The return back to the hotel was fairly quiet and calm. I think I can speak for most of us when I say that these days have been wonderfully long, filled with more action than a normal day, covered in a dab of residual jet lag. We all silently walked into the hotel and went to our rooms. It was kind of nice to be back. I started to unpack my items from the day. When I got to the very bottom of the backpack to remove shells that I had collected, something caught my eye. I couldn’t believe this. I quickly discovered that there was still a very small someone in there alive, hidden in its shell, and now he was my prisoner. I was certain that I checked all the shells to make sure they were empty for this very reason. I didn’t know what to do. Do I flush him? Do I inconspicuously put him in the hall and hope someone else takes pity on him? Do I take him to the beach near the hotel, which was close, but clearly not close enough. I wasn’t that empathetic at the time. I mean I was. I truly felt horrible… but I was ready to wash the Indian Ocean off of me and proceed with the rest of my evening. This might have been my worst idea, but I decided to put him outside on the narrow window sill (I know :/ ). Out of the newfound guilt, I opted out of taking my shower at that time, and kept my beach clothes on and proceeded with shopping, as this was our last evening in Stone Town. My plan was out of sight, out of mind.
No exaggeration, I could have stumbled into at least 6 stores from the entrance of my hotel. I guess I practically did. There was a store on the corner that had beautifully woven bags that had caught my eye. My strategy was to see it, want it and buy it, but all within the budgeted cash I had on hand, plus the possible backup of the almighty plastic. Quite honestly there was a lot in that one store that I thought I had to have. There were a few things I had already determined I wanted to bring back such as fabric, jewelry and other textiles. But what was all of this other shenanigans that I kept piling up in my hand or setting aside? Ok, so I like that for me, but what about such and such, and oh that person, right and one of those for me… The storekeeper was very patient and friendly as I asked how many shillings, “shilingi ngapi?” At that moment I decided that in the future, I would strongly consider returning to Zanzibar not just for vacation, but also to purchase a rack of stuff for the sole purpose of taking it back to the states to sell, or make available to interested persons at a reasonable price. Most of the stores sell similar, if not exact items, and I imagine it would be easy to get a bulk of items at a considerable discount. In the end, I made some shrewd decisions to make my purchases in both shillings and the remaining dollars I had.
I felt satisfied with my purchases; my only regret was that I was not RICH so I could buy more. I offloaded my bags of treasure back to my room and headed right back out. Dusk was getting ever closer and one of the few things that I had burned in my mind as a must see, was to go to the seawall in front of Forodhani Gardens to watch the guys jumping off the edge at sunset. A few too many times before I left on this trip, I would watch YouTube videos of this after I discovered it researching Zanzibar. It looked too spectacular to miss. I walked back down the main road that lead from the hotel, past the House of Wonders, the Old Forte, and onto Forodhani Gardens proper. There were a lot of people, locals and tourists alike. I still can’t figure out how between this time and perhaps another hour, all the food vendors appear and set up for the night. I felt comfortable enough walking around by myself, but I was not going to stay too long. Based on my western world experience, I thought it might not be safe to on the streets alone after dark as a woman that was not a local.
Almost immediately, one local young man talked me up after an exchange of, “Jambos.” Of course the first thing he asked me was where was I from. I (we) stuck out sore thumbs - more than 99 % of the island is Muslim. Which means that most of the women are wearing hijabs or are more modestly covered. I didn’t want to seem too interested as he asked me more questions. We ended up talking anyway; had this been a different time or place, I would have wanted that, he was definitely cute enough to keep my attention, and he had a very enticing smile. We ended up walking to the jumpers together on the sea walk. Many different people were lined up sitting along the edge. The local boys sitting on the seawall were looking at us with inquisitive eyes as we spoke. Not sure if the shock was because of the English. Or it could have easily been that they don’t see too many non-White Americans or tourists, especially not women of color that are obviously western. Or both. He told me this was their winter, but I told him for us it was the perfect summer weather. This was the coolest time for them at a consistently balmy 81 degrees almost every day, with lows in the 70s. He also explained to me that at dusk, the water is at its highest which makes it the best time for the jumpers.
The age of the jumpers ranged from young to almost man. Each jumper had his own flair. It was all a display of pure showmanship, with an emphasis on personality and technique. Some run from far away straight into the water, contorting their body midair for a somersault. Some stop right at the edge after the run, to plop off simply into the water after what seems like minutes of anticipation. Being from Baltimore, it wasn’t too different than watching the dirt bikers cruising up the street, during rush hour - everyone trying to outdo the last trick. Apparently this goes on for a while, but every night. It is only interrupted by a dhow boat pulling up blocking the water below, or unknowing people walking through their path.
While we stood there and watched, we got to know each other a little better. He mentioned the annual Zanzibar Film Festival that just took place, and I talked to him about my documentary. He stated that I should submit my film in the future, and return. He was very nice with a heart shaped face, and cinnamon colored skin. He wanted to know what brought me there, and he stated that he had seen our group and distinctly recalled what he described several of travel mates as Rastafarian because of the dreads and braided styles uncommon to Zanzibar. He asked what was I going to do on a Friday night- was I going to go out and shake it? I told him no, but I thought some of my travel mates were planning on finding a place to turn it up. I told him that I was feeling too tired and too old, or something. Don’t get me wrong, I still long for the days of dancing until the sun comes up, or at the least chilling at an adult, old school lounge, but I wasn’t interested this time or place around. Then we got into an age guessing game because he said I wouldn’t believe how old he was. I told him he wouldn’t believe how old I was, and that I was certainly older than him. He said that people think he is 25, but he is 32. I agreed with the people. Then I told him how old I was, and that I was older by almost a decade. It’s been a while, but I think he was being more than friendly, and I didn’t necessarily want to shut him down, but alas, I don’t need to rack up long distance, bilingual lovers, no matter how exotically romantic it sounds. He offered to walk me back, but instead I said goodnight and Asante.
It was now dark, and I still wanted to explore but remembering how obviously I stood out, I took it straight on back to the hotel for the night. I still needed to shower, make a phone call, and pack because tomorrow we had to have our luggage packed for the next part of the trip. I thought I would at least go to the hotel restaurant but I was not even hungry. That was a crazy amount of food at lunch. That meal was my lunch, dinner, snacks all rolled up into one. During my evening settle, I could hear the music upstairs at the restaurant. It was surreal when I was up there before, to hear the hired musicians sing these western songs. Tonight must have been prime time. There must be more guests; the hum from the restaurant, and the hallways was louder than before. On the set list tonight was, John Denver’s, “Take Me Home,” George Michael’s, “Careless Whisper,” and Sade’s, “Smooth Operator.” I laid there thinking, I am in Zanzibar, right?