quinta-feira, 12 de julho de 2012

Auroville: Things I will Never Forget...

First, Auroville needs some explanation. I first heard about it from Robert, a German whom Stephen, Anna, Tenzin and I met on the bus from Dharamsala to New Delhi. Robert has long blond hair and a long white body- he stands out even more than I do in India. He is funny, irreverent, totally at ease with himself, and only 19 years old. I told him my travel plans and how I was disappointed that none of the spice farms I contacted in Kerala (a Southern state in India), had any work during the monsoon season (duh). He recommended I look into Auroville. Even though it's the monsoon season, he explained, there still will be at least some work to do. He said that Auroville is an community created to support and maintain human unity and peace. It was founded by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, two well-known and well-regarded spiritual leaders, in 1968. The Mother is French and was a painter and musician. Sri Aurobindo was a political activist turned yogi and philosopher. Their images are found everywhere in Auroville and the surrounding area. The Mother beams. Her neck is so long and droopy that she looks like a retired kindergarten teacher who has spent her life craning to hear whispering children. Sri Aurobindo had an austere intensity in his youth that seems to have mellowed at as he aged and got a bit fatter. Currently there are around 1,600 people living there, though it was designed to hold 50,000. The majority of it's inhabitants are Indian and French, though there is a rich smattering of other nationalities. It's an UNESCO World Heritage site.

The way Auroville is run is a bit confusing to me. Everyone has an Auroville account into which they siphon money from their normal bank accounts. This way there are few actual monetary transactions, since Aurovillians access this account with a card. It was a bit tricky for me to eat out in Auroville (there are plenty of for-profit restaurants) unless I went with someone that had an account and I could just give them some cash for putting me on their bill. The Indian government owns and manages the Auroville Foundation but does not finance their budget. The budget is formed by contributions from Auroville's commercial units such as the guest houses, building construction, information technology, small businesses and restaurants. Many Indians from surrounding villages are employed in Auroville, too. They fix the streets, the plumbing, help with the harvest, and serve food. There is a complicated and at times contentious relationship between these people and the Aurovillians, one that Pablo remarked "could definitely be improved."

I've lived in intentional community settings in a variety of different places- as a farm worker in Michigan at Frog Holler Farm, as a farm volunteer in El Bolson, Argentina and in Chapada dos Veadeiros, Brasil. This experience in Auroville was very different and while I understand the draw I would never want to live there myself. The life style is certainly peaceful- Mustafa, a fellow farm worker, says his two years in Auroville have helped him "to no longer be afraid." Granted, he's Egyptian, and his world has seen much upheaval in the past few years (as well as barely contained political turmoil for the past 30), but this was a sentiment echoed by more than just a few. Auroville seems like a safe haven for those who are either too sensitive or too cynical for the outside world. They come to Auroville for a simpler life, to self-actualize in ways that the outside world won't let them, and maybe also to hide. I still admire them. At first I didn't get why it was so hard for me to dig the Aurovillian scene. Then, in a conversation with Jurgen, a German librarian who flew directly from Europe to Auroville and has not left since he arrived in over 2 years, I realized that I need to be a pollinator. I like this image very much. I don't mean it in any sort of grand sense. Bees are amazing creatures without which our world would collapse. But it isn't any one bee that's out doing all the work- it's the entire hive. I like the idea of being part of a group of people who is spreading ideas across the globe. Jurgen says he has seen enough in his travels to have gained the kind of perspective he needs to make the right choices in his life for himself. This reminded me of an old email from an Irish friend, Kojak, I met at a 2009 Permangola event in Brasil. Kojak was in his late thirties and writing a book on Capoeira. He has spent much of his adult life working as a guide for NOLS, but had recently returned to his home to start an organic farm with his family. We emailed for a while and he sent me this bit of sage advise:

Sounds like you still have something of the travel bug. I used to have a severe case of it myself, but then I realised that what interested me more was not so much the novelty of visiting different places, for in the end all I ended up seeing was the same - first impressions - but the novelty of deeper layers of things that you only get to know through being in one place for a sustained period of time.

Though now I am pollinating, I feel the urge to slow it down a bit. I guess that's part of what moving back to Ann Arbor has been, and part of why I travel so darn slowly. I have seen SO LITTLE of India, yet I don't really feel any anxiety over this. I like really feeling a place, even if it means seeing less. A German woman whom I met collecting sea shells in small fishing village was aghast at how many things I was going to miss in my short visit to India. She was on her fourth and, supposedly, final visit. She reminded me very much of YaYa and we spent the day together in Mamallapuram, the fishing village. At lunch she opened up her map of Southern India. She clucked her tongue and tried to urge me to move more quickly. I started laughing- her organization seemed so stereotypically German and my more free-wheeling approach very much so a product of an American youth. She started laughing, too, until our faces were streaked with tears. We spent lunch toasting each other and our different ways of being over prawn pasta.

This trip feels very different than any other I have ever taken. Maybe part of it is traveling in a country where I don't speak the language, and the other part I think is traveling in the East (where I have never been before). I have to be silent much more of the time, and rely even more greatly on the clarity of my miming skills. I am also spending a lot more time with myself. Even at the farm, surrounded by other farm workers, I spent a lot of time humming to myself, reading, practicing yoga, writing, drawing, cooking, and taking long bike rides. My Mom asked if I have ever been lonely and the truth is only very rarely. I really really enjoy hanging out with myself, and maybe juggling 4 jobs this past year has made it an even greater necessity that I get some quality alone time. My friend, Stephen, ever the inspiration, also mentioned that he wrote a list for himself of all the things he can do when he is alone (as a fellow world traveler, he understands what it's like to be lonely and then to learn to appreciate solitude). I have drawn portraits of cooks, child street vendors, and stone carvers. I have a really awesome back-bend and can actually sometimes do lotus pose. I have read 5 books in 5 weeks- more than I could have ever hoped to read back home. And I am writing a lot. Sometimes I worry that I am out of conversational practice. This has always been true for me, though. I'm a born introvert and while I am excellent at initial small talk, extending a conversation is cumbersome and draining for me, especially with strangers. It's much more easy and pleasant for me to retreat into myself and observe.

And then there's traveling in the East. I think that will have to be another blog entry because my fingers are getting tired, but nothing I have seen previously compares to the religion, the beautiful colors, the gender roles, the food, the social conservatism. It's challenged, surprised, and inspired me.

Anyway, here's my list:

Things I will Never Forget....at Windaara Farm

- being the only female volunteer.
- practicing yoga at 5:30 AM with David, from Spain.
- climbing out of the deepest swimming hole, heart racing, with David and Pablo.
- sharing pizza and jokes with Javi at Tantos.
- drinking cheeku juice for the first time with Sammy, Moustafa and Khaled.
- Khaled's eyes OMG so beautiful.
- "Pili clean pana" (Literal translation: Weed clean doing, in Tamil) with Megala, Palema, Khumani and Indrani.
- How much I looked forward to chai breaks at 10 and 3 when weeding those peanuts.
- planting peanuts!
- sharing potato omelette, spinach dahl, rice and tangy fish sauce with Indra.
- Juan telling me to relax in his Thai massage class at Windaara.
- the blues concert at Sadhana where I met Anita, whom I knew instantly to be a kindred spirit, and riding three to one motorbike squished between David and Pablo on the way home in a light rain.
- reading Tender at the Bone, by Ruth Reichl, which made me homesick for Margaret.
- my horribly sun burnt back.
- the lewd man on the bicycle.
- falling asleep to the inspiring and soothing sounds of a Sufi musician.
- taking a shower and hearing Smokestack Lightning coming from Fritz's house, marveling at the distance Howlin' Wolf has traveled (though apparently this version was the Grateful Dead).
- practicing yoga with Sammy after my first full day of work- he was so inflexible except for lotus pose, which he did beautifully.
- Indra making me drink clay powder to help my upset tummy.
- all the motor bikes!
- talking about Brazil to Anita, and realizing I want to return very much.
- watching the storm with Sammy from my balcony. POW horizontal lightning!
- eating Crumpy, a terrible Nutella knock-off with the name of a crumbly old curmudgeon.
Scary swimming hole.

Even scarier climb up. Those stone blocks are about 3 feet apart each. Spider man style. I fell on the top and scraped my shin but felt very proud I survived.

Blues concert at Sadhana, where they have the reforestation project in Auroville.

Delicious meal with Anita: Tofu salad, momos, dahl, toast, muffin and cappucino.

This is where I stayed- it was so hot and buggy at night!

Another view of where I stayed.

Kitchen and meeting area.


Sunset from my balcony.

Harvest day. L-R: Pablo, Sammy, Indra, Indrani.

Seated: Megala. She has jasmine flowers in her hair, like many women in the South wear. They smell lovely but take forever to sew into those very long braids.

Indrani, my dancing partner.

Delicious meal I cooked (finally have kitchen use after a month!): potato and tapioca hash browns with carmelized onions, red rice from the farm topped toasted almonds, lightly boiled eggplant, and shredded carrot salad with balsamic vinegar and pickled garlic. NOMS.

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