|Welcome to Zanzibar!|
I was standing by the road at least an hour before tremors started up in my nerves. The man on the dala-dala out of Stone Town said the one I'd take to Pongwe would come soon, but what if it didn't? I started listing options in my head.
20 minutes later and I was listing for the 10th time, when a man who obviously worked the dala-dala system (they'd just stop and give him money... what?) sauntered over, asked if I spoke Kiswahili (in Kiswahili). I smiled apologetically, "English only." He must have wondered what this young mzungu without any useful language was doing hitching a bus in Zanzibar - my thoughts traced the same path.
In the act of traveling, I generally have 2 faces. My usual is pleasant but closed, disdainful a first prices, bored and vaguely annoyed with cars that don't stop to offer a ride. I used this face a lot in Zambia and Mali. The second is wide-eyed, confused. Young. Neither is a manipulation; more often than not, I just find it better to express confidence, as though maybe I do know what's going on. On the side of that road in Zanzibar, however, I allowed my face to mirror my insides - wide-eyed, confused, and young.
The man and I managed to communicate my destination with gestures and a shared vocabulary of less words than I have of fingers (apparently, there are 2 Pongwes. This caused a lot of head shaking and repetitions, but eventually we figured out). "You wait, maybe 10 minutes," he assured me.
10 minutes later, a bus that had the right name pulled up. Magic. I grabbed my bags but the man ran over, waving his hands, "No! you wait, you wait. Maybe 10 minutes." Must've been going to the wrong Pongwe. Eventually, a dala-dala drove up. I was still squinting, trying to read the destination displayed in the windshield, when the man motioned for me to get on. As I threw up my bags and thanked him, he smiled wide and spread his arms, "Welcome to Zanzibar!"
On the dala-dala, there wasn't a space to sit. I was preparing to squat in the aisle when 2 men squeezed apart, leaving enough space for the edge of my butt to balance precariously on the edge of the bench. I was just happy to be on my way. I thought we were full then, but we stopped to pick up 4 people to squat in the aisle, then for a couple of men to stand on the back bumper. I think if the thing had rolled, we all would've been fine, snug in our spots, we were packed so tight. Well, except for the men on the back, that is.
I was the last stop, there were only 3 other men around by then. "That one!" I basically shouted, flinging out my arm as we passed a sign with the name of my lodge. We stopped at a lodge sign 10 yards down the way and they helped me down. After multiple emphatic "this one!"'s from the men, I did as they said and walked down the wrong road. 5 minutes later I figured out it was the right road and found myself at a guest house on the Indian Ocean. And that was the moment I decided to abandon my dreams and become a trophy wife for anyone with a vacation home on the Indian Ocean.
This whole thing started before my words, back in Stone Town, where I began my search for a dala-dala. Beginning to end, there were many peope helping me along. There wre conversations about me between strangers, additional strangers stopping to add their 2 cents. All in Kiswahili, I understood nothing, just followed along (literally). A couple of the men must've gotten a kick-back, but most were helping because that's just what you do. A good friend summed it up well a few weeks prior -- In America, generosity is taking the time to give directions. In Africa, generosity is taking the person to their destination yourself.
I fell for Stone Town the way you fall for a new lover. Stepping off the boat, I breathed deep and something inside said Oh, this could be special. I fell knowing - as we do - how fleeting love can be, choosing to let myself become enraptured, infatuated. Choosing to savor the silences, the missteps as much as the interactions and the laughter.
Her flaws were quirks, her dust and grime character. I refused the decay, called her an old soul. Wandering the alleys, I blushed with embarrassment at coming into this so unprepared; I lacked the language, the direction. I tried to make up for myself with wide smiles and bright eyes - those things that catch us in the beginning.
I opened myself to people, to possibility, and laughed as much as possible. Leaving my iPod in my room, my camera hanging unused at my side, I allowed myself to be enchanted by the little moments, created memories just for myself, presents to unwrap and treasure on low days.
Jealousy surfaced at regarding those living with her. I saw something in the eyes of people who got to know her to the full extent, an appreciation that I couldn't touch as a tourist. She seemed to find my jealousy amusing.
The end came quickly, as I knew it would. I found myself rushing to hold onto, capture something that couldn't be caught. Leaving, I thanked her for taking me as I was.
Peace & Love