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!


  1. E baby!! i love your blog! Auraville sounds really interesting and cool, and your pictures are beautiful!!!!!! You got to pet an elephant????? luckkky.... but also kinda sad :'( poor temple elephants.

    p.s. I am very confused on how the bathrooms work where you are... you're telling me you have to squat on a hole and wipe with water? that's hardcore.

    miss you!

    <3 Lexi

  2. yeah! there's a bucket and a little pitcher in the stall, so you squat over the hole, do your business, and then use your right hand to hold the pitcher and pour the water and the left to clean. then you wash your hands well with soap.