1. My Swahili teacher, Mwalimu Omar, is fascinated with the concept of Halloween and has started most every day of class this week by asking us to once again explain the concept and origins of this holiday; and in fact is so much so enamored by the holiday that he took it upon himself to dress up as “babu,” or an old man/grandfather figure and trick-or-treat, carrying a woven basket, when all of the Americans were gathered together listening to a talk on Swahili poetry.
Mwalimu Omar goes trick-or-treating
2. The group organized to rent a nearby (air conditioned!) movie theater and watch Sister Act as part of our Halloween celebration which was the greatest thing anyone could have done to welcome me back to Zanzibar, short of my host dad bringing me flowers and my host siblings barrelling towards me as if they are going to knock me over but instead hugging my legs. It was overall the most festive, American Halloween I’ve probably ever celebrated, complete with pizza, trivia, pin the tail on the donkey, and Zanzibar knock-offs of American candy.
Laundry and an overzealous tourist
3. Mangoes are in season.
4. Reasonably priced spiced coffee is available.
5. The roof: I’ve “discovered” the roof of my house, or really Caleb suggested that I check out the roof. When I asked her about it, my host mom told me that the roof has been very popular with past students, and in sum, it is pretty great. There is a lot of space to do morning workouts, sit in the evening, and generally look out over the city.
6. Short rains.
7. I’ve developed a habit of one egg and a bottle of water in the morning at the neighborhood go-to take-out restaurant, which is a pretty good habit to have since morning routines are important, everyone knows my name, and the egg fills out the papaya/banana breakfast.
8. I found a pretty legit. bookstore, complete with a Swahili translation of The Little Prince.
While none of these things seem like revelatory experiences (aside from Sister Act), I think in stride they are helping, or at least they are compelling me somewhere or forward, like weaving a net of being in Zanzibar and finishing out my time here and knowing that it will always be a strange place: because it already is (by being surrounded by saltwater) and because it signifies before and after an earth-opening juncture and the cavern between then and now is something I can never cross back over. (That’s a dishonest metaphor, but on certain days it carries weight.) It might be clearer to say that I can no longer talk about or see certain things in the same way (like when Tig Notaro does her monologue about having cancer instead of a fly on the subway because telling those jokes no longer made sense). It’s not that I can’t go back to those things, but they are truly different and it’s hard to tell exactly how. I feel lately that all these things are true—like pretty much anything I feel or say, or that it can all exist together—that I can go back to these things but not feel the same way about them—and that taps into this feeling of being pretty intellectually “isolated” these days and like I just want to agree with something strongly more than anything and feel as though there really is a harsh divide between then and now, all the time. More than anything, I feel empty handed.
I’ve been thinking often of a Robert Frost poem about before and after something, and this idea of people who have already crossed a certain juncture and are “after,” and a few years ago I had started to think that I had definitely crossed over to after whatever it was but now that notion seems so concretely laid out on purpose. Nothing can really be like that, and instead everything seems play out as “before and after” constantly, though you never entirely shut the door to anything. But I know I do things now that I would have never done before in my life, and I think about things, or I have started to think about things in a very different way. If I listen to music that I know my dad would have made fun of, I think about him making fun of it, and I am trying a lot to remember what the thing was that he made funnier after I said it. Since he made everything funnier. But I can’t remember; I just know that I said something, and he said, “Yes, it’s like she is trying to say this but what it ends up sounding like is….” And I laughed.