Joanna Lester-George

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I was born in Cambridge into a loving and supportive family who helped nurture my love of writing and performing at every enthusiastic request. Upon leaving school, I was thrilled to get a place on a Theatre Degree at Goldsmiths University in London, but changed to a more academic LLB Law Degree in order to provide 'career back up' for a life that would inevitably follow as a struggling if talented actor. When I graduated, it wasn't immediately clear which career path I should follow and so I was keen to see what the world had in store for me. Ever since then, I have been incredibly fortunate to travel all over the globe, to live in a number of exciting international cities and to experience plenty of crazy adventures.

I officially left the UK in 2004 and set off around the world (twice!) in search of a place where I could start a new life as an entrepreneur. My final decision brought me to Goa where, at seven months pregnant and about to become a solo mum, I set up my new home and established the boutique travel consultancy KOKOindia Luxury Travels. This satiated my desire to forge a new path in an exotic land and, most importantly, in a way that ensured I could continue to travel and write. I have also been fortunate to find opportunities to become a leading Wedding Celebrant for India, as well as to fulfill my ambition of becoming a Travel Writer.

My move to Goa, along with a further insight into my life in India, can be best explained by this excerpt from an article published by Planet Goa in 2012 entitled 'From London to Patnem.' I hope you enjoy it!

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In 2006, I took the bold and exciting step of leaving my old life in London and moving to India to start a brand new one. Utterly captivated by the exoticism of the country on previous visits, I was in search of a life changing adventure and keen to call India my home. Being a city girl at heart, I chose at first to live among the colourful desert towns of Rajasthan but when I fell pregnant with my son, it was time for a rethink. I had spent an idyllic childhood growing up in the English countryside. Halcyon days exploring the great outdoors were exactly what I wanted my own child to have. It didn’t take long to decide…

I had long enjoyed a love affair with Goa - and thanks to a wonderful community of friends in the south, the transition from Pushkar to Palolem was made easy. Notwithstanding the fact that I now found myself living in a tropical paradise, I was also privileged to be made to feel so welcome. People were incredibly warm and hospitable, smoothing the way for me to start a new life. I set up home in a little Goan house at the north end of Palolem beach – a blank canvas which I happily filled with colourful Indian silks and mango wood furniture and where I awaited the arrival of my baby.

My son was born in an old Portuguese-style villa in Assagao, a natural waterbirth lit atmospherically by candlelight during one of the night’s many power cuts. Perhaps the most magical moment of my entire life was returning home to Palolem with my baby, gently carrying him through the palm grove to our little house and feeling overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of where we lived. We spent three years living there, a blissful blur of sunny afternoons playing in the sand and basking in the warm shallows of the Arabian Sea. Raising a child and running a business in a foreign land is naturally not without its challenges. Establishing a business in Goa can be pretty tough, and the nuances of operating in such a wholly different workplace need to be respected and understood. Those who travel do so to explore new cultures and to experience a different way of life, but to actually carve out a whole new life in a foreign country remains a constant process of learning and adapting. This in itself is hugely exciting, if a little scary at times.

Three years in Palolem was long enough to live in the little beach house. It became more and more hemmed in by bamboo shacks, making this very much a temporary and seasonal village. It sprang up in November and vanished in April, amidst a deafening bout of hammering. The power cuts back then were far more frequent than the actual power itself. To be plunged into sudden darkness, or to lose precious access to the internet when sitting down to tackle a mountain of work, became a frustrating part of everyday life. Living deep in the palm grove and so close to the beach, the monsoon seas would rage a mere twenty yards from my door. There were long periods of time without electricity, water or internet, and it was so isolating we had to relocate every June until the weather abated. I longed to feel more part of community life in Goa. It was time to search for a new home.

I found the ideal spot in the nearby village of Patnem – a character-filled two bedroom house at the end of a leafy lane. Surrounded by Goan families who had lived there for generations, we would not only have beach life but the added dimension of a dense, jungly forest and a panorama of green fields behind. I said yes on the spot and we have lived there happily ever since.

Becoming a part of village life recalled memories for me of my own childhood – especially exchanging greetings with friendly neighbours and local shop owners, which is an enjoyable and important part of our day. My son goes to the village kindergarten, an amazing enterprise run by enthusiastic teachers and volunteers from the village and abroad. We often walk to school across the buffalo field, taking note of the seasonal changes around us, watching the cashews, mangoes and jackfruit swell and fall.

At home, we have a great affection for the herds of cows and buffalos who mooch back and forth past our front gate all day, as well as for the roosters and chickens who scratch around in our yard. My own personal thrill comes from having coconut and mango trees growing in the garden – not bad for a girl from London. These formative experiences have shaped my son’s early love of nature, along with his unquestioning acceptance of people from all nationalities, faiths and backgrounds. It is an extraordinary start to life and one I am proud to give him.

Living where we do inevitably means being very busy socially too. This can sometimes get a bit intense (to put it mildly) but is part and parcel of village life – a scenario far, far removed from the lives of my friends in the West, compelled by bitter winters and long working hours to hibernate socially half of the year. Whilst I work extremely hard at running my own business, I make a conscious effort to make the time for yoga classes, beach walks and the company of inspirational people. Living in Patnem has definitely allowed me to network more easily and it provides a great platform from which to help promote local businesses. We are all connected to, and caught up in, each others’ worlds.

I am lucky that my line of work takes me outside the ‘Goa bubble’ on a fairly regularly basis. It gives a healthy reminder of the glorious diversity of India, and helps keep perspective on this tiny jewelled state in which I live. Out there are to be found tribal heartlands, epic mountain ranges, ancient palaces, teeming metropolises – but it is always a thrill to come home to Goa. Winding my way through the ghats, past the electric green paddy fields and down the peaceful village lane to our little house is the strongest feeling of coming ‘home’ I have ever experienced. It is a fact that since childhood I have never lived anywhere as long as I have lived in South Goa.