A blog about my crazy misadventures in Southeast Asia, humanity, growth and the struggles that one encounters while traveling (like what to do when you have traveler's diarrhea and no toilet paper).
Saturday, February 22, 2014
May the Forest Be With You
“May there be more forests to grow people.”
Just when I thought things (and I, really) couldn’t get any hippier- they did! When we were in Arambol, Goa, we met another Californian by chance (I call it fate) at Sweet Water Lake and he told us about a permaculture farm in the south of India that really sparked our interest. We had been searching for an organic farm to head to after Arambol through the WWOOFing website and were coming up with mixed feelings about the farms. It was like a divine intervention that the day we were supposed to make a decision about which farm to go to, we met Soil. He swept us off our feet over lunch at the cliff-side restaurant at sunset that day, recounting the legend that is Sadhana Forest. It was decided then that Soil would join us in our journey and we would head to Hampi (another fabulous digression-but I’ll save that for another blog) for a week before heading south.
Where do I even start? The Harlem Shake at morning circle, twerking to get the water off my butt from the bum-washing procedure, or jumping on the trampoline in my bathing suit during a torrential downpour? How about the basics-I’m getting ahead of myself!
Sadhana Forest is a reforestation project that started ten years ago in the southern state of Tamil Nadu that has grown into a full-fledged (almost) self-sustaining, organic, vegan, biodegradable community. It is a zero-waste community, meaning that even our fecal “waste” and food left-over scraps are saved and used for composting and our “trash” is recycled into art to decorate the grounds. They produce their own energy with solar powered panels that are rotated four times a day to track the movement of the sun to absorb the most light to provide electricity for the huts. To conserve energy and encourage an atmosphere of community, electricity is only available in the main hut, kitchen and bathrooms. All huts are made from rope, bamboo and wood resembling a Tarzan-type tree house. Toiletries and cleaning products used in the community (shampoo, soap, lotion, you name it!) are biodegradable and organic as the water runoff from the hand-washing stations, showers, and laundry station goes back into the earth, watering the trees and soil. Every aspect of consumption has been tackled and turned into a recycle opportunity! It’s really amazing to see the efforts from the decade of volunteers manifesting a whole forest that was once a desert! You get the idea-let’s move onto twerking in the bathroom with your pants down around your ankles.
When I came to India, toilet paper (and laundry, actually) was the least of my worries. I never imagined that other countries would have other means of wiping or even a different method of sitting! So for those of you who aren’t familiar with the “Indian toilet”, here’s a brief description: instead of a porcelain seat, the Indian toilet consists of a porcelain hole with a place for your feet on either side of the hole. When I first arrived, I was mortified at this new toilet situation! Squat? You want me to squat!? But after three months in India, I think it actually makes more anatomical sense (it’s the easiest position for…things…to just slip out)! Now here’s the relevant part to twerking: in place of toilet paper, Indians use their left hand and water to wash their bums. (Pause for effect) This is going to get intimate, prepare yourselves! Now, to my western friends, I’m sure this idea is just as horrifying to you as it was to me two months ago when my toilet paper supply ran out and I faced the inevitable: using my own left hand to wipe my butt. So, with my right hand I had to fill up a small cup (that’s always available next to a toilet, along with a faucet) and use this water with my left hand to wash my bum. What you’re left with is a wet, sparkly clean bum! Wait a minute! It’s, it’s WET!! What the hell am I supposed to do with a wet bum!? My first time using this method, I wasn’t sure what to do. After a few minutes of looking around the bathroom for an answer, an idea popped into my mind. TWERK!!! I’ll just jiggle my rump until I suspect it’s dry enough to put my pants on without making it look like I poo’d myself. And voila! Dry bum, dry pants, problem solved!! The mystery that is the Indian toilet system uncovered! Now, take this and add in Sadhana Forest and their biodegradable toilet and you have another twenty steps to further complicate defecating. I’ll spare you the details (for those of you interested in composting your own poo for plants, you can message me–I know it’s a very hot topic) and move onto our Harlem Shake in morning circle. Every morning at 5:45, someone comes around with a choice instrument (usually the guitar, sometimes a flute or a drum) and serenades the community for the wake-up call–so much better than an alarm clock! We have about 20-25 minutes to do our morning routine (pee, brush our teeth, etc.) and then join in the morning circle outside the main dormitory. We are then led in a group stretch and depending on whoever is leading, it turns into a dance session. This morning we shook our sleepiness off with the Harlem Shake, beatbox music included! Following our morning stretch is a session of hugs-long, back-rubbing, slightly awkward hugs. After a few mornings of doing this, I absolutely love this part of the day! You actually feel better about the day ahead after all the intensive hugging! How can anyone have a bad day when you wake up busting a move and hugging your bed neighbors?! If you have a better morning routine, please tell me!
And lastly (but not leastly…new word!), jumping on the trampoline in my bathing suit during an unexpected downpour. Our first few days at Sadhana were hot, muggy, and incredibly tropical. When I would lay down for bed each night, there was a fine layer of dew covering my sheets, making me sticky and sweaty most of the night. Our third day here we had just finished eating lunch when the heavens opened up and dumped rain on us like there was no tomorrow! I ran to my room to make sure the floor wasn’t flooding (which it was) and had to move my clothes and bag up onto my bed and move the bed a bit away from the wall. Being from California, I get extremely excited about rain every time it happens and couldn’t help myself-I HAD to dance in it! I put my bathing suit on and ran out into the downpour like I was five years old again, dancing in the puddles and spraying mud all over my legs. I ran to trampoline and jumped and jumped and jumped (carefully since I’m already clumsy and the last thing I need is a broken ankle while I’m wet and in a bikini) until the rain stopped! So much good old fashioned fun! (Side note: I now have a cold. But it was well worth it!)
Our adventures in Sadhana Forest are plentiful and have just started-we signed up to stay for four weeks, putting traveling around India on temporary hold, so more stories of insanely strange situations you meet living in the forest are to come! Chiseling down my experiences to fit into blogs really limits what I write and I’d like to expand more on different subjects instead of writing only one per location we visit. So my topics and writing style will be changed up a bit as I practice new writing techniques!