Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Some Home Cookin' for the Team


March 12, 2013

Falling asleep was difficult last night.  The room that we’re in has three windows with just screens and curtains and then four screened holes near the ceiling on one side for ventilation.  There is no sound buffer to the outside world, and we realized that India comes alive at night.

About a half hour went by before the power went out and the fan stopped, so it was just us and the world.  I know I fell asleep because I remember my dreams, but I felt like I was awake for most of the night.  I’m sure tonight will be better as I get used to our new surroundings.

Last night I had attempted to brush my teeth in the community bathrooms and found that the spiders come out in the night.  It was fine when the single light bulb was on in there, but as soon as we had a blackout, I was out of that place.  All I had was the light of our new Nokia cell phone, so I decided a toothpaste rinse was close enough.  Don’t tell my dentist.  I woke up this morning realizing that my toothpaste extravaganza got a little out of control and there were dried white spots all down the front of my shirt and even on my shoulder.  I might have been a little more scared than I let on.

I woke to the sound of our fan coming back on around 6am, and then lay awake watching it and contemplating the world.  The morning is full of a whole new set of noises.  There are the cute little birds that sing nice songs.  There are the roosters that crow before the sun comes up and don’t stop crowing even though it’s been up for an hour.  There are what I call the “key change” birds.  They do a three note song that goes up in key every time it sings (think Celine Dion or Bon Jovi – “we’re halfwaaay there!”), then when it gets too high, the bird starts back down low again.  Then, there are the crows.  They make regular crow caws, but every once in a while they do this terrible, long scream, like a young boy who got punched in the gut.  The melodies are nice until those stupid crows chime in.

As I lay there, missing my developed world and my comforter and air conditioner and cat and American food and coffee and Western sit-style toilet that I don’t have to share with 30 other people, I started to laugh at my situation.

People live here.  They deal with it, they thrive in it, and I’m whining to myself about how I miss all the luxuries that I can certainly live without.  Our American lifestyles make survival so darn easy.  We don’t have to worry about whether or not the water that’s available at anytime and in every place we go is going to make us sick.  We don’t have to worry about whether or not we’ll be able to have a single meal today – some people go to bed hungry, but the amount of Americans dying of starvation are pretty hard to come by.

What we do have to worry about are things that we’ve put in place to complicate our lives.  It’s like we got bored with the whole survival thing because we figured it out, so we added more complications to keep us busy.  I don’t have a great commentary here, I just wanted to make myself feel better in our really-not-that-bad-at-all living conditions.

Matt finally woke up, so we had our bananas that we bought yesterday from our Petrol lady and took our malaria medicine, itched our mosquito bites from the night and wondered if we had Dengue fever to look forward to, then headed off to the bakery to find breakfast.  We did our usual routine of buying two flaky pastries, one chocolate and one banana, for a whopping $1.13, then headed to the Tea Stop behind the bakery to have our breakfast with chai, for a whopping $.55.

We were supposed to meet at the Prakti lab at 10am to go into the village and visit a home that cooks with a traditional, outdoor, concrete stove.  Mouhsine’s plan was to have Nithya, the office manager for Prakti in India, give a stove to this family and have them test it out for a week at which point they could decide to buy it.  Matt and I had our cameras ready.

We met at the office to find the team working away.  They finally had power back!  Everyone was jumping for joy!  Yea power!  Yea internet!  Too bad we’re headed into the field today…

Matt shooting as they prepare lunch.
Mouhsine, Nithya, Sabagya, Katherine, Matt and I motored over to the other side of town to a family’s home.  Mouhsine described them as the top of the base of the income pyramid.  They welcomed us in and gave us some sweetened cucumber juice that tasted just like melon.  (Matt and I made a mental note to pop some Pepto Bismal later).  They were happy to cook lunch for all of us and demonstrate how they use their traditional stove.

Theirs was made out of poured concrete and formed the equivalent of a two-burner stove.  They loaded it with wood, lit it up and began boiling up potatoes and vegetables and pouring in the spices.  It smelled wonderful!  The coolest part was watching them cut up the vegetables using a piece of metal that stood upright on a stand and they pressed the vegetables up against it to cut them – rather than laying the vegetables down and pressing a knife onto them like we would.  The fact that they were doing this all outside in the dirt made me realize why they used this method.

This is our host's stove area.
We filmed for about an hour and interviewed them about how they liked their stove.  Mouhsine brought them a double-burner Prakti stove that he wanted them to try out and Nithya translated and explained to them what the deal was.  They said that they would be happy to test it out and said that we could come back and film in two days to show them cooking on the Prakti stove.

The brought us upstairs in their home and laid out straw mats on the floor for us to sit on, then laid out large pieces of banana leaves on the floor in front of us.  They dumped a pile of rice on each leaf then poured the piping hot curry on top of that. Then, they put a small pile of spiced potatoes next to our big pile of curry rice.  Potatoes are a delicacy since they are so hard to grow here in this region, so they gave them to us since we were their guests.

Our banana leaf meal.
Matt and I got a lesson on how to eat with our hands, Indian-style.  You use your four fingers as a spoon and load up rice and curry onto the tips, then you use your thumb to push the food up into your mouth, avoiding contact with your mouth and your hand. Make sure to only use your right hand, though. Then, you shake off the excess bits of food back onto your banana leaf, and go in for more.  (Matt and I made a mental note to pop a couple more Pepto Bismals later hoping to avoid putting our left hand to work…if you know what I mean.)

When you finish, you fold the banana leaf in half, but you have to make sure that you fold it the correct direction, otherwise, you’ve offended your hosts.  It was really nice to have Nithya there to guide us since we had a culture and language barrier working against us.

I'm basically a local.
For dessert, they handed us metal cups full of a hot, white gel with what looked like tapioca and spaghetti suspended in it.  It tasted a little bit like tapioca pudding.  It was sweet and milky, but also potentially dangerous.  It’s very offensive not to finish your plate here, so when your host gives you something, you have to work on it at least a little.  Matt and I were faced with the challenge of walking the line between cultural sensitivity and gastrointestinal tolerance.  Knowing that we no longer have our own private bathroom, we’d prefer to stay on the safe side, but knowing that we’re getting sick video means we might just have to risk it.

After we finished lunch, we thanked our hosts, then visited their sister’s house just next door.  Her home is a single room, clay hut with a thatch roof.  They make their money off of milk and eggs and they gave us a tour of their dirt yard where they keep the cows, goats and chickens.  They had little week-old goats that enjoyed sucking on anything we put on the ground.  The tripod, backpack, toes, you name it, they nibbled it.  They were so darn cute!

Our hosts picked limes from their tree and made us some fresh lime juice which Matt and I finally had to turn down.  Our stomachs definitely can’t handle their water, so I offended them by saying no, and Matt took his and later “accidently” spilled it behind a barrel.  Whoops.

We headed back to Youth Camp, hot and very sweaty.  We had the afternoon off, so we decided to take our showers and do our laundry in the buckets that they have in the showers.  We’ve been doing some pretty serious re-wearing of our clothes, so our plastic dirty clothes bag got to the point of no return.  Attempting to fly to Cambodia with this stench might constitute getting a hazardous materials permit. We HAD to do something about it.  We utilized the clothesline that hangs behind our building and dangled our shirts and pants outside and then decorated our room with socks and undies using Matt’s parachute cord as a makeshift clothesline.

Feeling refreshed, we headed back out on the town to collect some b-roll of Auroville.  We had to get the Matrimandir, some street traffic and townscapes.  We began with the Matrimandir.  It’s a giant globe in the center of town with a white padded room inside for meditation.  Some people might say it’s a little bit cultish, but here in Auroville, they say it’s a legacy of enlightenment meant for all humanity.  Well, the slice of humanity who are dedicated enough to get a guest pass, tour the gardens, wait two days, watch the orientation video, prove that you’re spiritually open and seeking enlightenment, then get another pass that gets you past the gates into the inner globe, up the spiral staircase, then up the winding ramps where you can meditate in a white padded room with a golden crystal in the middle.  We’ve still got four more days here, and we’re extremely curious.  We’ll see what happens.

Matrimandir is impressively large and surrounded by walkways and gardens that spiral away from it.  It’s definitely worth looking up Auroville on Google Maps and seeing it from the air.

While we were suspiciously hanging out at the locked gate with our tripod and camera precariously teetering over the fence to get a good shot, a motored rickshaw pulled up and out came an old Indian woman.  We heard the driver say something to her in Tamil, the language they speak here, which was littered with the English word, “camera.”  She tottered out of the rickshaw toward us, pulling up her sari and walked straight up to Matt who was ignoring her hoping she would go away.  I smiled and waved politely, and she smiled back.

She walked up to Matt and bumped him out of the way so that she could assess the image we were capturing.  She looked at the screen, then looked at Matt and gave him an approving thumbs up.  She said something that we didn’t understand, but it ended in “super,” so we felt that she was pleased.  She abruptly turned around back to the rickshaw, got in and pointed forward for her driver to head out.  A small cloud of dust, and she was gone leaving us wondering who she worked for.  We theorized that maybe Mark and Larissa had called for a creative director on the ground to check in on us.  Seems legit.

We hopped back on our moped and took of for the visitor’s centre.  We had our hearts set on peanuts and espresso, but when we arrived, we realized that this little coffee shop had “iceberg coffee.”  What?!  Ice cream floating in coffee drizzled with chocolate?!  On this hot and humid day, we have nothing to say, but, “two please.”

We filled up our water bottles with the dynamized drinking water and sipped our glacier coffees and ate our peanuts happily in the dwindling heat.  We wanted to make it back to the middle of town before the sun set to get some town footage, so we toodled on our merry way.

After our town shots, we headed back to Youth Camp to drop off our gear and charge our batteries, but the power was out, as usual.  We decided it would be best to just move on for some dinner and hope that the power was back on when we got home in the dark.  We had our heart set on Roma’s again, but they were having some sort of group party that foreigners weren’t welcome at, so we headed for Farm Fresh.  We decided to spring for their burgers, but after an hour’s wait, realized they forgot about us.  We ordered dosa, which is apparently the only thing on their late night menu, and we finished that and went for bed.  A quick dinner turned into a three-hour waiting period, but we’re on India time now.  No complaints.

When we got back to our camp, we had power.  Woo hoo!  We brushed our teeth in the light, then decided to read a little bit before bed.  At 10pm, the power shut off, so we laid in the dark talking.  A man next door to us in his screened room decided to make a phone call in the dark.  He was definitely Indian, but we couldn’t tell if he was laughing or crying.  Either way, he was doing it loudly, and for a very long time.  We started to make scenarios of who he was talking to and what they were talking about, and they got to be so funny, I think the man heard us laughing and shut up.  Sleep came easily after that.