Agonda diaries – week eight!

Yes, it’s my two-month milestone. I can’t quite believe I’ve been here that long! I feel so settled in my big red house that it already feels like home.

The landlord, Marshan, invited me to his family Christmas lunch this week – such a lovely act of kindness. I decided to start the day by going to mass at the local church. Although I’m no longer a practicing Catholic (aka an atheist) I enjoyed it. Going into Catholic churches when I’m abroad is something I like to do to remember my mother. This one was festooned with a pink blousy canopy outside to shade the congregation – Catholicism, Indian-style. I did get quite emotional when seeing a western woman who had trouble walking go up to receive Holy Communion from the priest. She was crying and I wanted to give her a hug. I think I needed one too. Something about Christmas always gets to me – memories of family Christmasses past, and how there will never be another.

I turned up to Marshan’s having bought a painted glass candlestick, which I immediately broke by lightly tapping it against the stair rail. Sigh. Oh well – it’s the thought that counts. However, I later found out that people don’t exchange gifts at Christmas here – the ones under Marshan’s tree were fake. The real gift is food and good cheer, and your presence, not presents. At the lunch I met a woman and her daughter from the famous self-contained, self-run community Auroville in Kerala. It sounds like an interesting way to live – it’s mission is to “realise human unity’.

I found a little bit of human unity in Marshan’s house, as we all gathered, shepherd-like, around Elish, Marshan’s grandson. He is a smiling, gurgling, laughing boy who wears black and white bangles around his little wrists. His chocolate-button eyes made us all go gaga for him.

It’s also been a week of beautiful beaches as my friend Shubham took me back to Galgibaga, another turtle beach with nothing built on it, where we pretty much had the whole expanse to ourselves. The beach is lined with casuarina trees, not palms, affording shade from the blistering heat. We played in the sea, where Shubham found a dragonfly that had been hit by a wave. He held it aloft in his hand, to dry it out and to see if it could be brought back to life – sadly, it couldn’t.

I also paid a visit to Khola (Cola) beach, which I had decided I didn’t like because of a visit I’d made by boat where I was hot and bothered and couldn’t find a shady place to sit and relax. This time I came in through the jungle/river route, fully shaded with palms, and could see why everyone raves about it. People were walking in the river to keep cool – that’s my kind of paradise.

Dog-wise, there is little to say except that there’s a new litter of puppies at the river end of Agonda beach, and I had a little play with one of them who decided to squeal at my feet. Ocean isn’t really a puppy any more – he’s so independent and headstrong now. No more cuddles there. It seems to be crabbing season with the dogs, with so many of them digging each morning, bums high in the air all over the beach. I’m afraid to say that there is now only one pig outside Casa Red Shade. I think one of them went into Christmas lunch…

We’ve had a partial solar eclipse which excited me way more than anyone else, it seemed. At breakfast it went oddly dusk-like, but that was the extent of it. Business as usual on the beach.

After last week’s meditative diary entry, I have continued to have a very thoughtful week. I’ve been musing on the power of the word ‘no’. Women are socialised to be ‘yes’ creatures – it can be so hard to opt out of something you are being asked to do, but don’t really want to. I said ‘no’ to a couple of things this week and the reaction from others was interesting. I was asked if I’d enjoyed my break (assuming I’d said no because I was taking a holiday – nope), if I was stressed or tired (no – I’m just saying no), and asked if I could state exactly when I could say yes in the future (when you ask me in advance). It throws people when you stop saying yes to everything. They try and attach a problem to it – she must be stressed, she must be nervous, she must be tired, she must be depressed. What if she is just saying no?

Once more I have run into the problem of becoming a ‘nighttime girlfriend’. I’ve been here before – the guy I’m seeing has all the daylight hours in the world to offer his friends (or his hangover) but nothing for me. I get the darkness, when I all I want to do these days is sleep. So I’m claiming those hours back for myself and saying ‘no’. I don’t need anyone by my side but the person who might appear there would need to be able to walk next to me in the daylight. To that, I say a resounding YES.

I intend to start 2020 by focusing on all the things I am saying YES to, and there are many. As always, Agonda offers me opportunities that I could never see coming and I now need to balance those with the opportunities hoving into view from the UK. I am loving teaching yoga but also researching and writing about it in blogs. I have become interested in pursuing Hatha yoga (having trained in Ashtanga-Vinyasa) so I think this may be in store for me in 2020. All of this has to sit alongside my editorial work in children’s books which I still love and pursue. It’s quite the portfolio career…

One thing I’ve started this week which I’m about to do when I’ve finished this piece – yoga self-practice. A yogi friend said to me last week that the most important thing was to work on my own practice. For a while I thought he meant in a class, but no, he meant on my own. I’ve been attending classes for so long, I wasn’t sure I had the willpower to do it. But this week I did. And I loved it. I did a Lisa version of the Ashtanga primary series, modified with blocks and straps, Iyengar-style. I felt like I could really focus on my breathing throughout and that I disappeared into a little bubble for an hour or so. So I’m still going to do led classes, but I will intertwine them with a little ‘Mysore’ self-practice too. And sprinkle in a few barefoot runs and swims on the beach for variation.

The mat is calling. Namaste.

Agonda diaries – week seven

People say to trust your gut, don’t they? I say it to people who are in the throes of a decision-making crisis, but so many of us question those pure instincts even when they are screaming at us. I’ve relied on mine so many times but this week I didn’t listen as much as I should.

I’ve had a week where my gut was telling me one thing while my head was telling me what it thought I ‘should’ do, based on what others might choose. I wrestled with the issue for a few days before listening more closely to my gut and realising that it had been right all along. The moment that clarity settled inside me, I felt so much happier, and when teaching my next yoga class, I realised how important it was for me to be happy with myself when passing on the joy of yoga to other people.

I find these moments of clarity most often when I am walking along the beach. For a week or so, I was working for a couple of hours at 6.30am and missing my morning walk to the river and back. On some days I even missed the sunset walk too, and I felt something die a little in my soul. Now I have them back I am feeling so much happier.

It’s so simple, that walk. The mornings are cool, now, and the sand is almost cold underfoot. I’ve found that the sand is warmer where the outgoing tide has just left it, and it feels lovely to walk on it after the cold touch of the dry sand. I like to step on the sandy ‘pouches’ – air-filled sand pockets that I thought contained a sea creature, but I’ve noticed that the waves cause them as they bubble onto the shore. It’s like a game of bubblewrap popping as I walk along – something about depressing one of these bubbles is so satisfying as your foot sinks down into it.

I love that part of the beach where the river waters meet the sea. There is something about the confluence that is calming when you’re grappling with a decision. I stand and stare at it for quite a long time, noticing how the waters flow over each other for a while, trying to compromise.

I’ve also started to run the same way in the evenings, when the tide is further out and there is a wider plain of hard sand. I’ve tried it with running shoes on, which offer stability and mean I don’t have to focus on random rocks or broken glass that might be in the sand beneath my feet. This week I tried it barefoot and it was actually lovely. I think I’m going to do that more.

I made a pact with myself to only run the beach if it feels good and if I can smile while I’m doing it. So far, so good. People seem perplexed as to why I carry a long bamboo stick when I walk and run – if you’ve been bitten by a beach dog you know that a stick is a great preventative measure. I don’t intend to use it – it seems to be enough that I am carrying it. Also Zimbo and Sanjo are less likely to jump up when I’m carrying it, I’ve noticed. A small win.

I worked out that Agonda is at least 50% down on its usual numbers of seasonal tourists, purely based on the numbers turning up to the drop-in yoga classes I attend. This time last year, they had two shalas full, running simultaneous classes. This year it’s just the one, and even that’s not full. I’ve noticed that some visitors feel the need to decamp to a busier place, but a quieter Agonda makes me want to stay here even more.

Of course it’s not great for those people running businesses, but my attempts to give prospective visitors some information about Agonda being open for business met with some criticism in a local Facebook group so I deleted the list and came out of the group. Sometimes people reject help and I have to accept it. Sometimes people like to cluster around negative comments and I have to accept that too. Thankfully some people really appreciated the list and approached me by direct message to glean the information.

My policy to date has always been to tell the truth about a situation, to present a scenario exactly as it is, no sugar-coating, no beating around the bush, but I have found that while most people seem to appreciate the honesty, others can’t bear to hear the words, often specific words. An interesting response to my Facebook post was that I ‘shouldn’t’ have used the word ‘demolished’ with regards to properties on the beach that have actually been demolished. Despite weeks of the word ‘demolished’ being used over and over again on every social media outlet with regard to Agonda. And me, warrior-like, trying to stop people describing this beautiful beach as a ‘war zone’. I say the word ‘demolished’ for the first time and suddenly it’s not ok.

You live and learn.

Agonda Diaries – week six

Whenever people say to me, “You’re living the dream! I’m so envious!” I always reply by saying it is possible to feel sad in paradise. Believe me, I’ve experienced it all over the world. I’ve cried on beaches in Thailand, Costa Rica and Egypt. Somehow these palm-fringed locations make a feeling of sadness or loneliness stronger because you’re not meant to feel those things here. But you can, and do.

I haven’t had a terrible week, I was just feeling sad and a bit lonely last weekend for reasons I won’t go into here. I started to do that thing of ‘wandering the earth’ that I do back home when I’m feeling like this, but this time the earth was simply Agonda. And then, just as I was at my lowest ebb, a motorbike came wobbling towards me carrying my friends Hannah and Dave and their precariously balanced luggage and guitar. It was so good to see them I nearly knocked them over with hugs on the street. They are just such great people – nice and normal. They love dogs as much as I do. Thank goodness for Hannah and Dave.

As well as his guitar, Dave has brought his harmonica and when he spontaneously began to accompany Taylor the guitarist at Silent Waves resort, it was a beautiful moment. He played along with guitarist Willem to Mr Bojangles – a song with such poignancy. I felt so proud of him as he shyly took to the stage. It takes guts to get up there.

Part of the reason for me feeling so discombobulated is that I’ve started teaching public yoga classes. I watched Dave get up on ‘stage’ (aka a raised bit of sand) and tried to channel a bit of his bravery. I think it’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done – preparing and teaching a class full of hopeful yogis. I tore myself to pieces beforehand and during the classes, feeling sure people would just leave or pick me up on something I’d got wrong. It turned out the only person who wanted to leave or criticise me was myself.

I’ve had so much encouragement from my friends at Sampoorna – hugs and kind words and “it’ll be fine” times a million. I’ve also had one or two people returning to my classes – thank you Daniela and Uwe. I have resolved to keep going and ‘screw my courage to the sticking-place’, but this whole week I’ve felt very emotional and I’ve hardly slept. There’s been another full moon, too. Perhaps that has something to do with it.

I haven’t spent as much time on the beach this week, but when I have it has more than delivered. Firstly sunsets to die for and secondly a sea otter, who emerged near Simrose last Wednesday at 8am, and swam all the way along the coast to its rocky home, accompanied by me alongside (walking, I might add). He, or she, swam silently by people in the ocean who didn’t notice they were sharing the ocean with such a glorious animal, and he stopped to come out of the water with a silver fish in his mouth at one point, to eat breakfast. I was pointing him out to people but few were interested. Vasudev (Captain Nitesh the boatman) was as excited as me, though, because he loves the nature in his home village.

I’ve also discovered the delights of Charlie’s street food van by Gita’s clothes shop in the main street. Gita introduced me to Charlie one day when she was having her lunch. I was persuaded to come back for a snack lunch the next day and sampled an omelette and bread roll for 25 rupees. The next day I had bhaji with bread roll for 50 rupees. Both were delicious and Charlie is so lovely. I like that you stand and chat with him while you eat. He’s there all day from 7.30am to 10pm at night serving delicious food. And for someone on their own, this is a way of bypassing the awkwardness of sitting somewhere on your own. I sense that I’ll be going to Charlie’s cart a lot from now on.

In dog news, Sweetpea has been spotted on the beach again and again, and I’ve just left her in the company of a Portuguese family, being fed titbits. It’s so lovely to see her out and about again. The old Sweetpea has returned. Zimbo and Sanjo are still my pack, but I saw Zimbo cosying up to a group of people at Jardim a few days back so I know I share him a bit.

Papaya, the Kopi Desa dog, has started to walk up to me for a cuddle whenever I stop by, after years of ignoring me. Same with Jerry (Gary? the jury is out on which name it is) at Simrose. He’s ignored me for years (apart from sitting outside my Simrose hut two Christmasses ago) and suddenly he’s butting my legs with his head. I don’t know what’s caused the change but I love it. More dogs to cuddle for me.

Ocean is growing bigger and stronger every day and now sits on the beach to watch the sunset with his human and canine friends from Love Bites. I saw the election news from back home and cuddled Ocean to remind myself that beautiful, innocent things exist in the world.

I have decided that I won’t let the news get me down. I won’t let it fill me with negative thoughts and feelings of helplessness. I will simply strive to live a life that is as good as it can be. Many people have been quoting Gandhi on Twitter and Facebook: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I’m not sure if he said those exact words, but that’s what we were taught in our yoga teacher training at Sampoorna because it’s part of Indian philosophy (otherwise known as Hinduism). It’s all you can do when it comes down to it – be in control of your own thoughts, words and actions.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve hit my 11-month soberversary this week and the fact that I almost missed it shows how much I’ve moved on from my drinking lifestyle. I’d rather watch a sea otter in the ocean early in the morning and say hello to a dog named Sweetpea.

Agonda Diaries – weeks four and five

Apologies for the lack of diary last week – I was completing a Yin Yoga Teacher Training course at Sampoorna Yoga in Agonda in week four and wanted to focus my energies on that. Happily I passed my exam and I have taught my first public Yin class.

Yet again I find myself struggling with a new language – this time the slowness and silence of Yin. Not only are students facing the challenge of maintaining stillness in a pose that might bring them discomfort (“find comfort in the discomfort”), but the teacher faces a similar one. Somehow it’s easier to keep talking in a ‘yang’ class – and harder to stay with the silence in yin. I’ve had to learn to pace myself and not try and fill in all the blanks.

I’ve often thought about this when I’m out walking. I love being on my own, listening to the sounds around me, not needing any conversation to keep me going or music to distract me. I see people walking or running on the beach wearing earphones and I think, “what a shame…” It’s the same back home in the UK. In modern life we seem to need so much noise to drown out our silences.

I’ve had much to amuse me on the animal front these past two weeks. During my training I did some washing and hung it up on the line without pegs holding it in place. When I returned my new green leggings were missing (Gita finds these leggings hilarious: “you look like a snake!”). I immediately thought there was a person responsible and started to feel angry. But my landlord came round the corner and cried, “It’s a cow! He stole my daughter’s things!” He pointed in the direction of the church and I made haste – the cow had passed through an hour ago. There were my green leggings squished into the road by the Tuk Tuk area. All the drivers shouted in unison, “It was a cow!” I wish I’d seen my leggings draped on his horns.

Needless to say I’ve asked my landlady to start doing my washing. After the first load I asked what I should pay and Marshan the landlord said, “Pay what you think is right.” I offered 400 rps but it was obviously wrong because he and his wife didn’t answer. I checked the going rate in a few shops and it turned out to be around 200 rps. I went back and offered this. “Too much, 150,” the landlady replied, giving me my change.

Soon after ‘cowgate’ I emerged one morning to find my shoes in disarray outside my door and my landlady returning one of my running shoes. “A dog!” she said, gesticulating at the incriminating sandy paw prints. A beach dog had snuck onto my balcony and nicked my shoe to play with. He’s still visiting, but my shoes are now safely inside.

Simba the Sampoorna dog has also been helping me assist the teacher training at Sampoorna, which consists of running round the shala at 6.30am, barking at monkeys and then settling into a blanket. I knew Simba in his previous incarnations as ‘Midnight’ and ‘Blackie’ the Fatima’s restaurant dog. He could be forgiven for having an identity crisis.

Ocean the puppy is getting bigger and stronger by the day and venturing out beyond the confines of Love Bites. He’s been enjoying the spectacular sunsets we had last week, courtesy of some rain clouds that headed Agonda way. Now we’re into that gloriously cool winter season where you need to wear an extra layer in the early mornings and the sand feels cold under foot where the warm sea hasn’t touched it. I love morning beach walks around Christmas.

I’ve started to try a few different places to eat in Agonda to break my routine. Amazingly, I’ve never been into Mandala cafe right next to Sampoorna so I’ve been getting iced coconut coffees to take away and last week I had shakshuka for breakfast. Put it this way, I didn’t need to eat again until dinner time. And Coca Cola the cow turned up as a bonus.

I’ve also tried the rooftop Fatima’s near the ATM at the crossroads and had the most delicious coriander and chilli naan with paneer tikka masala.

And more recently, I discovered the hidden gem that is Avocado Garden – next to the river in Agonda. I had the most delicious iced coffee and taco lime shrimp salad and even their cooking classes are calling to me (I’m usually not that interested…)

I called in on my friend Doctor Furtado after her clinic had to be rebuilt (it was built on illegal concrete foundations). She remembered me from last season’s rabies shots (I was bitten by a hungry dog). As before, I was seen, diagnosed and prescribed within five minutes of approaching her astro-turfed entrance. I was also told to “be more positive, Lisa” when I told her of my concerns (a skin issue). Ok, then.

Talking of more positive things, Sweetpea from Simrose has been seen once again on the beach. I spotted her early one morning, pottering about near the churchyard. It was so nice to see her back out on the sand – she hasn’t been out much since the incident a year ago where she was badly injured somehow. The Simrose boys think it was by human hand. I’m so happy to see her gaining in confidence and becoming the old, happy Sweetpea again.