An American Woman in Goa, India
There’s just something about India that drew me in, the colors, the way the women wear their jewelry, the saris, how they dance, and it could have been the glamour and mystery of the Hindu religion. I always had India as a place I wanted to visit, and I very much admired the people of India. India is a country unlike any other. I feel lucky to have visited there, and to have visited with someone that was a local. I saw India for all it’s beauty and for all it’s prejudices. Here’s what it’s like for an American woman in Goa, India.
I’m an American
To give you the full back story I’m originally from Buffalo, NY. I began working on a cruise ship, and met people from so many countries, it was unbelievable to meet people from Ukraine, the UK, Peru, Mexico, the Philippines, Latvia, and of course India. That’s how I met that someone that showed me around India. That someone became my special someone.
We decided to link on our contracts – meaning we let HR know that we would like to be on the same ship when at all possible. There’s a bit of paperwork involved, but we made it happen.
We did our contracts together, and when we had our couple of months off in between contracts we decided we would visit India. We sort of said this like a throw away. “Yea sure, Amber, you’ll come to my country!” Little did he know that I follow through on things I say I’m going to do!
Now, like I said I’m American. I should add – I’m white. My mom is full on Ukrainian and my father is Native American, but I got all my looks from my mom. Meaning I have super fair skin, green eyes, freckles, the whole deal. So, in India I stick out like a neon crayon.
Off to India!
Why wouldn’t you visit the home country of your partner? He already knew mine! He’d been all around in the USA through all the cruise contracts he got under his belt. I almost felt like I owed it to him, out of respect and all. I intended to meet his mom, sister, other family, and community. This was a totally selfless trip. Right? Of course.
Who am I kidding?! This trip was one of the most exciting things I couldn’t wait for! The chance to go to Goa, India wasn’t anything I was passing up.
I must admit I wanted to see his side of the world. His life, his house, how he was with his family, how they woke up in the morning. I wanted to know everything about his culture and how he lived. I was truly intrigued.
Getting in India
Traveling, by the time I booked my ticket to India, was not a nervous affair. I already study abroad in Australia, relocated to Los Angeles, lived on a cruise ship that went to Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, and the Caribbean. Not too much, but enough confidence to keep going to difference places. But I hadn’t been to this part of the world at all. I wasn’t nervous about getting there, I was nervous about how people would look at me once I got there. And look at me they did…more like staring, but who’s nit picking?
I booked my flight on Kuwait Airways. I must add I needed a visa to travel to India. There was a few phone calls that were needed. I was interviewed extensively because of my occupation. I was a videographer and the Indian government wanted to be sure that I wasn’t going there to get work. “Yes! this is purely just a visit. I swear, I’m not looking to work in India!” I had to write a letter to the consulate explaining that I was not going to take equipment with me, and I had to swear I wasn’t going to work.
I flew from NYC to London, London to Kuwait, Kuwait to Mumbai. There were some delays getting out of London so, we were late to arrive into Kuwait. I missed my connection and so did about 60 other people. There was one flight a day out of Kuwait into Mumbai, and that left us there waiting till the next day. Well, Kuwait Airways knows how to appease the crowd, I must say.
We were given a hotel room stay for the next 24 hours, and 3 meals! I was more than pleased. The hotel was top notch, and the food was great. Zero complaints. The view from the room left something to be desired though. But I can’t remember having a view like this before either.
Those were some of the highlights, along with my TV broadcasting the call to prayer. I can’t tell you how soothing it is to hear it. I was also captivated by the broadcast of Mecca. To see the giant swirl of people in white robes was hypnotizing, and had such a calming affect on me. Needless to day it was the channel that stayed on the entire time.
What I failed to mention were the lows. If you want to count being delayed for a day, sure that’s a low, but it didn’t bother me too much because the airline took care of us. I must tell you of the Indian man. Yep, I know some of you already know where this story is going. The Man was seated near me on the plane from London to Kuwait. He was also in the group that missed his connection to Mumbai.
Ya know how you read in a lot articles about solo travel for women, and how it’s dangerous for us in certain parts of the world? Well, I have first hand experience on why that is.
The Man in question made a point to strike up conversation with me. Ask me where I was from, how I was doing, and where I was going in India. He already knew I was going to Mumbai because of the situation we were both in. At the beginning I’m just making sure I didn’t come off as a huge bitch and was polite. I tend not to put up my bitch face too much while traveling, simply because I’m happy when I’m traveling. But I didn’t give any information that he was asking for that’s for sure. Eventually at every meal he sought me out to chat.
Then…here it comes. The proposal. “I can treat you really good, and you can be my wife. I am a rich man in my country.” Paaaaalease! While this is annoying, maybe even scary for some women I thought this was laughable. Like guy, get real. I remember I uttered the words “Nope, I’m good, thanks!” as dry as possible. Then full on bitch face commenced from that point forward.
In the end, we were back on track and boarded our flight to Mumbai. Thankfully he was not seated near me. Once we got into Mumbai, I remember he did follow me out, mainly because we all go to baggage claim…or so I want to believe. Once he saw my Indian boyfriend meet up with me, he was long gone.
I don’t care what people tell you, or how open-minded you believe the world is, people look at interracial couples differently. Outside of our families and what each side thought of the other we didn’t experience much indifference for us being together. Not in the States and definitely not on the ship. But my family worried that all he wanted was a green card, and his family worried that I was a slut. Yes, I kid you, not!
We didn’t travel around in the tourist areas. Goa, India is a small state that packs a giant tourist destination punch. There are a lot of resorts in Goa, India. We did visit those areas a little, but not enough to cover a whole month’s stay. I stayed at his house, in a village, far away from any tourists. I stuck out in a crowd, and I know I did.
The Stare Down
I remember we were on a bus, and not only were they staring at me, but they were also giving my boyfriend the evil eye. I found this to be very confusing. So, I leaned over and quietly asked him, “Why are they staring at you too?” He told me, as softly as possible that they thought I was a hooker. And then he told me that they were jealous of him because of what he could afford.
Completely shocking! He said this very calmly, and without any hesitation. Because that’s the first thing that comes to my mind, “oh, white women with in Indian man – must be a business transaction here.” My American mind thought this ridiculous, but that’s how some Indians think.
His sister was also in an interracial relationship. She is married to a German man. Imagine your run of the mill German tourist, tall, lean, fair skin, light hair, fanny pack and all. My boyfriend had shared our experience on the bus with them, and she began to tell me how it didn’t matter what color the woman was. If there was a couple and one was brown, and one was white – the woman was always the prostitute. She continued with “that’s what Indians always think.” I can say I never looked at India the same after that. Talk about shock value.
Your Average American Stay in India
I think there is a big difference when an American visits India with a travel company versus when you go there on your own. I was in between. There’s an advantage touring with companies, one big one is the numbers. There’s a group of you so, you’re not alone. They give you experiences that are planned, pleasant, and perfected. They’re going to avoid places, if they can help it, where you might get hounded by folks, or harassed. You’re going to be in areas where they welcome the tourists because they know you’re there to spend money.
Traveling with a local is a whole other world. You’re getting everything. Raw. Realistic. The real deal. The main reason is because you go where they go, and where they go is not a tourist area. So, it’s almost like you’re going outside the bounds of your tourist cage. You’re almost seen as, dare I say it, an invader.
You get the “Why are you here?” look.
Can I say that everyone looked at me as if they’ve never seen a real white person in real life? No. Not everyone, but there was a fair amount that did react to me that way. Because in truth some of them might not have seen a white person in real life, ever.
One thing I was surprised to see was all the billboards featuring white woman, or super light skinned Indian women. White women with blonde hair are the holy grail in advertising in Goa, India. It might be safe to say all of India as well. I, luckily, have dark brown hair so that softened the blow a bit as far as shock went when people saw me.
Right at Home
My boyfriend lived in Margao, Goa. I was there during the month of March. The temperature wasn’t too extreme, as far as India weather. The lows were around 72, and the highs were around 92. It definitely got hot, I loved the night time back at the house. The air was a bit chillier, almost no light pollution, and very quiet. I enjoyed how you can hear all the insects and animals calls, along with the relaxing rustling sounds from the wind on the trees. In the morning, it became bright and sunny very quickly. My salvation was always when the night came.
Living Like Kings
Working on a cruise ship you learn about the pay scale pretty quickly. And by pay scale I mean what people from different countries earn. A person from the States is not going to get the the same pay as someone from the Philippines. My boyfriend, being from India, got paid about just under $500 a month.
$500 a month!
I’ll give you some time to pick up your jaw, and close your mouth. I couldn’t believe it either when I first became aware of this.
$500 US Dollars gives you a whole lot of Indian Rupees. A lot of the Indian folks that worked on the ship as cabin stewards live like kings back home. They have bigger than average homes, flashing furniture, an American style toilet, and even a car. Your average Indian does not own any of that, they have a more humble, and minimalist way of living. Owning a car in my boyfriends community was a big goal for a lot of folks, and it was a serious sign of luxury.
I should add that Goa, India is a big port town. Cruise ships do stop there. Because of that a lot of folks from Goa, India work on the cruise ships.
My boyfriend was somewhere in the middle. He didn’t like to waste his money on loads of furniture, and needless things. He was happy to have a house that he owed, and one that his mom could live in while he was away at sea. I liked his house, I felt relaxed there, and the view was nice too. I loved seeing the normal neighborhood activities. Everyday there’s a guy selling bread from the bakery nearby. Fresh bread! Did we have said bread. Of course we did! Right out of the tin foil, warm, and delicious!
I also enjoyed watching his mother dry out the coconuts on the walkway to make coconut oil. She swears by coconut oil. She was upwards of 70 years old and she only had one small patch of grey hair in the front of her head and she attributes that to using coconut oil daily. I say it’s just good genes.
Getting around in Margao, Goa for us was by motorcycle, and it was that way for most people that lived there. I was amazed how the flow of cars, taxis, motorcycles all seemed to be jammed pack, riding so close to each other while also not crashing. I saw many people on motorcycles, and by that I mean 3 or 4 on one bike! There was never a dull moment as far as I was concerned. I always saw something that impressed, shocked me or made me ask more questions.
When we got to the market the sheer volume of product was utterly amazing. If you wanted a salt shaker there are 50 different salt shakers to chose from. So much stuff! I enjoyed it, and I think my boyfriend found it amusing on how entertained I was by doing the regular things he did. It was just the regular market he went to when he needed things.
Utterly Amazing Produce
Buying produce as a normal occurrence for him was, once again, another adventure for me. We bought a whole pineapple for 30 Rupees! That’s about $0.39 American in today’s exchange rate. A pineapple here is about $5 to $6! Even when I was in Hawaii with actual pineapples growing where I bought them it was about $8. How is it $8 when you don’t have to ship it anywhere?! Why? I’ll never know, but everything in Hawaii is expensive.
My brain can not comprehend how cheap things are in India while also tasting so good. Don’t get me started on the avocados – always, somehow, perfectly ripe! Everything tasted great all the time no matter what we tried. Rose milk was one of my favorite items that I still haven’t found anywhere else in the world that has tasted anywhere close to as good. If there’s anyone in Goa, India right now seek out the rose milk!
There are two kinds of beaches in Goa, India – The tourist beaches, and the local beaches. At first glance I didn’t know the difference. Looking at all my pictures again, and playing back my experience I know the difference now. The tourist beaches have a lot of areas to buy things, the beach goers are on lounge chairs, and the Indian folk are not relaxing on the beach they’re working. They were a bit more secluded, or at least took a bit more to get to them. Overall the vibe isn’t very relaxing. It feels very… structured.
Goa, India is a Beach Town
The local beaches are right off the streets. You look one way – there’s the ocean, and the beautiful sunset. You look the other way – there’s the town, and all the people going about their day. I like the local beaches because there are families walking down the beach together. Kids playing soccer in the sand. Stray dogs, and cows just lounging around. There’s a more relaxed feeling all around. Just local folks enjoying their beach. While, for the most part I felt like I stuck out a lot I didn’t feel that way on local beaches. I felt like I belonged. Everyone was there doing their own thing, and it didn’t matter that I was the only white person there. On the tourist beaches I was a target Someone people can sell too, or at least that’s how I felt.
Maybe I’ve just lived a horribly sheltered life, but the sunsets in India are the ones to beat. It wasn’t a great sunset here, and another one a few days away. Everyday there is another spectacular, beautiful sunset. So many colors, deep oranges, pinks, and soothing yellows. Each sunset brought me to such a relaxing state, full of gratitude. I was grateful to be where I was with who got me there. I was grateful my partner was there with me showing me all sides of his home country.
Goa, India is a very diverse state, it has the big three religions represented there, they have Muslims, Christians, and Hindus, with the majority being Christian and Hindu. There are many churches, Hindu temples, and Mosques.
Goa, India is known to be a place where those 3 religions have a good peaceful harmony together. All holidays are celebrated equally. And I had the great privilege of being there during carnival season. I saw two parades with very different styles, and happened to favor the Hindu parade because it was at night, had very intricate visual storytelling happening with each float. I felt like a child opening up one of those pop-up story books in front of them.
Regular Life in Goa, India
In Goa, India I spent a lot of time with his family, meeting his friends, going to the market to get food, community events, seeing a different beach almost everyday, I was there for a family birthday, and also the family drama.
I watched Indian TV and discovered HBO in Goa, India had commercials! I was beyond shocked. Here in the States HBO is a paid service so there’s no commercials. I also experienced the hot sun, the power outages, the no bathrooms on buses, the low water pressure, and crazy large insects, and the random appearances of animals everywhere.
I ate great homemade food including great curry. His mother made egg curry and I thought “Yes! This spice level isn’t bad at all.” The next day I had left overs and damn near passed out. His mother added the “Indian level” of spice since I already had some the day prior. I’ll never forget how hot that curry was!
I ate traditional Indian sweets, and found out I don’t much care for those sweets, but fell in love with some of their best Indian coffee, and the fresh coconut I’ll never forget how amazing it tasted!
If I was there as a tourist on my own and didn’t have my special someone there with me I would of had a drastically different experience. I wouldn’t have seen all the great down to earth details that I did. I do love solo travel, but I think India for where I was in my travel experience at that time – I needed that helping hand. I’ve gone on so many other journeys on my own after India. I have this trip to thank for that. I felt as if I could visit any country in the world! If you want to take a look at one of my solo trips check that out here.
Odd Man Out, But that’s Alright
Being an American woman in Goa, India was an experience I’ll never forget. Some Americans think they’ll be faced with the Slumdog Millionaire version of India when they visit. I won’t lie to you Goa and the rest of India has a pollution problem. I saw garbage in the worst ways. Here’s an article that talks about the pollution.
Yes, those places exist in India, but that’s not the whole of India. Goa, India is a beautiful, magical place. I left feeling more in tune with myself. After reading that back, it sound cliche, but India has a weird way of penetrating your soul. I didn’t come back the same.
When you embark on a journey where no tourists go, be prepared to be the odd man out. It can be uncomfortable, but that’s how we grow from travel. That’s what makes travel so great. It takes you to your limits. Challenges you. Opens your eyes wider. It opens you up, and your perspective on how people see you. You become more accepting of the weird looks you get, or how someone might treat you differently because you’re putting yourself in their shoes. The one thing you can make sure to do is make sure you represent yourself well.
Outside the Boundaries
I’m glad that I didn’t go there in the confines of a resort, an expat community, or go for one of those super cliche yoga retreats, afraid of the real India. I can’t be that type of stereotypical American woman. Yes, of course you have to keep your wits about you if you’re a female in India, but I can say that about almost every country.
I experienced some great things, and some not so great things while in India, but by far the good outweighed the bad in so many ways.
In terms of my comfort level in sticking out while I was in Goa, India – I did get use to it. How did you handle being the odd man out while traveling? Tell me in the comments below. I just learn to accept it, and look at each situation for what it was, I am different and maybe something they aren’t use to seeing. India for the most part was good to me, and I do want to go back, and I will some day. And I’ll never forget those sunsets!