Friday, June 5, 2009

2009 06 05. Friday.

2009 06 05. Friday.

(Anyone with a weak stomach or just finished a meal may want to skip this next section. On the other hand, anyone who revels in the natural earthy world will enjoy. I think my friend Beth Leamond will totally love this section.) There are some signs around the ashram advertising a "Compost Party" at 2:30pm each day. So after lunch today I had some free time and decided to troop over there in the hot Indian sun and see for myself how the words "compost" and "party" can go together. Oh. My. God. Was I ever in for a "new and enriching life experience". So in a nutshell; this is a compost party: Take a 4 foot by 6 foot section of land and layer in the following: straw - buckets of Indian food waste - wood chips - cow dung mixed with cow urine - another layer of vegetable mush kitchen scraps - banana leaves - cow dung - wood chips - more wet and sloshy food waste - etc and repeat until the rectangular pile is about 3 feet high. Each layer is spread out and evened out by hands wearing gloves with multiple small rips and holes. Cover the pile with an even layer of fresh cow dung (spread out by hand) which will harden in the hot sun. At the end of this process my hands are essentially covered with pretty much everything that was layered into this aromatic lasagna of food waste, straw and cow poop.

I was deeply and pleasantly surprised at how quickly my nose got used to the smell! I've never before in my life been so close to so much cow dung and cow dung mixed with cow urine. At first it was really intense! And all this happening under a baking Indian sun. But then after 5 minutes I got totally used to it and totally disregarded the smell. So even though the smell was strong, it was totally natural. The cows at the ashram are all raised in a totally organic and natural way, so their dung is pure and not tainted with chemicals, unnatural feeds or bad and crowded living conditions. Also I think we humans have a deep natural instinct for what is natural and organic so the smell, even though strong, wasn't repulsive or bad.

Here's the kicker; after the fresh pile was all complete and we were cleaning up, the lady in charge said "OK, time for the blessing!" Huh? One of Amma's yellow robed brahmacharis then walked over and we all stood around our new rectangular heap of bacterial heaven. The brahmachari then said a short prayer and voila! An officially blessed Amma compost heap! What could be better? I felt strangely satisfied looking at our aromatic creation. After about 3 months this pile of (choose your own descriptor) will turn into some of the most unbelievably powerful fertilizer imaginable. This was pile number 23. I could tell because the pile next to it was neatly labeled "22" with a little sign sticking up. Apparently the ashram generates enough waste that we can make a pile a day. These piles better process soon cause we're gonna run out of space before too long.

Anyone reading this who is an avid gardener will totally get how good this is. We used to throw the food waste right into the backwaters. I know cause that was one of my jobs the last time I was here. So its really wonderful to see all that rich food waste turning back into top grade fertilizer. Amma really is serious about encouraging us to live in harmony with nature cause she's setting aside a good chunk of land for this composting. Amma also hopes to encourage the locals to start their own compost piles. There are more and more gardens sprouting up all around the ashram so it looks like we'll have plenty of use for all this fertilizer. And there are hundreds of potted plants of all kinds here lining the walkways and filling lots of nooks and crannies around the ashram.

Hey Beth; send this section to your friend "The Compost Queen". I'm sure she would enjoy reading it.

Once we were all done I sprinted over to the water tap to rinse my hands. Never has a hand rinse felt so blissful! Then, to celebrate our work, I trooped back in time for afternoon chai. Mmmmm! Then a shower. I leave it to your imagination as to how wonderful that shower was.

Its interesting that some Indian men were actively helping with the compost. Normally the westerners and Indians do the seva jobs separately, but its definitely nice to be working with them. It seems they also like the idea of composting and not wasting any of the organic waste the ashram generates. The person in charge was an American lady who seemed to really know her way around a compost pile. She guided us with a sure had and the Indian men had no problem that she was in charge.

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