Usually I pass out on flights, but for some reason I was awake the whole 15 hours it took me to get to Zanzibar, maybe my blood was still flowing from all the squats I did in the airport. We flew over crystal clear waters flowing through the archipelago. Stepping off the plane, the humidity immediately stuck to me and I began to sweat. I love this kind of weather! I was in the tiny airport in Zanzibar for over an hour dealing with passport, ATM, and visa issues. I couldn’t wait to get settled in and enjoy the tropical weather. My cab driver pulled up to a dingy alleyway and said, “This is it!” “This is the Princess Shalom Hotel?” It didn’t look like the pictures.
I walked down the alley and through the front doors of the hotel. The receptionist showed me to my room. A canopy hung over the bed with hibiscus flowers on the pillows. There is something about the sheer fabric that drapes around a bed that I find romantic. Ever since I was a girl, I’ve always wanted to have a canopy. It’s as if I am protected, yet visible; guarded yet seen.
I was staying in Stone Town for a few days and eager to explore a new side of Africa. Zanzibar is predominately Muslim, so out of respect I covered my legs and arms and hit the streets. With the heat, humidity, tropical flora, and dirty street food stalls, it reminded me of Thailand. I immediately got some food from the guy on the corner. The food had been sitting in the sun all day and he was constantly swatting the flies away. This may seem gross to some of you, but this is the type of stuff I love to try. I got some warm pineapple and a piece of octopus. After walking a few minutes, I met a man named Abdu. I was warned that people in Zanzibar offer to show you around and will follow you for days, and hey expect a tip. I talked with him for a while and he offered to show me a great local place to eat. I told him I didn’t have any money to tip him, and he said he would show me anyway.
We walked on the cobblestone streets and talked as he led me through the stone walled alleyways passing shops displaying woodwork, bright scarves, and spices. Zanzibar is known as “Spice Island.” They export spices all over the world and known predominately for their clove. The city seems like a maze. After we ate lunch, I tried walking back toward my hotel and got completely lost. I followed Abdu trustfully passing outdoor markets displaying fruits and spices. I got excited to explore the next few days, but I needed to nap before the evening. It was New Year’s Eve, and I had no idea what to do on this island.
When I reached my room, I was excited to nap under my canopy of bliss. Someone knocked on my door, and I opened it to find Chris. He introduced himself and told me that he and a few others were heading to an beach across the island for a NYE party. I hadn’t slept in 36 hours and was thinking of staying in for the night. I told him to check back with me at 8:00pm, and either I’d be ready to go or staying in! I couldn’t nap and Skyped my mom instead. When I get overly tired, I get emotional, and my mom always helps me rationalize. I downloaded the movie New Year’s Eve in case I decided to stay in. Since sleeping seemed impossible, I got dressed and met the guys downstairs.
It was an hour and a half drive to Paje Beach. We rented the driver for the evening so he would wait for us there until we wanted to come home. I sat in the front seat as four people crammed in the back. The drive there was tropical and dreamy. The stars were bright and the roads were lined with the dense tropical forests. I think I stared out the window the entire time… except at the security checkpoints. The police would look in the car and see four people in the back not wearing seat belts. The cab driver would slip him some cash and he would let us through.
We made our way to the beach party and decided on a meeting point and time. Sam, Chris, and I made our way to the dance floor while the other two made their way to the beach. I felt tired, but I always have energy to dance. The music was top 40 mixed in with some African reggae-tone, I think it’s Nigerian. We did a count down and fireworks went off on the beach. I had a lot of fun with Chris and Sam as we hopped to a couple beach parties. We danced for hours. I honestly couldn’t stop because I would have fallen asleep standing up! I lay on the beach for a while before we left to stare up at the stars and think about the New Year. I wanted to start it with a declaration to God and myself. I have such a good feeling about 2014. (I have a New Years blog with all that in it!)
We made it home around 5:00 am. I tossed and turned some more before realizing it had been 48 hours since I had slept. I was feeling sick, emotional, exhausted, yet awake. I thought maybe I was sick because of lack of sleep….. Nope, it was because I drank the water (the receptionist said it was ok, not so much), so that kept me up for the next few hours…. I actually prayed for death for about one of them and at the same time better about the airport food I had eaten. I finally passed out for a few hours before the guilt about wasting my day sleeping set in, so I got up to explore some more.
The next few days consisted of lack of sleep, awesome street food, and exploring Stone Town. There is a lot of slave trade history in Zanzibar since it was the last open slave market. You would think there would be a lingering depression there because of this terrible influence, but the people have big smiles and love to talk. I decided to cover my hair as well the rest of my time there, and I got so many compliments. Abdu said, “I almost walked right by you. You look like you are from Zanzibar. You are even prettier today.” People asked me if I lived there, and I would say no. “But you dress like you are,” they would reply. I would tell them that I like to respect the culture. I really enjoyed dressing this way except that I was sweating profusely (hot, I know).
My last afternoon in Stone Town, I went to Prison Island. There is a beautiful white sand beach and giant turtles. The water was getting really choppy as we neared the beach. I was in the boat with a couple, the captain, and the helmsman. The boat tipped side to side as we almost toppled over. The captain jumped into the water to help us off before we collapsed over. He gently helped the couple off as I walked to the edge and sat down to slide off. He grabbed me by my waist just as the boat was tossing even more violently. I tried to tell him to wait because my pants were caught on the boat. He ignored my protests pulling me overboard. I barely landed on my feet in the water as I felt the breeze blow through my backside. Awesome, my pants had ripped right open. The couple and the captain waited for my reaction before laughing at me. Good thing I had my swimsuit on, and this was a tourist spot a bit less conservative.
I wanted to stay by the beach for my last day on the island. I booked a place back in Paje and hopped in the cab for another hour and a half drive. When we were close, he didn’t know where my hotel was, so we stopped to ask a lady on the side of the road. She had a boy with her that looked about three years old. She put him in the front seat and said he would show us. We drove off with this stranger’s boy standing in the passenger’s seat: barefoot, no seat belt… this is Africa. We found the place and I headed to the beach. I walked for a while watching kids playing and tourists kite surfing before deciding to take a quick night swim. The water was was clear and warm, and I was reminded of the lyrics to one of my favorite songs.
“I will call upon Your Name, and keep my eyes above the waves when oceans rise. My soul will rest in Your embrace for I am Yours and You are mine.” I saw this as my prayer as I faced the horizon and let the waves wash over me.
I had dinner in the hotel restaurant that night and didn’t make reservations. They sat me with another woman dining alone. Simona is from Germany and went to Zanzibar to relax for a week. We talked about traveling, careers, and family. It was so random that they put us together, but I’m glad they did. I love meeting new people and getting to know why they travel and what life back home is like since I will most likely want to visit.
I woke up at 4:00 am to go deep sea fishing. I got in a tiny boat with Humas. We drove out into the Indian Ocean watching the sunrise. We found a spot we circled while the day greeted us with a brighter smile with every hour that passed. Finally, my rod bent backwards as I fought to reel the line in. Just as it was getting close, the fish broke free. Humas said it was a Kingfish, and there will be more. A few minutes later, his phone rang and he said his friend spotted a school of dolphins not far away. We pulled the rods in the boat and cruised over. There were schools of dolphins swimming around our boat as Humas said, “Jump in.” I put my snorkel equipment on fast and jumped in. I could see them diving deep down before popping up. One problem: I may be the worst snorkeler ever. I would get a quick glance at the dolphins before trying to breathe through my nose, feeling like I’m suffocating, freaking out and flailing my arms before popping up out of the water. I swam back to the boat, and we followed the dolphins. I practiced breathing calmly through my mouth piece in between jumps, only to start panicking and search for air frantically again (I wish this was on video because I looked ridiculous). I did get some good views of the dolphins though. I saw a mama and baby swimming together. It was surreal swimming with the wild in the water. I’m going to work on my snorkeling and swimming skills for next time!!
I returned to the hotel and hit the beach. Where was the water? The tide was so low that I couldn’t even see the water from where I stepped in it the night before. I walked out into the white sand with scattered coral. I passed small pools of warm water with parents relaxing as kids were splashing. What a beautiful place. One day here was not enough, but it was time for me to head to the ferry.
Being in Tanzania made me want to learn Swahili. I started to catch on to it, and it’s a fun language to speak. And they really do say Hakuna Matata and Jambo.
The ferry ride to Dar Es Salaam was rocky, hot, and filled with the sounds of people making use of the barf bags. I couldn’t be happier when we docked. I had another sleepless night before waking up early the next morning to catch my flight to Abu Dhabi.
I was ready to move on from Africa, but I wanted to really reflect on what the last two months in this foreign land have taught me. I’ve had so many people speak into my life along the way. I have had the most amazing highs of my life and some of the lowest lows. It’s crazy even now seeing how much those two months have changed me. Within one week I went from ready to come home to wishing I sold everything I owned so I would never have to return. But where is my home? I guess everything happens for a reason, but it is crazy what happens when you are open to change. God is so good. I can’t even explain the goodness He has shown me on this trip. The healing, love, and experiences I had in Africa will leave me forever thankful for the good and the bad, the light and the dark, and for everything that life has given me and has yet to bring.