CLICK ON IMAGE TO SEE LARGER VIEW AND CAPTION
I procrastinated on writing this last post and now I write from my home in Cape Cod so that I can feel complete in documenting my three month journey to Africa.
It’s especially lengthy because I waited so long to write. Read parts or all of it, or just enjoy the photos!
I arrived home to good ‘ol US of A one week ago. My 29 hour journey included 4 planes and a bus, originating on Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, stopping in Ethiopia, Paris, New Jersey, Boston and then onto Cape Cod where my parents picked me up at the bus station, as they have done so many times before. There was Mom, 88, standing and waiting on the sidewalk, offering big smiles and a warm hug as usual, my Dad, now 91, sitting in the car waiting to greet me. I’m sure they were relieved to see me again, safe and all in one piece, my dad and I joking that I hadn’t gotten eaten by a lion after all!
Having said that….
If interested in in the idea of traveling with me next winter to Africa you can email me and I’ll include you on a list that I’ve created. I may be teaming up with a small tour company based in Africa to bring small groups (max size 6 people) to amazing places like Namibia, South Africa, Zanzibar, etc and also on Serengeti safari trips. I’ll be looking into this opportunity more this summer and will keep those interested, updated.
Back to the story…..
It felt surreal to be back in the States and I knew it would take a few days for the rest of me to arrive and feel whole again in my new, but familiar surroundings. A traveler friend from the Netherlands shared a cool description of this phenomenon of re-entry, as all we travelers seem to worry a bit about the unavoidable moment when we have to return to life as we knew it. We get on a plane and travel at 500+ mph but it’s as if our soul is traveling more at the speed of a horse, taking many days to catch up with our body. We joked about this after she left and she would ask me, via email, to please say hello to her “horse” if I saw it munching grass by my bungalow. Another friend from the Ukraine told me that after I left she saw my “horse” swimming in the ocean. :-). I love to wake up and think of my friends who are still in Zanzibar and imagine the vivid colors, the 95 degree weather and turquoise ocean…I get transported back into that paradise, even now that my “horse” has arrived home.
Being home at my parents house on the Cape is allowing me to sink into the comfort of being back on familiar ground after a wonderfully exciting and at times challenging 3 months. It took a good three days to recuperate from the jet lag, allowing myself to nap and rest, slowly integrating back into American life. After three months in a 3rd world country the re-entry is a sort of “reverse culture” shock, so to speak.
Being in Africa was so many things to me. First and foremost, going there was my biggest life dream so it’s a very fulfilling feeling to have finally gone and “done” it. WOW! Even though the volunteer project didn’t pan out as I had envisioned it and left me feeling a sense of incompleteness in a way, I’m thankful for the 2 weeks I did spend in the Maasai village, as I learned how they, like so many in developing areas, still are so happy and make it through life in their own way. I saw how little it really takes to get by, that happiness, as we all know but sometimes forget, doesn’t have anything to do with the possessions we have, how much money we have in the bank or what kind of car we drive. Helping others by doing what we can to make a difference, being kind and thoughtful, offering our services where needed, is really the priority ingredient of creating happiness. Seeing the intense poverty and garbage strewn streets gave me such an appreciation for America and I gained a greater sense of thankfulness for having been born here. And, experiencing the beautiful simplicity of how Africans live gave me a sense of peace and tranquility that I hope to carry with me during my everyday life from here forward.
The last three years of winter travels has really given me the peace of mind that, ultimately, EVERYTHING IS REALLY OK. I find I no longer get upset about little stuff and I no longer have that general anxiety I used to live with. I don’t seem to worry about much anymore and feel that my life has become simplified in so many ways, having downsized to accommodate my new lifestyle of moving around seasonally. Everything works out, no matter what. I’ve always felt that everything happens for a reason and it seems easier now to find the silver lining to each occurrence, each chance meeting, each new direction I’m guided to venture towards.
Here is what I wrote a few weeks ago, from Zanzibar Island…..
I have found in my travels over the last three winters, that I don’t typically meet American “travelers”, only tourists, and very few at that. The distinction between traveler and tourist being that travelers are usually on a tighter budget, as they work and save money to travel for longer periods of time than a tourist would, therefore, they tend to gather at inexpensive backpackers lodges or other economical lodging in order to string out their money until they finally MUST go home to make MORE money so they can go back out there and do it all again. Many Europeans are travelers and I saw many age groups represented, a solo woman in her 70’s from Germany being the oldest at a Kenyan backpacker’s lodge.
Travelers start with loose plans, allowing themselves to be guided as to where to go next, unlike tourists who typically have an itinerary to follow. It’s just a personal preference which way we choose to see the world. For many, and for myself included, travel becomes a way of life, that once started, really has no end in sight because one realizes that this IS life, it’s just a more free-form way of living without so many restrictions and routines. It seems to suite my nervous system well. Since my daughter grew up and flew the coop 5 years ago and since I have been single for 6 years now, my life has become more free-form in general and for now at least, it feels right. At some point that might change but for now I’m going with it. Some people don’t understand, others want it for themselves. It just takes a certain commitment to breaking free from what we know, letting go of certain comforts and familiarity and just doing it! Having met so many like-minded travelers on the road gives me assurance that I’m not really crazy and irresponsible, noncommittal and running away from something, as some might think. To me, it’s an exciting way to delve into other cultures, meet other adventurous travelers, share stories while creating new ones. It’s really running TOWARDS something, not running AWAY from anything. I want to die knowing that I lived my life to the fullest, not regretting that I didn’t go to those places I’ve dreamed about all my life.
I’ve been back on Zanzibar Island, off the coast of Tanzania, for 4 weeks. This time I came to recoup from my time in Kenya when I was sick, as the ocean is always a healing place to be. Zanzibar is a magical island with a pace that is SO SLOW that you can not help but feel relaxed the very minute you arrive. The breathtaking turquoise shades of the ocean, white beaches and sand flats and colorfully clothed people are beyond anything I have ever witnessed.
I’m back at Uhuru Beach Resort in Jambiani which is where I spent four days in January. This time I planned to stay for two weeks but then worked out a trade with the owner, painting furniture in exchange for a room and all meals, for another three weeks stay. Somehow it feels like I’m getting the better end of the deal but the owner, a gal originally from Ireland, is so appreciative of the work I am doing so it feels like a good win/win situation.
Each morning starts around 5:15 waking to the sound of an Islamic chant over a microphone by a now familiar voice, piped out to the residents of Jambiani village, beckoning them to wake up and prepare to come to the mosque at 6 am. Then another blast of chanting at 5:45. This happens 5 times throughout the day as these very devout Muslims stop work, close up shop and go to pray. Many men wear their long white cotton robes with small cylindrical, decorated hats. The morning singing has become a welcomed sound, reminding me of my own spiritual connection first thing in the morning and sparks me to say a prayer and think how grateful I am for this life, my family and friends, this time on this beautiful exotic “Spice” island.
Being here this long (5 weeks in total) has allowed me to meet so many great people from all around the world. Swedes, Polish, Russians, Norwegians and Germans, French and Brits, a Ukrainian gal and 1+1/2 Americas. (I say this because I only met one full American and a cool, half American/Scottish woman working with Doctors Without Borders. 🙂
The presidential elections took place this fall for the government of Zanzibar and due to the high level of government corruption here, the ruling party who lost to the opposition, ordered a re-vote, (not our familiar re-count but a re-VOTE!) which occurred this past Sunday. Since the winning party from the original election decided not to participate in a re-vote it was an easy win for the former ruler. I was told that in some African countries the corruption is so deep that even the names of dead people are somehow tallied! Zanzibar has it’s own separate government than the mainland of Tanzania which is interesting.
Last night I heard what sounded like a fun party going on in the village so I followed the sound, walking among the coral/thatch roofed houses behind my bungalow to the sandy main street of Jambiani village. Here I found about 80-100 local kids and teens, chaperoned by a few adults, dancing wildly to the beat of African music. Later I discovered it was in celebration of the election and even though they may not agree with the election outcome, it was nonetheless, an opportunity to party and dance! This quiet serene village had come alive with music and much laughter and I stood in amazement behind the rows of children to watch the scene, with a big smile on my face.
The Muslim village women wear brightly colored fabrics wrapped around their bodies and another for their heads. The girls mostly wear head coverings and fancy ornate dresses that look like party wear with frills and other ornamentation, no shoulders or knees showing. Because they are Muslim I wouldn’t have thought they would be allowed to cut loose like they were, shimmying shoulders and booties in a very suggestive manner. I was amazed! I even asked a group of them, “You’re Muslim right?” To which they smiled and said “Yes” and kept on dancing wildly. Cool!
The young villagers seem to really like to associate with “muzungu” (white people) and they were quite happy to see me, the only muzungu in sight. The girls came and took my hands and danced with me, then more girls and boys came and formed a circle, all of us dancing together around and around. I was laughing out loud and to myself….a teenage dream of mine realized…going to Africa and dancing with the “natives”. My teenage vision was more like something out of National Geographic, dancers with ornate body paint and jewelry, dancing wildly around a fire at night, but this was close enough!
One boy of about 9 years old took my hand and led me to the front area near the boom box to dance alone with me, with the crowd circling around us. He had some pretty fancy foot moves and sideways jumps, and I tried my best to mimic him. It was all a great workout! Suddenly another group of kids, accompanied by an adult man with a drum, came dancing and singing past the original group. I decided to join in to see where they were headed. They went down small sandy streets stopping in front of houses to sing, much like our Christmas caroling, but with a bit more verve and drum beating. Finally I broke off and wandered back to the beach area, high from the experience and relaxed by a beach fire that was burning next door, playing on a drum and singing with a local teenager nicknamed Diego (Muhammad was his real name).
I went to bed that night with a smile and satisfied relaxing exhale that indicated “what a great day I just had!”
Diego turned out to be my Jambiani tour guide over the following week. He brought me to his mother’s house where she showed me how to make rope from coconut husks. Not as easy as it looks to “spin” the coconut fiber into long strands then roll two together in her palms to create twisted two ply rope. They sell long bundles of this to shops, getting only about 10 cents per 2 ft which turns out to be a LOT of work for not much money. All the beach resorts have lounge chairs strung with a web of this coconut fiber rope as a base, upon which covered cushions rest.
Diego next brought me to his aunt’s house next door where we found her sitting on a woven mat on the cement floor of the coral walled house, weaving long strands from a type of palm and forming them around a wooden block to make a basket. She let me help and laughed when she saw that I, a mzungu, was actually weaving with her. She exclaimed that this was a “gifti” and that I should come back in two days when it would be done. The Swahili add an “I” to English words. My name became “Janeti”.
Sure enough we went back in two days to find Diego’s aunt with my completed gorgeous basket. I opted to give her some money for it as it was just WAY too much work and she only gets the equivalent of $7.50 per basket when she sells them to the shops in Stone Town, for three or more days of work. This time I brought my friend Olga from the Ukraine and we had fun taking photos of Diego’s aunt weaving and the aunt had fun dressing us up in her clothes and posing with us which was cute. It was interesting to get a glimpse into the women’s lives as they tend to not be as friendly as the children and men. Going with Diego helped break that barrier and we were welcomed like family by the women.
I hired a local dhow captain named Captain Rasta Baby to take me and a couple of women out sailing and snorkeling. He wasn’t really a Rasta but was given this nickname as a child and it stuck. The reef was in unbelievably poor shape with only small pockets of live coral and anemones, and some beautiful giant clams, their shells slightly opened showing their soft mantles with electric turquoise blue dots. I was told that because of the heat the corals are not doing so well. When the tide goes out during the day, exposing the white sand flats and then returning 6 hrs later, the heat from the sand is released into the ocean and the water heats up to 95-100 degrees! Of course the coral is in deeper water and not exposed to this type of heat but the surrounding warm waters must make a difference in their health. I also witnessed snorkelers standing on top of coral heads! The Africans don’t seem to be interested in conservation efforts and the boat captains do little, if anything, to educate their customers about snorkeling/diving etiquette. They don’t heed the “do not touch” policy that is instilled in certified divers from America and other countries. This was frustrating and I tried to tell Captain Rasta Baby that he ought to start educating his customers. Sadly, it’s doubtful this will happen.
There is a traditional dhow being built in the village near our bungalow resort. It’s a dugout outrigger canoe made from a mango tree and I’ve watched the two men working on it a few times. The rainy season is late in coming and the weather has been unbearably hot in the village so many of the men come to the ocean to sit around and watch the two men working. Determined to at least get a couple of photos of the process, I grabbed my camera and headed over to check it out one day while the men were working. As I walked up I realized there were about 30 men sitting around…all looking at me with curiosity as I approached with my big camera. I sat down by an older man about my age and asked if he spoke Ingaresa (English). He said yes so I asked if I could take some photos. He said he would ask the owner of the boat and called him over. I explained that I loved boats and wanted to take a few photos and he agreed. After being in Africa so long I knew that you ask first. If they say no, you honor their request. I shot off a few and the worker at the stern of the boat was using a hand saw to cut the transom to the right length and offered to have me cut it. I was tempted but declined, knowing they would only be laughing as this mzungu woman sawed on the boat.
My days are spent working in the morning hours painting wooden tables with turquoise paint, after a relaxed breakfast on the balcony overlooking the beautiful Indian Ocean. Traditional sailing dhows skim along silently filled with fishermen heading out for the day to catch for the restaurants and families, women wading in the water with bags trailing behind which they filled with a certain type of seaweed that they farm on the flats. The children in their uniforms heading off to school for the day noisily walk along the beach while some people exercise by running or doing push-ups. There is a group of ladies who meet each morning down the beach for aerobics and I joined in with them a couple of times, being sure to cover up instead of showing up in my bathing suit! They are always covered in bright fabrics. One day they all were wearing bright orange Adidas workout shirts and wrapped with African print sarongs called kongas.
Usually I swim in the morning before breakfast if the tide is in. If not then some of us head out across the white sand flats under the blazing sun to reach the channel where we can get in the water to cool off. The color there is such a light crystal clear turquoise and we all are in awe of how beautiful it is. I never get tired of looking at it and wonder just how a place like this can exist! The thought of going home to cold weather is unimaginable and I find myself, as I usually do when away, beginning to think about home now and then, imaging myself there, visualizing the landscape, the people, in order to mentally prepare myself for the start of the transition back to life in America.
I have been here long enough to see many travelers come and go, greet the new ones, bond with some, share good stories about our travels and own countries as well as great meals at either the Uhuru restaurant or small ocean side restaurants. We all love the fact that we don’t have to wear shoes to go to dinner, as we merely have to walk down the shore a ways to choose our restaurant. One place called One Stone is a small hut with sides woven from palm fronds with the beach sand for the floor. You have to pre-order a couple hours ahead of time so the owner can go buy the seafood, as there is no refrigeration at his placed. A couple of times I have gone to One Stone and shared a seafood platter with two friends which cost about $10 each with lobster, crab, prawns, calamari, octopus, fish and rice and veggies.
My time here in Zanzibar is coming to a close soon and I’ll have to say goodbye to special people I’ve met and a place I have grown to feel at home in. I have a feeling I’ll be back sooner than later, hopefully next time with some friends in tow. It’s a special place worth sharing.