I went to Anjuna market again today – not particularly to shop (there are only so many sarongs, pashminas and necklaces that one woman needs) but to say hello to the El Shaddai team, drop off my used paperbacks for their bookstall, soak up the atmosphere and take photos.
I travelled via boat – not an experience that I’d recommend or will be repeating. It was a small, six seater boat with an outboard motor, piloted by two psychotics who thought it was fun to gun the boat into 20’ high waves. To be fair, there were five other people in the boat with me – young “up for it” Russian tourists who loved it; cue much screaming and arm waving as if we were at Big Splash Mountain (or whatever it’s called). The journey is only a mile or so, but it took twenty minutes, due to all of this water based chicanery.
So of course, we arrived at the market completely soaked – I was absolutely sodden from head to toe, hair to flip-flops, and staggered up the beach as if I were re-enacting the Normandy landings.
To continue the analogy, I then had to fight them on the beaches and fend off the ministrations of the hawk-eyed female beach sellers, who take up residence on a rock and wait for soaked tourists to drag themselves ashore.
“Hello madam! Oh you are so very wet. Come, come, I help you get dry. Come to my shop [stall], relax, buy lovely new dry clothes. My name is Nikita, what is you? Where you from, how many children you have?”
However, the amount of child beggars and performers at the market continues to depress me; apparently, people travel from all over western India to participate in this huge orgy of tourism, and that includes children.
At the market this morning, I witnessed tiny children performing on a tightrope in front of a paparazzi like array of camera and camcorder wielding western tourists, who then filled the begging bowl which was passed around by the adult ringmaster.
(For obvious reasons … I don’t have any photographs of this event – I actually felt so nauseated by it that I couldn’t bring myself to be part of the throng – but here are, I assume, the parents, setting up the tightrope first thing).
What do these visitors think when they get home and show their friends and family that film footage of a tiny child, perhaps five years old, balancing on a tightrope – how cute? Isn’t she clever?
Or: “why isn’t she at school?” Or: “what future can she ever have if this is how she spends her time as a child?”
This week, there are more Western children than usual in evidence, as it’s the British school holidays, and so the contrast between the children that one sees is particularly pronounced – some are in Ben 10 t-shirts and are on holiday with their parents … others are working or begging, or both. I was staggered (and disgusted) to see one tourist filming the child performers and then sending his seven-year old son down to the beach to pay the children – with no apparent sense of the irony of this act, as far as I could see.
Goa seems to be such an economic magnet to so many people from other India states, particularly Karnataka. If western tourists stopped making it appear to be so economically advantageous to be either a child who begs or to have a child who you can send out to perform (thus making your child a resource) then perhaps the influx would cease or at least slow down?
I truly believe that every time a tourist gives a child money, be it for either begging or performing, they reinforce the notion (to both child and adult) that begging is an economically viable way of spending time and that it is, in every sense of the word, “worth” it to be on the beach or at the market rather than at school.
The Goans are constantly telling me that their state’s infrastructure (water supplies, electricity, the road system, food supplies, accommodation) can’t cope with this influx of workers from other states and that the Goans disapprove of the children who beg – but yet I don’t see any evidence of the powers that be challenging it – for example, policing child beggars/performers and/or the adults who visibly control them.
I think I need to go back to Rainbow House again tonight (I’ve been going to see Renuka every few days) in order to remind myself that there is another way and that it’s possible, through the work of El Shaddai and other charities, for children in Goa to have a different, brighter, more hopeful future.