The first week of June 2020
Updated: Jun 8
No one really knew when the cyclone ended and the monsoon began, and it's not like it mattered that much what we called it. One cold, wet, windy day rolled into the next, and Mother Nature didn't feel the need to differentiate or explain to us, and I appreciated that about her.
One thing I can say though is that she is quite punctual, that Mother Nature. The few people in the village that stuck around for monsoon, including my landlord, said the rain will start promptly on June 2nd. They should know, they prepare for it and live through it each year. The majority of locals go inland for monsoon season where the rain is not so bad, like snowbirds in the USA seeking refuge in FL away from the cold New England winter. Tourism in the area comes to a total and complete halt, so there isn't any work.
In May I watched as workers and hotel owners prepared for monsoon season. They dismantled their beach bungalows, once a travelers dream den, now a sad boulevard of broken dreams. Bungalows and huts that were further from the beach and not dismantled were wrapped in bright blue tarps. The same bright blue tarps that we seem to know and love all over the world. The same bright blue tarps my parents would use to protect our boat before storing it beside the house all those winters. The same blue tarp our neighbors would use to cover their pools at the end of summer. Is there an international bright blue tarp company? Who chose that to be the universal tarp color? I need to know more.
I have always loved the rain, mainly because I knew it fed the earth and the flowers, didn't need to be shoveled, and, for many years, meant I could wear, what I considered to be expensive, my Hunter Rain Boots. When I lived in San Diego, CA we experience quite the drought, so whenever we would see rain, it would be cause for celebration, not only because it fed the earth, but because it gave us permission to stay inside and relax, instead of the constant pressure to enjoy the sunny day. San Diego gave everyone sun, every day, unlike New England, or places with seasons, where you really EARNED your sunny days with grueling winters, raining springs, and crisp autumns,
And of course, who wouldn’t agree that the best part of the rain is the calm once it is OVER, that peace, that stillness... and then the appearance of the glistening colors in the sky, one of the most spectacular natural beauties, the rainbow?
I will never forget Thanksgiving 2015 in San Diego. We were just about to sit down to eat our meal when it started to downpour. We stopped everything to watch the show, and when the rain stopped, the most beautiful and vibrant rainbow appeared. It was at that time that I got the call from my mother, saying Louise Alfred Marotti the Third had entered the world. My first nephew. I had so much extra to be thankful for that year.
The electricity in Goa has been temperamental since I first arrived at the end of February. One of the things I can add to my list of India’s “quirks.”
Even on sunny, calm days, the power would cut, for what seemed like no reason at all.
Fast forward and flip the calendar to June and it's no surprise that the already temperamental electricity just couldn’t handle the drama that comes from heavy rains and high winds. I wasn’t exactly surprised that this was going to be an ongoing issue, but that didn't make it hurt any less.
I had read about the cyclone in the news in May and a few people messaged me on FB cautioning me, telling me to “Stay safe”, but from what I saw on the weather channel it looked like the storm was pretty well situated to the east of India in the Bay of Bengal. Shoulder shrug emoji. There's nothing I can do either way. If it hits, it hits.
Well, it hit and the heavy rains took an electrical wire out straight away and the lights went out all over the village of South Agonda, probably north and south and east as well.
I remember as a kid, I would love when the power went out, pretty much because I didn't understand what it meant other then we could light candles and huddle around in the dark with blankets covering our shoulders, eating snacks in what felt like the easiest “survival mode” in existence, kind of like car camping with a trunk full of supplies.
I think I even asked my mom if we could pretend the power was out a few times, just so we could light candles and huddle together close by. I never considered or understood that people actually lived without power all over the world and how blessed I was to be raised in a home where power outages were seldom.
On the morning of June 2nd, the rain woke me up an hour or so before my alarm clock chimed. It sounded angry and aggressive like it was pounding on my door trying to get in. I live in a room attached to the Sunset restaurant at the top of a hill.
I sleep with the bathroom light on most nights. Yeah, that’s right. It's like my security blanket, though even with it on, I still don't feel completely secure. My “nightlight” began to flicker as my fan blades slowed its revolutions, causing the whole apparatus to circle clumsily from the ceiling.
Motherfucker, I thought, here she is…
At that moment, I wasn’t concerned about my ability to see in the dark, the ability to cool the food in my fridge or charge my phone, even my ability to use the internet. I wasn’t even thinking of the earth, rainboots I didn't have, or rainbows.
I was worried about my ability to make coffee. Something I equate to survival.
I shake my head at myself as I write this, ashamed at my naivety and privilege, thinking of the unnecessary death of George Floyd and the very necessary protests happening all over the world. What do I know about survival? What do I know about a tough life, when my biggest concern is my ability to make my morning coffee? No matter how ruthless I think I have it here in India right now, I have no idea what real survival looks like.
With the fan no longer moving, the bugs had the courage to move closer to me in my bed. I ditched the mosquito net weeks before when I found large holes and realized bugs were being trapped inside with me and each night having a Tara feeding frenzy, mainly on my feet and ankles.
The orange kitty who appeared out of thin air a week or so ago sleeps in the netting in my ceiling to stay dry from the rain and to be as close as she can to the one that feeds her. So far, the netting has pretty much served as a collector of rat dropping, dead bugs, and this kitties hammock bed.
The Kitty hears me sit up in bed and starts to POWER meow. I see her little feet move in a circular pattern through the netting and her little orange head pop out to confirm that “the lady” (me) is in fact awake. She continues to power meow, reminding me how starving she is and suggesting I move a little fucking faster at serving her breakfast, which she would really enjoy on top of the refrigerator where the dogs cannot reach her.
When she walks through the netting, she pushes aside rat droppings, so that they land on my tile floor, some stale, some fresh, and I cringe at the sight of them.
I opened the door to exit and to check on the dogs.
The rain continued to hammer the tin roof but not in a Deepak Chopra- meditative kind of way.
The furry ladies usually jump to their feet to greet me in the morning, but because of the loud rain, they couldn’t hear me open the door. Each one had their own spot, for the most part, out of the rain. I had never seen them balled up so tight as I had that morning, hugging themselves to keep warm.
Where would they be right now, if they didn't have this shelter? Would they be stuck under a tree, wet, cold, and alone? The thought makes me sad, knowing there are so many more strays in the village, in the world, that I just wouldn't be able to protect. I wish I could help them all.
Jazzy and Glinda balled together but separate on the long pink yoga mat that was passed down inadvertently to me from a member of YTT. Sally Jesse Rafael balled on the orange yoga mat right near my door, water completely surrounding the mat like it was her own private island.
Stinky Sweetie balled as close as possible to me during the night, which was on the top step of the doorway on a towel that is equally used as a dog bed and a welcome mat. I have a special connection with all of my stray ladies, but she and I have the most special bond.
I stepped over her to exit my room. My flowing pant leg grazed her back and she woke with a look that said, “Oh, you’re up. Fucking monsoon, ammiright?”
I took a slow walk around the patio of the restaurant making sure to step heavy and evenly as to not lose my footing on the slick floor.
I went to visit the four kittens and Mommy cat and they seemed to be tucked under a tarp and pile of wood, safe, and dry, but looking frantic and fearful at the same time. The mother has the most beautiful green eyes. There are two white babies, a gray baby, and an orange baby. They want to say hi whenever I come with food, but are too scared to leave their den
I typically feed all the kids right after I put water on for coffee, but because of their lack of eagerness and my lack of coffee, I decided to just feed mama kitty her yogurt and rice, put milk down for the kittens, go back to sleep, calling hard to the universe for a redo of the day. Maybe I will wake up and my tropical paradise will be back, but I knew my future looked more like a wet version of Groundhog's Day.
In my process of redoing the morning, I woke up a few times to the electricity teasing me. Hi, I am here! Just kidding, see ya!
When it would stay on for a few minutes, I would stealthily run to the kitchen to start boiling water, but each time I would arrive the power would go out again, even before I had time to hit the switch on my hot plate. But, I moved so stealthily!
I played this game for a while until I gave up and figured it was time to come up with an alternative plan, one that involved coffee, but not electricity. Mission: Nescafe.
I noticed my neighbor, Franklina had a fire going in her front area and asked if she had boiling water. She said, No, but she could boil me some. Well, that wasn’t so hard. I thought to myself, so that’s how you ask for help… I’ll have to remember that…
You’re a good woman, I said, good woman!
She said she would help me this time, but next time, I need to go to Romeo, my landlord, instead, because he owns my unit, and they don't get along… so she doesn't want to get involved with one of his tenants… I said I understand...
Let me give you a little back story here:
I live at the top of a hill in the same area as the yoga school I attended for my teacher training. My landlord, Romeo owns the building the training took place in and the restaurant where I am currently staying. He lives with his wife and his mother who has serious dementia. She comes up to the restaurant sometimes and argues with the trees and punches the air. Sometimes I let her be, and other times, I go find Romeo to take her back to his house.
The building next to him on one side is owned by his brother, and the building on the other side is owned by his other brother. The brothers have been feuding for years and do not speak. They all have children and even the children do not speak to one another or to their aunts and uncles. I do not know any more of the backstory, other than that.
She asked me to go around to the other side of the house so that Romeo wouldn’t see her helping me. Whatever you say, Coffee Lady! I brought my cup with Nescafe (one three in one packet, plus one scoop of Nescafe sunrise) already at the bottom. She filled the cup to the brim, almost overflowing the cup with the boiling water. Besides Romeo, she is the only other adult on the hill that speaks English.
I walked the short distance back to the restaurant in the rain and I sat on the bar and drank my coffee. I drank so quickly it practically burned my throat. Drinking too fast has always been a problem of mine.
The heat hurt just enough that it felt good.
I peered through the netting that Romeo used to encase my balcony. I stared into the beauty I knew was there, even though I couldn't see it fully or clearly, the ocean.
The orange cat meowed in starvation, even though I had just fed her. I thought, “So, this is my life now,” something I think every so often to myself, as I navigate through the present day twists and turns of the life I could never have really imagined for myself.
I also thought, “Table’s are for asses, not fat asses.” Something my boss at the VPB in Burlington, Vermont would say to any female member of his staff if she was sitting on a table or the bar top.
When I feed the girls I need to do it strategically, so a fight doesn't break out, though I keep a broom close by, just in case I need to play referee.
I feed Stinky Sweetie first, because she is my favorite and because she requires special food and a little extra time.
Let me tell you a little more about what I know about Stinky Sweetie.
Well... She got shot in the face 3 times about a year ago and survived. She had two of the bullets surgically removed by the local animal shelter, but there is still one bullet lodged in the roof of her mouth. Her mouth is rotting from infection and is a huge attribute to her stinkiness and skinniness. She is a fighter, a survivor, and still has the most charming and gracious personality.
I elevate her food and mix the rice with yogurt to keep it together better, but no matter what I feed her it seems to get caught in her nasal passage and/or throat, causing her to choke and sneeze until it becomes dislodged. It takes her a few tries, but she eats the whole bowl. When I first met her, she was skin and bones, and I am happy to have helped her put on some weight and show her some much need love.
I feed the others with plenty of distance between them, collect the bowls, and sweep up whatever mess they have made so the ants have no additional reason to show up and annoy my world. The orange cat is still whining, but whenever I got to pet her, she runs away.
The rain stopped midday, though it was still pretty cloudy and dark. I took a chance and went out for a walk, along the beach to the store, no umbrella, no raincoat, no fancy rain boots, but armed with a face mask and the need to move my legs, a fierceness for exercise that I get from my mother.
This combination of bravery and recklessness is the epitome of my existence.
The dogs see me lock the bedroom door and get excited about an adventure. Because they are strays, they all have their own specific territories as to where the can and cannot go, but they all follow me down the hill and across the street. That is a green zone.
Sally Jesse Rafael, the timidest of the strays, stops following me to the beach first, right after I cross the street. She will wait there until I return.
Jazzy and Glinda are beach dogs and they typically stick together. Frenemies. They will walk with Stinky and me to the beach and down a bit until we are met by a group of dogs, that I refer to as, The Psychos, that insist on not letting anyone but me and Stinky pass the invisible line they have drawn in the sand.
I believe there is this unspoken grace between Stinky and all the other dogs of Agonda that she can do whatever the FUCK she wants at this point because she was shot in the face three times and survived and she has been through enough.
My debit card expired in February and I have been struggling to acquire cash to pay rent and the fruit and vegetable stand tender who only accepts rupees. Luckily the main grocery store, Fatimas, takes CC and has been able to sell me cash on a few occasions.
When I walk up from the beach, I can see the cashier boy working, ie sitting on a stool playing on his phone. When I open the door, he jets up in attention, as he had just been caught doing something wrong and I pump my hands as if to say, "It's ok, bro, it's just me."
I ask the boy, “Do you have any presents for me today” He does not laugh or lift his gaze to mine, as usual, and with a blended expression of pity, embarrassment, and annoyance says, "No. Sorry. Tomorrow, though."
That's a common thing here in India, saying it will happen tomorrow. Whatever “it” is, it is sure to happen tomorrow, even though in retrospect it could be a week or two. I added it to my list of India’s “quirks” as well as my list of "Things I could not control.:"
Stinky waits for me outside the store, sniffing a gigantic pile of cow dung. We walk further down and over a bridge to the farm stand.
I slip off my flip flops and enter the hut. I get papaya and cabbage using the little cash I have left in my wallet. I make this walk most days, so there is no reason for me to purchase or carry too much at a time.
I’ve never liked papaya, but since living in India its baby vomit flavor is growing on me. I eat it in the morning with oatmeal, honey, and seeds. I put the papaya in my bag and as I walk back to the restaurant on the road with Stinky, I peel the layers of the cabbage away and feed them to the cows that loiter in small groups in the streets, moo’ing for recognition.
When I feed them, the cow's eyeballs roll up like the eye-roll emoji, and their long massive tongue darts from their mouth and wraps around the cabbage leaf as a snake would coil around its prey. Its absolutely terrifying.
I peel the layers until I can’t peel cabbage any more and then offer up the cabbage stump. Afterward, I show my open and empty hands to the cows, as if they would understand, “Oh, the lady doesn’t have any more food. See her empty hands. We should leave her alone now.”
The cows followed us all the way home and then stood at the bottom of the hill moo’ing at me for the rest of the day. One big brown cow with uneven horns even came up the stairs and into the restaurant. The dogs didn't know what to do.
The orange kitty waited for me to get home, spying me from the top of the refrigerator. Her welcome power meow’s competed with the moo’s for attention and food.
What have I done? I thought. What have I done...
The electricity doesn't come back on that entire day. Without electricity or the internet and pouring down rain, there isn't much to do, so I sit in stillness, watch the rain, observe the wildlife, and eat cucumbers, throwing the nubbin's to the pigs slewing in the trash at the bottom of the hill.
When nighttime comes, I light candles, but when I realize the flame draws significantly more bugs, I end up propping up my cellphone with the flashlight on. My phone loses power quickly and I am left with darkness. Darkness makes me uncomfortable.
The rainy days really rolled together that week.
My neighbor, Filip, and friend from YTT, Renata, decided the time had come to relocate rooms, Filip traveling all the way up to north Goa, and Renata to the other side of the village. Even though we pretty much kept to ourselves, those were pretty much the only two people I had daily conversations with. It was sad to see them go.
With the rain, the departure of my friends, the lack of electricity, of cash, the starving animals, the bugs... it was just all starting to be a lot...
When the electricity finally powers on the next day, I celebrate and hustle to use it before it shuts off again. I charge my devices, download podcasts to Spotify (MFM), check-in with family and friends, cook dog food, etc etc.
I downloaded Untamed and listened to Glennon Doyle as I walked the beach, my supportive and stinky friend by my side. I would think of my sister and my mother, the relationships I have with them, the relationship I have with myself. My ability to give to and receive love. Gratitude. My future.
Maybe Glennon is right. Maybe "being human is not hard because you're doing it wrong, it's hard because you're doing it right." And the only thing that is really wrong with you, is thinking that something is wrong with you.
The beach has been riddled with crude oil ever since the monsoon hit, so when I walk its more like a prance, hopping over black lines in the sand like a ballerina. No matter how well I think I do at this oil avoidance dance that I play the oil still manages to stick to the bottom of my feet, and get in between my toes. and is a constant struggle to get off.
And then I stopped getting running water...
The boy at the store told me that it wasn’t just me without running water each day, but the whole village. Also, this isn’t just a temporary or short term thing, but for the remainder of the monsoon season, running water will be out every day until 4 pm.
Ok, so new things I will have to get used to: not being able to flush my toilet until 4 pm... washing my hands with bottled water... using bottled water and a scrub brush to remove the oil from my feet.
Every morning, I check on the kittens and the Mama cat in the pile of wood, feed them rice and milk, and give the mama some love, but one morning after a particularly heavy storm, I notice they aren't there. I wonder if maybe they found a more safe spot to cozy up, or maybe my neighbor even took them in. I check and I check, hoping that they have come back.
On one of my walks back from the beach, I see the mama cat. It seems so random and out of place. She is meowing and weaving in and out of my legs. Where are your babies? I ask. She follows me back up the hill and to the restaurant. Stinky doesn't try to chase her and walks right beside her. I give her a big ol' bowl of rice and sardines on the bar top and pet her as she eats and meows at the same time, so it sounds muffled. After she eats, I see her jump down, returning to the area where she and her kittens stayed for so long. She looks back at me as if I should follow, so, I do...
She walks under the pile of wood, circles, and meows loudly. It's then that I notice the dead bodies of her babies. They had been lying there the whole time, I just hadn't seen them. I turn away, and scream, Oh nooooooooo...... and walk away, recoiling with grief, with helplessness, with sadness.
Why? Why did they have to die? I should have done more. They were just babies.
I haven't been the same since.
I survived my first week of June. Barely.
I laugh at the thought, and my Facebook declaration mid-May, stating, "I have officially hit my lockdown wall..."
Oh, sweetie... if you only knew...
No matter how challenging my life may seem to me right now, or it has ever seemed to me, in the past, it is still nothing compared to the challenges, the inequality, the oppression, the stereotyping that black people feel every day of their life.
(I know that on the flip side, even as a privileged white person, I am entitled to feel overwhelmed by my current life circumstances, as long as I keep perspective and support for the larger more important civil rights movement)
I love seeing the peaceful protests of thousands and thousands around the world. It is time for a change. A BIG CHANGE. The world and its people are screaming for attention, equality, and love, and we need to listen! #FUCKRACISM
I dont want to look back on my life and think, "Why did they have to die? I should have done more." I want to help more. How do I help more?
I stand with you. I support you. #blacklivesmatter