This morning I went coffee-begging. I have had but one decent cup of coffee since I left the States 10 days ago. I had planned on leaving ALL addictions behind this trip, hot black delicious organic medium roast caffeine included…
Well, bullshit. I NEED some actual coffee. This Nescafé crap is an insult to my morning tastebuds. It smells like dirt and puckers my mouth with a sour chemical tang. No help with jump-starting any real brain activity, either.
Christo, a witty and handsome fellow from South Africa, succumbs to my charms/pleas and donates a single, precious cup of the real stuff to my cause. Morning sparkles once again!
Actual food for thought: seasoned ashram-ers come here equipped with little coffee presses. And coffee. And peanut butter. And Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and peppercorns in grinders and olive oil and gomasio and marmite and marmalade. Lining their cherished supplies along their chosen tables, both laying claim and securing said table as their own for the duration of their stay. The tables are thus identified and owned by their display of culinary enhancements to simple ashram fare.
“It’s better than pissing around them,” says a guy originally from San Diego but who now lives in Bulgaria. Charming! But, YES, a lot better. Tastier too.
The cool thing is, no one pinches anything. There’s a healthy bartering system in play though. A smear of peanut butter for a lug of olive oil? Done!
Apart from the coffee thing, breakfast here is wonderful. There are cereal options, but I like two warm chapatis, some fresh curd, and a blop of spicy sweet apple-ginger-chili chutney. Truly delicious. A papaya from the local market stall will be a good addition.
Then I, too, will have something to display on my table.
I spend all day, every day with about 300 strangers. We are voluntary captives together, in this self-imposed prison – this closed-campus school – this surreal summer camp! We all boarded that early train in Delhi together. We followed each other 5 hours later like a straggling herd to the ashram. We stood in line, got checked in, got our keys and towels and toilet paper, and now – we all live together. Eat every meal together, drink chai together, chop vegetables and clean the kitchens together, walk to the VISITORS ONLY/HALF DAY WEDNESDAY supplies counter together, hang laundry, share a payphone, wake to the 3 a.m. bell for meditation together. We know each other through the thin walls and constant group activities.
Makes for a strange social situation, this relentless fellowship. It’s not bad at all; there’s no metal cups being hit against the bars just yet, but it’s not socially normal either.
We DO have metal cups, though.
However. I didn’t come here to make friends, or chit-chat, or to be clever or funny or quick-witted or cute or show off or keep up or prove anything. I do enough of that at home. I don’t need or want to maintain a certain persona here. I’m more than happy to talk to anyone, but I’m not going out of my way to do so. It’s actually nice to just shut the hell up for a while. I realize how much of my energy is typically taken up by others: wondering how they are, if they are ok, if they are ok with me, what are they doing anyway? I wonder if they will call. I haven’t heard from them in like two whole hours. Where are they? I bet I made them mad, when I did that thing. Shit I hope I didn’t make them mad. I wonder if they are ok…
…and on and on.
None of that here. Home and its inhabitants are now too far away to worry about. My cellphone doesn’t work and there’s no internet access. I’ve gone cold turkey on the information era. I am solitary, despite all this togetherness… lonely but selfishly relaxing. I am happy to stand to the side and observe, watching the roles people have appointed themselves, watching alliances form and avoidances begin. It’s a new chapter every day, with character development and deepening plotlines. I look forward to seeing what happens.