As I sit on an antique bench, in the verandah of the family homestead in Pilerne, in my village in Goa, India, two white cheeked Barbets call out in the old teak trees, which were probably planted by Great Grand Father. The little village is quiet and thankfully still caught in a time warp, where besides running water and electricity, everything about the homes, date back to the previous century.
Great Grandfather, Grandfather and now my Dad's photos, glower down at us, in the large sitting room as if to ask me, Marianne, how could you let those potter wasps make those large lumps of goo, on our family altar? And the termites, can't you hear them chewing up all the massive teak beams just above our heads? Why have you taken so long to come back to the village? You have even let the wall of the well cave in - the well where you stood and bathed with icy cold waters drawn out of its depths. I have no answer except that the rat race of living had overtaken my mind for the last decade.
I love my family home where we visited as children, along with my parents. It's not a typical Portuguese mansion, but it's a house with memories of love and noisy family holidays.
We came, no matter where we lived in India, to spend a month in the arms of the homestead as kids. Every morning we waited for the baker to bring fresh and hot Pao, straight from his oven for our breakfast, which we dipped in hot cups of tea. Bulbuls called raucously in the trees and a pair of Oriental Magpie Robins flew around waiting for scraps which we threw to them. Cows were our composters, as they walked past the kitchen window and polished off the watermelon and pineapple peels which Mum threw out for them. Suddenly a Greater Racket Tailed Drongo flew down attacking the Magpies as if to say the garden was his territory. The story has not changed, over the march of the decades, except that I am visiting with my own husband and son.
Goa is hot and to keep cool, I walk to any tap in the house, every now and then, to wash my face which is covered in a film of sweat. The village slumbers in the afternoon heat and even the labour, painting the beams in the house with insect repellant, take a mandatory Goan siesta after their lunch. Unless the beams and rafters in the tiled roof are painted with insect repellant, they will be food for the termites over the rest of the year.
The repellant is foul smelling, made from oil extracted from the shells of the cashew fruit. It is black and treacly and lathered on with a brush. The whole house reeks of it, but we know how helpful it is, and so tolerate the smell. I try my hand at it as well, smoothing it into cracks behind the big swing doors and on the patches left behind after removing the Potter wasps nests.
We are lucky, we have arrived at the fag end of March, when the tourist population on the beaches are less and the seas yield king sized prawns.
I sit to shell and de-vein a kilo of them in the garden and throw the shells and heads to the plants. In no time red fire ants get attracted to the waste and by next morning have decomposed my wet waste and carted away whatever they need!
As I sit and sip my upteenth cup of tea, mixed with milk powder and sugar free, I am shocked into silence, with the vision of a Paradise Flycatcher's sudden appearance. His bright orange plumage and ribbon like tail feathers trailing, he is perched on a shrub beyond the garden.
Perking his head to one side, he seems to say, don't rub your eyes, I am for real! His absolutely stunning plumage, knocks the breath out of me. I stare open mouthed wondering if his head and crest are black or a royal purple. No camera to capture the moment, I am annoyed at myself, as any movement, will cause immediate flight of the visitor.
We go to the back of the house, standing and waiting for the labour to climb on the roof and set fire to the grass which has grown up on the tiles. Suddenly a flash of yellow catches our eyes and we look up to see the incredible view of a pair of Golden Orioles. They allow us to feast our eyes on their brilliant plumage for a few minutes before they take off for the jungles, beyond the homestead.
Get your camera quick shouts Steven and I rush down to the edge of the homestead over- looking the fields. His excited shout, was to capture the sight of buffalo grazing in the fields with the Common Cattle Egret taking a ride on its back. Very helpful, these beautiful, snowy white birds, rid the grazing cattle of flies, ticks and lice and eat up pillaging insects, so are the farmerís friend.
As I write this, the acrid smell of the insect repellant emerges from the house and I sit peacefully on the bench, with only the odd loud plop of a large dried teak leaf falling, or the sudden tapping of a Common Golden Backed Woodpecker on the old teak trees. And ouch! a swift sudden bite from a fire ant hurriedly makes me shut down my computer and move off from my seat, on the step in front of the house.