Archive for January, 2009

A shared vision

One of the best things about being here at Auroville is all of the interesting people that I’m meeting.  Today I was hanging out at La Terrace (the place that feeds my espresso addiction) and started to talk to my friend Diana from Germany about the evil of globalization, how we both hated Starbucks, etc etc.  We complained about lack of youth activism for a little while, and compared how the U.S. addresses the problem versus how Germany does.  Eventually we got to the place where all conversations like this tend to lead, to the point of,  “Yeah, globalization (or global warming, or hyperconsumption, or whatever else) is horrible.  But what can we really do about it?” 

But then Diana started to talk about how she wanted to open up a restuarant in the city in Germany where she was raised.  It would serve food grown on farms surrounding the city and be a place where people have healthy, delecious meals without having to worry about whether they were contributing to water pollution from pesticides or to global warming from transporting the food halfway across the world.  As soon as Diana started to talk about the restauraunt, she lit up.  The sighs against the impossibility of facing huge social problems were long forgotten as she started to explain the type of food she wants to serve and how she’d let local artists display their work there.  She never said that this would be her way of fighting globalization.  While she was talking about it, it didn’t even sound like a fight. 

It was great for me to hear her talk about this, because it reminded me why I’m so interested in ecovillages.  A lot of people assume that it’s impossible to do anything about the things that they know are wrong with the world.  But maybe we’re assuming we have to fight when fighting isn’t called for.  The first step is figuring out where you fit into the picture.  For Diana, it’s providing people with local food.  For one of my roommates, it’s designing ”eco-friendly” clothes.  For someone else it could be converting their car to biodiesel, or putting solar panels on their roof.  We can shape the world that we live in, but first we have to imagine it.

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Healing Water

It doesn’t come in an array of pretty colors like Coke’s Vitamin Water- to the naked eye it looks no different than ordinary H2O. Nor does it come in a plastic bottle that you have to pay $1 to use and then trash (or hopefully recycle). It’s called “dynamised water” and it’s produced by an Aurovillian company called AquaDyn. Supposedly it cleanses your body and can heal serious health issues.

I came across this special water on my way back from the farm this morning, when I stopped at the Visitor Center’s cafe for some hot chai and a bit of quiet time with Namoi Klien’s No Logo, the book that got me through my 22 hour plane ride over here. All of the public spaces around Auroville have plenty of water on tap, but when I went to get a glassful from here, my eye caught a display that briefly explained how this particular faucet dripped water that was bio-dynamic. I was hooked.

According to an article in The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, besides for filtering water, AquaDyn’s purifiers inject a cocktail of electrodes from various metals into the water. These electrodes help to treat different diseases and improve bodily functions such as eyesight. But Aquadyn doesn’t just sell their purifiers to customers all across India and Europe; they’ve set up a research lab here in Auroville to study water purification, and the different effects that sound vibrations and these electrodes have on it. I have a feeling there’s even more to it than that, so I’m going to e-mail the person who runs it here and see if he can give me a tour of the research center and a heads up to what they’ve found so far. In the meanwhile, I’m going to see if there’s been any other water research like this. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Click here to check out their Auroville website, and here’s another one that’s more in depth.

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I’ve posted some pictures under the new Pictures tab on the right side of this page.  I’ll add more sporadically.  Enjoy!

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Today I got to that point where I could no longer put off washing my clothes.  So I biked ten minutes to the store (yep, it’s fixed!! :D) to get some detergent powder and was well on my way.  At Mitra we have to hand wash our clothes, so I filled the bucket with water, put in (too much) soap, and let it all soak for an hour after some serious swishing and a little bit of scrubbing. 

Rinsing was a bit more of a challenge because of the excess detergent.  I turned on the spiket and drenched each garment in water, my hands slippery from the soap.  Just as I was thinking about how this couldn’t save all that much water compared to a washing machine, Usha came out and yelled at me to use the bucket.  She didn’t exactly yell; Usha, the woman who manages Mitra youth hostle, is like the mother of the place. She can’t be more than thirty, but she has that air of command about her, so that all she has to say is ” Maggie, use the bucket.  Don’t waste water,” and I was scrambling to turn off the hose.  Rinsing the clothes in the bucket meant that it would be impossible for me to get all of the soap off, but so it goes.  Maybe they won’t be too bad once they’re dry. 

Ringing out my pants and shirts was the hardest part, and that wasn’t even all that bad.  Then they all went on the clothes line and that was that.  The one thing necessary for washing clothes in this way is plenty of idle time, but with only four hours of farm work in the early morning(6:15), I have time to spare.  I’ll tell you what though; I will not be washing anything until it’s absolutely necessary, something that might not fly back home, but is perfectly normal here.  It’s something I can certainly get used to.


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A Talk in Pondi

One of the most obvious things about Auroville is that it attracts people from all around the world.  Although almost everyone here speaks English, I’m becoming a champ at “guess that accent.”  My roommates at the Mitra Youth Hostle are from Austria, Russia, and the UK.

It’s tough when English isn’t someone’s first language.  I’ve been hanging out with some girls from Germany, and often they’ll kind of look at me with a nod and smile, and I know that they didn’t get what I said.  I have a feeling that at least half of it is my American phrases that just don’t make any sense.  So I’ve learned to rely heavily on body language and facial expressions.  It seems to be working.

Every day here brings me a step further away from my strictly American view of things.  Today I went into Pondicherri to get my cellphone set up.  I got half way there, but there was a road bump and i’ll have to back tomorrow to finish the job.  haha.

But this allowed me to meet Dave, a student from Northern India who is studying French here.  Eventually he started to tell me that he couldn’t figure out why India couldn’t have everything that America does.  He said that the rest of the world is having a financial crisis and India isn’t, so why is it still taking them so long to be a great country?  I tried to explain to him that just because people in the U.S. have so many material things, it doesn’t mean that we’re better off.  I was trying to say that maybe our way wasn’t all that  it was cracked up to be (haha- there’s one of those non-sensible Americanisms) but I could see that he wasn’t getting it.  Time and again in my environmental classes I’d learn about China and India following the American path of extreme consumption.  The message was clear: the earth can’t sustain it.  But how could I tell that to Dave, who was studying French so that he could start a business that would export rugs and cheap jewelry to Europe?  How could I say that while walking past us were people with legs as thin as sticks, who can’t find clean water and have to beg for their food?  So I sighed and with a shrug said, “We’re coming at this from two extremes, I guess.  There has to be a happy middle somewhere.”  I’m trying to figure out how Americans can be happier by having less, and he’s trying to figure out how Indians can he happier by having more.  The question is, once we find this middle, will Americans give up their toys so that India can meet them there?  Or will we do all that we can to maintain the divide?

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Call me Icarus

My brain feels like it’s wrapped in a hot compress.  My eyes are scratchy and I’m drag-your-feet-in-the-dust exhausted, but I don’t feel like I need to sleep.  It’s actually cooler here than I thought it would be; today it’s only 82 degrees.  Like Icarus, I came to Auroville with a strut in my step, thinking “Ha! Looks like I’m not going to get sick.  Looks like starting out here will be a breeze.”  And like Icarus, it seems as if I’ve put too much faith in my wax woven wings.  I should have known that going from freezing Pennsylvania to blustry southern India would take its toll on my body.  Now, don’t go off worrying that I’ve gotten malaria.  A lot of the other young people who have recently arrived are also suffering the side effects of this adjustment. And the four hours of farming I did this morning and yesterday are definitely not helping. I just wanted to preface this post with an explanation, incase my writing is laced with a bit of grumpiness.

I’d said that I shouldn’t come here with any expectations.  Of course I did, though, and now I can’t help but thinking about how Auroville is nothing like I thought it would be.  An English backpacker I met the other day put it perfectly: “This place is nothing like the rest of India.  It’s kind of like a resort, actually.”  My aim for coming here wasn’t to experience India, it was to explore ecovillage living.  (Although experiencing India will be an amazing side benefit).  But I feel like neither is happening yet.

I will love you once you're fixed

I will love you once you're fixed

I’ve been walking everywhere.  The only way to get around this place is by cycle or motorbike, and right now I have neither.  Right when working at the Hub Station Bike Shop last summer would have been a savior for me, there were no tools for me to fix the flat tire that I got after a measley 30 minute ride.  I’ve been waiting for the mechanic at our hostle to change my tube for three days now, trying to abandon my New Yorker demand for the expedient and to embrace India’s slower pace of living.  Here’s the thing though; everyone here knows that it’s a long walk to get anywhere.  That’s why there’s no one but me walking around.  For three days I’ve been trudging along the side of the road.  The clouds of red grainy dust kicked up by Indians ripping by on motorcycles have me running all of the noxious side effects of particulate exposure through my head.  But only one person stopped to offer me a ride.  This is supposed to be a place where people care about each other, but I’m picking up on a seperationist vibe that is rubbing me the wrong way.  I haven’t been here long, so I won’t jump to any conclusions.  Actually, this is waking a healthy curiosity in me.  Why are the Aurovillians so wary of outsiders?  Why don’t they embrace guests with wide open, loving arms?

I went to the information center yesterday to read on the “vision of Auroville,” and that experience really lifted my heart.  There in words was everything I was looking for.  In the past, a group of people came here and turned a heat stroked desert into this tropical paradise.  I the Auroville I see now could rise from the ashes of a wasteland, then maybe there really is hope for humanity’s struggle against climate change, deforestation, and loss of resources.  I just hope that I can find this now in reality, and if I can’t then I have to ask whether Auroville is moving in the direction of true human unity, or if they’re preaching old visions and living a new creed.

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Whenever I’m in an incredibly stressful situation or there’s something that I’m afraid to do, I try to remind myself that I can only grow as a person if I experience uncomfortable situations.  I was in the Mumbai airport, about to freak out, and reminding myself of just that. 

They lost my bag.  People kept staring at me.  The uniformed guards sitting at the entrances with machine guns told me to go to the wrong place.  They sent me to the Air India desk, who sent me to the desk of another airline, who said that I should be at the Air India desk.  After this sort of thing happening for a good half hour, I finally had someone tell me that I had to go to a separate airport.  I was at the international Mumbai airport and had to go to the domestic one.  ok.  The guards at this entrance tried to send me someplace else.  “I have to take a rickshaw to the domestic airport,” I told them.  There was a free shuttle that went there, but I could hardly understand the directions they were giving me.  They told me to get in the rickshaw.

Release.  Wonderful, wonderful release.  It was like that moment at the end of a class at Yoga to the People, when I would just lay there on my back after an hour of sweat-wringing exercise.  It felt amazing.  It was two in the morning but the air was still humid.  As soon as the rickshaw switced on its loud little engine and got going, a cool breeze blew my hair off of my face and I started to relax. 

My bag was at the Chennai airport.  It wasn’t easy to get it; I had the same issue of being sent to a million different places just like in Mumbai, but this time I realized that I just had to go with it and accept that it might take a while, but eventually I would get to where I needed to be.  And I did.   I got ripped off incredibly by the rickshaw driver who took me to the bus to Pondicherri, but at that point all I cared about was getting to where I needed to be.  Three hours later and I’d arrived.

That was the day before yesterday.  Now I’m assimilating to life at Auroville.  Unfortunately, such a life is difficult to live without a bicycle or motorcycle because everything’s so spread out.  We get rentals at the Mitra guest house where I’m staying, but I got a flat after a half hour of riding and I’ve been waiting since yesterday to get it fixed.  I’m using one of their computers now, in their Internet cafe, and I’m hogging up all of the time.  So this is it for now.  Hopefully tomorrow I can ride to the shop where they sell converters and I’ll be able to use my laptop.  Then I can write about this sweet farm I’m working at and all of the awesome people that I’ve already met.  And then I’ll have pictures!!

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