Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The (Not So) Simple Life

Over the last two days, I’ve come face to face with simple work and failed to stand up to the challenge. Yesterday, I found Rameshbhai outside in the farm and quickly went downstairs to see if I could help (The Ashram has an acre of land where it does organic agriculture, and Rameshbhai is the man in charge). I at first played it cool because I didn’t want to seem over-enthusiastic, so I asked him if I could help him move the pile of grass he had created while weeding one of the plots. He said it goes in the compost bin, but declined my request. Then I stood and watched him for a while. He was weeding the plot with a “Dantherdu” (pictured), pulling up grasses and small unwanted plants. His technique was efficient, like a surgeon. Frequently he would pull up earthworms, of which I was surprised to see so many in the soil. When he “unearthed” one, he would use the tool to deftly cover the worm back up to allow it on its way back into the soil.

After watching him for a while, he finally asked if I wanted to help, which I said yes to, trying my best to curb my enthusiasm. He was going to get me another Dantherdu so we could work together, but he got called into his house to meet some guests. I indicated to him that I could carry on, and started to mimic the technique which I had observed him doing. He didn’t really give much feedback, but in the end he said I was doing it right. He then left me and told me to do as much as I was comfortable with. I looked at the side of the plot he had started, and figured I could finish that section (about 8 feet of soil, 3 feet wide). So I started going at it. Within 10 minutes my back started aching, and my knees wouldn’t allow me to squat for too long before I needed to stand straight and take a rest. It was *really* hard work. Later on I realized that I didn’t have the stamina for it because the muscle groups I was using weren’t the ones I use when I go to the gym. Rameshbhai probably couldn’t benchpress as much as me, but he would smoke me in a weeding competition. Anyway, in a half hour I was done. I really was struggling for the last 15 minutes of that time, trying desperately to finish the section I set out to do. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it (To the right are before and after pics of the plot I weeded).

Today I had my second taste of defeat. I set out to hand-wash my clothes. I had a couple underwears, wifebeaters, a kurta shirt, a pair of pants, and a collared shirt. A few days earlier Moneyben, the woman who cleans my guesthouse, had shown me the basic technique of washing underwear. It looked easy enough when she did it, and I figured I could extrapolate the technique for the larger items. So this morning I filled a bucket halfway with soapy water and put the clothes in to soak for a while, as Moneyben had shown. So far I was doing great. After soaking, you take out each garment one at a time, apply some more soap, and scrub with hands and a brush. After that, you rinse and move on to the next. The problem was my technique was really bad. I didn’t know what I was doing with the soap, whether I should scrub with my hands, use the brush, and in what combination.

The clothes seemed to be clean, but I also wasn’t really sure whether I was doing that sufficiently. Rinsing was also a problem. I couldn’t quite get out all of the soap from any of the garments, nor could I squeeze them enough that they were no longer dripping water. For the pants, I couldn’t scrub out several mudstains that had gotten on them from the farming fiasco the day before. Also making it difficult was the fact that I had to sit down on a small stool near ground level so that I could use the ground to squeeze the clothes of water… again my back quickly began to kill me and I couldn’t get comfortable for long. I was at times definitely feeling helpless doing this chore, and all I was doing was washing clothes!

The worst lay ahead. After scrubbing to the best of my ability, I laid out the clothes to dry on the line outside my room. After going downstairs and eating breakfast, I came back up to check on the clothes, and what do I see? The wire lines have put rust stains onto my clothes! There were red lines across my shirt, pant, and kurta. I went back to the buckets and scrubbed as best I could, but the stains remained, however faintly. At this point I felt totally hopeless. Where was Moneyben!?! I was shocked that I could bungle such a seemingly simple act as washing clothes.

My two encounters with simple living were in my estimation a disaster. In both cases I left with aches in my back with only failure to show for it. I realized I have a long way to go to achieve any sort of self-sufficiency in my lifestyle. Will I try again? I’m not looking forward to it, but I must. I’m hoping that the learning curve is steep, but for now the last thing I’m thinking about is scrubbing or weeding. The one positive of my experience is a growing appreciation for manual work, which I’m glad to no longer take for granted.


  1. Good attempt at physical work. As someone who is born into the 'priveledge' of not being forced to do physical work, I see its absense in my life as unfortunate. Simply put, it benefits the subject and the object of the work while not negatively impacting the environment. And maybe if all of us did a little, then some wouldn't have to do so much. Of course, things in the 'real world' are not so simple, eh? ;-)

  2. I love it. =) When you do get good at these "tasks" though... it gets sooo rewarding! How is your "weeding" and "washing clothes" abilities now?