Postcards from Slough
Postcards from Slough

My daily life in Goa

I woke up on my first full morning in Goa and in my drowsy state, I got up to go to the window and check the weather. It was quite grey and miserable. As I turned back to bed my heart leapt. In the gloom I saw an intruder in our bedroom! I stood still, he stood still, staring at me with wide frightened eyes, as frightened as mine must have been. I made a move, he made a move. I made another move he copied me.

 

I started to laugh as quietly as I could. I had to suppress it as Sweetness was still asleep. Stupid idiot me, I had been staring at my own reflection in a full-length mirror on one of Sweetness’ wardrobes.

 

I got back into bed still trying to quell my mirth, my body quaking. My desperate need to laugh out loud increased with my desperate need to not disturb Sweetness from her slumber. I also didn’t want to have to explain and admit to my stupidity. The more you try to suppress laughter the harder it is to do. This went on for about ten minutes and then Sweetness woke up anyway.

    ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked sleepily.

    ‘Nothing, I’ve just seen off an intruder that’s all.’

    ‘Oh,’ she said with a big yawn and turned over completely unconcerned with my comment.

Before breakfast Sweetness took me for a short drive around the area while there was no traffic. We went to the edge of Panaji then south-west along the coast road to Dona Paula. The market at Dona Paula was closed but consisted of a line of stalls. These had been left overnight with the goods covered over in the ubiquitous blue tarpaulin ready for trade later that day. There was a remarkable level of trust in this community.

Fishermen at Dona Paula returning from an early trip

On our way home Sweetness tooted at a man who appeared to me to be struggling in middle of the road with an awkward load on the front of his bicycle.

    ‘You’ve got loads of room to pass him, why are you using the horn?’

    ‘I’ll talk to him,’ she said ignoring my comment and she got out of the car.

 

I wondered what was going to happen next. Was I about to witness my first road rage incident in Goa? And what if it escalated? What was I supposed to do? I sat nervously while she had a serious rapid exchange with him in Konkani, a language which can sound urgent even angry at the best of times. My trepidation grew so I tried to shrink into my seat.

 

As it turned out there was nothing to worry about. The awkward load was a large drum full of freshly-baked rolls and she bought four for breakfast. I let out a sigh of relief. These guys were to become a familiar sight to me as they patrol the district selling bread this way.

Daily life

I adjusted to life in Goa quite quickly. My girlfriend was kind enough to not ask for rent. This was handy as there was a limit to my cash and as credit or debit cards weren’t generally used in Goa, all transactions were in cash.

 

I did contribute to groceries and alcohol however, and I carried out my domestic chores diligently. I replaced many broken lamps in the apartment. I almost always helped clear the washing up but the assignment I enjoyed the most was laundry punka wallah.

 

The machine was a top loading type and it was set on a special balcony that had a drain hole in the middle. At the end of the program the machine would empty out of the bottom, flooding the floor and the water would go out of the drain hole – sometimes. I would then take the clothes and hang them on a clothes horse on whichever of the balconies seemed most suitable. Later in the day when the laundry was dry I would fold it and deliver to the appropriate bedroom.

 

I enjoyed doing the laundry and did it every morning. It gave me purpose and a reason to get out of bed. Each day. Also the machine rewarded me by playing from a selection of very pleasing tinkling tunes at the end of each part of the cycle.

Writing up the daily dairy

For breakfast I would usually have tanti ani unddè (egg and hard crust roll) with coffee. Unddè is hard roll; pao is soft and poèè is a wholemeal style which I have yet to try. The bread was particularly nice because it was freshly baked locally and delivered by guys on bicycles with specially designed containers fitted on the front.

 

Sometimes Sweetness would make rice and coconut pancakes which were simple to make but as delicious as they sound. They are best served with mango chutney.

Once breakfast and the morning chores were over, I would settle down to go through the daily broadsheet newspaper, The Navhind Times. The language is English and it covers state, national and international issues. It was launched by the Dempo Brothers in February 1963, and was Goa’s first English newspaper. It is based in the capital Panaji and in 2011 recorded a circulation of 56,000. I found the journalism excellent and I find something of interest, even absorbing, in the publication every day.

Articles that I found particularly interesting were about vehicle theft, the arrival of the first combine harvester in Goa, and those about a subject that was becoming more and more important to me, malaria.

 

The obituaries were rather odd. In Britain an obituary would appear a few days after a person’s death. In Goa people would remember the anniversary of dead relatives several years later, up to a dozen or more years later in some cases.

 

After the newspaper, the day would begin. No day could be described as routine except for a siesta each mid-afternoon. A problem for the beginning of the expedition was that I had arrived in the monsoon and so every late morning there would be heavy rains. This meant no activity until the afternoon but by mid-afternoon it would be too hot for activity so time for siesta. Sunset was around 18:00 so the day was extremely disjointed compared to days in England.

After the newspaper, the day would begin. No day could be described as routine except for a siesta each mid-afternoon. A problem for the beginning of the expedition was that I had arrived in the monsoon and so every late morning there would be heavy rains. This meant no activity until the afternoon but by mid-afternoon it would be too hot for activity so time for siesta. Sunset was around 18:00 so the day was extremely disjointed compared to days in England.

Rani

After every meal I would take scraps down for Rani and fill her water bowl. When I first met her, Rani was so undernourished that you could see her bones. I took this photo two days after our arrival in Goa and just look at her sipping from a tiny puddle.

I couldn’t understand why none of the residents fed her. I was told that she had adopted the compound while it was being built and the builders had taken pity her then and fed her. The thing was that she saw off unwanted dogs.

 

She seems to have a problem with her left hind leg because she winces when I stroke her at the top of it. I think she must have been in a road accident.

Rani about four weeks into the expedition

Rani’s fitness and mood has improved since I started feeding her regularly a few weeks ago. When we go out watches us go and makes a fuss of me whenever we come back.

 

One day I saw a stray dog enter the compound and about to mark his territory on our bins. It was a fitter and younger looking dog than Rani but she valiantly started barking at it with fury. When it was clear that wasn’t enough of a threat she ran over to make her point. The stray left without soiling our compound. Good girl Rani!

 

When the expedition was over and I had to give my princess a final hug to say goodbye I wept all the way to the airport.

Personal hygiene

One morning in the first week of my expedition, I woke up about 08:00 and had rice and coconut pancakes with mango preserve. I went to have a shower and… BANG! BANG! BANG! ... BANG! BANG! When I came out Sweetness and Rod were naturally curious about the noise. I told them it was made by a cockroach. Sweetness said a cockroach doesn’t make that noise.

 

‘It does when it’s being smacked with a bucket!’

 

It must be said at this point that the presence of cockroaches are an occupational hazard of living so close to palm trees and not a reflection on the cleanliness of the house. They fall onto one of the tree verandas and can’t find their way back out. I am also reliably informed by Emily that ‘they only come out when they know we are asleep.’

City Life

During a phone call with my brother a week or two before I was to embark on my expedition to Goa, he told me to stick close to Sweetness in towns and cities as she would be ‘street-wise’. He said it in all seriousness.

 

When the call was over I smiled at this idea. Sweetness; ‘street-wise’! Ha ha ha!

 

Early in the third week of my expedition, Sweetness’ ‘sweet-wisedness’ was put to the test. We went into Panji as Sweetness needed to order some furniture and other items for an apartment that she is letting. While we were walking on the pavement of an open side street, Sweetnesss was tapped on the shoulder. We turned around to be confronted by a well-dressed girl.

 

‘Please madam, can I have ten rupees?’ she said with a desperate expression.

‘What do you want it for?’ asked my girlfriend.

‘I can’t tell you but it’s very important.’

I looked around suspecting a scam. I took Sweetness by the arm and tried to pull her away.

‘Come on,’ I said, ‘it’s not our problem, let’s go.’

 

Sweetness, not doubt sold by the girl’s respectable appearance and her acting skills, continued talking to the girl and asking her why she needed the money. The girl simply repeated her pleas. No matter what I did, Sweetness would not listen to me and leave the girl alone.

Suddenly we were surrounded by more well-dressed young people and with no police around we were potentially in trouble. The gang leader, a male, about my height, came to the fore and offered to sing or dance for me for just 10 rupees. I made a risk assessment and I stepped right up to him, made myself taller by going on tip toes and gave a hard stare straight into his eyes.

 

‘If you’re not out of my sight in two seconds I will knock you down – hard!’

‘God bless you sir’ He said closing his hands in prayer.

 

As quickly as they arrived they disappeared. The few rupees they were asking us for was clearly a ploy to get us to show our wallets. These would be snatched and the robbers would run off while the others would block any attempt for either of us to chase. Street-wise’ Sweetness speculated that there may have been a hidden camera like Candid Camera.

 

‘Where was the presenter to tell us we’ been had?’ I asked with plenty of scorn. ‘You put us in danger of being mugged because you wouldn’t walk away from her when I told you to.’

’But that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Goa.’

‘This sort of scam happens around the world,‘ I replied, ‘In any case, I don’t care even if I was wrong. We left the scene safe and with all our belongings no thanks to you.’

 

I do not recommend the risky strategy that I employed on this occasion. It worked for me this time but if a fight had ensued who might ended up in gaol? And who would still have been mugged? The thing to take from this episode is to keep aware wherever you are in the world and avoid potential trouble.

A well-deserved lie in

After breakfast one morning, Sweetness had some business to attend to in Panaji and, as she was leaving, she complained about how much work there was to do such as clearing the breakfast things etc. and how Rod and I did nothing around the house. She accused me of being lazy. Me! Lazy! I felt a bit miffed; after all, I was the laundry wallah.

 

I tried the conciliatory approach. I admitted that Rod and I hadn’t been a lot of help lately but this neutral stance wasn’t working. Sweetness’ expression was still that of thunder grey annoyance. This could be tricky.

 

I tried a new tack and said to her ‘even when you’re angry you look lovely.’

 

A tense moment passed then her annoyance melted into laughter and with this one inspirational piece of charm I was off the hook! You might think this devious but I had to consider the role of the bed – without me it was largely redundant. As soon as she had gone I re-employed the bed for another hour.

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