Yesterday afternoon I was elected to go pick up some trees. By “some” I mean 1,000 trees. 1,000 trees for 38 volunteers to plant in the monsoon. 5 volunteers and Osha (11-year-old daughter of the 2 founders) motorbike over there. Then we do what Asian countries are known best for: hurry up and wait.
We hangout by the road to Auroville (where and Indian traffic guard anxiously tells us we can’t park) waiting for the truck driver. We will load the 1,000 trees into said truck. Finally, he arrives and we scoot, weave, dodge potholes, pedestrians, and goats on our way further into the forest. Once there, we park and walk over to where what looks more like 1 million baby trees are sitting in bags. A firm Indian woman presides over it all. She counts the trees, buts them in dubious looking buckets, we heave them to the truck and someone unloads. The system works well, until Osha gets involved counting.
“How many trees do we have left?” Rich, an Irish volunteer who’s been at Sadhana 2 months, asks.
“I don’t know, maybe we have 700?” Osha says.
We have 700 in the truck or 700 left to load in?” Rich asks.
“I’m not sure…”
“Great, get the girl who doesn’t know her numbers to count trees,” Rich says under his breath.
A new crisis evolves: the truck’s full of trees, but we haven’t loaded the full 1,000. Can we stack them on top?
“No,” Osha says. “We’ll come back for them.”
“Your Dad doesn’t want to pay for the truck to come back. He would want us to stack them,” an authoritative Indian man says.
“How do you know what he likes? He’s my Dad.”
“Yes, but I’ve known him since before you were born.”
We debate about this until Raja, an Indian volunteer, discovers that trees can go in a little divot on top of the cab.
What are we even going to do with 1,000 trees? It’s widely understood that we can’t possibly plant that many during the next couple months. Will we give trees to the villagers and teach them how to plant trees?
“That’s a great idea,” Isa, another long-term volunteer, says. “But who’s going to do it? Who will teach them? Everyone’s stretched so thin already.”
The stern Indian woman who guards the trees gives us more trees as gifts. A French volunteer, Pierre, chases 3 geese grazing while the last ones are loaded.
“I’m afraid of being hit in the face by a bat,” I say.
There are many monstrous bats, and they swoop down right in front of your face at night when you’re brushing your teeth.
“I was hit in the face by a bat,” Konga, a wonderfully tall, Swedish man with long blonde hair says. “I was washing my face and it swooped at me, but I thought it has night vision or radar or whatever. I leaned over and stood back up and it hit me in the face. It hurt, too!”
“I’ve come awfully close,” I say.
“I thought it was trying to attack me. Like a vampire bat,” Konga says.
Before work this morning we play a game where we all divided into groups of 7 and choose an animal. You all make the sound your animal makes. Then you close your eyes and everyone makes the animal sounds, walks around, and tries to find their group members solely by the sound of their animal. It was 6:30am and stressful.
We went out into the forest and I am assigned “Acacia tree pulling” duty again. My hands get blistered and I managed to get covered in mud.
Later, a Japanese woman said to me, “If it’s sunny you can put mud on your face.”
“I can put mud on my face?”
“Yes, and on your arms. For your skin.”
“Like a facial?”
“Oh yes. Like that,” she said.
“Thanks for telling me,” I said.
Mud on my face is really the last thing I want right now. Nothing dries during a monsoon, and everything gets moldy. One volunteer does laundry and leaves the clothes to soak for 2 days. They smell, are moldy and totally ruined.
“I don’t care I’m moldy. There’s like 40 people here, all moldy,” Konga said.
People soak backpacks, shoes and clothes in vinegar and pray for sun.
After breakfast my work assignment was take a wheelbarrow, go to the river, get pebbles, and put them outside the bathroom where there’s a mud puddle. I thought, That sounds alright.
The river breeds swarms of hungry mosquitoes who are immune to bug spray. They land on my arm and say, “Herbal bug spray? Mwahahaha. I love the taste of Citronella with Brittany’s blood.”
I work with a funky and fabulous Australian girl who goes barefoot, wears several big rings and her hair in a silly bun on the very top of her head. She’s a dancer. She fills her buckets up considerably higher than mine and hauls wheels the heavy barrow like it’s nothing.
It’s very sweaty, wet work putting pebbles and sand in buckets, hauling them to the wheelbarrow and dumping them, and wheeling them back to the bathrooms. We make little progress and feel like we need to defend ourselves when someone comes around to ask how it’s going.
Afterwards I walk to the pool and find it dry. So I take a shower and suffer 5 more mosquito bites, which is a victory.
On Thursdays there’s no dinner on property and I go out to dinner with Konga, Shey (an Alaskan), and Saskia, a sassy German woman. We binge on ice cream coffee, chocolate croissants, and pizza until we are too full and very satisfied.
On the way home, the taxi almost hits several large cows and gets stuck on a speed bump. Only in India.