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“Lucky To Get Under Lockdown in Goa”; Forced Resort Emigrants Share Their Lockdown Experience

Russian in Goa
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Goa is a tourist spot which most of the people all over the world prefer to visit during their holidays. A large number of tourists all over the world visit Goa every year. This includes a huge amount of Russians as well. There is a different reason why most of the Russians prefer to visit Goa. One reason is the extravagant party atmosphere of Goa. Life in Goa is more enjoyable and surrounded by fun-loving people as compared to Russia. Secondly, Goans are know all over the world for their hospitality nature as well as a safe place to travel which attracts a huge number of Russian tourists to Goa. More or fewer Goans and Russians lifestyle and setups are also similar which makes them more comfortable to stay here. 

However, the 2020-2021 tourist season in Goa promises to be the most unusual in many decades: the borders are closed, usual tourists have not arrived, wealthy families from Bangalore and Mumbai are still plentiful here, especially on weekends. But foreign communities have thinned a lot. How many Russians are there in Goa is hard to say. 

According to rough estimates – a thousand and a half. In March, on the eve of the lockdown, there were twice as many. For six months, from March to September, 13 export charters flew from here to Moscow and other cities. From Delhi – 10. “Almost 6 thousand Russian citizens left India within the framework of the export program,” the Russian embassy in Delhi reported last autumn.

India banned entry to the country for foreigners and suspended visas on March 13th, 2020. To be precise on March 13th, India closed borders for foreigners to enter the country and suspended tourist visas. Ten days later, with the growing coronavirus pandemic, interstate borders closed and a lockdown began. Thus, only tourists who have arrived before this date, plus those who have lived here for years (businessmen, Russian wives of Indian husbands, just party people) were left in the state.

“In December 2019, the three of us, me, my wife, and my 4-year-old daughter flew from Sheremetyevo to Delhi, having closed their eyes in thought, quitting work, renting out an apartment. The goal was to stop doing what we don’t want to do. So that instead of unloved Moscow – fabulous eastern cities, where it is fun (but at first scary). And instead of burnout and hateful work on TV news – filming documentaries about people and culture. We are in our early 30s, our daughter is not attached to the school, mothers are more or less healthy – when, if not now? They planned to return in five months, in May. We even bought tickets to Moscow. We spent the first two months in Varanasi and Calcutta (yes, an unexpected choice), and by February we arrived in Goa. Before Moscow, they also wanted to give up to the Himalayas. But now we still live in Goa without a break. Behind – lockdown, monsoon, covid (they were sick in September), material assistance from the Russian state and other miracles” shared a Russian tourist. 

A large village in the very north of Goa, Arambol is the most partying, freak, and, as some belief, the most addictive place in Goa. You live here like at a rave or a tattoo convention. Almost everyone, except local aborigines, wears dreadlocks, intricate tattoos, abundant piercings, and Hindu symbols on their clothes. Flocked here from all over the world, they puff at the tables of cafes, sip rum-cola or beer, lively discuss the latest parties, expansion of consciousness, travel to the Himalayas, psychedelic trips, drug prices, rush to yoga with rugs under their arms.

“In the middle of Arambol, there was still a nice house for rent – 5 minutes walk from the beach, in a surprisingly quiet place with its bamboo garden, the owner Naresh (an old Goan rastaman with dreadlocks to his waist), his cheerful mongrel named Rada and his French neighbors. They are on the second floor, we are on the first, in an apartment with a bedroom, a large hall and a kitchen with a bar”. After a one-day “training” lockdown, on March 22, immediately, without a pause, the second one started, for three days. Then – two-three weeks in a row. A very strange life began.

Everything turned upside down. Arambol calmed down and tensed. Before the lockdown, the authorities allowed the Goans to take one last trip to the outlets and shop – and in half a day, the grocery shelves were empty. We stocked up on canned food, cereals, and fruits and vegetables. The vegetable shops did not work at all for the first couple of weeks. The rest sometimes opened for a couple of hours in the morning – customers were launched one at a time, or they even gave out products from under half-closed shutters. We were seriously worried that the deliveries would be canceled altogether, and we would have nothing to eat”.

“Many people had problems with the police. The police brutally dispersed the party-goers with sticks, and the organizer named Arseniy was detained. It seems that the Goan authorities were taken aback by such impudence. And all the same, there were a few more small parties and dispersals in April-May. In everyday life, white tourists violating the lockdown were dispersed by the cops with shouts, but the locals – without ceremony, with sticks. They often took revenge on us: inflated by the daily Covid news on Indian TV, from being cordial and good-natured, they suddenly became suspicious and aggressive”.

After a couple of weeks, the people grew bolder. The police inspected streets and beaches usually at the same hours – around ten in the morning and before sunset. The rest of the time you could enjoy the sea and without the musical cacophony of sheks. Every one of the stalls with junk closed. The crowds disappeared. 

“Every day I woke up before sunrise and went for a walk on the plateau, in the jungle, along the mountain paths above the sea. I was still discovering North Goa, and when quiet, it turned out to be beautiful. The raging sea by May was crashing huge waves on the rocks. On the plateaus scorched by the sun, wild pigs, monkeys, and peacocks were encountered. In the jungle, among banyans, wild mangoes, lianas, and stones, friends survived – a crazy spontaneous Russian-Indian community. It existed in the season, but now it has been replenished with those who have lost their homes. Conspiracy theorists have found refuge in the forest from the threat of universal chipping and 5G towers. Indian pseudo-sadhus. Nepalese drunks, eternal instigators of fights. Just funny guys and girls from Arambol. 

“Then, in May, the Goan authorities began to impose a relaxation regime. Stores have opened. We began to get out to neighboring villages. Once, at the end of May, the sky was clouded with monumental clouds that burst into an opera rain – the first precipitation in six months! And on the first of June, the rainy season started as if on schedule – now in full force. Our first monsoon in our life. 

The second miracle is more serious: like Russians who are stuck abroad, also with a child, we suddenly received a monetary payment from the Russian state. For her sake, at the end of March, I filled out a form on State Services – and soon forgot. I didn’t really count on money. And two months later, rubbles suddenly fell on the card – about 145 thousand. And they continued to receive several thousand throughout June.

Most of the Russians flew home on export flights a couple of times a month, but we stayed. By Monsoon, housing prices and bikes fell one and a half to two times. We moved to Morjim. This time it turned out to be super cozy and quiet – no drunken karaoke at night and crowds in the streets. Only drops on the emerald leaves of the palm trees, the crazy sea, and the daily show from the clouds in the sky.

The situation was surreal, in general, all over the world. But for me, who happened to be in tropical Goa during these months, the reality did drift away. Life at the moment is good, but still no, no, but you will stumble upon all these “who am I?”, “Where am I?” and “where am I going”?. 

“There were few people in Monsoon, but still many times more than usual – because of people like us who remained. Social life was glowing. The Indians cheerfully celebrated the traditional summer Hindu holidays – for example, in August, on Ganesh Chaturthi, the entire state for 11 days ritually drowned thousands of statues of the elephant-man, the god Ganesh, in flower garlands in the rivers and the sea.”

“Russian parents opened classes and circles for children: English, drawing, dancing, yoga. For participation in a group lesson, they took 200-400 rubbles. My daughter and I have tried almost everything. My wife and I went to kundalini yoga. Some Russians opened a café right in front of the Monsoon. Many have arranged the delivery of their own homemade concoctions. So, here they cook suluguni, sauerkraut, borscht, pasties, cakes”.

“I started going to the Sensistan Museum of Contemporary Art. This is a large villa 10 km from us in the bourgeois Vagator. There were a coworking space, fast internet, a café, and even (if parties were banned) exhibitions, live jam sessions, futuristic performances with light installations, and some kind of shamanic performances were held. They were attended by a special multinational community. Mainly, middle-class Indians plus a little bit of everyone else: British, Russians, Argentines, Nepalese, French. I became part of the Sensistan community, shot two promo videos for them, took part in a joint photo exhibition, and just made friends with the people”.

“In September, the rains became very rare. State borders opened and Indian tourists flooded into Goa. The foreigners who sat in Goa began to get out. We also wanted to, but in the middle of the month, we were decimated by a covid. Both my wife and my daughter got the virus. We stayed at home all the time of the illness.

When we got out, the new Goan season was in full swing. Very strange: except for Indians, tourists did not come. Parties are held every evening, but there is no previous scale. And yet the season is on: in December, beach restaurants open, techno and trance are knocking in clubs, cafes are in full swing. 

Our visas expired in May. Now, every two months, on the website of the Indian analog of the migration service, we issue exit permits and PDF documents confirming that we are not staying illegally in India. They are issued for free. They promise to issue it until regular air traffic with Russia opens. But to be honest, I don’t want to go back home now. Country life by the warm sea in the tropics is good, and we do not sacrilegiously wait for regular flights anymore. “

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