Postcard #34: Souvenir shopping without leaving your beach towel

Peddlers of every sort roam the beaches with their goods and services. There is the slender old man with a plastic basin filled with pineapples balanced on his head, a knife on the waist. One man carries a lumpy sack filled with young, green coconuts. There are women draped with scarves or encumbered by clothes with the om symbol printed everywhere. A young man sells carved stone incense holders. There are many young men and women with strings of semi precious stone beads suspended from their arms. They are all looking for the fresh white tourist, willing to shell out rupees for a “handmade” souvenir.

That’s how we met Bawani, a local girl with long lashes and a small smattering of freckles across her nose. One of her front teeth was broken from the inside making a triangular gap, adding more charm to her smile. She was covered with heavy beads, and the day before, she was trudging through the sand trying to entice buyers. Today, she sat down at the edge of our blanket for a rest and spoke more to us as we sat there sweating in the noontime sun. I watched her wad up some red hued chewing tobacco in the palm of her hand then wedge it in her cheek. I looked at her beads determined to buy something with the scant cash we had. Meanwhile, she teased me about my raging red sunburn (“chili chicken skin”) and she told me about herself. Bawani has four younger sisters that she is supporting. She has a boyfriend named Raj who does tattoos; she showed us his work, his initials tattooed next to those of her father. She restrung some beads for me to wear as a bracelet, eventually we haggled and soon she was on her way.

She would spend the rest of the day walking from beach to beach making few other sales, but the Indian beach goers were uninterested in overpriced souvenirs. The money she made that day would be delivered back to her mother, to pay for her younger sister’s schooling. Her back would hurt from carrying the heavy stone beads on each arm but she would have the strength to wrap those same tired arms around Raj’s waist when he whips through town on his scooter. Her father disapproves, but like she told us, “love marriage is possible.” Tomorrow, she would go out again and charm some more sunburnt suckers getting ready for a swim.

We, in turn, spent the rest of the afternoon fending off the other vendors, our red skin indicative of western money and poor bargaining skills. It’s a hot sandy hell for a girl who has to support her family but paradise for the pale, carefree tourists.

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