Nelly and Rene from Holland have been in Auroville now for three years with their 4 year old daughter and 17 year old son. Life in Auroville they say, has not been easy.
Rene, Manolo, Nelly and Verle
“Apart from the nightmare housing scenario, things have been good,” says Nelly. “It is tough being here with a young baby without family support and I have been through many changes. Which is, of course, why I came – to try and realize things that were very difficult to practise in Holland . But in fact I had to change a great deal.
“Back in Holland one could always blame the system for the situation, but here there is only yourself to fall back on. There seems to be this constant pressure here to raise oneself to a higher level, and that is good, but it can be a great effort. The strong positive and negative energy fields here can cause one a lot of confusion. When you are new here you can feel you are sucked into the historical accumulations that have accrued over the last 40 years, both the good and the bad, and it can be difficult to keep one's own individuality and freshness.
“I guess I am typically Dutch with their stubbornness and resistance to change. You can easily see here in Auroville how people bring their national characteristics with them, something that generally causes difficulties!
“We lived in a keet hut in Aspiration for two years and I became seriously ill from the damp and fungus. At one stage my condition became so serious I thought I might die, so the only resort was to go back to Holland and recover. It was a dreadful period. I hear the Aspiration keet huts are going to be pulled down – thank goodness for that! Now we have a house in Gaia's Garden and are very happy.
“My son Manolo who is 17, loves the freedom Auroville has given him. He spent a lot of time with Johnny in the Greenbelt and developed a love of nature and now has a palm tree nursery. He cycles around the villages and collects different palm tree seeds and now has quite an extensive collection of seeds and plants. He goes to the Bangalore Botanical Gardens and is making connections with various seed banks. He also loves his school and appreciates the scope for expression it gives him after the pressure of exam-oriented schooling of Holland . However he misses the Dutch friends he grew up with, but keeps in touch by e-mails.
“Veerle was only one year old when we came here. We had a terrible shock when on Veerle's birthday, our third day here, Sydo, a Dutch Aurovilian was murdered. Although we did not know him personally, we were staying with people who knew him well. This was a shocking confrontation for us. It abruptly brought us into the reality of Auroville and India . We realized it would be very different from our rose-tinted expectations.
“I am still learning to accept situations rather than fight them. I have left my home country and everything I was familiar with and I have to try and ‘find my way' in this new land. Maybe my sickness was part of this; I don't know. Auroville has not been easy. I think I faced death through frustration, exhaustion and illness. But I am still here and love being here.”
“At first we were happy with our hut in Aspiration as we wanted to experience community life, but after a while the reality began to show through. We expected more commitment to Auroville's goals from people we knew. We were disappointed when most people from the communal kitchen we were part of were not interested in trying to organize organic vegetables. We were surprised when we saw the difference in living conditions between the Westerners and the Tamils.
“But after a year or so we realized it was no good pointing the finger at other people, it was only by looking at oneself that things could be improved. We saw that the people who stay in Auroville are the ones who accept this attitude; the ones who can't, will leave feeling bitter and frustrated. This was personally a very important lesson for me in the newcomer period.
“Often the thought comes, ‘What the hell am I doing here?' Only when I went back to Holland last year did I realize how much I had changed. I felt uncomfortable there. It is difficult to explain mentally. I realized Auroville has ‘an indefinable attraction' and that I am on a path of no return.”