LAST DAYS IN AGONDA

Our last week in Agonda took quite a social turn. First, dinner with Lakshmi and her family. We’ve known her since they first came to Agonda eight years ago and she opened her shop selling cheap clothing and trinkets to tourists.

new

Somehow she’s supported a family of four children on this meager income. Her husband may work sporadically but is often hanging around the shop or cooking meals at home. Her eldest daughter, Manjula, now works in a casino in north Goa, improving the family’s finances. Krishna and Puja both in their late teens help manage the shop. Krishna is supposed to start training soon to also work in a casino. Fourteen-year-old Mohan, being the baby of the family, tends to be spoiled and has an easy life of soccer playing and surfboarding that I don’t think his older siblings ever had.

This year, for the first time, Lakshmi invited us to visit her home. Her husband, Ramesh, and Puja would cook rice and dahl for us. They live in a very basic three-room house with no running water, but we were made to feel completely at home and we relaxed into the family atmosphere. The most ornate feature in the living room was a shelf holding a family shrine complete with a picture of their guru and a photo of Ramesh’s father. If it weren’t for the flashing lights around the shrine, an old box television and the cellphone charging on the wall, the scene was timeless. We were reminded of sparse rooms in Morocco, sitting with similarly hospitable families, forty years ago. The TV stayed on the whole time we were there, quietly playing an Indian version of the Oscars that happened a year ago and still reruns on a weekly basis, Puja told us.

P1000985

Puja served us dahl, brindi baji and rice. Simple, but honestly the tastiest meal we’d had in Agonda. We persuaded Lakshmi to eat a little with us. Daughter and father, Puja and Ramesh, sat on the day bed chatting and laughing. They will eat later, at 10 pm after they’ve closed the shop. Lakshmi reminded us of her career in sales starting at the age of seven, when her uncle (she was an orphan) would send her with a small bag of trinkets to the beach. She learned English from the tourists in the process. Her daughter, Manjula, hopes to get a job on a cruise ship earning a substantial salary and wants her mother to finally stop working. But Lakshmi says, “Then what will I do? I can’t stay home all the time.” Before we left, Puja took me outside to see the well that supplies them good drinking water. We looked down into a deep dark hole where she shone her phone light to see fishes and frogs swimming around.

The following day we visited “six-meter Peter” a beanpole of a man from Switzerland who comes to Agonda every winter carrying his violin and jazz guitar. He practices long hours during the day and plays in a restaurant at night when invited. He first came to Agonda long before the rest of us. He has a photo from 1986 when it was a large empty beach with only a couple of buildings nestled in the jungle reaching down to the sea.

 

P1010036

Peter rents a house back in the village. His Polish wife, as plump as he is skinny, comes for two weeks; Peter stays for two and half months. We arrived to find him sitting on the porch practicing his guitar.

P1010003

Though only a mile or so away, the residential neighborhood was a far cry from the tourist beach scene. No noisy motorbikes and taxis, only children riding their pushbikes on the empty street, playing in the yard,

P1010011

a man up a tree perilously hacking branches off to clear the telephone wires.

P1000996

Five days before we were leaving, our friend Jonny from England arrived. We first became friends in Agonda six years ago, and have met up in various parts of India over the years, and also kept in touch via email. But the last time we saw him was over two years ago, when we stopped off in England on the way back from India. It was good to be together again, if only for a few days.

When he offered to take one of us on the back of his scooter for a day out we jumped at the opportunity to visit another beach down the coast, and managed to cajole another friend, Mickey from Vichy, to come along too. Gerard with his dyslexia is loth to rent a scooter in India and I haven’t driven since we moved into the inner city. It keeps us beach bound. But driving through the countryside, I realized why so many tourists take the risk. Beware of pigs crossing, cows meandering, dogs sleeping, chickens scampering — not to mention crazy Goan drivers.

P1010041

We had visited the out-of-the way beach a year ago and like everywhere else tourism is flourishing. It won’t remain the quaint destination that it is now for very much longer. But for us, it was a break from the hubbub of Agonda and a wonderful place to spend our last day in Goa.

 

 

Dental work and Shiva temples

It seemed a good idea to go to the dentist in Goa. Friends had root canals, implants and bridges, all with success, and the crowns we both needed were an 85% saving. Hard to turn down. But like all coins, there was another side.

DSC_0219

Early Sunday morning, we arrived on time for the first appointment of the day and waited in the open balcony that served as a waiting room for over a half an hour. , but the dentist was on Indian time. Meanwhile the two young dentist assistants scurried around preparing for the day. While we waited, the girls would come out and look over the balcony for the dentist. Finally they decided they could risk it and order their breakfast from across the street. Coming back with newspaper parcels, they sat in the surgery eating pav bhaji (a potato stew) and fried puris. We visualised them sitting in the dentist chair enjoying their meal. Five minutes later we heard them washing off their plates and hands with what sounded like the water jet.

Finally the white-jacketed dentist and his assistant arrived and with an air of professional confidence, dare I say arrogance. Wasting no time, they fitted first Gerard for a mold and slapped on a temporary, and then did the same for me. I was told to get up. Waiting for the back of the chair to lift, I realized it wasn’t going to happen. With the blood all running to my head and dizzy, I managed to swing myself up out of the chair. As the world came back into focus, I realized the dentist had made no attempt to clean off the excess cement around the temporary. For the next half hour I was spitting out bits of cement. And in Gerard’s case, the temporary was too large and for the next week he continued to chomp into his cheek.

We went back the following week and an even quicker procedure was fitting the permanent. Mine seemed to fit perfectly but for some reason, the dentist whipped it off again and told me to come the following week for the final fitting. Gerard had a less satisfactory experience. The crown was so tight that the dentist had great difficulty getting it off, finally resorting to a pair of pliers.

During the following week, the conversation of dentists came up with a few of our acquaintances. Even though everyone was satisfied with the work in the end, we all had bones to pick. Gerard noticed the instrument tray had stains and was pitted by who knows what? But from out of the corner of his eye it looked even worse. As the dentist drilled away his mind drifted to what exactly is that on the instrument tray? Couldn’t they have at least covered it with a clean cloth?  (My eyes are not as fine tuned as Gerard’s, the more so without my glasses). Then we got laughing about the plastic cup for rinsing your mouth. Did they really change it after each patient? Even though we had a good laugh, everyone agreed in the end it all worked out.

On our last appointment, our crowns were fitted, and fine-tuned. Gerard would not leave until he was 100% satisfied with the bite, insisting on having it polished yet again after adjusting. In my case, I was content on the first fitting. Out of a five star rating, they get three stars. But I’ll still come back for teeth cleaning and examination next year.

Yesterday we took time out from our busy schedule in Agonda, to visit Gokarna. It’s surprising how much time it takes to get from our room to the balcony for breakfast…then to the beach shack for chai and then down to the water for a swim etc. etc.

DSC_0165

Gokarna has been long known as a place of pilgrimage for Shiva followers

P1000936

and in more recent years, it’s become one of the “destinations” for Gunja smoking hippies, living in shacks on remote beaches.

DSC_0206

Just over the border in the Karnataka, you’re most definitely back in India again. Goa of course is in India, but it’s Goa. We went for two reasons; one to see if it might be an alternative to Agonda, and two because our friend Oliver is staying there and we wanted to see him again.

In Orchha, two years ago on a cold rainy late December day, we were looking for a guesthouse as an eccentric looking man dressed in homespun was stepping around the puddles approached us. Gerard asked where he was staying and he led us to his guesthouse. Over the next few days, we slowly built up a friendship with this unusual Englishman from Devon. He’s an artist who’s been all over India capturing street scenes of every day life. The town was small so inevitably our paths crossed – Oliver would be sitting in a shadowy spot beside the temple sketching figures that he would later assemble in pen and ink. We were both drawn to his company and the cold damp days passed quickly. Agreeing to stay in touch, the fact that he had no email or cellphone meant that was not possible in India. Three months after we got home, a folder came in the mail of five prints of his recent work, including the one he’d been developing in Orchha. We’ve stayed in contact ever since through ‘snail mail’. This past fall he told us he would be spending a couple of months in Gokarna and included a very precise map of the three places where he would likely be loitering.

P1000846

So along with our friend Tatiana and two Russian friends of hers, we rented a car and driver and traveled the two hours to Gokarna in style. We left at 6.30 am and were there in time for breakfast. But first we went to Oliver’s hotel – he was out. So we wandered down the long main street to the beach, all the time with our eyes peeled for Oliver. Tatiana had been there a few times before and took us around.

P1000897

Gokarna is an interesting town because it still has a sense of authenticity and character that the beach towns of Goa don’t have. On the other hand, the beach is nowhere near as nice as Agonda

DSC_0174

We visited a hillside temple overlooking the ocean

T3

where we photographed what we thought was an old Sadhu, but when someone engaged him in conversation it turned out that he was an American — still an old Sadhu. Who know how long he’s been there.

P1000873

Tatiana took us to a peaceful water tank, we did some shopping and had lunch. Still no sign of Oliver.

DSC_0198Gerard walked back towards the car, while I did one final sweep of the designated spots – with no luck. It looked like I was not going to see Oliver again. But on the way back to the car, I heard a voice call out from a small chai shop – and there was Gerard sitting with Oliver. He’d found him!

There was hardly time to catch up. The Russians were anxious to get going. But we were still so glad to see each other. He promised to stay in touch by letter, of course, and would send prints of his new work. Oliver encouraged us to spend time in Gokarna. He’s been there for nearly two months and likes it. We’re now seriously considering it, not as an alternative to Agonda, but definitely an addition.

T4

 

 

 

 

 

Agonda: same same, but different

 

20140214_183712_Richtone(HDR)

Each year we return to Agonda there’s more change – more tourism, less fishing. And this year is no exception. But one constant is Fatima’s birthday party.  We’ve known Fatima since we first arrived many years ago and stayed at her guesthouse, before moving to Dominic and Rita’s.

P1000558

Her party is an open event with a full buffet, musicians, dancing girls, and a fire dancer.

P1000570

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New shops have sprung up like mushrooms after a spring rain. Almost every square foot has been filled with restaurants, cafes, and stalls. But it appears the merchants are appealing to a different clientele – the new shops are glass fronted with halogen lights, selling expensive Kashmiri jewelry and shawls. And the people coming here seemed to have changed. Most notably, the Indian tourists have arrived, and they have money to burn. But down at our far end of the beach it is not that different.

Many of the regulars are still here, but some friends have not come due to old age or bad economy. We were so pleased that our friends, Frederic from FranceP1000596

and Michael Golding from London, were here for at least the first week. Tatiana, who has been staying in our guesthouse almost as long as we have, was telling us the plight of the ruble. Five or six years ago it was 30 to the $1 then it dropped to 60, this year it’s around 80/90. No wonder we haven’t seen many Russians around.

 

We share our balcony with a young couple from Lithuania and Gerard inquired about how the economy was there. They smiled at each other, and said, “We’re hoping we don’t have to go back.” Gerard’s interest was piqued when Victorija (named after the Queen) said that the average salary was around 280/300 E a month. Out of that, 100 E goes for rent, and almost another 100 for utilities. It sounded quite grim. Then she said, “Unemployment is high and there’s little motivation to get a job because welfare is almost the same as an average salary.”

DSC_0130

We were both reminded of England in the late 60s/early 70s, when Gerard was working in London. His take home pay was £10 per week; rent was £4½, which didn’t leave much for food, heat, or the little extras in life. Gerard suggested as a cost saving scheme that I should move in immediately. Americans are an impulsive bunch. I hoped I knew what I was getting into! Meanwhile a lot of our friends in England were collecting £9 a week on welfare.

Working as a graphic designer, Victorija was gone from the house twelve hours a day and was frequently required to work overtime for no pay. “If you don’t like it, you can leave,” she was told. Ron (named after President Reagan) worked in a hospital. He said, “Lithuanians are a sad and depressed people. Crime and suicide rates are high, and alcoholism is a major problem. We don’t want to go back.”

“So where are you going?” we asked. “We’ll try our luck in Spain. We know the economy is not good but it’s better than Lithuania and housing is cheap.” They think they can support themselves with an Internet based business. Ron is already selling on eBay and talked about online gaming. They tell us there are more Lithuanians living in Europe than in Lithuania.

Asked why they came to India in the first place, Victorija replied, “I wanted to learn yoga.” They’d read a popular Lithuanian book about India that also mentioned Agonda. So Victorija enrolled here in a month long yoga teacher training course. They are vegans, like an increasing number of young western travelers, and when we took them to dinner, they consumed together no less than seven servings of rice! Even the waiter was amazed!

P1000590

Ron said that since a young boy he has eaten an inordinate amount of rice! In this respect India suits them well. Both 24 years old, we liked the self-confidence in leaving their homeland with little money in their pocket and setting out to find a new life.

Back in the guesthouse loggia, Tatiana talks more about the Russian economy. To live in Moscow, she says, “You must find a way to be flexible. The government wants to take all your money.’ Gerard says all governments have that in mind. Tania says, “Yes, but the difference in Russia, the government not only has it mind, but does it!”

P1000642

Worse still there is no sun in Moscow. It may be shining 400 kms away, but in Moscow, she says,” it’s rain, rain, rain…then snow. The government has controlled even the weather!” If the weather is so bad, you just go to work, come home and go to work again. No inclination to think about anything else, and that’s just what the government wants. But when there’s a national holiday, like May Day, the sun always shines. She believes the government then artificially forces the rain clouds away from the city and instead rain falls in sheets in the suburbs. We don’t want rain falling on the May Day parade now do we? If the government really can control the weather, they should sell the technology to Britain. Since the ruble is near worthless, the government has devised a scheme to encourage the few Russians, who can afford to take a vacation, to holiday within the motherland by giving them a $600 credit.

We’ve no way of knowing if Tatiana is typically Russian or not, but in the few years we’ve known her, we’ve grown very fond of her. She’s also an inspiration regarding her photography.