Seaside cafe

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There are warning signs all over the beaches telling people not to go in the water because of the strong currents. Most people abide. So it’s a rare occasion when you see a few in the water, even if it’s near the shore.

I saw a few local children in the water today on my walk from the Quiet Healing Center down the beach to to a little cafe for lunch. I was a little nervous about eating out again after last night’s fiasco with the promise of burger and fries at a local establishment. It left my stomach doing flip flops all night long. Only this morning did I learn that it’s not recommended to eat any kind meat here – not any. DSC_6227 edit

So, to be on the safe side, I ordered a lunch that Brianna would have liked – a Nutella and banana crepe. It was more like a desert, but at least I didn’t get sick. :)

DSC_6237 edit As I was finishing up lunch, I spotted what looked like a parade outside with lots of flowers and people marching and even carrying something covered in flowers. I ran outside to get a few photos when I realized it just might be a sacred funeral. Sorry! :( If anyone knows for sure what this is, I sure would love to know.

Quiet Jasmine

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Not too far from the Afsaneh Guest House (where I am staying while in Auroville, India) is the Quiet Healing Center, aka Auroville’s health spa. DSC_6179 edit

I read a bit about the center before deciding to book a massage today. I read about all the different types of massages they offer, but one stood out to me: the Holistic Massage which incorporates “a range of techniques including deep tissue and stretching, treatments are tailored to meet the individual needs of each client. As a result, this massage may be soothing, revitalizing, energizing, gentle or deep. The Holistic Massage recognizes the whole person as one: body, mind and soul. By treating the whole person, this massage aims to relax the muscles, calm the emotions, improve the circulation, recharge the body’s immune system and refresh the spirit.”

This struck a chord for a few reasons.  

IMG_4587 edit 1. I’m currently taking a grad course at Antioch this semester called Medical Anthropology: The Face of BRCA+. MA deals with the study of human health, viewing individuals from their multi-dimensional perspectives to tell their story and how they got there and how their issues may relate to others. In this particular course, I will fixate on breast cancer, genetic testing, proactive procedures for those who are BRCA+, etc.

2. I am in the middle of reading Mind over Medicine by L. Rankin.

3. And lastly, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I love trying things I’ve never done before.

When I arrived at the Quiet Healing Center the first thing I noticed was the astonishingly beautiful and serene grounds nestled up to seashore. Something about listening to the waves crash against the shore already eases the mind and relaxes the body.

I immediately spotted the hammocks – for a minute, I thought about skipping the massage and just hanging out in the hammock on the beach for the rest of the day listening to the waves.

I’m glad I didn’t because I never would have met Jasmine, my massage therapist.

Jasmine started by asking me “health problems” brought me in for the Holistic Massage.

None, I just want to try it. I have no aches and pains. I’m perfectly healthy. I’m … Oh wait, I suddenly remembered, I’m BRCA+. I briefly mention it to her, knowing full well there was no part of my body that she could massage a little more or a little deeper that would change a gene.

She asked if I was shy. I replied no and she handed me a little hand-size towel and told me to take everything off.

For an hour and a half she ran her hands over every inch of my body. Then quietly she slipped out of the room, leaving me feeling just like the description read, relaxed muscles, calm emotions, refreshed spirit, etc.

I finally muster up enough energy to get up and get dressed. I meander out into the hallway where Jasmine met me with a hug and these words, “Don’t worry. You’re ok, I checked. I know you don’t have cancer. The exit is that way.”

I look toward the exit and start to take a step, still trying to understand what she just said and why. I turn back to ask more questions, but Jasmine had quietly disappeared.

I went to the Quiet Healing Center for a new experience. I left with a new peace of mind – whether I thought I needed it or not. :)

A dream

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Inside a book called The Auroville Handbook, there’s a letter from The Mother of Auroville, that I want to share with you. I believe it gets to the bottom of what Auroville is all about. (Ok, the punctuation and run-on sentences are a bit off, but I promise to share it with you verbatim – so don’t judge.)

There should be somewhere upon Earth a place that no nation can claim as its sole property, a place where all human beings of good will, sincere in their aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world, obeying one single authority, that which is the supreme Truth; a place of peace, concord, harmony, where all the fighting instincts of man would be used exclusively to conquer the causes of his suffering and misery, to surmount his weakness and ignorance, to triumph over his limitations and incapacities; a place where the needs of the spirit and the care for progress would get precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions, the seeking for pleasures and material enjoyments.

In this place, children would be able to grow and develop integrally, without losing contact with their sole. Education would be given, not with a view to passing examinations and getting certificates and posts, but for enriching the existing faculties and bringing forth new ones. In this place, titles and positions would be supplanted by opportunities to serve and organise.

The needs of the body will be provided for equally in the case of each and every one. In the general organisation intellectual, moral and spiritual superiority will find expression, not in the enhancement of the pleasures and powers of life but  in the increase of duties and responsibilities. Artistic beauty in all forms, painting, sculpture, music, literature, will be available equal to all, the opportunity to share in the joys they bring being limited solely by each one’s capacities and not by one’s social or financial position.

For in this ideal place money would be no more the sovereign lord. Individual merit will have a greater importance than the value due to social wealth and material position. Work would not be there as the means of gaining one’s livehood, it would be the means whereby to express oneself, develop one’s capacities and possibilities, while doing at the same time service to the whole group, which on its side would provide for each one’s subsistence and for the field of his work.

In brief, it would be a place where relations between human beings, usually based almost exclusively upon competition and strife, would be replaced by relations of emulation for doing better, for collaboration, relations of real brotherhood.

- The Mother

EarthBeat for Seeger

Front, New York residents Miranda ten Broeke and Livia Drapkin Vanaver both of Vanaver Caravan.

Front, New York residents Miranda ten Broeke and Livia Drapkin Vanaver both of Vanaver Caravan.

It was a love for the world’s diverse cultures combined with a commitment to the arts that inspired New York residents Livia Drapkin Vanaver, dancer and choreographer, and her husband Bill Vanaver, musician and composer, to create the Vanaver Caravan more than 40 years ago. DSC_6108 edit

Since then, the dance and music company has done thousands of American and International cultural dance and music performances all over the world.

Yesterday, their journey led them to Auroville, India, to perform EarthBeat: A Journey of World Music and Dance, which was a repertoire of dances and songs from Ireland, England, Philippines, Brazil, Israel, South Africa, Nigeria and Appalachian clog dancing from the United States.

Their EarthBeat performance in Auroville was made a little more special when the company decided to dedicate the performance to their good friend and long-time supporter, Pete Seeger. The American folk singer from New York, was 92 and died just a few days before the performance. DSC_6116 edit

“He worked closely with us,” Livia said, remembering her friend. “So we said, ‘let’s dedicate this concert to Pete.”

Sharing their music and dancing with Auroville came not he heels of spending three weeks in Udaipur, India, working on their India Project.

“We are continuing the project we started in Udaipur (Rajasthan, India) in 2012,” Livia said. The ongoing India Project brings the Vanaver Caravan’s Arts Education program to Udaipur “the city of lakes” known for its ancient Rajasthani arts traditions and its picturesque resorts and palaces. The city is also one of intense contrasts – where a vibrant history of wealth, luxury and royalty crosses paths with massive economic devastation, inequality and disparities. While Udaipur boasts many fine education institutions, the literacy rate is still just 62 percent, with little-to-no access to quality education for poor children, and very few arts programs within the city schools, according to Livia and the Vanaver Caravan’s website.

The India Project began with four TVC teaching artists—Miranda, Marina, Ramona and Gustavo— who developed a world dance pilot project for Shakti Academy in three schools in Udaipur. DSC_6138 edit

“We didn’t realize then the impact it would make,” said Miranda ten Broeke, coordinator for the India Project and one of the four teaching artists. Miranda has been learning dance from Livia since she was 4 years old.

Through this program, they said they witnessed a change in the way students, teachers and administrators thought about teaching and learning. “What we did was use dance to unite three school communities of varied social castes in a celebration of arts, culture and diversity,” she said.

So the India Project continues with the building of the Shakti Academy of Performing Arts and Healing: The first performing arts center in the city, to be built on one of the only remaining plots of land along the lake not owned by a luxury hotel or resort. The Shakti Academy will create a space in Udaipur where class, gender, and means become irrelevant, and the arts become a primary avenue for growth and social change, she said. DSC_6176 edit

“All of us in the company, we feel committed to the project,” Livia said. “Both of our efforts to reach all different people and different women’s’ groups.”

The company will also offer a participatory workshop at Auroville on Saturday called Exploring World Dance and Music and Why People Dance.

‘American dream’

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New York native Jill Navarre is now the artistic director of the Auroville (India) Theatre Group.

In the early-90s, Jill Navarre was an actress living the so-called “American dream” in New York – good job, nice house, sporty car, loving boyfriend and supportive family.

So when she announced to her friends and family that she was moving to Auroville, India, they didn’t understand.

“India? But India, it’s dirty and there are poor people there,” her bewildered friends questioned.

But Jill knew India was more than that.

From left, Vinu Karthick, portraying Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Jill Navarre, artistic director of the Auroville Theatre Group and Livia Drapkin Vanaver of the The Vanaver Caravan, a dance and music company.

From left, Vinu Karthick, portraying Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Jill Navarre, artistic director of the Auroville Theatre Group and Livia Drapkin Vanaver of the The Vanaver Caravan, a dance and music company.

In 1987, she visited India with a friend who knew a Tibetan boy who grew up in Auroville, India. The two decided to visit Auroville.

“I’m an artist and was always interested in other cultures and traveling and having adventures that I could somehow use in my work. So my life became my work and my work became my life,” she said.

At the time, Auroville was not much, just trees and a half-built shell of the Matrimandir (an edifice of spiritual significance, situated at the centre of Auroville initiated by The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram).

“As is my want, when I come to a new place, I ask is there anyone here doing theatre?” she said.

She was pointed in the direction of Jeff from Australia who runs an improv group in Auroville.

“I’m from states and do theater and can I come play with you,” she said. “This was my first connection.”

After playing a little while, Jill returned to her supposed “American Dream” life in the states. But, she said, thoughts of Auroville stuck with her. “The people had in their mind a new world and a new consciousness, ” she said. “And that was interesting to me.”

With Auroville on her mind, Jill returned in 1990 for a (supposedly) brief visit and began reading from the works of Sri Aurobindo and never moved back. 

She spent the first year finding her group and finding herself and being inspired by the ideals of Auroville and the mission of the Mother who had the inspiration and who is the guiding force for Auroville, she said. For the past 10 years or so, she has served as the artistic director of the Auroville Theatre Group who has directed such performances as Waiting for Godot, Legend of the Kaliveli Siddha, The Greedy Man, Nishta, The Strange Disappearance of Margaret Woodrow Wilson, Sacrifice, Milarepa, The Tempest and more. She is currently directing Romeo and Juliet.

“I was inspired to be here. I felt called to be here. How do you make these choices in your life whether you go left or right? It became an inspiration to me and a place where I could put myself to good use, to be of service. Because the idea of Auroville is to be a place where we want to make a concrete living example of a concrete human unity. That idea of people from many different cultures coming together to achieve something together has always been a part of my ideals  Now I have found another place very far from America but very lovely, the people are very lovely and warm and welcoming. And I can be of service here and involve myself in something larger than myself, that I could live in.”

Eco Femme

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One of the things that I wasn’t prepared for when I got off the plane in India last week was the amount of noticeable garbage along the village streets.

It wasn’t until today that I learned about the poor waste management, or should I say almost lack of, in India. DSC_5851 edit

And for women, a lack of proper garbage removal, particularly once a month, can pose a real problem as to how to dispose of used menstrual hygiene management products. Now imagine living in a rural area where your only options for throwing away such things are to bury it (but then you have to worry about dogs or other animals digging it up) or burning it.

That’s where Kathy Walkling and Jessamijn Miedema step in. The two co-founded Eco Femme, a global women’s empowerment initiative, rising from rural India, reaching out to women around the world, promoting and revitalizing menstrual practices that are healthy, dignified, affordable and eco-positive. The program not only created their own washable pads, it also serves as support education for girls and livelihood for women in rural Tamil Nadu, South India, where the program grew out of.

Originally from Australia, Kathy started looking for an alternative after moving to Auroville, India, and trying to dig holes in a baked Earth to bury menstrual products each month. “I figured that there must be an easier way,” she said.

Originally from the Netherlands, but growing up mostly in Indonesia, Jessamijn said, “the best part is the connection and bonding with other women across cultural boundaries through such a simple and practical solution to a shared problem.”

Now you’re probably thinking, c’mon Cammi, washable pads are nothing new. And, you’re right. Women all over the world – in India, Egypt and the United States, for example – have been using cloth to catch menstrual flow for hundreds of years. But there’s only a handful of companies currently producing them, Kathy said. Besides the beauty of this program is not only the washable pads, but also the educational and livelihood components, she added.

And as for the disposable pad, here’s a fun and interesting little fact. According to Eco Femme’s website, disposable pads were invented by French nurses during World War I, upon realizing that the cellulose bandages they were using on wounded soldiers absorbed blood really well. Based on this discovery, Kimberly-Clark used the bandages left over from the war to develop the first successful commercial disposable pad. The pad was released in 1921 under the name Kotex, and that’s how the sanitary products industry began. And, did you know it takes between 500 and 800 years to decompose? That means the first one ever made, still has not decomposed.

About three years ago, Eco Femme published a report of a survey of about 300 women in rural Tamil Nadu. What they found was that 79 percent of women felt not well informed about menstruation, most of whom would like to know more. 57 percent of the respondents have nobody to talk to about doubts and fears concerning menstruation.

According to the survey, most women: DSC_5884 edit

  • lack basic knowledge about what is happening to their bodies
  • lack the knowledge to manage menstrual cramps and pain in a natural way
  • harbor feelings of impurity and shame about this normal and natural process
  • feel isolated in their experience

The survey also reveals that nearly all women (95 percent) experience some lifestyle restriction associated with menstruation, such as sleeping outdoors, not touching farm animals, having to bathe several times a day, being forbidden from entering temples, not being able to attend family functions, not touching food that will be consumed by others, etc. The belief in impurity or being polluted is the most commonly identified reason for these restrictions, and the extent to which a woman is influenced by these beliefs is most strongly correlated with her level of education.

Through fieldwork, which is not done yet, Kathy and Jessamijn said they learned menstruation is  a subject that involves complex links between social, cultural, economic, environmental, health and gender issues. The Eco Femme approach emphasizes education and empowerment of women to make their own decisions toward positive management of menstruation.

“The next step is getting the word out there and trying to figure out how to get them into schools,” Kathy said. “Starting with getting the word out there that there are alternatives and the educating of the younger girls, is the key.”

We were wrapping up our talks that afternoon, when Jessamijn jumped up and gave me a big hug and said, thank you. Out of instinct I said you’re welcome but walked away thinking, what is she thanking me for.

As I hopped on my moped and took off through the jungle, I thought about the women in my life, both younger and older. How fortunate I felt in that very moment. At that very moment, the jungle stepped back and I came to a crossroad, literally. Coincidence? Maybe. :)

DSC_5845 crossroads

Future School

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The dirt roads and thick forests of Auroville, India, were the playground for American native Chali Grinnel from age 3 until about 10, when her family moved back to the states.

Little did she know then, that she would return to that playground to reshape the futures of Auroville youth as co-founder of Future School. Future School is the high school for Auroville youth ages 14 and up, where a student’s curriculum is individually designed and focuses on his or her likes, interests and goals.

Co-founder Chali Grinnel sits in front of Future School in Auroville, India.

Co-founder Chali Grinnel sits in front of Future School in Auroville, India.

When Chali lived in Auroville as a child, she said, schools were almost nonexistent. She was homeschooled most of the time.

“I loved my childhood,” said Chali who attended high school in Texas and then college, earning a degree in biology and landing a job in a hospital research lab before returning to Auroville in 1994.

At first, she stumbled around a bit from job to job before connecting with another Aurovillian who she grew up with in Auroville and he had an idea about an educational project which started off more as a matchmaking for educational purposes. “We had a list of people and places in Auroville and people would come and make requests,” she said. adding that the program was not just for children in the beginning.

About a year into it, she said they realized it was too big, too broad and that they needed to better focus attention on a specific group. That’s when they decoded the priority was teenagers.

A diploma from the high school at the time, wasn’t recognized anywhere, she said.

“How can they try to create something new if we can’t show the kids here, that they are going to benefit for participation in that? We had to offer something they would feel would provide them with the keys they need to go open doors where they might want to go. And they wouldn’t feel trapped here because they couldn’t manage in the world or feel good enough,” she said. “We give them something that is recognized, where they can say, ‘This is want I’ve accomplished. This is what I’ve done.’”

As Auroville is an international community the school maintains an international character by bringing together students from many different nationalities, with their varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds, she said. Over the last few years they’ve had about 60 students per academic year representing 20 different nationalities. Courses are taught by both full-time and  part-time Aurovilian teachers from all over the world.

This year, the class size is about 72. Chali’s own two teen-age boys are part of that student population. They speak at least four languages fluently and a smattering of a few other languages too, she said.

Chali said the topic of offering exams and certificates is controversial in Auroville. “One of the criticism is that we are encouraging youth to leave Auroville,” she said. “But if we support them in what they want to do and their interests and needs, and provide them with the keys to open doors and the confidence about themselves, then when they go out there and have experiences, they will come back eventually and then they will be more well rounded and not just here because they don’t feel like they can be anywhere else.”

The school officially began in 2002 and the first graduates went on to do other things outside of the community. They are now back helping in the community – just like Chali.

Republic Day in Puducherry


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It was a day of celebrations Sunday as the residents of India honored their country’s 65th Republic Day, the day India’s constitution was official making the country an independent republic. 

 

And as part of the celebrations, the city of Puducherry was aglow – literally. Millions of little lights outlined buildings, statues, fences, dangled from trees, etc. And what’s more, you could see the glow in the faces of the residents too. This was a day for pride.

Puducherry is about a 30-minute taxi ride from Auroville. Formerly Pondicherry and affectionately known as Pondy.

But before the festivities began, the city seemed “business as usual.” The hustle and bustle of the shoppers, leisurely strolls on the rocks along the gulf and vendors peddling to passersby.

Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, the colors of the traditional indian garb seemed a little more vibrant, the streets began to fill (even more) with people, performance stages started to pop up for musical presentations and of course the city lit with pride.

It was a festival in every sense of the word. I was excited and honored to share a small part of this special day.

DSC_5744 editOne female resident, sitting on a street corner with a with a pile of coconuts and a small machete insisted that I celebrate by trying what she called “sweet water.” (Um, of course I obliged … did I mention she had a small machete?) Before I could even pull out the 20 Indian Rupees (about .32 US cents), in one fell swoop, she lopped the top off a coconut, slipped in a straw and handed it to me.  Then she proudly posed for a picture. :)

Nizami Khusro Brothers’ concert

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Last night I attended a music concert. It wasn’t country music, rock-n-roll or even pop. It was Sufi-style singing, which is a devotional kind of music. 

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Here’s what the local paper had to say about the concert, The Spirit of Sufi Qawwali, performed at the Sri Aurobindo Auditorium: From the Dargah of Hazrat Nizzamuddin Auliya in New Delhi, we bring this season the Nizami Khusro Brothers. The Nizami lineage has been passing the Amir Khusro tradition of Sufi-style singing to 30 generations for seven centuries now. They belong to the Sikandrabad Gharana and have been under the tutelage of late Ustad Wahid Hussain Khan Sahab. 

I didn’t understand any of he words (I’m told it was in Hindi language), but I did enjoy the music.

I will try to post a small sample of the music on my Facebook.  (Ok, there was no flash photography allowed, so  I had secretly record a little snippet for you. So what you are looking at is the floor.)

Happy Republic Day

Today  (Jan. 26) is Republic Day in India (which is similar to July 4th for the US). I will be venturing to Pondicherry (Puducherry), Tamil Nadu, this afternoon (about 30 min from Auroville) to take part in the festivities and have dinner with two new German friends.

I really have little idea what to expect of these “festivities,” so I asked a few Auroville residents and googled it.

Here’s my abridged version, based on Puducherry.info:

“On Republic Day regional identity gives way to national identity. Neither caste, creed nor religion matter. What is predominant is the Indianness of the people.”

Two events are associated with India’s freedom from colonial rule. One is Independence Day (Aug. 15) and the other, Republic Day (Jan. 26). The former is a historical even when India gained independence in 1947,  where the latter bestowed historicity on the day when India became a Sovereign Democratic Republic with a constitution to guide her destiny. Republic Day is celebrated all over the India and has aacquired the status of a social celebration in which people participate as spectators. “The celebration is thus a homage to the past, the region and the nation that is a true republic and imposes nothing.”

I’m excited to join in the celebration today and hope to have lots of pictures for you after.

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