Friday, February 25, 2011

Charity to schools in need

November 17, 2010

Today I went out with Vanya, her charity organizer David from England and other important members from Earth Trust. David came with some donations and today we visited a school to see how we could help them out. The kids had prepared a song for us, and a few presentations about some of the wildlife in the area. It was all in their local language but we had some translators who dubbed us in on what it was about.

The parents even performed a song and a dance for us!

Their wish for the money that was going to be donated to them was to buy some tiles for their bathrooms since the floors were dirt, and it is difficult for them to keep the area clean and sanitary.

(this last picture of an outdoor wall is what they use for the urinal)

When the kids and parents were told that we had the money to give them for the tiles, I cant tell you how happy they were! They were smiling, clapping and so grateful! Their second wish was to have building materials to create a few vermi-compost pits, so they could produce their own compost that could create some income for the school.

David had only one request if the kids were to be granted the materials, that they would write journal entrees about the building of the pits and the creation of the compost. The kids happily obliged.

We all went outside for some group pictures. Right after the kids came up to us, so excited. They asked me my name, where I was from, what my parents names were, if I had siblings, who they were, and how old they were. They asked me what grade of school I was in. I thought that one was the cutest question. I told them I was no longer a student. They were shocked. I just smiled.

This day changed my life. Just seeing how little some schools actually have, but how blessed and grateful every child is for what they do have. Incredible experience. I feel so blessed to have been involved in this process today.

(if you have the opportunity to donate to Earth Trust, do it, it's really a miracle worker in India) - here is the contact info for David

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A field tripping envi-class visits the biodynamic farm

November 16, 2010

So I am staying in Ooty, with a wonderful lady named Vanya. She has a wonderful home and excellent cooks! She oversees over 16 Eco-projects here in the Nilgiris for Earth Trust. One of the operations is a biodynamic farm right next to her home. It is probably close to an acre of property, the plants are huge, delicious and completely disease free!

(just outside her home)

(the path to the garden)

(some of the surrounding view)

(entrance to the garden)

On the days I am not out and about with different projects, I will be here, working in the garden. Collecting seeds, weeding, or mulching.

(a community building that overlooks the garden)

Today, an environmental school group from a high school a few hours away came to visit the farm to learn a little about organic farming.

Anyone who wanted to know what it was like working towards having this as a career, I was given as a reference point. I think the only question I was given was, “Do you ever get bored?” I can't remember what I said, I think I smiled and said no.

It was really great to see city school kids, really getting into the subject! The teacher who gave them the tour of the farm, got them working with their hands with the compost and the manure! It was so impressive to see these kids really opening up and trying new things. Their memory was impeccable as well! The teachers would give them short quizzes after showing them different parts of the farm, and all of them were on top of the questions and answering them all correctly! Maybe I just don't remember high school well enough, but I don't remember kids getting that much out of field-trips.

It was a lot of fun to be working with them. I remember when I was younger I used to think that I would never become a boring old person, I would always remember what it was like to be a kid!

Too much fun.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tamil Nadu

November 12, 2010

I woke up at five this morning to to get to the airport on time.

First was a taxi from Pune to Bombay, a flight from Bombay to Chennai, a flight from Chennai to Coimbatore, then a taxi from Coimbatore to Ooty.

Only in India would you find a butterfly in one of the airport buses. It had found a seat on the windowsill right next to me. Amazing.

I reached Ooty late in the evening, very ready to call it a day.

November 13, 2010

We took a tour around some of the Nilgiri Mountains today!! The mountains are bright green, tea gardens expand through the mountainside. The slopes are steep, the roads narrow. Springs and waterfalls form small streams throughout it all.

To start out the journey, I was shocked to find a truck being held on the road by a rope. I have no idea how they managed this one

Unfortunately my camera died, at the very beginning of the journey, these were the last pictures I was able to take. Our first stop honestly reminded me of the rock on Lion King. But in place of the rock was a tree. A huge old tree. At this particular site, there weren't many trees around. The tree overlooked hundreds of acres of tea gardens. As we walked around the tree, there was a small shrine. I thought it was cute until I saw blood everywhere and a chicken head stabbed through a Triton like staff. Apparently the locals had just performed a chicken sacrifice.

Our next stop on the road was at a prestigious English boarding school. It was the first building that I have been in, in India, that the floor boards were wooden! It is very uncommon to see, but could have only been an influence of the English. Organic matter decomposes so quickly in India from the rains, I would be surprised if the wooden framed school hadn't needed a lot of repair work.

The director invited us in, and served us milk (black) tea with school made biscuits.

I was traveling with Vanya (the wonderful lady I am staying with, who I met through Ameli, and is the director of a number of sustainable projects in the Nilgiris for Earth Trust), and the assistant director Sivakumar, Ameli (who also traveled to the Nilgiris to help out with a few of the projects), and an ecological expert of the region Godwin Bosco.

The goal of the visit was to see if the school would be interested in working with Earth Trust in creating some eco-projects,classes or clubs for the kids. Earth Trust's proposal involved reinvigorating the natural ecology of the Nilgiri Mountains. When the English colonized India, they brought with them the Eucalyptus tree, which is a great tree for wood and medicines-particularly in England, but in India it has been causing some havoc for the native species. The trees secrete some kind of chemical which makes it difficult for other plant life to thrive, the birds avoid them, and their roots grow so deep they empty water reserves faster than they can be replenished.

Earth Trust is working on restoring the Nilgiris original landscape of grasslands and sholas (patches of stunted evergreen forest).

The school director definitely had a bit of a shocked reaction when he found out that the primary goal was to harvest all of their eucalyptus trees (the trees are huge, beautiful and everywhere). But for the sake of ecology and the animals that survive off of the sholas and the grasslands, alternative projects need to be considered.

Stop number 3: An organic tea factory! As soon as you entered the building, it was like being a giant tea cup with out the tea. It was hot, humid and smelled of tea! Maybe that could be a new thing, saunas with tea steam.

Before entering we had to put our feet in a machine that spit out baggies on our shoes. It was fun, haha I could have done that all day.

These particular tea gardens that surrounded the factory were the highest tea gardens in the world, and the coldest! It gets down to -7 degrees F, one of the few places in southern India which develops frost in the winter!

The factory is also fair-trade. But because the place is so remote, there is no cell phone service or internet. This alone, makes it difficult to maintain an adequate supply of workers. The workers also have to travel quite a long distance to get to the site.

But for some, its a relief to be far away, tucked into the remote beautiful landscape.

Pit stop number 4: We drove to some other remote areas. The Earth Trust team were looking for the perfect location to start an eco university. Specifically Godwin's project. The University would teach how to tune yourself into your environment and understand its needs, and how to work with it rather than against it.

The last pit stop of the day was an Organic farm. They were growing fish, tomatoes, and many other crops inside greenhouses. They were using organic fertilizers and pesticides. But it's good to know your farmer! Because sometimes organic pesticides and fertilizers can cause similar damage to the crops and other organisms as synthetic ones. It's all about how you use them.

The tour took all day, and by the time we turned around to go home, it was night already. As we turned on one of the steep roads, a leopard runs right in front of our car!! My first sighting of a cat!! It went by too quick for any kind of pictures! We also spotted Sambar (a huge Indian deer) , and hares!

These roads are windy and steep. And when one car or truck breaks down, it holds up all the rest of the traffic on the road. On our way home a truck broke down. All the men in our car got out to help push start this truck, it was quite a site to see more than 20 men helping each other to get this truck working again.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Serene Ecovillage

November 11th 2010

We decided to drive up to Serene Ecovillage and check out what they are building there!

We saw a video on Youtube which was a great introduction to the goal and the mission of the village. The village was founded by medical doctor who decided to leave his practice, in order to return to the wild country landscape and create a sustainable form of living off of the land.

(check out the video on youtube, called: Jumping from the Urban Train)

For nine years the ex-doctor and his family have been rejuvenating the landscape in the hopes that it will soon become an excellent model of sustainability and influence the creation of many more eco-villages throughout India.

When we got to the site we were greeted by Dipika, Dr. Chordia's daughter. She was carrying some plants (special plants that when dried, are perfect for using as brooms!) up the mountain. We parked outside of their house, and waited for Dr. Chordia to greet us.

On our left were hundreds of trees growing in buckets! I asked Dipika what the plans were to plant all of the trees! She told me that it greatly increased their survival rate, if the trees started out in pots, otherwise if the trees were planted in the ground before they were sturdy enough, animals would forage on them, or other unknown factors would wipe them out before they had a chance.

To my right, in front of the home there was a tree nursery alongside some solar panels!

The Doctor came and greeted us, and Dipika hiked us up the mountain and told us of some of the happenings of the village.

So far, there were only a few families living on the property. There are still some kinks on the land that need to be worked out in order for it to support more people. They started planting trees on the mountain side 9 years ago! But the growth of trees is no fast process, a tree to reach maturity can take 20 plus years! It isn't the case for every tree or every environment, but just to paint an idea of the process involved.

They planted an array of trees to maintain the diversity on the mountainside. She showed us a couple of ponds they had tried to create, but neither seemed to be too successful yet.

The first pond was created by digging a big hole and filling it with cement. Dipika said that the power of the rains filling that pond was too powerful as there was no absorbance of the water into the land once it hit the cement. So it caused some destructive overflows from the pond downhill. The second pond they dug, they dug it closer to the house and not so high on the mountain. But the absorbance in the new location was too much, it held hardly any water! They had put some sort of chemical in with the bottom of the pond, which is supposed to create some sort of cement over time.

But as of now the effect of it was minimal.

She told us how the mountainside was completely degraded when they first arrived, all it supported was rock! No topsoil! They had to hawl soil from the bottom of the mountain to the top! They also have been dealing with the nearby villagers who burn parts of the mountainside each year, because they feel it is the best for the health of the system. But in that process, no trees have any chance of survival!

She spoke of their dream of having land where people can just walk through and pick as much food as they would like. Full of life, and full of abundance!

She showed us their compost toilet.

They had diverted their blackwater into a 10 by 10 area of their backyard. She said the hole was about 20 feet deep, and they filled it with hay to keep the moisture levels and smells at bay. Eventually they planted on top of the pit, different plants that are great at absorbing the excess nitrogen.

There was absolutely no smell, no mess, nothing that would indicate that it was a compost toilet!

They do about 50 experiments with plants and materials every month! The latest experiment were pots to grow plants in, with small pipes protruding from the top. I didn't quite understand the explanation but basically it was a self watering system. Where the plant takes exactly what it needs from a water source and all the excess isn't taken from the water system.

Seemed pretty cool!

After the tour they invited us in for tea, as I peered into the house, the first thing I noticed was a bird chilling on their counter top!!! How awesome! These people are so integrated into their environment, their home is also a home for the birds! They noticed my amazement at the bird in the home, and they told me that there was a whole family of birds living inside!! (sparrows or finches.. I don't know my birds but they were cute! And were flying around the living room and the kitchen the whole while we had our tea!)

They also had these bags of water hanging around their house. They told us that they were used to keep flies away. The flies see their distorted reflection in the bag and think that it is a bigger fly than them, which triggers their flight reaction to reach safety! I didn't see one fly in their home!

The drive home was BEAUTIFUL! We saw the sunset over the mountaintops. I tried to take some pictures but, nothing can compare to real life.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Playing Tourist

November 3rd

My time with the family is etching to an end.

I finally got custom made indian clothes made for me.. officially an indian. Heheh. Im still trying to get used to wearing a scarf backwards. It tends to fall off.. but it's something to work on!

I went to a touristy built up indian village of Rajasthan.. It was a really something else.

I road a camel, I made my first clay pot! It is so much harder than it looks. I tried some interesting Rajastanian food. The food that sticks out in my mind the most, was this ball shaped hollow pastry, and then it is filled with some sort of spiced milk, and you have to eat it whole! I found it kind of awkward, because it is about the size of a ping pong ball, filled with milk, maybe if it were smaller I could have enjoyed it better .

I watched a puppet show, and a magic show. Which was amazing! I have never seen anything like it. The last trick the magician did, he took one of my rings, held it under a blanket, had us hold it, then he waved his hand above the (very thin) blanket, and suddenly I was not holding the ring anymore. He reached over to the other side of the stage, and grabbed a tomato. He slowly started to cut into the tomato, piece by piece. I could see through the pulp of the tomato a bit, and could see that my ring was there!!! He cut more off of the tomato and got my ring out!! It was the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed.

I also had my fortune told, I can't remember exactly what the guy said, I think he said that I would have twins, I would live in America most of my life, and I am an engineer (hehe which isn't true) He said some other things, but sometimes it's nicer to not get your fortune told. What's the point of receiving someone else's interpretation of your own life story? Hmm anyway

I also watched a tight tope walker and some other really talented acts!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Making a decision

October 31

So the past week I have been staying with a wonderful family in Pune,

I've diverted paths with Rico, after I fell ill in Mumbai (Me and Rico travelled to Mumbai for another organic farm project after working on the organic farm at Vasu's), and realized that I needed a break from constant travel.

As well as, allowing myself to fully explore and discover India through different paradigms than strictly permaculture.

So some friends took me in, in Pune, nursed me back to health and I found a wonderful program in the Nilgiri Mountain range, volunteering for an organic plant nursery in a village.

I leave next week!

I am staying with a friend Nithya Shanti. He is a teacher, counselor and healer who travels around giving joy-shops and talks to all sorts of people around the world. Yesterday was the the first joy-shop at the newly formed foundation, Nithya Shanti Foundation.

The Joyshop was excellent! Anyone who is interested can check him out on Facebook or Youtube. It was an all day event, but very inspirational and heart filling!! He has a way of organizing his words to empower your own inner wisdom. Truly beautiful to see the way people unfolded in the joyshop!!

There is an India, which I haven't really noticed until recently but, the magic is still alive here! Miracles are not extraordinary. They are within us, everyday.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Banana Grove

October 15th 2010

Okay! So this morning, we addressed the banana garden.

Problem: the wild pigs digging up banana trees.

But currently we are pulling out all the small banana trees so they don't compete for nutrients with the full-grown banana trees.

My question is, why can't we purposefully leave the small banana trees for the pigs?

Rico was working on digging trenches that surrounded the trees so that they could be easily watered, yet last year the wild pigs came and destroyed all of these trenches right after they were dug. Pigs have very strong snouts and can dig up to 3 feet into the ground to root things up!

I was thinking, what if we planted root vegetables or, something the pigs would like, in the areas we wanted to dig trenches, and let the pigs do the work for us?

Anyway, my questions were left unanswered and we continued working on the garden. I was busy pruning the banana trees of their dead leaves.

For lunch we drove to Vasu's cousins.
It was a huge home, and we ate in the courtyard. As opposed to western culture, where eating is usually about conversation and associating while you sit down with other guests and your hosts, in many places I have been in India, eating is about eating! You sit in a row with the other guests and the hosts will come around and keep adding food to your plate, you are expected to eat rather fast. (or atleast in a faster way than I am used to, because once the guests are fed, then others can be fed, and eventually the women- or the cooks then get to eat)

We were given banana leaves and honestly this is one of the biggest meals I have been served yet! Our hosts kept coming with more rice and more food, if you are not quick enough to say no, they will promptly put more on your banana leaf.

After lunch we took a stroll to the beach, which was not even a kilometer away. It was the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. And the water was warm!! I wanted to go swimming so badly but swimming wasn't allowed in this particular spot because the undercurrent was so strong.

As I looked above, there was a convocation of eagles! I had no idea eagles even lived in India!