When I was travelling around India I stopped in to have a look at Goa, which is in the south and is famed for its beaches and relaxed lifestyle. Personally I’m not sure it’s possible to have a truly relaxing holiday anywhere in India unless you’re locked in some kind of tourist compound, because travelling in that country inevitably involves sizeable amounts of hassle, frustration and discomfort. (Can I just add, India also gives the traveller moments of vivid beauty, spirituality, and kindness in equal proportion. But the constant rollercoaster between crap and wonderful is not relaxing!).
Anyway, I started at a really touristy beach and ended up working my way North to what was traditionally a lovely little fishing village called Arambol, where the tourist industry was rapidly replacing fishing as the mainstay of the local economy. I stayed in homestay accommodation which was a few minutes’ walk to the ocean, and the smiling hostess plied me daily with delicious home-cooked meals. One morning I was walking along the clifftop through the palm trees and I saw all the men of the village gathered together on the beach below. I made my way down to the sand and saw that they were all pulling in a fishing net, hauling in time together to bring their catch in through the waves. Some men had a coordinating role, directing the others when and how hard to pull, but no one seemed to be in charge, or be ‘the boss’. The men were smiling and laughing as they worked against the force of the ocean. When they were finished a huge pile of silvery fish lay in piles on the net on the sand, which the men divided amongst themselves. It was perhaps the most visual embodiment of community that I have ever seen, and I had to travel halfway round the world to find it.
I stayed a few days in Arambol, but I soon wanted to leave. Being there just made me feel too damn sad. You see, I could literally watch the approach of ‘civilisation’ racing up the Goan coast, village by village, with its associated wave of Western tourists, Coke, television, money, and ultimately, the loss of the very thing that made this little village so precious and beautiful.
People are attracted to places that have charm, innocence, nature, community, creativity, spirit. This is the kind of environment where humans feel the happiest, where people look out for each other and care for the environment, and where the focus is on community and cooperation rather than rampant greed and competition. But it’s like the goose that killed the golden egg, isn’t it. Whether it’s the tourist industry encroaching on an untouched fishing village like Arambol in India, or the new mining rich taking over my little hometown of Fremantle, Western Australia, every time money and greed move into a place the very magic that attracted everyone in the first place dies.
I’m used to seeing this process in Asia, where I’ve travelled a lot. I’m not used to seeing it happen to the place where I grew up. Do you think we’ll ever get it? Do you think we’ll ever make the connection between the way we treat charming indigenous communities and beautiful environments, and our subsequent destruction of them? I wonder where it ends. Whether we’ll finally understand that, if we like to be in places full of community spirit and respect for nature, we need to create them ourselves, right where we are. If we like community, we need to start being nicer to each other, instead of making life into one big competition. If we like the simple life we need to stop buying so much crap and start enjoying the things we do have more. If we like to relax, we need to stop working all hours of the day and make time for the things we really enjoy.
Seriously, when did western society get its values so far out of whack?