Burning those masala dosas!

By Patricia Molinos

 

On the second day of this new year at 6:30am two buses were already at the parking lot waiting for those who had signed up for the early morning Gingee trip. Our first stop was for breakfast at Sristi Village, and since the driver did not know the way and I have been going there the past weeks (it is the organization I am working for), our trip coordinator Sacha Elder asked me to sit in the front and give the chauffeur directions. I was one of the few who did not sleep on the way. “What if we miss the left we must take because I’m not paying attention!!”, I kept repeating to myself, so phone in my hands with Google Maps opened (just in case :-p), I stayed focused on the road. We finally made it to Sristi Village and our sleepy faces vanished away as we were served some South Indian traditional breakfast prepared by the residents and staff of the village. It was delicious! Karthik created this inclusive village for intellectually disabled people in 2013, where he aims to train them in farming so that in the future they can have an independent and dignified life generating their own income. His goal is to give an opportunity to the 355 kids in need of special education living in the surrounding villages near Kunamangalam (between Pondicherry and Mailam). We ended our visit planting a tree together with some members of the community and we headed back to the buses.

After almost another hour and a half on the road, we reached Gingee, in Villupuram District (Tamil Nadu). “Ah! It’s not that high!”, we all said as we were taking water bottles and some snacks and sandwiches Sacha had bought for us. Only a few minutes later we realized we were wrong…What a climb! The stairs were the steepest I had ever witnessed, some of them being more than half a meter tall! The more we climbed the more monkeys we found. Some of them did not notice our presence and continued playing, while others kept their eyes on us following all our moves. We were told not to take the snacks out of our bags while climbing, since it would not be the first time monkeys steal food from the hikers’ hands. After taking several breaks under some shadows we found on the way, we finally made it to the top of the Gingee Fort Hill with our now sweaty t-shirts. From there we could have a 360-degree beautiful vision and many angles we could take good pictures from. The views were awesome!

The fort was originally built by the Chola dynasty during the 9th century and modified during the 13th century. It was under the control of different regional powers like the Kurumbar, the Nayaks, the Marathas, Bijapur sultans, the Moghuls, Carnatic Nawabs, the French and the finally the British in 1761. As Sacha explained, the fort is closely associated with Raja Tej Singh, who lost his life there when trying to revolt against the Nawabs of the Carnatic who ruled this region of South India between 1690 and 1801.

fullsizerender-7We met in front of the buses again around 1pm and headed to an ancient temple that is only five minutes away from the Gingee Fort. The group made it to the heart of the sacred building, where we received the blessing of two temple men with some kinds of crystal-sugar cubs, an azafrin rounded mark on hour foreheads, incense and some words they pronounced.

It was a really awesome day that combined both culture related learning, amusement, and also some intense exercise, very convenient to try to make up for all the masala dosas, dals, lassis, and Gobi Manchurians that we all are eating quite regularly here 😉

The Function, Fear, and Freedom of Education

by Elizabeth McGehee

My eyes wandered from a burning candle beneath a portrait of The Mother to a row of her books lined along a dusty metal bookshelf. I intended to pick up something to read that might enlighten my spiritual thinking, to be thematically in touch with the Aurovillian philosophy… I flipped through and a paperback titled “Think on these Things” by Krishnamurti stood out to me. The book was instructing me to carry out my very own will: to think. And “things” seemed to be very obscure, so I was curious to discover what these “things” might possibly be. So I pulled it out in a cloud of dust and added it to my small stack.

Secretly, my secondary reasoning for choosing a book like this was to help me doze off and fall asleep with, perhaps, some peace of mind or clarity in thought. I wasn’t prepared for what would in fact be a jolting kickstart in my train of thought—following every phrase my mind concocted sweeping questions: “Why is this so? How is this so? What if…” And the “what if” posed the most daunting search for an answer.

Krishnamurti begins by speaking of education. I was enticed by this topic, but slightly intimidated to dive into it. It is of the most controversial issues of the present, and has become stretched and twisted and inextricably stuck to other great controversies: money, jobs, human rights, discrimination. Education was stripped of its essence as a basic human right, and became an issue of selectivity and accessibility. Thus, those who do not have an advantage in the aforementioned elements will be the deprived: people who are straddling or beneath the poverty line, people of color, people from underdeveloped regions, people who are intellectually and/or physically disabled, women and girls.

But the way Krishnamurti deconstructs the ideologies of education paints a very comprehensive picture of what it truly means to be educated. In our current and collective mindset, to be educated is to reach the “gateway to success”. Yet, we must consider: how does this mindset define success, and what are the meanings we associated with the state of being successful? Today, success is recognized in materialism – luxury, wealth, the ability to indulge. These achievements, however, exist temporarily; they are unfulfilling, shallow, and are proponents of competition. This notion of competitiveness is of great importance to Krishnamurti’s theoretical analysis of education, for to be in competition with others is to lock yourself up, to be fearful, and thus to be unfree. And this is the key to understanding what it means to be truly educated – it is to be free.

The function of education should be to understand the whole process of life, “with all its subtleties, with its extraordinary beauty, its sorrows and joy”. To be able to truly learn is to think freely, to learn about and understand yourself without being fearful, so that you can discover the true beauty of life in the world and how you exist within it. The function of education is not merely academic.

And this process seems, to us, to be a basic human right—we are always told to “be true to ourselves”. It appears that as long as you are a breathing, conscious human being, you are capable of this process of self-discovery and nonconformity. But what happens when you are taught to do the opposite? To confine yourself within a box of stereotypes and labels?

When a man is told not to cry, this is because he must “act like a man”. But, to cry is to express one’s sadness, and to feel it throughout the body, and to recognize that it is real. And only by expressing it can you truly understand that there is something sad within you, and by recognizing its existence can you begin to try and asses it, cope with it, and heal. But by being given a formula to live by (in this instance, to be “masculine”) you are told to take a part of your true self and suppress it, suffocate it, until that part of yourself no longer exists. And this leaves humanity fractured: anxious, insecure, and fearful. And there is no freedom in being fearful.

For the last two weeks in Auroville, I witnessed the incredible effort to bring about this freedom: I witnessed women helping other women work towards being free from the deeply rooted fear that persists throughout where they’re from in the villages. Through educational programs and activities, The Life Education Centre (LEC) aims to help village women recognize their own potential—their abilities, talents, strengths, and rights—so that they could begin paving a path towards a freer, more sustainable lifestyle.

The daily life of a woman from a small village is essentially limited to staying in the house, preparing food, taking care of the family, and only going out to take care of the livestock or the garden. Starting from childhood, women are relegated solely as the caretaker of their fathers, their husbands, and their children. I interviewed one of the women who studied and worked at LEC. Her name was Saravaneshwari, and she spoke about how her brother was educated because he was a boy, and that she was told by her parents, “stay at home, don’t go anywhere” except to milk the cows. Since coming to LEC, she was able to grow the parts of her that were shut away for many years. She learned how to interact with people, something that once made her feel scared and unconfident. She came to learn embroidery, computer skills, and to ride a scooter. She now has a job and makes an income, helping her to be independent and feel more comfortable in her daily life.

The women partake in workshops that teach them about medical care, reproductive health, post-trauma awareness, and counseling to help grow their knowledge about the importance of personal health and how to go about receiving treatment. Through their My Education program (“Yen Kalvi” in Tamil), women learn basic subjects like math, english, and computer skills to contribute towards their skills that could serve in the workplace. LEC has recently implemented an entrepreneurial skills development program to teach women about the processes inherent in building a start-up, like managing finances and facilitating a business strategy. This helps them to realize their capacities and follow their dreams of starting a business.

“There is a need from within inside that’s already there”, says Devi, who organizes the programs at LEC. “And the girls don’t even know if it’s okay to express that need”. Through the provided education tools, LEC not only teaches women practical and useful skills to help them be independent, but also guides them to look deeply within themselves so that they understand what they need to feel confident, empowered, and true to themselves. Women learn to express how they feel, discover what they love, and understand that they have the right to learn about themselves and the world around them. And from this comes a profound and true sense of freedom.

Environmental Catastrophe

After a breath taking presentation at the conference room at Wastless by Ribhu Vohra who is the co-founder of Wastless organization which focuses on waste crises and approaches to solve it. We discussed the waste crises and Wastless’s role in educating a new generation that cares about the environment. One thing Ribhu said that captured me was “I want to educate a new generation that when they want to elect a new Indian governor, to choose the one who cares about the environment and the mother nature”. Ribhu also talked about recycling and how there are only few places that recycle because not all citizens separate compostable waste from non-compostable waste.

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Mixed Waste dumped in the dumpsite in Pondicherry

Ribhu decided to show us the crises or, as I would call it, the catastrophe with our own eyes. AUP students visited the dumpsite in Pondicherry and on the way, we visited the recycling workshop where Indian women separate compostable waste from non-compostable waste. Ribhu gave us a lecture while we were in the dump, where the garbage of Pondicherry’s one million residents and Auroville’s residents is dumped in the 25-acre dump yard! None of us could breath and the smell was awful. Security men asked us not to take photos as none of the governors want to show this to the world, yet I was able to capture few photos with my phone, as every time I hold my camera the security guard would shout at me.

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Separated compostable waste

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An Indian woman holding a plastic item after separating compostable waste from non-compostable waste.

Explaining this catastrophe from a scientific matter; the waste decomposes and it generates heat and highly flammable methane gas. The gas combusts, igniting other materials: paper, plastics, rubber, cloth. The waste then smolders in a low-temperature fire, producing massive amounts of smoke, and generating persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including dioxins, furans and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which rank among the most hazardous substances known to man. Such toxins are consumed by and accumulate in wildlife and livestock at the site such as cows and chickens, then transfer the toxins to humans through eggs, meat and milk, as Ribhu explained. Regarding this information, we can imagine the number of illnesses and the risk of cancer facing the residents and the future generations.

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The dumpsite in Pondicherry

The situation raises several questions: What were the authorities thinking when they decided to create a massive open dumpsite? The site violates several provisions of the government’s garbage management regulations. The rules prohibit the open dumping and uncontrolled burning of mixed waste. In other words, the dumping and burning of mixed waste are punishable offenses yet no one is doing any action. As citizens of the world, we MUST take care of our world, not only for us but for our children. Which made me recall this quote by Arthur C. Clarke “This is the first age that’s paid much attention to the future, which is a little ironic since we might have one!”

By Nehal AbuMarahiel

To the Mother we all Share

by Elizabeth McGehee

As humans, we are endlessly fostering relationships between ourselves and those who surrounds us. This process is an innate part of our collective social being; it is how we thrive and find our own identities by communicating with one another.

And while it is through social relationships that we find the means to define our “social selves”, we constitute our physical existence in relation to our environment, to the material world in which we live. As humans create – cultivate, industrialize, digitalize – we realize our existence, we transcend ourselves, by testing our limits and paving our way into the future.

We must, however, think critically about how these relationships affect us depending on which “kind” of material which we choose to relate to. And it is safe to assume that, in today’s society, we have forgotten about the most important tangible element with which to have a relationship, and that is Mother Earth. 

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A man named Krishna reminds us of this grave misfortune as we follow in his path, winding beneath a forest of towering banana trees which comprise a portion of his 6-acre “Solitude Farm”. He is dynamic, very literally down-to-earth, and speaks with passion when talking about nature and permaculture, a form of sustainable agriculture. It is through teaching us about this method that Krishna leaves us feeling hopeful despite knowing that we have lost touch with nature.

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We must reject industrialized farming, he says, and recognize the beautifully complex and unmodified gifts of nature. We must cultivate these gifts in a way that values and appreciates them – in a way that is natural and nourishing to the earth. By doing this, we can simultaneously nourish ourselves in the purest, most wholeful way possible, because “it is our birthright to be well”, says Krishna.

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In following the model of permaculture as a means of being well, we must start at the very literal roots of the process. “Soil comes first” Krishna explains, as it is the basis for a civilization. To have healthy people, we must have healthy plants, and this is only possible if we have healthy soil. By composting and refraining from clearing natural debris, soil becomes rich and porous, creating a sustainable basis for plants to grow continuously, eventually creating a self-sustaining ecosystem. Permaculture avoids modes of organization used in regular farming, so nature is left undisturbed to flourish on its own.

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We must value each and every part of the plants once they have grown. We must make use of the roots, the stems, the bark, the leaves, the petals. In saying this, Krishna mentions Ayurveda, an ancient traditional Hindu system of medicine dating back to 5000 b.c., whose therapeutic remedies “developed through daily life experiences with the mutual relationship between mankind and nature”.

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Krishna picked a small blue flower whose botanical name is Clitoria Ternatea. The roots, seeds, leaves, and petals have diverse Ayurvedic properties and are used for medicinal purposes. It can be applied externally, made into a paste and applied to calm inflammations or used as a natural “anti-age” cream. When consumed, (extracted into a tea, eaten raw, or frying the seeds) it cleanses the bladder and relieves indigestion. The “medhya” herbs improve vision, as well as memory and learning abilities; it can also be used to help treat children with impaired cognitive functions in developmental stages. One can gather from the flower’s name that it’s properties might be beneficial for a woman’s reproductive organ; this assumption is spot on, as it helps to lighten a heavy period, prevent or treat uterus prolapse by strengthening pelvic muscles and ligaments, and sooth vaginal infections. 

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So as nature provides us with these miraculous gifts, we must show our devotion by using them to their full potential, letting nothing go to waste. By doing this, we have a chance to restore our relationship with Mother Nature. We have a chance to remember that every little leaf and every drop of water connect to something much greater – and that is our source of life. Mother Nature does not speak or walk, but she drinks, breathes, flows, soaks in the sun, and grows to live like we do. And without her, there would simply be no “we”.


We ended our visit with a delicious and diverse “farm-to-plate” lunch. Each day, they serve a “Thali” dish, which is comprised of small portions of food—different salads, chutneys, masala, rices, and dahl—straight from Solitude Farms—and, the ever-present staple of Indian dishes, a warm and fluffy piece of naan.    

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Creating a Sustainable Supply Chain: For the Love of Coffee.

By Jon Daniel McKiever

To say my internship at Marc’s Coffee Café was a rewarding experience is a gross understatement. I initially chose this organization two weeks ago because I knew it would provide me with the unique challenges I was seeking…plus, I love coffee!

I wanted marketing experience by designing promotional material for one of the local organizations. Marc needed a photographer and I had luckily purchased a new camera the day before we left for India! I knew photography would provide the creative outlet I desired and this experience would force me to work with unfamiliar software to design a marketable product for Marc and Mati.

My assignment was to tell a story of coffee from “seed to cup” through photography. Then I needed to incorporate these photos into a 2017 calendar I would design for the café. While my initial motives for choosing Marc’s café were of pure self-interest, I quickly realized this enriching work experiment would teach me much more than I’d initially anticipated.

By centering the theme of my calendar around the value chain of coffee and those involved in the process, I recognized the opportunity this experiment provided to educate prospective customers at Marc’s café about where their coffee originated.

But first….

Some Quick Coffee Facts about India:

  1. In India, “there are approximately 250,000 coffee growers; 98% of them are small growers. Over 90% of them are small farms consisting of 10 acres or less.” (1).
  1. Coffee is predominately an export-commodity in India; however, “coffee planters in India are finding significant traction in the domestic market.” (2)

Due to recent campaigns to source locally, coffee plantations are able to find more business with local coffee suppliers throughout India. It’s businesses like Marc’s Café who’ve realized the importance of maintaining a sustainable supply chain for commodities like coffee. Their endeavors have helped “develop a deeper and sustainable sourcing relationship with Indian coffee growers.” (2).

One of the coffee farms Marc’s café purchases their coffee from is Julien Peak (located up the mountains from Yercaud). This particular coffee plantation sees the value of certifying their organic and sustainable farming practices through an organization called UTZ.

UTZ’s motto is “Better Farming. Better Future.” They are one of the certification companies that are similar to what people know as being “Fair Trade.” This organizations mission and vision are posted below.

UTZ Mission

Our mission is to create a world where sustainable farming is the norm. Sustainable farming helps farmers, workers and their families to fulfill their ambitions and contributes to safeguard the world’s resources, now and in the future. (3).

UTZ Vision

A world where sustainable farming is the norm is a world where: farmers implement good agricultural practices and manage their farms profitably with respect for people and planet; industry invests in and rewards sustainable production, and consumers can enjoy and trust the products they buy. (3).

During my internship, I was able to visit Julien Peak in order to meet the coffee laborers. This experience has helped me realize I now want to work in supply chain management for a sustainable business to ensure all workers who help create finalized products are compensated with fair wages and respectable living standards. I’d also like to continue to gain experience in marketing for a sustainable company through storytelling like I did for Marc’s Café. Below you fill find photos from the 2017 Coffee Calendar with an explanation of the calendar’s purpose.

Enjoy!

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Found above are some of the laborers who’ve planted, cultivated, harvested, sorted, pulped, picked, cleaned, and packed up coffee beans to provide a robust cup of coffee for customers of Marc’s Cafe.

The purpose of this calendar was to tell their story.  It’s easy to forget the labor that goes into producing a seamlessly simple product such as coffee. The aim of the calendar was to reveal the complexities, and beauty, of the coffee supply chain.

This calendar sought to expose the value chain of coffee. By taking the viewer on a visual journey from seed to cup, Marc’s Café hopes consumers will appreciate the labor of love required to produce coffee. By purchasing products at Marc’s Café, costumers are directly supporting the livelihoods of the coffee laborers shown throughout this calendar. For further information about products and Marc’s story, please follow the links below.

Website: http://www.marcscoffees.com

Instagram: @marcscoffees

Facebook: Marc’s café, Roast & Taste

References:

  1. Lee, Hau Leung; Lee, Chung-Yee (2007). Building supply chain excellence in emerging economies. pp. 293–94. ISBN0-387-38428-6.
  1. India Brand Equity Foundation. “Coffee Statistics.” Coffee Production in India, Coffee Industry, Cultivation, Statistics. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
  1. UTZ. “About UTZ.” UTZ.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 Jan. 2017. <https://www.utz.org/who-we-are/about-utz/&gt;.

No Pictures Please

By Fasia Hardy

How we dress, speak , and walk are all apart of our culture . The best part about traveling is experiencing the new in the other. But I  question when appreciation of someones beauty goes too far.  Where is the line between fascination and improperness

My first day in India would set the tone for my month stay.  Once my classmates and I stepped off the plane in to India it was a free for all for pictures of women in their saris and their children. No one asked if they could I take a picture. Some classmates went as far as to pick up a woman’s child to take a picture for Instagram.  None of them learning who these people are let alone their name.  I can only imagine what there thinking as they wake up to start their day and a stranger is taking pictures as if they found a UFO.

For many of my classmates they will never experience the awkwardness of being the other but I had the bazar experience of being the other in a land I didn’t call home from people I found fascinating. I notice I was on display when I was at a museum and people where not taking pictures of the sounding facts but of me! Women gathered around me to take a picture as if I was Beyonce touching my clothes and pulling at my hair.  Many of the women wanted to know how I did my hair and if I could teach them.  From this point on my hair would introduce me before I would say a word.

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I found it interesting how the indian culture values hair so similar to African Americans. Long think hair seems to be everyones goal around the world. Instead of beads or clips the women put flowers in their hair. My gold clips were fascinating to the women and even men. I honestly felt joy from some women or little girls who giggled and smiled as we exchanged complaints and hair advice.  Although at times the constant question about my hair can be awkward or out of place. Meetings, cars and conversations have been stopped to ask me about my hair. Followed by a hand that immediately makes me cringe. This wave of irritation is fleeting and comes with mix emotions.

I can not control the actions of others but I can simply state; I am sensitive about my hair. My hair is my crown just like a child is a mothers world.  Please be mindful.

Arranged Marriage in Tamil Nadu

Force, inequality and oppression are what I think of when I hear arranged marriage. I picture young girls pressured to marry older men – having their voice and power ripped away from them as they are reduced to a dowry. But this westernized impression was turned upside-down once I actually met people who have the first-hand experience with an arranged marriage.

The first explanation came from a 40-something-year-old Tamil man who grew up in Kuilapalayam and now owns not only a successful production company but an arts education foundation the promotes positive social change for children through multimedia. After casually mentioning his arranged marriage over small talk at lunch he explained that this marriage was a relief for him. He trusted his parents’ judgement and did not want to worry about finding a wife out of love. Meanwhile his wife, who speaks little English, sat and smiled at me while more questions burned in my head. But before I worked up the courage to speak he continued. He is a modern man and understands how quickly India is changing and therefore his daughters (ages 13 and 19) have the option to decide if they want a love or arranged marriage. He just wants them to be happy. But what if they don’t want either?

A week later, his 19-year-old daughter continued this inside perspective.  Our conversation began over lunch because her mother wanted to know about my plans for marriage. After a few jokes about becoming a dog lady or marrying for EU citizenship (which unfortunately got lost in translation) I reluctantly explained that I do not see myself getting married anytime soon or even at all. This answer was met with their understanding and enthusiasm as the 19-year-old daughter proudly explained that she just recently decided to have an arranged marriage by the time she would be 22 – my age.

She echoed her father’s explanation as she didn’t want to worry about finding a husband out of love and trusted her parents’ decision. She also wouldn’t be marrying somebody she didn’t know, or even didn’t like, because in an arranged marriage there is a five-month process where should would get to know the suitors and ultimately will the final decision out of the men her parents would select for her. If after they were married they decided to get divorced (although she reiterated many times that it is rare) she would have the financial and emotional support of her family. If she were to have a love marriage divorce would be entirely her fault and neither person would have familial support. She added that her family has no sons and must think about the dowry her family will have to pay while emphasizing that this marriage is for the benefit of her entire village and not just for her personal future.

She continued with a story about her “selfish” friends that had just married unexpectedly for love out of a passionate affair. In Tamil culture, a marriage should take both families and the entire community’s benefit into consideration as it is not about what just the couple wants. This is an important part of her culture that she sees fading with modernization and this 19-year-old girl does not want to see it completely disappear. She wants to be a strong, independent and intelligent woman and plans on studying to become a nurse and having a boyfriend or love marriage would only become a distraction.

So my expectations were wrong. Still it confuses me, as there were so many more questions I had but again was too shy to speak candidly about sex, love, and marriage. I know the roots of arranged marriage are patriarchal and there are situations in India and other parts of the world where young women are pressured into horrible marriages but part of me shared excitement with this girl as she was so excited for her future and had strong career goals as well as an arranged marriage.

In western culture marriage is entirely about love but still carries pressure. Pressure to find a soulmate and have a perfect fairytale wedding – while almost half of the marriages we are surrounded by ironically end in divorce.

I have no idea what is better and hate that I feel like I need to come to that type of conclusion at the end of this journal entry. An important part of traveling is to learn about cultural differences through non-judgmental observations and understand that my own upbringing in the western world completely frames my own perceptions. And today I had this demonstrated perfectly in front of me and is what I will remember about this trip.

So I may not understand why this 19-year-old girl wants an arranged marriage but I know she also does not understand why I do not. But what I do know is that as promised if I do get married I will invite my new 19-year-old friend to the celebration – as I already have an invitation to hers in 2019.

-Sarah Harper-Johnston