My friend Ashley and I traveled to Zanzibar expecting wild exotic nights and magical days.
Instead we found filth, stench, boredom, and a distinct lack of charisma. Politically and religiously, Zanzibar is a predominantly Muslim country, inhabited by conservative people who do not spend their evenings partying on the dance floor with L.A. women taking advantage of a long overdue girl’s night out.
Enjoying a Good Cry over a Cold Beer
The call to worship (azan) penetrated the air as it was broadcast across Zanzibar. Meanwhile we prayed for relief from mosquitoes and tried to salvage a dull weekend through sunbathing and beer.
We found no dance music. But one of the natural vibrations that contributes to the esoteric soundscape of any Muslim city is the Koranic call to prayer sung five times a day. To locals the incantations are organic background sounds as routine as the movements of the sun and moon across the sky. But to us they were unusual, foreign cries that evoked the kind of ancient spirit we had come to Zanzibar to find. We just thought we’d find it in the clubs at night, not in the mosques by day. Listening to the soulful and somewhat haunting muezzin’s cry was even more exotic or surreal for me and Ashley, because we usually heard it from a distance, rising up into the sky while we drank beer and sunbathed in our bikinis on a balcony or rooftop.
From the disappointment of our trip we began to salvage some valuable lessons about hope, realistic expectations, and making the most of the journey – regardless of whether the destination is on an actual map or is just a point of arrival and departure in the unpredictable geography of life.
The ‘Skeeter Capital of the World
Zanzibar was the only place I’ve ever visited where the most dangerous activity to engage in was sleeping soundly through the night.
There is little crime to fear in Zanzibar, and we soon calculated that, oddly enough, sleeping was definitely the most dangerous activity on the island. Eating followed as a close second in terms of high-risk behaviors.
That’s because Zanzibar is the mosquito capital of the world and Spice Island has the world’s second highest malaria rate. Whenever we sat for a meal, swarms of mosquitoes would arrive like a buzzing patch of fog, attracted by the lights above our table. Then black bats would appear, hoping to get a meal of mosquitoes, and their eerie silhouettes would darken the windowsills and cover the floor. Worms wriggled up the walls.
Legions of other weird-looking bugs and clouds of gnats also joined the constant stream of coming and going – but mostly they were coming. Then there were the bedbugs, so tiny we could not see them. But we knew they were there. We felt their presence like an evil spirit lurking in the sheets.
Another tip for travelers: If you’re jetting off to mysterious Zanzibar please plan ahead and get those malaria shots.
“Good judgment comes from experience, and experience – well, that comes from poor judgment.” (Anonymous)
As an ancient Chinese philosopher once explained, “If we do not change the direction we are headed in, we will surely end up where we are going.” That holds true whether one is traveling from LAX to Africa, from morning into afternoon, from one career to the next, or is simply transitioning between people, connections, and various phases of relationships.
We all find ourselves in situations we didn’t anticipate and don’t particularly like or feel comfortable with, because the journey of life is full of little unexpected Zanzibars. But momentum is our friend, and whenever we meet with disappointment or begin to feel stuck, we can use that negative energy to spark and motivate a positive change.
So Ash and I relished the final hours of our excursion into Zanzibar by drinking deliciously spicy tea and smoking hookah pipes loaded with strong, aromatic apple tobacco. Then we bid adieu to all the bugs and were off on the next leg of shared adventure, our enduring friendship solidified and enhanced by the zany Zanzibar experiment.