Sunday, December 12, 2010

Travels part 3: Hamsah Farm!

shelling peanuts before breakfast 

 The night before we left Mysore, half our group got sick. A couple were still sick on the bus so we had to make some stops on the way. I was glad I wasn’t sick!  Finally, we reached Hamsah Farm, a small farm outside of Bangalore.  There we met John, a former Living Routes student from 2003.  He met his Indian wife when he was on the program and now lives here with her.  It was a really cool place.  
my capsule - the keet hut I shared with 2 other people
The night we got there, I went to a sufi music and poetry performance. Unfortunately I started feeling nauseous on the way there and got sick that night. It was not fun. The next couple of days I mostly slept and I didn’t really eat. Two other people were also still sick. Everybody else was helping make the roof to a hut that last semester’s group started. 
music festival
working on the roof!
Most of you probably know I’m a big Harry Potter fan, and Bangalore was the only place we were ever going to be close to that was playing the new movie. I was feeling better in the morning, so I decided to take the city bus with two other people to a very American mall to go see it. They checked our bags at the door and then again when we went into the actual theater area. They even made my friend give them her camera batteries! We sat in our assigned seats and felt just like we were in America! Until just after intermission, when I started feeling sick...again. I missed the last 10 minutes of the movie because I was squatting over the toilet, and the bus ride back wasn’t very enjoyable. I crashed again after we got back. It was still a fun day, and I’m glad I didn’t have to wait a month to see it!
the beds we prepped and planted
The fourth day we were there I was feeling tired, but better.  Most of the group went to another community for the day, but I decided not to ride in the bus for 2 hours each way and instead helped John prepare and plant beds. We also went to the market to get food for our Thanksgiving feast!

Thanksgiving day snack (we had more for dinner)
eating area and oven - and some veggies for Thanksgiving!
Our last day at the farm was Thanksgiving! About half the group spent the day finishing the roof, and the rest of us spent the day cooking.  We had found several pumpkins and baked them in their wood burning mud oven the day before, so they were ready to make things with! I made 3 pumpkin pies, a huge loaf of pumpkin bread, and a pumpkin apple crisp. We also made pumpkin soup, mashed potatoes, sauteed green beans with onions and garlic, a papaya coconut smoothie, and ragi bread with homemade peanut butter, rosella jam and pesto. We were all definitely Thanksgiving stuffed! We also did a gift circle in our group, which was nice. Thank goodness I had my appetite back!  One girl got sick today, and another on the way back. I think only 4 people out of 12 didn’t get sick!
my pies!
passing around plates in the newly finished capsule

The next morning we took a group picture and then headed back.  It was nice to be home! We were back at Youth Camp for 2 days and then went off to our community stays for 10 days!
The finished product!

More travels - Bylakuppe and Mysore!

We just got back from a 10 day community stay in Auroville (more on that later) where I didn’t have internet, but I’m finally writing more about our travels.
little monk!

monks debating
This is one of the largest Tibetan refugee settlements that India provided after China invaded Tibet. It was very educational.  We got to talk to some of the Buddhist monks at the monastery we were staying at about their philosophy and their life.  We also went to the Old Age Home.  Traditionally, the elderly in Tibet are taken care of by their families.  But these are people who escaped Tibet with the Dalai Lama and have no families.  Some of the students from the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) school came with us to help translate.  It was so sad but inspiring to hear their stories. We also got to go to the TCV school and talk to more students there.  Most of them are sent from Tibet by their parents, and they don’t know if they’ll ever see there families again. We stayed in Bylakuppe for two nights before driving to Mysore.
The Tibetan students that showed us around!
This was the only place we stayed in a normal hotel! We spent two nights here, and mostly had free time and explored on our own.  We did go to a temple on top of a hill that is famous somehow, but it was quick and we didn’t really know anything about it.  We also saw a large stone bull that belongs to the god Shiva, and went into the Mysore palace.  Mysore is known for its silk and sandalwood, so we did some shopping.  An auto-rickshaw driver also convinced us to let him take us to a spice market and essential oils and incense shop. It was fun, but I think we were all ready to be out of the city again by the time we left.  Not to mention, most of the group got food poisoning. Not fun.

spice market

6 people in a rickshaw meant for 3!

Mysore palace

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Honey Valley


As you may know, I’ve been traveling around South India for three weeks and have had little access to the outside world.  
The first place we went was Honey Valley, which is in the mountainous area Coorg.  It was so beautiful and green there - it was hard to remember we were in India! The area is mostly known for growing coffee, which we made sure to drink every day.
The main purpose of our trip was the sacred solo, which was in the middle of our week long stay.  The first couple of days, we spent our time swimming in a waterfall, hiking, and exploring the area for our solo.  I went on one hike with two of the guys in our group, and we ended up climbing straight up the mountain, holding on to the sharp lemon grass for dear life. It wasn’t that dramatic, but I did cut my hands quite a bit on the grass, and my feet completely covered in leeches.  Oh yeah, the LEECHES! Who knew they could live out of water? Well they can, and they like dark damp areas. Good thing it was misting on that hike.

checking for leeches
We hiked up to the mountain where we were doing our solo twice to explore and find our spots. It was about a 45 minute hike up, with an amazing view at the top. We finally chose our spot and spent some time there getting to know it.  We were within shouting distance (or sometimes much closer) but out of sight. Finally, it was time for the solo. We ate breakfast and then hiked up in silence with all our stuff.  We were given:
a tarp
sleeping mat
lighter and candles
salt to keep the leeches away
3 pieces of paper and a pen
nuts and dried fruit
3 liters of water
After a parting ceremony, we went to our spots and set up camp.  And then we spent 48 hours there by ourselves.  Everybody chose to fast, but most of us ended up eating the dates from our fruit and nut mix. They were super good. It was so cool to be on the mountain and watch the clouds change.  In the middle of the day, they would move so fast over my head making so many different shapes - I spent a lot of time just lying on my back and watching. In the late afternoon, the bigger, lower clouds would move in and we’d get a bit of rain. Sometimes they passed through us too. It would stay foggy and misty all night, and in the morning the valley was completely covered in a sea of white.  Then, the sun would come out and it would clear up, and then it started all over again.  We were allowed to make a little fire, which was nice to have at night.  It was a really great experience and I’m so glad I did it.

look at the clouds!
The last two days, we took advantage of the sun and hand-washed some of our clothes. We did more hiking and swimming, and we also ate the delicious but not so healthy food. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out too well for me.  The fried breads (poori, chappati, parotha - they are all amazing!) didn’t agree with me after fasting, and the night after the solo I threw up. It was an uncomfortable night. I felt nauseous until we left for our next destination, so I took it easy and used the time to read my required books. 

I really enjoyed Honey Valley. I love that this is school!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

popping popcorn (Deepavali/Diwali)

Indians love their fireworks. I don't think there's been a day yet since I've been here that I haven't heard fireworks go off. But today is special. It's Deepavali, or Diwali (the contraction), the festival of lights. They've been celebrating all week! And fireworks have been going off constantly since last night. I'm counting the time in between each BOOM, and I haven't gotten more than 10 seconds. It sounds like I'm in a war! Or in a pan of popping popcorn. or a bag if you like the microwave.

There's different stories behind this day, but the most basic is the victory of good over evil. Another popular one is that Lord Rama went to Sri Lanka to rescue his wife, Sita, from the demon Ravana. The people loved him so much that when he got back they all lit lamps and danced and celebrated throughout the night.  It's typical to give sweets and new clothes as gifts to everybody. Employers also give a 2 week bonus with which to purchase new things, but unfortunately many people (well, the men) spend it on alcohol. Apparently it gets pretty crazy!

This is probably my last post for a while, because we leave to go travelling in two days and I won't have much internet access for three weeks. I'm very excited!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Everything's possible in India... just takes time". True story.

Recent happenings in my life:
  • I got to see a friend from high school on Thursday. He’s doing a study abroad program around the world, and stopped for 1 night in Pondicherry. It was great to see him, but a little weird to have two completely separate worlds collide!  

  • Friday I was invited to my very first Indian wedding - beautiful invitation and all! The actual wedding took place at 6am that morning, but I went to the reception with some other people from my internship. One of the Tamil women who works in the after school program (this was the first time I had met her) kept grabbing my hand and saying, “come, come!” and dragging me around - to give a gift and get our picture taken with the couple, to talk to other guests, to go eat dinner. We sat in rows and were given banana leaves, and then multiple foods were dumped onto our plate. As usual, way more than I could eat. There was chapatti, rice, what is basically a curried doughnut without the glaze, many different curries and sauces, a soup, 3 different desserts, and a banana. On our way out, we got the typical party favor of a coconut and a bitter leaf. Still not really sure what they’re for.

a random google couple, but exactly like every wedding here! the newlyweds are on a stage, and people line up to give them gifts and get their picture taken
This is what the meal looked like!
my wedding clothes, minus the shawl

  • I discovered a wonderful little ice cream shop/cafe in my own little Kuilapalayam! I’ve ridden past it every day and never even noticed this little gem! I also discovered that their cold coffee is the best I’ve had yet. Every time I try one at a new place, they just get better and better (aka worse and worse for me). First, it was just cold coffee with milk and sugar. Then came the iceberg coffee with a scoop of ice cream. Now my favorite is the place that blends the ice cream with the coffee, but it is still essentially coffee. But at Richy Rich (it’s a franchise, but doesn’t seem like it because it’s in a village), it’s a coffee milkshake, there’s no denying. Oh, cold coffee will be the downfall of me.

  • We did a workshop yesterday called awareness through the body. One of the things we did was walk around with our eyes closed, using our awareness to avoid other people/walls. After a while, we had to reach out and find somebody else’s hand. We explored everything about their hand, until we were sure we could “pick it out of a thousand hands”.  We then walked around some more, and then had to start feeling hands again until we found our partner’s.  I had my friend Julian’s. His hand is about 3 times as big as mine! We only have 3 guys in our group, so it wasn’t too difficult to find.  I’ve never really given much though to peoples’ hands before! We did some other breathing exercises as well. It was really relaxing and nice to experience how we felt without so much stimulus, and without relying on our vision and our mind, just our awareness.

  • We’re halfway through our last week before traveling! I will miss the people at my internship, but I am SUPER EXCITED to change up life a bit and see some new places! Not to mention our sacred solo, where we are alone in the woods for two days on a spiritual quest. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010


This weekend we went to a place called Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram in Sanskrit).  There are all these temples that are over a thousand years old carved into huge boulders. On of the temples is even underwater in the ocean because the water has slowly come further and further on shore.  We were lucky enough to have Dr. V, an amazing old Indian man, with us. He is an expert on temple architecture, and knew so much! He was also just a really funny and cute person. 

We were only there one night, but on Saturday evening we were able to go get dinner on our own. I went with a few other people to one of the cafes on the beach, Shanti Cafe. The guys that worked there started talking to us and then taught us how to play this game that’s kind of like pool. You have a square table that you sit around, with little pockets in the corners. You flick a round white chip with your finger and try to get it to hit either black or brown chips into the pockets. They kept wanting to play more and more games, but we were exhausted!
one of the temples!

my teachers Bindu, Jivan and Dr. V singing in one of the temples
beach cave
playing games at Shanti Cafe!

On the way there, we went to a sort of museum of houses and the lifestyle in southern India. The had different traditional houses from the different states in South India - many were just picked up and brought there! They also had traditional crafts and other exhibits. I got henna done on my hand along with a couple other girls - the woman was so creative, and did completely different designs on each of us! The hardest part was not using my hand for 2 hours.
On the way back, we stopped at a crocodile bank (click for more info) where they protect crocodiles and other reptiles. Some of the crocodiles were huge! We got to see some of them be fed, too.
crocodile who wants to be fed

Monday, October 18, 2010


I saw my first Indian movie on Saturday! It's the most popular movie here, like, ever. Everybody here has seen it. It even ranked 12th in the U.S. on opening weekend! It wasn't necessarily a quality film, but it was an experience for sure. The people get really into it and clap and make noise for almost everything that happens.  It randomly cut to music videos that didn't seem to have anything to do with the plot. I think my favorite was one filmed at Machu Picchu, with llamas roaming around in the background.
Machu Picchu
Even though the film was in Tamil, it was fairly easy to understand.  It lasted over 3 hours and included an intermission! To get a snack, you had to wait in line at this machine, then enter what you wanted. IIt was too much hassle for me even though I hadn't had dinner! Everybody was pushing because there was no room. But there was air conditioning and popcorn, which is apparently a new thing! 

Here's the trailer, for your viewing entertainment.

The day we went was also the Saraswati Puja, which is a celebration honoring the goddess Saraswati, so the roads were even busier than usual. 
People clean their living and work places and bless everything they use.  Almost every car was decorated! You also make chickpeas and sweet rice. We celebrated it at my internship on Friday. I don't really know all the customs but it's fun to have celebrations! And of course, nothing is complete in India without a nice healthy round of fireworks - even funerals!

I also wanted to give you the link to my blog that I'm required to write. I've only written once so far and in the future it will be a lot of repeat, but if you're really interested and have nothing better to do with your time, you could read other peoples' blogs on the program. Some people put up pictures too. We're only required to do 2 during the semester, so there won't be that many.

p.s. I got sunburned for the first time here - I don't even think I got burned this summer! Just thought I would share.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's raining, it's pouring,...'s monsoon season.  I know this because
My friend's moldy Birkenstocks

a) Everything is moldy. Or at least smells like mold.

b) It's storming almost every night.

c) There are a million dragon flies flying around everywhere.

d) My elbow hurts, which means RAIN!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rules of the Indian Road

I was given this my first week here, and I thought I'd share it with you because it is absolutely true. As in, some people didn't get that it was a joke! 
On our way back from Tiru yesterday, we were driving on a newly built highway with 2 lanes each direction and a median in the middle. People were driving the wrong direction!

12 Rules Of The Indian Road


Traveling on Indian Roads is an almost hallucinatory potion of sound, spectacle and experience. It is frequently heart-rending, sometimes hilarious, mostly exhilarating, always unforgettable -- and, when you are on the roads, extremely dangerous.
Most Indian road users observe a version of the Highway Code based on a Sanskrit text. These 12 rules of the Indian road are published for the first time in English:
  • ARTICLE I: The assumption of immortality is required of all road users.
  • ARTICLE II: Indian traffic, like Indian society,is structured on a strict caste system. The following precedence must be accorded at all times. In descending order, give way to:
    • Cows,
    • elephants,
    • heavy trucks,
    • buses,
    • official cars,
    • camels,
    • light trucks,
    • buffalo,
    • jeeps,
    • ox-carts,
    • private cars,
    • motorcycles,
    • scooters,
    • auto-rickshaws,
    • pigs,
    • pedal rickshaws,
    • goats,
    • bicycles (goods-carrying),
    • handcarts,
    • bicycles (passenger-carrying),
    • dogs,
    • pedestrians.
  • ARTICLE III: All wheeled vehicles shall be driven in accordance with the maxim: to slow is to falter, to brake is to fail, to stop is defeat. This is the Indian drivers' mantra.
  • ARTICLE IV: Use of horn (also known as the sonic fender or aural amulet):Cars:
    • Short blasts (urgent) indicate supremacy, IE in clearing dogs, rickshaws and pedestrians from path.
    • Long blasts (desperate) denote supplication, IE to oncoming truck: ``I am going too fast to stop, so unless you slow down we shall both die". In extreme cases this may be accompanied by flashing of headlights (frantic).
    • Single blast (casual) means: "I have seen someone out of India's 870 million whom I recognise", "There is a bird in the road (which at this speed could go through my windscreen)" or "I have not blown my horn for several minutes."
    Trucks and buses: All horn signals have the same meaning, viz: "I have an all-up weight of approximately 12.5 tons and have no intention of stopping, even if I could." This signal may be emphasised by the use of headlamps. Article IV remains subject to the provision of Order of Precedence in Article II above.
  • ARTICLE V: All manoeuvres, use of horn and evasive action shall be left until the last possible moment.
  • ARTICLE VI: In the absence of seat belts (which there is), car occupants shall wear garlands of marigolds. These should be kept fastened at all times.
    • Rights of way: Traffic entering a road from the left has priority. So has traffic from the right, and also traffic in the middle.
    • Lane discipline (VII,1): All Indian traffic at all times and irrespective of direction of travel shall occupy the centre of the road.
  • ARTICLE VIII: Roundabouts: India has no roundabouts. Apparent traffic islands in the middle of crossroads have no traffic management function. Any other impression should be ignored.
  • ARTICLE IX: Overtaking is mandatory. Every moving vehicle is required to overtake every other moving vehicle, irrespective of whether it has just overtaken you. Overtaking should only be undertaken in suitable conditions, such as in the face of oncoming traffic, on blind bends, at junctions and in the middle of villages/city centres. No more than two inches should be allowed between your vehicle and the one you are passing -- and one inch in the case of bicycles or pedestrians.
  • ARTICLE X: Nirvana may be obtained through the head-on crash.
  • ARTICLE XI: Reversing: no longer applicable since no vehicle in India has reverse gear.
  • ARTICLE XII: The 10th incarnation of God was as a diesel smoke spewing truck.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010


    Hello! Our internet hasn’t been working since Wednesday, but I’m back! This weekend we took a trip to a place called Tiruvannamalei (or Tiru, for short.) It’s very flat around here, but in Tiru a mountain randomly pops up, called Arunachala.  It’s said to be the actual body of the god Shiva, so it is very spiritually significant. Many people make the pilgrimage to go to the mountain.  With the help of google and other people’s pictures, I have some pictures for you!
    The temple and the mountain in the background
    We stayed at an ashram, called the Sri Ramanashram.  Sri Ramana lived in a cave on the mountain for more than 17 years, just meditating. If people hadn’t found him and fed him and took care of him, he wouldn’t  have eaten and he would have let the rats and bugs eat him.  Friday afternoon when we arrived, we were able to hike up to the cave and go inside.  We ate our meals at the ashram, and they were very efficient! Volunteers would set banana leaves or other smaller leaves sewn together to make plates out in rows. Then they would usher us in and give us water. Somebody would then come around with a bucket of rice and throw a scoop on each person’s leaf, and then people would follow with different vegetable dishes and curries. I’m not really sure what exactly we were eating, but everybody just mixes it all together and it tastes good! And of course, we eat with our hands. Well, just the right hand. When you finish eating, you fold your leaf towards you and go wash you hands. It was a very quick process.

    feeding the monkeys at the ashram

    Saturday morning, we left at 6am to make the journey around the base of the mountain. It’s about 14 km, and if you walk clockwise, it’s supposed to be the Hindu version of washing away your sins.  It was very peaceful until the last 4 km, when we walked through the heart of the city. I really enjoyed being able to walk and not talk or be distracted, but just to be. A dog found us right after we started and followed us the whole  way! We also went to the main temple in the evening. It has huge gates that have hundreds of carved statues on them. I can’t imagine how long it took to build them. There was music and dancing because it was goddess week, and we also went inside some of the temples. The biggest one is for Shiva, but there were smaller temples for the other gods and goddesses.

    Sunday morning, we woke up early to climb the mountain. I was walking with a few other girls, and right at the beginning an Indian man told us to go a different way.  One of the staff for our group is from here and spoke to him in Tamil, and said we should follow him. He led us to a path that went straight up. Which was great, but then the path ended. We had a great time climbing over boulders, fighting our way through waist deep 
    On the way up! I'm in the middle of the 3 people
    grass, getting stung by wasps and enjoying the breeze, the view, and being with nature.  We figured we should just keep going up until we can’t anymore! We reached the top in about 2 hours, and it was so peaceful and amazing. And cold! It was definitely nice to be shivering instead of sweating. It was fun to look down at the city and still be able to hear car horns blarring and the hustle and bustle of life, but be so far removed from it. It was also the first time I really felt that I was breathing fresh air. On the way down, I ended up walking with one other girl from our group and a German woman about our age that we had seen around the ashram and met at the top. It was fun talking to her.  She started struggling to remember words in English, and the other girl I was with knew some German, so we spoke in German for a few minutes.  It seems easier to connect with other foreigners in India.  After we reached the bottom, we showered, packed, and made our way home.  I really enjoyed getting out of Auroville and seeing a place like that!

    The people that climbed to the top!
    The guy on the far left isn't actually in our group -
    he's a german volunteer than we've kind of adopted
    so he came along!
    I just realized the internet is out again so hopefully I can post this before next week!

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    a cow ran into me...'s true. I was walking down on of the main (that means paved) roads, minding my own business, when a cow decided it did not like me. I was not even close to being in its way, but it came running at me and practically butted me off the road! I tried going back the other way, and it followed. I tried crossing the street, and it followed. It kept chasing me! Luckily, two Indian women drove by on a motor bike and were able to get in between. They told me to "go! go!" and I did. I practically ran back home. And now I am a little terrified of cows.

    Sorry I didn't blog till today. And I'm also sorry there aren't any pictures. My waterproof camera got wet and now it doesn't work. I'm hoping it's just the battery, but in the meantime I may have to reactivate my facebook account so I can get other peoples' pictures.

    Last Tuesday, we started our Service Learning Projects (basically an internship) and so now we have more of a regular schedule. Tuesday - Friday, we go to our SLPs from about 9-12 in the morning. I'm working at Thamarai Educational and Healing center. So far, I haven't had any specific job except to watch and learn. They have an educational center where they have preschool in the mornings, and then afterschool care in the evenings. Recently, they opened a healing center, which is where I am most of the time. Typically when I'm there, elderly people come in for treatments, typically for joint pain, and some women also come for a yoga class. Sometimes I participate! At noon, one grade from the local village school comes for health education. This way each grade comes once a week. This past week has been school holiday, so there have been about 10 or 12 kids hanging out at the healing center. They teach teenage girls on Saturdays, and even though I don't work then, I'm helping set up a nutrition program for them. It looks at a single plant and all its benefits. For example, they've already done papaya. They learned what vitamins it's rich in, learned to make soap from the leaves, and learned its health benefits and how it can be used as a medicine.

    We're starting our third week of yoga now. Our yoga teacher, Shambo, has a strong French accent and the most hilarious quites. They probably don't sound funny if you weren't there to hear it, but one of our favorites was when we were relaxing and he wanted us to become aware of how our body was feeling. Imagine a very French man with a ponytail and very short shorts saying, "scaaaaaan your body. bzzzzzzz bzzzzzz." It's a lot of fun though, and we've done some difficult poses. I've been going to yoga classes for a couple years, so it's fun to do something challenging and new.

    In the afternoons, we typically have class. These are basically just group discussions. Some people have been a little frustrated that we just talk and talk and never really learn how to do anything specific, but I think everybody is getting used to the way it works. We have also been working on our Individual Learning Plans, where we choose what our interests in each class are and what books we want to read. It's a very flexible curriculum which allows for people to pursue their own specific interests, even if our faculty aren't experts in that area.

    All in all, it's going well and I'm having a great time. If you want to know anything specific, let me know! So much is going on that it would be hard for me to write it all here, but I'd be happy to tell you more!
    Till next time!

    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    Week 2

    Sorry, I have no creative names!
    I'm going to go day by day again, because we still had orientation this week until Wednesday. We start our internships on Tuesday, and then our schedules will be more regular.
    This week we also started yoga. Our teacher is this crazy French man named Shambo. He doesn't really understand that most of us are new to this, and we've been doing a lot of really difficult poses, and think yoga can solve everything. One girl told him her back hurt, and he told her it was because we are so used to having our backs supported when we sit. Then he said, "give it 30 years and everything will be ok." We start yoga at 6:15am, then finish with about 20 minutes of meditation before we eat breakfast and go on with our day.


    We went to Evergreen Community, where a couple of families are reforesting the area with the indigenous forest, the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF). We heard a lot about this over the week. Dave, the man who was in charge, was very knowledgeable. He runs all kinds of workshops on different environmental subjects, and is especially interested in Deep Ecology, which is basically environmental philosophy.
    We rode our cycles to the Center for Scientific Research, and got to see different living machines. There was one waste water management system, where the water goes through a series of containers underground, and then goes through a type of fountain that contains algae, and naturally cleans the water. Connected to that was the place where they make earth blocks for building. They don't have to be baked, like bricks, so they save energy. And they use local resources. They had a little display, and included in that were shelves containing jars of dirt from all around the world. There were 3 from Texas, but none from Austin.
    After that, we went to the Life Education Center. It's a school for adolescent girls, because most families only send their boys to school after a certain age. They receive counseling as well as normal school, and they also learn practical skills, such as sewing and cooking. Most of the girls end up passing the exams to graduate high school. They can go to college and get a degree, but the problem is they cannot find jobs afterwards. They are able to empower the women, even if they will never be able to get the same jobs as men. They also get a stipend every month so their parents will let them stay in school.
    Our next stop was WELL paper products. This is also a women's empowerment group. They employ village women to make beautiful products from wasted newspaper. Next door was Kottakarai Organic Food Processing Unit, or KOFPU, where we had lunch. The woman who owns it, Anandi, has the kindest soul. She was so happy to see us and share her knowledge. They make mostly raw food, so everything we ate was raw except for a raggi (local grain) dose (pancake type bread). We started with kombucha, and then a green smoothie. We had wonderful salads and sauces, and finished with chocolate mousse made from cashews. Everything was served on a banana leaf, and we ate with our hands. It was one of my favorite places!


    Our first stop was Thamarai Educational Center. It's a preschool in the morning, and we walked past sleeping 2 and 3 year olds. They were so adorable! It's also an afterschool program, because many parents, especially mothers, do not have the skills to help children with their homework. On weekends they take trips with the kids. They also opened a health center, and teach children about nutrition and their bodies through yoga and other methods. They also have women's groups and youth groups.
    We then went to the botanical garden, and learned more about reforestation. It was nice to walk through the grounds, and see so many native species!\


    We only had one stop today. We went to Pitchandikulam, where we once again learned about reforestation of the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest. We also learned a little about Siddha medicine, which is basically plant medicine. We walked around and saw all the different medicinal plants labelled, but we didn't know what they were for. Apparently, some of them only work on people who were born here, because the people and the plants have evolved together. It was also our first day where lunch was on our own, which was nice. It's hard to go everywhere as a group of 12!
    We had the afternoon off to work on homework and explore more options for our internship, which starts Tuesday.


    We had class in the morning, and then the afternoon free. Orientation is over!


    We had class, and learned more about our service learning projects (internships) and how they relate to our experience and all our other classes.
    In the afternoon, we took a van to a community fight outside of Auroville called Sadhana Forest. They are also working on reforestation, but they were intentionally working slowly. It was very focused on the community aspect as well. Every Friday they give a tour of the place, then show a movie and serve dinner afterwards. We watched the first episode of the BBC Life series, which was amazing. At the end of the semester, we do a community stay for 10 days somewhere in Auroville. This is one of the places we can stay, and I a lot of us wanted to!


    We went to an all day seminar that was also open to the public, called Renewing the Dream Awakening the Dreamer. It was a combination of videos and activities designed to inspire or re-inspire people to make a difference in a community and the world.

    And Sunday was our first real day off! It was a relaxing but productive day.

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Week #1!!!

    This is not proofread, so sorry for any mistakes

    I just finished my first week in India! It's been fun, but a lot has happened and it's been difficult to really process everything we've seen and learned. I'll start by trying to explain what Auroville is. It's really hard, and I didn't really understand it before I came here. I still have trouble understanding it. If you're really interested, I would suggest looking at their web page -
    There is an ashram in the nearest big city, Pondicherry (or Puducherry) that was started by a man named Sri Aurobindo. Long story short, a woman from France found him and they became spiritual partners, in a way. She's called the Mother, and she basically took over for Sri Aurobindo and eventually was in charge of the ashram too after he died. She also had a dream of a city that wouldn't belong to a single nation, but would be a place where all people could live and it would be a place of human unity. On February 28, 1968, this became reality when the city of Auroville was started about 10 km away from the ashram. All that existed of the city was a dirt amphitheater (which is still there, but not dirt anymore) and the huge banyan tree which marks the geographical center of the city. They had an urn in which young people from 124 nations and all the states of India placed a handful of dirt from their home country. At that point, there were hardly any trees (they could see the coast which is 2 miles away) and the topsoil was disappearing during the monsoons. Since then they have been able to reforest the area, and many species of native birds and animals have returned.

    When Auroville was first started, many spiritual followers of the Mother and people from the ashram followed her. It also attracted young people, who were essentially hippies looking for an adventure. This created a tension that has been present since the very beginning. The people who are devoted to the Mother's dream and plan for Auroville are called city-wallers. They think they should create the city based on the Mother's plans, no matter how much concrete or limited resources they use. Much of what they have done would not be possible without the help of the local Tamil villagers, either. The other side is called the green-belters, and they are more invested in becoming more sustainable and developing Auroville as an eco-village.

    Auroville is actually a pretty small village, but it kind of occupies a bigger area, which includes the local villages. We are staying on the edge of the village Kuilapalayam, but there are Auroville shops and services mixed in with the local ones. It's still confusing to me.

    Okay, now I can get to the real stuff. I'm just going to go by day, since that makes it easier for me to remember. Pictures will come soon!

    We did some get-to-know-you activities and went over basic rules and health and safety. We also got bicycles to use for the semester.

    We rode our bicycles into Kuilapalayam (the village) and set up our accounts at the bank. We have a card with an account number on it, and then when we buy anything from an Auroville shop, they just draw from our account. We also explored the village and got an idea of what is around us.

    In the morning we actually rode our bikes (or cycles, as they call them here) into Auroville to begin our orientation. B, a 70-year-old American man who has been here since '74, led us. He was so full of energy! We went to the Visitor's Center and watched some videos about Auroville. Then we went to the Unity Pavilion. Each country or group of similar countries has their own pavilion, but this one is for everyone. We talked to a Swedish woman, Jaya, who has also been here forever. She spoke a little more about the history of the city and the problems it faces.
    We listened to another woman who has been here since the early 70's. She worked in a library type place that displays work by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and puts on classes and events as well. She talked to us about one of Sri Aurobindo's books, Savitri, which is based on a famous Indian story.
    Probably my favorite visit of the day was Solitude Farm. We ate lunch there, and everything had been grown by them - rice, spices, spinach, papaya, and more. They also have a deep well that they use to irrigate the farm, and we all jumped in! It felt so great after being so sweaty in the heat. The farm itself was really amazing, because they believe that nature knows what it needs. They don't do much plowing because it disturbs the microbes in the earth and exposes them to sunlight, killing them. It's a very intricate system, and I'm not going to try to explain it, but it actually sounded more simple than what typically happens on farms - not that they don't work hard. They just don't have fields with neat rows.

    We had class in the morning, and then after lunch we prepared garden beds at our guest house to plant it. We haven't done the actual planting yet, but we have the little plants we're putting in. Then we rode our cycles to the guest house that Kireet, a Dutch man owns. He has also been here forever (on and off) and is very interested in water conservation. Because there were not forests, the rain from the monsoons was washing away to the ocean and taking the dirt with it. This created these canyons, and did not allow for the water to be absorbed into the earth and recharge the aquifers that people get their drinking water from. So he, along with other Aurovillians, created a series of dams. The effect was immediate.

    the canyon! when the dirt used to run into the ocean, it looked like the sea was bleeding!

    Unfortunately, people are starting to build houses near the end of the canyon. It almost never floods there, but it is still dangerous. The government actually owns this land and no one can live there, but then they provided electricity and roads. It is a very sad situation.

    you can kind of see the edge of where people have built houses, and some people who were trying to do their business when we showed up and scared them off. they have to do it before it gets dark because all kinds of creatures live there.

    We went to the Matrimandir, the huge gold meditation chamber in the center of the city. It took 37 years to build! This is also something you should research on your own, if you want to know more. We did a group meditation with other visitors, since it was our first time. Then we came outside to the banyan tree which is right next to it, and the geographical center of Auroville. Nearby is the amphitheater and lotus urn where all the dirt from all over the world is kept.

    not my picture, but it shows the matrimandir, banyan tree, and amphitheater. there is less brown and more green now!

    Our next stop was Town Hall, and Auroville Radio. One of our classes is an internship, and this is one of our choices. A former student from this program has come back to Auroville and is working with the radio, so she talked to us.
    Then we rode to Upasana, which is a place that employs villagers (mostly women). They have 5 main projects - a doll that helped raise money for the Tsunamai victims, supporting farmers growing organic cotton, with which they make clothes and reusable bags that fold into a pouch, and a couple more which unfortunately I can't remember. It was a very inspiring place.
    Lunch was at the Solar Kitchen, which cooks all its food with steam produced by a huge solar bowl on the roof, which we went up to see.

    the huge solar bowl!

    one of my teachers, Bindu, with B. He is such an amazing man!

    Today was mostly a day off, but Auroville was also celebrating World Bamboo Day. I rode my bicycle early in the morning with two other girls and helped plant bamboo. Once it grows, it will become a pavilion-like structure. We got breakfast afterwards at a cafe. We ate lunch at the Solar Kitchen again, and there were displays of so many things made out of bamboo. There was even a bicycle! We took taxis to the Visitor's Center where they served an excellent dinner, and then there were some presentations about bamboo. There was also a bamboo fashion show, which some students from Germany were very involved in. A band played using only bamboo instruments, and it was amazing to see! After that, some other musicians played, including one of our teachers and a student in my group. It was a pretty late night, but a lot of fun!

    We took a trip to Pondicherry for most of the day. We visited the ashram (remember Sri Aurobindo?) and the Ganesh temple. Ganesh, or Ganesha, is one of the most popular Hindi gods here. There is a temple elephant outside of most every temple in India, and we got blessed by the one here. It was so sad to look into her eyes! It was a fun experience, but it must be a pretty hard life.
    the elephant blessing some people outside of the temple

    We were able to split up and explore on our own before lunch. I went through the market, which is under a roof so the smells were extra strong! We first went through the fish area, then produce, and finally flowers. Then we walked along the streets and saw all the other vendors selling clothes and all kinds of other objects. Our lunch was delicious, and most of us ended up ordering a North India sampler, because the South Indian one didn't come with ice cream! We had a little more free time before it was time to come back. There was such a contrast between myself and other tourists including Indians, upper class Indians, and the people who spend all day selling things, begging, or even sleeping on the streets. It's hard to see all this and not want to do something about it.

    the beach in Pondicherry! notice all the trash

    Overall, it's hard to experience all the contrasts that exist here. It really like it, but it's difficult for me to process everything that I'm experiencing.
    Auroville, no matter how many problems it has, is an inspiring place because everybody is so passionate about what they do. They may not all agree, but they love what they do.

    I'm about to fall asleep, so that's all for now, but I'll be back next weekend with my account of the week's adventures!