Tag Archives: Moving to India

Post 78. Adjusting to our new home


We moved in with our new friends Duncan and Vasanti Watkinson until we found a place of our own.  Dudley Reed and Tony had stayed with them during their survey trip.   He wasn’t sure what impression he had made on them.    In the middle of the night, Tony did a bit of sleep walking in his jockeys.  Duncan was still awake and met him in the passage outside his bedroom.  He very gently turned Tony around and led him back to his room.  They didn’t know each other at all so it was a bit awkward the next day at the breakfast table.  Tony vaguely remembered it but didn’t want to bring it up in front of everyone.   He could only imagine what would have happened if Duncan hadn’t been awake.

Asha turned four on the 21st September.  We had a party for her and her new little Goan friends.  She loved it.  We got her a brightly coloured cake from the local bakery.  It was Rs 90.00.  On our train trip we had seen an advertisement: Abortions: Rs 90.00.  The life of a baby was valued at the same price as a child’s birthday cake.

Flat in Goa

Flat in Goa

Within a week we found a two bedroomed, semi-furnished flat in Borda.  It was on the first  floor, right behind St Joiaquin Chapel.  The landlord interrogated us and asked if we were hippies.  We said no and took the keys.  It was so lovely to be in our own house. The heavy furniture was very dark Goan style.  Tony put up a little wooden plank swing in the doorway off the lounge and onto the veranda.  The kitchen was green, our fridge was blue, the plastic veggie rack was pink and to add a bit more colour, the sink was a bright turquoise.  We had two toilets; a western toilet/shower room and also an Indian one. The first time I held the girls over an Indian one they were terrified and closed their eyes through the whole ordeal.   It didn’t take them long to get used to it.

Ash whispering into Zoe's mouth.

Ash whispering into Zoe’s mouth.

Tony and I had a HUGE, very creepy, four-poster bed. It was so high that the girls couldn’t climb up without help.  I could hardly get onto it.  Their room was just across the passage and they were sharing a mattress on the floor.  We got them a little plastic table and chairs and they were all set up with their toys and books.  When they lay on their mattress they could see us on our big bed, across the passage.

One morning Asha asked us, “Who were those people around your bed last night?  They wouldn’t let me come to you.”  She described a lady with a long dress and long hair.  She was really scared and we knew it was some kind of demonic presence.  We prayed with her and it didn’t happen again but it added to her fear.

With all the travelling, Zoë had been a bit unsettled and miserable. She was crying a lot at night, not listening and being cheekier than usual.  Once we moved into our own place and she had some firm boundary lines around her, she was much happier.

Melba with the girls

Melba with the girls

Goa is predominantly a Catholic state and we were right in the middle of a very Catholic community.  Melba was our neighbour on the first floor.  Her hair was a lovely grey and she had a very kind face.  She became like a grandmother to the girls.  When we opened our door, she opened hers. Ash and Zo went in and out between the lounges with armfuls of toys and dolls.  They put them all over her lounge and had tea parties with all kinds of Goan goodies.  Melba’s husband was working in Abu-Dhabi as were many of the men from that area.  She had a little chipmunk called Chappa, which she kept in a cage.  He was quite aggressive and would jump against the cage and wee on her if she didn’t give him food on time.  The girls found him very funny.

Zoe and Rosey

Zoe and Rosey

We were surrounded by pig, rooster, cow, dog and cat noises. Ash woke up one morning and asked “ Mommy, why at night when we’re sleeping is there ‘woof woof , meow meow, cockadoodle- doo and talk talk?” Rosey and Melvin lived in a labourers hut just opposite our house.  They were poor and didn’t mix with the likes of Melba and the others who lived near them.  Asha and Zoë played with them in their cleanly swept dirt garden for hours.  Rosey was about sixteen and she worked in the houses in that area.  Melvin was nine and had a very big tummy and was very small for his age.  He loved coming to our house to practice his English and hear about Jesus.  When they went to church, they weren’t allowed to sit on the chairs like the other people who lived in the flats.  They sat outside and had to be very quiet.  When the statue of Mary came around to all the houses, it never went to Rosey and Melvin’s hut. They were poor and never expected it to.

It was shocking to find out that 50 percent of Goans were alcoholics.   Their pubs and bars pride themselves with names such as, “The Miraculous Jesus Bar,” or “Mary the Immaculate Pub.”  Shorty was a little man who drank from morning until night.  He would get really drunk and walk along the path in front of our flat, shouting and throwing stones at anyone or anything in his way.  He had a really gruff voice, which was way too big for his body.  We only ever saw him in tiny shorts and a dirty white vest.  His face was swollen and his legs were really skinny.  Ash and Zo had mixed feelings about him.  They would rush to the veranda to see him and hide when they saw him coming.  Zoe wrote a sweet letter to him with a drawing.  She hid it away in case he found it.

Post 76. Bombay


Those were the days of  “No dogs and no South Africans allowed” in India.  We were NOT popular.    Gandhi got kicked off a train in Durban by white racists and we were still all in trouble.  Fortunately I was able to get a British passport through my dad.  He took me on a walk to explain the two marriage certificates I had found.   He had hidden his secret from us for so long.  There was visible relief on his face after he told me but it took me a while to get over the shock.   He still hadn’t told my brothers.

Our arrival in Bombay was easier than expected.  The flight had been just long enough for Zoë who had been quite a live wire. We stood in the immigration queue for about an hour while everyone made a fuss of the little blonde foreign girls.  We expected a major search of our bags but we walked straight through.

It was the 4 September 1991 and it was 3.30 a.m.  “Pleasant- high humidity outside.  Arrived in monsoon rains- lovely.   Cools things down a bit.”   I held tightly onto the girls while Tony haggled with taxi drivers for the best price.  There were “hundreds” of men wanting to help with our bags.  Such sweet people I thought; so helpful.   I stood there watching Tony in his new role as expert bargainer.  I was impressed.  He packed our luggage into one of the little black and yellow taxis and we piled into the back seat.   “Little taxi-man- thin gaunt face, eyes stuck open; Unblinking and mad looking.”   His driving matched the look in his eyes.  I kept asking Tony to tell him to slow down as we zoomed through the streets of Bombay.   Tony just smiled and said, “Get used to it.” I squinted through the rain to see as much as I could.   It was very much as I imagined it to be.

Tony in the flat in Bombay

Tony in the flat in Bombay

Jeffy and Deepa had never met us, but when we walked into their home at Pali Darshan, it was like being with family.  We were tired but Ash and Zo were full of energy and wanted to dance and play.   We took it in turns to catch up on sleep and it took us a few days to get over our jetlag.

“Night-life- always busy.  Staying on the corner of a busy intersection.  Noisy all the time.  A hooter every 5 seconds.  Side street-eat places.  People everywhere, bells ringing; People shouting and selling things.  Heavy rain for a few minutes then humid again.”

I was amazed at how westernized Bombay was.  When we were inside the little flat, we could have been anywhere. It was simple and clean and the hospitality was incredible.   People from the church popped in to meet us and we felt so at home.

Asha and Zoë loved their first bucket bath experience.   They played for ages with the small jug and loved being able to mess water all over the bathroom.

Buckets of fun

Buckets of fun

We met a young English couple, James and Julie and their 3 children (they also had a little girl called Asha) who had arrived three months before us.  It was good for me to be in their house and to see how they had settled in and made their home in Bombay.  She also really helped me find my style of Indian clothing.  Deepa took me out shopping and I didn’t see anything I liked.  I wanted “appropriate clothing” but I also wanted clothing that was “me”.   I got home so wound up and emotional from the whole experience.    Julie helped me to find some more hippy-type Punjabi suits that looked nice and I enjoyed wearing them.   It was difficult to really enjoy wearing ANY clothing in that heat, but the suits were cool and comfortable.  My new friends were happy to see me wearing them.

“These streets are so NOISY!!  Cars, little black and yellow three wheeler auto-rickshaws, taxis, motorbikes are all over the place not taking much notice of stop streets and the few traffic lights there are. Whoever gets there first goes first. They just toot their horns and off they go; biggest first. Nobody stops unless they have to.  It’s all quite an experience.  Asha and Zoë love going in the auto-rickshaws.  They giggle and screech when we hit the potholes and speed bumps, which are totally ignored by the driver.  Asha even managed to get one to stop for us.  She was so proud of herself.  Hooters dominate at the intersection just outside the window.  It’s funny.  It doesn’t seem to stop us from sleeping in the slightest.  A busy day in Bombay makes it easy to sleep at night.

During my shopping expeditions, the only way to cope with the poverty was to avoid looking at faces.   It was easier to look at the masses than at individuals.  On our second day I made the mistake of doing that.  I looked into the face of a very young mother who was pulling on me for money.  I tried to ignore her for as long as I could.  She had SUCH pain on her face.   “Dirty, decorated and carrying the most pitiful little baby.”   Something cracked inside and I knew I wasn’t ready for the individual.  Their faces haunted me for a long time.

“Driving through Bombay I noticed two very thin, very poor ladies, feeding a huge fat cow on the pavement.  The cow was almost too fat to move.  Oh the irony.”


From now on I will be sharing excerpts from my journals in quotation marks and italics.  That way I will stick to how I was really feeling at the time with no hindsight perspective.

Post 58. Are there lots of flies in India?


I couldn’t wait to see Tony after work.  We spent every possible moment together and it was so difficult to say goodnight at the end of the day. While I loved all his letters I much preferred having him.   We talked a lot about all kinds of things, but there was one subject we always came back to; India.

I didn’t know much about it.  We had prayed for many missionaries working there and seen their slide shows and heard their stories.  It all sounded very interesting and exciting.  The ship was on its way to India but my time was up.  I felt slightly disappointed.  I thought it would have been an “easy” way to see the country without actually living there.  To somehow get a glimpse of what it may be like without really getting involved.

The first Indian I ever met was our childhood vegetable man, “Sammy”.   He was nice.*   As we got older we shopped in Grey Street.  It was affectionately called “CoolieTown.”   It was where we bought our Levi jeans and stole bangles.  We felt ok because we knew we were being ripped off every time we went there.

When we were small,  dad would stop at an Indian sweet shop on his way home from work, to buy bright pink cakey things covered in coconut.  It was one of the highlights of our week.

Wilf got a job at the Sugar Experimental Station in Mount Edgecombe, right in the sugar cane fields of “Indian country”.   He made friends with Tommy and his family.  One invitation for a meal at their house turned into many.  Before we knew it Peter, about 10 years old,  was sleeping at their house during the holidays.  His days were spent half naked, swimming in a small dam, fishing and eating lots of curry.  He came home a few skin tones darker, with a huge smile on his face and smelling like fish masala.

Indians were nice.  They were generous, hospitable and friendly.  Even in those apartheid years when we couldn’t be neighbours, they didn’t seem too affected by it.

I knew India wasn’t going to be like the peaceful sugar cane fields of Natal.  I knew all families weren’t like Tommy’s.  I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.  But there was so much I didn’t know.

I asked Tony some questions.

“Are there lots of flies?”

“No, not that I can remember.”

“Where will we live?”

“I’m not sure.  We’ll have to see when we get there.”

“Oh, ok.”

* See Post 21 for more on “Sammy”