I’ll Sweat Myself Clean

Last Friday morning I was put on the forest team. We went out, the 8 of us, to dig more holes for more thousands of trees. I honestly don’t know where we’ll even plant them – there’s not that much cleared land for trees. So myself and Anbu, a local Indian man, made mounds. I used the crowbar and he used the mumsy (a large spade-like thing) and we built them up and dug a little trench around them.

Breakfast may be the tastiest meal of the day here at Sadhana. It’s almost always the same: porridge, fresh fruit (papaya, pineapple and pomegranate), and jaggery (a sweet, syrupy, brown sugar and banana combination).

After breakfast I chose the “breakfast cleanup” duty. Kanga helped me with this, as he’s been sick and needed a fairly easy task. It took a fair amount of time to do it thoroughly, what with the huge porridge pots being sticky and covered in slime. When that was through, I went back to my “room” and went through the motions: apply bug spray, deodorant, put the clothes out in the sun, fix the greasy hair, etc.

There are moments here of absolute calm and clear thought; of not feeling so bogged down in the material of life. The are moments when you’re soaking and sweating and wishing desperately for somewhere that was actually protected from the elements to climb into.

In the afternoon Kanga and I biked to Koot Rd. It’s not far – maybe a 20 minute bike ride, depending on speed. The bike that Raja first rented to me was far too huge and I had to beg a new bike off him. The mountain bike I ended up with doesn’t have brakes, no bell, had two flat tires, is insanely rusted, and has bent fenders that rub against the tires. The front tire I could air up by myself, the back I needed help with because the valve was plugged with dirt. When we finally got on the road, I realized that the bike had been shoved into the highest gear and then the shifters broken off, so that it’s near impossible to pedal straight out of the gates. Oh, I wish Colin was here!

I still appreciated the ride and the exercise, despite the hot sun and potholes and poorly working bicycle. At Koot Rd. we got Chai or coffee and sweets. We people watched, listened to the sounds of the town and just hung out. I biked to Uncle’s again for Chai and some charge for the computer.

Friday night is movie night at Sadhana, and they showed a Disney film about lions in the African Sahara – cheetahs and lions. Samuel L. Jackson narrated it, and they quite dramatically gave the animals names and personified their situation. Still, the cinematography was quite good.


“I feel like in order to be here a long time, you have to be a serious hippie,” Tristan, a new volunteer from Brighton, England, said.

“You know, I was just thinking that everyday I wake up here I turn into more of a hippie,” I said.

“Do you see this big bump on my foot?” Tristan asked.

“Yeah, it looks really swollen.”

“Feel it,” Tristan encouraged me. I poke at it.

“Does it itch?” I said.

“Not particularly.”

“Watch it and see if it moves,” Kanga said.

“Excuse me?” Tristan said.

“It could be a worm in there,” Kanga said.

“Then they’d have to cut it out,” Saskia said.

“No, sure they’d give you some pills to make it go away,” Kanga said. “Just watch it for the next couple days.”

In the states, I always considered myself an environmentally friendly, local and organic food lover; a “natural” type gal. But I’ve never been this close to nature for a sustained period of time. I mean, I’ve nothing against dumping scoops of water over my head for a shower.

Still, there’s nothing quite like Indian hospitality. They are quick to offer you tea, buy you a Chai, sit and talk with you or help you, though they have very little to give.

Saturday morning arrived and we decided to bike into a nearby town for lunch and internet. On the way there, it began to downpour. The rain came down in sheets and, like a fool, I left my rain jacket behind. I hand off my computer to someone with a raincoat and then we started biking again, blinking rain out of our eyes.

Being in the highest gear, my bike takes a good bit of effort to pedal. Through the potholes and up the dirt road we go, as the rain soaks us through.

“I’m thinking of buying all new clothes when we arrive,” I yelled.

The 3 ladies in the group nodded vigorously.

I stopped with Melissa, a French woman, at the first shop we saw. We made friends with the owner, tried on clothes, and had 3 Chai teas. I ended up with 2 new shirts and a pair of “Aladdin pants” for about $4.50. At the Coffee Bar, a Sadhana Forest volunteer hang out, everyone gets an iced coffee, which is basically a sugary coffee concoction with chocolate syrup and ice cream.

On hot nights, sometimes the smell of pee wafts into the main hut and no one can identify where it’s coming from. The pillows we sit on are damp…did one of the dogs pee on one? Or maybe Scharabi (formerly known as little naked girl) peed on the shoes again?

I’m trying hard to feel content here, and to view “setbacks” as signs that something else will come up. It’s very hard to be the in the present when it’s so itchy. Or maybe it’s the itchiness that roots me here?

Sunday afternoon Kanga and I went to Pondicherry. We walked to the road from Sadhana, which took around 15 minutes. Then we scrambled across the highway and tried to flag down buses until we realized there was an actual bus stop. When the bus came, we shoved in and held on tightly. They whole thing went off quite well.

We caught an autorickshaw from the bus station in the city to the main shopping road, where I bought a sheet and found a tailor, who sewed it together for me. My new “sleep sack” cost me around $8. We found some samosas for a whopping 10 rupees (50 rupees makes a dollar, samosas generally run about 6 rupees). And walked through the city until we reached a French café that served a genuinely fantastic cappuccino.

All this week, Kanga and I are on “parasite and bee” patrol for our second work shift. This morning we went to work with Swami, a local Indian man. We walked around property looking at the various problem areas: huge thorn-bush behind the bathroom, giant banana tree leaning on another of the toilet building. He looked at us, seemed to evaluate us, and walked us over to an area where there was some brush. He instructed us to break off twigs for firewood.

“Work very hard, over there,” Swami said.

Raj, and an Indian man from Rajasthan (northern India) manages the bee and parasite team. He arrived and, seeing us making stick bundles, asked Swami what was going on.

“Need someone strong,” Swami said.

Kanga,a very lanky guy who stands around 6’2 and wears his long blonde hair pulled into a ponytail, looked at me.

We shrugged. Making stick bundles wasn’t so bad.


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