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Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's because of the monsoon, silly

2 weeks of just hanging out and working
2 weeks of monsoons
1 week of bs computer issues
5ish weeks without posting.

So, those first two weeks were spent, if I recall correctly, working as a chef and then as a member of the hygiene team. Each were week-long positions that gave me the chance to delve a bit into the workings of the place. Chefs are responsible for 1 meal a day for 6 days of the week, which means that they have to plan a 3 or so course meal (porridges, fruit salads, rice, dahl, vegetables, treats, etc) for between 30 and 75 volunteers and then tell the cooking team what to do and how and when. It's not exactly easy, but since all the volunteers understand how hard it is, everyone is quite forgiving when stuff gets burned or just comes out bland. I wish I could remember what my major successes were, but honestly my chef gig was so long ago that the only thing I remember coordinating was a fantastic batch of mashed potatoes with tahini.

As a member of the hygiene team, I was allowed the privilege of walking around each restroom (read: 2 potty holes in the ground, 1 pee hole in the ground, 1 barrel of sawdust, 1 barrel of water), sticking 4-foot long poo-stirring sticks into the potty hole, and stirring the shite for 2 or 3 minutes (to mash up any pesky maggots and mix the poo with sawdust for maximum drying/composting action), then going around and mopping off the platforms. Also, if one of the potty units is full, it has to be emptied, which means using a tray on a stick like you might have by your fireplace to empty a 500 liter underground barrel of poo.

I actually really enjoyed the hygiene work. Poo is apparently not so disgusting if you take a few simple steps. Sawdust immediately neutralizes the odor and sliminess, and if you stir and compost it for just a few weeks, it quickly becomes a rich mixture that you don't at all mind running your hands through to combine dirt for planting. Of course, if you are at the point where you don't mind cleaning your bum with your hand, then you probably won't worry about touching composted poo either.

After both of those experiences, I took a week-long job as a firestarter, which means that I aided the chef in keeping fires going during cooking times and did some other kitchen upkeep work. This was not quite so intense as cheffing, except for the fact that because I had already cheffed with moderate success, I wound up helping the new chefs more than I had planned.

Then things got tough. The beginning of the rainy season, when mosquitoes get crazy and clothes get moldy, coincided with the beginning of the permaculture course. This meant that the 20 or so volunteers who had agreed to stay at Sadhana for 3 years to develop expertise for themselves and decrease Sadhana's dependence on outside food sources, i.e. the 20 most informed people around, stopped doing work and started studying all the time. This left just a small group of medium-term volunteers (people like me who had been around for a month and would be around for one or two more to pick up the slack) to take on the "management positions." I was chosen to train with and then replace the hygiene head, meaning I would continue to clean and empty toilets daily, and also instruct the weekly hygiene team on maintaining the showers, laundry area, and hand-washing stations.

All was going smoothly and I was happy with and even proud of the way I had "moved up" to a position of some importance and responsibility. Then the rains came and soaked the soil, increasing its weight so much that it cracked several underground poo canisters, allowing water to soak in and ruin the dry-composting system. Emergency toilet emptying sessions ensued, as did excavation of the damaged clay pots and their replacement.

Then, just as I had played my part in averting a total poo crisis, the two people who had been picked to replace the kitchen manager (who trains and supervises the chefs and firestarters, approves the meal plans, makes the food orders, attempts to maintain good hygiene practice,and in general staves off total kitchen chaos) left, one to study yoga and one to study meditation. I was then asked to step up and perform what I have only now come to understand is the single most difficult task in Sadhana. I've been at it for about 10 days now, spending at least 4 hours in the kitchen every day, more when chefs or firestarters are sick and I actually have to get my hands dirty. It was terribly stressful at first, but I've since learned to trust my chefs a bit more and worry about the quality of the food a bit less, and now I'm actually sort of enjoying it. The course ends this week, though, which means I get to return the position (along with the stress) to its rightful owner.

What else...I'm really enjoying the super-international atmosphere at Sadhana. Two Italians have passed through (one from Padova, where I lived for a few months back in the day), so I've had a chance to practice my much beloved fourth language, as well as hordes of Koreans, including one with a moustache on par with mine in terms of fantasticity. They were part of a traveling school, where the kids (13-17 years old) take a year off from public school and spend it instead in Nepal and various cities in India, studying music and dance and martial arts and foreign languages and all sort of useful stuff. Probably not so great from a carbon point of view, but probably really good in terms of the well-being and development of the kids. We have also had volunteers from: Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, France, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Canada, USA, Ireland, Scotland, UK, Australia, Colombia, Tibet, Israel, Algeria, Ukraine, and maybe others. It is amazing how easily everyone gets along, and how well most of them speak English. Unfortunately, most Europeans and each and every Indian speaks more languages than I do.

The BS computer issues probably are not that interesting. They stem either from excess humidity or dead ants inside, and result in the inability to type certain letters (including some in my email passwords :-() and the inability to stop my computer from typing others. This makes blogging feasible only when I am out using computers that draw their energy from the repulsive public power grid. Now that I've again become conscious of this fact, I think it may be time to sign out. Sorry, world!