Girl Gone Goa

Travel, sex, magic, and cycling in an Indian state

The advocate and the allergy January 29, 2009

Filed under: Travel — UR @ 6:49 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Carmona is a village full of surprises

Village laneway on the river Sal, Goa

Village laneway on the river Sal, Goa

The 700-year-old south Goan settlement of Carmona is recognized as one of the state’s top 20 heritage villages. Much of it remains agricultural and undeveloped, and its adjacent stretch of beach is free of tourist shacks because the Navy has blocked it off for shooting practise.

Nearby Zalor beach is where my Mumbai cousins Dudley and Celine bought a property ten years ago, and it’s where we spent this past Indian Republic Day long weekend. In between bouts of the Australian Open, Dudley tourguided me around the area on his scooter, and introduced me to two very  interesting neighbours: a hotelier who sorts through garbage, and a woman who is allergic to water.

Serafino Cota: garbage is like bebinca

Serafino Cota is a Goan who runs a spotless 30-room holiday home called Dona Sa Maria with his wife on family property. He’s also become an environmentalist. As president of the Federation of Small and Medium Hotels (FOSAM) in Goa, he sees how tourism affects the beauty of his region, and how nearby five-star hotels play a part in that.

Seven years ago, Cota found a pile of garbage from the Leela Hotel that a contracted collector had dumped in a vacant lot. He contacted the hotel and told them to clean the mess up, and discovered afterwards that collectors were refusing contracts with hotels whose branded napkins and stationary could be traced! The next time he found a pile of garbage, Cota didn’t find a logo but he did find a room bill with a guest’s name and room number on it. He called hotel after hotel until he found a match in their records – then told them to come clean it up.

Serafino Cota and his restaurant's bins for sorting

Serafino Cota and his restaurant’s bins for sorting.

On his own acreage, Cota has mastered the art of sorting. He’s erected huge bins to sort glass, plastic, paper and metal; and sub-bins for different types of glass, plastic and metal. There’s a barrel for bottle caps, pigs for food scraps, and a small pit for burning. Local collectors come from Margao and pay him to pick up the recyclable materials, and Cota says any of the major hotels could do the same if they made garbage sorting a part of their disposal routine.

“To make a cake you need flour, sugar and water,” says Cota of the “ingredients” of garbage. “Garbage is like a cake – you can’t take the ingredients out once you’ve mixed it; you need segregation.”

Eighty percent of Goan tourists are from elsewhere in India; but the twenty percent who come from western cultures such as Europe, Great Britain and North America are more than familiar with Reducing, Re-using and Recycling. They arrive looking for a place to deposit their bottles and paper for recycling and would do so happily – if it was available. But on Goan beaches and in hotels and restaurants, it’s hard enough finding a garbage bin, let alone a blue or green recycling one.

Cota says he’s thinking of creating a television ad that challenge big-star hotels to include environmental garbage processing in their mission statements.

“I’ll put my daughter onscreen,” he jokes. “She’ll say, ‘if my dad can do it with his hotel, so can you!’”

Christine Stansall: the nasty side of water

Christine and Ken Stansall live half the year in Carmona, and half the year in England. Fifteen years ago Christine complained to the Nottinghamshire water department that her water pressure was too low, so they cemented in the pipes except for a small passage through which the water could now pass faster, and told her the problem was fixed.

She went for a shower and came out burning with itchy hives. After many visits to doctors, specialists and allergy testers, she was told that she was a lucky woman. Why, she asked. Because, the doctor explained, she had a rare disorder called aquagenic urticaria (allergy to water)  that had been diagnosed in only thirty people in the world, and – unlike most doctors – he’d heard of it and could help her.

Ask Stansall how the allergy has affected her life and she’ll pull out a list. Besides requiring that she take an industrial-strength antihistamine (fexofenadine hydrochloride) ten minutes before she has a shower, the disorder has triggered a number of other allergies: green vegetables (“except for broccoli, for some reason”), soap, cosmetics, creams, milk, Ibuprofin, MSG, latex, the list goes on.

Oddly, Stansall went online and found two other people in the U.K. alone who’d been identified with the same disorder by the same newspaper, Metro .  I found one more case of aquagenic urticaria in the UK when I Googled it. An aquagenic urticaria chatroom suggested many more than the thirty diagnosed.

Stansall wasn’t sure if it was the water she was allergic to, or water drying on her skin. She could swim in the ocean and stand in the rain under the right circumstances, so long as she didn’t rub herself dry with a towel.  It’s hard to talk to someone like Christine Stansall without peppering her with obvious questions, but she fields them good-naturedly and with a large dose of humour.

“At one point, perhaps after my doctor had told he of one more thing I was allergic to, I said to him, ‘Just shoot me, please,’” she laughs. “He refused, saying, ‘if I did, you’d probably be allergic to the bullet!’”

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