke up early last Friday like it was Christmas morning. Eyes wide open, I scrambled for my phone and squinted at the Weather app. Already it was 40 degrees at 6 a.m. It had been 40 degrees close to noon the week before, so I considered this a good sign.
My staff rolled in at 9 a.m. and we headed out to the quad to prepare. We chalked, we walked, we talked. We hooked up a sound system, a photo booth, filled four giant troughs of water, and hauled powder out to the field. I took phone calls, fielded media inquiries and gave interviews with the sun on my face and my heart in my throat.
By 11:30 a.m., 30 minutes to go time, we had music going and the staff were getting giddy. Our first round of volunteers arrived, we started putting color on each other and Paige dunked her entire head in a trough like a champ.
By 11:45 a.m., bystanders were asking if they could start. Well, why the hell not.
By 12 Noon, groups of friends had sprinted onto the quad and were squealing, laughing and dodging cupfuls of cold water. We cranked up Nate’s sweet playlist on the sound system and started harassing passers by and handing out free study abroad t-shirts.
By 12:30 p.m. it was packed. We saw faculty, staff, students, children. We had bystanders, we had paparazzi, we had participants. EAGER participants. Holy crap these kids are having the time of their lives! My white shirt remains untouched, and my face is clear until Marilyn and one of her students approach to dust my face with color on their fingertips, as though they are painting.
By 12:45 p.m. we readied for an announcement and a toss. Asking our participants to get a handful of dye and hold, the president of the Association of International Students spoke about the Holi tradition celebrated by Hindus in India and Nepal. When he handed off the mic, I gave a few more instructions, and we faced the MLK Jr. Union and the tripods with cameras on the roof.
.. Two ..
An explosion of powder and color.
Red, yelling. Blue, laughing. Green, dancing.
Yellow and Orange, waving. Purple, blowing in the breeze.
I can remember the long meetings with the staff in the cold months of February and March. How many participants would we have? Were we doing a good job with marketing? How many pounds of this damn powder could we possibly need? Would people get bored quickly? Would they be entertained? Would they understand what this festival meant to us .. what it meant to the world?
That huge surge of relief comes somewhere after 1 p.m. People are smiling, the sun is shining. My shirt is no longer white, and my palms are dark green. I’ve been chased by some of my students, had color slapped on my face, and had water dumped on my head at least twice. And it’s beautiful.
All that hard work has resulted in a hugely successful, colorful, magnificent festival. Did they all get the message that it was about celebrating spring, friendship and new beginnings? Maybe. But after a long academic year and some incidents on campus that made us questions ourselves and each other, there they are – running through the quad, sliding in the mud after each other, and tossing color into the air. I don’t know if they’ll be able to articulate exactly what Holi is about .. but they sure do have the right idea.
for a look at the fantastic portraits taken by photographer and EIU CATS professional Jay Grabiec, visit the Flickr set at eiu.edu/holi.
for a peek at local news coverage by JG-TC Charleston-Mattoon: click here.