The Sadhana Forest community has the same feel – the same aura – as the others that I’ve been to. Much like a Hippie Commune, it’s full of travelers and foreigners from all over the world. Many are from France, some from Germany, Denmark, Australia, England…Some people are just stopping here in between longer travels in India, or before heading to Thailand. Others are here for months. Several older volunteers have been here for years.
One person recognized me from the temple I visited in Pondicherry yesterday.
“You’re the girl who was putting bug spray all over and everyone was staring at you.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I was trying to avoid it, but they were really biting me.”
“Oh, me too,” He said, “I also put some on. Then they told me I was unclean and had to wash my hands.”
Outside, there’s a painted elephant named Lakmish that accepts offerings of food and grass, and gives blessings.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen the elephant. It wasn’t nice,” He said.
“No, she looked…sad.”
All buildings in the compound are open air, thatched hut style, with thin mats covering the bamboo floors. There’s a main building, where morning meditation is held, all meals are served, and afternoon lounging occurs. The shower consists of a closed off area, a large bucket, and a scoop, which you dump over your head.
Everyone’s given biodegradable shampoo and soap, and we use “tooth dust” to brush our teeth, which I’ve yet to use but am skeptical of. There are mumblings about the effectiveness of said soap on making hair actually feel clean.
The toilets are compost toilets, squat-style, one for poo and one for pee and a place to put paper, if you need it, which I do. Good choice to bring biodegradable toilet paper.
The first level of the dormitory has many beds, sectioned off with a piece of hanging linen. You are given a sheet, a blanket, and a pillow cover. Again I long for a sleep sack.
Laundry happens by filling up a bucket full of water, and applying some sort of provided, biodegradable soap to the clothes. When I asked for more details – do you put the soap into the water, or onto the clothes, so that you can rinse in one bucket? I was given no direct answers. There are mumblings this soap doesn’t quite come out of clothes, or leave them entirely clean.
Sadhana Forest is, by far, the most rustic place I’ve volunteered. I’m accustomed to having a bathroom “indoors” even if the building doesn’t have “walls” by American standards, I’m accustomed to having a shower where water comes out of a shower head, and to have my bed more secured from reptilian wanderers.
My Personal Challenges:
1. Food: Sadhana Forest is all vegan. That means we eat no dairy, no cheese, no eggs. These things I will miss.
2. On a daily basis, no coffee, though we wake up by 6am. Hot tea is not the same. Word on the street is that many volunteers bike into town for coffee and chai on a daily basis.
3. WAKING UP AT 6AM. Who does that? But it means that our workday is finished by 12:30pm, which isn’t so bad, I guess.
4. Climate: readjusting to constant sweating, constant bugs, constant bug spray.
5.. Being stationary without the comforts of home. It’s one thing to constantly be on the move, where you don’t have time to get homesick. When you’re in one space, but without the comforts you’re accustomed to, it can be particularly difficult.