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Wed, May. 9th, 2012, 09:43 am
Blog: Since August 2011...

Yes, it's been a while.

What can I say? As we began to ramp up to leave Auroville, we crushed out a couple more interviews, and then got caught up in our preparations for leaving: packing, last-minute gift buying and saying goodbye to our friends at Auroville.
When we got back to the US, we decompressed at a good friend's house, Jill, for a few weeks. There, after years of no TV we were introduced to Matt Smith's Doctor Who- I was impressed and we spent quite a bit of our time catching up on the Doctor. I haven't watched any since, but it's weird to think that there is a TV show I like and was impressed by.
We spent quite a bit of time also visiting family and friends. It was good to see mom, pops and the kids again. Eventually, though, we had to think about getting home and becoming good, industrious Americans again. Well, as it turns out, we inherited B's mom's house. After all the troubles we were imagining, it was rather anticlimactic (thankfully). We had a few hitches, though. One, was how to get back out to WI, and another was how to get our stuff out of storage and up there along with us. Plus, the house we now could call home was (and still is) full of almost fifty years worth of another person's life- one who has had boarders and a thriving art-instruction career.
We had thought about doing another road trip, a sort of reverse of the one that saw us off the previous year, but we had very little money, gas prices were up, and B's little green Hyundai had finally passed on while we were away. We finally worked out a great plan: the friend we were staying with, Jill, would take us half-way, and then our stalwart buddy Benji would pick us and our luggage up and take us to our other friend, Isaac, who has been hanging on to (most of our) our stuff while we were gone. From there we would rent a truck, pack it up, and drive to the frosty North.
We still are overwhelmed by the generosity of our friends and family for helping us get this far. As we drove north, me cracking fearful jokes about the eternal winter of WI, we hit a snowstorm. Of course. And our wiper blades were in very, very bad condition. We called the rental people, who directed us to an exit nearby and we ate at Cracker Barrel while a local garage man came out and changed the wipers. All told, it was a month to get to WI and our new home (also, B's old childhood home).
It has been a cold winter, weather-wise for someone who has spent a year in the sub-tropical forests of Southeast India. Plus, I'm a bit of a wimp, and have cultivated an aversion to the cold. I've been learning to get over it.
The house is a 5 bedroom, finished basement cape cod from the early 1940's. It is jam-packed with stuff. Over the past few months we have managed to clear (mostly) the first floor. So, we have a kitchen, a bathroom, a very large living/dining room, a master bedroom, a study/library and a partially recovered backroom/office/guest bedroom.
Upstairs is the huge studio, 2 bedrooms and a small bathroom with a shower. The smallest of these is now our nursery, where we have started our tomato crop with mixed results. All of the upstairs, plus the garage and the shed, are full of stuff in bins: either for yard-sales, to as of yet be unpacked, or to be donated away, intermingled among the stuff yet to be sorted, cleaned, disposed of/donated... We have our work cut out for us and we are so grateful to have it!
We have a friend out here who has been incredibly helpful, Chris. He watched the house for us while we were in India, and he has even done some of the cleaning and yard work. He's an old college friend of B's and they are hanging out now to do art, and old friend stuff. I've found a local SCA chapter and have begun to sword fight again. I was concerned that I'd gotten rusty, but that turns out to not really be the case, much. I'm also pleased with the variety of styles we all have, and we all seem to be pretty good matches, fight-wise. I'm also jogging again, and following that up with yoga. So, overall, health is good for us both.
B has a job: it's a temp-to-possibly-permanent, and we are holding our breath in anticipation. If this works out we will probably be getting another car (there is a place nearby that sells hybrids, apparently, for cheap) since the Beetle doesn't really get good mileage and it's a 60+ mile commute round trip, each day.
Recently B & I headed up the Beltane celebration for Earth Traditions. That was a real treat, and it was a great ritual and an all-around fun time. We are both volunteering for a couple weeklong events with our extended communities next month (next month! Already!) So we’re really looking forward to seeing our peeps again. We miss you all, even though we are really crappy correspondents.
We are still in touch with some of our friends from Auroville, too. They were hit with a cyclone, Thane, that devastated the re-grown forest and local villages. Luckily, no one was killed in the area, although damage was extensive. We were concerned for our adopted family, but we have since seen that they are ok, as are all our friends.
So, what now? I am transcribing my interviews, although it is taking far longer than I expected due to background noise and some accents that I didn't remember as being so thick... anyhow, I am also tentatively looking for work as a teacher. Since I am ABD, and not PhD, I have a few less prospects than I will have after I get this dissertation written, but I figure it's good practice anyhow. Also, we are debating how far from home I should be looking, as we can't really afford to move again just yet. Plus, we really don't want to. Really. Still, there are many schools up here, and in the Midwest that I can apply to, so that's nice.
Also, we have adopted two kitties. This was unplanned- we were going to 'kitty sit' one, our gray named Beethoven. But then the woman we were sitting for had to give up her other cat too a white-with-splotches named JJ. We still have yet to go out to MA and get the two cats we have waiting for us there... hm. So now we are on our way to being the crazy cat couple.
That is a pretty good wrap-up of the past six months, I think, and of course you can catch us on FB or through email or phone too. We are planning a trip south to IN to get my motorcycle back from Benji (and to visit friends of course!) and a trip out to MA/NY to visit family and frinds-who-are-family, too. Those plans will be announced when we know what we can accomplish and when.
Peace,
S & B

Sat, Aug. 13th, 2011, 01:27 pm
July to Mid-August Update

July 1-August 12

July was a very busy month for us, but not a very interesting month to talk about: we got more than a fifth of my desired interviews done in July alone! We also had some joyfully social activities with some friends: a pair of Australians, an American, and a fun, and very knowledgeable Dutch woman who has been coming to AV for several years for a few months at a time, plus other friends. We did some Pondi trips, and B has posted some pics of those excursions on FaceBook. We had a few dinners too, potlucks at our house here in Gaia, or at other peoples’ houses: many of our friends are house-sitting, and the houses are beautiful, open and somewhat palatial.
House-sitting is a topic I’ve touched upon here before, without really explaining it: In AV, half of the residents are not Indian residents, so that for visa reasons they must leave the country for a few months every year- unless they hold a special AV exception in the form of a five-year or longer visa. These are not common, and even those who do have them frequently leave for the north, or to another country due to the harsh climate. I’ve mentioned before the climate here is hard on Westerners, and personal experience and those of people we speak to agree this is so [one AV person, with medical training, told us that an axiom here is “a healthy Aurovillian is only half-sick”].
So due to this yearly migration in the summer, or in the monsoon (some AV prefer the summer due to the lower tourist population), or due to visa reasons or emergencies with family in the home country, there are a lot of empty houses. This is a little paradoxical, since AV also has a ‘housing crisis’ that sometimes prevents people from meeting residency requirements and thus becoming Aurovillian. There are housing services here, but the person leaving must contact them in order to have their house made available, and for various reasons some do not- preferring to control who has their home while they are gone, loan it to a friend or to rent it out.
So, if you are savvy in the ways of Auroville, you can thrive here by moving erratically from house to house, sometimes not paying rent, or only paying a maintenance rather than guest house prices. We chose not to do this, since the continuous moving is distracting and draining, and the uncertainty of living this way was not appealing to us. We also got a great deal here in Gaia, and didn’t want to lose it for the sake of free lodging for a month somewhere, which would then require us to find housing all over again.
These houses have amazing spaces; kitchens and open air rooms and open lofts to let the air flow through. Not needing glass windows and even walls allows for some unique home environments! The design of some houses here is unbelievable- beauty, use of space and interesting materials that allow artwork to be part of the structure… wow. So we were having a great time in July/August visiting some of these homes. We didn’t get a lot of pics, but we’ll try to before we leave.

August has been more of the same, that is, interviews and heat. The weather is changing to cooler (about 90-100F instead of 100-110F) with some rain. This month we started out with a water shortage: our windmill pump broke. This resulted in us losing all the water out of our tank (we didn’t know it was broken, and turned on the valve to refill from the main tank). We barely had enough to wash dishes and a small ‘bucket shower’. A couple days later saw it fixed, but we started to get a bit sweaty-stinky before we got our showers.
Aside from further breakthroughs in a non-major portion of my research, we had an adventure that some of you may have seen on FaceBook; the rescue of a trapped hawk. That shook down like this:
We had tentative plans to go to an American ex-patriot’s house to hang out do internet stuff and so on. But she called in the early afternoon, and put it off for a couple hours.
Eventually we called and then set up to meet her and walk to her place- where she is house-sitting (with internet!). While there we updated my computer, a fact that the computer seems to have taken to mean “work worse” >:( ..although that smoothed out as the computer adjusted, I’m happy to report.
Anyhow, we hung out with her and just talked. She got a call from someone- turned out to be one of the friends we made when we first arrived here, a young German solar volunteer! So he came by and we started talking about food. We decided to go to New Creation for pizza. Just as we are leaving, B mentions the phone is upstairs. We decide that we should have it on us, rather than just leave it, and she discovers a hawk has gotten caught in the anti-bat mesh around the keet roof.
The roof is a triple-thick keet design and like the rest of the house, beautiful. However, to keep bats from roosting in the overhang the owner put up some nylon mesh. This little hawk (bigger than a merlin, like falcon size) was hanging upside down in the net. Both talons were stuck, but one was only a little stuck. That one came free when I put a t-shirt over the hawk’s face and it let go of the net and grabbed the shirt. I took off my shirt and with B’s help covered its face so we could try to get the other set of talons free. Hmm. She also had a wickedly curved beak with a notch in it- probably to sever bones. So I talked about the beak and the talons to keep others away while I got some scissors from our friend (while she was taking pics) to cut away the netting. The trouble with nylon net is of course that it doesn’t degrade, so if it stays wrapped around the hawk’s toes it can eventually cut off circulation and she could lose the toe or foot- especially a risk if it is wound tight, as this was.
With B’s help- holding the flashlight or the t-shirt or both when and where I need it- we got the little hawk free. Later, our German friend expressed concern over the net: “Did you cut it?”
To tell the truth, I didn’t give the net a thought, except that it was in the way of the hawk getting free. Our friend thought about it and then said she’d just mend it, no big deal.

Another thing that happened that night was I had a minor moped accident: to keep you from worrying, no big injuries- a leg full of bruises and a scrape on my shin. We were borrowing our friend’s 50cc moped and the thing would stall every time we went from dirt to road or vice versa. As we were heading back there was one section of ‘road’ that transitions a few times from pavement to dirt before giving up entirely and just staying dirt. This dirt is loose and sandy, and the bike stalled as we went from a small paved section back to a puddle of loose sand. B jumped off as we went down, but I ended up with the bike on my leg- that wasn’t the injured leg though- the top leg bounced on the metal and got banged up. We didn’t notice the bruises until the next day.
B says the accident was because I didn’t have my big, 1000cc bike. I think it’s cuz a friend we saw at the pizza place had taken a tumble earlier in the day. He’d said that at least the accident of the day was done and we were all safe now, and our other friend said “Hey, the day’s not done yet!”
Humpf.

Had another minor moulou adventure too this month. The short story is we went to a remote area in the middle of Auroville (yep, in the middle) and as we were leaving we found a thorn in my tire:

At least it was easy to spot. Sometimes these guys are in the middle of the road, and get in your sandals, too. Many people walk around barefoot, and I sometimes do too, but the prevalence of such hidden treasures in the earth here means I usually wear my thick-soled Chaco sandals (for that reason, and the vipers).

Speaking of vipers, I promised a second installment of the Animals of Auroville. This time, it is my writing, and about snakes- B’s been busy with her work- and I want to explain about some of the non-insect denizens we live with.
Snakes: India is famous for snakes. There are four extremely venomous snakes in India, and none of them are rare. They are: Cobra (actually, four separate species of cobra), Common Krait, Russel’s Viper and the Saw-scaled Viper. We have seen none of these, or to be more precise, we have seen what could have been a cobra, but we have chosen to label it ‘rat snake’ since they look alike and we couldn’t tell the difference (rat snakes are everywhere). One evening B was certain she heard the distinctive rustle-crackling noise a viper gives when you approach too closely, but it was dark and she –wisely- chose to move away rather than investigate.
The snakes we have seen include (I invite you to Google-image search these, of course):
Beaked Worm Snake- supposedly uncommon, they are easy to identify, handle, and are all over the place out here.
Common Trinket Snake- these guys are frequently seen on our water tank, or on our walkway, sunning themselves.
Indian Rat Snake- they get big, cobra-size in fact, and I have seen them at over 5’ long and close enough to readily i.d.- as I mentioned, they look like cobras, unless you can either handle them, or provoke them (neither a wise option).
Russel’s Kukri Snake- A slender and pretty little snake.
Striped Keelback- this is a fresh-water snake, and the one we saw would sun itself with just its head out of the water on a rock near a friend’s kitchen.
Dog-faced Water Snake- this was the first identifiable snake we saw. I saw it, actually, since B was ahead of me on her bike. At the time I thought it had fallen/jumped out of a tree!
Bamboo Pit Viper- this beautiful bright green snake crossed the road right in front of us while we were on the scooter. We were close enough that I could have caught it, if I’d tried. Luckily, I didn’t. It is by far the most venomous (confirmed) snake we have seen so far.
That concludes the snake tour of Auroville, at least for what we’ve seen so far. I still hope to see a cobra, but I’m not searching for them either. We’ve seen a lot of vibrant (and earth-colored) lizards, and mammals, plus birds, but that will wait for another time.

Finally, we have been contacted by the official outreach branch of Auroville! Yep, with 11 weeks left here, we finally get in contact with the group in charge of outreach for writers, film makers and others- including researchers. I meet with them next week.
Hey, one of the principals of AV is “divine anarchy”. No kidding… :P
The nice thing is they still may be able to set me up with some resources, and even get me an official badge, so that I can more easily explain that I have AV’s endorsement for my research. I don’t know why I haven’t been sent to these people before now, but I am simply going with it, as I have learned that is the ONLY way to deal with India in general.

So that concludes this installment of the blog. We are, as of the 12th of August, 10.5 weeks from departing, and there is still much to do! We will soon be planning to pack up our stuff and prepare for the journey outwards: it is our hope that we can get in a little tour of the temples of Tamil Nadu before we go, depending on time and money resources. Wish us luck!
Peace,
Beryl & Stacey

Wed, Jun. 29th, 2011, 02:23 pm
“Agni days” and some words about diet … and animals

April 26-June 30

It’s been a couple months. I had really gotten almost no more interviews done in May, but I had planned for that: May is ‘dead month’ here in Auroville- most of the non-native Aurovillian people take the opportunity to go back to their native countries for a month, or more (one Aurovillian family I know spends 6 months in, and out, of Auroville). Fortunately June is shaping up nicely, and I am back on track as far as that goes.
Also, I have begun to look for my next work gig. I’m thinking of setting up for a few weeks at a time in different places, rather than the long-term stuff I had done before, since it got really repetitive.

The past couple months have been summer. Those were the Agni days, named for the God of Fire, and for the wind that blows hot during that time. It lasts a month, actually, May. Every minute of it is pretty fierce, and according to the long-timers, it used to be worse. I’m very glad to have come now, rather than say, even 10 or more years ago.
B did indeed arrive back in India at the end of May- the worst of the heat was over, but it still was (and is for the most part) really hot. There are days that I have just spent in the hammock, praying or a breeze, only to have the breeze arrive and be hotter than the air. Those days are gone, at least.
Unfortunately, our friend Kate came to visit just after those worst of the worst days, but she still got the just about worst. Over 40C (104F) still while she was here. It started to cool off after a month, just after she left, unfortunately. Still, it was nice to have a friend here before B came back, and then while B was here too.

While K was here, we were offered the opportunity to participate (mostly through observance) at one of the local school summer programs, a sort of day-long intensive for kids of varied ages from about 10 up to late teen. We got some great photos of children learning Yoga, local herb lore, traditional folk songs, bamboo crafts and recycling paper into useful craft items. It was pretty cool.
Now it is just B & I again, and we have been sleeping on the porch under mosquito nets (while K was here, it was two mosquito nets) and being serenaded by the abundance of frogs in our frog pond every night.

Also of interest in the wildlife venue: B & I saw our first Viper this past month. We were riding a friend’s electric scooter (borrowed while she is in France) and a long, vibrantly green snake with an exaggerated arrow-shaped head glided right in front of us. It had a narrow, long body (maybe just shy of a meter) and a bright yellow belly. I had an absurd urge to jump off the scooter and catch it for one wild moment, it was that cool looking. Later we looked it up, and I was glad wisdom is at least sometimes winning out over my impulses: Bamboo Pit Viper. Painfully venomous, but not lethal. Neat. No cobras yet, though… although really, the rat snake I saw one evening at Windarra Farm could have been a cobra…

Diet. Since I have been here in India, I have been vegetarian, aside from eggs. No fish, meat of any kind, and no dairy (aside from a couple ice creams, grabbed opportunistically). I have been told that the climate here is rough on Westerners. I can’t help but agree. I frequently am sick here, usually some kind of exhaustion from the heat or lack of sleep (less of the latter since moving out of Ganesh Guesthouse in February). I seem to have less strength too, and I am often lethargic. Still, I have been able to lump out lumber, cut and trim trees, weed large fields, build various garden enclosures (raised beds and the like) and do some permaculture stuff.
Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that maybe the diet had to do with it. Now, my reasons for being vegetarian while here are not simple. One reason is a lack of trust in sanitation; even in AV there are often sicknesses of the gut and food related illnesses among the population. Another is the ethics- I’ve been a mostly ethical meat-eater (free range, organic, that kind of thing in meat purchasing), aside from some restaurant purchases. The definition of ‘organic’ here is only loosely defined. And it is not monitored, at all. Goats eating trash alongside the road, and drinking water that is run off from pesticide sprayed fields and gathered in petrol-laced puddles is still called ‘organic’ here. I have flirted with eating veggie in the past, and this was a great opportunity, since there is a huge vegetarian population of locals and immigrants.
I was recently in a café here in AV, and B had ordered roast chicken. Something in my cells was screaming at me: “EAT THAT!!!” so I tried a small piece. Ok. No problem. I let it be. A week or two later, I actually broke down and ordered the same dish for myself. That craving was instantly replaced with revulsion. I ate a couple bites, and gave up. B & K were taking the scooter off for some errand, while I was heading back to the house. On the way home, I vomited. I barely made it back before I was thoroughly sick.
No more chicken for me, thank you.
I do think I’m getting enough protein, but only just. Rather than the excess we have back in the USA. I’m already thinking of what I can do about my diet.

Anyhow.
I have a neat side piece for you, my loyal readers, from a guest writer. B usually posts the pics, and I do the writing. Well, I do sometimes take pictures, and sometimes she writes. I present to you now an entertaining piece she wrote about the wildlife of AV:
I’d like to take a moment to focus on the animals of Auroville.

1. Fuzzy Caterpillars: So our friend Sarah showed up at La Terrace with this remarkable scar on her face. I thought it was a burn, or a birthmark, or maybe the scar left behind from the removal of a hairy nevus. Surprised I’d never noticed it before, I simply politely ignored it, and our conversation carried on.

Later I learned that this was in fact the remains of the scar from one of the Fuzzy Caterpillars, these white, innocuous little creatures that often undulate blithely along or hang out quietly in the heat of the day with the rest of us. What’s remarkable is that these things leave an astoundingly painful burn on one’s skin at the lightest tough. Gods help you if you’re actually allergic to them. Then the site gets particularly nasty.

One of our friends had one in his towel after a shower. Needless to say, this went poorly.

The best cure for this is to piss on yourself. The wound, actually. What’s nice about India is that it’s really no big deal to haul off and do this on the edge of most streets.

2. Spiders: So Kate, River and myself were riding along home, Kate and I on the scooter and River on his bike, when he stopped with a resounding “OH MY GOD.” What? we both asked. Well, he kept talking about these little sparkling lights along the side of the road, and he just had to finally pull his bike over to see what exactly he was looking at. Spiders. The glowing eyes of huge, hairy brown spiders coiled for a pounce. Their eyes reflect lights in the same manner of cats. Except you can generally see cats, and cats don’t bite you in the darkness (generally speaking).

What’s truly magnificent about this is that you absolutely cannot see these little monsters unless you are wearing a headlamp or actually hold a flashlight against your forehead, loser-style. Then the landscape comes alive with tiny sets of glowing eyes (two each, strangely). One just doesn’t know what one’s been missing out on.

3. Scorpions: Well, who doesn’t love these? They’re black, naturally, and abnormally huge. They’re of the size most countries say, “No, they’re certainly not that large here!” They’re that large here. I saw my first one on the road today, standard prank-sized black scorpion I’d only ever previously seen in a rubber model with other joke insects around Halloween. It was crushed on the road, and every bit as large as a Looziana crawdad. I was shocked, and hoped to hell this was an anomaly.

It’s not. It’s India.

So tonight Kate and I were fucking around looking for her key after dinner in the village, while standing on the path to Gaia. It was quickly determined that she’d left her key at the restaurant, and we needed to go back to get it. While we were there, this nasty black insect came by. Stacey took a closer look and lo! It was a type of scorpion. This thing had little fisticuffs tucked up near its head, and when antagonized, it thrust them forth menacingly. Yup – it was a type of scorpion.

So on the way back home after going back into the village to fetch the key (and rs100) from the floor exactly where she’d been sitting, we were very carefully making our way around these singularly angry insects brandishing their claws and wiggling their disgusting little chubby-stingers behind them.

4. Slugs: What kept throwing us off this evening was the presence of these large (3” or so) black slugs that were on the ground. They were the approximate size of the inadequate scorpions, so it was a start to see each one. Kate was freaked out, and I unhelpfully recalled a movie I’d seen long ago. “Oh! Hey – I wonder if these are actually tree leeches?” I wondered aloud. “Do you remember that movie, Stand by Me?” Well, Kate had yet to be born when that movie was giving me nightmares, so no, she didn’t, but she certainly caught the phrase “tree leeches”.

“Oh GOD.” She warbled. “I wanna go HOME! I HATE THIS COUNTRY!” and off she went, going on about infrastructure, scorpions, tree leeches, all kinds of things… I poked one with a stick, watching it retract into itself to the size of a flatish buckeye, and noticed it’s fun little eye-stalks. “Nah”, I said. “See, it’s got eyes like a snail! Leeches don’t have these cute little eyes – we’re ok. Oh fuck, careful, there’s a scorpion…” and on it went, all the way home.

5. Rats: So there were rats in our ceiling. It’s not so bad, except they sound like toddlers banging around wooden blocks when they’re up and about all night. It’s pretty unbelievable. But hey – they’re Indian rats.

So we got some poison, hoping to kill them off that way after they worked out the traps too well. Stacey mixed the poison with nut butter and smeared it on some bread, poking it up into their home. This seemed to work. But last night…

Kate has moved out into a new home. It’s nice to consummate life with my husband again with wild abandon, per usual. So last night, we’d watched a movie to distract me from (chewing my hands off waiting to hear news about) my friend’s surgery, and after this, we laid down to listen to the night and await some news. The night answered with a gurgling shriek in the yard some 4 meters from our screened in cabana. Stacey ducked under the screen (“Don’t go out there!!!” I hissed) and shined the light on our little white cat neighbor. She was braced in a feral stance, her scrawny legs locked in a sort of macabre “A” shape and her normally bored little face a rictus mask of fucking death. Clamped in her jaws was the spine of a rat, crushed through its neck as it twitched its last. My Tamil shout of “HEH!” changed to a coo-sqeee of “Good girl!” Stacey joined in. Good Girl brought her dinner up to the deck to share with the humans, and Stacey gently shooed her off. She went into the kitchen instead. Crunch-crunch. This morning, naught but a head and a pile of guts greeted us. Stacey nearly lost his pre-breakfast cleaning that up, while I connected with Chris about his surgery. I have an amazing husband.

6. Ants: they are just a way of life here. All shapes and sizes, they greet you in droves in the kitchen in the nighttime, or the morning. I’ve learned to ignore them as they swarm over our counters and floors by the score, zooming preternaturally fast. There are teeny little ones for computers, there are big fat ones for the kitchen, there are red ones that like to drop out of trees while you dine or while you’re in the outdoor shower, and sort of smallish ones for the porch. They’re so all over the place they’re just no big deal anymore.

7. Tiger-striped cockroaches: The only thing I enjoy more than squatting like a savage over a suspect hole in our charming hut-like outhouse while swatting away flies and mosquitoes and trying not to piss on my ankles while madly smoothing down the blowing curtain in the window (wanna see?) is the probability of getting one of these exotic cockroaches in my hair. They frequently drop from our provincially constructed coconut-leaf weave (keet) roof/ceiling. It’s braced upon a bamboo frame and these cockroaches love to live in them. That, and the porcelain squat-toilet. Trying to dance around one of these as they come up out of the drain or out from under the rim while not getting something on your ankles is a challenge.

8. Wasps: it has been explained to me that the way to handle these alarmingly huge hornet-like creatures is to give them a real hefty swat with something. They’re large. They sort of make a Yankee think of a cicada, but instead, it’s a huge yellow-and-black-striped wasp thing. So yes, if it’s in the kitchen, it’s probably looking for a home. Take the cutting board, mind careful aim, and smack it’s shit up. It’ll be a bit confused, leave… think about it, then come back hoping it was just making a small mistake. Hit it again. The worst thing that will happen is that it will sting you. Well in that case! It will seem a bit hurt, a little baffled, it will think about it. Hit it again. It will probably leave. No. Hitting it three times with a large board will not kill it.

That is part one. We’ll post more next time!
Ok, back to the blog…

I don’t want you all to think I haven’t been busy- I have- but a lot of my busyness has not been of the interesting and noteworthy kind. We have made a lot of new friends, and really spent some quality time getting to know people during the ‘slow’ time of AV. Soon, though, things will pick up again. We plan on more work days, more interviews and a lot more workshops too.
As we do these workshops, we’ll post interesting tidbits from what AV considers important to teach to guests and other Aurovillians. We’ll also share some more of the projects that AV has revealed to us too.
Kate has made it safely home, and B has made to safely here, and we are all well. We miss you, friends, and we look forward to seeing you after our return.
Peace,
Stacey & Beryl

Mon, Apr. 25th, 2011, 11:29 am
My summer vacation... (part 1)

March 17- April 25

Hello long-awaiting fans!
Yes, the updates are getting further between. Sorry.
This is due to the lack of fun, exciting and interesting things, since I quit at Revelation and Verité. It is also due to an unexpected mishap: my power supply for the laptop stopped functioning. I could check email at the internet access at the La Terrace that I frequent, but since my files were on the laptop with a near-dead battery, I was sort of hobbled.
Luckily for my interviews, my camera (a Kodak point-and-shoot digital, z760 I think) has video capabilities- that means audio! So, I’ve been setting the camera up pointing at a random bit of scenery, and just recording away. It’s working ok, so far. Since then, I have found an authorized Apple reseller (I was worried about spending a lot of rupees on a fake- which could possibly mess up my computer) and dropped a lot of money- almost a month’s rent- to get the new one.
It works great. Thus, we have updates!

It’s been a pretty mellow couple months, with me arranging at least three interviews a week and me injuring myself in the woods in mid-March. So, currently I am taking time off from the hard labor (which is slowing down anyhow due to the increased heat) to focus a bit more on socializing and recruiting for interviews. Also, to fill out this summary first paragraph- B is staying in the states for at least a month more, and possibly longer. Things up in WI are complicated and she was trying to do what is best for her mom and her whole family. Since the last update, her mother recovered, a little, but then sent for B in the late evening. She passed that night, gently, in her sleep with B and a nurse there.
Since that point B has been trying to help the family arrange all the arrangements that take place when these things happen. I miss her, but I’m glad she is strong and reliable enough to do the right thing for her family.
So, on to the highlights (its still going to be a long update: sorry):

Every Monday through Wednesday I had been working at Revelation Forest. The past few weeks have been a flurry of hard labor: we have been chopping and clearing space in the forest- removing non-native trees and thorn trees- reminds me: I learned some new Tamil words! It went like this: I had gotten some more embedded moulou in various parts of my flesh- mostly feet and hands, and learned the words for ‘tick’ and a particular thorny tree: ooni and mouloualamaram, respectively (literally for the latter, the words for ‘thorn’ and ‘tree’). Bloated ticks were clustered in the joints of the ox, looking like misplaced nipples. They are pale, dimpled creatures when full, and this poor ox had at least a dozen in each joint between the leg and body. My co-worker explained in broken English that the ox needed a bath, and to be treated with a spray for the ticks but they hadn’t had time to do so yet. Now, he told me, the ox gets weak. I’m certain he’ll fix that soon; he looked genuinely concerned and is a good animal keeper around the farm.
The thorn tree is a gruesome feature of these woods- It can grow from a few inches thick to several (if people let it grow that long), and the thorns on it are in random clusters with some thick, woody thorns growing up to 3cm long. Fans of fantasy fiction would have no trouble recognizing this tree as one that would be used by an ogre or some beast like that! When we chop down a mouloualamaram if the thickness is about 5cm or less we leave the thorns on, so it can be used in fencing the property. If the branch or trunk is bigger we must take a chopper and hack the thorns off so that it can be handled with all the other wood. I have a long and deep scar on my right calf from a mouloualamaram that I thought had been trimmed- it had been, mostly. There was a couple-inch long thorn sticking out of the bottom portion that I didn’t see, and it gouged me when it brushed against my leg. The scar is smaller now, but it was almost as long as my pinky finger, and swollen, for a couple days.
For the LJ, here’s a pic:


This week past I had told R, the unit leader, that I was going to cut back on work and start looking for another volunteer outfit: they are going into maintenance season, just watering and fence tending, and I need to get some other units’ perspectives too. I took care of that this week though buy hurting my back a bit- it’s not severe, but I have no intention of exacerbating it by continuing to do physical labor. Four of us were transporting a thick hardwood log, and in shifting it to load onto the ox cart (vundi) I had to hold it in a less than ideal position for a couple seconds (the phrase “vundipuli!” means “hold the cart!”- I learned too late). That afternoon, well, I discovered that I had strained it a bit. I can still do stretches (which help) and yoga, but I am determined to not hurt myself more. Stay tuned for more info and new units to be discovered here at AV!
I took the opportunity to turn down an offer from Verité to ‘head up’ their garden while the garden leader is away. At first I thought I might take it, but the politics of local/AV worker rights is complicated, to say the least, and I don’t need to get that kind of data! Also, I was working with these people, and it feels wrong to suddenly, the new guy and part-time volunteer, to “be in charge.” Also again, taking it easy and getting interviews.

I discovered I had a small rat infestation in my lovely cottage roof (the joys of living in the forest!) and so, reluctantly, I set out some traps. I managed to keep it a small infestation by killing the mom first. The males had been already chased off, it seems, so it was her and her litter of barely able to crawl babies. I assumed nature would finish off the babies. Perhaps it did, some, but one day I came home to find a baby rat, still with eyes shut, squirming on my floor in the cottage. Well. The rats had been living in the roof, so it probably squirmed its way out following gravity. I tossed it over the fence, reasoning that it would become mongoose food. The next day, the trap turned up a squirrel- confirming that I had gotten the rats (since they had been defending the turf up in the outdoor rafters). That went over the fence too. Later in the afternoon, I returned to find kitty waiting at my door. She bolted in before I could stop her –I don’t like her to be in there because she eats my bug-eating geckoes- and started eating another baby rat! Well.
She then went over the fence, brought back the squirrel, and ate that, then found the other baby rat (I don’t know where the mongoose were during this whole time: they missed a banquet) and then fell asleep in the sun. Lucky day for kitty… Also lucky for the final baby rat- somehow, one managed to survive to a self-propelled little creature. I discovered this when I looked over to see what was making a chewing noise, to find a mouse-sized rat chewing my coffee spoon right next to me on the porch!
I gave chase with a fruit spread jar, finally cornering and catching it- after a brief time in the frog pond. By the time I caught the little guy (it was a guy) I had anthropomorphized him enough by talking to him as I pursued him, that I couldn’t just kill the little guy like I did his mom and siblings. Yes, a relationship- no matter how brief- can do that to me. Plus I have a soft spot for animals in general. Anyhow, after a lot of time I decided that I couldn’t let him live: he would grow up to be a pest, and possibly troublesome (fleas, disease, etc), so I tightened the jar lid, figuring at least he could die painlessly.
I couldn’t do it. Instead I gave up, as he was staggering around drunkenly in his jar-cum-prison, and took him off in the wood where I dumped him into one of the many gullies. He’d probably not survive anyhow, but I’d rather he died or survived as part of the ecosystem. Yeah, it’s not really any more logical than killing him and feeding him to the kitty or mongoose, but, whatever.

Part of my fieldwork experience has been attending various low-key functions that occur in the off-season. One of these is the weekly potluck at Fertile. Fertile is a farm/forest in the Green Belt, with extensive and mingled banyan trees. So, I have taken to climbing them (being careful with my back). We even did an interview in one! Someday I may post pics of me in the tree with a friend from AV here… other things of note: the comedy troupe “Genious Brothers” an endorsed (or at least enthusiastically tolerated) satirical theatre/media performance group has put on some shows. They are great, and as is usual, satire is a great way to learn about what is important to a culture, let me tell you….
Also, Earth Day was a week-long thing out here, but because it is off season, not too much participation, except on the weekends when the busses of tourists come in from Pondi and Chennai.
I have maintained my daily Yoga practice, and meet with the private teacher (it’s more like a private class, as there are between 2-4 of us, plus him) once or twice a week. It has really helped my back, actually, and I am certainly more flexible. Also helping with this is the Watsu session I was gifted with. Watsu is a type of nurturing, kinda intimate (close body contact) massage done with the receiver floating in water. It involves a lot of trust, since they are pretty much floating you, but it also was a really relaxing experience. I’d like to do it again, but my friend who gifted me has left AV, and the session without patronage is upwards of 1700-2000Rs. Too much for a student on loans…
Semi-finally, I submitted a paper proposal just in the nick of time to the AAA meeting in Montreal. If I’ve done ok with the abstract, and I get accepted, I’ll post the title.
Finally, B is due back (after a third delay) at the end of May. Our friend KN is due to land a week before B, so I’ll have some company for a little bit, before B gets home. Thanks again to everyone who has given, or still is giving, support to B.

Peace,
Stacey

Wed, Mar. 16th, 2011, 11:53 am
Longer wait, shorter entry!

February 22- March 16, 2011

Wow, what a few weeks it’s been. In the interest of saving you all from reading too much more than I usually print, I’m going to skim through the basics for the next bit, and then in the text below (I’ll warn you if it’s going to get long) I’ll give a couple highlights.
Beryl left on the 28th of Feb. evening, heading out in the taxi to Chennai International airport with our French roomie and the son of an American friend; all three had flights leaving at varying times on the 1st. I stayed in the house in the village for a couple extra days while moving our stuff into the house in the forest (hereafter called the cottage). I was waiting for our (other, of several) French friend and her daughter to come home. They were due in after midnight due to delays, so I lit a candle, put it in the window, and had a shining light for them to come home to.
I spent the interim, 4 days, going to the beach and working at the forest and socializing with our male French friend and a young woman who is a communard and social scientist from B.C. Canada. All in all, good times.
I have been interviewing like crazy: My goal is 3 a week, and this is a close average since I started two weeks ago. It is getting hotter, so I plan on cutting back on the forestry, and picking up on the socializing.

[This is one of those random natural history and technique sections- this and the next section are not so much about me as stuff here in AV]
To tell the truth, I don’t have too much to tell in the whole “interesting natural work” field because it has been mostly the same stuff: Primarily clearing forest. Now wait a minute, you might say, I thought you were helping the forest, not clearing it?
That is true- but because we are working with an accelerated growing project- that is, one in which we are using fast-growing succession trees to emulate the natural process of slower, gradual succession that usually results in ancient forests, we need to clear out some of the ‘invasive’ trees that have provided shade for the native hardwoods. These hardwoods needed shade to begin their life, but now they need to be stimulated into growing straight upwards to fill in the canopy. We stimulate them by clearing out the fast growing invaders, thus creating cues that there is an opening that needs to be exploited. Because in an ‘adult’ forest, clearings in the canopy come rarely and are filled in quickly, these hardwoods will accelerate their growth for a (relatively) short time. Thus we stimulate, using the trees’ own natural mechanisms, the reforestation of a native forest using selective harvesting.
Through this process, which has been refined and proven through experiments such as these here at AV, the Revelation forest has a relative age appearance of 300 years, but it only took 30 years to achieve. Of course, that thirty years was of hard labor- planting trees in the hot Indian sun, renewing the pached soil, composting and mulching selectively throughout the seasons, and monitoring the rate of growth of native and invasive species of plants. Other forests in AV have used different techniques, which I hope to investigate more as the summer gets on and the actual work decreases- thereby freeing up talking time for those AV members who have stayed through the summer.
I have explored somewhat the forest/farm at Pebble Garden (they have a Facebook page, look ‘em up) and I plan on seeing how things have developed more fully in some of the other forests I have visited, such as Sadhana Forest. Overall, a fascinating group of projects, I think.

[This section is about domestic and wild animals at the cottage]
Life at the cottage is good; it is quiet in the evenings, aside from an occasional bark from the two guard dogs. This is not the same barking we had at GBGH- instead, there is no competing packs of semi-feral dogs, just two dogs who bark, and then stop when their job is done. As it should be. We also have a kitty- a whitish adult cat that obviously is very used to human company- she pushes herself onto your lap, and is very insistent that she get some lovin’. I was going to go on a rant about people helping domestic animals only to abandon them because I thought for about a week that this was the case with this kitty, but actually she is part of the Gaia family. The dogs and she get a long fine, and she is relatively (for this part of India) well cared-for.
One thing though- even though she and the two dogs have collars, they still have ticks. I think the cat gets them from the brush hedge that surrounds the property. Every day I pick at least one off her as I pet her. OTOH- they are never feeding, so maybe her collar (a black noon-decorative one) is a low-level anti pest collar. Neither she nor the dogs have fleas. The dogs though, have large swollen ticks on them sometimes, so maybe the dog collars are just old.
The man who runs the property is a really nie guy, and he obviously takes good care of the dogs in spite of the ticks (really, we’re in the jungle. What can you do?)- they are fat and happy dogs, Dobermans actually, and they have become friendly to me over the past couple weeks. Before, they would bark and treat me like an intruder, but I think now they are used to me. One even comes begging at dinner time, but since I don’t want to encourage that (and it is obvious they get fed, the porkers that they are) I don’t feed them.
OK, sometimes I throw a crust to the kitty, but she seems to live mainly on lizards. This provides me with a conundrum: I love the lizards, and they eat insects. I also love the kitty. Both lizards and kitty are predators, so whom do I root for? Truth be told I don’t root for either of them, but it does make me happy to see the scrawny kitty get some food in her belly. I think she’s naturally scrawny, like most cats here, not necessarily ill or starving: her coat is good, and so are her teeth.
For wild animals, the wildlife is awesome. I saw two mongoose who froze, rather than run, only a couple feet from me one day. I can sit here just before mosquito time and count 8 different bird species all visible at the same time (and audible too). Also- flocks of hummingbirds. How awesome is that? And there is a small raptor, a falcon-sized hawk who is local. Occasionally the ‘seven brothers’ (a robin-sized bird, dusky brown and beige who are always in groups of several and make a variety of noises, like squeaky bits machinery) will chase it off. And flocks of bright green parrots; a woodpecker with a bright red crest, turmeric-yellow body and brown-black wings and tail; a couple varieties of cuckoo- one glossy black with rust-red wings, another with white bars on its long tail; a few species of flycatcher and bright iridescent blue kingfishers too.
‘Mosquito time’ is from around just before 5 to about 7-ish, AM and PM- these guys come out in swarms of over a dozen, sometimes more than you can imagine. Of course, they prefer the kitchen and the outhouse, which means I try to avoid using the bathroom during dusk and dawn…
To offset the mosquitoes though, we have a fish pond with the world’s smallest frogs- really, they are soooo small…. If you type a twelve-point type number zero, one of these frogs will fit in the space of the zero. When B comes back I’ll get a pic of one next to my finger so you can see. We also have fish, of course, and a variety of amphibians (like, four different toad/frog types), and millipedes, water-skaters and tadpoles (it’s apparently tadpole season).


So, B is due back in India at the end of the month, I am getting lots of fieldwork done and enjoying the hell out of our cottage. One thing annoying though is that the solar system doesn’t have a DC to AC converter, so all my computer work is by battery, or done in the computer lab at La Terrace. This also means more fruit salads and café Americanos… bummer. ☺
Soon, though, I will have a DC charger for the cell phone and the camera, so that I can continue to record interviews and make phone calls. Also, my Gaia landlord is currently (get it?) upgrading the electric system with more solar panels, so maybe in the future the system will be able to charge up the computer too occasionally. Just in case though, I’ve asked B to bring back a solar charger, and what do you know, a friend has lent us his- thus saving us a couple hundred bucks that we don’t really have to spend on stuff anyhow. Thanks I.E.!
And a big thank you to anyone who has sent support to B during this time. Her mom is becoming more stable, and may soon be out of critical care. Again, thank you all so much for your support, well-wishes and positive thoughts.
Peace,
Stacey

Sat, Feb. 26th, 2011, 12:34 pm
Buddha's Belly Bamboo & a scooter too!

February 14- 21

Good day! I am still only updating every 10-14 days, and it just may become my standard. We’ll see how this works out as we go.

B began her “compressed earth construction” class today. It is a six-day-a-week, two-week course on ecologically sustainable building techniques using compressed earth sourced locally (like, from the construction site). It is one of those courses that teaches techniques that are of supposed benefit to the poor, but cost too much for the poor to take- even aside from the cost of equipment to make the compressed earth blocks. However, it is the hope of the people who run this course that these low cost and low environmental impact techniques will translate into less expensive housing and thus be put into the reach of more people. Since the class is made up of mostly architects and construction company or property owners, this may be happening at least in India.

Monday I went to work in the forest, riding my bicycle up that four kilometer-or-so long, but not overtly steep slope. At least at the end of the day it’s all down hill… So I found R, the unit leader, supervising two workers who were waist-deep in a pit they had dug around one of the underground water pipes. Apparently they had developed a severe leak, shutting off the water to a major portion of the land last week Friday. On top of that, I was told, his electric bike (which he usually uses to get around on, since he has a bit of an inured foot) was broken too, as were a motorcycle and some other equipment. He didn’t mention a specific phenomenon, but since he is the one who had told me about it last month, I’m willing to bet he was thinking about it:
You see, I had been told, not only by R, but by others too (long-time Aurovillians) that the week between the Mother’s birthday (21st), and the founding of Auroville (28th) is fraught with ‘heavy’ psychic energies, and that some people experience incredible bad or good luck. Unspoken but implied is that there is some kind of issue or energy these people have, and that it is them, or their karma or whatever, that brings this ‘quickening’ of personal evolution about at this auspicious time. We aren’t there yet, not on the 14th, but some people expect a certain amount of, overflow I guess, to this energetically heavy week.

My job on Monday was cutting down a stand of local bamboo. Now, we have these titanic clusters of bamboo out here- composed of sometimes dozens of thick, but slender, towering bamboo sometimes 5” thick. These bamboo give out huge thorns, and tendril-like creepers that stay suspended for meters away from the cluster- often at eye level, it seems. The trunks of the bamboo are packed in tight against one another, forming an impenetrable wall of thorny, semi-dead, and eerie sounding shadowy bamboo. The noises are because the bamboo is all clustered together so tightly, that as individual trunks die, their solid, dry bodies are supported and rub against the outer ring of living bamboo. I’ll try to get B to post some pictures for the FB and blog crowd. Anyhow, there are other types of bamboo, not as common as the creaky, imposing bamboo. Some of these are decorative, used in architecture- such as in windows as cross-pieces and bars, or in furniture.
One of these bamboo species is called “Buddha’s Belly” because each segment of the bamboo stalk bows outward in the middle. It is prized for the afore mentioned windows, and can be sold pretty reliably. In fact, I had cut one piece that turned out to be a good size for a walking stick- my teak stick had disappeared in the move- but when I found out that it was worth money I put it in the pile of cut bamboo that we had gathered: I am not here to take from the unit I am volunteering for.
Most of the bamboo out here does grow in tightly packed clusters, though, so my job began with snips and a thick cutting tool, half-way between a machete and an axe, which I will call a chopper. With these I cut and trimmed my way in to get to the entwined large trunks. I had a saw, a type we call a bow-saw, but due to the tightly packed trunks, half of my cutting was done with the chopper because the bow saw requires clearance. Also, many of the trunks were interdependently supporting each other, so the more of them I cut, the more under pressure the remaining trunks became. It was a fun morning, with me cutting and hacking away until about tea-time. A little while before tea-time, the intern (let’s call him V for now), was put to similar work on the huge thorny bamboo on the other side of the small house I was working near. His job was to make some space to put a brush pile- the brush being from my job. A short while later, he left for tea, while I took a break under the impressive banyan tree nearby to eat some almonds and drink some water.
R came by, and we talked about the banyan, how it was sheltering the hardwoods that he pointed out to me growing up between the descending branch-roots. We talked a bit about one of his favorite subjects: forest succession, and then he told me that while cutting the bamboo, I should be careful as there is a very rare, endangered young hardwood directly behind the stand. Actually, as we looked, we saw that it was also directly under many of the bamboo trunks I had yet to cut. We decided I would get V to help with that part of the cutting. We then talked shop a little more: I used to do arboriculture in school and for a little while professionally, and for a long time for family and friends. There are several large trees that need to be removed for various reasons, and some of these are leaning dangerously over a couple of the clay-tiled roofs of some of the homes. So we talked various techniques we might use with available materials for a bit. He told me about a few smaller trees I could remove today as well, and then he left, while I went after said small trees.
I went back to work for about ten minutes, and was then joined by V. We took care of the bamboo over the hardwood, and then he went back to the brush pile for a little bit. By the time he was done, I had only a couple pieces left to cut, so he began to strip the bamboo down to just the poles, separating the poles into a pile to be used later for fencing, and the brush to form part of the barricade between the residences and the forest. Eventually, this tangle of old thick moulou and dead bamboo trimmings will be compost, and a wall of thorny hedges will go up- the residential area is almost completely surrounded by this hedge, except the part near where we were working.
It was really nice to work with a young, strong man who just does his job. We worked silently for the most part, side by side, in effortless synch. We finished the job, and clean-up, with ten minutes to go before lunch (here in Revelation, that means we finished at lunch exactly, or a little late!). He sat under the banyan and had a smoke, while I put my tools away and washed the dirt out of my fingers- each finger on my left hand had a slash through the finger pad from the bamboo’s fibers. At one point I had pulled a piece that pulled back, with predictable results.

The next day saw B & I getting up early for our yoga teacher. We had told him that we wanted to start at seven, so B could leave on time for her class. He didn’t show, however, until right before eight am, when the young Frenchwoman who also takes the classes comes. We had already done what we could without him, and left them on our porch to do their class together. Tuesday was an adventure in Kumquat harvesting and more banana orchard care, primarily watering both the orchards and stuff like that. Nice, low-impact work. I didn’t really even see much wildlife- I guess by now they know to avoid places where people have been working the week before, and are watering. This day was a really good day field-work wise too, as the man I worked with was feeling talkative, and knows quite a bit about the wildlife and he genuinely cares about the animals and plants under his care (both something of a rarity out here among the locals, so far).

Wednesday was all about communication: It started at breakfast- I woke up and breakfasted with B out at the AV bakery- they have eggs, although they are served sans bread; you must go into the bakery to purchase it (they also never told us they serve black coffee- we drank “milk coffee”- horrible sweet stuff…). I got a croissant to eat with my eggs, mopping up the yolk with the bread, to the horror of my French friend, who said, “Ah, I have never seen such a thing” he said, and, “you would be able to tell, by this, that you are not French.” I continued to defile my croissant while he tried no to stare- sometimes cultural confusion is fun… ☺
After I left for work, I ran into a resident of Verité, the place I stopped volunteering at for this month (although I am going back next month, when we live closer- more on that in a bit). We talked, but I’m not sure about what… also, while riding my bike in to work, I got a call about a prospective house, from, I thought, the owner. Turns out, she is not the owner, but the owner would like to talk to me as he is uncertain about renting to someone he hasn’t met. She has already shown the place to B, and B has met this man twice now. Now, every time this guy comes up, there is weird communication and behavior: we are from different countries, but in general, it seems as if he is acting as if we are talking about things with different import. Turns out my suspicions were correct in the end… but that was a meeting for after work. I was to meet him at lunch time at Solar Kitchen. In the mean time, I went to work at Revelation.
Wednesday was a slow day, work-wise, and a busy day in my head. I was sent out to water the cowgrass (a tall grass grown primarily for, you guessed it, feeding to cows), two plots of it. This took all morning, and I suspect that having me do it was part make-work and part convenience: make-work in that the workers can do it fine, but they don’t do a thorough job, rather they leave the hose to run, move it between other tasks- so having a person to handle the hose and make sure the process is more closely followed is convenient but not, I think, 100% necessary. I also found a few porcupine quills near a watering hole- actually, the watering hole was from said animal gnawing the aluminum head of the water pipe where it comes out of the ground. I wonder if aluminum affects them the way it does us…?
So, I went and met the ‘landlord’ and it turns out he hadn’t been told that she was showing the place, even though the property is under his stewardship. They are former partners, so I think that figured into the communication breakdown too- although I’d be shocked if my ex-wife started showing my property for rent without my knowledge too! Anyhow, we decided that we were ok, and so now we have a place to stay for March at the very least. The place is back in AV proper, and in the Green Belt, so it should be more quiet too.
Thursday was a chores-and-relax-at-home kind of day, with nothing really fantastic to report (for the blog at any rate) except that B & some of her fellow classmates & I went out to a local eatery and found it to be consistently really good (we had eaten there twice before, but you never can tell…). This makes us happy, as it is genuine south Indian food for a good price too. We also discovered throughout the week that the two closest competitors are also very good…
Friday had me going all the way back into our old haunts at the Ganesh Bakery, only to discover that the two people I wanted to talk to, the two people who are almost always there, were not there. So I hung out for a lunch, then went to La Terrace for some internet and coffee. There, I met some AV friends and had a pretty good time.

Saturday, our instructor showed up and we had a very good lesson. We did the sun salutation, the stretches and a new posture- I forgot what it was called, something like ‘the difficult posture’ or something like that. I have started writing out the poses that he has us do, to help facilitate how to do them when he’s not around. Here’s an example:



I think technically, this is more of a stretch, but since we do it in class, I’m calling it Yoga ☺ Saturday was another very good conversation day- our teacher, my fellow French student and I all talked for a couple hours after class was done. We discussed Yogic philosophy, its relationship and similarities with some Zen philosophies, ahimsa, unattachment and the concepts of loving. I told them about my hedgehogs, because my classmate had asked about my tattoos, and it went from there. Pretty good talk. He does a ten-minute show every day on public TV, and wants me to join him to talk about extending ahimsa to all living things (something I pretty much believe in, within my abilities), and also to join him at a yoga and physical fitness conference. Interesting stuff. I may do it ☺ I also discussed social sciences with my classmate- she is (another) social scientist, and wants to ‘talk shop’ sometime.

Sunday B & I went to the beach café – it was a bad day to go: it was really crowded. We had a pretty good day of being together though anyhow. First, we ate B’fast at the Farm Fresh- since everywhere else was closed. While there, we saw our French friend who is also a fellow student of B’s, who joined us and later still our room-mate, who was there to get a ride into Pondi with a friend. Service was slow: I’m pretty sure they have one cook, and cook each order one at a time. It was good by the time we got it though.
We took a rickshaw into Repos for lunch, and again saw our room-mate, after we had placed our order. Again, it took a long long long time for our food to arrive. Also, as is usual there, tables were in short supply. At first, a man (white, as were most of the patrons there today) with a mustache asked for the third chair at our table, then M, our roomie & her friend showed up, then later his friend came by, so at table 3 we had three parties! I started to get a migraine, so B & I headed up to the top of the beach to get a ride- we had arranged with our regular rickshaw driver (who had driven us there) to pick us up at 2:30, so after waiting a while (with another friend of B’s from her class) we finally called him and got a ride back home. Interestingly, he wanted us just to give him “what you want” instead of naming a price (we gave him 230Rs for the round-trip, usually around 200Rs- we’d have given him more but we were almost entirely out of Rupees by then).

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I didn’t go in to work in the forest. It rained for two days, precluding any real work, and on Monday I was still affected by the migraine from Sunday. I did manage to arrange a couple interviews for later in the week, though, and do a couple as well! Plus, I’ve worked more on some papers I may eventually make readable enough to publish. I’ve also been catching up on some reading, and trying to get some chores done. The real adventure though is come: with M, our roommate, gone for the week the electric scooter is free for the using. That means I get to hone my motorcycling skills on the roads of Auroville! I’m ecstatic, because I really miss motorcycling, and scared because they drive really, um, intuitively, here. Oh, and there are cows, dogs, children, debris, potholes bigger than your tires, and other hazards. But it is a lot of fun to not have to pedal all the time for a couple weeks… Stay tuned next blog for my adapting skills at the breakneck pace of up to 40 Kph!

Finally, in sad news, B is headed home for most of March. Her mother is extremely ill, and B needs to be there. The tickets are, thankfully, no more expensive than they were to come out here – I had been worried that they would be more expensive due to the shorter time we had between purchase and leaving, but I guess two weeks is enough for British Airways (thankfully). Still, that is a hefty chunk of change. I will not be going with her- partly because of the money, partly because of the limited amount of time I have here (my visa is non-extendable), and mainly because she has told me she would like to have me there, but she does not need me there: she will be with her family.

I wish you all happy and safe winter activities- be warm and take good care of each other!
Love and joy,
Stacey & Beryl

Sun, Feb. 13th, 2011, 08:00 pm
A move, and for bananas too...

Jan 29- Feb 13

Hi there blog-aficionados! We are publishing this installment from our new (temporary) home just outside of Auroville proper. We are still in Auroville, however, because the community that owns this property is part of Auroville the collective… erm, like many things in collective living, it’s a little complicated. Auroville is actually not just a place, rather, it is many places. Most of these are part of a contiguous collection of properties, with one community butted up against another. There are a bunch of reasons for this, but mainly it is because Auroville has been buying the land it occupies over forty-plus years, rather than as one lump purchase of land. The result is that some property even inside Auroville ‘proper’- the main bulk of Auroville land and considered ‘the city’ by some- is not owned by Auroville, while some property even kilometers away (but usually much closer) is.
It is as if, in buying your home and yard, some few square yards of property here and there- but not necessarily connected to the outside world- was not yours and you had no legal right to it, but at the same time, you had rights to similar plots of yard in the neighborhood, if you can find a way to access it, either through social or legal means. Complicating this is the fact that Auroville is full of Westerners, and therefore, has, in general, more capital than the outside villages. Thus property values have in some cases increased more than 1000% (yes, one thousand), thereby frustrating attempts to purchase and sell land in the area even more.
So the community we are now in is primarily Tamil families, with large cement and earth constructed homes. Each of these has an apartment on the roof, which is tiled and features a nice deck. The communit is about 3-4 kilometers downhill from Auroville city (downhill being a very mild slope, and not noticible unless you are, like us, on bicycles), in a village called Kuilapalayam. This community is near some of the other non-contiguous communities of Auroville, such as the buffet-style dining at Aurolec, and a couple kilometers from the beach (yay!).
The apartment is nice, with a pretty sound-proof bedroom, a kitchen and a dining/sitting room. On the deck is a hammock chair, and a hammock- although that is not (yet) set up due to a lack of places to hang it. The neighborhood is pretty quiet, except at night between nine and ten, which is when Aurolec throws out their refuse- then the dogs start in; fighting for the scraps and howling like deranged werewolves. This caused us concern, but then we discovered the insulating properties of the bedroom, with its thick walls and small shuttered windows, and the ceiling fan which produces just enough white noise to drown out incidental noises.
So we are sleeping much better now, thank you, and eating healthy home-cooked meals for the first time in months! Life is pretty good, aside from the ride in to volunteer in the mornings. I told a friend recently on Skype chat that I had lost over 20 pounds. She is uncertain as to where I lost it from, but I can assure you I’m thinner again. More like I was as a teenager, except now with the gray hairs.

I have begun to volunteer again in the forest, and we have begun our interviewing too, so my schedule for research seems to be mostly on track. This past week I learned the methods and reasons for transplanting a banana orchard. It was fun! Here’s the brief:
You transfer a banana orchard by digging up some shoots- at first I thought this meant the really small ones (like less than a foot tall), but looking at the new orchard, I see that they dug up complete small trees, maybe 1.5 meters or so tall. After planting them, the tops are cut off, and a new shoot grows from there. The orchard needs to move every few years because bananas are very draining on the soil both in water and in nutrients, even if they are composted often.
When R (the forest unit leader) explains things, he uses his whole body to provide emphasis: he mimes the actions, gestures, and puts his hands on the objects in question. It’s a lot of fun to work with him. He went into a detailed explanation, that I thought might be for my benefit, but then I saw he was watching my co-worker, and directing the explanation mostly to him- so it was a lesson for us both- sweet! While he was explaining the process, he picked up what looked like a dead root system at first. R told us, ‘see, how the monkey has eaten all the bananas- but it is ok, because they were not very good.’
So then the morning was spent cutting banana stalks- an enjoyable experience: they are fleshy and moist, and have just enough resistance so that you feel the blade pass through with a meaty *thwap! I saw a lot of wildlife, mostly big, pulpy spiders with huge meaty abdomens. Several times I called my Tamil co-worker over, asking “what is that?”- his response was limited to whether or not it was dangerous. As I have noted before, he doesn’t know the animals, and he is afraid of many of them, such as spiders, scorpions and snakes. We did that until tea time, or 5 ‘til tea time, when my co-worker left for tea. I told him I was going to hang out and maybe read, which he found amusing. First, though, I brought most of the tools back to the shed.
While they were gone I wandered in the nursery, looking at the growing plants. I had the thought that the lychee tree, if it ever did give fruit, would probably die from the effort, since it is really on the edge of its ability and climate. While there I found a largish seed, looking very much like the abdomen of a weevil or aphid. Later I discovered that people eat them, although I haven’t tried it yet.
When my friend came back, I had already begun to trim the grass around the base of the surviving banana trees. He went to get compost while I finished clearing. I had told him I saw a scorpion (a really tiny one) while he was gone- he told me “oh, watch out…” Then I saw a seed in the barrow of compost, so I pointed and said “what’s that?” His reaction was to jump back with hands up off the wheelbarrow. It turns out to have been a tamarind seed. I think he’s a bit of a scared-y cat. I sometimes wonder what’s he going to do with a forest of his own (his eventual goal)? Another worker joined us for a while, watering and going with my co-worker to get compost. When I pointed out a tree frog to the other worker he pointed out a large spider, which he told me was poochie, a word that I think is all-purpose, like “bug” is in English. He didn’t seem scared and asked me if I liked it- I told him that yes, spiders were good for the ecosystem. I like them.

So now, after that short bio-farming lesson I’m going to give you a quick run-down on the past weeks of house-hunting and adventure…

February began with a lot of contact with one of the guests here who is also a sort of New Age energy worker person. He, B & I ended up at the bakery pretty often at the same time, so we fell to talking. He is originally from the US too, so we were able to discuss things with pretty good levels of mutual understanding. It turns out that he works at one of my volunteer gigs, so I’d be seeing him there too, I’m sure, if not for the fact that I have decided to only volunteer at one place for the three weeks we are in this village community. The ride is a bit much as the days are getting hotter, and I can still “drop in” if I am around without committing to a work schedule. This will be helpful for me for another couple reasons, other than the ones I gave above: one, I am still healing up from a month of battling various illnesses and sleep loss; two, I need to start taking workshops, to compare data given in a work context to data collected as part of an intentional teaching environment. We have received invitations for some interesting interactions, such as videotaping a Tamil woman who teaches school-age children about native healing herbs. I can’t let those opportunities pass me by, so gardening will become secondary for a bit.

We have had quite a ride on the Auroville housing crisis- once we decided to move, opportunities began to open and close around us. Many of these were speculative, and some were untenable- such as the boat-turned-thatch hut that B posted last month in her photos. Others were too far away, or just too difficult to manage; like the thatch hut in the woods that had been abandoned for 6 months… and had bees, termites and an open walled outdoor toilet about 10 meters away. That doesn’t seem like too far, until you think about late-night ablutions and vipers, scorpions, spiders and such. It also needed new construction, at an unknown expense, to put a new deck over the door. Oh, and the roof: we were told it was a year and a half old. That means that it would begin to become “old” and thus unreliable right about the start of monsoon season (late July-ish). Part of me misses the adventure that would come with fixing it up, but the other part of me knows that it would probably be worse than it looks, and more expensive in time and rupees than I can visualize.

We had some hospital scares with the host household- our host came down with an incredibly painful and almost paralyzing pinched nerve in his neck. The really scary one though: our hostess one evening asked B “what does chest pain mean?”
She meant, what are the signs of a heart attack? Yes, she had many of them, including pain in her left arm. After some cajoling, B, the younger son and she all went to the hospital. After a couple days of tests and waiting we discovered it was not a heart attack, but a cholesterol build-up in her veins, and some other stuff. We learned that the newest hospital in this region does not have mosquito netting- and no mesh on the windows, but is otherwise not too bad. In the wards, girls and women are allowed to wait with female patients, but not men, not even sons or husbands. We learned that doctors here are like doctors everywhere: a little difficult, but also capable, and very individual. She is much better, and after almost a whole week off (of one of her jobs) she is feeling up to going back to her job in the kindergarten.

B’s birthday was this past week, and unfortunately we didn’t really do too much, since our moving day was the same day. However, I did manage to get our host to bake her a wheat-free birthday cake, and they threw a dinner for her late in the evening. It was made with Ragi, a local grain that is sweet and bakes really well. It also malts well too (for you beer makers out there). A couple other former residents of the house were there too, so it was a lot of fun and, to be honest, I really enjoyed surprising her with the cake. I had arranged it while we were breakfasting at the bakery before the move, and I’m a little surprised I managed to pull it off without her noticing. The next day we counted as part of her B-day too, and we went with a couple friends to the beach café for a nice relaxing lunch.
We are planning on her taking a two-week course in ecologically sustainable building, using pressed earth construction. This starts on Monday, while I will be working in the forest and setting up more interviews.
Another big start for us is yoga classes. We have been given, as a gift for B, a set of 6 lessons with a private yoga instructor from Pondicherry. This instructor is a 51-year old Tamil, who looks like he is thirty-something. We had our first class with him at 8am on Saturday, and will have two a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays for the time we are here in the village. He is very big on explaining the reasons for each posture, and gets a bit metaphysical at times (which I love). This leads to him talking, which for the first lesson is ok, but we have been told to prod him if it happens too much! If we decide we like his style, we can then have him come to wherever we end up for future lessons.
Finally, B gave herself a present too: She quit her volunteer gig at Unity Pavilion. There are a few reasons for this, among them being that she did not come to India for a year to work in an office in front of a computer! She has other volunteer jobs she has been doing, including one with our (former) hostess’s women’s group, and a gig helping a local village musician with his promotional materials and photography.

Ah, yes, I mentioned a room-mate. We are sharing the flat with a Frenchwoman, call her M, who is a friend-of-a-friend of our friend 9the one letting us house-sit). She is a nice woman, Buddhist, with enough English to talk to us if I stretch my French some to translate. It’s pretty cool, actually, and I’m really glad I brushed up on French before leaving the US- although at the time it seemed more annoying than helpful.
So Saturday B & M went into Pondi for a “girl’s day” while I had a “boy’s day” by myself, writing and resting and, when power allowed, even checking my email. Sunday we shopped about in the nearby village, window-shopping and meeting some local merchants.
So where will we end up? At present, it looks moderately good for a cottage in the forest near the center of Auroville. Please keep your fingers and toes crossed for us, and knock on some wood too while you’re at it! No matter what, I have faith that we will get something: after all, when we landed here we didn’t even have any connections to get a room!
In closing, we got bad news Sunday too:
I’d like to ask for some prayers (& etc.) for B’s mom, Beryl Imogene Ouimette, who went back into the hospital and is not doing well at all. Healing, peace and the ability to breathe with ease are welcome, as are all good intentions and thoughts. Thank you in advance.
Peace & blessings to you all,
Stacey

Fri, Jan. 28th, 2011, 12:27 pm
A two-week (plus) update

January 10- January 28

Well, another two week (plus) blog. This one will be shorter, simply because less happened. I can assure you this two-week thing won’t become a habit, simply because I don’t do habits very well. You’ll see.

When I left off last blog, I was feeling better, and so was B. I went to work on Monday at Revelation, where I spent the day weeding a different pineapple patch, but this time with a couple of my fellow workers- a couple of young (not that young, it turns out) men from the nearby village. One is an Aurovillian, and about mid-twenties. The other is in his thirties with a few children and a wife, he is a villager although he has worked at Revelation for 17 years. We talked a bit, and weeded carefully throughout the morning. The young man had a head-cold, and so we tried to give him some room and leeway to leave and come back as he needed.
On the way along the bike paths here I saw a monitor lizard, about 4 meters ahead of me on the road. He was maybe 5’ long, with half that body. Cool. I saw a couple native raptors too, which are differently colored and harder to see than the ones we have at home. The birds here are amazing- we need to get a comprehensive Peterson’s- style field guide (birds, reptiles & mammals) like the one I brought to Africa.
The next day, B & I went to take some pictures for my ‘boss’ at Revelation. This was ok, as I was starting to feel under the weather again… yep, again. We took a ton of pictures and had a great time just wandering around. No workers were around today, so we took pics, found some peacock feathers and then went home. I think we are getting into ‘maintenance’ time now, when projects start to get planned for after the coming hot season, although there is still plenty of work.
Wednesday was spent in a relaxing busy-work project: myself and a different worker spent the morning mulching in the park. The park area is a section of the Revelation land (a small portion of the 85 acres) that is somewhat cleared of undergrowth, and with a path through it. I weeded out some immature moulou (easier while they are young, for sure) and practiced recognizing native hardwoods versus immature, faster-growing invasive trees (who don’t get mulch). We used up all the mulch by lunch-time, and my co-worker assured me he would be gathering more after lunch.
Thursday at Verité I was given ownership of one of the long extended beds in the garden for a project my boss there, G, wants me to do. She wants to do more ‘biodynamic’ gardening. This is sort of like a permaculture “lite”- using some of the techniques of permaculture, but only part of the time, whereas permaculture involves a complete commitment. So I spent most of the day happily gathering wood and making a raised bed of soil, covered with compost and then straw. I saw quite a bit of wildlife, too, especially after G came back to help with the composting: Saw two more of the beaked worm snakes, a rainbow iridescent skink that just seemed happy as all to lay about in our hands or on our shirts, more of those guys and some skink type lizards with red tails, that G was certain were poisonous. I scoffed at first, but then reasoned that I don’t really know, and retracted my skepticism. She told me she has seen a wild cobra, angry with its hood raised, and many other snakes. Cool. I also saw a hawk at one point, and more parrots today.
At lunch I met a young social scientist from Germany, who is doing her schooling in the Netherlands. She is studying for the equivalent of a Master’s degree, focusing on how people communicate about sustainability. We had a good talk, and plan on meeting later to talk shop.
The next day, Friday, I was paired with the oldest woman on the Verité gardening team. Our mission: build a raised trellis structure for the future long and green beans. Our tools: a crowbar, some scrap wood, twine, a shovel, a saw and a set of snips (small pruners). It was fun to work with her; she let me take the lead, until she thought I needed help. Then she would step in, speaking full Tamil sentences to me, until things were right. I learned that the word for ‘rope’ or ‘tie’ is suspiciously close to the phonetic opposite of English for the same: cutl. That was comedic, let me tell you- dealing with ropes, wood, saws and snips… she repeatedly telling me cutl and me grabbing a saw or snips, until I got it.
I had a lunch date with my French instructor (I am her English instructor; it’s a good system), and we were done a bit early, but I hung out with my fellow workers until we all could leave. I wished them a “Happy Poongal” and learned that half the team is getting let go. Apparently this happens every year, but still its kinda sad to think how much quieter the gardens will be next time.

On Sunday, R (the leader of Revelation) was to lead a “forest walk” through Revelation. This is part of a new program implemented by the Forest Group here in AV to help people better understand the incredible work that has been done, and is still being done, in the Green Belt. R is perfect to begin the series because he is not only knowledgeable and passionate, but articulate. It was a good trip, and I collected about an hour’s worth of footage, which I will of course give to him for his records.
I was exhausted by the time we were done, but I filmed most of his talking, and I think we got some good footage. B had been recruited to experience the inaugural use of an ‘organic’ pesticide- made of fermented cow’s urine, dung, milk, curd and ghee. This is applied directly to the plants, and as is washes away it is good for them too.
I didn’t go. I was wiped out, and went to bed. I even napped some. B came home, we ate and helped with the Poongal celebration: this involved gathering mango leaves to make into garlands for the cows. The men (actually the sons) had spent the morning folding palm leaves into spirally tentacle-looking ornaments for the horns. That evening, the cows were led around by our host and a family (male) friend. I helped hold the three cows and one calf while they were blessed with camphor, marked with the red-and-yellow powder, and finally given sweet rice on pumpkin leaves as a treat. Our host kept shouting “Poongal-ooo!” and B joined in a little. It turns out most people don’t do this anymore because cattle are being replaced by cars, motorbikes and tractors, which explains why it was such a small celebration. We then went into the nearby village to the temple (yes, the temple we hear every morning).
On the way, our host showed us ‘his’ tree: his father had planted it for his birth and it was still alive and thriving- a mango that he said “still gives good fruit” He showed us the plot where his dad’s house used to be, and where he had been born (both now empty lots). We also saw one of the schools he helps run, and then the temple.
Loud. Wow. This beautiful and decrepit little one-room temple, dedicated to a local goddess who is, we were told, one of Kali’s 4 or 5 sisters. Now, it has, lashed in a sturdy but very unaesthetic way, MASH-style loudspeakers to its ornamental painted carvings. It was so loud that we could not talk even while hundreds of meters away, yet there were people who’s houses were right next to this monstrosity of noise having conversations on their porches! No wonder they don’t hear the dogs. We went back to the bakery, met a couple pleasant and rather articulate Israeli women, decided we couldn’t eat what we had ordered and went to bed.
Well. Thought I had gotten better. I’d been feeling woozy, and not 100% for a while, and lately the dogs have really been extreme. I was wrong. I apparently had a fever so bad that B was concerned enough to wake me up and bathe me in cold water. She called my mom and got instruction on what to do about my fever.
I was so fatigued, I think my brain figured out how to keep me asleep through fever-dreams: I was having nightmares, so that every time a dog was barking or howling, I would dream there were hundreds of little stone altars in the land around here, marked with the turmeric and red powder (some with only one, and some with both). Each altar potentially had a dog, and if I heard the noise I had to go around, find the altar and somehow, I am not clear on this, ‘transfer’ the dog to another altar, and then to a tall, thin, shadowy figure. This figure would then transfer the dog elsewhere and the noise would stop- unless it was done wrong. Then I had to start over.
Yeah, so that’s what B woke me up from. I was really upset- I had finally gotten some sleep, and my fever worried her so much that she had to wake me. I guess it was really bad- really super bad. So after talking to my mom (who suggested I sleep under the running shower head, no thank you) she dunked my feet in cold water and blanketed me with a wet towel, and rubbed a cold wet cloth on me. This happened a couple times this weekend. But it worked, along with some Tylenol.
We have given up getting the capsule, and are looking for quieter lodgings.
On Tuesday (Monday was the third day of Poongal, and thus a holiday) we went to the clinic.
OK, so we are in the clinic. It is clean, small, with a waiting room containing 4 locking file cabinets, a desk, computer and receptionist. She took our info and was fine to us. I also saw a couple mosquitoes hanging around, and thought to myself that the last place, or one of the last places, you want to be while being bit by a mosquito is an infirmary in India. I killed at least one, but I thought one had gotten me, but I don’t have a bite so I believe we dodged that (imaginary or real) bullet. The doctor was a godsend. I mean, a real God’s-send. Firstly, he patiently listened, clarified, and asked direct easy to answer questions. He didn’t once try to put words in my mouth. He let us babble even. He took appropriate measures.
The doctor was this tall, razor-thin German man, quiet and patient. He just simply understood. And took action. He prescribed a bunch of stuff- like a list of stuff from things we would consider ‘home remedy’; such as acidophilus and charcoal to an antibiotic that is so new we have to go to a city to get it. We are still not 100% sure of a diagnosis, but I am pretty sure it is the Lyme’s symptoms coming back due to sleep deprivation.
On Wednesday we learned that even local Tamil do not, on average, celebrate Poongal. We saw this in the village, and we had been told, but we were confronted by it at La Terrace café, where we stopped to meet our taxi- we were early, and so went up to have some fruit & ice tea (they were out of sorbet). The Tamil who works behind the counter (one of two that recognizes us and even has learned that we both answer to either name) was delighted and astonished to find we had attended a Poongal. His shocked exclamation of “Where?!” and his delight at hearing B’s description of it was a sad reminder of what we had been told before (by our host) about the loss of the tradition.
We had a follow-up visit to the clinic on Friday, followed by my weekly French/English lunch. Firstly, the news: no parasites. The doctor talked with us a while, and went on a bit of a tangent about the differences in Christian European history and Hindu/Tamil history. He also told us that often white people can’t adjust to the semi-tropical/tropical atmosphere, and that many get or stay a little sick their entire time here. Nice way to give people a positive outlook, doc.
After that, we had our lunch, and then relaxed for the weekend. We did get to the AV market- a sort of farmer’s market/flea market in a clearing outside the Solar Kitchen. There was a ring of folding tables, with goods ranging from free tea and ragi treats to (locally designed and produced) electronic solar chargers and crank battery chargers, to local farm produce, to recycled Tetra-pack purses & bags. Interesting to say the least.
That takes us to Sunday, which was just spent talking with our hosts about rice farming, or time spent relaxing on our deck or in the hammock chair. I am certainly a lot better, and expect that next week I’ll be back to volunteering in the forest.
Hope you all are well, and healthy!
Peace,
Stacey & Beryl

Sun, Jan. 9th, 2011, 01:21 pm
A 2-week intermission

December 27- January 9, 2011

Hi everybody. Sorry about the delay in updates, but I came down with what we are calling the AV flu- a virus going around that seems to last a week or so, affecting head, throat and stomach. On top of that, B had it the week before, as did our host. I thought I had dodged it, but I was wrong. So I’ve decided to condense two weeks into one because this past week has really been not very fruitful (as far as adventures go). I did get some fieldwork data on healing herbs, and worked out another step in interviews, and got some reading done, so it wasn’t a wasted week: just low in the engaging narrative category.

On Monday I started reading One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, since some of the farming and forestry communities here refer to it in their promotional literature (and one farmer whom I may end up working with before my year here is through told me “You must, man. All of this here is based in his work”- although this guy also told me it was all based in what was learned of local farmer’s knowledge, too. So maybe he’s just enthusiastic, and speaks in superlatives. In any case he knows a lot about the local environment, and is quite a personality).
I started reading One Straw Revolution a day after I wrote what may become a sort of paper about the origins of agriculture and what I’m calling ‘the metaphysics of fear’- kind of a thought-piece on the role that lack of trust, and fear of uncontrolled variables, seem to come out of a practice that exchanges gathering and freedom for long, hard work, being tied to a single location and ecosystem, and in the end, not very much assurance to alleviate uncertainty.
Fukuoka talks in his book about fear too, but a different kind. Still, like any book with a multiplicity of messages I got a sense of synchronicity about the whole thought process. For the record, it is an awesome book. Here is why I think so: Fukuoka went from agricultural research to pioneering a reversal away from the very work he was doing: away from chemicals, monoculture, industrialization, and even fear, towards simplicity, clear thinking and trust. He puts a lot of clearly stated philosophy among the techniques he teaches, and with my life-long interest in Zen and other Eastern philosophies, it rings a bell with me- although I think it is an accessible book for anyone. It is written simply, and is not very long (I finished it quickly). There is no padding, just one man talking about a revolution in his way of thinking that in some ways revolutionizes thinking about agriculture.
It is a quick read, but I took my time and took breaks from it to absorb some of what he was saying. It’s a better book second time through, because you can focus on the messages implicit in his simple prose. Messages about farming on a personal scale- gardening or even a small couple-acre spread, as well as philosophical points that, like a good stew, is satisfying and gets better for settin’.

On the 26th I went to Revelation, where I did very high impact work: finding and clearing around the ebony and other hardwood saplings that had been planted at the forest edge last couple years. As you may know, the edge of a forest is a dynamic place: trees that love the sun are sprouting up, through low scrub (mostly moulou hereabouts) and thick grassy plants. The seedlings are slow-growing hardwoods, and they love the sun, but being planted on the edge of the forest (they are planted here to expand to the former range of the native TDEF: Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest) they have to compete with the faster growing plants that specialize in choking out the fast-growing competition. These little TDEF plants don’t stand a chance- which is why the forest couldn’t come back easily on its own. So I hunted through the moulou and the sorni grass (sorni= itchy in Tamil) to find these slender saplings, clear the weeds around them, then use a mix of cut dried grass and freshly slain bodies of the aforementioned weeds to build up a mulch-pile that would hold moisture and feed the plant while retarding more weedy growth through the coming dry season. I then went into the forest a little ways and removed some creepers from some of the inner forest saplings until it was time to go home.
I worked mostly in the nursery on Tuesday. We moved some seedlings around, and filled bags of soil in preparation of the next seedling planting cycle. It looked like rain, and in fact it has been raining even though rainy season was supposedly over a couple weeks prior. Up until now, people have been saying some variation is normal, but this rain is coming down like monsoon sometimes. It’s got people talking. They say last year was like this too, but people from even under a decade ago say the weather is different, and the old-timers are certain that things are different.
Here’s the thing: AV has a microclimate, due to the trees. This makes it cooler in this specific area. In fact, in AV we may get showers, while just 6 kilometers away they’ll get none. Trees bring rain is the message (thanks to A. G. Gold for that quote from her work in Northern India), and AV has trees. But the rain that has been coming in is not always ‘microclimate’ rain- its heavy, and coming in from the sea the way the monsoon does. We don’t know what to make of it, just that it is there, and a fact.
The next day I did low-impact work in the nursery, planting vanilla into pots to be sold at the nursery and talking a lot with some of the French national residents of Revelation. We talked a lot about many things, which helped pass the time when I ran out of vanilla and just filled bags with soil.
Another thing that happened on Wednesday: a friend from the US called! Imagine our joy and surprise when the phone rang at 7pm and it was our friend from Indiana, KN, who managed to figure out the international calling thing. Thank you technology, and friends!

On Thursday I blew off work- I’d not been sleeping well, and decided to take a “Beryl day” and hang out with B. Also, it was a little rainy, and often rain = no work. We ended up buying a book, The Snakes of India to figure out what we’ve been seeing. So far I’ve seen: a Dog-faced Water Snake (common, mildly venomous)- that was the grey snake B thought might be a viper; a Beaked Worm Snake (uncommon, safe)- I found this guy in the garden on Friday, recognizing that it wasn’t a worm somehow, although I wasn’t 100% certain. I picked it up, it was cute, cool and dry like a snake should be; and an Indian Rat Snake (common, not poisonous)- this was the 5’ long one we saw our first week or so here.
Friday at Verité was brought to us by the letter “P”: “P” is for: power struggle; papaya; passion fruit; planting; props; and peacocks pecking pumpkin plants… I have been put in charge of the papaya trees and passion fruit planting because the woman who heads the gardens and landscaping can’t do it all, and she feels that there is a sort of passive resistance to her idea to plant and tend more papaya trees (the kitchen uses a lot of papaya, so if they can grow it, there will be less money spent from the kitchen for that). Local wisdom has that papaya are barely worth eating, and the shallow roots make growing them a losing business because they topple in the cyclones that come with monsoon twice a year. I set to propping up some of the leaning trees, and to transplanting some of the seedlings that were growing up wild nearby into the garden, where they will get tending simply because of their proximity to ‘desired’ crops, like okra (called ‘lady’s fingers’ here), Chinese cabbage, and long beans. Also, the other garden volunteer, a Korean woman, planted pumpkins- we discovered that peacocks love pumpkins: we saw a pair of them eating the leaves even as we watched.
After work on Friday I took my snake book into the bakery to show our hosts the snakes we’ve seen- he likes to see and she, like many women hereabouts, is terrified- although she likes to joke about her fear of snakes because she has told us several times that she knows it is an irrational fear. A man from Germany was at the next table, and asked us to I.D. a snake he had taken a picture of just that morning at the beach. It had climbed a brick wall, and was just hanging out almost up at the ceiling. We couldn’t find it based on the picture, so he emailed the author and told us he’d let us know what it was. B used her Photoshop skills to reduce and crop the pictures so they could be sent over AV’s limited bandwidth. We saw him just this past Wednesday- the author had sent an email back identifying the snake as a ‘color phase’ of a Common Wolf Snake (common, non-venomous). Neat.

New Years’ was, like here in the states, noisy. The Indians do love their fireworks- past two in the morning even. This of course sets off the dogs, and… so, anyhow, we expected not to sleep too much. We didn’t sleep too much at all. We went out to La Terrace for lunch, and got a dose of the tourist season here at AV: a huge crowd that made lunch not arrive until an hour after ordering- this at a place that usually gets your food within 10-15 minutes. Wow. We found a long, orderly line, too, which is a change from the throng that usually crowds the bar where you order and pick up. The line I think is a good idea; we’ll see if it holds up after tourist season. My intuition says not.
We did manage to get a table under the Senegalese Mahogany tree and ended up chatting with some of our AV friends. It turns out that one of them, a woman who is part of a team that recently took over the farm near where we are staying, saw a UFO on New Year’s night/morning. She and some friends watched this for some time, and she gave a good clear description. Another cool thing happening here at AV, she thinks, while another friend tried to rationalize, without dismissing, the event. It was a good conversation day that turned to metaphysics, randomness and divine grace before I started to get sick- yep, my New Year started with the virus I mentioned before.

Sunday we were going to go to a workshop called “peas vs. pills” but my illness, ironically perhaps, made going to an all-day workshop on health through eating not happen.
Monday we had to go to the RRO (also the FRRO- Foreign Resident Registration Office) to complete our paperwork. Supposedly. I had doubts, as you may recall. As I predicted we need to come back- the man who’s job it is to sign papers didn’t sign ours. This after B had called on Friday (because our slip said to come in on the second, a Sunday) & was told to come in on Monday @ 9:30. We were early, after a b’fast at Le Morgan & a cab ride with our driver from our arrival in Chennai (!). Still, we waited. They opened @ 10:00, & we were told that the supervisor (above mentioned man) wasn’t in. After B explained (catching me with a hand on my knee) the woman then took our passports and told us to come back at 4pm. This, at least, we expected.
I was jumpy and excitable. Pissed a bit, really. I got over it.
We went out to get a rickshaw to the Goubert market: the place we had gone before. I think we’re learning Pondi a bit: I found that shop we love right away. We bought a few more gifts (ok, a bit more than a few). Laden with goods (including a couple extras for the people we knew we were forgetting) we got a rickshaw to the Sri Aurobindo ashram. When we arrived it was almost noon, past 11:30, we determined to come back @ 2 when they re-open and instead got some food and walked about.
I forgot to mention ‘street vendors,’ i.e., beggars w/ goods. These ladies (& some men, but the men sell purchased products) are, I believe, part of the local outreach: These women are taught a skill- in this case, cloth bag-making- and then they go out and ‘sell’ them, with stories lifted from begging, i.e., my baby needs food, school, is sick etc… men sell maps of India and the world (not very good ones) or other trinkets, some of these probably are hand made now that I think of it- there are bracelet-mobiles, a fake snake in a basket, other things.
At the waterfront we sat & ate fruit salad of papayas and pineapple & watched the waves. The trash was thick, but not as bad as the Indian side (the Ashram is in the cleaner & quieter French side). At one point we were walking to look past the new statue of Gandhi (which to me looks a little squished- more squat than what I think of as normal) we were hounded by a little girl in a torn shawl, her littler brother too. The mother was carrying a child & pretending not to notice her child’s behavior. In spite of this little girl’s pleas for Rs, and of her hunger I couldn’t help notice her bright eyes, clear skin and healthy teeth. I suspected professionals, and warned B to guard her bag as the two kids circled us with an unbroken litany of begging.
Part of me wants to be compassionate: a couple rupees is nothing, even to me, an unemployed graduate student. The other part of me knows (having spent some time among beggars and such) that some of these people are perfectly fine, and are begging not out of need but out of laziness-because its easier than working and white people often will toss a few rupees- and its easier than the admittedly hard work (for little pay) these people do. B bought a bag from a different woman who was travelling about with her daughter, for about the equivalent of half a day’s woman’s’ wages (about a dollar US). I do give to the crippled, if I have the coinage. I am suspicious of the women, especially the women like this one with three kids and a professional demeanor. I’m also more cynical than B, and I love her for her lack of it, too. It is a still-unresolved problem I wrestle with, to an unsatisfactory conclusion. I would have more to say, about how the system in place perpetuates the begging and poverty which are merely symptoms of greater, more vast and impossible social ills… Anyway:
We turned back after determining there was nothing after the statue & we were sick of the children. We ate at a seaside restaurant – the vegetable biryani was spicy & B’s cashew rice was salty-bland but hearty. She had a lime soda & I had a pomegranate juice that tasted like they put the whole pomegranate into the juice squeezer, and then sweetened w/ syrup. It was fabulous. I had started the day with a migraine threatening, and it was starting to come back, so I took an Excedrin and we set off for the Ashram.
There is a ‘Samadhi’ of Sri & the Mother in a courtyard under a huge service tree. I didn’t know, but suspected Sri was buried under the cement and marble rectangle covered in a complex and beautiful flower arrangement, a darshan (offering) I think. We were instructed to remove my hat & be silent on entry, then in the courtyard we left bags near a watchman & circled the Samadhi –like I said, I suspected he was interred there. Spontaneously, as we circled the Samadhi, I bent at the waist, folded my hands into an offering position, and placed my forehead on the cement/marble. I was empty and perfect, for that moment. After, we sat for almost an hour, just sitting as most came and went around us. There was one woman: Indian, obese & sick, who circled the Samadhi a few times, resting her head in prayer, wheezing and in obvious but uncomplaining pain. Another, looking like a West and Indian mix, was ostentatious in his devotions but also passionate. I watched the service tree, hearing songbirds, parrots, squirrels and crows, but not seeing the songbirds.
It is quiet, both internally and audibly. The place fosters meditation & makes it easy. I wanted to really hug the tree, but maintained decorum, merely placing my hand on it. B did the same- she told me later she had the same urge.
We went into the ‘press room’ & bought some books & two picture sets of Sri & the mother: one for us, & one for Kim W’s friend back home. We also discovered, through reading the posted notices, that both of the gurus are in the Samadhi. Nice.
After that we went back to the shabby little café (the one I didn’t tell you about) we had stopped at before & had Nestlé milk coffee. From there it was a rickshaw ride to the RRO where we learned the supervisor hadn’t been in to sign our forms, although we were entered into the computer at least. “Come back tomorrow, or this week, after 4.” We decided to come back on Friday, and also buy ourselves new bicycles to use while we are here. We’ll sell them when we leave, and it will in any case be cheaper than renting.
So we then waited outside the shabby, dirty and car-and-motorcycle-exhaust stained building for an hour and a half for our cab. Tourist season. Hmpf.

On Wednesday I had a sort of appointment to go see an archaeological dig here at AV: a Tamil archaeologist is excavating the remains of some warriors they have found here on AV land. It looked like rain, very threatening, and we couldn’t find him. After searching a bit I reasoned that a dig in the rain was probably a bad idea and he probably had already covered up, packed up and gone home. I’ll try to catch him again- easy I think because he is also a teacher at the schools in the villages that are run by our host family.

On Thursday I felt worst I had all week, and just stayed around the guest house, keeping myself slow and rested as best I could.
All that rest prepared us for Friday, when we went back into Pondi. I fully expected further run-around, and to be told to come back next week- at which point my ethnography would be about the small dismal environment of the RRO Pondicherry office. We asked by our host, since we were going into Pondi a bit early, to pick up a framed print. We agreed. Then, when the cab showed up, he gave the receipt to a man who was supposed to drive into Pondi with us. The driver, it turns out, had never driven stick before. Probably never driven a car before. We were still going along with it, but we had severe misgivings, especially after the driver killed the engine several times, and made as if to drop the transmission too. Once out of AV, the ‘guide’ introduced us to his brother, then disappeared after telling us his brother knows Pondi better.
Fortunately for us, the brother, whom I shall call Guide II, was eloquent, a native Tamil AV member, and gracious. We went first to the RRO, where we were told to leave our passports, and come back after 4:30. We then set off to find the shop where this picture had been framed. Turns out the shop had moved, so the address on the slip wasn’t valid anymore. We saw Pondi from the upper balcony of Nehru street before we found the shop. The picture in question, a very nice one of the Mother sitting with Nehru, Indira Gandhi and others under a map of India, was about 5’ X 3’. It fit in the back seat, but barely and only with the windows rolled down. It was then time to buy bicycles.
Guide II took us to “Honesty Bike Shop” where we found a mountain bike for me- for a couple thousand Rs less than I expected, and a bike for B at the same price. However, they didn’t take Visa. I went to three ATMs, ready to give up, before B convinced me to try one more: the one we have gone to before. It worked there, so apparently our bank cards only work at National Bank of India.
My bike would be ready tomorrow, so rather than have the truck come twice we said we’d pick up both of them tomorrow. As we were talking, the bike technician tried to get me to give him a tip- by directly asking for it. I pretended not to understand, while Guide II squirmed and was a bit evasive. Afterwards, we quizzed him about it. He said he was ashamed- he had taken us there because he thought the owner would be there and give us a good price (he had recently done a large order through the shop). Instead, this technician was openly asking for a tip before even doing his job! He considered it begging, and told us that he worked his way up in AV without asking for tips.
Anyhow, we drove to the RRO, since it was now 4:30 and the RRO was across town. We got there late, and waited with all the people who had gotten there on time. All of us sat in that dismal room, with no-one at the desk, or even telling us what was going on, for about 20 minutes. Then a broad-shouldered man with a thick mustache picked up the top paper and, looking around before settling on me, called “James?”
James is my middle name. I got up, saw B’s application next on the pile and told him he had my wife’s too. A couple minutes later we had the coveted signature, a stamp and an admonition proclaiming that our visas are “non-extendable” and we were on our way.
We made it home alive. Outside of Pondi Guide II took the driver’s seat and drove us the rest of the way, after telling us he was “afraid, actually” and “very ashamed.”
He still took his 400Rs though.
We settled up with some light conversation @ GB. We talked about camping trips, and B told our hostess about some of our experiences at Wisteria with the shrines in the forest before we retired for the evening.

Friday saw us waiting for the truck at 10 am. After yesterday’s experience, we were very leery, and ready to bail out if it was a repeat of the same experience. Fortunately, the truck driver was skilled and, we found out later, fluent in English. In fact, he teaches Tamil as well as owns the truck. Nice guy. our host was coming into Pondi too- he was going to use the truck to bring back some more stuff for the bakery, since he usually goes on motorcycle and can only carry back so much. Some of this stuff included supplies for the school.
Our bikes were fine. We got some minor adjustments done, and then, as I expected, the begging. It happened like this: the man had finished adjusting the seats, we had bought a pump, and gotten a few extra valve caps, so I gave him a 100Rs note. He looked at me and said “two bikes”, motioning for more money. I laughed, I’m afraid, and said “that’s 100 Rs!” He pointed again at the two bikes, so I said to him “no, you say ‘nandri’!” (“thank you”, in Tamil). The shop clerk, our driver and the rest of us laughed. He did too, having the grace to at least look a little ashamed of himself.
Its not the 100Rs, really, it’s the temerity (which we see here in the USA often too) that you should get extra just for showing up and doing what you are paid to do. On top of that, a tip is a gift for service done satisfactorily- not an obligation. This is the same kind of thing that makes union construction workers (for example) demand super benefits, compensations, super-overtime and a very high wage (comparatively) no matter the quality of work they do. And… well, I’m sure some of you understand where I could go with this. Mini-rant over.
We did a little more shopping, finding a couple woven reed mats for our floor and some contact solution, plus two towels- which B has been jonesing for in a big way. After our host loaded up some rice powder and other heavy things we set off for home. Arriving at GB, we unloaded the truck and sat to eat. Immediately, we saw a driver using B’s bike as a resting post! Unsure what to do- we know Tamil have different ideas of private property, we teased the man a bit. He went elsewhere for a while, but he was getting some deliveries, and B’s bike happened to be where he needed to wait. We decided he wasn’t hurting the bike any, and set back to lunch (with an occasional look to be sure there wasn’t any monkey-business going on). Finally, food done, we put the bikes in the yard and repaired back to the room to write and relax for a bit. I’m sure you will all see the beautiful new bicycles on B’s FaceBook once she gets that all posted.

I had spent the rest of this week alternating between feeling ok, and sick sick sick. Blecch. I did get caught up with some of my ‘looser’ notes, and have managed to get some rest. I simply had to wait it out while I took care of myself, and the virus worked its way through my system. It took B a week, and I had no reason to suspect I’m more special than she is (in fact, I know better ☺ ).
As for now- it is a beautiful Sunday, we are both feeling better and I am really looking forward to work this week at Revelation and Verité. B & I are just finishing reading Sri Aurobindo’s Tales of Prison Life- so far excellent: he is amazingly erudite, and still accessible even with the philosophic bent to the text. I’ll post our reactions next week. We are going to spend today lazily frolicking on our new bikes and sipping coffee with friends here at La Terrace (but not at the same time). I hope you all have had a very good winter holy-days season, and we send you love from India.
Peace,
Stacey & Beryl

Mon, Dec. 20th, 2010, 01:23 pm
Umm.... What week is it?

December 19, 2010

We had a good week weather-wise, although we got one incredible rain that lasted for a good portion of the day on Wednesday- I took a video, so I’ll try to upload it to my FaceBook- it’s pretty much a minute of me and some of the ‘normal’ rainfall we get during monsoon season. Thankfully, monsoon season is coming to a close, probably in the next couple weeks… although we have been told that the past two years have had disrupted weather patterns, so really, it’s anybody’s guess.

Sunday morning we awoke to the noise of “Hey! Hey!” outside our window. B got up to look, and saw that there was a bullock team pulling what looked like a plow across the wet field behind us. We got up, dressed quickly and went out to find a team of three village men in the field, with our host and another man (whom we later learned is the headman of a nearby village) on the banks of the rice field. B started taking pictures, and we talked with the men for a while. There were three old women who were also here to work, although we were told that there was supposed to be six. We got some pics, then ate a breakfast at the GB (I had an egg sandwich with 2 eggs, to get more protein). While we ate we chatted with our hostess about how the talent of how to plant and foster the rice seedlings is a dying art: kids would rather go to the city, and farming is hard work, with many risks, for little pay. Later, our host came in to tell us that the women were planting, so we went back to watch, and get more pictures. B got a lot of really good pictures, though, even slogging through the field to get close-ups. You can see them on her FaceBook under one of the “Auroville” file folders.
The headman asked about the camera, and how much it cost: $1700 US we told him. They probably think we’re crazy, although B tried to explain it was for her work “It’s like you buying a tractor,” she said to the headman “this is my tractor.” I am not sure how much was understood. I told our host that we were still paying it off, since B lost her job right after we bought it.
Later that afternoon we hung out with our French friend- he is going back to France for a month (or two, depending on the visa department), so we resolved to spend some time with him before he left.

On Monday I started work at Revelation. This is a reforestation project that specializes in water harvesting and aquifer replenishment, and reintroducing the native Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF) of this bio-region. Many of the trees, such as Sandalwood (white and the even more rare red), Ebony species, Teak, and others, were taken as seeds from sacred groves around local temples (with the priests’ blessings) and now the area is a lush, thick riot of wildlife and greenery. I worked in the garden for two days, transporting and sometimes transplanting these precious little green lives. It’s humbling and enriching work, and somewhat back-straining at times too!
The founder of Revelation still works the land there. He is French, and had begun his project about 28 years ago. He has a practical knowledge of forestry and water management that is amazing, and he has had a succession of Tamil students, one of which (the latest- he takes one at a time) I will probably be working with on a regular basis.
On my first day I was early, showing up on time- I had been told 8am, so there I was. Sitting on the porch. Waiting in the morning sun, listening to the birds and watching squirrels run around in the banyan tree. I have since been told that 8 am means ‘leave your house at 8am.’ Got it. We sat on the porch a bit before starting, while the Revelation unit founder and leader sipped black coffee from a large glass bowl. We talked abut the rain, and that led quickly to the aquifer: a favorite subject of his. Since it is important to understanding AV, I’ll explain what I have learned so far:
In short, the aquifer here at the AV plateau is four layers (in descending order): red clay, pebbles & stones, white clay, limestone. The clays are barriers; the red clay is on top, forming part of the topsoil and covering the pebble layer. The pebble layer, due to erosion mainly caused by over-farming and deforestation, is exposed. Revelations’ leader (from now on just R- not his real initial) calls this “AV’s open/exposed aquifer.” The white clay is a primarily impermeable barrier between the two water caches, with the limestone being the next layer of water storage for the land. The exposed pebble layer, R told me, is a major source of water table loss. He related that when he first arrived at AV, he could lay on the exposed pebbles on the land, and in a short while get up and all his back, foot to head, would be wet from the water coming up from below due to evaporation.
Another problem here at AV is construction- when people build, they do not take care to plan the flow of the water, and with the water table so precarious and exposed in places this can cause problems, such as water run-off blockage, leading to flooding. This happens a lot at new construction here, because the pebble layer is so close to the surface the weight of these stone buildings create a dam through pressure. The developers of AV planned some of the buildings without accounting for the water flow, so we get flooding at new construction, and worse, pollution going directly into the aquifer and contaminating the supply. Since then, two major factors have affected the aquifers, in a good, and the other in a bad, way: one is the water harvesting that has been happening in AV. The building of dams and water harvest pits has done much to replenish the water table, although this results in water being used more, both in AV and in the villages that share the water supply. He claims that before, on the plateau, only 10% of the water seeped back into the pebble layer, with the rest running off the hard dried clay into the sea. Now, R says, 100% of the water that falls on Revelation is harvested back into the pebble layer. The second factor is in Pondicherry, with the construction of more industry over land where the limestone layer is exposed, resulting in pollutants going directly into the secondary, larger aquifer.

Here is something else I have discovered this week: I have to try really hard to get the Tamil people to let me do physical labor. On Monday I went to move a wheelbarrow full of seedlings (in their plastic bags of soil) across the nursery, and my partner (the student I mentioned above)- smoothly interposed himself between me and the handles I was about to grasp, explaining that it was heavy. Now, picture this: he is maybe 5’2”, and slender, telling my 6’ tall self it is too heavy. I let him take it, but then, later, snuck a barrow-full out on my own: he was amazed, and half muttered to himself “Its not too heavy…?” After that we worked together taking equal turns with the heavy things.
Since then, in the garden at Verité (my other workplace), I have encountered the same thing- I almost spent my day picking tea leaves, rather than weeding and moving compost, because my ‘boss’ there, a Tamil gardener, had to be explicitly and repeatedly told by his/our boss, a Hungarian woman, that I am there to do physical work, too. It’s amazing and it says something to me about the relationships here that is a bit different than I was led to believe. On the other hand, these local people have steady jobs that pay better than they would get elsewhere, but still… it is too early to judge, but… well. We’ll wait and see as the year goes on.
This other place I’m working, Verité, is mainly a guest-house complex with a focus on workshops and classes. These consist of many different practices, from the Hawaiian massage technique of Lomi-Lomi (which I want to learn) to various forms of yoga and meditation and dance… The gardens are ornamental in the guest complex, and practical in the rear, along with an orchard. They are still learning how to best use the land and care for the trees they have (our boss-Hungarian has only been in charge less than two years), although the Tamil gardener’s teacher used to work this very plot of land. It makes for an interesting dynamic of information exchange, withholding and experimentation. Good fieldwork. I work there Thursday and Friday.
This leaves me the afternoons and weekends free. Soon, B & I will possibly begin Djembe lessons, and maybe take on a yoga course too. B has been visiting Svaram, a musical instrument making and sales place near us. They have a primitive clarinet that is haunting- I offered to buy one for her, and so we went to see if they are for sale yet. They are, but they have no reeds, so B is going to try to find a source of reeds and do an exchange of reeds for instrument… awesome. I may even try it, if I can be convinced I wont break it…

I spent some time this week working on my writing- what I mean by that is I am interested in the idea that the medium you write with affects the way you write. We have talked about this in school (especially in Myrdene’s class and soirées) so I wrote for one day in my journal, and I noticed, going over the notes to transcribe them into the computer, that even when I switched pens there was a change. I’m going to contact Myrdene and see if this is something she is interested in for future classes, although if anyone else is interested you’re welcome to contact me. It’d be a cool study, I think.
I also penned a rough draft of a beginning of an idea for a paper perhaps, although I’m not sure who would want it, called “The Beginnings of Agriculture and the Metaphysics of Fear”… so, yeah, AV is good for my creative side too. ☺

Friday, after work, I took the bus to Sadhana Forest (SF hereafter-they have a FaceBook page- look ‘em up). SF is celebrating its seventh anniversary, so they had a day-long party with workshops and food and a movie, plus more food. All the food is vegan, and very satisfying. B went for the whole day, but I got there after the workshops had ended. Still, I got to go on the tour of the land (led by the founder) and see the film. Before the film, though, there was a presentation- a sort of ritual celebration with shawls and flowers given out and names announced. The family that started SF is very entrenched in the local villages, which was obvious by the respect that they not only got, but gave to the Tamil villagers present. It was kind of heart-warming, especially since it was continuous and not just while on stage: these people really knew each other. There was also a SF-specific version of ‘the Secret Garden’ put on as a play, featuring two of the SF children and several different adults. It was interesting, to say the least. The film was La Belle Verde. I recommend it- although it was not always my cup of tea, for my own reasons (does EVERY fictional enlightened culture from outer space HAVE to have a connection to Jesus? Really?). We got back home late- past 11pm, and spent the weekend relaxing, although I think the vegan food had some peanut, because Saturday was partly a festival of migraine management. Ah, well, I got over it with the help of rest and Excedrin…
Sunday is today, and it looked like rain. We headed out anyhow, but I didn’t get this blog done until the late evening, when we came back home. It is now pouring out, and we are ready for another week.
Again, and thankfully still, we are healthy and happy. Thanks for reading, and those of you in the colder climes try to stay warm (I don’t miss the snow, not one bit)!
Peace & lovin’ to you all,
Stacey & Beryl

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