Treveni II has been up and running as an ashram for 10 years. People come and stay for anything from a day to 6 months. Groups come here too. Volker is an awesome guide so he serves as the “Explainer-of-the-Wonderful-Complexity-of-India” (i.e.tour guide). The teacher that brings the group teaches whatever they teach - (Yoga, meditation, etc.) Usually the teacher and her group stay at “Best of India” (Treveni II) for a few days and then go off with Volker to other places.
When a person comes here solo, they pay by donation. That is really an interesting process. People get 3 healthier-than-home meals a day, a very clean and safe place to sleep, excellent water to drink, and all the experience and knowledge of Volker and Ute. All of this happens right in the Heart of one of the major destinations for travelers in India – Tiruvanamali and Mount Arunachala. Some people recognize the value and are very generous relative to their means. Some people say, “Well, I could have gotten a room somewhere else for 300 ruppees ($6.) so here's 300 rupees”. Some people leave a papaya. Wow! A whole papaya!
Sometimes for 300 rupees you can get a room with a clean bathroom. It is more likely you'll end up with a bathroom that has been heavily used even though the plumbing is not in order. You get the picture (and the smell). When a guest arrives, a hotel staff member takes a bucket of water and throws it into the bathroom, over toilet and all, and says “There! Clean!” And let me tell you, it is dirrrrrtier than ever! The water that just got thrown serves to spread the mess around and enliven the various parasites, microorganisms and mosquitos. You see, in India, they believe in a lot that they can't see – like God for example. But when it comes to germs, they don't believe in what they can't see. That's why you don't find soap in most bathrooms.
OK – so since I'm on the subject of poop and germs, let me tell you a couple more anecdotes about waste management.
Taking care of waste is a job only for the lowest caste. Unless an untouchable is handy, the bathroom will stay untouched. Furthermore, they do NOT like it if they realize you – the Great White Sahib – are even THINKING of cleaning your own bathroom. And why would you? They will throw a bucket of water over it anytime you ask!! (We clean our bathroom late at night. We clean silently....stealthily. We don't use a light for fear of arousing suspicion. We clean by feel).
The untouchables also collect garbage and do septic clean out. Now when the Roto Rooter comes around in the States, I have always found it sort of repulsive. But now I know I will never be disgusted again. Here in India, the Roto-Rooter process is carried out by humans in very little clothing, standing in “black water” up to their chests and cleaning it out by the bucket-full. The buckets are thrown on the street. Hmmmm. These human roto rooters sometimes need to come and do some work at Treveni II. Ute tells me that after they are finished, she offers them soap and water (she is a nurse and also very kind). They say “no” every time – rinse off a bit and go eat their lunch.
There is a certain beach that is uncharacteristically clean – no piles of poop around, no major garbage heaps. There are a number of outhouses on this beach. Each of them have a chute out the back. As you poop, the pigs hear the action and hurry over to the chute. The shit never hits the ground. And there are no fans on the beach so the shit never hits them either.
On a more serious note, there is a situation here that has grown worse by the year. I'll explain it by telling about Laksmi, who works here at Treveni II and her daughter, Priya. Laksmi, who is probably in her mid-30's, wakes up at 5 am and starts working. Priya, who is 15, does the same. They both work at home until 9 am. Priya goes to school from 9 – 9 – (the education system here is a sadder story than the waste management system). Laksmi works at Treveni II from 9am - 7 pm with a two hour break during which she goes home and – you guessed it – works. Laksmi was married off cheap to an alcoholic (all the family could afford in terms of dowry). He contributes nothing but debt and beatings to the family. So Laksmi works. But no matter how hard she works there is no chance that her house could ever get a septic system and bathroom as that would cost $700. U.S.
Laksmi and Priya, like other Indian women, are very shy and modest. They get up before dawn, go out and try to find a bush (bushes have nearly disappeard from the landscape in recent years) or hold sheets up for one another's privacy. In the process they are stalked by men and sometimes molested. These women have a real problem.
[A happy ending at least for one family is that in response to this situation, Volker and Ute are raising money for Laksmi and Priya's family to build a bathroom].