Monday, May 28, 2012

I was in Haiti. Post #2

Everyday the women would spend long hours cooking for us over a charcoal stove, delivering us our breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfasts were often greasy noodles and coffee, a Haitian favorite. Somedays we had eggs. One day, it was fried goat's blood. Lunch, the largest meal of the day, consisted of rice, beans, beets, fried starchy things, with either goat or fish. Dinner was a light, sweet labouye banane (Porridge. Make it and thank me for the link later). I tried almost everything, including the non-vegetarian items, although I made every effort to avoid organ meat. The food was good, carefully prepared, and I was grateful that we didn't have to worry about cooking for ourselves and the students as we tried to complete our project. My digestive system was not so appreciative upon return. 

During our relatively easy tasks, the men were outside constructing a building addition out of concrete in the hot sun, without having eaten anything all day. They were painfully thin. The arrangement was that they could have any of the leftover food from our meal, and no one questioned this, or even seemed to mind. They would still wave to me cheerfully from the road below. 

The guilt is unavoidable, of course, as is the case when one is confronted with such crippling inequality. I have experienced it before in other places, but this felt more extreme to me. It is no secret that the 2010 earthquake was one of the largest natural disasters in recorded history, affecting a country that was already the poorest in the western hemisphere. The tent cities are still there and visible from our route away from the airport. So yes, as I lowered myself onto a $100 Manduka, wearing my $65 yoga pants, purchased solely because I liked the design on the back, in a country with a per capita gross national income of $450, I felt myself being called out on my own new agey bullshit. Time and time again. I don't even want to think about the amount I shelled out just to go to the Confluence…

There have been a couple of posts attempting to quantify the costs of an Ashtanga practice (from Claudia et al.)- which seem to be far lower than the Bloomberg "going all out" estimate of a whopping $10,779. It is true that Ashtanga can be done for next to nothing (say, practicing at home in non-fancy clothing), but the Bloomberg article tried to do something interesting: to tack on some of those other frivolous expenses we indulge in while promoting our own enlightenment, like herbal teas, lavender eye pillows, and Krishna Das concerts. I, too, found myself eyeing the clothing, books, and trinkets at the Confluence like the pretty new age eye candy that they were. It goes beyond practicality or even aesthetic pleasure, I'll admit on some level I try to subtly project this image of a healthy yogini. The mala beads, organic cotton dresses, comparing which fair trade scarf I want to buy online, walking around with organic juice, tea, and coconut water. It's so subtile that I don't I realize it's there most of the time. How much of my disposable income is spent on these other things not directly related to my yoga practice, but still insidiously interwoven with it? Hello, samskara. 

Another sort of related thought: 
If there are to be more Ashtanga Yoga Confluences, would people be willing to contribute money for a "scholarship" (say, the cost of registration) to help facilitate attendance by those without such disposable incomes?


Yyogini said...

I've been thinking about it a lot too. One needs quite a bit of disposable income to be able to attend all these Ashtanga workshops and confluences, dressed in $100 yoga pants, practicing on an expensive Manduka Pro mat, drinking $3 canned coconut water, with a pile of yoga books on my shelf. Diving deep into the Ashtanga world makes me feel like a naive materialistic privileged diva on the path to pretentious enlightenment. Sigh... maybe once I finally get a job I'll try to volunteer more for charity or something.

wandering mb said...

It doesn't have to be that way, we just make it that way. And glancing around the Mysore room at the AYC, it seems like a lot of other people are doing the same thing. I think it's about signaling and trying to become a part of a certain 'in crowd'. When plucked from this environment and placed in another one, it became so obvious how unnecessary it all is.