In 2006, I took the bold and exciting step of leaving my old life in London and moving to India to start a brand new one. Utterly captivated by the exoticism of the country on my many previous visits, I was in search of a life changing adventure and keen to call India my home. Being a city girl at heart who loves all that hustle and bustle, I chose at first to live in the colourful desert town of Pushkar in Rajasthan – but when I fell pregnant with my son, it was time for a rethink. I had spent an idyllic childhood growing up in the English countryside. Halcyon days exploring the great outdoors were exactly what I wanted my own child to have. It didn’t take long to decide…
I had long enjoyed a love affair with Goa – and thanks to a wonderful community of friends in the south, the transition from Pushkar to Palolem was made easy. Notwithstanding the fact that I now found myself living in a tropical paradise, I was also privileged to be made to feel so welcome. People were incredibly warm and hospitable, smoothing the way for me to start a new life. I set up home in a little Goan house at the north end of Palolem beach – a blank canvas which I happily filled with colourful Indian silks and mango wood furniture, and where I eagerly awaited the arrival of my baby.
My son was born in an old Portuguese-style villa in Assagao Village – a natural water birth lit atmospherically by candlelight during one of the night’s many power cuts. Perhaps the most magical moment of my entire life was returning home to Palolem with my baby, gently carrying him through the palm grove to our little house and feeling overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of where we lived. We spent three years living there, a blissful blur of sunny afternoons playing in the sand and basking in the warm shallows of the Arabian Sea.
Raising a child and running a business in a foreign land has naturally not been without its challenges. Establishing a business in Goa can be pretty tough, and the nuances of operating in such a wholly different workplace need to be respected and understood. Those who travel do so to explore new cultures and to experience a different way of life, but to actually carve out a whole new existence in a foreign country remains a constant process of learning and adapting. This in itself is hugely exciting, if a little scary at times.
Three years in Palolem was long enough to spend living in our little beach house. It became more and more hemmed in by new bamboo shacks, making this very much a temporary and seasonal village. It all sprang up in November and vanished in April, amidst a deafening bout of hammering. The power cuts back then were far more frequent than the actual power itself. To be plunged into sudden darkness, or to lose precious access to the internet when sitting down to tackle a mountain of work, became a frustrating part of everyday life.
Living deep in the palm grove and so close to the beach, the monsoon seas would rage a mere twenty yards from my door. There were long periods of time without electricity, water or internet, and it was so isolating that we had to relocate every June until the weather abated. I longed to feel more part of community life in Goa. It was time to search for a new home.
I found the ideal spot in the nearby village of Patnem – a character-filled two bedroomed house at the end of a leafy lane. Surrounded by Goan families who had lived there for generations, we would have not only easy access to beach life but also the added dimension of a dense, jungly forest and a panorama of green fields around us. I said “yes” on the spot and we have lived there happily ever since.
Becoming a part of village life recalled memories for me of my own childhood – especially exchanging greetings with friendly neighbours and local shop owners, which is an enjoyable and important part of our day. My son goes to the village kindergarten, an amazing enterprise run by enthusiastic teachers and volunteers from the village and abroad. We often walk to school across the buffalo field, taking note of the seasonal changes around us, watching the cashews, mangoes and jackfruit swell and fall.
At home, we have a great affection for the herds of cows and buffalos who mooch back and forth past our front gate all day, as well as for the roosters and chickens who scratch around in our yard. My own personal thrill comes from having coconut and mango trees growing in the garden – not bad for a girl from London. These formative experiences have shaped my son’s early love of nature, along with his unquestioning acceptance of people from all nationalities, faiths and backgrounds. It is an extraordinary start to life and one I am proud to give him.
Living where we do inevitably means being very busy socially too. This can sometimes get a bit intense (to put it mildly) but it is part and parcel of village life – a scenario far, far removed from the lives of my friends in the West, compelled by bitter winters and long working hours to socially hibernate half of the year. Whilst I work extremely hard at running my own business, I make a conscious effort to make the time for yoga classes, beach walks and the company of inspirational people. Living in Patnem has definitely allowed me to network more easily and it provides a great platform from which to help promote local businesses. We are all connected to and caught up in each other’s worlds.
I am lucky that my line of work takes me outside the ‘Goa bubble’ on a fairly regularly basis with business trips. It gives me a healthy reminder of the vast and glorious diversity of India, and also helps to keep perspective on the tiny jewelled state in which I live. Out there are to be found tribal heartlands, epic mountain ranges, ancient palaces, teeming metropolises – but it is always a thrill to come home to Goa. Winding my way through the ghats, past the electric green paddy fields and along the peaceful village lane to our little house is the strongest feeling of ‘coming home’ I have ever experienced. It is a fact that since birth, I have never lived in one place as long as I have lived in south Goa.
Another rainy season is now almost upon us and there is a comforting rhythm to be found in the passing of the seasons. This monsoon I am looking forward to mastering some of my favourite Goan dishes (with a little help from my friends) and to discovering some new and interesting places to report back on for KOKOindia. There is so much I love about living here – but being English, do I really need to mention all that beautiful sunshine that’s sure to come back around? I didn’t think so.
By Joanna Lester-George