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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A Revolving Door of Friendships

3 weeks in Sadhana Forest has confirmed that this is the most unique place on Earth I have ever visited.
Bicycling Indian style
Sadhana never stops and there are no dull moments here. My experience here has been a roller coaster of emotions as intense as the trials of backpacking. And almost all the other volunteers have had similar experiences.

The main reason for the constant ups and downs is the transient nature of Sadhana Forest. There are volunteers arriving and departing almost every day.

The day I arrived, I was surprised to be joined by 5 other new volunteers. After settling in and feeling "at home" after about one week, suddenly friends that I made began departing. Then, one morning at breakfast in the main hut, a wave of 12 volunteers were introduced! In just a few weeks since I arrived, Sadhana grew from 60 to 90 volunteers. And only 5 or so short term volunteers remained from the day I arrived, a nearly complete turnover.
Bonfire dancing
I was caught off guard, felt invaded by these new people coming into my "home." At first, I was slightly distant with them. But thankfully living and working together in close proximity gave me no choice but to befriend them, instead of falling into some sort of introverted recluse.

These days I'm in high spirits, after being able to find a balanced mix of being social and being in solitude. And I find that at Sadhana, I'm more extroverted than at any time of my life, a sign that I've found my community, my like minds.

That's so stereotypical of you...

The friendships I have made here include a globally diverse mix of individuals, and this has developed some stereotypes in my mind.

(Whoa, did he say stereotypes?) Yes, I am not afraid to talk about stereotypes. Stereotyping is humans' natural way of categorizing a world with too much stimulus and chaos. Stereotypes are okay, as long as they're done in a respectful or playful manner, and don't lead to prejudice.

So with that said, here are just a few of my lovely stereotypes based on Sadhana Forest volunteers. (in parentheses is the approximate number of people of each nationality I got to know)
Gustav from Sweden - actor and feminist. Plans to be in India 6 months or more
Swedish (5) - beyond their beautiful blue eyes, blond hair and H & M style, the Sadhana Swedish revealed an amazing sense of humour. They love to joke and poke fun at everyone, yet they also enjoy conversations about more serious topics and are driven to make the world a better place.
Greg from United States - has a radio-worthy voice smooth as butter. Long term volunteer at Sadhana Forest planning on staying 1 year
Americans (6) and British (4) share similar duality of behaviours, causing me to either praise'em or curse'em in one breath. Travellers from my past experiences have either been arrogant, entitled or blunt and brash, or they've been the complete opposite - gentle, pleasant and curious. Thankfully Sadhana only draws the latter.
Shay from Israel - back home volunteers for DROR Israel, a non-profit movement advancing equality and social responsibility. Shay will be in India for 5 months
Israelis (9) are fun and smiling, and enjoy bringing people together. They are also not shy about discussing controversial ideas and philosophies, and challenging those around them. Their intensity and awareness stems from living in a hotspot of global politics and religious conflict. I openly inquired with a few Israelis about the "Israel situation" and received fairly balanced responses, spreading blame for atrocities to both sides.
Guillaume from France - interrupted his medical school degree for a new and refreshing education - to travel India/Nepal for 10 months
French (4) are coffee lovers. Beyond that, their reputation for pride is not at all evident in Sadhana. Here, they are welcoming and super easy going and I feel calm and relaxed just being around them. Despite their quiet disposition, their preferred form of self-expression and enjoyment is through embracing nature and culture.
Stella from Germany - a Waldorf student, previously was a teacher for 1 year at Auroville
Germans (12) may still be my favourite people. I've probably met more Germans than any other foreign nationality in my life, including here at Sadhana. Its young people are highly critical thinking and motivated to find solutions to the world's problems. They always seem to either love or hate their country, known for its efficiency and order, in stark contrast to India's stumbling and bumbling chaos. They speak English as an ESL language better than any other nationality, which makes connecting with them easier.
Sash from India - quit her job to wander about India. About to embark on a walking journey 130 km from Pondicherry to Chennai
Indians (8) - because I've had trouble relating to locals during these travels, I can't say I've given Indians at Sadhana a fair chance, given the presence of so many foreigners. But I've had a few conversations with Indians that have revealed very interesting stories of boldness and rejection of the Indian conservative way of life.
Colin from Alberta! - documentary watcher extraordinaire. Plans to be in India 6 months
Canadians (6)... well, how can I talk about Canadians without sounding proud? Many foreigners I meet talk glowingly of the kindness of Canadians. And many of the Canadians at Sadhana carry the same soft spoken firmness and "let it be" attitude that makes me proud of my country.

Despite some obvious characteristics of the varying nationalities and personalities at Sadhana, one common string connects us all, and that is that we are all compassionate human beings, coming together in a global community with a common goal to improve the local environment and live sustainably.

Here at Sadhana, we are the real model United Nations.
Here I am, meditating with a cat in my lap

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