Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Seeking a New Kitchen

For better or worse, the kitchen is the heart of a monastery. We all thrive when its atmosphere is simple, patient, and considerate; never vain, chaotic, or opinionated.

Physically, many monastic kitchens are more functional, than pretty. At my training center in Dambulla, Sri Lanka, families would cook all night in a simple pavilion with a deeply sooted fireplace and wiremesh all around for the monkeys. At the aramaya in Bamunugedara, novices crouched on the floor, skilfully holding the knife by the toes and pushing the veggies down against the sharp blade. Even at the nicer bhikkhuni dwellings it was a shock to walk from the dignified, spacious public rooms back to narrow grey kitchens.

Our kitchen trailer at Aranya Bodhi was "rustic." In the whirlwind of work before our 2010 Vassa retreat, we had the chance to pick up several free trailers, and our volunteers devoted many hours to fixing them up. This is what folks do here on the Sonoma Coast for an inexpensive structure that can be set down quickly.

Two of the three trailers we obtained in 2010 have been fine for their purpose. Our Sangha trailer is bright, clean and warm inside. Our tools trailer is dry, white and big enough to keep the many things in order. Even our two plastic sheds have lived up to their promise, staying dry and mouseproof; while a 10 x 10 Kelty tent has been good enough to keep some extra supplies dry.

But the kitchen trailer was always a problem, never mouseproof and never weatherproof. We tried various repairs, replaced part of the interior ceiling, and had the roof tarred and resealed. We painted and scrubbed inside and tackled the ubiquitous mold from several angles. The leaking roof never stopped and before the heavy rain started, the entire trailer was tarped, leaving it dark inside but safe from additional water seepage. We gave metta to mice.

Winter offered another unique learning experience: the northern redwood rainforest. For weeks, every morning was a new adventure in cleaning. One day, the pedal sewing machine was full of white mildew; then our Pali Canon; on another morning, every piece of bamboo in the entire hermitage sprouted long hairy white mold; the walls and ceiling of the Samana Kuti molded before it could be painted. Blue green mold came back weekly in the new kitchen china cabinet. These were the weeks of constant cleaning and extra effort to install heaters to protect the library, yurt and kutis.

The kitchen has been Sr. Marajina's domain this winter. Besides cooking and serving, she has been most vigilant about cleanliness. Through her efforts, we've had safe, nourishing, comforting food, in an atmosphere of genteel poverty, the look of really old spaces that are thoroughly and constantly scrubbed.

Recently, we have realized the mold problem in that trailer is more serious than surface cleaning can care for. The ceiling has developed black mold which has made the place unsuitable for use. We have abandoned the kitchen trailer and have set up a temporary kitchen in the lower landing in the building which was destined to be the laundry room.

Prolonged exposure to mold causes allergic reactions and health complications. Sr. Marajina had been feeling nauseaus each day after working in the kitchen for a couple of hours. She has experienced headaches, chest tightness, shortness of breath and irritable mental formations. Because of her preference for working alone, others were spared the brunt of it, but Ayya Sobhana also had shortness of breath and difficulty with speaking and chanting.

Aranya Bodhi Hermitage needs a new kitchen trailer soon. It should have a leak proof roof and be mold-free. A used travel trailer in good condition, no larger than 8' by 30' to fit up our narrow driveway would be quite suitable. We are hoping for complete inside plumbing, a toilet, shower, lavatory, kitchen sink, and small clothes washer; a propane stove and heater. The standard propane appliances will be just right; in the summer they are supplemented by our outside cooking and washing pavilion.

Aranya Bodhi does not presently have the funding to purchase this trailer, having used our budget for three kutis and the laundry room.

If you can find a donated trailer, or would like to help in any way, the time is now.

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