Goa 2007: A Tale of Two Realities
by Jo Williams
Last year I sent an email from here entitled 'A Matter of Perspective'. Iím following this theme with another Ďartisticí commentary on the smooth and rough, the pros and cons and the good, bad and darn right ugly side of Goan life ó as Iíve experienced it.
This picture is a more idealistic, softer version based on what people tend to want to hear. Itís what I experience on the best days and what most 3-day tourists see.
I wake up as dawn breaks and hear birdsong of the little long tailed birds, the rhythmic sound of woman sweeping sandy gardens, fires being laid for breakfast and the playful squeaks of puppies. I fall back to sleep easily for another couple of hours. Finally getting up around 8am, I walk outside into the coconut palm shady sunshine and brush my teeth at the sink outside the bathroom in the communal courtyard as my year old cat, Jali, pushes himself hopefully against my shins. If I have a tin of tuna I mix it with some rice and, complete with oil, dish it out to the cats trying to share it equally. Returning to my dark, cool room, I apply sun cream, dress for the beach and walk the 100ms through the sandy coconut grove and bamboo huts to the curved expanse of beach. I return the timid and bold 'halos' of the neighboursí children, admire their little models made from coconut fronds of houses surrounded by fences and whatever toys they have add to the scene and I smile at all those that know me.
As soon as I step down from the beachfront restaurant to the beach, Iím approached by at least one of the many stray beach dogs that Iíve become friendly with. Their wagging tails indicating their simple happiness of familiarity. I make a fuss of as many as are there for a few minutes and head off paddling along the warm shoreline to a restaurant of choice (depending on whether I want the chance to bump into someone or not). After a healthy breakfast and with 100 rupees less to carry, I walk the beach looking at people enjoying the boogie boarding waves, out to the expanse of ocean and sometimes at a dolphin close enough to shore to appreciate. The sun is warming up nicely after the cool of the dawn and I feel happy and relaxed, my head clear of thoughts except where I am and what Iím looking at.
Back to where I left the dogs in their small patch of beach territory, they again welcome me. I find a discarded water bottle, fill it with tap water and fill a terracotta pot, which had been home to some curd, as they donít seem to have access to drinking water. Dogs surround me trying to nose each other out of the way to get the first slurp. They wait attentively for another pat on the head, rub on the belly or a chance to lie on my feet. Some have even learnt (as I donít think itís instinctive) to gain my attention by placing their paws on my arm or by nuzzling their face into my hand. Our mutual loyalty and affection has earned me the title Ďdog womaní, nice huh.
I chat with some of the beach shack people that Iíve come to know, mild-mannered Fayaz from Kashmir, pretty Sonya (15) and her sisters Gita (14) and Kavita (8), I pop back to my cosy pink room to change my shorts for a long skirt and head back to the beach to spend a few hours in a computer room to reply to my emails and do some writing. This has been going well and Iíve enjoyed the challenge of writing some fiction that I havenít done for years: even surprising myself with some of my concepts. Nowadays I mainly write direct to PC as I am thinking and amending as I go and find a computer the best medium for this method. The lady who has the PC place has 3 computers and although not top notch, itís convenient and we agreed a mutually acceptable rate as I spend so long there. If Iíve had a big breakfast I generally donít have lunch so I might go to my room again around 4pm to have a refreshing cold bucket bath and to read or snooze.
Hopefully I wake up in time for a sunset walk when many cows come down to plonk themselves unceremoniously on the sand between a couple of the wooden carved out fishing canoes. The dogs sometimes, understandably I guess because of their infinite boredom, take to running up to the cows and barking alarmingly whilst wagging their tails and chasing crows that might happen to land near them. Dusk is around 6-7pm and the westward setting sun differs, depending on where you watch it from, either to disappear behind the sea or behind appropriately named Monkey Island. This is my favourite time as the rich light gives everything a depth and solidity thatís unshakable and the nervous energy of life has calmed itself. As the sun starts to disappear and the skies darken I again sit in the company of my Indian dogs and friends, chatting about todayís business and musing about life. The sun can submerge quietly as a perfect burnt red circle or in the wide distorted contours caused by layered, patterned clouds.
Now I might go back to my room again to change and then head out alone, or straight to meet a friend for dinner: I enjoy both. To eat alone is a real problem for some but I enjoy the time to appreciate and contemplate food. To eat with friends is a chance for a chitchat or hopefully to learn or impart something.
Life on Palolem in the evenings has changed since last time insomuch as the new 10pm noise curfew has halted parties, so it tends to be a live acoustic set (Aussie soloists, African drummers, Irish singers) which sets me up to be all chilled out and I chat to my Indian friends whilst they Ďshut up shopí at 11pm. If that book really was too good to put down Iíll read by the light of my energy saving bulb, otherwise Iíll whistle for Jali and heíll curl up taking the middle of the bed at my feet, always falling asleep before I do . . .
The Potato Eaters
This picture is a more realistic, gritty version of what people generally donít want to hear. Itís what I experience on the worst days (tongue in cheek).
I wake up as dawn breaks and hear the start of the incessant daylight droning of cawing crows and the neighboursí 8 dogs barking. I snooze for another couple of hours of broken dreams of needing to pee and trying to ignore the toot, toot, toot, toot etc of a bicycle horn as a door-to-door vendor comes around. Finally I get up and rush to the loo and relieve myself self-consciously in the toilet, knowing all too well that all outside in the courtyard will hear the steady expulsion of inevitable wind. Around 9am, I notice an egg lying between my wooden headboard and mosquito net! I walk outside and am now aware of the aroma of recently applied cow dung in communal courtyard and point the egg out to the mother of the house. ĎChicken!í she states: you donít say. Apparently, explained a daughter, the hen had flown up between the roof and wall and into my room placing it carefully in my care. This would be funny if it hadnít been for me discovering that 8 out of 10 of their chicks had recently died . . . If I donít have a tin of tuna, or crackers, biscuits, leftover dinner etc, any rustle of a bag sends Jali the cat into a whining frenzy and he fights with my feet. Returning to my room, that still smells of cat pee from when one of the cats sprayed my mattress, I forget to apply sun cream, dress for the beach and walk the 100ms through the sandy coconut grove and bamboo huts, trying to avoid the neighboursí dogs, stepping on broken glass or any other unsavoury rubbish strewn around or excrement of any kind, to the curved expanse of beach that is now full of Indian tourists.
As soon as I step down to the beach, the dogs approach me. I pat a couple of heads, then they jump up and scratch me with their long claws so I ignore them and head off paddling along the fag butt shoreline, wondering how many crabs and shellfish IĎm crushing, to eat (depending on whether Iíve bumped into someone or not). After an Indian style English fry up and with 200 rupees less to carry, I walk the beach looking at the blurred space in front of me as I donít have prescription sunglasses (well I do but here last year they put the wrong lenses in so make me dizzy) doing my Ďleft, rightí walking meditation. The sun is too hot after the still night. Iím already being hassled by the same women asking me for the one hundredth time ĎWhat your name, where you come from, how long you been here, how long you stay, want to look at my jewellery, cheap priceí, even though at the instant they open their mouths I repeatedly say ĎNo thank youí. I all too aware theyíre trying to make a living but really why are they quite so insistent, especially as they must know that youíve been approached by at least 5 other peddlers so far.
Back to where I left the dogs, they are asleep; anyway I fetch the terracotta pot that is now home to some rancid curd, and have to rummage through a rubbish pile for an empty bottle to fill with fresh water. I walk toward the sea to where the dogs are sleeping in the shade of a boat but theyíre too sleepy and canít be bothered lifting their heads to drink. My favourite dog is Sheba, although a big dog, sheís bottom of the pack and bears a scar along her spine that she constantly contorts her too skinny body round to chew. Sheís friendly, but wears a frown of anxiety across her scarred face. She always approaches me but sheís the only one too nervous to be touched. The Indians think Iím crazy touching the dirty dogs and look on with wonder and disbelief. Nearly every Indian man that passes says ĎHaloí or asks ďDo you like dogs?Ē
I try not to be snobbish but I tut at the new throngs of tourists that have convinced themselves that theyíre Ďliving the lifeí here, with its bargain clothes and cheap restaurants galore. They sit around doing what they do best: getting uber tanned, playing footie and being loud. At least they spend the money though so really I should be pleased for the people profiting from them but I just keep out of their way: maybe it reminds me that thereís every chance that Iíll be joining them one day.
I trudge back to my room, a little sun burnt, to change into a sarong as everything else needs washing and head back to the beach to spend a few hours in a dark computer room. The fans drive me so crazy blowing by fluffy baby hair into my eyes that I have to wear a cap. The writing has been going ok and Iím persevering but the owners of the tiny net place have a 5 yr old daughter called Mansi who likes to be very loud and to gain my attention when she's bored of playing computer games. If Iím bored and uninspired I might have a snack and go to my room again to read which ultimately makes me sleepy even though I can still hear the crows and now the honking vehicles are frantic and the customised tunes played by reversing tourist taxis play Happy Birthday, Waltzing Matilda and Auld Lang Syne.
If I wake up in time for sunset I go to the beach, as there are too many mosquitoes where thereís no sea breeze. This is my favourite time to sit alone with the dogs away from people. But often Sonya (at 15 sheís the eldest of 8 kids from Karnataka (the state east of Goa); her mumís 30) and her sisters Geeta and Kavita come and alleviate their boredom by trying to chat with me. Also Fayaz (37) comes to chat, whilst he's become a good friend, I think he has thoughts of me as his foreign wife ("for sure, many Kashmiris have two wives, it's true")! As another sun sets, I listen to my new Ďbabyí my mp3 player and try and ignore the calf struggling painfully on the sand with its broken leg.
I go back to my room again to change and spot a cockroach on the outside of my mosquito net! I can cope with most things but the thought of roaches crawling over my face as I sleep isnít a situation I am prepared to accept. I pull everything off the bed and to my disgust there is another in the fold of my mattress: nestled by where my head had been unknowingly sleeping! I empty the room, wash the floor (mother offered to do it) with a bucket of water that was black after the first rinse of the rag and checked the slats of the bed and found another roach hiding there! I caught them in a camera film pot and dumped them outside hoping a cat would crunch them.
I eat alone or with a book or my notepad for company. Have you noticed that if you eat in the company of others, before you know it the foodís gone and although you say afterwards ĎThat was really goodí, are you really sure? Walking back along the darkened beach barefoot I try and watch out for the holes and turds: not always successfully.
Palolem in the evenings might be said to be boring now as the new 10pm noise curfew has halted parties (which were good before if they werenít stopped by the police) So maybe itís the boredom that chills me out ready for bed by 11pm. If that book really was too good to put down Iíll check my mozzie net for unwanted inmates and eliminate those that didnít have the good sense to stay out. I whistle for Jali and he comes. I try to wipe the dirt from my feet and enclose myself in the protection of my mozzie net. After a few seconds I wished Jali hadnít come in as heís having his mad half hour racing round the room. Destroying all in his paws, up and down the mozzie net, attacking me viciously with fanged teeth and hooked claws (that leave the wounds that itch like billyĖo) whenever he lands on me, his black eyes flashing. Enough! I turf him out to take his chances in the over populated cat neighbourhood . . .
I awake in the darkness rubbing my forehead, which is by now swollen with mozzie bites from the one that I didnít catch and annihilate. I get up apply some antiseptic cream and try and wipe the muck from my never clean feet once again. Iím wide-awake and realize my backís aching from the bedís hardness. I need the toilet but fight the urge to traipse round the house to the loo and roll over and hope to be asleep before the birds start their god awful droning: again.