Mud and Samosas: Monsoon Season in Tamil Nadu, India

Saskia and I wake in the middle of the night to Hamoudi, an old black dog that sleeps in our hut, whining and barking. I have to pee anyway, so I decide to get up and check it out.

“Oh my god, Brittany,” Saskia groans. “Something was just in our hut. I only saw a large shadow…I was just too scared to turn on the light. Now it smells really horrible, like a skunk.”

I shine my light around the hut and notice three wet spots: one next to Saskia’s bed, one at the foot of the bed across from her, and one near the entry way.

“I think we’ve had a visit from Balzac,” I say.

All of the male dogs at Sadhana are castrated. However, sometimes dogs from the nearby village of Morathandi visit. One dog in particular has frequented our compound in the last couple weeks. He stands considerably larger than the other dogs, and has a ragged, grimy look. He also has very large testicles that hang down by his dog-knees. Hence the name, “Balzac…”

So there we were at 12am, staring at the spots where Balzac marked his territory in our hut.

“Oh Brittany, can you help me? Balzac peed all over my mosquito net and I can’t get out.”

I take a tissue and pat the wet net, then lift it to help Saskia escape. We laugh with tears in our eyes.

We feel violated and angry. The floor is already damp from constant rain and the urine soaks right in. Now it smells of mold and pee in our hut.

In the morning we get a bottle of vinegar and soapy water. We scrub the spots and then dump vinegar all over. We use a whole bottle on the floor of our hut, trying to nutralize any odor. I kindly ask Hamoudi to sleep on the narrow porch alongside our hut.

“I know it seems unfair,” I say to Hamoudi. She’s graying around her snout and has a distinctly fox-like look. “You know you shouldn’t be sleeping on the mattresses in here anyway.”

“If your scent is in the hut, it might encourage Balzac to come back.” I toss a moldy pillow on the porch for her to sleep on.

***

NOTHING QUITE SATISFIES LIKE A SAMOSA AND BLACK COFFEE. There’s something magical about that deep-fried pocket of spicy goodness. Each bite filled with curried potato, onion and peas. So simple and yet so satisfying, especially as the rain continues to make life wet all over. Maybe the Indian equivalent to “an apple a day keeps the doctor away is “a samosa a day keeps the doctors away.” At 5 rupees per samosa, at least the addiction isn’t putting much of a dent in my wallet.

Sadhana Forest suddenly expanded into 120 people from around 40 volunteers when I first arrived. The volunteers seem to have tumbled in over night. We are now housing three separate large groups of Korean students. They don’t speak very much English, are somewhat clumsy, almost all wear big, large-rimmed glasses, laugh a lot, and are generally fabulous (though somewhat overwhelming).

Last night one lanky Korean fellow with large, wide-rimmed glasses attempted to eat the salt we pass around to season our food. He literally downed a spoonful of the stuff and then looked horrified. I guess we didn’t think salt needed explanation. After dinner the same guy picked up four hula-hoops and sent them flying around his waist all at once. He managed it quite well, but watching him thrust his hips forward and back in sharp jerks had us all near tears.

***

There’s a moment of sun before breakfast and I decide to do my laundry and put some of my still damp clothes out to dry. A half  hour later ominous looking storm clouds appear. Before I can grab my clothes off the line, the dark rumbly clouds explode.

“I surrender my clean clothes to the monsoon,” I say.

Stephanie puts me and Franci, a long-term volunteer from Germany, in charge of the garden team. With the tree planting in the forest almost completed, they could spare a few extra people to help us dig trenches and make mounds for a tapioca field.

After breakfast, Raja (long-term, Indian volunteer) assigns eight extra people to our team. This is great news; it took Franci and I nearly two hours to dig one trench. With eight people, we can really get this project underway.

I call out, “Garden team assemble! Everyone on the garden team please meet here. Gaaaaaaaarden team!”

I stand with Franci and wait in the hot morning sun. No one comes out of the main hut. I continue to yell and slowly, slowly, a rag-tag bunch of Koreans assemble next to me. One young Korean, named David, always stands with his head tilted sideways and an incredibly large grin on his face. A Korean teenager with pigtails and a “No Money, No Honey” t-shirt on. A little Korean boy who looks seven.

We muster our positive attitudes and go to the tool shed, where we demonstrate the proper way to use a crowbar, short-handled shovel, pickaxe, and grass cutter. We walk out to the tapioca field.

“Ok, so, what we’re going to do out here is dig trenches, like this one here. We’re also going to make mounds with the dirt from the trench by piling every scoop of dirt to the left of the trench. First one person will go through with the grass cutter and clear a straight line. Then we’ll use the shovel to dig the trench. Pile the dirt and grass on the left side, and that’s where we plant the tapioca. Everyone understand?”

Half of the Koreans nod, half of them stare at me blankly. David tips his head sideways and grins. He suddenly cries out, looking at his hand.

“Are you ok?” Franci asks.

“Oh yes. It was an ant.”

“Ok good. Excuse me,” she says to No Money, No Honey. “You’ll probably have to put your purse down to work.”

It’s getting very, very hot outside.

“Does everyone have water with them?”

All eight of them shake their heads, no.

“You all need water,” Franci says. Then, without thinking, “Everyone go get your water bottles.”

All the Koreans traipse away.

“Shit. I shouldn’t have sent them all at once,” Franci says.

“Do you think they’ll come back?” I ask.

“Hope so…”

They do come back, and, against all odds, we get three new trenches mostly finished. It seems like a Sadhana miracle. Time for the mud pool and lunch.

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~ by bjordt on November 29, 2011.

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