Monday, March 11, 2013

Meeting the Prakti Team


March 7, 2013

Myanmar was a great pre-cursor to India because I’ve gotten used to being barefoot everywhere.  You take your shoes off and leave them outside at the hotel and also at the Prakti office.

Matt and I got to sleep in until 8:30am, which was a wonderful break from the Myanmarian sunrises and 8:00am breakfast times on the ship.  Halfway through the night we woke up with a chill realizing we had our A/C on max.  We were too tired and groggy to do anything about it, so we just pulled up the covers and made due.  Luckily, the rolling power outages regulated the temperature in the room well enough so that when we awoke, it was back to a balmy, calm, no-power temperature.

At 9:30am, Mouhsine came to pick up the crowd of people who had gathered throughout the night.  We met three more new faces that work for Prakti from Nepal, Colorado and Spain.  The others had gotten in pretty late, so they were still tired from their travels, but seemed ready enough to go.

Mouhsine had two motorcycles and a taxi to get the eight of us over to a bakery for breakfast.

We’re in a very interesting location.  I would highly recommend you look up the history of Auroville and read about how unique it is as a town.  Our hotel is technically in Pondicherry, but just outside of Auroville.  Mouhsine explained that Auroville is made up of 2,000 people.  1,000 are locals and the rest are foreigners who have come to live and work.  The majority are French and German, and the rest are from 60 different nationalities.  It’s a big experiment that stemmed out of the late 1960’s when a bunch of French hippie-types came to India to set up a commune.

Auroville is unique and Mouhsine says that there really isn’t anywhere else like it in India.  In a way, we’re not experiencing India, we’re experiencing Auroville.  It feels very much like an Indian Boulder, Colorado.  The community is very green, healthy, natural and artistic.  There are many intellectuals that come to follow their passions rather than make money.  It’s simple living, but also expensive compared to the other parts around it since the land is so limited and all belongs to Auroville.  You can have the land for free, but you build and pay a tax on your home or business.

We found ourselves at a French bakery for breakfast and picked out a smattery of croissants and breads to take with us to the back of the building where there is a tea house.  Well, where there are picnic tables covered by an awning with milk tea in a jug outside.  Regardless, it was quaint and delicious as our first breakfast together.  It was fun to get to know the other members of Mouhsine’s team.  A couple of them he had never actually met in person, so it must have been fun for him, too.

After we finished breakfast, we took our motorcycles and taxi to the office.  It’s hard to describe the office.  It’s a funky, clay dome house with a kind of sun room off the side where they have put in a big conference table.  The dome part of the house is like a giant kiln and holds a bathroom and kitchen off the sides.  There is another dome off the side of that part where they have a small prototyping workshop.  It is here where they test the CO output of the stoves and also test the durability of the stoves.  A woman is there five days a week and her whole job is to run the stove until it breaks so that they can see how long it will last under the roughest conditions.

We met the final members of the team and also one of the cooks that makes lunch for the team when they are working there during other parts of the year.  They only cook food and make tea on their stoves as a way to continue proving their product.

We found Minh along the way.  He is Mouhsine’s colleague who has been on the ship with us, but had a visa issue and got Shanghai’ed in Singapore.  So, he went straight to India and had been waiting for us ever since.

The morning started off with introductions around the table and we got to hear all of the interesting backgrounds of each of the employees and also how they came to work for Prakti.  It’s an amazing group of really clever people who seem to meld well together.  They all have great personalities, and Matt and I got along with the group right away.

We settled in after a tour of the property, and they began a SWOT analysis of their company to see what their strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats are right now.  It was interesting to get to sit in on such an in-depth analysis of someone’s business.  We didn’t film the whole time, but definitely got a taste for how hard it is to be an entrepreneur in the start-up phase.

The location is beautiful and although it’s ridiculously hot and humid here, the concrete dome building made for an okay location to hang out for the day.  Plus, having no shoes on kept us even cooler.  There was no power there when we arrived because there was a wicked rain storm last week that knocked out power to the whole area.  The generator wasn’t working and the batteries weren’t charge for back-up power, so we continued the day in the peaceful silence of natural light and air.

The no-power thing was okay, but then we realized that we would have no internet anywhere that we were working or sleeping.  This was a bigger deal for the business people who needed to keep in touch at home.

At one point, the fans above us surged on, and we had internet!  I frantically sent out an e-mail to those I thought would be wondering about us and hit send just before everything died again.  The rest of the day, we went without.

For lunch, we visited a local restaurant in Auroville where we were introduced to the term, “Veg.”  It sounded like what one would do on a Saturday morning under normal circumstances in the States, but it is actually the term for most of Auroville, which means they don’t eat meat.  We had a “veg” lunch of rice, noodles, curry and guava fruit juice under a giant jackfruit tree.

Dozens of clear plastic bags hung from the giant branches filled with water.  Apparently, it’s a natural way to ward off the mosquitos without using chemicals or sprays.  Matt thought that if you were extra dehyderated, you just pulled up to the IV bar and got yourself a hit of the dangling hydration.  He was told that he was sorely mistaken.

Lunch was delicious, and we all headed back to the office to continue the SWOT activity.  For an afternoon goody, the cook brought out chai teas for everyone.  It was the best chai I’ve ever had.  Hot, milky, sweet and hit the spot for the afternoon snack.  Mouhsine had bought some cashew cookies earlier, so we delighted in sweets to reenergize and finish out the afternoon.

For dinner we headed off to an Italian pizza place that was started by an Italian man who came to Auroville to start his pizza business.  Lots of interesting ex-pats here.

The pizza was totally amazing. It was flatbread, brickoven pizza.  We had four that we split: the spicy, the sweety, the sea global and the british.  My favorite was the sweety (listen up Chef Kristen).  It had tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, gorgonzola, olive oil and apples baked together to make a magic little slice of heaven.  With ten days here, I’ll be going back to this spot to have that pizza again.

We had some good conversation getting to know each other better, then motorbike caravanned back to the hotel to get some sleep.  Matt and I felt very nasty from two days of travel, sweat and dirt and decided to explore the showers.  You have to turn on a switch on the wall to activate the hot water, then wait.  And wait.  And eventually you get hot water coming out of the spigot next to the toilet.  You fill up a big blue bucket, then use the measuring cup inside to dump water on yourself.  It’s a bucket shower!  Very exhilarating, and seemingly efficient.

Our bucket showers complete, we wrapped up in our white sheets and wandered off into dreamland.