Friday, 27 September 2013

Our House...(Part 1)

I wanted to write about about our new home today. We are based in a newish community called 'Realization' which has been around for about 3 years (AV is split into communities of varying sizes each with it's own name such as Certitude, Courage, Discipline etc). We have a very central location within AV, the library, food co-operative and Solar Kitchen (the main place for residents to eat) are all a short distance away. The houses in this community were all designed by one architect and are made from mudbrick, they are part of a housing plan from the Earth Institute to help with the shortage of homes available in AV by making low cost, environmentally friendly homes (more info here for those interested: Realization Project Website).
Our house is the first of a block of 4 houses of varying sizes and we are in the furthest block from the entrance. The community seems split between retired and younger families and even seems divided in that the older residents are situated in the first half of the community and those of us with children are situated at the back. I think this is a good thing as it keeps the children further from the community entrance and as traffic is not permitted beyond the entrance it means they can play safely as well as hopefully giving the older residents slightly more peace! There are 5-6 children I think, ranging from 6 to 6months, K is loving having so many playmates nearby!
We have a community meeting once a month to discuss community finances, work needing to be done etc and so far we feel we are in very friendly, peaceful company. It's nice to actually know your neighbours and give a nod, smile or wave.
So here is our house (the main building on the left and the balcony area to the right of it):
and here is our front door:
It's really starting to feel like home!
It has concrete floors and having just a mezzanine first floor means it is very airy which helps to keep the place cool. The main windows all have glass and mesh (to keep the mosquitos out) but the smaller windows above them are just mesh which helps the air circulation too. Being made of mudbrick it is prone to getting very dusty inside and there are few fixtures on the walls as they tend to just crumble but the bonus of them being totally eco friendly offsets a bit of dust, I reckon! 
The other issue is that the houses weren't build with ant channels (a channel of water around the house to keep ants out) so we get overrun with ants if we don't keep things totally clean - one small crumb will have them swarming. We get biggish black ants which are harmless and tiny red ants which give a nasty bite. They also like living within the mud bricks so we can never really be free of them. We have ant chalk which is a useful deterrant (yes, it's a poison but there is only so many times you can deal with ants in your bed). We have drawn a ring of this chalk around our bed legs as well as our clothing storage (ants in your pants is also no joke!). Our food larder in the kitchen stands on top of 4 raised dishes which we keep filled with water to keep them out too. We just have to wash up more often, shake out clothes before putting them on and take care to clean up spilled food immediately, all things you just adapt to.
We also have a uncertain number of geckos living in our house, they are meant to be lucky and for the most part are great to have around as they eat mosquitos and other bugs. They are most active at night and can often be seen chasing one another over the ceiling and making a chirruping noise. K loves having them around as do we. The only drawback with them is they leave pellet-like poos around (if the ants weren't already a reason to cover food) and that sometimes they forget they are on the ceiling when they lay eggs which results in a little smashed egg on the floor which brings out the ants. Other than that though they are nice to have around.
Here is a tiny baby gecko :)

We have a water filter in the kitchen for our drinking water (although the tap water is pretty safe once boiled), which uses a porous stone in the top chamber, called a candle, to filter the water into the bottom chamber. It works really well and is more eco friendly than the electric filters that are used here. The fridge always has 4-5 bottles of water in there!

We just have two gas hobs for cooking at the moment, it's a far cry from our former kitchen with it's 4 rings, oven, grill, microwave, toaster and kettle combo. It's a nice challenge to rethink how we cook but I do miss baking, especially making quiches and the occasional sweet treat. One of our neighbours has a cake tin which has sand in the bottom and is specifically for making cakes on the hob, I will be learning how it works at some point.
Our diet so far consists of daal and rice, soup, stew, pasta (although it is imported and as such is pricey) and lots of fresh baked bread, and lovely fresh fruits and veg. Am particularly enjoying the pineapples, pomegranates and huge avocadoes and can't wait for mango season. I have also had to rethink my love of cheese as although Auroville is renound for its amazing French cheese, it's is an expensive treat when we are trying to live as frugally as possible.

The item on the right hob is our toaster.
There haven't been as many power cuts as there were last time we visited which is a relief and they don't normally last too long. We are also incredibly lucky to have a UPS system which is a back up battery system that switches on if the power goes off. it is linked to a few lights and sockets so we can still have power. C says this will be invaluable during monsoon as the power is switched off during heavy thunder and lightning storms as a safety precaution.
Anyway, it is getting late here (well, 9.30pm - I was up at 6am so it doesn't feel so early as that!) and am going to close for now. That's a bit about the inside of the house, have more to say about our recent gardening activities and the creatures we met (yep, met my first scorpion) in the next installment. Thanks for reading :)


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Birthday musings

So today is my 29th birthday.

I awoke at 6am to the sound of the crickets and frogs just as the day was dawning. We had some rain last night so they were extra happy as was our garden. I then sat on our veranda and watched the butterflies taking their morning breakfast from the blossoming creeper that is now entwined with the cluster of Neem trees next to our house and made time to give thanks for getting this far.

It's the first birthday I've celebrated here in India so feels special as well as it being my final year in my 20s. I have so many hopes and aspirations for this coming year, that I continue to work on and improve my mental and physical health, to take joy from all that I do and to share that joy with my son, husband and closest friends/family.

I already feel my life becoming more relaxed here in the midst of nature and a lifestyle simplified but I know that there is more to be done, it has only been 3 weeks after all...I have so much hope that this move will help me to be the best I can be. We shall see where this next year takes us.

Back soon, Laura.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Our first couple of weeks...

Hi, it's a little hard to work out where to start. These last two weeks have passed in a blur of busy-ness both at home and at various locations in AV and Pondicherry.
During our first week we spent time at the AV Residents service filling out forms that were to be taken to the RRO in Pondy (the immigration office) as well as the financial service, foundation office, a lunch/swim at Mango Hill, a few visits with old friends, getting the bags unpacked and settling in and 3 birthday parties. We also had a few days of thunder storms which were just spectacular to see/hear. C and I sat out on our balcony and watched the most impressive forked lightning practically overhead. Gave me a taste of the coming monsoon!
It was also Ganesh Chathurti just after we arrived which is a celebration of Ganesh's birthday, there was big brightly painted statues of Ganesh outside temples and they have a national holiday to mark it. After that they collect all the small clay models of Ganesh from households and smaller temples along with the bigger models and put them in a river or here, they put them in the sea as it's closer, we were having lunch yesterday when a couple of trucks of whooping young lads and Ganesh models drove past.

The view from our bed

The view from our front door

Lunch and a swim at Mango Hill thanks to C's mum and her partner. A much needed relax!
Ganesh Chathurti

This last week we have made 3 trips to the RRO as it seems the Indian Embassy in London messed up our visas by not letting us know we needed a one year entry visa  instead of six months and not adding the Auroville endorsement to the visa itself. Indian bureaucracy is at best, a pain in the bum so it's not a huge surprise and we'll just see what happens, not too worried at the moment.

K will be starting Kindergarten on the 7th Oct, the day after his 4th birthday which we are looking forward to, he needs the time away from us and to settle back into a routine after such an upheaval. He'll be going 5 days a week 8.30/9am-1pm which is pretty much the same hours as his nursery but 3 extra days. They use a more Montessori approach to education so he'll attend until he's 6-7 before going to school and until then his time will be dedicated to play, body awareness (yoga etc), singing, playing outside and making friends - he's not at all shy so we hope he will thrive once he's gotten over his tendancy to hit and be rude which I think is a reaction to the big move. It means once he's there I can start work which is essential before starting my Newcomer process. C is classed as a 'Returning Aurovillian' so only has a 6 month probation also starting once he has work.
Other than that we have been working on the garden area of our house, it has only been habited by housesitters before we moved in so there is much to do. So far we have planted some trailing plants in the troughs on the balcony above the front door as well as some tulsi and aloe vera. C's mum has given us 4 plants for the front garden - I can't remember what the first two were but they have pretty pink flowers and the second two are desert roses. We have also been planting some grass to cover up the patches of red earth which was easier last week with the rain but now the earth is so hard that it's much harder work.

The front of our house
That's it for now, there is so much more to write about like how life is here, the wildlife, food, people etc but it will come in time. Speak soon.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Landed - our journey...

Saturday dawned bright and early. We did our rounds and said our goodbyes. It was all a bit surreal, especially driving out of our town on the coach not knowing when we would be back. We arrived at Heathrow at around 5pm and got a shuttle to our hotel. It was nice to have one last comfy night's sleep before the big journey.

We left the hotel at 9.30am and got another shuttle bus to Terminal 4, K was very excited to be in an airport. Once we'd checked the luggage in, we had a last English breakfast (veggie for me) and went to find a quiet spot to wait for our flight to be called. We'd just sat down when we saw our plane pull up

We were among the first to be let on the plane (one of the perks of having a small child when travelling) so had time to get settled. K was very excited at this point and loved being in a window seat - a luxury he didn't have the first time he flew.

The flight set off at around 1.30pm and we said our goodbyes to the UK. I felt a bitter-sweet sadness at this point, the prospect of all that lay ahead of us but leaving what has been my home for most of my life. I kept looking out of the window until the UK disappeared below the clouds.
That first 8 hour flight wasn't too bad, me and C took turns in sitting next to K to keep him amused. The onboard entertainment was pretty sparse, especially for non Hindi speakers, still we didn't fly with Air India for the entertainment but rather the 46 kilo baggage allowance per person (inc K). Eventually K fell asleep to our relief but I tend to find it hard to switch off when travelling, especially having a child to think of so settled down to a film rather than a nap.

We landed in Mumbai at around 3am, and had to wake K and find our luggage as we were then to transfer onto a domestic flight. We thought we were in for a 4 hour wait in the airport but once we'd got through multiple security checks and bag x-rays we only had an hour to go. We got onto a bus which drove us away from the bigger international area of the airport and over to the domestic flights. By this time it was 6.30am and it was already hotting up. We were all pretty tired by this point and I did nap a little while C kept K amused looking out of the window at rural India. I was awoken by the 'fasten seatbelts' noise and saw Chennai spread out in all it's sprawling glory. Pristine skyscrapers next to precariously built tin shacks, a mess of old and new, rich and poor, clean and dirty shimmering below in the morning heat.
We retrieved our luggage and more than a little dazed, walked into Chennai. We had a taxi waiting for us so loaded it up and set off on the final 3 hours of our journey.

That last part of the journey was a bit of a blur, me and K in the backseat were in and out of consciousness. It was really hot and I kept dreaming that we were driving through India only to awake at a particularly loud horn or bump in the road to find it was true. Eventually we arrived at our new home in Auroville at about 1-2pm. That first night's sleep was amazing, we were even awake before K for a change!
I did manage to take a short film of our first moments driving from Chennai airport for those that are interested: Chennai taxi ride.
I'll be back with our first week here soon, things have been very busy so far. We didn't have internet at home until a few days ago and there has been so much to do and arrange that by 9pm most evenings I'm fast asleep. More soon and sending love from India!
Laura x