Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Shit and pee wherever you like"

Andy + Coconut tree = <3
We have been at Solitude a week now and we are much happier here. Sadhana Forest had many rules including: no competitive games or sports (including card games), no non-vegan food allowed on campus and (possibly the worst) a very extensive toilet procedure. Using the compost toilets at Sadhana Forest was a non-trivial procedure. There were at least two different holes, and three different buckets per cubicle. One hole was for liquid and only liquid waste, the second for solid and only solid waste. If you went poop, you had to scoop one scoopful of sawdust into the hole and then waddle over to the liquid waste hole in order to use the bum wash because no liquid could be in the solid, dry waste hole. If you had to pee while you pooped, you needed to use a pan with a handle on it to catch the pee and then dump that into a second bucket that was used to water the flowers. Needless to say, this was more complicated than necessary (especially when suffering from diarrhea). When we arrived at Solitude Farm and the owner, Krishna, was giving us an orientation, his description of toilet procedure were music to our ears: "Yeah, so basically you can shit and pee wherever you like." We knew right away that we would like our stay here at Solitude.

The windmill pumps water from the well. At the top, it says "varagu"
a local millet that Solitude is trying to re-establish.

We are lucky to be at the farm during this time because Krishna is hosting a 9 day workshop on Natural Farming and Permaculture techniques. We read aloud from the book, One Straw Revolution and discuss the techniques that are used on the farm. Our work so far has involved some weeding, mulching, planting in the nursery and harvesting dahl (lentils) and rice. Middays get pretty hot and sticky, but that problem is easily solved by taking a dip in the well.

This is a maniac Italian named Devid. The water is about 20 ft down!

Milling varagu the old fashioned way.
Andy and I are finally getting used to thin mattresses, and have come to the terms with the rats that share our hut. All is going well in Southern India!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Auroville Part 1: Our first community attempt

Last Monday, Andy and I left Pondicherry with high hopes on our way to Auroville. Auroville is a planned community just outside of Pondicherry that was founded in 1968.

"Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity."

Auroville is made up of 100 different communities each with a mission that they hope to accomplish. Many are farm based, some are about environmental living and sustainability and the rest cover topics in between (health care, women's groups, information technology, etc). We were headed to a community called Sadhana Forest, which focuses on environmentalism (reforestation) and sustainable living. They were listed on the WWOOF host list and we had heard some okay things so we thought we would give it a try. The commitment there was for 4 weeks but we didn't have a problem with this as it fits in with our travel plans.

So, we arrive at Sadhana Forest on Monday morning before lunch. The place is HUGE.We thought we walked into a hippie commune by accident. Shirtless men with long beards, hair pulled back in ponytails and girls with thick dreadlocks and Indian style pants. Over 160 people live there (both permanent residents of the community at volunteers) from all over the world. Never have I been in one place and heard so many different languages. We were immediately impressed with the gigantic main hut with multi levels (like the one that Andy and I stayed in at our first farm times 100). Volunteers are expected to work 4 hours per day (6:30-8:30 am and 9:30-11:30 am) and then the rest of the day is free to do as you wish. Volunteers lead workshops on a variety of topics in the afternoons. Sadhana Forest follows a strict vegan only diet which meant we were not allowed to bring in food of our own (we cheated on this one and hid our contraband in our sleeping bag). On paper, this sounds like an awesome way to learn about reforestation, sustainable living and meet people from all around the world along the way. In practice, this works for some people. But we quickly found that it didn't work for us. At all.

Andy and I were impressed and also immediately overwhelmed by the size of the place. New volunteers come and old volunteers leave each day, so the amount of people never seems to get smaller. The size of the place was growing more rapidly than the owners had expected or planned for so there were not enough compostable toilets and they were being filled more quickly than the waste had time to break down. As Andy and I know from living in the co-op, it can be difficult to make good tasting meals in large qualities (and this place is Mich House times 3!) and it can be equally as hard to keep a kitchen clean when so many people move through it each day. A lot of people were sick with diarrhea and vomiting. Andy was one of them. We went to work on Tuesday and Andy got sick on Wednesday putting him out of commission for two days. We felt that the community was too large and as a result, the sanitation, hygiene and food safety suffered. So we decided to leave. We took a rickshaw into Auroville on Thursday to find a different community.

The farm we found is called Solitude, and it was actually recommended to us in the first place by John (the owner of the farm near Bangalore) who had worked there in the past. Andy and I immediately felt much better vibes from this place. It is smaller (only 16-20 volunteers) and the people are much more like-minded to us. We feel like we have found a good place for us to stay for at least the next two weeks.

We will keep you posted on how our days at Solitude go!

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Little Rikshaw that Could

After a quick overnight train ride, we're now in Pondicherry. It's a former French colony on the east coast of India so the French quarter has a nice feel to it. Occasional conversations are overheard, but I haven't yet had to say "Je ne parle pas!"

It's 90 degrees F here.

The trip to the train station through Bangalore was probably our most epic journey yet. After working for the last few days on creating a flat area to thresh millet, Paige and I said our goodbyes. I'll miss John.

Babina greatly enjoyed riding the ghetto smoothing sled.

That awesome dog at the bottom is named Nipples.

We got on a bus headed in the right direction and I swear we were on it for an hour and a half. We could go to either of two places on the bus which were close to the train station; our bus was going to neither, but like I said, right direction. That's Indian transportation. On board, a couple of the women took an interest in where we were going and disagreed about where that was with the bus conductor. They argued our fate with him and we sat, without being consulted, and spectated the traffic.

After making it approximately to our even more approximate midway point we switched to traveling by rikshaw. None of the drivers were willing to go by the meter, so we did what the travel guide advised not to do: just bargained with them. I don't think we got ripped off too bad.

Better than Mario Kart.

The rikshaw ride had two distinct stages. First, insane traffic. Imagine canned sardines. Now imagine them moving at 40 mph and jockeying to win a race. A rikshaw racing league would be so awesome. The second stage was a dirt backroad that bypassed traffic. It was nice, but we were going at about 5 mph. The riskshaw was struggling and chattering and sputtering and at the last hill to rejoin the freeway, I thought I'd have to get out and push.

The train station was relaxing at about 1/8th the level of insanity of the roads. We made it ok and the train lulled us to sleep overnight.

A mobile phone ad on the train. It has a guy with a gun!

Out the window of the place we're staying in Pondi.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cow Barn

We spent most of last week building what started as a cow shed and turned into a cow barn. We first had to clear the area of all grass to make a smooth dirt floor. We needed to dig six 2x2' holes each 3' deep by hand. We first filled small holes with water so that the dirt was softened before taking hand shovels and digging the rest of the way. Granite pillars were placed into the holes and are the supports for the barn.

Placing the pillars

The barn is made from eucalyptus branches tied together with coconut fiber rope the roof is made from large, dried coconut palms that are braided called keet.

Putting the roof in place with wire and coconut fiber rope.

After the first day, we had a large portion of the structure completed. We were really excited about our productivity on our first day of building until the next morning when we learned that the shed was too small! We had to take down nearly everything that we had done the previous day, remove the pillars and dig three new holes to make the structure three feet wider. This set our building back about a day, but because the barn was bigger, we were able to add a lofted floor so that Babuna, the full time farm hand, can sleep above the cows (he was very excited about this, since his family of 4 all sleeps in the same room).
(Nearly) finished cow barn!