Crossing the World to the Left
We arrived in Chennai very smoothly around midnight of December 31st. We arrived at 7 am that morning after long lines for lost luggage and a long van ride to Auroville. We stepped out of the airport and thousands of people in huge throngs were waiting for friends, families, or taxi customers. The amount of business going on so early in the morning was incredible. The amount of garbage and number of young children outside was hard to see. Most of the noise came from motorbike, car, and bike horns. In India, honking several times means “I’m here, watch out.”
Our driver swerved through the busy streets mostly on the left side of the road, but whenever he felt there were too many people ahead of us, we jumped to the lane of oncoming traffic. The art of maneuvering between all the cars, people and cows was impressive. We learned the two rules of driving here, number one: Keep mostly to the left. Number two: whoever’s bigger, wins. We stopped along the way for chai, and joined a billion other Indians who woke up to the same breakfast.
I wanted a shower so badly when I got to my room, and when I turned on the cool water, a light green gecko jumped and flopped all over the shower floor and wall. I screamed, and he seemed to be screaming back. With the help of my roommate, we escorted him to the windowsill. Okay, first adventure down.
We got our bikes fitted, and cruised down the red clay roads of Auroville, yielding to motorbikes and cows. It was several stops before I really got the hang of going on the left side of the road, especially, when there are so many other things to avoid.
Upon arrival, we all acclimated quickly. The weather is warm, about 80 degrees, and life is simple here. It reminds me of summers in elementary school, riding bikes around the park and going to bed early. I am staying in the Tibetan Pavilion, which is in the International Zone of Auroville. Countries are gathering to discuss what type of building or structure best represents their nation, but very few have actually built. So, only Tibet and the US have put up buildings. The US Pavilion, after much controversy, is now the International Pavilion and 9 of our students are staying there. The buildings are very close to each other and we take breakfast in the Tibetan Pavilion and play cards and swing in the hammock at the International Pavilion. At 6 in the morning we have yoga at the Tibetan Pavilion, and class there in the afternoon.
For the first week, we rode bikes all over Auroville to different service learning sites, students who were not yet placed got a better idea of where they might want to work. On Wednesday of last week, we got stuck at Redemption Farm, where they grow organic fruits, veggies, and dairy for Auroville, because of very heavy rains. It was monsoon-like and very peculiar for this time of year. We took cover in a compost hut, and got flooded out, then to the cow shed, then finally there was a break, so we rode as fast as we could through the mud to lunch. Surprisingly, we were not cold because despite the wet weather it was still quite warm. It was a reminder, though, of how climate change is causing extreme weather in very fragile places around the globe.
I have felt healthy and energetic with the exercise, and only one day had an upset stomach. Auroville is very clean compared to most of India, and has made some of us question how secluded we are. After several days of discussion, and visiting the Matrimandir, a place for meditation, I am excited to see how I evolve here. Although, I have many questions and concerns about what Auroville has done in development, I am waiting to make any judgments until I better understand my own spirituality.