(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.)
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:
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
My favorite 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.
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 .. 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.
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!
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.
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..
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.
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.
But then a realization dawned upon Auroson:
The Molecule Must Be Painted Gold.
Then he moved to the “atoms.” (By this point the molecular theory was developing fast and the walls had become atoms.)
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.
and gathered friends and family to move the cube:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.”
The Little Engine that Could also dance the Tango…
(photo highlights of the past few months coming soon)
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.
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.
(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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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…