The decision to pack up our lives in South Africa and actually leave our loved ones, our kids and friends behind, was not so difficult when we thought about moving to a tropical paradise island like Zanzibar. I remember some years ago, after a visit to Mauritius, I spent days on the internet looking for job opportunities so that I could spend the rest of my working life (or total life), in warm, beautiful air, surroundings, water and people. Nothing came of it, and I have to confess I never thought my life would take such a turn that I am so many steps closer to this ideal.
Kobus and I met late last year, got married in a hellavu hurry (no way was I going to let him slip through my little fingers – 5 months today), and tried to live a married life between Cape Town and Malmesbury. And then, one blue Monday morning, an e-mail from Dar invited him (and therefore by default “us”), to come and see Zanzibar, and discuss the prospects of setting up a dairy farm on the island.
We came, we saw, we mulled over, I cried, saying I wish I had never met him (never meant it!), we went back and thought some more, and took the plunge. But that is where the idyllic story-line ended. We landed in Dar, supposedly waiting for a few loose ends to be tied up before we would settle in Zanzibar, and we are still here…..the powers that be are still mulling implications over and over and over and…..I tried to warn Kobus about “Africa time” before we came here, but unless one actually experiences it, it is a foreign concept to 1st world citizens.
For the first month it almost drove us crazy to sit and wait and wait and sit, but as with all cases of “Africa fever”, the haunting beauty and gentle pace of life soon seeps into your blood, under your skin and puts some rose-tinted glasses on the bridge of your nose – and you start loving the slow pace.
My dear husband, worried that I may die of boredom, arranged for some South African ladies to take me to tea and do some shopping yesterday. It was great to just talk clothes for a bit, and driving around the Peninsula / Oyster Bay suburbs in Dar made me wonder what the director of the company that employs Kobus was thinking when he put us up in Kigamboni. Kigamboni is so rural compared to the Peninsula and Oyster Bay, with the latter two being very “white” and boasting shopping malls and restaurants, and even a South African butcher shop. And it made my brain do some twists and turns in trying to figure out why we landed up here of all places.
Coming across the river mouth on the ferry, I hopped off and took a picture of a young mother and her beautiful baby boy, and I woke up again to the real reasons we decided to come to Zanzibar, and if it has to be Tanzania, then so be it, as the reasons remain the same.
Ever since Kobus and I met, we both voiced a shared love and interest in Africa, and on more than one occasion we planned to do some “uplifting work somewhere in Africa, once we retire”. Scarcely a week before the first e-mail invitation to Zanzibar arrived, Kobus once again voiced that he could not be a preacher of religion, but that he would like to share his knowledge and use his hands to teach some poor folk a better way of life. So when the e-mail arrived, we realized that The Upper Being has some plans for us, and although we often doubted, in the end it almost turned out to be a “blind” following of this yearning-come-true.
So then, as we sat sharing thoughts under the stars last night, as we do most nights before we ascend the stairs leading up to our beautiful, spacious bedroom, we came to the realization that we do not have to wait for Zanzibar to become a reality to make a difference.
We live in a rented house on a very large, exquisite property, with a front motor gate guarded by our “askaris”, and a small back gate that is locked at all times. High walls and glass shards on top, under the electric fence, make for a very secure and private property. And luckily we were non the wiser about crime when we first moved in, and all we saw was the beauty of the surrounds and the sea inviting us a few hundred steps away. (Apparently there has been quite a vicious attack on a tourist on the beach in the area earlier this year, but then such things happen in any big city, as seen in Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro or even London from time to time). And so we ventured out this back gate onto a narrow open path towards the ocean, dogs in tow. And the locals peered out of their huts lining the short journey, fearful of the dogs and inquisitive about these new mzungus in their midst. The last piece of the walk to the beach opens onto a clearing, with a small corrugated iron hut in the middle. As we came around the corner of the house, a small, old man was fastening his zip, clearly after taking a leak in the nearby bush, and I am not sure who was more startled – him or us!. He mumbled something, and gestured that he was hungry. I indicated that we had nothing with us, and he seemed very displeased. I have now seen him a few times more, and just the other day I saw him sitting weaving the traditional baskets they make from palm leaves, realizing that he still tries to earn some money from his skills.
On other occasions we have encountered mothers with babies on their backs, and toddlers looking rather impoverished hovering nearby, crying at the sight of our dogs.
And thus, after taking photo yesterday of a lovely, healthy looking little boy, I decided that I want to start making a difference in my immediate surrounds. Kobus and I discussed it last night, and we are going to add staple food items like ugali (maize), rice and beans to our grocery shopping and distribute around us.
When we first got our askaris, we were so jittery and so shell-shocked at the prospects of living in Dar instead of Zanzibar, that we lost so much of our inherent feel-good beliefs. And only after I happen to read an Islamic proverb that says : if you dish for two people, dish for a third”, did I start offering them each a plate of cooked food every day. And what a difference it has made in the attitudes all round! More respect for each other, and whereas I thought the garden, which they asked to tend to, will never get done, it is looking magnificent.
And so, in some aspects, tomorrow can be another day, but in our ability to start the process of making a change in someone’s life, however small, today is the day to start.