After ten days exploring Dunedin, I arrived at the Hare Krishna “temple” on Saturday, July 9 to begin my wwoofing. The temple is a large building located on the slope of a hill in the center of Dunedin, hosting Seva (a member of the community), the wwoofers and serving as a place of celebration for gatherings taking place several times a week. Although a bit austere, the place is very friendly with wooden floors and a large staircase. Seva shows me around the house and assigned me a large room on the ground floor opposite to the kitchen. Certainly one of the largest rooms I’ve had since the beginning of my trip! And finally a room all for myself since at least four months!
Portraits of Krishna or A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (founder of the movement) decorate every room in the house and the smell of incense hangs in the air. Before finding this wwoofing, I didn’t know this religious movement.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or Hare Krishna (referring to the mantra chanted by followers) is a religious movement and lifestyle founded in 1966 by Pradhupada, a Hindu spiritual teacher originally from West Bengal. It is a current of Hinduism dedicated to Lord Krishna considered by followers as the supreme and only God. Hare Krishna’s doctrine is based on the sacred texts mainly from the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, one of the fundamental writings of Hinduism. The followers of the movement see themselves as servants of Krishna, the creator of the universe and of all living things. Every action performed during the life of a follower influence on his reincarnation cycle. Followers believe that man must use every moment of his life to live in the “Krishna Consciousness”, allowing the release of the individual from his materialistic envelope.
For this to happen, followers follow the path of bhakti, an essential component of Hinduism which notably involves a vegan diet. So, no meat, no fish and no eggs. All food is offered to Krishna before eating to ask prasada, request the grace of God. One of the main religious practice is to repeat while chanting the name of God (Krishna). The mantra (here are the words) is in principle supposed to be recited 1,728 times daily: Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa / Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare / Hare Rāma Hare Rāma / Rāma Rāma Hare Hare.
As wwoofer at Hare Krishna, the job was to work from Monday to Thursday, from 10am to 3pm around, in the kitchen of the OUSA (Otago University Students’ Association) to help prepare vegetarian meals for students. As well as to harvest lettuce leaves, vegetables and plants in the garden. The rest of the time it was free time! Plenty of time for exploring the area and in my case, look for jobs. Of course, it was also more than welcome to attend gatherings to discover the lifestyle of the Hare Krishna followers.
So I spent my first weekend quietly since work began only Monday and the other wwoofers (an American and a couple of Argentineans) also arrive only on Monday. I took the opportunity to help prepare meals for gatherings on Saturday and Sunday night and I tasted vegan cuisine. Very good !
Kitchen work and meetings
Monday morning, start at 10am with Seva for a thirty minutes walk to reach the OUSA building. A warm and relaxed atmosphere greets me and I meet Bronwen and Fife, a very friendly couple working on Monday and Tuesday in the kitchen. In addition to serving meals at $3 for students (and no-students), the association offers club facilities, large sofas, full of self-service games, showers, “gender neutral” bathrooms (no distinction between toilets for women and toilets for men to support the transgender movement. A very interesting initiative I think) and even a cuddle club with cats !! Far better than what we have in France!
So I started my first day of wwoofing by helping to prepare an apple crumble. JMa (whose name means “Joyful Mama”), the coordinator of the movement and responsible off the wwoofers, arrived around 11am, returning from another temple in Christchurch and I meet her. Full of energy, amazing, always smiling, wise, crazy, full of love and completely dedicated to the Hare Krishna movement, JMa is quite a character, very charming!
I also discovered the puris, Indian fry breads, the pakoras, fried vegetable (in our case potato fried) and the ritual of the prasada (put a bit of every food prepared in a small altar dedicated Krishna and reciting the prayer). Then at 12am, we begin to serve the students. The pace is fast, (200 students coming with hungry stomach in two hours, so better be fast!), JMa twirls everywhere. Shouts, smiles, good atmosphere and Indian music (dedicated to Krishna) fill my ears. The main course for $3 consists of pasta and vegetables (for Monday. Rice and vegetables on Tuesday, soup on Wednesday and lentils/vegetables/pasta on Thursday). For $1 more students are entitled to a dessert made of apple crumble. There is also extras, such as puris, pakoras at 50c and samosas at 1$50. I taste a bit of everything and it’s very good! The pakoras are particularly my favorite!
Two hours later the service is finished and I am particularly happy of my first day of work. I loved help prepare the meal and serve students! A little energetic elf appears and I meet Stormie, the young American wwoofer. We are cleaning the kitchen when arrive, a little disoriented, the Argentinean wwoofers couple, Alejandro and Flor. They actually have been here since two hours! They asked at the OUSA reception to talk to Jane (the official name of JMa) and the receptionist told them that she knew no one with that name here! So they waited for the end of the service to come and take a look, hoping that they were in the right place. Ah ah ah. We get to know each other on the way back to the house.
The end of my first week of wwoofing is going very well. Between busy work hours and free time spent visiting or chat between wwoofers, no time to get bored! Everyone is very friendly and the atmosphere is very warm. Wednesday morning, we start at 8am to make bread! Indeed, every Wednesday, the dishes change a bit since the main course consists of a bun with vegetable/lentil/wheat soup. Chocolate pudding for dessert and bliss balls (chocolate flavor or apricot) are added to extras. The soup and the buns are delicious! I also meet Sophie again, my French friend (I have already spoken to you about her several times). She’s studying at the university and then took the opportunity to come take her meals in the OUSA kitchen.
Alejandro and Flor introduce me to the Argentinean cuisine, delicious, and also to mate, the traditional South American drink made by infusing leaves of yerba mate.
I also attends meetings of the Hare Krishna on Wednesday and Saturday night to learn more about this religious current. Wednesday is an open discussion session. I do not believe in God or in any religion, so I ask questions to try to understand the principle of faith and the details of the Hare Krishna movement. But I find the discussion a bit difficult. Saturday is for me, much better. On Saturday the gathering consist of singing mantras in honor of Krishna, read few chapters of a book about Prabhupada’s life and testing around a delicious vegan meal.
Saturday, It’s also the visit of the garden located on a hilltop outside Dunedin. We harvest salads, vegetables and various plants that will be used to prepare meals for gatherings of the weekend. The garden is in the shape of flower petals. JMa also showed us St Clair Beach and Second Beach, a small beach behind St Clair where you can see the water rushing into the rocks and huge algae twirl in the waves.
I also receive after weeks, months, years of waiting, my Working Holiday Visa !! So I spend my free afternoons between submitting my resume in every restaurants and shops downtown and walking in the city.
United Nations of the World
My research is unfortunately quite unsuccessful and I decide then to stay two more weeks in Hare Krishna. Must say that JMa is great and that I enjoy working in the kitchen. The second week is going as well as the first, even better since everybody greatly appreciates the work in the kitchen and everyone’s face seems to be stuck in smile mode.
New wwoofers also arrive! It is with great pleasure that we welcome Sally from England and then a few days later Maude, native of Quebec and Roman coming from of Australia (and half Maori!). Our team is a melting pot from all around the world! For twice more smiles, exchanges, joy, cultural discussions, madness and wonder! Beautiful friendships are born and I hope that they will last!
Cultural activities and time for change
In addition to have fun like crazy in the kitchen and between wwoofers, we make some nice hikes (of which I will speak to you in more detail in the next article) and we assist to the Cultural Festival of the University. Lot of stalls with food tastings, specialties demonstrations, boxing stand, stage for dance performances, fill the university hall. The picture with costumes from different Asian/Oceanic countries and the Maori tattoos are the big winners in our case!
Days pass, both similar and different but always full of good mood. I have the feeling that I have been in Dunedin for months. Fortunately this doesn’t bother me particularly because I really like the Scottish city of New Zealand. Sally help me to adjust my resume and cover letters. (A huge thank you to you !!!). At the end of the second week Stormie leaves us to join another wwoofing and then it’s Flor and Alejandro’s turn at the end of the third week, to say goodbye, Flor having found a job on a dairy farm in Oamaru (1h30 north of Dunedin). Watching them go, I feel like I lose a part of my cultural identity.
Having no answers for jobs despite the thousands of resumes sent and distributed (yes I’m exaggerating), I decided to stay a fourth and final week in Hare Krishna. A few days more to expect an answer otherwise direction somewhere else. Dana and Thomas arrive a few days later from Belgium to refloat our United Nations of the World team! My last week goes quietly and Oh joy, I receive a positive response on Wednesday night to work on a dairy farm near Invercargill in the Southland region! The South of the South Island. Departure on Saturday!! Celebration between wwoofers and raiding stores to buy warm clothes. I appreciate at 200% my last moments in the kitchen, the discussions with the wwoofers and JMa. Many things that she said, beyond the religious aspect, seemed to me particularly just and true. Whether it is about caring, sharing, respect, honesty or the fact of living a life trying to break away from the materialistic appearance or put away our own egocentricity, many of the subjects she spoke about made me think. And then, finally, I leave Dunedin after 5 weeks in her company, to go to the end of the end of New Zealand.
My one month wwoofing with Hare Krishna was an absolutely wonderful experience. I learned a lot, made extraordinary friendships and spent beautiful moments. Of course everything wasn’t perfect: bad weather, fatigue in the kitchen, anxiety of finding a job, heating in the temple a little weak, some tension, religious misunderstandings and disappointments but this is very small compared to the happiness that this wwoofing brought me! A huge thank you to JMa, Seva, Bronwen, Fife, Alistair, Emily and Robin for sharing their culture, way of life, views and experience in the kitchen! And of course, a huge thank you to Stormie, Flor, Alejandro, Sally, Maude, Roman, Dana and Thomas for these wonderful moments with you! I hope to see you all again one day!
Note: all the pictures published in this article are my creations. They are not royalty free. Thank you for not to using them without permission.