While I adjust to being back in the U.S., I am working hard to implement everything I’ve learned this semester. One positive change that I plan to make is participating in a CSA for the first time starting in June! While staying at Solitude farm I got to participate in an Auroville CSA, and here is a reflection I wrote about the experience:
Last week were our community stays. It is the last part of the program before we start wrapping things up with papers and presentations where the group splits up to stay in an Auroville community of their choice. I spent my community stay at Solitude with three others from our group. After working for 6 weeks at the Botanical Gardens I wanted another experience where I would be working outside and getting my hands dirty. But, I have to admit, I was nervous. Solitude has a reputation for hard work, and Auroville was heating up. I wasn’t sure I would last working all morning in the hot sun.
Nevertheless, on the first day I was armed with sunscreen and a full water bottle, ready to work. Luckily that day was the CSA harvest, which ended up being one of my favorite parts of my stay at Solitude. There were ladyfingers, peppers, bananas, papayas, spinach, arugula, basil, cucumber, cluster beans, eggplant and tomatoes. Oh, those tomatoes. I had never seen tomatoes that came in so many different sizes and colors. We all would come over to the harvest bucket our hands full of bright yellows and soft pinks. Once everything had been harvested it was weighed and taken to Food Link as well as Aurolec, where we got to help sort the baskets. It felt great to be part of the contribution of fresh, organic, and locally grown fruits and vegetables to the Auroville community.
Although the rest of the work was hard, I really enjoyed being exposed to natural farming. I loved seeing the ongoing experimentation of relationships among plants in order to create a beautiful permaculture garden. And, much of the hard work was backed up with a purpose. Mulching to protect the soil from the hot sun, putting bamboo around the perimeter to protect newly sowed crops from wandering cows and goats. Despite numerous cuts from moving bamboo, and having itching, burning skin after harvesting dhal, there is something to be said for hard, physical work. It was so intrinsically rewarding to contribute to the farm. I’m grateful for the experience.
The Botanical Garden is an area dedicated to restoring the tropical dry evergreen forest (TDEF), the native species of the bioregion as well as to creating other specialty gardens in order to educate and share the beauty of nature.
The main purpose of the Botanical Gardens is to provide education. This is for everyone: schoolchildren, including those of Auroville and the surrounding Tamil villages, and for the general public. They want to provide knowledge about the natural area and help children, and everyone else, cultivate a caring attitude towards the environment. Currently a children’s garden is being built where we planted a banyan tree together, and there are also specialty gardens in order to educate the public about various types of climates and what species are native to each climate.
There are a few permanent stewards of the gardens: Martin, Santo, and Julia were our mentors during our time there. There are also volunteers who are provided free housing in exchange for daily work in the nursery or out in the gardens, as well as other Aurovillian stewards who we saw every so often at tea time. The garden gets a lost of work from the influx of volunteers, who, in combination with the stewards provide a diverse and dynamic community.
The Botanical gardens are a relatively sustainable community. They are off-the-grid through the use of solar power, and use an irrigation tank that harvests minimal rainwater. But during my time there I encountered a few issues of sustainability. I believe that it would be beneficial for the gardens to make use of some form of rainwater catchment. The irrigation tank does harvest some of the monsoon, but given that there is extensive daily watering that is done in the nursery, having a working rainwater catchment system would increase the sustainability of the site. From what I have learned, one of the most effective ways of rainwater catchment is to have an underground tank that harvests water through the gutters of buildings. However, this is expensive, and the Gardens puts a higher priority on education, so this is where the funding is more likely to go. Another issue I encountered was the extensive use of plastic bags in the nursery. All nursery plants are kept in plastic bags, and each plant is transplanted to a few different bags throughout it’s life in the nursery. Each bag that is used is simply thrown out, which creates a lot of waste. But, after a conversation with Julia, I learned that plastic bags end up being better than clay pots, which I originally believed to be a more sustainable alternative. Clay pots are significantly more expensive and break easily, so more clay than plastic pots would be needed. In addition, clay pots would soak up most of the water received by the soil, while in plastic bags all of the water goes to the roots and therefore serves as a more beneficial environment for the plant.
The Botanical Gardens fits into the bigger picture of Auroville through the nursery, education, and reforestation of TDEF. The nursery provides landscaping for projects in Auroville for purchase, including for the Matrimandir, who was given many plants for their gardens throughout the time I was there. The gardens also regularly hosts children from the Auroville schools in order to provide general education about the environment, and specifically about the TDEF species. Through their work with collecting seeds, the Botanical Gardens has greatly contributed to reforestation of the area. The gardens fit into the bigger picture of the surrounding villages and the state of Tamil Nadu in very similar ways. The gardens pays for food and transportation so Tamil schools can come to the gardens in order to be educated about the bioregion as well as medicinal plants. The gardens also receives funding from outside projects via the nursery.. For example, we once planted about 500 cuttings of a type of bamboo for an outside project.
It was a great feeling to be working in the nursery and to just to be able to get my hands dirty. Everyone should get to experience the simple joy in sticking your hands in the dirt and having that close connection with the soil. I also loved working with the TDEF seeds with Santo because I felt that I was a part of a larger Auroville project: reforestation of the area using species native to the bioregion. Working with the seeds became a meditative experience for me as my time went on. At first washing and breaking open the seedpods seemed like a menial task. I felt that as the new volunteer I was stuck doing the task that no one else wanted to do. This, however, wasn’t true as I found when Julia commented to me that I would have a nice quiet morning working with the seeds. I loved seeing and observing the different types of seeds and being close to this natural process that, after all, it is the first step in the tree or plant’s life. Overall, it felt great to be working closely with the plants and caring for them, and to be surrounded by so much life and people who care deeply about the natural world.
“You expect us to be creative on demand?” The students asked with mock horror when they were presented with the final learning assignment. But, despite their protests, the students were uniquely creative in sharing what they learnt with their peers:
Rachel pushed beyond her comfort zone to unleash the dancer within her and danced for the group.
Rikki who had delighted in doing yoga daily all semester led us through yoga poses.
Annalisa who had discovered a love for gardening in the semester took a pot filled with soil and “planted” her key learnings from the semester.
Katherine shared emails that she had written to her parents over her semester to reveal how from hating India, she had come to accept and perhaps even love it.
Meredith engaged us in an interactive group puzzle to share her key learnings, while
Amanda changed, in front of us, her body map that she had presented at the beginning of the semester.
Arden talked about the subtle ways in which the mind and the emotions leave their mark on the physical body, while Grace voiced aloud in a stream-of-consciousness mode all that she struggles with when she seeks to meditate.
Zack spoke of his learning while (sigh) doing a head-stand, while Carmel, who had offered hair cuts to the group throughout the semester, spoke of hers while snipping away at Annalisa’s hair.
Last but not least, Erika recited the poem she wrote for the Body, Mind, Spirit course, which included the words:
“Thank you, India, for reminding me of what is beyond my control.
India has plucked at my loose threads,
and pulled until I unraveled.
She has rolled me around in her bowels
And made me digestible.
I have loved others I thought impossible to love
And I have found a source in them
that I, too, am birthed from.”
While all the four courses of the LR program neatly dovetail into one another to offer an integrated program on integral sustainability, I feel that the Body, Mind, Spirit (BMS) course on personal sustainability is of paramount importance for it represents embodied knowledge. That is why when we ask students to present their learning for the semester, it is counted as part of the BMS course.
For this final learning presentation we asked the students to highlight their learning in a creative visual form. We asked them to reflect on the past three months that they had spent in India, to think back on the life map that they presented at the beginning of the semester and thereby sense what has personally changed in this past semester. They were asked to look through their journal entries and their BMS paper to track the major influences throughout the semester. To think about key persons, seminars, films, readings, conversations, and/or experiences that they had that perhaps led to changes in their worldview.
The students then had to find a creative way to visually map all these subtle changes into a presentation that they shared with their learning community.
As an experiential education program, LR students help in implementing in sustainable projects in Auroville.
This year, as part of their Service Learning Course, three students were involved in working with young children of Auroville and the Edyanchavadi village at AHA! Kindergarten, TLC, and Thamarai; another student, Erika, filmed, edited and posted online a much-needed fund-raising video for Thamarai; the physical labor of three students at Botanical Gardens was greatly appreciated by their mentors; Carmel took the initiative to help in building a prototype house with curved, rammed walls using discarded petrol pipes to create the curvature; Katherine helped out with a rural women’s group of WELL while Arden sweated it out in Solitude farm and Amanda lent a hand at the wind turbine workshop. Also as part of this course, the students, during a week-long stay at Windarra built a pizza oven using cob and discarded glass bottles as building materials.
As part of their Group Dynamics course, the students stayed in small groups at the sustainable communities of Evergreen, Verite, and Solitude and did small re-design projects to further the sustainability of these places. The students at Evergreen did a beautiful public art installation using a dead tree that stood near the parking space of the community.
For her final presentation of learning, Rikki led us all through two set of yoga exercises—the Sun and the Moon salutations. I loved the metaphor for I have always maintained that India and USA were as different as night and day. It is impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t been to India, what India is like!
In our session on reverse culture shock, students recognized this and worried that they would never be able to explain to their friends and family back home what this program in India has meant to them and how they have grown and changed in the past 3 months. When we were listing all the things that one will miss about India, someone said the “Genuine smiles of the people,” and this was contrasted with the projection that people will ask them about what India was like, but not pay sufficient attention to the answer!
So dear friends and families of the students, as you welcome your loved one back into the fold, be gentle with them. It will take them some time to re-adjust to life back in USA, and you can help them in this transition by being gentle and patient. Ice-cream also helps! Allow them time and space to ground themselves, before sharing your own journey of change in the past few months. And we hope that you can embrace the new choices that they have made in their lives such as cutting down on unnecessary consumption and becoming vegetarian. Even if you don’t understand their choices, act as if you do! Support them as they try to figure out their lives back home in their own way.
For, to quote Gibran, “your children are not your children but life longing for itself.”
Tomorrow is the last day of our semester together. For the past few days we’ve been engaging in seminars around reverse culture shock and reintegration. Today each student presented their final presentation of learning. It’s an odd period of transition. Each day, time seems to slow down as we savor the final hours of all being together. And each day, my heart has slowly crept up and is now lodged firmly in my throat. I feel it might just get poured out here…
My heart is filled with such a tremendous love for each and every one of these students…for the tremendous paths they’ve each taken this semester…for this path that we’ve all walked on together. I am grateful for the absolute privilege of observing the transformations that students go through – mostly quiet internal shifts which shine through their eyes, through the way they walk in their bodies, through their new comfort in knowing themselves just a little bit more.
It’s amusing – each semester, students inevitably ask the faculty the same question, “Are we the best group you’ve ever had?” And of course, there’s no best to be spoken of. Each group creates something special. For this group, I’ve noticed many beauties, but one stands out in my mind. This group came to Auroville and embraced it. At the same time that they were able to examine it critically, they were also able to engage with it and give to it – creating a tremendous harmony with the larger Auroville community. For this, as a facilitator and an Aurovilian, I am grateful.
To Living Routes Auroville Spring 2013: Thank you!
So, you may think I am Amanda. You may be thinking wrong. Again, by surprise, it is Zack! My account is still not working. But I don’t mind. It gives me time to live in the NOW! and not worry about the vastly unimaginable and intangible world of the web. But as the days come to an end, I’m hit with a certain poignant nostalgia for the beginning, and the middle, and even last week. But, as a wise man once told me, it’s not only time that flies, and tomorrow evening I’ll be in the atmosphere. So before I bid you all farewell, I would like to share a poem I wrote, once upon a time, in Pondicherry. Here goes.
Everything is one, they say -
And everything is a part of a system – or is a system.
And all of these systems are the same,
If you disregard the ascetic differences that is.
Humans are one of these systems, and are all of these systems.
We are made of cells, yet we are cells.
In our towns, our cities, our tribes and our countries -
Without the small there could be no large.
We hunted the wolves, yet we are the wolves.
We travel in packs, we rank ourselves, and we strive to be the alpha.
We cut down the trees yet we are the trees.
We come from a seed, planted in fertile soil and allowed to grow,
Creating beauty and presence , until we sow our own seed.
Until we cut ourselves down.
We bathe in the ocean, yet we are the ocean.
We have our tides, our ups and downs. We are raging and we are still.
Travel far enough from our shores, and we have the most profound depths, an abyss of thought, feeling, instinct, confusion.
The sea is tossed by the wind, yet we are the wind.
Blowing from here to there, to here again.
Fleeting, weightless, refreshing, and quick.
We walk this earth, yet we are this earth.
We spin endlessly around and around until we find our lights, our suns.
Suns of family, friends, work, and lovers. Suns kindled and kept aflame by passion.
And once we find these orbs of passion, we orient our existence around them, forever in orbit.
And we orbit these suns, yet we are the sun.
We each contain our own light, our own fire.
We each have our own planets orbiting us, drawn by our own gravity.
We try to fathom the universe, in its infinity, yet we are the universe.
Our eyes and ears, what we smell and feel, create the universe we experience.
And we each experience a slightly different universe,
made unique by our beliefs, our memories, our dreams.
In each of our heads exists a not so parallel universe, that makes contact with other universes every time we meet a stranger -
Every time we spew out our lives, from familiar mouths to foreign ears.
We are the cells, we are the wolves.
We are the trees, the seas and the breeze.
We are the earth, we are the sun, and we are the infinite.
We are the small, and we are the large -
We are everything in between, and more.
But most of all, like all things,
Adieu my friends.
A thali is a traditional South India lunch meal. Over the semester, the group has fallen in love with this deliciously filling meal that leaves you ready for a mid-afternoon nap. For those of you back home, here’s some insight into a favorite staple in our diet.
Thalis are traditionally served on a banana leaf or sometimes on a circular metal tray. It comes with several dishes, some spicy, some mild. For the leaf meal, these are served directly on the leaf. For the tray meal, these are served in small metal bowls. These should be removed and placed around the circumference of the tray to make room for rice.
After receiving your “plate,” a server will come around with a pot of rice, placing a few scoops into the center of your tray/leaf. Next, mix one, a few, or all of the dishes onto the rice, as you like. Begin eating!
How to eat with your hands:
Mainstays of the Thali Meal:
Things to know:
*Oftentimes thali meals are “bottomless” and the server will come back periodically with refills (yay!)
*When you finish your meal, fold your banana leaf to indicate whether you enjoyed the meal or not. Folding the top down signifies satisfaction with the meal, and folding the bottom up signifies dissatisfaction with the meal.
*Accepting refills or requesting more shows the cook you enjoyed the meal. It is particularly complementary to ask for more rice.
Though there is a basic formula to a Thali, they come in a wide variety. They range from “I burnt off all my taste buds,” to “spices, what spices?” Each has a different combination of dishes and flavors, and everyone has a particular favorite. None the less, this meal has made its way into my heart and I will miss it dearly once I return to the states.
Sweaty and probably smelly, I entered into the farm fresh reverting into the shade from a long bike ride. As I go to grab a kombucha from the refrigerator I see a finger coming my way. Slowly and intentionally it reaches towards my monroe piercing, I try to evade the intrusive finger gradually backing my head away but I hear her laughter and I let it happen. She feels the piercing and I explain ‘mukuthi ma’. A bit shocked she laughs at me some more and I laugh with her. It’s one of the reasons I love India so much- the open curiosity and sheer bluntness. This was not the first time a tamil woman has come up to me to investigate (first hand) whether my piercing was a sticker or a piece of food and it was definitely not the first time I’ve been laughed at. But I never feel hurt by their forwardness or the bursts of laughter. The curiosity is sincere and the laughter honest. I don’t feel criticized or the need to retreat or even change my monroe (to the more prevalent gold nose ring) but rather just appreciate the brief laughter with a stranger.
Copyright © 2013 Living Routes.
All rights reserved.