Go to Goa
I sit lazily and hungrily at the table of the beachside food shack steps away from my tiny bamboo hut, both starved for the vegetarian meal that is prepared fresh to order and ravenous to continue to drink in my surroundings. The taste of sea salt is thick in the air as I watch the waves gently slap against the sand. Other international visitors idly let the water crash against their bodies. Mostly everyone wears a myriad of prints and colors in their homemade cover ups, harem pants, and rompers, all adorning various ohm symbols and Hindu Gods like Ganesha. Goa is the one place in India where natives, tourists, and tourists-that-have-become-natives do not have to be modest in their apparel or even their behavior. It is where people are able to channel their inner free-spirits and relish in the fact that they are able to relax completely.
The bright sun, heat, and humidity consume us all. However, in no way do they create discomfort or unbearable conditions with the ocean breeze balancing their effects. The voices and muffled laughter from rows of beachside food shacks seem to create a buzz that is rhythmically in sync with the ocean waves. The scarcity of amenities in the bamboo hut creates distance from the idea of constantly needing to do something. The true essence of travel makes itself prominent instead of getting lost in the notion that one must see and do as much as possible in the short time allotted to a place. In Arambol, North Goa, the languor was shared by us all. In that moment in time, all there is to do is lazily and eagerly drink in all the surroundings that Woodstock Village had to offer.
The Paparazzi Request
As my food arrives, my eyes scan my plate: lentil curry, garlic butter naan, paneer stuffed pepper, cabbage, and diced carrot garnish. Next thing I know, another small plate of various fish is set on my table. I gently inform the Indian man that I did not order this plate. He smiles his toothy grin and claims that the fish is on him. I thank him as he cradles my hand in his own before reaching into his pocket and pulling out his cell phone.
At this point, I know exactly what is about to happen. He asks if he can take a picture with me. Standing up from my seat, I make sure I angle myself so the natural lighting illuminates my chocolate skin. I know exactly what he is mesmerized by: my skin, my features, and the awe of never seeing a dark woman look quite like me. I wave him towards me and link arms with him while someone takes the picture of us.
As he scurries off back to work and I walk over to my chair to take a seat, I inhale a deep breath and chuckle to myself. I have gotten used to what I dub “the paparazzi request.” Women, teenagers, kids, men; they all stop me and ask for numerous photos either with me or for group shots of my travel companions (when I have them) and me. At first it was jarring. I quickly got used to it. I made the conscious choice to embrace it as flattery and not an intrusion of my space.
Mama Raised Me Right
I dig in to my food with my hands. I rip a piece of naan bread and dip it into the curry. Before I know it, my plate is empty and I begin stare skeptically at the small plate of fish. I don’t want to eat it. I slide it in front of me. One small fish, cooked in full: eyes, bones, and all. I am not normally a picky eater, but when it comes to fish I dislike bones in it. They’re too small and too fine. Growing up in a Haitian household, swallowing and almost choking on a fish bone was all too common and I was NOT a fan.
I channel the inner obedient little girl in me and begin to tear the flesh from the skeleton, but only just enough to make the plate look sufficiently consumed. I begin to drop a few pieces in the sand, clumsily at first but strategically in the end when I noticed the black seagulls were happy eating my scraps. When the kind man sees that I’ve eaten the meal, he is noticeably pleased. In that moment, I am grateful for my upbringing; one that taught me to respect the art of food preparation, especially when offered (even though I could have lived without that fish).
After I settle the bill and wish the Indian man well, I slowly meander to the water to dip my feet in the bath-like ocean. It is then that I bumped into a traveler-turned-native.
I had noticed this woman earlier in the day. She was guiding a meditation with some of the long-term guests. She is now soaking wet in her hemp bikini and her dreads have fallen out of the top bun that originally contained them. This stranger grabs my shoulders with her wet hands and excitedly welcomes me to Woodstock Village. I am then invited to join in the celebration for the setting of Mama Sun that they hold each night. Intrigued by her enthusiasm, I agree to join them. We exchange names (hers is Liza), to which she called me a beautiful goddess, and she was off running again.
Celebrating Mama Sun
Noticing that people are beginning to gather down by the beach, I wander in that direction. I figure this is the nucleus of the celebration beginning to form so I make myself comfortable on the outskirts. I’d like an outsider-looking-in perspective first. Then the music begins; taps of a drum, a maraca shaking, a few hits of a tambourine. Slowly, more and more musicians follow suit and the melodies are coming from up and down the beach. The sound is intoxicating!
I suddenly craved being as close to the band as possible so I made my way into the center. Someone places a glow stick on my head while another stranger attaches two around my upper arms and a third puts two more around my ankles. Then, as if on cue with the newest beat, I begin to dance. There was no structure to my movements aside from moving to the beat. My body is pulsating, twisting, turning, and gyrating in a natural rhythmic form. My feet are tapping and bouncing in whatever direction makes sense with the sounds of the music. I cock my head back in laughter, completely immersed in the energy of everyone around me; laughing at how wild this entire experience is and not understanding why I am unable to stop dancing.
As the sun goes down and the festivity continues on, my movements become a bit slower. I am attempting to take in my surroundings at an unhurried pace. I make my way out of the center and notice the other pieces of the party I hadn’t before. There are fire-breathers lighting up the beach nearby and glow stick dancers in groups making incredible shapes with the colorful neon lights. Then I realized I am still dancing! Taking a breather to cool off and look at the entirety of it, I make my way to the ocean and pull out my camera to snap a few pictures and record the amazing view. It’s almost as if they are all putting on a grand finale show just for my footage.
When I notice the clock, I realize I have just lost myself in the glorious Setting of the Mama Sun celebration for a little over five hours! Heading back to my hut, I smile to myself in sheer disbelief of the night I just participated in. A quick trip to the bathroom (which is actually a hole in the ground), a rinse off in the shower, and I’m in my cot. I find myself reeling over the simplicity of this whole place. Everything is stripped down to its raw and bare bones and used practically and functionally. There is nothing complex or complicated about any of it.
As I replay the night’s events in my head, the soreness begins to creep up from hours and hours of dancing. I’m so thankful for all that I’m in and all that has transpired that I couldn’t care less! I can still feel the energetic buzz of the celebration from the beach that is only feet away. It soothingly lulls me to sleep.
The Next Morning
As I wake, I hear the chatter of others who have already begun their days. I roll over and grab my cell phone, unable to wait to view the footage on a more appropriate device. The photos are just as mesmerizing as they were the night before. However, when I get to the video, it is far from a beautiful string of music like I recollected! It is something akin to children yelling, banging, and shaking instruments wildly with no rhythmic order whatsoever. It’s just noise.
As I opened my mouth to laugh in disbelief, a familiar flavor creeps up in my throat. I slap my hand over my mouth and dart out my hut door to vomit up, you guessed it, the fish.
Be in the Now
Some of the absolute best moments in life can’t be experienced through a camera. Seeing someone else’s footage of a vacation does it absolutely no justice! You need to be there, and really be there. Give in to the moment. Let it consume you. The memories will be irreplaceable, I assure you.
So get out there and BE out there, and remember to Decide Bliss.