Auroville

(note: again its been months since I’ve written. I may later post about our relaxing weeks in the Dominican Republic, and the exhausting weeks of fevers, rats, leaks, sleep deprivation, relentless rain and passport/visa expiration that had brought us there, but this post is about why I love living in Auroville.)

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I haven’t written much about the town of Auroville since we arrived here a year ago. Until recently I was focused 99% on the day-ins and outs of surviving with a 2 year old and it took me a while to get a handle on what this place actually is. But now Trekker is nearly 3 and though his budding independent streak occasionally leads to a battle of wills which must be navigated, life as a single mom of a little one has become exponentially easier. The number one reason for this is that I am finally (generally) getting a solid nights sleep.  Our lifestyle of long active days in Auroville seems to be the major impetus for this.

 

While “lifestyle” is currently the major driving force for us to be in Auroville at this time in my mothering, lifestyle is only one aspect of this place which was founded 48 years ago on a deeper philosophy and hope for a “new” society.

 

I will rate Auroville in each of the lifestyle categories I’d set out in the previous post Searching for the Best City for Single Moms with Toddlers, but I would do everyone a disservice to not also include at least one paragraph summarizing the uniqueness that separates Auroville from all other cities.

 

Firstly, Auroville is more of a small town than a city, though it does offer much of the international culture one might find in major cities. Here’s a brief self description, from the website-

“Today Auroville is recognized as the first and only internationally endorsed ongoing experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness, also concerned with – and practically researching into – sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind.”

yadda yadda, but it actually is truly interesting.

While environmentalism/sustainable living wasn’t on my original criteria, it should have been.  Auroville was started in 1968 when 5,000 people from 124 nations came together in ceremony to inaugurate a large, mostly scrub-brush area which would be the future township of Auroville. The early pioneers came to Auroville when it was nothing. They planted trees and dug wells and now 48 years later Auroville is situated in a thriving forest made up of a hundred+ communities. And though the current population is only around 2,500, Auroville has managed to survive all these years and the dream still exists.
As for the spiritual stuff- well, no one has pushed that on us at all and without reading up on it I probably wouldn’t have noticed that most of the people around me are so ‘deep.’ The philosophy behind Auroville is based on the teachings of a spiritual teacher called Sri Aurobindo who lived from 1872 – 1950.  I honestly haven’t read too much into him but in skimming the surface of his beliefs, via quotations around Auroville’s Visitor’s Center and from reading wikipedia, I see no reason to flee the place. Here’s my simple interpretation of Aurobindo’s directive: Practice meditation to get past your ego/ junk in your mind, and you may eventually connect with something more divine. Same principle could be applied to practicing art or music really. And I’ve found the same to be true in my TM practice. But again, I take a “keep it simple stupid”  approach to my spirituality. I might add that the 34 thick, large sized, hard–covered volumes from the “Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo” left in the apartment we are renting imply that there may be a bit more to it..  But for now I’m happy with my KISS version and the Auroville lifestyle.

 

On to lifestyle:

 

Affordability:

Well firstly I should explain that I am in Auroville as a “guest”. There are 3 types of people in Auroville- guests, volunteers, and Aurovillians. The price of everything gets slashed for volunteers and costs almost nothing for Aurovillians. To become a volunteer and / or an Aurovillian, one must dedicate 35 hours of volunteer time per week in some capacity to Auroville.  I have been volunteering here and there since we arrived, but I’ve yet to find the time to dedicate 35 formalized hours per week to the cause. This is largely because of single parenting and because I’m attempting to create an online business to keep us afloat. Trekker is only in school for 15 hours a week. Additionally, I have creative project ideas out the wazzoo that sideline me daily from the tasks at hand. But that’s a whole other topic for another blog post. Anyway the point of NOT living in a big city with a full time job was so that I could raise my own kid… Now for the bottom lines:

Our studio apartment

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costs about $175/ month, including utilities.

 

Kindergarten
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costs about $150 / month.

 

My favorite restaurants

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average < $4  per meal and often provide large enough portions for Trekker and I to share. (And of course I could save a bit of money by eating at home or going to the cheaper restaurants.)

 

Transportation- currently we rent a scootie for $35/ month but since we mostly ride our bicycle we could drop that cost.

Yoga classes cost < $4. Tango, salsa, singing, and pilates classes, (if I could only find the time to attend them) cost even less. Mind you, all of this seems cheap when compared to the cost of living in states but for here I live a somewhat extravagant life.  And as I mentioned, if I were to become Aurovillian, all of these prices would be slashed greatly. But for now, I should be able to make enough money from outside sources to maintain this lifestyle in Auroville as a guest. Oh, and one more monthly cost- Auroville “guest contribution” = $65/ month.

 

Music scene:
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Outside of the scene pictured above, not so much. There are some musicians around and even a few bands so there is something happening but …. This is definitely not Williamsburg, Brooklyn c. 2002.. But no where is in the world is either, including Williamsburg. Brooklyn crying_emoticon .. Anyway Auroville does seem like a good place for talented (or otherwise inspired) individuals to dedicate some time to their craft and /or get exposed to something they might have never considered. I saw a guy play “the bones” at an open mic night recently..

 

Plenty of weirdos: 

Yes! Auroville isn’t exactly bustling with weirdos in the down-town-big-city,  old Coney Island, nor golden-hearted, queer, Bowie-esque kind of way,  but the place does boast some very special originals indeed.

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In perspective- the place was built out of nothing as a “new society” by pioneers from the late 60’s = the founding mothers and fathers were/ are idealistic hard-core radicals with original ideas, practical knowledge, and skills. That any city was built by and is still inhabited by these types of people from that era is rare and absolutely refreshing to me.

And where else can you live next door to a house that looks like THIS

 

Active street life/Walking city:

I grouped these two categories together for this post because Auroville neither has an active street life nor is it really a walking city. However it does offer something different, and perhaps more enjoyable, that I hadn’t considered in my previous rating system: beautiful bike paths through a forest!

We ride this contraption to and from school:IMG_5728

on this path:
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And we love it. Its a great way to start the day and have a little exercise built into the day.
Hardly anyone walks from place to place here, But also hardly anyone drives a car. smiley-face-clip-art-thumbs-up-clipart-two-thumbs-up-happy-smiley-emoticon-512x512-eec6

Auroville is a magical 2 wheeler town where people navigate windy dirt roads through the forest by motorcycle, scootie, moped, and bicycle.  Just getting from one place to another can feel like a leisurely stroll through a botanical gardens. Not a bad way to get around.

 


Art scene:
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There do seem to be artists around- I’ve noticed flyers for art openings here and there- and have even been to a really great show at a beautiful gallery, but as is the same for the music category above – I wouldn’t call it a “scene”.  As far as I’ve noticed, Auroville, in it’s non-competitive glory,  lacks the camaraderie created when struggling artists slug drinks or coffees together for minimum shift pay to buy enough time to dedicate their souls to their art-form in attempts to some day “make it” in the capitalistic “Art World.” Of course its hardly true that a person has to be a barista to be an artist (teachers and museum security guards get pretty crappy pay too 😉 ) but there is something to say for creating work from within the cultural context of a creative community of struggling dreamers. There is a certain edginess there and maybe boundaries get pushed a little further…Or this may be some outdated romantic notion left over from my 20s. This is a subject to be explored further in a later blog. As is the whole notion of the “The Art World” and the value of location.

But all that said, if one’s soul calls for them to be an artist, solely, Auroville could be a peaceful place to hone one’s craft as an outsider but he or she may not end up as an Aurovillian unless her/his art-form also happens to be seen by the community as being for the greater good -ie if she/he can make at least some of their artwork count as volunteer hours towards the 35 hour work week. But “Art World” aside, creativity does abound here and can be seen in much of Auroville’s architecture and many theatrical performances that are regularly put on. My neighbor’s new house could also be viewed as a work of art.

 

Strong culture of dancing:

I’ve yet to attend a freestyle dance party but Auroville does boast a Tango scene, a Salsa night, ballet classes, flamenco, and capoeira (which could count as a dance.) The most fun I’ve had dancing so far was while emulating a boyband dance from a “Just Dance” youtube video with my 9 Year old neighbor. And it was genuinely fun. But I’m a mom and I choose go to bed around 9pm, so there may be something else more freestyle going on somewhere in the dark hours… Or perhaps a family oriented early evening dance party could be started…

 

Kid-friendly restaurants and culture: totally. all of them.

 

Lots of playgrounds/ kids stuff:

Indeed!! skate ramp, dirt piles, granite piles, trampolines, no shoes necessary ANYWHERE, trees to climb, kids everywhere, responsible pre-tween neighbors that play with Trekker, older kids everywhere that know little ones by names and treat them like family, swimming pool, playground at the sports ground, sports ground includes tennis, bad mitten, basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, cricket, and football (as in soccer). For the record I have never been much of a sports fan but Trekker seems to be heading that way so this place may be a good fit. As of now though he seems to prefer the dirt and granite piles above all else..

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Auroville also boasts more than one horse-back riding school as well as circus classes. And something of note for later- many of the Auroville teens move out early and live together in a community of treehouses…hello teen RADness…

So is Auroville the best city for single moms with toddlers? I’m starting to realize that the answer to this question really depends on the mom. In my world view it is an incredible place to raise a kid but I should touch on a few negatives before all the single moms of the world pack up and head over-

1) climate is H-A-R-S-H. Like seriously. It gets reallly really hot in April/May/June. The humidity is uber high. The rain pours relentlessly for a month+ in fall (like it really does not stop raining. at all. Google “chennai flood 2015” to get a better picture.) The sun is extremely strong at this latitude and because the humidity is high its impossible to find a decent sunscreen that will stay on your face so if you have sensitive skin like I do you may soon find yourself with a leathery orange-peel look if you don’t constantly wear a hat (beauty side note- I’m currently experimenting with replacing all soap with a fancy bacterial spray to compliment my membership in the shampooless  “no-poo” movement for the last 3 years- its been 2 weeks of spray so far, so good. post coming soon!)

2) outsiderness – if you aren’t from India and you aren’t an Aurovillian you will have to deal with being an outsider. Auroville does not boast that everybody-hugs-everybody Northern California vibe. Outsiderness is the case in most ex-pat settings and is easier for some than others, depending largely on one’s personality and nature. That said, Auroville is a multinational town so culturally you won’t be too unusual here no matter where you are from, as compared to when traveling elsewhere in India. However, due to the high number of transients and tourists that come through Auroville, especially during the nice season (Dec- March,) the long-termers here have naturally developed a fairly tight-knit community amongst themselves, and this *could* feel slightly alienating to the average passerby. Naturally this becomes less the case the longer one stays.

3) language – everybody here speaks a zillion different languages and one of the more common ones is broken English. This means that Trekker, nearly 3 and in his prime time for picking up other languages, is hanging out with his bi- and tri- lingual Spanish,  Taiwanese, Tamil, and Russian friends but only developing his bilingual capacity with English and Broken English. This is the #1 most frustrating part of being here for me at this time and we may need to head to a Spanish-speaking country for the summer just to take advantage of this special window of effortless language absorption in Trekker’s life.

 

 

 

The Making of The Molecule

We last returned to Auroville to find these strange,  curvular, giant megaphone-looking shapes scattered around the field behind the apartment we rent. (2 pictured below)IMG_5725

It turned out that these sculptural pieces were once the roofs of an old school in Auroville and Auroson Bystrom, Auroville’s first born, was planning to repurpose them as walls for a tiny home he was building for himself.  Auroson would soon refer to his home as “The Molecule.”

I promptly volunteered myself as documentarian to this sublime dwelling’s construction.

 

Soon after our arrival, I noticed that the inside of these “walls” had been painted an insanely bright, museum-quality stark white, which looked very odd against the natural landscape. As did the large metal cube which would soon emerge as the frame for The Molecule.

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Auroson and his team, Pim and Shivarag, constructing The Molecule’s frame:IMG_5309

Pim welding the frame together:IMG_5322

Next was the test run- putting it together to see how it held up.    Wall #1 on:
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then two:
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etc

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It held up.

 

But then a realization dawned upon Auroson:

The Molecule Must Be Painted Gold.

 

And so it was disassembled, and a painter arrived with a pressure painting machine that looked like it was from 1942:IMG_5392

First, by Auroson’s generous recommendation, the painter painted Trekker’s Thomas train gold:
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Then he moved to the “atoms.” (By this point the molecular theory was developing fast and the walls had become atoms.)

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The golden glow glistened its way across each atom, one at a time…IMG_5439

until each was a magical white and gold perplexityIMG_5420

strewn across the natural landscape.IMG_5587

As strange and beautiful as it was to watch these golden atoms scattered about the lands, and seemingly repositioned daily against new corners of nature, I knew their epic migration was only temporary- they were on a mission to soon join each other in an energetic synthesis, to be chemically bonded for life as one molecule.

 

Auroson chose this spot for The Molecule’s final resting place:IMG_5474

and gathered friends and family to move the cube:

pictured below, Auroson and his father Frederic, one of Auroville’s first inhabitants:
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The cube was set on granite footer stones and a pooja was performed.IMG_5488

An alter-like cross-section from a branch of the Mantramandir Banyan tree was hung inside, near one of the atoms,  its center perfectly aligned with the geometric cross-section of The Molecule’s many triangular forms.  Auroson said that he had planned to hang this piece slightly off to accentuate the geometric forms but that his idea had changed during the process.  “The idea is there but the physical reality needs to be alterable because in a sense its all about proportion, ” he explained.

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then they bonded the atoms…
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And the floor was prepared-

Here Auroson sands The Molecule’s repurposed floorboards which once had served as the Mantramandir‘s scaffolding system during it’s construction.IMG_5719

And finally the door was installed:
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Pure perfection! A molecule amongst molecules…
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From Auroson:  “The thing about molecules is that there is always something at the centre of something else. (this could be the form for groupings and or construction) The function of housing as a reflection of the a social structure is it would have these qualities – freedom, while being part of the whole, individual in identity, but collective at the same time. Harmony. These structures are only symbols.. Another thing about molecules is that they are built on a harmonic framework, the division and multiplication within and without is based along harmonies just like music, the division of halves, quarters or thirds etc.”

Wow, totally!

And to me, when looking at The Molecule, I can’t help but wonder what kind of element would be formed were this molecule to find other molecules to bond with. Like imagine a housing project full of these things… Trekker and I would surely like to inhabit one, at least for a time… For now I am just overjoyed that we get to live next door to this thing.

SMOTL <3  The Molecule 4Ever
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projects and personal goals

I get distracted a lot. Naturally this is the case for most anyone in fulltime care of an almost 3 year old. But also, even when I do manage to balance my attention towards a non-mom project, I very often get distracted from that non-mom project with another non-mom project, or new idea. If someone would just pay me to sit around and write about my plans and ideas I would be all set, I have no shortage of ideas. But following through when your mind is jumping from one idea to another WHILE answering to the term “mama” every two seconds (maybe 3) is a big hurdle to productivity.

 

So, since “blogging” is one of my projects, I figure I may as well use a blog post as an opportunity to organize some of my other projects and current personal goals. After all, the point of this blog was to document our real life while organizing my world. And somehow allowing my personal goals to live in the public sphere may just lead to more accountability on my part.

 

I’ll start with a list of goals for this year, in no specific order:

-Get in shape before 40 (I have 2 months)

-Learn to do the worm before 40 (breakdance move from the 80s I’ve always admired)

-build a giant music box that people can walk in, and adjust the songs from the inside

-build a hand-pump rail cart before Trekker’s birthday (one month and 1 week away)

-create charts for gardeners as in-app purchases for my garden app

-learn to play piano better

-learn to dance tango better

-master salsa (the dance)

-convert my neighbor’s garden to a productive permaculture mini-farm

-cure the psoriasis on my elbows

-fix my dead tooth

-master the Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer book (under the tutelage of Jim White- reignite the skype lessons if available)

-create documentation posts of my previous projects, and friend’s projects I’ve followed

-convert shipping container to camper like this but on a flatbed

-be a better mom

 

OK, now to prioritize and break down each goal into achievable micro-actions:

1) be a better mom
While I will dedicate a separate post to this topic soon, one thing I know- I am always a better mom on the days I feel healthy and get adequate sleep. So in this case we can group “get in shape before 40” in this #1 spot too because exercise always makes me feel better and sleep better. So, the micro-action = daily exercise, whether I find a babysitter so I can go to a yoga class, or I take Trekker on a jog with the jogging stroller, daily exercise is now a requirement (except maybe one day a week.)

2) build a hand-pump rail cart – Trekker’s birthday is only a month and a week away AND we have to leave Auroville on a visa run for a week+ so I need to get cracking on this one stat. most of the action will consist of finding and assembling parts. I have the wheels already. micro-action = collect/find/build one of these parts every 2 days: platform, right-angle wheel attachment pieces, connecting rod, handle, gears, axle. This sort of thing can be done with Trekker, in the afternoons.

3) App monetization: in-app purchases- this also needs to be done stat as garden season season is rapidly approaching in the northern hemisphere and I am paying monthly for the app platform I built it on. Micro-action: each morning while Trekker is in school, complete one more step towards monetization

4) learn to dance the worm- after Trekkers birthday, once I am well on my way to being in shape, I will have a little over a month to learn to dance the worm before 40. I can incorporate this into my daily exercise routine, perhaps starting out on the neighbor’s trampoline with Trekker jumping along beside

5) convert my neighbor’s garden to a productive permaculture mini-farm- this is a longer term project but a few beds and banana circles can be created in the next month or so. micro-actions: alternate daily digs and bed prep days with the hand-cart collection days, ie- every 2 days work in the garden in afternoon while Trekker digs in the mud (or early mornings)

6) psoriasis- This stuff appeared on my elbows when I was 22, it is annoying but not debilitating, however it is a high priority. There is no “cure” in western medicine but I have seen it completely disappear twice during long camping sojourns so there must be a way to rid it with a lifestyle change. Lets just set the micro-action for now to: see an aryuvedic doctor

7) fix my dead tooth- this may relate to #6 above. when I was 18 I practiced Taikwando for like 2 months until I got my front tooth knocked out by someone’s head. It was hanging by one root. Fortunately, my Sensei’s brother happened to be an orthodontist so we rushed over to his office where he put it back in. He gave me a root canal. The tooth has been dead ever since. It turned brown a couple of years later so I would go and get it dyed white from the inside every couple of years. I did a few rounds of this until I turned 31 and decided to go live as a street astrologer in Costa Rica- at that point it seemed to me that a front brown tooth would lend more authenticity to my brand. But further into my 30s, once the grey hairs started to come in, and a few wrinkles, I decided that the brown tooth was overkill so I attempted to have it dyed again. Unfortunately the dye didn’t stick. Apparently that process stops working after awhile. But also, it is not good for one’s body to keep holding onto something dead, and root canals can be a major source of toxins. now studies are showing that root canals can actually lead to psoriasis (see point 6).  So, my first micro-action on this point: Get opinion from Ayruvedic Dentist on what to do about dead tooth issue.

8) create a giant music box that people can walk in. –this can be done when I begin the next project- converting shipping container, as both projects will require the same diamond blade steel cutter that can be rented in the town in South Carolina where my shipping container rests. We will go there when the season ends here, further advancing our perpetual spring. Should I happen to complete these two steel-based projects in a timely manner, I may also throw in a new project: make a steel pan drum. Trekker and I saw one being made on Mr Rogers last night, and it seems like an achievable pursuit, as well as a fabulous instrument for us both

9) tango/salsa, these are ongoing projects. There is a Tango class on Mondays in Auroville and a salsa class on Wednesdays, so depending on Trekker’s mood and my energy level after my now required daily exercise I’ll just mark these spots tentatively into the schedule.

10) Piano/drumming-also a long-term pursuit. both of these could be achieved via brief daily micro-practices, like 15 minutes a day, perhaps alternating days. I may also be able to entice Trekker into this “music practice” routine with me, thereby providing more structure to our day and feeding into #1 be a better mother.

11) Create documentation posts for my previous projects, and friend’s projects I’ve followed – this one falls into the “someday when everything else is checked off” category

 

Welcome to my world. Feel free to help hold me accountable

 

 

 

ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

things have been changing in mom-ville. it has been 4 months since I last posted and of course things will change a bit in any 4 month period for most people but the thing that is changing the most this time seems to be from my own internal maternal. maybe it’s because after the 4 months we spent camping in a field we moved into a cabin-ish house with a shower and toilet and a roof and a porch and that alone caused changes in the way that I “mom”. or it could be that because not long after we moved into said house we also took a trip west for a 2 week family gathering and stayed in a ‘house’ house (the kind with AC, hot water, TV, clean sheets on a real bed – all that stuff) and perhaps the experience stirred a latent greed inside me.. or maybe because when we were in that house-house Trekker also had 5 cousins under the age of 10 in the house-house to play with and these cousins introduced him (and me) to the digital babysitter known as ‘cartoons’ who I had been avoiding for ideological reasons but have now started to lean on.. or maybe the fact that these cousins would also come steal Trekker from our room first thing in the morning, just before the moment when he would normally pry my eyes open, and I actually got to sort of almost sleep in a few times – that was a major change right there – the notion of sort of almost sleeping in – that may even have been the main thing – not sure – but something has definitely re-acquainted me with a more individualistic side of myself lately….

maybe it’s because after we went west, we then went even further west and rented a Honda Element (great camping vehicle btw) and proceeded to take a road trip from Los Angeles to Northern Nevada to attend Burning Man where we were surrounded by complete decadence and audacious individualistic artistic expression for a week and perhaps this shocking difference from the previous months of living quietly in nature, tuned into only my baby and nature, might have awakened an inner daemon in me…or perhaps  I got possessed while there…

Or maybe all of the change I feel is due to the fact that Trekker is not a baby anymore and amazingly, though still only 2.5 years out of the womb, I don’t think he even qualifies as a toddler now, and so maybe change is a natural thing all mommies go through as their children grow…

I do know that I started to feel the change when we moved into a house. The house, which is more like a cabin which boasts walls with large, seemingly intentional gaps, was/is very much like camping, but with more to look after and less for Trekker to entertain himself with. The month we were in the house before we went west was maybe my hardest time yet as a mother. I thought about writing but I was always too tired. Suddenly we had the newfound ability to leave a light on at night, but that brought with it a desire in Trekker to stay awake long past sunset. And Trekker speaks fluently now, he voices his desires very well. so that voicing of his desires which conflicted with my own desires (which at the end of each day was simply to rest) started to bring some dissonance into our relationship. The “terrible two” tantrums I had managed to (mostly) avoid while camping were starting to flare up which was stressful on both of us and plus now there was more to clean up. A lot more – besides now having to clean up after ourselves in a way that I’d been able to avoid while camping, I soon came to learn the differences between lizard, frog, bat, and rat dookies. Anyway, I’m grateful that this house was offered to us for the month or so that we’ve spent in it. but I’ve also now confirmed that I much prefer to live in a tent, a car, a boat, or a tiny apartment over a house. (we are moving soon.)

But besides the changes of our environs, and the change of Trekker from being a baby then a toddler and a now small child, the major change I am experiencing inside of myself is of a nagging temptation for pure selfishness. I’ve begun to hear a voice inside screaming ME ME ME! maybe its the super-moon lunar eclipse that just made a partile conjunction to my natal aries moon in the 11th house, or maybe the fact that I just started painting again has rekindled a previously forgotten internal flame, or perhaps I’ve now simply heard the song “wheels on the bus” one too many times, but whatever it is there is a change going on inside and suddenly I want to do much more in my day than be a mom. and I’m feeling the need for a break from some of the mom stuff, at least for this week. I have even enlisted the “Grandies” to read the bedtime stories to Trekker via Skype the last few nights simply because I. don’t. feel. like. reading. those. books.. (dear future Trekker, as you study your own life in the future and look back on your past at the ways your mother may have f’d you up, please realize that this blog entry is not an exclamation of me having stopped loving you, in fact I love you more now than ever (though i may have occasionally envisioned taking a cartoon slingshot to your friend Dora the Explorer, this is no reflection on my love for you.) In truth this post is about the realization I am having which is that I will be a much better mother to you in the future if I start getting some ME TIME in now. Love forever, mom)

The great news is: Trekker has been accepted into the school I want him to go to and he starts next week! And he really wants to go. This will be wonderful for both of us.  AND I have a meeting lined up next week to talk about potentially working with an Auroville farmer’s org to implement my dream app (a related project to the worldfoodgarden.org dream- but this time I would be working with others between a real desk in a real office and regular visits to real farms rather than trying to hold it all together myself staring at a computer from a couch-slouch in some distant, remote, distracting cafe.) And I have other projects on the fire as well (stay tuned!)  Also this week I have finally hired an evening sitter (seriously! 2.5 years later!) who Trekker so far loves and who has so far allowed me to partake in one tango dance class and one flamenco dance class, both of which have felt like a small sip given to a very dehydrated inner diva.  So selfishness accepted.

But don’t worry dear reader, Trekker will not go neglected. A balance will be found. Friends at school will replace Daniel Tiger and Dora the Explorer, and bedtime stories will soon make a zest-filled come-back. Once school begins everything will change. Again. For now I will reframe my new desire to seemingly rebel from mom-hood with a re-appropriation of the oral tradition passed on by stewards and stewardesses across the skies “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on your child.”

Sincerely,

The Little Engine that Could also dance the Tango…

(photo highlights of the past few months coming soon)

We fell off the face of the earth, into the earth

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I have been so busy in the physical world for the last few months, camping with a toddler, that I’ve ignored almost everything virtual in my life, including the high aspirations I previously held for my garden website project (worldfoodgarden.org). When I do get online time, its has usually been to catch up on the Permaculture course which is serving to support my experience of this outdoor lifestyle with knowledge and theory. But basically I’ve had no time to blog nor stare at a screen, and its felt great.
When I last updated, we had been in Auroville for only a couple of weeks and I was looking for gourd seeds to potentially begin a project to grow gourds for musical instruments. The length of our stay would depend on whether or not we found these seeds and started  this project. Well, I did finally track down some gourd seeds but the source warned me that their germination rate was only 10%. I soaked and planted them in starter pots anyway. I soon after tracked down better gourd seeds from a different source but in a rush to soak the new seeds overnight and get them into the ground during a new moon phase, I brought them with Trekker and I on an overnight trip to Pondicherry and, sadly, left them in the hotel soaking in a cut plastic bottle filled with brown dirt-water where they were promptly thrown out upon the room cleaning. Just as we returned to our campsite the next day and as I realized that the good seeds had been lost, I looked down to see that starter pots the original gourd seeds were in had also dried up completely. With a feeling of near defeat, I grabbed a bottle of what looked to be the brown dirt-water that these seeds had originally soaked in and doused them till they were all wet. I was late to meet a friend for dinner and I just shrugged and sighed when I realized that I had just poured Apple Cider Vinegar all over the poor little guys. Oh well, I thought, SMOTL and son will move on…
But little did I know- GOURDS LOVE ACID! Or acid soils anyway. The seeds that I was told would give only a 10% germination rate gave us nearly 95%. I can’t say for sure that it was the AVC, I did attempt to rinse them in water the following day, but whatever it was it worked because now we are growing gourds.
Over the last 3 months our Campsite, aka  “Fort Trekker Baby”, has evolved from this:
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to this:
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to this:
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(I made a last minute decision to use stone pillars for our trellis and hired some local guys to build over our campsite in 2 days. For <$20USD you can buy a 2.5 meter stone pillar in India. Total cost was way less than I would pay in rent in one month anywhere else, and now we will be leaving something useful behind. You can see the gourd plants growing up pillars. They will form a canopy above us)
Here’s another view:
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I moved the mosquito tent to be near the hump part of the fallen trees and raised the earth a little underneath to avoid flooding incase of unseasonal rains (yes, I did this, NOT the local guys. I’m feeling quite proficient with a mumpty these days and a little regretful that I hadn’t build the whole trellis myself..)
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We’ve also acquired a small solar powered fan from Auroville Energy Products since temps are nearing the 100sF each day now.
With nothing but a mosquito tent to sleep in it really feels as if we are completely outside. It is a wonderful way to wake up.
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And as for having no time to blog- until last week, and other than a few hours on a a few saturdays in the last 3 months I have been with Trekker 24 hours a day 7 days a week, sleeping, eating, gardening, and doing EVERYTHING else that one does in their day, with no assistance or breaks. It has been wonderful, rewarding, challenging and exhausting and I am grateful for every second of it.  I feel that we have figured out what works for us and developed a bond and trust that I know I am lucky to have had the chance to create. Overcoming night nursing in a one-parent home is the most difficult thing we’ve both gone through to date (except maybe the birth and it was a seriously hellish birth) but it has made way for so much less exhaustion in our day and has brought a deeper understanding to our relationship. Trekker is now able to be comforted by me without milk. I am now able to soothe and comfort Trekker without milk. This is a big deal. And we may finally be averaging 6-7 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Life is good.
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 (Trekker helping me collect and transport garden mulch)
 Other than achieving decent sleep, the camping lifestyle is also flowing with an ease and satisfaction that might have been challenged were we to abide in a proper house at this stage in my toddler’s development.IMG_0634
Because we live outdoors Trekker is able to ride his (pedal-less) bike, climb small trees, chase butterflies, build dirt-castles, swing on hammocks, splash in water, experiment with pouring water into different vessels and back again, shovel dirt, play soccer, and otherwise make any kind of mess he wants to all in our home safely, while I cook or work on the house/garden. And I rarely have to clean anything up. There are no walls requiring us to both be either outside or inside at any one time and he has a variety of nature’s toys to choose from always.
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 (view from the kitchen)
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 (chillin’ in the tub)
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(hitting the gong – turns out gongs are a great centering tool for toddlers, and for mamas)
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(riding his “motorcycle”)
I highly suggest extended camping with two year olds. Potty training out here was an instant breeze because all it took was going 2 weeks with no pants for Trekker to realize what was happening “down there” and get a handle on when it was going to happen beforehand. Plus, if an accident happens outdoors its no big deal- you can scoop up a dookey with a leaf and drop the whole thing in a composting toilet. And pee is great for the garden.
Trekker is really thriving out here and learning new skills every day. He helps me water the gourd plants each  morning and gets super excited about picking cherry tomatoes from the neighbors garden. He has learned early about the dangers and uses of fire, to be weary of scorpions and snakes at night, and to always zip the tent so the mosquitos don’t get in. I’m amazed at how well he retains and acts on information. And he is a super joy to be around. Of course he is vulnerable to toddler breakdowns if he is tired or hungry but these things are predictable and usually easy to avoid with a little self-discipline on my part. I know I am an extremely lucky mom, but I am also glad I that read The Attachment Parenting Book by Dr Sears and followed its course of baby-wearing, co-sleeping, and extended breastfeeding because Trekker has so far turned out to be an incredibly smart and independent little joy to be around.
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 (Trekker with the wooden mumpty made by Johnny)
Community living has also proved to be quite enjoyable and to ease the load for me lately. I’ve begun volunteering on the farm with the others to harvest cashews and process jackfruit, and Trekker is able to play alongside, feeling that he is a part of something, while I get to be productive. This is actually amazingly close to the ideal “tribal” situation I had been seeking which was based upon the idea that kids feel safer being near a primary caregiver at all times and will develop most healthily if that caregiver is focussing their attention on doing something productive for society and not solely on the kid. And if the kid can be involved in helping in some way, all the better. Sort of seems obvious I guess. Anyway I’m lucky I was in the right non-position in my career to take advantage of this golden situation.
Another plus is that I have a built-in social life here, or at least other interesting, creative adults to converse with throughout the day. There are 10+ people living in Johnny’s Place at this time, mostly French, Australian, and Indian, but also a Brit and a Dutch family and me. The community hosts a potluck for the greater Auroville community on Sundays, and movie night Fridays where Johnny puts up a large screen and usually shows a kid’s movie first. Last night we watched Temple Grandin and I was so thrilled as I had no idea a movie had been made about her since the documentary “Woman who thinks like a cow” that I made Trekker stay up 2 hours past bedtime so I could see it. The movie was fantastic and Clare Danes was incredible.
Johnny, of “Johnny’s Place”,  an architect/artist, who I’d originally though was British (maybe due to hints of an aristocratic upbringing and his quick wit) is actually and Aussie and is the type of person who can build anything and fix anything. There are usually many kids around from the school he is involved in, each working on their own project ideas while Johnny helps bring them to fruition. I’ve seen everything from blow-guns to bamboo boxes,   leatherman cases to  full “survival kits” and cross-bows being produced by these kids. There is an open workshop space here where they can work on stuff and Trekker has lately been hanging around “working” alongside them. I’ve also begun a couple projects of my own there too.
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(Trekker sharpening something with the workshop’s stone grinder while the other boys work on their creations.)
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(Trekker steering a go-cart that a boy brought here for an upgrade, while Johnny pushes)
In the last couple of weeks Johnny has also taken Trekker under his wing to help another early Auroville pioneer, a dutch man named Evar, to build a demountable house not far from where we are camped. Trekker has spent many mornings “helping” them while I catch up on my permaculture course. He now knows the names of all the tools and building materials and is able to even use some of them.
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(Johnny assisting Trekker to use the screwdriver)
Life here is magic
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…and when we need a break from life on the farm we walk across the street for a dip in the spa pool…
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 (Trekker in front of pool with spa resident “Kiku” on his shoulder)
or take a 10 minute drive on the scootie…
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 …often through goats…
to the beach!
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I do know that change is constant and challenges do exist, and will likely come stronger in life’s unexpected waves, but right now I feel that Trekker and I are riding on some wondrous flow of manageable imperfections and magic and we both seem to find ourselves smiling and laughing much more than anything else. Thanks world!
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Varanasi eclipsed- we moved to a hippie commune! (maybe)

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I haven’t written in a few weeks. After the parasites episode (writeup in process), and then Trekker coming down with 105F fever, vomiting and diarrhea I decided that it was a good time to travel to a place a little quieter and less polluted for a week or two to rest. Also, the weather was warming up in Varanasi to the point where I couldn’t wear my winter “robes” to the chai shop anymore. One of my secret favorite charms about living in Varanasi is the strange expat fashion – Westerners from all over tend to dress like Urban Moses and meet each other throughout the day for tea. The look is only slightly Indian and definitely not Western so I’m not sure where it originates but my mom happened to give me these 2 cozy alpaca robe things the last 2 christmases in a row and I’ve very much enjoyed donning them at the chai shops and visually fitting in with the other urban Moseses who sit there discussing their Sanskrit theses or whatever. Anyway, the weather was becoming too hot for my robes but not yet hot enough to enjoy a cold shower, Trekker was getting over the flu, and the warm bucket shower was starting to feel like a pain in the arse so I figured it was a good time to get out.

The plan was to check out Pondicherry, a French colony on the coast that has a beach and surely some decent hotels, baguettes, cafes and good cheese. Then we would go visit a friend who had recently built a house in 7 days inside this strange hippy place south of Pondicherry called Auroville where supposedly a bunch of 60’s hippies set up some sort of commune led by a guru called “the mother”. The place is known to house both the largest crystal in the world and the largest solar oven. Then we would go to Trekker’s birthplace Kochi to check on a garden I helped set up there and see the 2nd Indian biennialle  (I saw the 1st one when Trekker was still in the womb and it was very cool.) But due to some setbacks and the fact that my friend in Auroville only had a couple of days before he was to leave for 6 weeks we ended up going straight to the site of the 7 day house. My friend did leave after 2 days, over 2 weeks ago, but Trekker and I still haven’t left.

In the taxi on the way to Auroville I spoke with my 7-day-house friend, Chris, through a scratchy cell phone connection. He informed me that a basic hut had opened up and would be made available to Trekker and I for a couple of nights. I asked if it had running water and there was a pause so I quickly jumped in to explain that Trekker had a little diarrhea so running water would really be a plus. “No,” he said, but “we could supply you a pot with water in it”. “Great!” I answered in my automatic southern USA politeness while of course reconsidering my plan. “Do u need anything from the outside world ?” I asked before we hung up. Then there was another pause followed by a joyously sardonic “what could I possibly need from the outside world?”

After reaching the turn to Auroville the taxi driver then made our way through dusty dirt roads that winding endlessly through a giant forest to finally arrive at the small entrance to the community called Johnny’s Place in the section of Auroville called Fertile where Chris had built his home. I mounted Trekker to my back in the carrier and loaded my bags on the stroller then pushed our way down smaller dirt paths through the woods till I came to a structure were a woman was cooking. “Chris’ house?” I asked. She pointed to the middle of 3 dirt paths so we pushed on. When we came to a clearing I immediately recognized Chris’ 7 day house from his Facebook photos and then saw a barefoot, bearded Chris in a lungi, looking quite a bit more outdoorsified than when I’d last seen him 2 years back in Varanasi. He was standing in a garden talking to a couple of older eccentric looking gentlemen, one of whom he introduced as Johnny. “Oh are you Johnny of Johnny’s Place?” I asked. The man responded with a quick-wit Austrailian accent “yes, welcome, the Bar and Grill is just down the way.” Everyone chuckled, including me though I really wasn’t sure if he was kidding. I really had no idea what I had gotten into here.

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(this is the house Chris built in 7 days)

Very soon I realized that the community of Johnnys place was made up of multi internationals of all ages (including a Dutch 2 year old for Trekker to play with) inhabiting tiny eco-houses powered by solar, scattered about the woods and accessed by small dirt paths. We were a ways away from central Auroville, about 10 minutes down some windy dirt roads by scooter (which we soon acquired for less than $2 per day.) The core of the tiny eco-houses were all designed by Johnny who rumor has it used to hang out with Buckminister Fuller back in the day, and the forest here was planted from scratch by Johnny and the other early settlers some 40 years ago. Apparently all of Auroville used to be scrub brush before the “hippies” came in.

Johnny can be found most mornings drinking chai in the community kitchen and reading a recent and real (as in NOT digital) copy of the New Yorker. I can only imagine that Johnny’s hard copies of the New Yorker magazine are the only ones in all of India. In the afternoons he always seems to be around building and/or designing something and/or assisting someone else to build or design something. There seems to be a solid ethic of creativity going on here. There is definitely no bar and grill here but the community, which reminds me a lot of Burning Man in the principles of self-reliance, self expression and gifting, does seem to make meals together and for each other every few nights and the meals usually represent the many cooks’ countries of origins. So far we have been lucky to indulge in fantastic home-cooked French, Italian, and Indian food. I’ve of course offered to wash dishes since I don’t have much confidence in cooking for other people though I have shared a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches here and there. If I can find mac-and-cheese-in-a-box I will continue my representation of USA cuisine.

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(
the first cabin we stayed in with the pot of water that Chris supplied, front center)

Trekker continued to have diarrhea for the first week here and after a few days of attempting to manage his cloth diapers from the no-running-water cabin I asked Johnny if it would be ok if we camped in his field for a week or two. The situation really called for sunshine to disinfect the diapers and a hose to clean everything off. Johnny said sure so we promptly set up Fort Trekker Baby (Trekker named it) between two  dead trees conveniently bent over in the field, and have been living here for over 2 weeks. After the 1st week we stopped using diapers completely and Trekker seems to be potty-training really fast. The “potty” is actually a shared composting squatter toilet which believe it or not doesn’t smell in the slightest. Unlike a latrine which basically just collects sh*t and urine, the composting toilet is ‘dry’ meaning we are supposed to just pee in the woods and do the other business in the toilet so that it doesn’t get too wet and smelly. Then you throw a handful of sawdust down the hole when you finish and you can feel confident that what you have produced will be a gift back to the land some day. I feel a sense of pride when I use a composting toilet.

Here’s Fort Trekker Baby early on
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Fort Trekker Baby has since evolved into this –
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We are camped near a French guy’s house and a giant windmill. Our water is supplied from a deep well pumped by the windmill and we charge my computer at the french guy’s house.  Trekker can already narrate the windmill scene “it goes round and round and pumps the water up then the water comes down and people wash their diapers” he says (even though we are done with diapers now YAY!)

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I am happy to share the outdoor living experience with Trekker at his young age. When the outside doesn’t disappear in your 24 hour cycle your awareness begins to change. Besides feeling the elements like wind and sun, seeing the sun rise and set daily, and star-gazing nightly, the sounds become an ever-present part of life in a way that they simply aren’t when you live indoors. Your life is lived to a changing soundtrack of other living creatures. Peacock screams in the evening yield to a chorus of crickets then late night jackals, howling dogs, then the early rooster crow, followed by a plethora of other morning birds. One bird in particular repeats itself with a louder and faster tempo each time creating a crescendo that seems to say “ WAKE  the F up!” and though that one seems to have been designed to agitate all other living creatures, for the most part the medley of sounds feels like a big warm hug from nature. The irregular revolutions of the windmill in the background is also comforting as it constantly reminds you how you are reciprocating the hug nature just gave you, or at least not slapping her in the face with pollution. It feels very nice to live in harmony with nature. I remember having a hard time gong back into “inside life” after living outdoors for a year and 1/2 many years ago (1st in a treehouse then a tent on a beach.) This time it was a little process to reacclimatize to the outdoors though it really only took one day of waking up to bird calls as opposed to honking horns to feel like this is how I want to live. For Trekker it is something new as he has spent most of his short life in cities and apartments. But so far so good. He has been really enjoying hiking the little paths through the woods and refers to it as “exploring the garden” which is a habit he got into with his Grandio in his Grandies’ garden. And he likes to imitate the bird calls and look at the stars at night. There is also a healthy, happy, well-cared-for dog which comes to see us at sunrise and it is so refreshing that I don’t have to tell Trekker not to touch it as I did with all the poor mangy dogs in Varanasi. It would be a shame if he grew up thinking that all dogs were dangerous to touch.

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Each morning our french neighbor Francois cooks a ragi and fruit porridge which he shares with us. I do the dishes afterwards. Francois, who apparently used to be a juggling unicyclist and who once unicycled from the dead sea to the red sea, is a multitalented musician and woodworker who is currently constructing a climate-controlled instrument-making studio on the premises. Since I’ve had a long-time dream of growing hard-shelled gourds to make my own musical instruments, yet I don’t really have the instrument-making skills, we have discussed a partnership and I am currently searching for the right gourd seeds.

We still have yet to explore all of Auroville, but have visited a few amazing organic restaurants where the food is grown on site and we stopped by an event at the Youth Center Community where the children of Auroville were making suggestions on what they would like the future of Auroville to be as well as hosting a trash art competition.

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here’s Trekker on a piece of wood imitating the girl who is riding the gigantic seesaw behind him. also notice large blue orb things in the far background- they spin in every which way and the big kids can get inside them.IMG_7870

Apparently the Youth Center also boasts a few tree houses though we missed them on our first visit. I’ve heard that the school system here is also very cool- one school in particular is parent led so the kids get to engage in whatever fields the parents are in whether it be yoga, music, pottery, gymnastics, computers, woodworking… Its called TLC (The Learning Community). I love the idea.  Academically I still plan for Trekker to attend Khan academy online or something like it but anyway we have YEARS till Trekker is old enough for real school. For now I don’t even know how long we will stay- this was supposed to be a few-days trip and it wasn’t even on my list of cities to live in… But I like it here A LOT. I guess we will see what happens if I find some gourd seeds…

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Varanasi, India, city for single moms and toddlers?

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Since the initial acclimation period, Trekker and I have had a nice time nesting in our old home base.  We live in a tiny, cozy apartment inside a fairly private compound and hidden behind a large Mango tree and 2 Neem trees. The apartment boasts a squatter toilet and no hot water and is attached to a very large shared porch.

here’s our living room!
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I have come to prefer the squatter toilet over the standard western toilet for basic comfort and cleanliness reasons. But even better than the fact that decades old research has also proved it the healthier option, Trekker has now used it a few times on his own to pee! (dear older Trekker reading this blog some day: good job honey! love you! 😉 ) No more need for uncomfortable baby “potties”, toilet steps, or those add-on-toddler-sized toilet seats.

The initial cold during our arrival has since made way for perfect 70 F days and 55 F nights so while I’m still boiling water for our hot bucket showers, the heat is just an added luxury and not a necessity. We share the large  porch with a lively and funny Irishman who Trekker enjoys a lot, (and who kindly brought me Gatorade yesterday when I was sick.) It is probably 90 ft long and 20 ft wide, leaving plenty of room for our hammock, a hanging chair, and for Trekker to ride his new tricycle.

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For 6500 rupees/month (roughly equivalent to $105 USD) this is a great base.

So we have a great apartment BUT is the city of Varanasi perfect for single moms with toddlers?

In regards to my initial requirements in a perfect city , here is the run-down-

Affordability: this is probably the cheapest place I could live. For roughly $600/ month we have the apartment, a lady who cooks lunch and sweeps the floors, optional daily restaurant visits, transportation to anywhere in the city, gas for the stove, and tri-weekly in-home Indian classical singing lessons. Not bad. The lady who cooks lunch is called Geeta. She has a big personality and speaks no english so Trekker and I are learning hindi faster with her around.

here is Geeta, playing Trekker’s out-of-tune guitar
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Music scene: this city is the capital of Indian classical music and it attracts musicians from all over the world who come here for study/practice. In truth I will probably always have more of an American 80’s pop music/ classic blues soul but I do feel that my own music potential could be much enhanced by the regular, inexpensive classical lessons. And more importantly: exposing Trekker to this kind of nuanced tuning of the ear at age 2 could only have magical outcomes in the future.

Plenty of weirdos: indeed! This place is packed with weirdos. My original vision for plenty of weirdos mostly encompassed creative types (which Varanasi does house plenty of, often attracted by the music scene and scenery), but this place also attracts a national and international set of yogis, gurus, seekers, jugglers, astrologers, world-changer types, and weirdo PhD candidates (BHU, the oldest/largest University in India, is just around the corner.) I’ve found most of these weirdos to be fairly easy to strike up conversations with in the casual outdoor chai shop settings and family style seating at restaurants.

Active street life: probably doesn’t get more active than this one! There is LOADS of entertainment steps from our home, experienced just going to the store and back. Besides all the weirdos and the tiny ma and pa (mostly pa) shops lining the roads, we see litters of puppies and many other animals every 10 ft. I couldn’t think of a more entertaining place to spend the “what’s that?” phase-  “what’s that mama?” that’s a bicycle rickshaw, baby “what’s that mama?” thats a baby cow drinking his mama’s milk like you do “what’s that?” that’s a herd of water buffalos “What’s that?” a painted sheep “what’s that?” a baby monkey on a leash, “what’s that?” a naked sadhu covered in ashes. “what’s that?” a parade of people with lightbulbs on their heads “what’s that?” a family of langurs. “what’s that?” an excavator digging up more river mud and placing it into the long line of dump trucks waiting to carry it away (watching the excavator has become a daily activity, boy toddler’s dream!), “whats that?” more fireworks. “what’s that?” a goddess. a god. another festival. a temple. a holy river. a monkey on a bicycle, etc, etc… Also, any evening of the week Trekker will say “let’s go find a parade!” and we will probably be able to find one (usually, but not limited to, the form of a wedding procession.) The wedding hall next door also provides us with a nightly fireworks display. And where else do you get to live in the heart of a city yet feed the cows with your food scraps each day?

Trekker getting his “new” tricycle fixed at a roadside bike shop
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Trekker with a pile of puppies
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Trekker greeting “baby Ferdinand”IMG_7596

Trekker’s excavator (we could sit here for hours narrating this scene and sometimes do)IMG_7500

Trekker’s parrot at the river chai shop
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sheep says “bhaaahhhaah”
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Walking city: yes, but, forget the stroller. a stroller would be impossible here due to lack of sidewalks and animal sh*t every 5 feet. But unlike Lisbon, Varanasi is not very spread out and while it is possible to take long walks along the riverside ghats, boat rides are also available which can sort of compensate for that “stroller zen state” I was seeking. A nice long rowboat ride on the Ganges allows both mama and baby to zen out substantially.

Art scene: limited. However, the old peeling layers of paint and crumbling buildings are quite stirring on their own. I’ve already started one wall-inspired painting and if I can manage to find the time, I will work on more.
a wall in our compound
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Strong culture of dancing: yes and no. There is a strong culture of a formal, traditional dance here, known as Kartic, but you don’t see much free-dancing in the streets. Actually that’s not true – the men are dancing in the streets all the time behind their wedding and festival processions, but the women are mostly dancing at home or in private spaces, and dancing is segregated by sex. That said, Trekker and I have started a habit of evening rooftop dancing to the loud music coming from the wedding hall next door which is fun. And at a the outdoor music concert around the corner the other day Trekker really got down to some lively kirtan with a group of local kids (too bad my camera was dead at the time.) Fingers crossed for more of those scenes.

Lots of playgrounds: Nil. There IS one small “playground” thing in a park nearby, but the slide is like a hot frying pan leading to a hole with metal bar that could break a leg. And the park, which doubles as a sleeping grounds for sadhus, is used as a toilet. I didn’t notice this at first but after Trekker’s key-ring toy rolled off the perimeter walkway into a bush and his little hand promptly reached down to grab it but returned holding what looked like a dried human dookey, I understood. I quickly knocked the thing out of his hand but just as soon as it dropped to the floor Trekker stuck his 4 fingers straight into his mouth. In the past when Trekker would touch something seemingly questionable and then go for the mouth I made it a practice to also touch the questionable object with my own fingers and then put them in my mouth under the premiss that i have a stronger immune system and any antibodies I build up against the shared germs would be passed along to Trekker through nursing. But in this case, although we do continue to nurse, I declined. The incident was days ago and he hasn’t shown any signs of sickness so I feel ok about it but a fellow neighborhood mother suggested we take the deworming medicine that her family takes a regular dose of. The same mother and I also discussed the idea of gathering some people (school groups, local politicians) to clean up the park. Lets see what develops..

Kid-friendly restaurants and culture: yes indeed. Indian people LOVE babies. Trekker is welcome everywhere and we find ourselves surrounded by people who are excited about his existence. Restaurant dining is  particularly enjoyable because restaurant staff are usually proactively engaging baby, leaving me more leeway to enjoy my meal. Strangers come up all the time excited to see him and talk to him and he gets loads of attention. This has a slight challenge to it in that people are always wanting to take their picture with him, and grab his cheeks, I guess because he is a foreign baby, and a very cute one, so I do wonder what kind of impression that will leave on him. Will he grow up expecting the paparazzi to follow him? Is that a bad thing? For now he seems to handle the attention well – he gives deadpan face and ignores who he wants and otherwise smiles when he feels like it.

While engagement with the larger community is great and I am getting the chance to interact with other adults each day, the main issue I do have with Varanasi as a place to settle is the traditional conformity of the Indian people and their lack of openness (or awareness) to other ways of doing things. “Single mom” seems to be a foreign concept here, or certainly not a position a woman would ever choose to be in. While Trekker does have regular contact with his darling bio-dad via Skype, and I am sure their relationship will continue to develop as years go on, we have had an unconventional family from the start and that is how it is. I have zero shame about being a single mother and am overwhelmingly grateful to have been blessed with this incredible baby. Trekker has grown up happy so far and people are often remarking about what a happy baby he is. But here in India we are asked at least 5 times a day by complete strangers, mostly men, who come out of nowhere yet seem to have the self-entitled right to ask, (and occasionally in strangely challenging tones,) “where is your husband?” “where is his father?” or to Trekker “where is daddy?” “where is papa?” or pushing it farther with “you missing papa?” “you missing daddy?” all under the assumption that he was raised in a 2 parent home. It has gotten to the point where I’m wondering if this constant line of aggressive questioning could actually create a feeling of lack where there previously wasn’t. I realize that a single-parent home is untraditional for most societies and that the question could come up anywhere but Indian culture in Varanasi seems particularly closed, and sometimes quite pushy, about it.
So, in consideration of the last point, and of the pollution and non-stop noise, I will say Varanasi is not the PERFECT city for single moms with toddlers, though it clearly does have a lot to offer. For now I am taking advantage of these nights filled with howling dogs and honking horns to night-wean, as the noises help cover the sometimes terribly painful moments of protest (will blog tips on this process once it is successful). And I think Varanasi might just be the perfect place to toilet train (squatter toilets are the shnizzle for toilet training!) And considering all the other merits on the list above I think we will at least base here another month or two, but I’m not sure if Varanasi will remain our longterm home.
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Back in Varanasi, for now

vns trash shadowTrekker and I arrived back to our old base in Varanasi, India on the eve of the celebration of Saraswati, a festival where hordes of young men and boys take to the streets in small brigades hoisting large statues of the goddess Saraswati en route to the wooden boats waiting at the edge of the Ganges to deliver the goddess figures to their final resting places in the depths of the river.

Varanasi is India’s oldest living city, and sometimes considered the holiest. It also may also be the strangest and possibly one of the dirtiest. Each time one returns to Varanasi there is a period of adjustment. Other than the logistical hurdles like having to use your terrible Hindi and modified english to negotiate a new SIM card with data plan to get basic internet, or just taking the gas tank to be filled so you can cook and have hot water at home, there are physical, mental, and spiritual adjustments that also need to be made.  Physically, your eyes must adjust to the sepia tone of this dust-covered world, and your ears must adjust to the constant honking, inanely loud (and pretty terrible) music of the wedding hall next door, the almost nightly fireworks, the distant call to prayer, and to the early morning temple bell ringing (which sounds more like a school alarm bell or sleigh bells than the western genre of bells typical to our ‘holy’ places); Your nose must adjust to the must now found in your clothes, blankets, sheets and towels – which doesn’t make the fist night of sleep very pleasant but quickly passes as an unnoticeable part of life in a couple of days. And your lungs must adjust to the pollution of a country whose capital has normalized the forecasting of daily air quality as most other countries would the weather. You will need to adjust to life with no indoor heat or cooling and you must adjust your habits to start hand-washing your laundry in a bucket and boiling water for your hot water bucket-shower. You must adjust to a lot of boiling – you will boil water for drinking, cleaning, and brushing teeth, (if u have previously found reason to not fully trust the semi-expensive water filter u bought last year) and you must adjust to hanging your hand-washed cloth diapers on the line fast enough to dry in time for their use again tomorrow. Your general sensibility must adjust from seeing starving sick dogs and cold puppies everywhere to instead seeing the wondrous beauty of the cycles of old and new life before you. And you must readjust your eyes to look beyond the trash piles you see every 10 feet to see…everything else. Culturally, you will adjust your wardrobe for reasons of showing respect but also out of self-preservation. Wearing loose-fitting baggy clothes is not only culturally appropriate but it will save you the hassle of ass-pats on the streets, I’ve found. You will need to adjust your awareness to become almost spherical in order to navigate the cow manure on the street before you, the bicycle rickshaw an inch to your left, the car honking 2 feet behind you and the water buffalo to your right. You may also need to adjust to being seen as the foreigner, and to feeling that you must come off as a freely accessible, walking ATM machine. And you must not take it personally, how you are being seen, for this is just a byproduct of an existing system that is beyond your control; and because you are here visiting, in their country. You must stop feeling guilty for the insane economic disparity between countries that is suddenly allowing you to afford to pay someone else very little money to sweep your floors and to cook your lunch and start to feel good about providing that someone a job. And you must be weary of a few of these adjustments all the while.

You will go from feeling overwhelmed by the loudness, pollution, and general madness of the streets to feeling an elated calm by your new ability to rise above it all.  You will  go from feeling a general sense of control over your life in the western world and a feeling that you may matter to accepting that you are merely a speck in the masses of people and, like everyone else, you have no choice but to trust that the guy who just handed you a straw for your drink, by the tip of the straw, had washed his hands, or at least that any bacteria you just swallowed with your fresh coconut water will serve to strengthen your immunity for your continued journey.

There will be all sorts of adjustments. And you will go from your mind-on-the-go, never-having-time-to-meditate western world busyness to the much, much crazier India where you somehow do find the time to sit, close your eyes, and instantly transcend into a depth in meditation that you had not experienced in ages, or rather since you were last here. And in that moment when you open your eyes again you will notice that a warm feeling of peace has sprung up within you and is now lighting up your heart from inside, and you will smile in gratitude, feeling that you are home.

But then, even in your relaxed meditative state, while this certain oneness has overcome you and everything seems just about right, you will inevitably, and daily, experience severe cognitive dissonance when a small dusty child in tattered clothes tugs at your sleeve and begs you for money.

Welcome to Varanasi.

Lisbon, a city for romance, not so much toddlers

  IMG_7264   Last week we spent 5 days in gorgeous Lisbon at the home of my friends Alex and Ellis. Lisbon is ridiculously beautiful. Every inch of the city was laid by hand with cobblestone and ornate tile.  Street artists have also taken advantage of the peeling layers of history to add even more beauty to the mix. Wine, which is something I had not tasted in the nearly 3 years since I became pregnant, was so prevalent and inexpensive that I could not resist a glass, and of course had to pair it with some fancy nutty cheese for the total European experience. The sidewalks and squares in Lisbon fully boast cafe tables for outdoor fresh fish feasting,  afternoon wine, or hot chocolate pit-stops. The colors of the buildings and the light (when the sun is out) provide a lift similar to that of southern Spain where everything feels a bit more lofty and weightless.

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Unfortunately it was 90% grey and rainy for the duration of our trip. And we were ill prepared for the chilly winter since we packed for a perpetual spring. But our hosts suited us up sufficiently and we took to the streets (and streetcars) regardless. Public transport is prevalent between the metro, trolleys and buses, and it is necessary because Lisbon feels fairly spread out. Trekker loved riding on trolleys. But as someone who loves (and almost needs) a regular dose of walking, I am seeking to find a cheaper place to replicate last summer’s Brooklyn experience where I would cruise on my feet for hours while Trekker drifted in and out of sleep in his stroller, entertained by urban surroundings. Cobblestone does not allow for cruising. Neither do steep hills.

While I could potentially consider getting in tiptop shape via Lisbon’s hills- there are additional issues with the stroll there- the stroller wheels are constantly getting stuck in places like this:

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and cars are commonly parked across the already narrow sidewalks like this and this:

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These, and the fact that everybody smokes in Lisbon and my toddler stands/strolls at the exact height as a dangling cigarette,  bearing the full brunt of smoke, are impediments to my “ stroller zen zone”. We did take a long stroll on the lovely, hill-less and spacious riverside walkway but Trekker soon tired of the bumpiness. We also tried going out one day without the stroller but that wasn’t so smooth with a heavy toddler either- there was a lot of carrying Trekker up hills and also a few moments of sudden fear that Trekker might fall down a steep hill or plummet the down the long steps from the view perches we stopped at. Also, since so many streets are also cobblestone it was also a bit difficult for Trekker to tell the sidewalk from street in some areas.

The Lisbon people were wonderful though – super polite and kind, very forgiving of my embarrassing lack of Portuguese, and always offering to help lift the stroller on and off of the buses. Portuguese people seem very warm and accepting of children in general. It may or may not also be worthy to note that the men also happened to be quite attractive. Or maybe my libido is finally returning.

 While the people in Lisbon were super kind to help me with our stroller, I realized while in Lisbon that I would rather not use public transport on a regular basis, I’d prefer to live, work and play in one walkable neighborhood like we did in Brooklyn. So why don’t I move to a cheap small town? Because I want to be surrounded by an active street life, variety, options. While Lisbon is known for its active nightlife, as a single mom my social life (other than on Facebook) sometimes exists solely in daytime chance encounters at playgrounds or other public spaces, and my entertainment (other than from children’s books) comes largely from street musicians and people-watching. It’s hard to know if the rain kept more people indoors than usual the week we were in Lisbon but we really just didn’t encounter nearly as many street musicians and weirdos as I would have hoped for. (other than the weirdo below, outside the oceanarium.)

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As for playgrounds, which are another one of my criteria in the perfect city list, I only saw them when I went out searching for them on a map. They do seem to exist but don’t seem to be totally bountiful. Apparently there is a really great playground at Lisbon’s huge city park but its location isn’t very convenient from the center of town with a stroller- you have to take public transport. Aside from playgrounds there is a wonderful Oceanarium where Trekker and I spent a drizzly afternoon, but again this is far away from the center and so wouldn’t be on a lifestyle stroller route.

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My Lisbon synopsis: I feel blessed that I was able to catch up with friends and view the beauty of this romantic city and its people firsthand, and I could certainly imagine living here in another lifetime with a different trajectory, but, due to my circumstances in the here and now, Lisbon does not make the final cut for the best city for single moms with toddlers.