Ever planned to go somewhere for a few weeks and ended up staying for months,well that’s what happened to me. I didn’t see it coming nor did I particularly have it as my ultimate destination, yet today I’d feel empty and lost without it. Let us face it after the rollercoaster of a year, filled with exam angst, studying, essays, coursework and university applications, a gap year is the perfect wind down before going to university. So after a few weeks of procrastinating about leaving the nest for the first time, I eventually packed a bag and headed for Zanzibar.
Nine full moons together, many of which I spent on the squeaky powder beaches at Kendwa rocks, where sounds of clanking glasses and crackling fire logs at the beach would slowly be dissolved in festive music and the chatter of friends and acquaintances at the bar as it got later. Yet looking back, I feel our time has been cut to short. Looking back then, many would come to breathe in your fragrances, soak in your warmth and relax but they too would feel that their departure has come way too soon. I would say to myself “we have all the time in the world together for I am yours and you are mine” - time seemed so irrelevant. Oh, how time has flown by so quickly, now as I sit down trying to find the words to bid my goodbyes to you yet again the ambience your vibrant stunning sunsets captivate me- “another memorable Zanzibar sunset.” I sigh to myself.
I remember it as if it were yesterday, the very first day we met, one look outside my window after a two-hour ferry ride from Dar es Salaam, and it hit me, a moment of abundant tranquillity. The fusions of the bright blue skies, the azure ocean, the background of a blend of old Arabic, Persian and Swahili architecture towering over the town, the brightly painted tourist boats, it was aesthetic perfection, warm and welcoming me straight to its heart, Stone town.
As far as small towns go, stone town is tiny but the number of times I got lots within the labyrinthine alleyways, onto streets with allies upon allies of curio shops with ofcourse the vendor at the end of each street shouting “cheaper price, cheaper price, hakuna matata, jambo jambo.” Even when it seemed like I’d been walking around in circles, each alley offered a memorizing moment. The juxtaposition of the Arab and African culture- with Mosques towering above the crumbling town, the large wooden carved doors, the black-veiled women wondering through the streets, whilst others look down from their balconies, the men in the ‘kofia’ (muslim hat) sat late into the night having a local brew of coffee playing ‘Bao’ (a Zanzibar board game). Evenings always filled with something to see or do, after sundowners at either one of the many choices of different rooftop bars, both the locals and travellers wonder down to the Forodhani Garden for dinner. Something only a the word feast can truly begin to describe - rows upon rows of meat and chicken kebabs, along with heaps of tuna, barracuda, kingfish, calamari, marlin, prawns, lobster and squid, being barbecued on the coals by welcoming stall owners. The next day I get onto the ‘daladala’ the local bus, which I must say would overwhelm anyone for the first time, yet, it is still a very interesting experience. A converted truck, with two plank on either sides for seats, as packed with at least twenty people, and it is not rare for there to to be a chicken or two or the daily catch from the sea either in a basket at your feet or on the roof of the bus. But in no time at all you’re driving along stretches of greenery, palm trees and beaches, a bit of a change from Stonetown, as everything is so close to together, the houses are simpler with corrugated iron sheet roofs, and walls of a mesh of wooden polls, cement and dead coral. The scenery definitely helps distract you from your numb foot that the man next to you has been leaning on. So after an hour and a half of sitting, about ten police checkpoints, passing around women’s babies as they struggle to get on and off the bus at different stop, I finally arrive at Nungwi, the north tip of Zanzibar, previously a prominent fishing island but which has slowly changed to the leading tourist destination in Zanzibar. With beautiful turquoise water, the white sands and the random honeymooners taking a walk, pretty much the pictures you get when you Google Zanzibar and start wondering how much of the colour was photo shopped but in this case, it is all right in front of you, or like the postcards you get with any pictures of Zanzibar.
I wake up early and sit in the front porch of my bungalow at the beach, trying to relive as many possible sunsets and sunrises on the island. Whilst I continue to sip my cup of spice tea, a recipe I learnt on first arriving, cinnamon, ginger, lots of cardamom boiled for a while to fuse the flavours, a thin light blue line, heralding the coming of dawn, slowly infuses the darkened sea. The weather-beaten crew drag their boat ashore in unison and offload their catch accompanied by sounds of chirping bird in the trees. As the sun penetrates the skies, the beaches are bathed with a soft yellow light and there is more activity, people jogging on the along the beach, as some of the villager’s daily tasks begin; planting seaweed, collecting shellfish from exposed sandbanks, cleaning boats and mending nets. I have very little time left here, and after nine months, I think about what Zanzibar offered me;
• A very relaxing gap year, where everyone is extremely friendly (too friendly at times), with the constant word ‘Jambo’, meaning hello in Swahili, yet has its multipurpose like the names of backpackers and bars. Within a day, everywhere you go, you are bond to hear it, jambo, jambo, as you walk around, the random men trying to sell you something, or offer you there taxi or the random woman sat outside the mosque asking for money. Pretty much from little kids on the beach to adults around you it is all ‘jambo’ ,after the millionth jambo of the day you feel about ready to wring someone’s neck. However I have enjoyed living the in the laid back Zanzibar ‘hakuna matata’( no worries) attitude. You make a booking for a place to stay and find the place has closed, no worries. There is possibly three other places around willing to help and if worst comes to worst there are always friendly villagers offering a woven matt on the floor of their living room they are willing to offer along with a hot plate of bananas and ‘chukuchuku’(a Zanzibar fish soup). There is no electricity for a few nights of the week and can’t sleep heat, oh well the ‘makuti ‘ (thatched roofs) built slightly elevated allowing the cool beach breeze come in, and there is always a place open at the beach where you can go pass a few hours, cool down and socialise before heading back to bed.
• I mean the drawback of it all is unfortunately like everywhere else in the world there are always people out there looking for personal gain- for me that cost me three cell phones, a camera and a laptop. One of the experiences actually almost making me laugh as I woke up and there was a big cut through the mosquito mesh in the window and my camera was gone from the side table. So if staying at the beach, I learnt to always keep my things as far away from the windows as possible. On the bright side none of the bad experiences ever got me too down, there were plenty of positive experiences that made up for it, and even with the thefts, I never felt targeted, I must admit a few of the times I must have been a bit clumsy myself but I learnt eventually.
I find myself unable to say goodbye to the island as for the past few months, it has become a part of me. Because going back to a normal routine, waking up without the beautiful sunrises and the sparkling ocean, not being able to spend a few hours of the day lying in the hammock, life just will not seem the same. So, farewell old friends, the sea, the sand, the sunsets, the fishermen, the local friends I’ve made here, until we meet again.