Who? Filippa Charitou, MSc Leisure, Tourism and Environment
What? Internship with the Mohanam Cultural Centre
Where? Auroville in India
‘Auroville is a very special place. The town was founded 50 years ago by a spiritually minded couple. It is aimed at a sustainable way of life with healthy eating, yoga and meditation. A bit like hippies, but without the drugs. I was so enthusiastic when I arrived and my housemates gave me a tour of the town I would be staying in for the next few months — it all seemed so beautiful and friendly. Until later that evening when I discovered a cockroach in my room. When I called on a housemate in panic, he looked at me as if to say: “What did you expect? You’re in India!” After two beers to calm myself down, I hermetically sealed my bed by tucking the mosquito net under my mattress. The following day I went looking for new lodgings, this time without any cockroaches.
Apart from this, adapting to my new surroundings wasn’t difficult as I loved everything about India except for the cockroaches. Indians are incredibly hospitable despite the poverty and poor conditions — rubbish in the streets, people who just pooh in public. Even people who have virtually nothing will invite you into their home and offer you something to eat.
The Mohanam Cultural Centre, where I worked, is concerned with the empowerment of women, children and communities. Tourists are given the opportunity to do their bit too. My day in India usually started with an early meditation session at home. Then I went to work, where I was involved in improving the organization of tourist excursions, for instance, or modifying questionnaires. After work I went holistic dancing — I just loved that.
What amazed me most about India was how the traffic was organized. There is a strict hierarchy based on size. Pedestrians are at the bottom, followed by motor bikes, rickshaws, cars, buses and lorries. If a lorry wants to get through, everyone moves to the side. But there is one road user who has a special status — the cow. Even if a cow lies down in the middle of the street, no one will touch it so the traffic comes to a standstill.’