Rushing to the airport, the sky unfolds and a light rain begins to sprinkle on Nairobi. My heart-rate increases as the vehicles sop in their places. Vehicles fear the rain, my driver tells me. The idea of crossing Nairobi for any set and appointed time is stressful. With traffic it is nearly impossible. The sudden stop and start – jolting of the cars to and fro, coupled with the dark and strong fumes and horn blasts coming from what seems like every vehicle surrounding mine, sickens me to the stomach so much so that I have turned to Gravol for these trips. Now, there is a combination of rain which causes traffic, leading to the fumes and horns, and a very strict appointment: a flight I cannot miss, en route to which I must first pick up Danika from work. Stressed, me? Not in the least bit. Not even when the rain stopped and the taxi got lost looking for Danika’s work place. Stressed, me? Not at all. Getting randomly stopped at the police check outside the airport, passing security, finding something to eat, and being rushed onto the flight with the other last four people; I am not stressed at all.
Escorted out to the plane we had passed a small UN jet on the tarmac. Not a working WFP plane to drop aid, or anything of that sort. It is a very nice, almost new looking, small plane; very posh. Would I accept if asked to fly in it one day? Still wondering musing over that as I suppose it would depend in what capacity. I find my seat in the front of the plane and sink into it looking out the window at the UN plane remembering how rushed I left work this afternoon. My last assignment submitted the minute before I left. My supervisor had given it to me titled Mission Impossible, hoping it would be possible for me to finish before leaving. Possible to complete, it was. To meet expectations and of quality, I hope. Alas, the week of endless work is now behind me. No more working all day and all night. I am officially on holiday. Zanzibar, here I come!
The plane is small. I am thankful for such a short flight: only 1hour and 30minutes. Not that I was uncomfortable or scared of flying, but I happened to be seated in one of the 2 seats that was facing another 2 seats. It was as if I were on a train seated at a booth, or facing a mirror of someone else’s reflection for the duration of this flight. Danika was fortunate to have a common airplane seat, able to read or sleep or do as she pleases without the constant reminder that those in front of you may watch and scrutinize you the entire time. Luckily enough, it was uncomfortable for all four of us, no matter where who we were: Canadian, American-Zimbabwean, Tanzanian, and another.
There was too much baggage to fit in the overhead compartments and I witnessed the extra bags be taken up near the cockpit and stowed behind some straps in a cargo bay. I think of Hollywood films where this scene is always shown as the flight falls from the sky to a saltwater deathbed below. Saying a quick prayer, I distract my mind with my book and wine gums; both are flying necessities. It is not long, however before my thoughts are brought again to this unusual flying contraption. Out from the wall slides a foldable chair in which the stewardess opens and sits in preparation for take-off. As we take off the panel on the lower part of the chair concealing the emergency equipment falls off. Once safely in air she does her best to put it back together again, folds the chair and rolls it on its tracks back into the wall crevice it came from. When landing, there was much trouble getting the chair to slide back out, because the panel had dislodged again. The steward almost had to stand for the landing.
Upon arrival, before even entering the airport, we must show proof of our Yellow Fever vaccination, to ladies covered head-to-toe and I am instantly reminded the dominate religion of where I now stand. I release a breath of thankfulness: thankful that I remembered to pack extra conservatively, and that Danika and I both had proof of our Yellow Fever vaccinations at the ready. We are filling out the required custom forms, wondering how everyone else has gotten through so quickly when someone comes and says I’ve filled too much, just sign it. I look at him, analyze with what authority is he who tells me not to fill the custom forms. I skip ahead and sign it, and am told to write the date. Once the date is written we are rushed through customs where we pay the US$50.00 visa, have our passports stamped, get our photo and fingerprints taken, meet a French national on R&R from South Sudan, and are finally permitted to pass through the main gates. There I see Lisa! So lovely to see a friend from home after so long! With her is another girl I am introduced to while en route to an ATM for some Tanzanian shillings. Ear to ear grins on the four of us, this is going to be a perfect weekend. Work behind me, I am on a holiday! It could not have come at a more perfect time.
We take a dalla-dalla, similar to a matatu, to Lisa’s place, which is like a mansion compared to my single, shared, room in Nairobi. Our bags are left behind, mosquito spray applied and we head further into Stone Town. Dinner is awaiting us at Forodhani Gardens, a most beautiful seafront garden bustling with activity as dusk sets in and vendors sell seafood, famous Zanzibari seafood pizza (the term pizza is liberally applied), fruit and crepe-like dessert pizzas (still liberally applied, but oh, so good!), and sugarcane juice squeezed before you with lemon and ginger. The place is alive, full of people and I love it!
To get there however, we had to traverse through the maze of Stone Town. Lisa took us left, right, right, right, left, left, right and down one dark passage and then another, and one yet darker still until we finally started down one through which I could see no light in the end at all. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t in the least bit frightened. Is this the safest thing we could be doing? It is the best way we could be going? Lisa, and her friend Larissa, seemed so comfortable. Yes, it was quite amazing and beautiful, yet I had to wonder, perhaps they had become desensitized having grown accustomed to life here too well? It is not that I felt unsafe; by all means I will admit that I was blown away by how safe Zanzibar felt. I had noticed it immediately, during the walk from the airport to the dala-dala. But this was insane compared to Nairobi. Oh, how the warnings of life in Nairobi echoed in my mind, especially those of late. But this was not Nairobi, this was Zanzibar and before I knew it our path opened upon the feast of seafood at the waterfront gardens.
Of course, I had to try as much as my stomach could hold that first night: the famous Zanzibari pizza, which was covered in hot sauce; dessert pizza, which included nutella and therefore cannot go wrong; and the sugar cane drink, which was so sweet I could have used some more lemon. All was good. I looked at the fish and other former sea creatures cooked and waiting to be served. Danika and I both knew we would have to return to Forodhani Gardens for dinner or a mid-night snack before leaving the island.
Quickly learning how small island life can be, chance introduced us to the French acquaintance we had met in the airport, whom we invited to join on the morrow to Prison Island. Yes, a heavenly first evening. I was looking forward to the next day, even if a place with the word Prison was the main attraction. Such a nice change of pace from Nairobi and the last stressful two weeks this weekend was going to be.