Sunday, September 12, 2010

Project Number 2: Life University

Sept 08, 2010

Land Management of the to be university, Life University. (

Today Rico, Shyam, Ameli, two representatives from the Center for Sustainable Agriculture (an NGO which helps farmers become organic in the area) and I, all met up for Breakfast to have a meeting about our plans for the work today and the plans for Life University.

In addition to the university serving students to receive their bachelors, masters and doctorates in spiritual sciences, transpersonal sciences and life sciences, the university is also envisioned to become a spiritual retreat, sustainable demonstration and resource site.
(the local villagers have built some temporary structures while all the planning is taking place)

The creators have in mind to eventually
--grow all of the food needed on site.
--bring wisdom about good health through education and health camps.
--create a community market, making sure there is no competition in selling the same goods as some of the surrounding villages.
--establish meditation pyramids, sacred groves, a labyrinth and a prayer garden.
--build an old age home, mental health home, health center (with many different holistic therapists) and a primary youth school.

After discussing some of the key aspects of the University, the six of us made a trip out to the surrounding villages of the university.

The first village was called Nagsan Pally. The villagers were extremely curious, none of them had cars, and we pulled up in a car. It took only a couple of minutes and our whole car was surrounded. None of them spoke english, so it was good we had a couple of translators. They led us to one of their square white buildings. Many places in India—even some stores—it is proper etiquette to take your shoes off at the entrance. So we all took our shoes off and the villagers made sure the six of us had patio chairs to sit on, while 20 or 30 of them crowded into the room with us and made themselves comfortable on the floor. There were only men at the meeting and the ages ranged from about 14 to maybe 90? It's hard to guess ages, because even the elderly are very strong, and I've seen them carry outrageous amounts of weight on top of their heads! They usually have some sort of a scarf, which they wrap around the top of their head, and then either they will stack bricks in the scarf, or big bags of rice, anything!

It's essential that the university creates good relationships with its surrounding neighbors (the villagers)
so the questionnaire that we wrote up for the village was basically to find out about the crops they were growing, how they were growing them, what they knew about the soil, plants and animals in the area, what schools and medical centers they had available to them. Also to find out about pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer use, costs and economic issues in maintianing their farms and the rate of suicide farmers (because of their accumulated debt from unsustainable farming practices)

They told us that from this years crop, they hadn't earned any money from the harvest because of their debts. They have been averaging about 4-5 farmer suicides per year. The village is 2,500 people. They use pesticides and herbicides heavily. And when asked if they were willing to try organic, all the villagers in the room raised their hands.

It was hard to follow the conversation because of course it was in Telagu. And I just received bits of information about what they were talking about here and there. And there were a few Telagu note takers of the interview but we have yet to receive the translated version through email.

I'll give you an update when we receive it :)

The second village we visited, seemed a bit more modern. It looked like they owned their own tractors, and didn't have to rent. We were again guided to a room to seat ourselves with the villagers. This time the discussion was much less about the questionnaire and more so explanations to the villagers about the benefits of organic produce. It became a little difficult to stay awake as we sat there for a few hours not understanding anything that was going on. I decided to keep myself awake by trying to pick out words and write them down, and ask people later what they meant. Anyway, one of the villagers noticed I was taking notes, and all of the attention was on me for a minute. HAHA rather embarrassing, since it really didn't make sense for me to be taking notes since 1- I didn't speak the language and 2- even if I did, it wouldn't make sense for me to be taking notes at that time, since it was one of the Organic Consultants who was explaining the importance of going organic. I stopped taking notes after that. Falling asleep might be more appropriate.

We walked around the land a little after that, and it briefly started to rain. Promptly I had one of the elderly village men at my side with a raised umbrella! What great people! Lol very accommodating anyway.

The monsoon was still way too out of control to visit the land were Life University will be. We tried to go a back-way to the University from the village. But the dirt path was way too swampy, and it could've very well been the villagers toilet. We decided to turn back.

For dinner we ate rice and the same spicy hot five different sauces that taste exactly the same. HOT. Cool. Oh someone asked for our autographs on the road today! I'm pretty sure this is the least visited town by white people in India.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Smelly Train Ride

September 7th
Day 5

Yesterday we left Mysore (where Ameli lives), and we took an overnight train to Hydrabad. The best part about the trip was that I saw my first monkey! He was chilling on top of the train station.

The train was fine, apart from the fact that our seats were right next door to two toilets. It was okay when the windows were open and the train was moving, but once the windows were closed for the night, the smell saturated everything. In the beginning of the train ride, there were many people who tried to sell us things or ask for money. The train was sectioned off into small sitting/laying areas with 8 beds in each section. One side of the section was split off into two triple bunk beds, and the other side of the section was a bunk bed. We locked our things below the bottom bed, apart from a few items-- like my shoes. I was a little paranoid about our stuff throughout the night, since none of us had the beds closest to our stuff, and many people walk through the sections at night. Between the smell, the people and the lack of bedding (all I had was a small towel and scarf for a pillow and a long wrap around skirt for a blanket on a dirty fold down middle bunk), it was quite hard to fall asleep, and I wasn't really sure if I wanted to.

We finally made it to the hotel which is relatively close to our second project, we were going to stay at the land where the project is, but it wasn't really an option since the monsoon season is making the area quite difficult to come to and build accomodations on at this time.

The train ride took about 14 hours or so. I felt so dirty by the time we got to our hotel, I washed up and also decided to wash my clothes from the trip. It took about 3 hours to do so! Because each time I tried to wash them, the smell from the train was still on them and the water would turn black immediately. Now they are just soaking, hopefully the smell will be gone by the end of the day.

For dinner we ordered food for four people and the hotel workers brought up 2 small black bags full of little plastic baggies of food tied off with string. There were dozen of little plastic bags! Tali's are very popular here and they consist of a large portion of rice and then 5 or 6 different little sauces to go with the rice. We had ordered food for 4, so they brought us each individual packaged sauces in separate baggies. I couldn't stop laughing.

After ripping open the baggies and trying to eat, it seems that the smell from the train is still haunting me. Most everything tasted like the train ride. :(

I haven't been a picky eater for years!

I couldn't quite explain to the others why I was having difficulty eating, hopefully this smell will stop haunting me soon..

Lol. Oh india.

Here's a picture of our view outside our hotel, and the little baggies.

There were still way too many baggies to even try to finish half of the food they gave us. We decided to give the rest away. We thought it would be easy to find some beggars, but when you look for them, they suddenly disappear! Rico and I had the task of finding some people in need. But it was more complicated then it seemed, because we didn't want to offend anyone by asking if they needed food, if they didn't. But we finally found a women and two children sitting on the side of the road. No one in this town speaks english, so we hand signed to her that it was food. She looked a little confused, and her eldest daughter gave a nod. We gave them a bag and continued on our way to find another family/person in need. Rico and I, again had much difficulty so we decided to give the second bag to the family we had already found. On our way back we noticed the family was all happily eating, and feeding the small 2 year old the rice. I handed them the second bag, and we went on our way.

We were supposed to go to our new project today. But a creek has overflowed blocking the route so cars cant get in, or people! Unless people want to wade across, which at other times people have had to do. But it isn't recommended since the current is so strong, people can't go alone, they have to link arms and and then wade across.

Vicarabad is the town im in now, and there is no english. The hotel guys love to come in without knocking. When the door is locked, they will still knock about every 5 minutes asking if we want coffee or anything. And everytime we try to tell them, 'no', or that we don't want anything, and we are just trying to sleep, they dont understand. But, thankfully this afternoon, Ameli's friend (Shyam) who is also involved with this second project came, and he speaks both Telagu (the local language) and English! So it's been wonderful to have a translator!

Other than that, we've been looking at contour maps of the land for our second project all afternoon. Rico has been explaining the details of reading maps easily and quickly, and main points to draw from them.
Fun fun, we are all still pretty tired from the train ride.
Super excited to sleep tonight.

A Day off in India

September 5th
Day 3

Today was my day off. This morning Ameli and I went on a walk around town. I saw a funny prancing iguana type lizard. I'll post a picture of it, if I can figure out how! After our walk we met up with Rico, talked about some logistics about farms and what not. I then typed up goals and plant lists for Roopas farm.
Rico left for Bangalore today to see a friend. Ameli took me into town and we tried to shop for walking shoes. Couldn't quite find anything, either it was the color, shape or size that was just off. Some of the shoes the locals tried to sell Ameli were twice the size of her foot, and they kept telling her to just walk around, that the shoes were supposed to be that size and they were the right size. It was very funny. They are quite the sales people here. Things here are very cheap though! An auto into town is only about 1 or 2 dollars. A full meal at a restaurant is about the same. Even though it is so cheap many indians will lie about the price to foreigners, they will say it is 3 or 4 more times the price, which isn't a big deal, but for those who live here that look foreign, it can add up. So haggling is a good thing to learn, especially to practice in order not to be too ripped off for those things that aren't as cheap.

I saw my first camel in India today! Someone was riding it to town! I wasn't quick enough to take out my camera.. but hopefully next time. I also saw the King's palace in Mysore today. Very intricate and beautiful. I didn't get a chance to get too close, but saw it from the gates.

I learned my first Kanada word today (a language spoken in some parts of southern India). “Beta!” It means: “No, I don't want.” Very useful!

Here is a picture of the dancing lizard.. well lol if you can find it

Consultancy Project number 1: Goal Articulation for Roopa's land

September 4th 2010
Day 2
This morning I ate papaya, cheeko (a sweet tropical fruit which looks like a potato on the outside, works like a kiwi to open and prepare, but tastes and looks like fruity, stringy brown sugar), banana, crackers and cake.
Rico, Ameli and I took a taxi to the first permaculture consultancy farm project. Roopa (the lady who owns the piece of land) Made us fresh watermelon juice and a wonderful lunch!
After lunch we discussed the goals she had for her 1.6 acres of land. She has a beautiful piece of property bordering the Cauvery river (which the locals describe as the sacred river of southern India). Currently more than half of the property is planted with marigolds, tomatoes and other crops. The land closer to the river has rosewood, jamoon, neem and achokra trees (pardon my spelling).
The physical structures Roopa wishes to see on her land include:

a home, structures for guests/teachers/therapists, yoga hall, Ayurvedic treatment rooms, alternative therapy rooms, alternative power (mostly solar, maybe some wind/water), all food from the land, organic vegetables, fruit and flowers. She wants to build a small organic shop, where she can sell crafts, produce and perhaps clothes as well. She also wants recreational spaces, such as a swimming pool, treehouse, table tennis, perhaps an art room or a library.

(Pictures above are from Roopa's land)

We checked out the property to see what we were working with.

While exploring the property we saw an otter in the river--I had no idea they lived in the tropics! And apparently there are crocodiles and many snakes, the locals talk about cobras with no tail, because they have 2 heads, one for each end!

A bit about Indian Culture

The culture and the history here is very rich! Many stories are passed down about the land and the gods that used to live among the people. I've only had the chance to hear a few stories, but one of the stories takes place on Chamundi, a small mountain near Ameli's home, where the goddess Durga slayed a massive demon. Many people come to visit the area, at the top of the mountain there is a temple and a statue of the demon in honor of the event. Because of this event all of the jungle on Chamundi and hundreds of acres surrounding the mountain is sacred. But now development has been clear cutting these surrounding areas of wild jungle. People who have heard the jungle come down, told of the screaming birds who could be heard for miles.

Pretty depressing to see the empty jungles.

Flight and First Impressions

September 3rd 2010
Day One

Sunny clear skies for my arrival in India. Everything went relatively smoothly. I had a few issues in the Mombai airport, as much reconstruction was going on after the terrorist attacks three years ago. I think I went through security 4 times. As well as other other sorts of customs and what not. Luckily I met someone who had been living in Ireland but was from India who helped me find my way around to the next plane, which was great!

The first thing I noticed about india when my plane landed was the bright red sand, fluffy lush grass and the palm trees! Many shacks were aligned on either side of the fence outside the aiport. I could see kids lined up at the fence, watching the airplanes come in and take off. Bright blue tarps protected their shacks against the rains.

Food! Indian airplane service is great! On a two hour flight, they fed me a full course! They would never do that in America. Beware of vegetables that look like green beans! Haha my mouth was a bit on fire after I ate the whole thing! Oops. I drank fresh Indian lemonade, definitely less sugar but much more salt. Interesting but quenched the thirst. They served me a sour cream soup with paprika and chopped up onions.. wasn't too much of a fan, but that was really the only thing that I didn't eat, because everything else was very tasty!

I met up with Rico at the airport (The Permaculture Consultant I am apprenticing for.) We took a four hour bus trip to Mysore, and from there we took what is called an Auto(a small car with no doors, and three wheels) to his business partner and friend Ameli's house. The trip was a bit bumpy and you had to hold on, if you didnt want to fall out. The roads are rather hectic, because lines between lanes aren't followed, nor really is the side of the road that you are supposed to drive on. So much goes on, on the sides of the roads here. People say you see everything in NYC, I've seen much more here in a few hours than I ever have in NYC. People are so busy here all the time, the roads are alive with many people. People are logging on the side of the highways, planting, gardening, gathering flowers, fixing curbs, and all with handmade tools, and carrying piles of bricks on their heads! I didn't see so many electric devices. Their ladders are mostly built from bamboo or other big branches. Many many small shops and shacks on the side of the road and roaming dogs, cows and sheep.

I have yet to see animals fenced in- apart from a few chickens I saw in a cage on the side of the road for sale, and a few puppies. Instead there are sheep herders and cow herders that herd their animals around town. The cows sleep in parking lots and highways, but herds of goats or sheep are the main reason for traffic jams. Surprisingly, there isn't a lot of roadkill. Indians are very good at swerving their way through traffic and all sorts of obstacles!
It reminded me of a 'where is waldo' page. So much going on! And the land has a great atmosphere! Beautiful collages on the stone walls, depicting gods, goddesses beautiful valleys and people. The Tropic scenery and climate of the area is very comfortable, because of the monsoon season, there is a nice breeze and perfect temperature. The landscape is beautiful with the palm trees, rocky hills and green mountains. The smells however can be very strong passing through the towns, can't quite describe them as they are very new to me. Some birds here sound very similar to monkeys! I've been tricked a few times in thinking that there must be monkeys outside of my window! But I have been told that they are ground birds, I just have yet to see one.
As for my work here, we are going to a consultancy project tomorrow, where I will be taking notes for the consultants. They will be assessing the land for the layout.

So far things are great. Happy to be here.

Just quickly..

So internet connection is less available than I was thinking it would be, but it seems to be working to just save them to my computer, and then I'll post them when I can.  I'll aim to do that atleast weekly.   
So far, I wrote about my experiences and impressions of India because everything has been so new and different!

For those who are more interested in seeing what I am doing in regards to permaculture and my work here, I am going to try to label either the days or the paragraphs,as such, so look for a label with a project title.
I'll try to get better at keeping my experiences/impressions of India and my work here separate, but especially for this first week they've been almost inseparable. Maybe in a couple of weeks I'll be better at separating the two, but until then,
Happy readings :)