Sixteen people in a minivan and bathwater

Friday was a lazy day filled with very little. I sat still quite a bit, bounced around town with Marshed to Darjiani marketplace picking up a few things that I needed, and then just hung around some more.

I was told that we were leaving early Saturday morning for a picnic in Nungwi (the north coast), and so I had to cancel plans with Kathryn, and then tell the family that I wouldn’t be around much on Sunday as a trade-off. Kathryn’s birthday is today, and so we’re going to hang out mano y womano per her request to shoot the shit and such.

So, I was awake and ready to go by 9am Saturday morning…I love Zanzibari time…we didn’t actually leave until about 11am. The minivan showed up around 9.15am, and Marshed and I went to the market to pick up machungwa, embe ya kizungu, na ndizi (oranges, white man’s mangos, and bananas) and then also over to Tausi Restaurant to grab wali na nyama (rice with meat) for the picnic. Once we had all the foodstuffs gathered we headed out of town a little further to pick up Hobo (older sister), her five kids, and her niece who took up residence with her about a month ago.

Shortly after picking them all up I realized we were travelling in one automobile, and it was going to be quite stacked. We left shortly after returning to the family compound, piling 15 people into the car, plus the driver and one of his friends (who was only in until we reached the outskirts of town). Plans had changed fortunately and we were headed to Pongwe instead of Nungwi, Nungwi being a favorite tourist destination, as we all wanted to find a beach all to ourselves.

On the 90 minute drive to the East Coast we were stopped at each and every roadblock, due in part to the fact that we were so full, but also because each police officer wanted to know whether our driver had a license allowing him to transport foreigners. At the second stop, the police officer was so insistently forcing the issue he made Maryam (our lovely matriarch) so infuriated she fought back telling him that I was one of her children, which bought a chuckle from the officer before she finally convinced him to let us pass without payment. Really, all those stops and conversations are about them trying to break the driver and have him cough up some money to avoid any further problems. I was impressed, as our driver under our slightly strained circumstances, was able to avoid any entanglements or payment.

We arrived at our destination and found that we were the only ones there to enjoy the beautiful day. It was hot and sunny, and at low tide the shallow water was getting heated like a bath. By the time we went swimming, the top layer of the water was warm, seriously like 80 degrees. The nice thing was that the middle and bottom layers were mild and chilly, respectively, which allowed for a really nice opportunity to cool off.

It was a good day, filled with games and a lot of time for me with the kids. Zura, Hobo’s 18-month-old clung on to me from the gate, which shocked everyone because I guess she’s not like that at all. Maybe it was the fact that she had a cold and was a snot-factory all day. I also spent a good deal of time with the young Maryam, Hobo’s 3-year-old, who spoke the exact speed and with the vocabulary perfectly fitted for me. We spent a lot of time together running here and there, playing soccer with her on my shoulders, and running out into the ocean to cool off every once in awhile. She’s made the top 5 list for cutest children on the planet.

When I wasn’t with the kids or running around or stuffing my face with oranges and mangoes, I was just lounging around with Shinuna, Maryam and Hobo talking and listening to local music on the radio. It was so nice to be quiet with the wind blowing clouds and trees all over the place taking refuge from the sun. I haven’t had a day so slow in a long time. No plans, nothing important to accomplish; it sort of felt like the yearly visits to Florida.

Later in the day Shinuna and Maryam started asking me why I was so quiet, and Maryam just assumed it was because I was having a hard time with the language barrier, and in fact, it had very little to do with that. Each day I’m picking up more and more in the conversations, and my vocabulary expands by the hour it seems. What’s really going on with me right now, and it isn’t just quartered to yesterday, is that I just have very few words right now in any language. These words you all read are not just for you, but also for me to learn and deal with things myself. I’m keeping a journal separate from this blog and all of these emails as well, but I feel like I process a lot in the quiettude of writing to you all.

Anyways, Maryam was insistent that I start talking more, so I spoke up and started participating in the conversations. Swahinglish is my new tongue as very few sentences start and end completely without English and Swahili both elbowing their way into and out of my mouth. It’s really funny to see how my communication skills affect the conversations. Most conversations when I’m around are now in our common tongue Swahinglish – it’s a riot actually.

I did take pictures yesterday…but there’s nothing to show just yet because I have to develop this roll – I brought a waterproof camera and just had to take a few shots of the kids. Once I was done with a couple, Hassim (10-years-old) started in, “Lete, lete, nataka kupiga picha sasa,” meaning “Give it, give it, I want to take a picture now.” I handed it over, and Hobo helped him shoot a picture of me and young Maryam. Then all the kids hands went out with the same demands. Had I actually showed them how to wind the camera I would’ve been out of
shots inside a minute.

After everyone finished their early evening prayers, we stuffed ourselves back in the minivan and headed out. I think I heard conversation for about 10 minutes before each and every person, save mama Maryam and myself in the front, passed out for the remainder of the drive back to Hobo’s house just outside of town. When we arrived, the kids were restless, irritable and discontented. I think we left poor Hobo with 3 of the 5 kids in a fit, and the baby sleeping peacefully. I was so sad to see them off, but I’m going to make it a point to get back to see them all at least another 2 times before I head out in two weeks.

Time is moving along at a comfortable pace. The days are slow, and are consumed trying to get my karate-kung-fu-chopping hands in shape for the evening fighting the crazy mosquitoes. I lost last night, and was bitten quite a few times, hopefully I’m not headed for another fun run with malaria.

Last night I returned to Kathryn’s for a shower and a change, and she had a party in progress of a bunch of people that were involved with the movie about her which was shown at ZIFF (Film Festival, remember?). I sat with a couple of professors from Oxford and one from Northwestern who were in town for the conference attached to the festival, and just had a good time eating food and having conversation. Alas, I stayed for only a short while as I had to return
to the compound.

But not minutes after I did, I was out. I fell like a tree. I woke up on the couch, and Salwah informed me that I would not be going home, and had Marshed lead my sleepy corpse to bed, where I took in the longest sleep yet. I slept almost 10 hours last night, and it was so needed. I’m refreshed, and ready to tie up the weekend today bounding around town with Kathryn and Layla (an older lady from Yemen who’s father used to be the British Ambassador to Zanzibar and then Yemen, a man of quite a bit of fame, apparently). Layla is leaving tomorrow, I think, and so we’re going to go have a day in town shopping for some things she’s going to take back to Yemen with her for friends.

Then Kathryn and I are going to have dinner for her birthday, and she’s going to tell me the story of everything that got her here, to Zanzibar, which she tells me is her final resting place. Hope you all have a great Sunday as well…

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