“I don’t do supposed to,” Dionne says, as she opens the gate leading to the family housing. I smile as I wipe my eyes and nose, hoping that Dionne hasn’t noticed that she just interrupted the pity party I was having for myself in my room. I instantly like this girl.
I arrived at the Eco Yoga Park in General Rodriguez three hours earlier. I still speak very little Spanish and the metro ride, followed by the bus ride, followed by the taxi ride which dropped me at the end of the long dirt driveway leading to the Eco Yoga Park in the middle of the country was overwhelming for me. Typically, I fit right in with the locals in Argentina, but carrying a 40 pound backpack strips away the benefits of my dark hair, eyes and complexion. My backpack combined with the necessity to ask for help and directions in rudimentary Spanish quickly announce my tourist status. Thankfully, every person I encountered on the journey was honest and helpful.
As I stumble around the grounds, a staff member welcomes me, takes my pack and leads me to the stupa. The afternoon yoga session has just started. I take off my hiking boots and wipe my sweaty feet on the grass in an attempt to get the stink off. I enter the stupa where a Hare Krishna nun, dressed in white, leads the 60 minute class.
At the end of the class, I am shown to my room. The volunteer dorms are overbooked and I have been upgraded to the Eco House in the center of the garden. I take off my clothes, take a quick shower and lay down on my bed with tears streaming down my face.
I decided to travel alone for awhile and this is the first time I have done so in a foreign country. Although everyone I encountered on the journey here was friendly and kind, my perceived level of vulnerability was sustained and exhausting. The yoga session and tears help me to relieve the stress.
Dionne knocks on my door to let me know that dinner is ready, but really she came by because she wants to check out my pad. Other than the indoor pit toilet, it is much nicer than the volunteer dorms.
After she trespasses onto the family housing area, we head through the organic garden to the theater where dinner is served. The food here is amazing-all vegetarian, mostly vegan and almost entirely grown onsite. Dinner is delicious. We eat communly, sitting on pillows and resting our plates on coffee tables.
Afterwards, The Buddha is projected onto a large screen. The staff turns out the lights so we can see the movie better. I lay back on my pillows and rest. About an hour into the movie, I feel something wriggling in the back of my pants. I reach in and pull out a three inch cockroach. I quickly leave the theater and forgo future movie screenings.
At 4 a.m., I wake up to some rustling in my room. The straw roof seems to be moving. As I reach for my glasses to get a closer look, a bird emerges from the straw and dive bombs me! I scream and run from the room. Now I am in a quandary. I have promised to do no harm while I am here. Ethically, I cannot leave the bird locked in the room to die, but an attack by a blue jay at age six has left me with a crippling fear of birds.
I stand outside of the room, weighing my options….Fear or Karma, Fear or Karma. Dammit, Karma wins. I open the door, run to the window and open it. I stand in the room and wait for the next attack. The bird is gone. I later learn that the bird comes and goes out of the straw ceiling as she pleases. The cantakerous creature makes a game of terrifying me. At some point, my fear exhausts me. We call a truce and become friends. The terms of our friendship are that the bird gets to do whatever she wants and I try not to scream.
I attend morning meditation. Hare Krishnas meditation style is fantastic! It is like a big party. People sing, dance and play instruments. Since I am illiterate in Sanskrit, Spanish and musical instruments, I sit quietly and observe. These people are jamming for Krishna at 4:30 in the morning! It is awesome to watch.
At 6:00 a.m., I head to the garden to meet Maria, the volunteer coordinator. She is a spunky, petite Bolivian. She hands me a hose.
“Agua aqui, and aqui, and aqui,” she directs while pointing to rows of squash, cabbage and beets.
I grab the hose and start my 4.5 hour volunteer shift. The weather is hot and humid. By 10 a.m., I have sweat through my shorts and tank top.
Maria comes by to check out my work, though I later learn that she has eyes in the back of her head. If she comes around, it is because she is curious about something. Today, she is curious about my name.
“Mucho agua, Quesi, mucho agua,” she instructs to open the conversation. “Su nombre es Quesi?”
“Si, mi nombre es Kaci,” I reply.
“What, yes,” she giggles. “Su nombre es Whatyes?”
We both erupt in laughter.
“Maria! Maria!” Dionne yells in her English accent.
Maria turns, covers her eyes with her hands and looks down the long rows of vegetables to where Dionne stands.
“There is a cow!” Dionne yells. Half running, half walking and half trying to hang onto her hose as she moves away from the calf that has just jumped the fence into the garden. The calf munches greedily on cabbage greens.
“Es O.K.,” Maria calls. She makes her way to the calf and guides him back through the fence.
I collapse in laughter. The look of fear and disgust on Dionne’s face is priceless.
After the work in the garden is done, lunch is served in the theater. Pagodas, green salad, mashed beets and fresh squeezed plum juice are on the menu for today. It is delicious.
I write this blog post to describe a typical day at the Eco Yoga Park, but really, there was never a typical day there. One day there is a cow in the garden, the next day we sneak into town for giant ice cream cones and the next I am scooping up toads in my bedroom. One day there are five volunteers and the next day 20. I met many interesting, lovable, and goodhearted people here. I spent Christmas and New Year’s with them. I also reacquainted myself with many of these lovely folks in Buenos Aires after leaving the Eco Yoga Park. Dionne and I had many misadventures and heart to heart conversations at the Eco Yoga Park, General Rodriguez and Buenos Aires.
Traveling on my own was at times scary, and also exhilarating and fullfilling to my badgering little ego. Most people went out of their way to help me, even though I speak minimal Spanish. For example, an older man exiting the metro at the same time as me in Buenos Aires noticed that I appeared lost in the underground, unable to find the exit. He approached me and asked me what I was looking for. He did not chastise me for my lack of Spanish, but led me to the exit and gave me exact directions to my hostel. This man did not speak English, but through gestures and crude drawings he was able to help me. Would you do the same for a foreigner visiting your country?