By Friday, Sept 27th I had been living it up at Saraya in Goa, India for almost 2 weeks. The usual was staying up late playing cards, sweating like crazy chopping greens for compost in the sun and occasionally pouring rain as I observed the ending of the monsoon season. My first week was rainy basically every day, but by now there were only infrequent massive downpours. The nostalgia of leaving soon was starting to set in, so I was spending time with others as much as I could before I set off for the Himalayas in northern India.
Outside of working or hanging out at Saraya, I was still taking advantage of the unique opportunities that presented themselves to me. Before the last Global Climate Strike on Friday Sept 20th, Zora, the son of Deeksha who started Saraya Ecostay, mentioned that there would also be another big event on the next Friday. This day had come, and it wasn’t until maybe 4 PM that Zora came by to pick up posters and see if anybody was interested in tagging along. Naturally I was excited to see how the next strike would be, and so two other volunteers and I came along with Zora and Isha, the coordinators of both of the strikes. The rainbow we saw on the ride there was a sign that something good is happening.
Though this one was much different than the prior. This time, instead of sitting at the main church in the heart of Panjim, Goa, we stood along the roadside to strike more specifically against the construction of a new highway, which was destroying a bunch of green space disrupting the livelihood of those living there. Along with many other friendly, familiar faces, the same musicians from the prior strike were there. Unfortunately, since we were spread out along 2 roadsides, I wasn’t close enough to really hear and sing along. Instead, I stood near the front and held up the same sign as before: “GLOBAL WARMING (and underneath) GLOBAL WARNING” with another 2 folks, our british volunteer and another who interchanged between Zora, Annu, and other fellow strikers.
As thousands of cars passed us, some would blink their lights and say, “Yeah, Woo!” while driving by, others would pass by in buses with their eyeballs nearly bulging through the window, but most would glance every now and then, just trying to make it through the slowed traffic. For even those seemed to try to ignore what’s happening had to notice the massive crowd of at least 100 people in the middle of the road. It’s hard not to at least be curious why so many people would stand around together with signs in such an unusual place where I doubt there has ever been any social activism before. In all of Goa, this was one of the biggest gatherings of people to fight for some cause that there has been, at least in the past few years.
It lasted maybe a half an hour past sundown, until we were all much harder to see. We (mainly Zora) said our goodbyes to the many who showed up, and started to walk back to Saraya, a couple of miles away. We reflected on how this time it was great to see more people, but didn’t feel as unified and full of a single voice as the prior one. Still, awareness was spread, voices were heard, and it was one more step in the right direction.
I started to understand the impact more as Zora shared with me about how Goa has changed in the past 20 years. It used to be a hippie town – still touristy, but not so overpacked with Indians from all over the country who flock there to blow all of their money. With this “advance,” there has been a lot of nicer hotels that popped up, along with Casios and way too many places to find alcohol at an incredibly cheap price. As the cheapest alcohol prices in all of India, with 50 Rupees (75 cents) you can buy a decent beer or with 200 Rupees ($2.60) you can get a whole bottle of Rum or Fenne (the local liquor made from cashew husks). Aside from alcohol, good foods, and a variety of cheap to nice local & handmade souvenirs, people come here to find some pretty hard drugs. Most of them I hadn’t even heard of, but some that I recognized were speed and methamphetamine. In the more relaxed, safer, quieter hippie days, one used to only be able to find weed and LSD. Now the psychedelic peace that once pervaded the lands has been replaced with a frenzied chaos of tourists trying to get messed up and everyone trying to sell you something if you come near them.
That’s not to say Goa has lost all of its magical energy. It still has retained some amazing pockets of harmony (like Saraya) that attracts people who aren’t there just for substance use and who aren’t just some stereotypical wanna-be hippies. Rather, those who gravitate here are people who actually live & breathe the values of healthy coexistence with each other and our environment. There’s of course still many good-hearted Goa natives too, and Indian folks who move to Goa because they fall in love with the friendly, relaxed lifestyle here. And though it can be aggravating at times how even as I’m still trying to park my scooter I’m crowded by 5 Indians who are persistently asking me to buy some jewelry or clothing, I understand that it’s often because they really need the money so they can meet their basic needs. As the population has grown with the tourist market, the necessity to compete against hundreds of others to sell basically the same product is far more pronounced.
So awareness about climate change and all of the societal factors that affect it in Goa (and many other parts of India) is quite low. Very few are blessed enough to have the proper education and decent income to learn about these things. Rather, they’re busy figuring out how they’ll eat or how they’ll not receive a beating from their spouse. As in Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs,’ people cant begin to concern themselves with global issues when there’s such dire issues at home. Those who were at the second Global Climate Strike in Goa generally were those with affluence, from India and afar. Ironically, climate change will make the lives of those who couldn’t afford to be there much harder than those who could.
My takeaway from this is that it’s especially important that those who are able to be informed about these wider issues spread awareness and seek making change from the top-down as well as from the bottom-up. Since it would drain my soul entirely to become a politician, I’m hoping that my words and actions, along with the organizations that I associate myself with, can contribute from the bottom-up in some positive way to the well being of the world and all of its inhabitants. This doesn’t mean I have to be so severe about producing absolutely zero waste and not enjoying myself in the meantime, though.
For Goa is indeed known for its party scene, and by the time Saturday the 28th rolled around, I realized that my last change to go out on the weekend to dance while listening to loud music was tonight. I don’t nearly have the energy nor desire to stay up late often, but my curiosity leads me into seeking all types of situations – and some things like a Psy-trance club are only hoppin at night.
So I asked Deeksha’s other son, Sid (who is an amazing musician), on Saturday morning about where to go to find the good music & crowds and not the crappy tourist traps. Though he doesn’t go out to big parties much, he showed me a website called WhatsUpGoa and it offered a decent variety, including some place he hadn’t been to but could recommend. Afterwards I spread the offer of going out that night to all the volunteers, along with some staff and friends, from whom the typical response was, “oh, let me know closer to when you’re going and I’ll see how I feel.” Understandable – I typically can’t plan to be in a certain mood at a certain time. But I was committed to at least have a taste of Goa’s nightlife.
The sun set, the mosquitos but, and the night time settled in. By 9 PM those who were committed were Joy, our volunteer from France whose name describes her well (expect for the fact that it means f*** in Thai), and Ram (Indian but not from Goa), who volunteered a while ago, and is a frequent visitor to Saraya to play Cabo (an awesome card game) and hang out with the other volunteers. I was hoping to leave by 9, but there were still a few maybe’s we were waiting on, and apparently most people don’t shop up until after 11 anyway. Aagh so late! So meanwhile I made some coffee, and as we looked further into our plans at the last minute, we realized the cover fee at Larive was really step.
So we went to Plan B. Literally. The place was called Plan B.
And even more last minute we scooped up a cook from Saraya – Batel, a 20(?)-year old Goa native, who made our group feel complete and added some great energy. Our taxi ride led us to Anjuna Beach, and as we walked along the shore towards the club the ocean waves were increasingly illuminated with changing neon colours. The “thump-thump-thump”ing gradually became louder until I could feel the bass deep in my chest. By 11:30 we finally made it in. We first sat at a table right next to the dance floor to have a drink & a smoke, and were soon on our way to dancing the night away.
The music was amazing – electronic with a strong persistent beat and high tempo. We went hard on the floor, and after I sprung the urge to go swimming in the ocean, we brought our moves out into the waves. The rocks were sharp, so I resisted going all-in, but we nonetheless stood for a decent time period with our legs deep in the water, dancing to the music, looking out onto the colour-changing waves. Then we retreated to the sand to move around some more, and I became slightly obsessed with tracking the beach creatures – mostly dogs and humans. The slightly-wet sand revealed how our movement was in celebration, like a running dog as opposed to a hunting coyote. Nobody else was dancing on the beach at the time, but as others saw how much fun we were having they joined in, too.
The crowd was decent for pre-tourism season: around 50 people. Oddly, only 1 in 10 were female. I guess strong electronic music appeals more to Indian men, since the few females were there with another man, and most were tourists. As the time passed 3 AM the crowd was dissipating, and we were ready to go as well. After a super speedy taxi ride back another another selfie with a “Danger: No Selfie Zone” sign, we made it home by 3:30ish, and somehow from having so much energy dancing I didn’t fall sleep until around 4. That’s the latest night I can remember having in many, many months. And it was 100% worth it.
The next day, Sunday the 29th, Deeksha, being the considerate host that she is, knew I stayed up late the night before, so when I came to breakfast late she told me that I could have the day to rest and relax. I was to work the evening cafe shift, which runs from roughly 6:30 – 10:30 PM. So I wrote, sorted pics, read, and went out for a little adventure. Since the day after I arrived at Saraya (exactly 2 weeks ago) I heard that there were Peacocks in the nearby field, and if I walk down our side street at the right time I might see them. So I set off to go spot a special, rare animal in it’s natural habitat. The chances to me seemed very low, since I basically lived in the woods of the Pacific Northwest for the past 1.5 years and never saw a bear, unlike everyone else around me.
I walked and admired the hawks flying above me, the palm trees and rice fields, the glowing golden temple off in the distance, and eventually heard a bird call that sounded too loud and full-bodied to be a hawk or a crow. In fact, I remembered hearing this sound almost every day when working outside and when waking up in the morning. I turned back towards Saraya, towards where the sound was coming from, and walked patiently, calmly; I was hoping that I’ll find exactly what I was looking for.
And I did! I saw the peacock way across the field, not close enough to see the detail of its feathers, but still clearly visible about 200 feet away. It’s feathers were so tall – perhaps as tall as me – it was actually fairly easy to spot. I stood for a while in admiration as it twirled around in some sort of a mating dance. It was like a massive fan that kept slowly spinning, and occasionally singing out in a most peculiar way. I felt truly blessed, as I had dreamt about seeing a peacock on one of my first nights in India. It was a dream come true.
Once I arrived back at Saraya, the monthly farmers market was well into motion. As a great coincidence, I met someone selling beautiful earrings named Hayley from Ann Arbor, MI, where I lived for 2 years while going to school at the University of Michigan, and who also spent 10 years in the Seattle area, where I had been living the past year. She even knew of my most previous employer, Wilderness Awareness School, where I was an instructor. After chatting with her I found some amazing clothes in the donation box, bought some souvenirs and a vegan burger, and waited for the farmers market to start clearing out so we could set up the tables for the cafe.
The customers at Saraya are of all ages, relationships, and backgrounds. Locals and foreigners – some elders, some families with kids, and many romantic couples. Apparently the most common google search that leads people to Saraya is “romantic restaurant” even though it is mainly known for being healthy, organic and eco-friendly. Many are curious about you, and will chat with you for quite a few minutes, often giving recommendations of other places in India to visit while traveling. Overall the job is fun because you’re around good people in an open, warm, green environment.
Monday the 30th was my last day at Saraya, and naturally very nostalgic. I worked on constructing the mud houses at first by putting on boots and climbing atop a mound of glass bottles, in order to sort the right size bottle (a standard 12-oz beer bottle) apart from the rest. I’d hand them over to Sherbin, who wheel-barreled hundreds over to the mud houses. We (along with Raul) dug mud out from the ground and wheeled that over there too, until we finally applied patches of mud to the walls, in between the glass bottles. It was really exhausting in such humid and hot conditions: 88 degrees and 80% humidity. Still, I like working up a sweat, for I’m ridding toxins from my body and burning calories that I will gladly make up for later in the day.
In the afternoon I did some last minute tasks like taking a video tour of the entire place, organizing my belongings, and booking a hostel in Delhi. Finally, after a short walk to the beer store where I picked up some drinks for some friends and myself, I savored my last night by hanging out with the other volunteers such as Boomika and Joy and prior volunteers such as Ram and Annu. Good conversations were had, and I got to know them all on a deeper level, only to say goodbye in 12 hours. It was bittersweet.
Especially sweet was when Annu invited us to a nearby house party, which I was reluctant to going to because it was already 11 or so, but I had a feeling I’d never have an opportunity like this ever again. So we rode: 3 one bike and 2 on another to go celebrate her friend’s birthday until late at night. I met new people who told me about life in East India and chatted with Ram and Boomika about hiking and the way Michigan is shaped like a mitten. Meanwhile, the girl you could say I had a crush on ever since I saw her directly across the room from me at Saraya on the day I arrived is once again sitting directly across from me, too far for any interaction.
But after maybe 1.5 hours, around 1 AM, she lies down in front of me and rolls a cigarette (while still lying down). We shared it and suddenly it seemed we were engaged in a really meaningful, philosophical/spiritual conversation, and I started to wish now more than ever that I were in Goa for longer. It was the most in agreement about philosophical matters I had verbally expressed with anyone in a long time. And it was with this extremely cute, short haired Indian woman who always wears short shorts (which is very taboo in India) and comes from Delhi. Though we had this natural connection, I wasn’t sure if she even had a partner or not, and I knew that at this point finding out out wouldn’t change anything. All I could do was appreciate the inner and outer beauty of this person next to me for the impending timeless moments I still had left.
And as different people started mixing in and out, tiredness set in and timelessness faded away. It was already 2:30 AM, and we had a 20 minute walk ahead of us back to Saraya. So I wished my good friends Ram and Annu goodbye, as well as the other kind Indian folks. And the way the world worked out, everything seemed so circular, as I walked back to Saraya with my British friend who I met on the first night, and was the first person from Saraya I really hung out with. Now, he was to be the last one, too. The timing of everything and everyone coming in and out of my life the last 2 weeks in Goa was too imperfectly perfect to all be mere coincidence. I’ve felt like this many times in my life – for everyone and everything is always in its right place, and it’s often when I step out of a common routine to start seeing new horizons that this comes to light again.
There’s so much that has happened since I left Goa and where I am now. Stay tuned (scroll slightly up on a mobile device or all the way down or maybe on the right to find the “Follow” button) for a 36-hour train ride to Delhi, 2 busy days in India’s capital city, and over a week of volunteering through Workaway again, this time with an NGO called Waste Warriors, and of course meeting some more amazing people in the Dharamshala area. These incredible mountain towns are home to the Dalai Lama and more full of tourists than any other place I’ve been yet for the whole month in India. For here you can find Buddhism, trekking in the Himalayas, yoga, monkeys, veganism, waterfalls, and a surprisingly large community of Israeli people.
Just hoppin’ along,