Published: March 30th 2009March 30th 2009
left Mumbai on March 17. the train left on time but got there 2.5 hours late. met Kim from Williams Lake, BC, on the train who talked about setting up a "community" where nobody gets paid unless everyone in the community is well. in the same compartment was also Desmond from Goa who was in Mumbai for a job interview to work on a ship with a US company. I got off at Thivim at 7:40pm. There was also a Japanese traveller who got off with me. he told me how he got ripped off so many times in Mumbai. once, an auto-rickshaw took him to some unknown place in town and demanded money from him. I told him how difficult it is for a woman to travel alone but he said they would never rip off women like the way they have been ripping him off. They usually go easy on the women which is true (well unless they want to rape her!). I have also been ripped off many times but nothing extreme has happened to me (knock on wood), but I think I'm just more experienced with travelling. The Japanese guy looked really innocent. I guess he'll have to learn the hard way.
From Thivim, we took a bus to Mapusa. From Mapusa, there are buses to everywhere. I took the last bus to Calangute at 8:30pm and there were no more buses to where he wanted to go so he had to take the rickshaw. Calangute is one of the most popular destinations so there was still one bus left. I stayed one night at the Calangute Beach Resort run by Regina Fernandes. It's only 1 km from the bus stand but the rickshaw charged me 50 Rs which apparently is normal here, and I understood why the next day. There are tourists everywhere and the whole town is catered to tourists. There are tons of accommodation places. Regina's place is really nice and it's right by the beach. She only has double rooms or bigger rooms. The double is 900 Rs per night. For one person, it's 600 Rs. Her place is fairly upscale so there must be many other places that are cheaper. Regina said that there are many unregulated "rooms to let" as many people just rent out rooms in their home to tourists. They don't pay taxes, etc. as it's all under the table so what they charge can be really cheap.
At Regina's, I met 2 couples in their 60's or 70's. The couple from Quebec has been coming to Goa every year for over 30 years and since their retirement, they spend 6 months here every year. As for the couple from Italy, it's their 26th time here in India. I can understand why people come here for the beach--Calangute is the main town for the beach which is a 10 km stretch from Baga to Candolim, and it's not just long, it's really wide. in general, it's just a really huge beach. Unfortunately, I'm not into the beach culture. I came because I had a local contact and was hoping to hang with locals but the family was busy. Fortunately, I came across a local charity called Children Walking Tall, a new organization started in 2004 by Robert Lyon from UK. It's just outside of Mapusa. Rob is on couchsurfing which is how I found this charity. I visited for 2 days. The charity targets the children in 2 of the main slums near Mapusa.
People who live in slums are mostly transients from other states and tend not to register their children when they are born (WOW! that's a lot of people unaccounted for in India. Since the official population is 1.1 billion, that means the actual may exceed China's population!) A child who is not registered cannot go to school so the charity helps (gives incentives) parents get their kids registered and keep them in school. If the kids are going to school regularly, they get to go to the "Mango House" which is the charity home. They will have one meal there, get to play and have someone help them with their homework. Rob has currently 8 volunteers from everywhere in the world and 4 local staff. The volunteers also do outreach in the slums everyday. I went along one time and visited 2 slums.
All land in India belong to the government or private owners, obviously, so how come there are slums? There are usually 2 ways that a slum is born. the most common one (for more stable slums) is conceived at the recycling centre. The owner of the recycling centre needs people to go through garbage and bring him the recyclables so the poorest of the poor would come and do this for him and they get to live on his property. I don't know the actual amounts but it's something like, they bring him 1 Kg of plastic bottles and he gives them 50 Rs. Therefore, most slums are on the property of a recycling centre. Another type of slum would be: transients squat on a vacant lot and the owner feels sorry for them and lets them live there, however, after a while, the slum grows really big and then he will clear them out.
Since most people in slums are transients from all over, and are usually uneducated people (so they can only speak their own language), it was interesting how in one slum, the people would try to communicate with each other using any language they could. For example, in the slums we went to, some were tribals, some were from Karnataka so they spoke Kannada, some were from Maharashtra so they spoke Marathi, and some were from further away. One of the staff was a local (so he spoke Konkani) and he was trying to pick up the tribal language spoken in one of the slums so he can better communicate with them.
Rob has some really good ideas. For example, the slum lifestyle usually means living from day to day so whatever you can get for the day, you spend it. Children who come to the Mango House can have a "savings account" if they want, so whatever money they have, they can choose to put it in their account, which I think is a great idea because it not only teaches good financial planning but also makes them think about long term goals instead of just living from day to day.
Children Walking Tall is listed in the Lonely Planet so volunteer positions are all booked up till the summer. Volunteers have to arrange for their own accommodation, minimum commitment is 3 months and they and all staff have evenings and weekends off as the children only come to the Mango House on school days and go home around 4:30pm.
I did manage to spend some time with locals: Regina's sister Rosaline was great to talk to and she treated me to some local dishes. My main source of info was from one of the local staff at the charity who answered all my questions. (thanks, Aloysius!) I wondered how the caste system works here since most people are Christians and have Portuguese origins. Turns out that like the rest of India, the caste system is by last name so Fernandes would be people from the highest caste, Gomes would be second, and so forth. Unbelievable.
I ate out a few times and for the first time in all my travels (in my entire life), I got sick from eating out, but not because the food was unclean, it was because it was too spicy. I could not finish the food and about an hour after, I threw up whatever I ate and was fine after that. when the food came up, it burned me really bad. always remember to ask for not too spicy food in Goa.