(the beginning of February 2017)

“Do you need a partner?” the blonde Norwegian girl in her twenties asks with a warm smile.

I am a little taken aback, but accept eagerly. The first couple days at Shri Kali ashram have been brutal, but something about her kind gesture lights a little spark inside my worn out, ashy soul.

Silje talks to me, laughing as she helps me remember the massage steps. When I step on her thigh too hard, she gently corrects me and carries on with the conversation, asking me things about my life and responding when I ask her. After the initial darkness of being here, I feel like a plant suddenly in the sunlight again when Silje asks me to go to Palolem with her today.

After class, we hop onto her scooter with another student named Irene. The three of us manage to fit onto the seat of the scooter. I am the caboose, holding tight as we zip down the busy road, cows and stray dogs and tuk tuks all vying for a place on the asphalt.

We go to some small stores to pick up toilet paper, nuts, and shampoo, and then wind our way down to the tourist beachfront town known as Palolem. The air, normally humid and sticky, is perfect from the back of the scooter. We pass a big green rice field and a small herd of water buffaloes as we make our way to the tall coconut grove just ahead.

Once off the bike, we walk through small, sandy alleyways between low walls of green fabric and plastic. The famous beach huts, bright in jewel tones, are scattered evenly throughout the mazes of alleyways, thick sand, and coconut trees. I can hear the ocean.

We step out onto the beach and I suddenly see the beauty of Goa. The beach stretches long and wide, lined by a coconut grove that must be close to forty feet in height. Pink and turquoise and orange beach huts are nestled between the coconut trees. Colorful fishing boats and kayaks and umbrellas dot the beach, which sweeps downward into the jade-green Indian Ocean. It’s the same ocean that I grew up playing in, just the other side of it.

The sun is a blood-red ruby in the sky as it sinks quickly towards the horizon. We strip down to our bikinis and jump in the water, meeting several other members of the ashram when we swim out. Coconut trees are silhouetted in the distance as they fan out over jutting rocks like a mane. An island lingers on the far side of Palolem beach, green jungle meeting the blue expanse of sea. We talk and laugh as we float in the warm, swaying water of the sea.

The sunset disappears into a haze, and we clamber out slowly. Irene and I walk back through the rice field with some others from the ashram. We step through mud as our feet find a way through the rice paddies. While crossing the green field, I find out that there is a girl named Jade who is looking for a roommate. I decide that I will ask to move in with her.

I see Silje before I go to bed. “Don’t worry, tell your parents that Norway’s taking care of you!” she says when I tell her how unsure I am about staying on here. She hugs me and wishes me goodnight.

I think I’m starting to like it here, I whisper to myself.

I go to sleep a little lighter, a little more ready for the coming days on the other side of the sea.

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