No longer under the protective, motherly, wonderful wing of our fearless leader Lakuma, I had my first terrible experience in India. We are in Goa now, and it is our first free day of the entire trip – we literally have nothing on our itinerary, as we all opted out of the optional tour for the day. With a hotel featuring a spa and gorgeous cool pool despite a beautiful vast beach just 5 minutes walking, in addition to the streets and streets of all the usual array of shopping, we just wanted to chillll.
Shanon was getting a massage and coconut scrub, grandma read by the pool, and uncle David was online and waiting for Shanon before they began their escapade to the beach. I decided to venture forth, so I could leisurely or quickly stroll through Goa at my own pace and maximize my time at the beach. Plus the entire trip i have been with a group and it was a nice opportunity for Jacquie-time. Goa is the most westernized and touristy state of India, and has a much more liberal culture. Our tour guide explained that because it was under Portuguese influence until 1961, it is different from the rest of India which was under British rule until 1947. Women can walk around in shorts and a tank top, and it’s no biggie – it’s a beach town!
I was on a mission to find the perfect sundress, and though I was originally thinking white, there was a store that caught my eye – a deep brick red beaded dress. Plus there wasn’t a merchant ushering me inside and I appreciate when shop owners aren’t in my face – when they allow me to choose to enter.
The man in the back of the tiny shop looked surprised I entered and he was maybe late 20s. I don’t make eye contact with anyone until I’m ready to start haggling, as I find that making eye contact only provokes unwanted pushiness about my buying something.
I tried on the dress over my top and jean shorts but because my top was bunching it was difficult to see how the dress hung. So I went to the corner (there are no changing rooms) turned my back, removed my shirt, and as modestly as I could tried the dress on over my bathing suit (still wearing my shorts. It was rather loose so the guy helped to shorten the straps, and he stood really close to me. As soon as he finished I took a few steps away, thinking the brush against my butt was an honest mistake. It was a really tiny store. The straps needed readjustments and again I felt a bump on my butt. At this point I realized he had a bulge in his pants, and also realized that the phone he had set down when I walked in was making grunting noises and displaying porn.
My only mission now was to GTFO. He offered to sell the dress at a good price and I immediately gathered my belongings, walked to the other end of the store, hastily changed back to my shirt close to the door where other people outside would be able to see our interactions. He approached me and said “you have nice… (made a gesture with his hands) sex?” And I stared at him in horror and said no. Left the store and speed walked away without looking back.
I felt disgusted – my heart was racing. And all the shopkeepers approaching me were aggravating. I went into a shop ran by a woman, to regain composure, and take a few breaths. The incense smelled nice, the music was calm, and the woman did not approach me. I bought a nice photo album from her, and went on my way.
Now I’m at the beach, avoiding everyone, and I really wish I could be invisible right now. That crossed the line. Until that point I felt like the incessant people in your face is just part of being a white tourist in a developing impoverished country. Now everything has an ugly filter on it. I was getting tired of people snapping pictures of me on their phones as I walked by or sat eating a meal. Now I’m sick of it. Sick of everyone looking at me, waving at me, and smiling at me. I don’t want to interact in this manner any more.
I took for granted that goa was liberal – liberal by Indian standards is my no means liberal by my standards. And I also feel like this was a blow to my confidence in my independence. A blow to the pillar of feminism I try to embody by putting myself in situations where I am aware of universal dangers inherent when interacting with the world, but in no way allowing myself to be limited because I am a woman. I handled myself well and felt in control of the situation at the shop, but at the same time, being a woman here is just uncomfortable. The one time I went for a walk on my own, I was accosted. And that’s fucked up.
The beach here is nice – by Indian standards. But it’s still littered with trash, people, and decaying animals.
My impression is colored right now, yes. I’m trying to not be judgmental of the entire society based on that one interaction, but I am having a very difficult time. My anger will subside, but right now I am angry. I don’t want to be at the beach because I feel like everyone is looking at me. I want to go back to my hotel room. And that is the worst feeling of all.
I feel I should end this rant on a positive note – for my own sake. Earlier in our tour I was amazed and appreciative of how open the culture is here. When we walked through villages, we were welcomed into houses where entire families were sitting eating breakfast. That welcomeness is unheard of in America. The intimacy of home life is shared without blinking an eye to complete foreign strangers. This is the positive aspect of there being no boundaries here. The merchants are in your face and aggressive and ‘welcoming’ in a negative way, but this same welcomeness is positive when coming from wholesome families.
I am trying to keep the whole of my experience in India in perspective and convey a rather unfiltered account of what I have seen and experienced – both positive and negative, and I hope that as a reader you feel you are receiving an honest account of India through my eyes.