Tuesday, January 27, 2009


*hello in Tamil

Today is a very good day. A day off from working on the project - a much needed day of freaking REST! We wake early enough to start work at 7. It's waaay hot by 10, we work until noon-thirty. Break for lunch. A bit of a nap, or if you're feeling brave (or masochistic) a half-hour walk to nearby Kanyanbari for a snack. Then back to work at 3:30. We're all pretty wiped out. Yesterday we knocked off work at lunchtime and the rest of the day we kicked back. On previous weekends, we've been going to other permaculture sites and even to see the Dalai Lama. It's all been extremely INDIA, and stimulating, and everything you probably think it is plus a lot of other things. But we're all spread pretty thin.

Several weeks ago while talking with friends Cami and Denis in Eugene about how they portion their days out when they live in India, they told me about a long midday break. At the time, I admit to thinking, "oh come on, how hot can it be? I don't want to miss a single minute of the day...can't imagine sleeping any of it away...." Now I come to see the wisdom and necessity of an early rise, a lengthy siesta, and lots of chai in between and amongst it all!

So today, lots of rest after a mid-morning jaunt to the village for two enormous bags of veggies so we can make dinner together (we're giving the cooks a night off) (plus we are all really craving LOTS of veggies, so we're going to free-for-all-it....veggies are more like a condiment here, as a general rule). I made some lemon-sugar-salt juice in the kitchen and talked with Mageshari and Kala, the cooks. They asked how much we spent on the veggies and I told them Rs95 (95 rupees...it's just under fifty rupes per US dollar right now). Maggie's eyes opened wide and she tut-tutted, 'too much!'. Erin and I were shaking our heads at how little we spent on food enough for fifteen (this means a veggie stir-fry AND a fresh salad) (don't worry, the fresh veggies haven't killed us off...we have potable drinking and washing water here at the school). For example, the lemons I paid Rs1 each for should have been TWO lemons for the same price. Doesn't seem like worth haggling to us - we are, after all, easy marks and far richer than any of the locals....

My eyes and mind are slowly tuning in to how things work and look here. I can liken it to the time when my young friend Ryan opened my fridge and then my cupboards about a year ago. He said, "There's nothing to eat!" because I don't generally buy packaged food. But as anyone who knows me knows, I am a foodie, and I cook and make a lot of food and squirrel away food, so my larder was really full. When I walk the streets of villages and cities here, it's still largely undifferentiated. Inside the stalls or small concrete cells are a wealth of information and resources. I've walked by internet cafe's, copy shops, apothecaries, and god knows what-all-else because my eyes aren't accustomed to seeing things the way they are here. But it's all here.

Some of my favorite novels and films are ones that portray worlds where hi-and-low-tech is superimposed or juxtaposed. Sometimes the hi-tech is folded nicely in to society and isn't a visual focal point; the native culture and natural environments are preserved and cultivated. Sometimes the hi-tech is glaring (think Ridley Scott with Blade Runner). I kind of feel like I'm in one of those novels or films. I guess that most peoples' experience of India is one of disparity, polarization, opposites and extremes. I mean, here I am in a rural place with no satellite dish, squat toilets, etc....and someone has manage to patch us through to the internet with a paperclip and a wad of chewing gum (just kidding....but you get the idea).

Here's a quick rundown of some of our crew:

Sugar is a teacher for our permaculture intro, and she hails from Cottage Grove, which is all of thirty minutes from Eugene. We met each other for the first time in Chennai. How about them apples? I love Sugar. Pictures hopefully forthcoming. I've been trying to upload a piccie of our sweet shop merchant taken this morning, but so far, no joy.

Kate is from London, Matt (who reminds me of my bro SO MUCH) is from Birmingham. Corey, Erin, and Neil are all from the Pacific Northwest as well (what the....?!). Ricki is from Ottawa. Our natural building instructor, Elke, lives in Victoria BC, originally from Germany. Chris is from Germany. Ethan is from Georgia, but currently calls Delhi home and will for the next several months. Janet is from Northern California.

Some randoms:

There are two chickens on property who freely roam and I'm astounded that they've managed to keep their heads attached to their plump feathery bodies. We're rennovating one of the cob buildings where they've been accustomed to roosting and nesting. The other day one of them came clucking and squawking in and laid an egg on the empty cement mix bags with all of us chipping away at the plaster around them. Mmmmm, eggs. Thanks chicken!

Right now Matt is playing his guitar somewhere, and singing. His singing voice is folksy and raspy and nice, not at all like his British accent. It's very sunny, I've found an empty classroom with power and Ethan has given me his adaptor so I can plug in and type. Matt's also playing his harmonica enthusiastically.

Kate is also an artist. We share a lot in common; she's 26 and I can relate to her a lot, especially when I was her age. She also gives me great advice, far beyond her 26 years. She's married to an Indian and they're spending a bit of time apart for now. She's usually covered up in traditional Indian fashion, looking quite lovely and fetching, with salwar kameez (loose flowing roomy trousers and a long overshirt) and a scarf draped around her shoulders. Today, since it's a rest day, and because it's so darn hot, she's been going around in just her spaghetti strap overshirt (with trousers). It's startling to see her bare shoulders, and I find myself either staring or averting my eyes. So now I have a taste of what our native hosts must feel like when the rest of us westerners run around in shorts and tank tops.

But actually, everyone here is so great, and they take everything in stride, it's amazing. And here at the school, we've been assured that it's quite alright to dress down.

I think I hear a Muslim prayer over the loudspeakers a few kilometers away. It's one of my favorite sounds. I feel goosepimply every time I hear the prayer-songs. It's not too much heard out here though...Muslims are more in the north.

When we went to the Dalai Lama's audience at the University of Chennai, I have to say that while I was definitely charmed and pretty happy about seeing the DL, I was supremely moved by the woman who sang the opening song. There is something about the tones, the gliding notes, goes right to my core.

And about His Holiness...well, I wasn't expecting or searching for any great epiphanies, and in that I was not disappointed. It wasn't wasted on me or anything, but I think I'm going through a great questioning and rethinking about how I look outside of myself for big answers, when I really know quite a lot about what I need already. On the other hand, I recognize that when I'm left to my own devices for any great length of time, I can become quite droopy and despondent. Being around other people, while a big pain in my arse-end sometimes, is being a really good thing for me. Ummmmm.....lots to be said here, but in a nutshell, 'no man is an island, yo'.

I moved from the tents into a classroom to sleep each night, because I was careless and left snacks out and a rodent found them and visited nightly, chewing holes in my new backpacks, shitting all over everything, and running all over me at night. The tents are really quite the awesome structures, up off the ground and made with thatch. It's been cold in the early morning though, so a mattress on the ground in a concrete structure has been great for sleeping rat-free and warmly.

I've seen two scorpions and a ginormous spider. Lots of ants, which like to bite some poeple better than others (like Kate, who quite literally had ants in her pants at one point, and brought her to tears).

We're situated amongst rice paddies, goats, hills, and lots of families who make bricks for a living. This means a lot of smoke in our valley. And being so far south, and among so much smoke makes for AMAZING sunsets. Has anyone out there ever seen the Indian sun at day's end? O yo yo! (that's Tamil for....wow, or oh no!, or oh my god, or...you get the picture).

I haven't written a bunch for reasons other than very limited and spotty access to the 'net. Many days I've been feeling even more lost and upended than usual (which is no surprise, really). Haven't wanted to write with a false cheer, and while I can appreciate some things about India right off the bat so far, there is still a big part of me who feels disappointed and sad about what I'm seeing. I mean I knew that it was going to be polluted and dirty...and it is, in the cities we've been to so far. I don't understand why people throw their shit everywhere. Even if there is no garbage service, why do they litter so much? Most of the city streets and buildings are filthy, smelly, and in disrepair. I get that there are loads of people living here, and that as an American I've been pretty damned privileged with clean water, etc etc etc. But how is it that a nation who is also so invested in spirituality and aesthetics can also not bat an eyelash at all the trash everywhere? I feel a bit snotty saying all this, but also, I just feel really depressed when I see so much unkempt and uncared for places, dingy and dank.

I'm also really learning about how my ideas of 'clean' have been shaped over the course of my life. Not to say I'm going to stop washing my hands with soap, but -- I thought I was pretty good at being grubby and stuff before...I am learning more about how to be one with the dirt.

There is another village not far from here, in the opposite direction from Kanyanbari. The villagers tend to their surroundings in a way I haven't seen before. The buildings, even if they're in some state of disrepair, are taken care of, as are the streets, which are swept. All (or most of) the litter is taken to one of a few spots off the main road. It's a peaceful little place with a temple atop a hill, and monkeys in the huge tree on the way (pictures hopefully forthcoming!!!). What makes this village so different from others that I've seen?

Okay I'm done for now, folks. There are so many things I want to relay about this confounding place but my brain is churning and my back and butt are spent from hunching over this laptop. There are things here that are so different from the west that I know would be great to relay to give you an idea of what it's like here, but I think that already I forget what they are since they've been a part of my daily life even if it's only been a mere month now.

One thing I can say is, I am relearning English! People who speak English here speak it as fast as they do their native tongue, Tamil. Which is really fast. Sometimes I have to ask someone three or four times to repeat themselves just to understand my own mother tongue and it's naught to do with the accent. Ha! So when we try out our Tamil words and phrases, we say them so slowly that they make nearly no sense at all to the locals. Short words pronounced nearly correctly draw puzzled looks, but also many a gap-toothed, heartfelt smile.

Bye for now...I'll leave you with an email I mass-emailed this morning:

hey everyone!

Please forgive me for doing this mass-emailing thing, it's only in the interest of time and resources. Thanks to all for saying hi and howdy-do, I have loved hearing from everyone....it's an even more piquant sort of feeling of course since I'm no longer in what I've called home for the last thirteen odd years. It's more than that; even though some of us have been separated by great geographical distances before I uprooted myself and packed my life into a backpack for parts unknown in India, I'm now thinking of y'all from a completely different, uh...geographical location. Whuh? Ya know what I mean?

For those of you who I haven't talked with in awhile....helloooooo! I'm in India!! And I'm traveling for an extended period and I'm open to anywhere and if you have an extra spot of ground for me to sleep on I'd love to visit you :)

Anyway - it's becoming hotter than Hades here, just sitting around drinking lemon sugar salt water brings on a sweat. But I'm not complaining!! Because I'm not cold and wet under a blanket of damp woolly skies! Wheeeeeeee.

The project here at the Buddha Smiles school and Garden of Peace is very admirable and kick-ass in some respects, and a whole lot of disheartening what-the-hell-ness in others. Typical life...and typical of India, I keep hearing. The question of appropriate building for this climate hasn't been properly addressed: we're rennovating a schoolroom that was built a few years ago and has been riddled with termites. We made our first mud bricks and cob yesterday. Today a member of our venerable, hard-working, mosquito-bitten team turned the bricks on their sides (for drying) and the termites are already at work on them again. We are all wondering why we are building a mud building in a place where the building will start crumbling virtually as soon as we rebuild it. Hmmmmmmm.

Meanwhile, the staff here are delightful. It's fun knowing them and knowing their turns of phrases (we're learning a bit of Tamil, the official language of Tamil Nadu, the state we're in) and sense of humor. The cooks never stop and they turn out food not only for us three times a day, but six days a week there are about a hundred school kids here who are fed a midday meal as well. There's no running water, but there is potable water a-plenty, plumbed from a 300 ft. well on property. The water in this area is especially good, better than most in India. So far I haven't had the shits, although every other day some little bitty bug runs on through my tract. Not bad!

There IS electricity here, and another brilliant soul has patched us through some kind of cellular uplink connected to a laptop so we take turns on the internet. Is that not crazy?? Ha ha haaa!!

I find that I'm liking the squat toilets far more than I anticipated. And, cover your eyes if this is too much information, but I'm sharing it because it is of great personal significance, I haven't used any toilet paper for weeks now. You wipe with your left hand (aided by copious amount of water, and in my case, I carry soap into the loo with me), and eat with your right. It's not like people never wash their hands....the less I know the better. I'm glad I can't see germs with my naked eyes.

Yesterday I squished around in the mud pit for cob making (sand, dirt, water, fiber). This is also a milestone for me. I think because of the psychological factor -- I mean, I see and smell so much shit and litter and filth here, I think the very ground is infused with it. Plus the cob mix is slurpy and slimy. I can eat oysters no problem, but putting my bare feet into that slobbery mud mix makes my stomach turn. But yesterday our instructor eased me into it, and while I wasn't happily slapping around in the mud, at least I wasn't hurling chunks and pulling my hair out.

I think that's all for now - I want to upload some pictures on to my blog, so I'm going to see if this laptop has the capabilities. I'm gonna go grab my USB connector and give it a go. I'll post this letter on my blog along with pics as soon as I can


and I'll write more to individual folks as soon as I can too

much slobbery love to each and all
ps -- I'm drawing again, after a loooong dry spell. Sweeeeeet.

Friday, January 02, 2009

exerpts from the sub-continent

ok, I know you want pictures, but for now all I got for ya are two missives I wrote to my gal pals in Eugene. Maybe some fine day I'll have enough time to transcribe my hand-written travel-journal!

India = too many words to describe any old way.

Ugh, I just tried to copy and paste and it's in one vomitous chunk, rather than all the lovely paragraphs I contrive in email. Ah well.


hi!! Just a quickie....I think it's still New Year's Day here. It's either been one looong day or one loooong night, and it doesn't matter which, because I'm here safe and sound and it is INCREDIBLE!!! It's pretty weird to be here in the space of only a day's worth of travel. It's everything you think India would be and then some. I'm either on the verge of tears or giggles or outright whooping laughter. I kind of freaked out on the plane a bit, so the worst of that is over (at least for the moment). Our hosts are soooo so sweet. We are living in a very spacious place. I love the house. The windows are all open. There is a kitchen garden on the roof. There are all kinds of edible and ornamentals in the yard. I watched cows and dogs roam around on the streets this morning. My roommate is Sugar Fisk - tell Ariana, because I think she's the one who said that Sugar is involved in the local permaculture scene. Sugar is one of the teachers for our workshop. She is great, I liked her immediately. Last night (or whatever) at the airport, it was sooo crowded. It being New Year's and all. Sridar (our host) and his friend Raju picked me up and we wound our way to Sridar's through a maze of streets, people honking horns constantly, but like beep beep, not HOOOONK BEEEP BEEEP....motorscooters and autos (taxis, like golf carts, three wheels) careened all over the road, it was a madcap carnival ride I tell you. This morning Shrimathi (Sridar's wife) walked with us through the neighborhood. We were given free sticky sweet rice in honor of a guru or a god - served in a banana leaf bowl....a little further on Shrimathi bought us each a coconut. In a few deft strokes with a machete, the man in charge had severed the top and stuck a straw in for us to drink the milk. Shrimathi says it's best to drink on an empty stomach....very cleansing. REALLY YUMMY. When we finished the milk, we gave the nuts back to the man for further flaying. He split them open and served us the meat...tender, like fillets of fish, not tough (these were young coconuts). Then we walked to the seashore, not too far, and stood in the warm Bay of Bengal for quite some time, chatting. We walked on, and back and forth, and through the neighborhood again. We eat all the time, but it's not heavy, and I feel so good. I'm barefoot. All the time. Tonight we went to an amazing concert. I can't remember the names of all the instruments, but I pretty much cried (at least inside) throughought. Esteemed muscians, studying for their whole lives of course. No malaria here...Sridar says it is only near 'good water', not standing water, that they congregate. The bad mosquitos, that is. So even though they landed on me without impunity, I'm sure I'm just fine. I also smashed my toe last night (last night? whenever..it was dark anyway...) on the ledge leading up to our room from the bathroom. The bathrooms are all tiled since you basically sluice yourself in the room and it's easier to just wash it all down (I love it)...so the bathrooms are drop-down. I didn't realize that on my way out. Peeled my toenail back but good (my big toe's neighbor) - but, it doesn't hurt, and I poured tea tree oil on it, and soaked it in the salt water at the sea today. All is well. I better sign off. We're rising at 5am tomorrow; Shrimathi wants to take us to a very old and large temple in the morning, and we're game. She asked if she should arrange for a driver (they employ a driver, a night watchman, a couple of house maids and a cook...it's one big happy family...but not ostentatious in the least). Okay, uh...sure! The prayers are sung aloud three (or maybe more?) times a day over the loudspeaker...it's beautiful (Jacque you were right!). Sugar said she was trying to picture that broadcast over suburban Eugene or Cottage Grove (she lived in Cottage Grove!!).


Hmmmm...I think it's still thursday here. If it's friday there, I hope the pour went well. If not, I hope it goes well! I think India is twelve hours 'ahead' of Oregon. Sooooo....it's a quarter to three in the afternoon as I write. On thursday. Ummm...wait. Maybe it's friday. Wow! I hope I don't miss the workshop, I can't seem to keep it all straight. So fuck it, I won't :) Thanks for the note. Yeah, it is REALLY WEIRD to be here, besides the fact that it's less than a day's worth of travel to transverse the globe like that. Trippy. Today we woke up early (I was up at 3am, so I tried to meditate, and I did some stretches) and went to a temple about a half hour away...yeah, we hired the driver! Crazy! But it's the norm for this family. The family doesn't put on airs or anything. Anyway...we went to the temple and the sun rose while we were there, and they gave us little flower bouquets for our hair, and dark blood red turmeric for bindis (spot in your forehead), pongal (sweet rice)...it was really nice, but yeah you know...so different! It was a really old temple (4,000 years), but very unassuming. Not one of the really ornate over the top ones. That'll come later I'm sure. I wish I had taken a picture of a grasshopper we saw in the yard yesterday, perched on an eggplant. Shrimuthi (pronounced like 'shri mutti') has planted lots of food around - there are over 80 varieties of spinach here (in India, not in the garden). There's a neem tree, too. It's a great pesticide. I used neem oil last year for the chard that was struggling with leaf minors. I think it helped.....Shrimuthi and Shridar (her husband) explained how they use the neem leaves for a good manure (manure is another way of saying 'mulch'). Oh so the grasshopper....brilliant yellow, red, and blue. I mean - uh, wow. And big. The bugs are big, yes they are, but so far I have not seen any big hair eight-leggers. Last night outside before the concert we saw some bees...did I mention the bigness of bugs....these were black and irridescent, I thought they were beetles. HUGE The mosquitoes are pretty healthy, too. This afternoon we hit the markets! Sugar and I shopped for textiles (I went a little ape shit, Sugar was a bit more restrained...how does she do that??). Later we'll go to a tailor. I need to email Camille for her recommendation on that. Clothes shopping - way more fun this way. At least so far. The materials are wonderful, I bought enough to make several tops and a couple pair of pants, for about $16.00. I have no idea what to expect in the way of tailoring costs, but I'm sure it's going to be eminently reasonable :) I bought a buttload of fruit for a huge chilled bowl later. Shrimuthi fixed us a pretty hefty breakfast this morning, around 9 or maybe 10am. I'm still full, but I am craving some juicy fruits. I think we're going out later for more shopping. Sugar packed even lighter than I - she needs a good pair of sandals. I can't wait to see what she buys...also what she commissions a tailor to make. Sugar is petite, but fiery, and animated (yeah, despite her restraint!). So I think that the outfit she has planned will look super cute and funky on her.


sooooo...so far, no diarrhea from either end, and the jetlag is just about out of my system too. I haven't needed a nap yet today.