"Greenwork is in my blood now.."
1974: a bunch of fanatics
I was born in Holland, but at sixteen I went away to sea. I worked on ships, and later on Rhine barges for some years, then later I travelled overland to India. I did this trip three times. Once, in 1974, I almost came to Auroville. I was in Mahabalipuram and planning to come, but then I met some people who had just been here and they told me, "Everybody's depressed down there because somebody called the Mother has just died." They also described Auroville as "a bunch of fanatics digging a big hole"! This didn't sound like much fun to me, so I went to Goa instead.
1990: people trying to build a better world
In the early 1980s I went to live in Greece. I started
a leather workshop which made a comfortable living for many years, but
eventually it didn't work any more. I sold the workshop and suddenly
I felt completely free. Coincidentally my brother had just come back
from visiting Auroville, and he told me the people there were trying
to build a better world. This sounded interesting.
Brothers in leather..
For three days I walked around totally confused, trying to find out where Auroville was happening. I was just about to leave when I visited the Auroville Boutique and saw the leatherwork for sale. I asked who was making it, and was directed to André at Kottakarai. We hit it off immediately because we were the same age and had the same background. I went back to Greece and returned with my leather-working tools, planning to work with him.
From Adventure to Siddhartha Forest
But then I heard about a project to develop a new piece of land in the Greenbelt, and it really appealed to me. I gave up leatherwork and joined the Adventure community. None of us had a clue about what to do, so we made lots of mistakes. But we also learned a lot. However, after a year it was clear that while I really enjoyed the greenwork, the Adventure experiment was not working out for me.
Fortunately another plot of land needed care taking,
and I moved there with a friend. This was real pioneering, for whereas
Adventure already had many cashew trees, this other plot had virtually
nothing. The soil was terrible, villagers had already encroached upon
part of the land, there was a large pit from which gravel had been extracted
over the years…Still, we decided to try to make it into forest, the
Then I heard that the Forest Group was looking for a steward for the Success-Forecomers forest. Success is one of the oldest Auroville communities: along with Forecomers, Newlands and Ravena, it forms the largest area of forest in Auroville. Finally I decided I might be able to do it. The big attraction for me was getting away from the noise of the nearby village as well as the size of Success. Whereas my old place, Siddhartha Forest, was relatively small, the Success settlement covers over 60 acres. It is also a 'sanctuary', implying that, as far as possible, the forest is left alone and there is no commercial plantation. In some of the remaining open patches and on newly acquired land, however, I'd like to introduce indigenous trees that are missing from the existing forest in order to enrich the biodiversity.
Water by bullock cart
The main problem at present is lack of water. The old Success well collapsed some years ago, and now I bring water from a neighbouring community three times a week in a small tank on my bullock cart. It's enough for my household needs, but it's insufficient to raise a tree nursery or even to grow cow grass for the bullock. But a new well and windmill will cost Rs.2 lakhs, which is beyond my means.
As for the rest, it's fantastic living here. It's remote - I walk out in the evening and I know there's nobody around for miles - but I have no problem being on my own. This is my third pioneer-type experience in three years - which must be some kind of record for Auroville! - but I really see myself taking care of Success sanctuary for the long-term. I take long walks and feel the trees growing.
Greenwork is in my blood now, it's become a way of life.
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