After almost three weeks in Zanzibar, I’ve had fresh coconut juice, halua (in the neighborhood of Turkish delight), spiced coffee, an ear infection, a warm welcome and demonstration of the tiny cycling machine (and some weird looks) at the Zanzibari weight lifting association, a swim with some dolphins (stalking of dolphins?), and lots of laughs from my Swahili teacher about pretty poor attempts to use idioms (he has an arm like a teapot handle! he won’t give me anything!). Today walking through the market, I had a somewhat relieved sense of place that I think has been too slow to really hit me but probably only unfolds slowly most of the time. I say this because the other day walking down the street I had this sense of looking only at the road and feeling like it could have been the same road anywhere, specifically a particular road in Oxford, and I had to remind myself that it really wasn’t, and I wasn’t in America, or mainland Africa, or anywhere else. Part of that is easy to remember because of so many distinct Zanzibar characteristics: a baby wearing smoky eyeliner on the bus; fish smell at the market; 5 am prayer (especially that one); hearing Adele in the touristy parts of town instead of 90s classics or the go-to East African club mix.
This makes some things more overwhelming and other things less so. It’s as if my brain isn’t letting me notice that a lot of things are things I’m not yet used to—like living a few minutes from the Indian Ocean and that dish with unripe bananas—and when some moments feel comfortable they feel extremely that way but not like they are comfortable in the sense that they are a part of my life—more in the sense that they float separately from everything else but briefly offer some solace. At least it’s like that when I drink bitter coffee or spicy tea with something sweet or I feel clean, and it was like that when my host sister Nawal invited me upstairs to the grandmother’s ornate sitting room where the cousins were visiting to watch this Phillipine soap opera which I think is secretly a Colombian soap opera but is apparently based on a film based on Wuthering Heights. Nawal and the mysterious relatives were making fun of the poor pronunciation in the advertisement for “English Fountain College” and I was thinking, haha, they’ll do that in old age. Nawal is both studiously asking me about the differences between adjectives and adverbs while mourning soap opera Daniel’s continued jail sentence and his sunder from soap opera Katarina; Naifa is still having tissue/banana/actual phone conversations with herself that go like this: Mambo? Poa? Hujambo? Sijambo? (What’s up? Not much. How are you? I’m fine.) followed by nonsense words. Even better, she uses both her normal voice and what I think is her old man, mzee voice. Adil is still sweetly/obnoxiously (combination sweet-obnoxious, like sugarcane juice) running into my room everytime he hears the door open, saying “Hello!!” over and over again or doing something weird with my hair or kissing my face while I look at him suspiciously until he tries to charm me with his little baby smile and dance (he has a very Adil dance, not to mention his own very Adil version of Happy Birthday). Ali is still pretty pre-teen and having occasional, awkward encounters with me, like the time I saw him at a friend’s house watching a soccer game, and I waved at him before I thought that maybe he didn’t want me running around town waving at him like that. With everyone, I watched a video of Obama’s visit to Tanzania, while Adil and Naifa shrieked “Obama” in the background and Nawal and Mama Z. asked me about Sasha and Malia.
My Swahili teacher is wide-eyed, very easily humoured, and dramatically demonstrative in the sense that he hides behind the door anytime the word “hide” or “un-hide” comes up in class or he wants to find a particular kind of carpet or fabric to show us and dramatically leaves the classroom to hunt until he finds it or doesn’t find it. He loves to high five and the idea of tacking our homework on the wall for everyone to see.
The fact that I’m here with other people rather than vagabonding (okay, not really vagabonding) through a post-war zone probably makes me a lot more sane than I was in Uganda since I’m not constantly thinking in narrative but it might also make this more boring. Still figuring this blog thing out anyway, we’ll see!
I’ll brush up on my English–read some New Yorker articles, listen to Cole Porter, drink some spiced coffee with halua.