Finding My Way in a Goan Village
Story and photos by Debi Goodwin

A place to call home in Goa that sounds idyllic in theory can require some adjustment after arriving on site in India.

Building in Goa

Street cows and scooters in Goa

As I wandered out of my apartment I felt I’d made a terrible mistake. Once I left the quiet road where the apartment building—a large white anomaly—was located, I hit a main highway full of scooters, buses and big trucks all roaring around bends in the road and meandering cows. The chaos of Indian roads was nothing new to me but since I now had to walk everywhere to shop I longed for sidewalks or at least a shoulder I could jump to when a scooter came too close. Only patches of sand and broken tarmac saved foolhardy pedestrians.

What was I thinking? I asked myself on my first day in a Goan village. I’d thought renting an apartment for two weeks in a village away from the busy beaches was a clever idea. It would offer a change from activities that had filled the rest of my month in India and provide a chance to get away from tourists.

I’d known there wasn’t much to do in the village of Siolim; I’d chosen the isolation for time to write and read in the warmth of a Goan winter. But as I tried to stay alive on the highway that day, I remembered that a place imagined and reality are often quite different. I’d seen myself strolling through a small village between writing sessions, stopping for supplies along the way. I’d even imagined renting a bicycle. Hah!

Portuguese church in Goa

Navigating Day 1 in Goa

After realizing I always had to walk facing traffic so I could stare down speeding scooter riders, finding food was the next problem. There were restaurants, a small store for basic groceries, and stalls that served as pharmacies and liquor stores at the other end of the village. But the village stretched out along the highway and all those services were a good half hour walk away along the hectic road. So that first day I decided to explore my end of the village and made me way as safely as I could to a nearby white Christian church and the few services clustered around it.

I found a stall where I could buy yogurt and milk and a wooden hut with vegetables and fruits. Dusty carrots, onions, unripe tomatoes, and apples rested on sloping wooden shelves. I filled a basket and the female vendor weighed each variety, naming a total price that after time in India I knew was high. But I smiled at her anyway and thanked her, knowing I’d be back. I like my fruits and vegetables and chose not to make a fuss. It doesn’t take long when you’re staying in one place to make enemies or allies. When you are alone in a village where you don’t understand all the customs and costs, it’s best to have allies.

I put much of my reaction that first afternoon down to first-day jitters, a phenomenon that often occurs whenever I travel to an unfamiliar place. And as the days wore on, I did grow more comfortable. I found a back way to the other end of town with its terrific Indian vegetarian restaurant, a grill run by owners from Kazakhstan and stalls where I could buy Kingfisher beer, rice, and lentils. All the basics I needed.

Indian Tulsi

Mornings, I wandered the safer back roads, admiring the architecture of the colorful bungalows and the stone crosses that were often decorated with Hindu garlands. At first, I thought I could distinguish between the Christian and the Hindu houses by the cement crosses in front yards or the altars to holy basil, Tulsi as it’s called, in others. I loved the little altars, painted in reds, pinks and yellow and sometimes supported by cement elephants. But one of the dangers of staying alone in a village is the false perceptions we create in our minds.

Is It Christian or Hindu?

Later, I arranged a ride with a driver that a friend had recommended. It turned out that Felix also owned the closest restaurant to my apartment which had also been recommended. Small towns everywhere, I realized, were the same; it doesn’t take long to find the connections. When Felix drove me that day to the home of a woman I’d recently met, he explained that you couldn’t always tell who lived in a house. He said that when Hindus move into homes with crosses they left the crosses out of respect or superstition. And at my new friend’s house, I saw she had a Tulsi altar even though she was a Christian.

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Read this article online at: Finding my Way in a Goan Village

Copyright (C) Perceptive Travel 2018. All rights reserved.

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