We are enjoying our stay on Vandana Shiva’s farm at Navdanya – Bijavidapeeth (Seed or Earth University)… although sadly she is not here. Hopefully I will catch her in Delhi. Our first night was off to a very bad start: Kathy took a terrible tumble down two ill-lit and unexpectedly narrow steps as she left the dining hall to go outside to wash her dishes… She spent the night in wretched pain and then we spent the entire next day schlepping in to Dehra Dun to have an Indian hospital adventure (took all day – about 5 hours plus 1 hour journey each way). Fortunately the treatment was ultimately excellent – courteous, professional, effective…and inexpensive! About $30 for exam, x-ray, cast and medications! She has a slight fracture just above the elbow. The cast is extremely heavy – old fashioned plaster – but has relieved her discomfort. The pharmacy was quite a sight – with a jumble of boxes and staff climbing all over the place.
At Navdanya we learned about how they are offering education in organic farming to farmers all over India. So many have lost their traditional wisdom since the advent of the ‘Green Revolution’ in the 70’s. Navdanya teaches the importance of diversifying crops to avoid the risks and degradation of monoculture. They teach the wisdom of saving seed each year – whether there was a good crop or not, whether the particular crop will be planted that year or not – since Mother Nature adapts year by year to changing conditions. Especially with the great shifts of climate change – these natural seeds brilliantly adapt year by year. They teach a number of methods of saving the seeds: best is in a small woven container sealed with cow dung and mud. All of the buildings at Navdanya are also covered with this clay of cow dung and mud – an excellent insulator and natural pesticide. The farm grows many experimental crops – wheat, rice, vegetables, herbs.
The surrounding countryside is lovely – and wild: peacocks and monkeys abound. And wild dogs too: one of our volunteers took an early morning walk and got surrounded by a pack of dogs that became quite aggressive… she managed to climb up a mango tree and hung there quite some time till one of the Navdanya staff happened by to help! We also heard a story of a tourist in a nearby town getting jumped on by a number of monkeys when she was carrying some food!
The group of volunteers (US, France, Germany, Holland, Australia, Korea, Canada, India, UK) was wonderful. What a joy to make so many new friends throughout this trip. I celebrated my birthday in the traditional India way by offering candies to everyone: a sweet new tradition! I was also delighted to host a Conversation Café the first night when we enjoyed a fascinating conversation sharing stories about when we felt most nourished in our lives and reflecting on how we can create a world that feeds us in healthy, sustainable ways. The next day we extended the conversation to our struggles around consumption and the exploitation and pollution it typically entails: while we didn’t find many new solutions, we felt comforted to know we were from around the globe and all struggling and experimenting in similar ways: ‘transition town’ trials are bubbling everywhere.
The second night I offered a short introductory session on Compassionate Listening and was gratified with the loving and open response from our lovely circle of a dozen international visitors. It’s interesting to get the feedback that for Westerners, 3 minutes feels so very long to speak/be listened to without interruption (an exercise we do in pairs) – but for Indians it is way too short. The urge to fix and problem solve seems universal and everyone was grateful to learn the value of silent, loving holding of space for the speaker. The mediation on self compassion was also deeply received and appreciated.
We then headed to Dehra Dun and visited a most amazing Tibetan Buddhist Monastery – Mindrolling Monastery (!) with an astounding 35 meter Buddha dedicated to the Dalai Lama and a huge stupa. The enormous Temple was gorgeous, every wall covered with exquisite paintings, the hall filled with chanting monks and clanging cymbals and horns, scent of incense… holy, holy, holy. Om nama shivaya. Then we headed to the Forest Research Institute, training sight for national forestry service – housed at an enormous red brick colossus (larger than Buckingham Palace) — estate of a Raj who built this gigantic palace in early 1900s that now houses many museums and varied forests including a magical one of bamboo. We even had some time for shopping at the pedestrian bazaar and found a great sweater (it’s chilly up here in the mountains!) and lovely pashmina scarves… So hard to choose from the profusion of gorgeous cloths!!!
Mid afternoon we met with my friend Mary Jane’s friend, Chayya, who is the state director for Room to Read. What an extraordinary project! The founder, John Wood, quite his high level position at Microsoft to pursue his passion for Nepal and books: 15 years later, he has founded scores and scores of libraries and well over a million books in countries all over Asia and Africa. Wow! A brilliant model: here in India, they work with the government schools that provide the actual space for the library. Room to Read then stocks with books, provides training to all teachers and staffs, and sets up the system over a 3 year period to insure sustainability of the program. Books are color coded so any child can pick the right book for their reading level. Their goal is to cultivate joy and the habit of reading. They are much attuned to cultural appropriateness and have published many books using local writers and artists. I am so inspired by the power and success of this project!