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!

Monday, September 13, 2010

I arrived!!

my bed!

Hi everybody! I just wanted to write a quick post to say I arrived, and it's every bit as hot and humid as I imagined. Today we just got to know each other and did a little orientation of the place we're staying, but tomorrow we get to ride our bikes into Auroville and get to know our way around and everything.

I hope to post something about once a week, but it might end up being every other week if I'm busy. I don't plan on proof reading them either, so sorry for any mistakes I make!

I think I'm really going to enjoy my time here but I'll update later once I've done a little bit more!

the group!

Friday, September 10, 2010


I'm in Germany!! I'm actually in Frankfurt right now, but I don't think I'll finish this post today. Yesterday (Monday 9/6) I was lucky and it was nice and sunny, but today it is raining and in the 50s! I wanted to go up the Main Tower, but apparently it's not worth it if there isn't good visibility, so I decided not to waste my money. Instead, of course I went to H&M and bought some jeans I'm going to have to carry around for 3 months. They were on sale, so that makes it okay, right?
Being here is making me remember everything I loved about living in Germany. I went down by the Main river, which runs right by my hostel, and a million people were biking, jogging, rollerblading, walking, or sitting on the benches and just watching the people go by. I love how half of them weren't just there to get some exercise - biking along a river is just their normal means of transportation.

Frankfurt skyline

I also walked around the neighborhood I'm staying in a lot, Sachsenhausen, which is apparently the hip place to be with the best gay clubs. Unfortunately, I'm still very jetlagged so I was out by 9pm. The old part, Alt Sachsenhausen, supposedly has the best Apfelwein pubs, where they sell wine made from apples. I thought I was buying some, but instead I bought just the normal apple juice. It was good though! One thing I noticed was there are lots of small parks with playgrounds and usually tennis courts or some sort of field. These were packed with kids, parents, teenagers, and even older people visiting on the benches. I think it's great for kids to go to the park after school. They gain social skills while being active outside instead of sitting in front of a TV. There was even a building I saw with tables and art supplies inside where older kids can do homework while their siblings play, or on days like today they can do art or read books or just play with other kid inside.
I've been through Römerberg, Frankfurt's old center square, quite a bit because it's right across the river from me and I pass through it whenever I walk anywhere.


The 14th and 15th century houses were destroyed in WWII, but they've been rebuilt. While they were rebuilding, they uncovered some ruins of an old Roman Bathhouse. Right around the corner is the Kleinmarkthalle, which is kind of like an indoor Farmers' Market. I love how they tell you where all the fruits and vegetables come from on the label. They even do that in grocery stores. There were also a few bread stands, some cheese, plants and seeds, "foreign" foods (mostly dates and figs and different spices and nuts and other Turkish type foods) and lots of meat. I walked down the Saalgasse, which is a street where a different architect built each house after the war, so they all are built differently, and the Fressgasse, which is filled with most likely overpriced restaurants.
Ok…now I'm in Heidelberg, but I was in Würzberg for 2 days before this. I met a Japanese girl in Frankfurt, and when we were both about to check out we found out that we were going to the same place next! We weren't in the same room though. My only roommate was on older woman who talked to me really fast in German and was not very deutlich. And by that I mean she slurred all her words together.

Hi! it's pouring rain and I'm hiking through the vineyards!

So now I am in Heidelberg! I'm working on my pre-semester assignments for studying abroad in Auroville, India and enjoying my time here! The sun has finally come out!

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Beginning

I'm starting this blog to document my experiences while I study abroad in India and keep in touch with family and friends.
I decided to write my first post about an amazing experience I just had in New Mexico working on a goat farm. I wanted to find a farm to work on this summer, and then one of my best friends Lacey, who worked on the farm last Fall, decided to go back and invited me to visit. My original plan was to go for 3 weeks, but because it is so hard to get there especially when it's raining, I ended up only staying about 2. I learned so much while I was there. Goats are the most amazing animals, and they are always smiling at you. They love to rub their heads up against you and get attention!

One of the most amazing experiences I had while I was there was when I went hiking with the goats one day. They are completely free range, and since they live in the middle of nowhere they can really go anywhere. They walk several hours a day while they are eating. I felt so out of shape! I had to use my hands to help me climb most of the time, I almost slipped down a steep slope, and I had to crawl through small spaces that the goats had no problem squeezing through! Luckily, the guard dogs were there for me. Utah made sure I wasn't left behind, even when I got cactus in my shoe.

I helped milk the goats almost every morning, and then there was always a delicious breakfast waiting. I usually helped maintain the gardens or make cheese the rest of the day, but we had plenty of free time too. The hiking and views are amazing, but there is nobody around so it is easy to get lost! I climbed Pyramid Mountain, which is near the farm, and I even found a missing baby goat! He was reluctant to come with me, but soon he realized I could take him home and we were calling back and forth so he could find his way.

9 baby pigs were born in the middle of the night while I was there! But one goat, Zippity-Doo-Dah, got sick and died. I also got to go to Pie Town and eat some delicious (blueberry) pie!
I had an amazing time at CoonRidge and I am so glad I was able to experience it. I also felt so lucky to be able to spend time with Lacey, because our paths have not crossed much since high school. Who knows when I will get to see her again. I am currently packing and getting everything ready for a week long visit in Germany, and then three months in India! The time is flying by!
Me with baby Already! and her new snazzy weaning bit! The babies like to climb in their feeder, we don't keep her in a cage.