Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sadhana Forest


March 10, 2013

Our orders were to be at the Prakti office around 3pm when the team would begin working, so we skipped out on breakfast and decided to run our morning errands.  We needed to load up on water, hit up the ATM and get a couple litres of petrol for our hog.  (AKA – the moped)

We also went and retrieved a SIM card for the cell phone that we’re borrowing from Kevin and Tory.  They bought it in Vietnam and don’t need it again until South Africa, so they gave it to us.  I had no idea that you didn’t have to sign your life away on a two-year contract in other countries.

In order to purchase a SIM card for your phone, it takes 3-5 days, your passport information, visa and about 200 rupees.  If you’d like a SIM card that doesn’t require those documents and can be used right when it enters the phone, it merely requires going to the right person and paying 500 rupees.  With the help of a local, we sprung for the latter.

Our new ride.
New method of communication in hand, we visited Farm Fresh for lunch and discovered the most delicious dosa we’ve had yet.  Dosa is like a thicker crepe that’s larger than a dinner plate and they fold it in half with delicious things inside.  Matt ordered up a mint dosa which came packed full of hot, muddled mint leaves that you dip in a milky, chickpea chutney.  Magic.  Pure magic.  I had a veg dosa (AKA vegetable) which came with the same chutney, but instead of mint was loaded with crunchy onions, tomatoes and peppers.  Mega good!

We also ordered up another magical concoction made up of hot lemon water with mint and honey.  The honey melts and the mint must steep a little and it makes for another magical treat.  Surprisingly still hits the spot on a hot day.

After enjoying our lunch, we got an SMS on our brand spankin’ new calling device from Mouhsine to meet the Prakti team at 3pm at the visitor’s center.  We were headed to the forest to film.  What that means, we weren’t quite sure.

We had about an hour and a half to get there, so we leisurely finished our lunch and headed off for our hotel.  A man stopped me before we exited the Farm Fresh courtyard because he recognized the Unreasonable logo on my t-shirt.  He ran a business called Kanthari, which is similar to the Unreasonable Institute in that they have five branches that help particular types of businesses.  His main focus is disabilities and Braille Without Borders, but couldn’t believe that we were here in Auroville since he had been researching about it and trying to connect with someone.  Small world!

Card in hand, I promised to reach out to him, which I will because his organization sounds very Unreasonable – in a good way.  We headed to the hotel to gather our camera and meet the Prakti team out at the visitors center.

Just park 'er there.
We made it in time to grab an espresso from Mouhsine’s favorite espresso stand, then caravanned in a direction that we had never been before.  We rode down dirt roads, which turned to oil roads, which turned to a main road highway complete with trucks, vans, cars and a toll booth.  Matt and I were 2nd to last in the line of two-wheeled vehicles heading for the forest, and we really appreciated the fact that we had Walt behind us. Walt is a seasoned motorcycling professional who looked out for us whenever we were on our moped.  It’s too bad he’s going back to Colorado tomorrow.

Our panic was comforted slightly by the fact that we were just crossing the highway and not riding down it for a long distance.  We all made it across, and found ourselves entering a gate that said Sadhana Forest.  We rode down a long and winding dirt road until we reached what looked like a place to park our bikes.

Mouhsine led us into the Sadhana Forest community, which is a sustainable living commune that has the goal of re-foresting the region on the outskirts of Auroville, and they want to do it sustainably.  They live in bamboo huts that are elevated off the ground, and the people that live there for 1-2 years get their own hut, but those that come for 2-10 weeks as volunteers live in large shared huts.

Volunteers pay their way to get there and pay about $2 a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Then, they go through spiritual cleansing (not sure what that entails) and also work from 6-8 hours planting trees and building dams to bring back the water and the forest in the area.

Inside the Sadhana Forest
community building made
of bamboo.
Mouhsine felt very comfortable just walking right in and bringing us to the kitchen area where we found five different Prakti stoves that the people who live there use for making tea, dosa bread and also boiling larger pots of food.  Everything is wood powered, and the  stoves are extremely efficient, so they take very little wood which the people gather from around the area.  It’s sustainable the way that they’ve got it set up, they say.

Next to the stoves were four stationary bicycles that were attached to a single turbine.  When people rode the bikes they could charge batteries for power.  Next to those bikes was another bike nearer to the kitchen that had a blender on the back of it.  Man-powered blender – can’t get much more sustainable than that.

We saw a group of fellows boiling a giant vat of potatoes for supper and cutting up greens and onions.  Mouhsine pointed out the three stoves that they had brought in as prototypes five years ago, and they’re still in use!  On the open-house nights on Fridays, these cooks use the stoves to make dinner for up to 400 people.

Mouhsine showed his team around and talked about what they’ve changed since these early prototypes and why they changed it.  He also talked about the fact that one of the stoves was being used inefficiently.  It had far too much fuel (wood) in it, and not enough room for the air to get through.  A lot of wasted energy since the flame was coming up past the top of the pot.

A man came up and said hello to us.  He was very friendly and told us that he had been there for 10 weeks and was moving out the next day.  He was sad to go, but said it was his time to move on.  He saw that we were looking at the stoves, and he started raving about how great the dosa stove was.  He told us how to use it and how perfectly it cooked the dosa.  Mouhsine just smiled. 

After he walked away, Mouhsine took the top of the stove off to show the design inside.  This was an early prototype for these larger, flat-surface cook stoves and showed that it needed a redesign because of the way that the intern had designed it.  The main heat source was deflected around some concrete insulation so that there wasn’t a hot spot in the stove.  We learned a lot about stoves!

Matt's precarious filming.
We walked around a little longer, and Mouhsine was spotted by a woman in her swimsuit.  She embraced him and the five children that were following in their swimsuits and towels all yelled hello to him.  He’s a celebrity here!

Five years ago when this place was just starting and when Prakti was just starting, they helped each other out by creating a way for Sadhana to stop using gas for their cooking, and for Prakti to test out their prototypes.  They’ve been good friends ever since.

We decided to go back and continue our tour to the mud pit where the children were headed for an afternoon swim.  It seemed like something we needed to go see, so we all followed along.  Of course, Matt and I are filming all the exchanges, and we’re getting more and more surprised at what we’ve come upon.

The children stopped at a round bamboo hut that had chimes and a dijeridoo in it.  They clanged around in there a bit, and as we waited for them, the founder of the place came and greeted us.  Imagine the father from Fiddler on the Roof, and you’ve got this guy, only Arabic.  He was a jolly welcoming man, happy to have us there, and as usual, Mouhsine downplayed the cameras to his celebrity status, and we were accepted to film all further interactions.

He, the woman and the children led us to a gate which led us on a long trail to the mud pit.  The kids hopped into the mud pond and immediately turned orange because of the dry, red dirt.  They splashed and threw mud on each other and played.  We all dipped our toes in, and enjoyed the peaceful moment out in the middle of nowhere in a big red mud pit.  The children laughing and the cool breeze in the shade made it a lovely place to be.

Our daylight was coming to an end, so the team said good-bye and we hiked back to the village area.  Matt and I caught a quick interview with Mouhsine just outside the main gate, and then asked him to do a fake walk-up as if he were arriving.  He obliged and walked behind the closest hut, and we told him to come back.  “Would you like regular or could I do it salsa style?” he yelled from behind the hut.  “Regular will be fine,” Matt said.  Only with Mouhsine do we get requested for “salsa style” walk-ups.  You gotta love this guy.

Our caravan led us back across the highway and back into Auroville where we stopped in at Tanto’s pizza for dinner.  They’ve come to know us here, and we ordered up our favorite pizzas and fresh fruit juices.  Today’s special was tangerine.  It went down nicely.