Day 314: Waves of Trouble Crash Against Dice Man in Paradise
It was a rough introduction to the permaculture community on Zanzibar. Photo: Isacc Stone Simonelli
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
THE room is dimly lit as I wake up on floor of my Couch Surfing host's house. I could have taken the bed, as Mustafa left the night before to scout out the northern part of the island. However, there's something comforting about sleeping on a firm, carpet floor – in Thailand, when I was dead broke my second year, I would sleep on the tiles of my tiny bedroom because they were cold enough to allow me to fall asleep.
There's too much to do today.
I wish I could cancel the plans to go down to visit Flora and permaculture commune. It's too much to race to Kizimkazi, on the southern top of the island, and then try to get back at 6pm to meet Lila at Forodhani Park.
Sitting on the bed I consider my options. However, it doesn't take long to realize I don't really have any options. My bank account has dwindled to the point that I'm not sure what the plan is going to be if I fail to charm my way into a volunteering gig in Kizimkazi. I'm far past the point any reasonable person would be financially comfortable given what lies ahead. On the other side of the equation is Lila, who I'm not going to abandon now that we have firm plans to explore Zanzibar together.
I scan the room one last time, trying to remember what I need to bring with me. Tennis shoes to work in, an extra shirt and the Dorsey II, the drone. Anything else? Right, documents. I grab the plastic bag with all my important documents in it – international driver's license (the last of the two I started the trip with), Tanzanian motorcycle insurance, Zanzibar driving permit and so on.
This is the issue with day trips when I'm use to traveling with everything I own. It seems like I'm constantly spinning between carrying too much and not carrying enough for a day trip. Inevitably I'm forgetting something, but what is it?
The younger sister of my Couch Surfing host locks the gate behind Rafiki and me after we roll out of the small compound onto the sand road.
Along the main road, though we're running a little late, I pop into a place to grab a quick bite for breakfast.
A voice begins narrating the journey in my head – a potentially worrisome habit.
“An ominous cloud hung over Isaac after filling up the tank,” it says.
It is, of course, right. Something is off. Something is going to go wrong. I can feel it.
It's a little late. Before getting on the road, I double-checked with Flora to make sure it was alright that I was coming down, that I hadn't missed out by sleeping in by an extra hour or so.
“It's fine,” she told me.
Rafiki is handling oddly. She hesitates to follow my commands, as if we're getting used to each other again. It's been a couple days since I've driven her, my paranoia about Zanzibar traffic cops keeping her locked up. However, that doesn't justify her acting like a stranger between my legs.
On the outskirts of Zanzibar Town, the same road the People's Bank of Zanzibar is located, the road is rippling with energetic African chaos. The small, split-lane strips of asphalt are banked on both sides by walls of cement buildings, cheap goods spilling out of the store fronts and into the trampled ground in front of them. Between them and the road is another row of vendors, wide tables piled with clothes or bags of chips or drinks as locals are hustled onto dala-dalas: African mamas swinging big hips into tiny seats as callers look for one last passenger to pack into a sardine can of a van.
The chaos thins as a tree line approaches and the divider between the lanes disappears. We plunge into the shade of big jungle trees, which loom over the road. It's cooler in the shade, a welcome break from the blazing tropical sun. Yet the feeling, the one I couldn't shake as I was leaving lingers.
I try to piece together what I must have forgotten to pack.
Five minutes out of town, it's obvious what's wrong: Rafiki's front tire is flat. The dirt bike tread mushes against the road like soft cookie dough as we roll forward.
At the start of the next village, I spot a row of wooden slate shacks, one of which appears to house a mechanic.
Inside the shack are piles of old tractor, car and motorcycle tires along with rusted tools and dusty chairs. Leaning up against a thin-trunked mango tree, I watch the man retrieve a pump from inside. The electric pump rattles to life, but Rafiki's tire won't hold air.
He pulls the tube out, identifies where the leak is and begins to dig around the mess on the dirt floor of the shop. He trims a piece of rubber from an old tube to use as a patch. Without glue, he rubs the back side of a knife back and forth against the homemade patch and the tube, heating it enough so they start to stick together. Patiently he rubs and rubs, a fine black dust accumulates on his brown fingers as he silently works.
With the patch in place, he resembles Rafiki and fills her up.
“That could have been worse,” I think. “Plus, I learned something about bush repair.”
Rafiki's tire becomes bloated before immediately starting the slow process of withering, like a morning glory trying to live out the glory hours past 9am.
He shakes his head at me.
A younger man who was watching begins to interpret.
“He cannot,” the teen says. “You need a new one. Cannot be fixed.”
“Okay, I'll go back in town and get a tube and bring it to you,” I say.
The teen starts to explain where I might be able to find an extra tube for a Yamaha in Zanzibar Town.
“It's okay,” I say. “I have.”
I have a replacement front tube and back tube and legitimate patches in my repair kit, the repair kit I didn't pack because I was only cruising an hour south and then coming straight back up. The Rafiki's tubes were in miserable condition from countless patch jobs before I bought her, so the need to finally replace one of them isn't a huge surprise. However, the timing isn't great.
“Hey Flora, so I got a flat on the way down. I've got to go back in town to get a spare tube, which means I won't be there until about noon or so at best. Is it still okay that I come?” I ask.
The mechanic refuses to let me pay him for the tire he couldn't fix.
I mount Rafiki and slowly start heading back into town.
This is it. This is what I was anxious about, I tell myself. Subconsciously, I must have been aware that there was an issue with Rafiki. That was it. That was the problem.
Driving slowly, I slop back to Mohammad's house, retrieve the spare tubes – grabbing both of them just in case.
Back at the mechanic's shop, there's a line. None of the men greet me when I return, they are all preoccupied with a Vespa, which are particularly popular on the island. I unstrap my red day bag from the Rafiki, leaving the extra tube with her before wandering over to a squat wooden bench next door for tea.
I don't particularly want a hot tea right now, my face is already flushed from the heat trapped by my thick black riding gear. However, it feels as if it's the most culturally appropriate way to wait – my way of trying to blend into the crowd.
The middle-aged woman serving tea from the box of a restaurant with the wooden bench I've commandeered gives me a sweet smile and an even sweeter cup of piping hot tea.
Holding a saucer in one hand and the cup in the other I blow on the tea and watch the men work on the Vespa.
Time trickles by in the way it uniquely does so in the tropics.
Distracted by the sediment at the bottom of my tea cup, I don't at first notice the men waving me over to get Rafiki. When I do, I settle my modest tab for the tea and then an equally modest tab for the fix.
“Okay, back on the road. Google says I'm still about 45 minutes away. I'll see you soon,” I write Flora before strapping my backpack down with a bungee cord and saddling up.
In the past, I would strap Dorsey II down and wear the backpack, but after nearly losing her, one of my prized possession, which I'm now hoping will be a revenue earner and a possible clincher for getting me into the permaculture community, I'm not about to risk losing her again.
Traffic is thin on the road as we cruise, passing through the occasional, modest village, which is more often than not hemmed in by fields.
Majestic, thick mango trees, their trunks knotted from survival lime the road. The leafed bows of the giant mango trees dim the light across the road like a partial eclipse. Enclosed in the magical pergola, one that needs no man-made structure to sustain it, my heart skips a beat. Police have set up a checkpoint halfway through the kilometer or two stretch of shaded asphalt.
An officer in a starched, white uniform waves down a dala-dala in front of me. Eyes fixed on the road, I drive past them, thankful not to see his hand raised to flag me down and check my paperwork. I know I have everything I need. I know there shouldn't be a problem. However, if a police officer is interested in creating a problem, they are as capable of inventing one or discovering one as a child is to find an entire world hiding in a wardrobe.
We cruise past the dilapidated sign for the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre before dipping into the bottom corner of the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park.
Signs hanging in the fringe of mangrove trees declare: Photos Don't Protect Monkeys.
The mangroves on the southern side of the road are thick and tangled. Stretching above the road are narrow bridges designed to allow arboreal animals to cross without the threat of traffic. Even so, large speed bumps stretched across the road forces me to a crawl as I pass the entrance to the park.
How lucky would it be to see one of the Zanzibar red colobus monkeys while driving through? The species, also known as Kirk's red colobus, is endemic to Unguja – the main island of the Zanzibar archipelago. The endangered animal is a flagship species for conservation in Zanzibar, as the Old World monkey is thought to have been isolated here since sea levels rose toward the end of the Pleistocene epoch.
After one wrong turn, I find myself in the small fishing village of Kizimkazi. A few rasta guys sit beneath a tree in the middle of a roundabout used as the last stop for dala-dalas. A dirt road leads away from the roundabout, past a handful of souvenir shops and beneath a baobab tree that has probably served as the center of the community for hundreds of years. Beyond the tree, there is a short-grassed field, it's edge dotted by palm trees before giving way to the famous white sands of Zanzibar, which stretch out into the tidal zone. Fishing nets in need of mending are laid out in the grass.
Up the rutty dirt road, I follow a white wall capped with an overflow of vibrant fuchsia bougainvillea, all belonging to Swahili Beach Resort. The flower-like spring leaves litter the dirt road as Rafiki and I cut up toward Twiga Beach Bungalows, where Flora will meet us.
Flora waves me down at a set of ragged sign posts, pointing toward famous cities of the world.
“Hey! Sorry I'm so late, it's been such a debacle just getting here,” I say through my helmet. “Want a ride back?”
“Yes, please,” she says in her light-Austrian accent.
We veer off the dirt road onto a coral rag path snaking through bush land. The bone-white chunks of limestone kick out beneath Rafiki's tire. Low, twisted acacia trees and other shrubs stand in small crowds among the ancient coral reef rubble.
A stick and wire fence outlines the isolated property in the desolate landscape, which is neither close enough to the ocean to take advantage of its proximity nor far enough away to be well-endowed with the thick, black soil of the island's jungle forests.
At the back end of the property stands a bosomy earthen structure: two peaked domes with a wide balcony overlooking the gardens. Though there is little to be said in the way of gardens or soil, at least at first glance.
There are six young women volunteering on the grounds. All beautiful. All blond. All with hazel- to blue-colored eyes. The only men are a few local rasta guys, one of them is helping two French girls and Flora in the kitchen. There is something undeniably cult like about the arrangement.
Up stairs are two private rooms, one is Heather's and the other is Megan's. However, since Megan isn't staying here right now, Flora has managed to commandeer the privacy of the small circular room. The shimmer of ocean water is visible meters beyond a narrow band of palm trees clinging to the water's edge in the distance.
“I'm finishing up lunch,” Flora says, making her way back downstairs after showing me the rooms.
“Great, maybe I'll see if Heather needs any help out in the garden,” I say.
Flora pulls loaves of bread out of an earth oven near an empty swimming pool. A broken chair and a pillow sit at the bottom of the pool, along with a collection of leaves. Pressed up against the backside of the pool are a bramble pile of acacia tree cuttings and a heap of plastic bottles that have yet to be re-purposed. However, there are no signs that they will ever be re-purposed.
Heather is covered in dirt, more dirt than would seem necessary, if it wasn't for her glowing smile at finding the dry dark soil matted against her sweaty skin.
“I've been reading a lot about permaculture,” Heather says as I begin to help her sift through the dirt with a hoe to remove chunks of rock before it's planted.
“The problem right now is that there isn't any direction. We just have to kind of make up our own projects. But that's not the way it should be. Every garden on the property should be designed before any of it's started according to what I'm reading. So, we're trying to draw up a design now.”
“Interesting, maybe we can take some pictures with the drone and use those for mapping,” I suggest.
From the get-go, Heather has not seemed particularly impressed with the idea of the drone. However, she's not the one I have to get approval from. In fact, the woman I need to sign off on me joining isn't around today.
“Yeah, so Megan isn't here right now and Laura is never here,” Heather explains. Laura is the one who has a degree in permaculture. However, this is apparently only one of her numerous projects on the island. She's also the one failing to give structure to the volunteers, allowing for a much more free-flowing system of development.
Hacking at the garden with the hoe, I lift up up a huge chunk of rock. I shake the fine soil falling before adding it to the rocky perimeter of the garden.
“Lunch is almost ready. Want to see the meditation circles?” Flora asks, her eyes sparkling.
The meditation circles look like unkept Nazca Lines, slowly spiraling inward, weeds sprouting out from the shade of one coral rag rock or another. When examining the rocks closely it's possible to see that they were never crushed from pressure and reformed like most limestone, the dots and lines of ancient polyps homes remain perfectly preserved in many of the chunks.
Thick wooden posts support the balcony. Below it, is the sandy dirt floor of the common area. Off to one side is a modest kitchen. A woven mat is spread on the floor and loaves of heavenly bread, looking as if they were plucked straight from an Italian baker's window in the morning, are laid out in the middle, along with a cabbage-based salad, avocados and lentils.
“Tunapendana kulishana,” a blazed Heather says after having washed her hands and taken a couple big hits from a joint. It's not until much later that I learn that the direct translation of what she is saying is something close to, “We like to feed each other”.
Trying not to feel too guilty about not putting in enough work to merit a free meal, I reach my bare hand out, my fingers plucking a pile of salad, placing it in my mouth.
There's something warm and beautiful about feeling the food between my fingers and watching black hands and white hands mingle as they rip the loaves of bread apart, feeding smiling mouths. A silence fills the house, which I will later nickname The House of Giggles.
The day is quickly moving on us, it's nearly 4pm by the time I'm done playing with Dorsey II.
“Do you want to come for a swim?” Flora asks.
“I usually go alone, but you're welcome to join me,” she teases.
“Yeah, I didn't bring swim trunks, but I guess I'll be fine in my underwear.”
A different path away from the House of Giggles leads us across a dirt road and an empty lot to Sunset Beach.
Flora walks with a sheer, leopard-print sarong wrapped around her waist.
The tide is out, all the way out.
A handful of cement steps lead down a two-meter coral rag cliff, on which are perched a string of palms. The surface of the water is covered with splotches of seaweed and alga.
“Watch out for sea urchins,” Flora says as she wades into the water.
I expected the deep, cool rush of the open ocean. Instead, it feels as if I'm striding through an improperly managed hot tub. Nimbly, I work my way past black rashes of sea urchins. Flora dives in and swims out and away from me, free as one of the dolphins that draw thousands of tourists down to this once sleepy little fishing village.
I dive in, not chasing Flora down, but giving her room to enjoy the waters alone or as near to me as she wishes.
The orange hue of the sun deepens as it continues its late-afternoon descent toward the other side of the world.
I swim farther and farther out. Yet, for a long time, I'm still able to touch the ground. The blues around me deepen and the water cools. Only when I dive to the sandy bottom and open my eyes – to avoid smacking into an urchin's spine – does a refreshing coolness envelop me.
We're so far from shore. I would be nervous being this far out if I was alone. However, such senseless fear doesn't register for Flora. She floats at the surface, motionless for several minutes, before swimming toward me.
“The water is crazy warm. Not what I was expecting,” I say as we wade toward shore.
“Usually, it's much cooler. It's only like this when the tide is out.”
It's time for me to get going. I know it is. However, Flora spreads out her sarong to sit and watch the sunset.
“Want to sit?” she asks.
“Sure, but I should be heading back pretty soon.”
“You don't have to go tonight if you don't want to. It's okay if you want to spend the night.”
“I'm meeting a friend back in Stone Town or I would absolutely stay tonight. It's really great out here.”
Silently, we sit together. Flora's mane of frizzy blond hair glows in the sun, her eyes search the narrow strip of where the sky kisses the ocean, as if watching something beyond the horizon. I pick at tiny pine cones and purple-backed cowrie shells, collecting the shells for Flora to use in a dream catcher. Weaving the catchers is a popular activity, bordering on an obsession, among the woman at The House of Giggles.
On the way back, Flora reminds me that I really don't have to go, if I don't want to. Of course, the situation hasn't changed on my side. I still have plans.
Back at The House of Giggles, I change into my riding gear. My left knee pad slides out as we tromp back to look at one of the gardens. I try to jam it back up into the sleeve of the pants, but it only comes straight back out. Taped to the inside of the pad are my emergency documents and emergency cash – about 100 dollars or so, which I'll burn to get myself out of Zanzibar and Tanzania. I toss the pad into my backpack.
At the open gates of the House of Giggles, I strap down my backpack with a bungee cord and prepare to leave.
“Here, I'll give you a ride,” I tell Flora, who is headed a few hundred meters the other way down the dirt road to meet up with the rest of the volunteers.
We bounce down the road to somewhere they occasionally come to borrow electricity, as the House of Giggles has no running water or electricity.
It's a long goodbye hug, then Rafiki and I are off.
It feels amazing not to have saddle bags on Rafiki. Her suspension digs deep as we dive into a dry puddle and then ramp off the far lip of it, bonding over rocks.
I slow and wave to a couple locals with a small piece of property near Sunset Beach, then pick up my pace again. Rafiki and I are playing – it's what you're supposed to do with friends. We're playing and will make it back in time to meet up with Lila at the park, starting our little holiday before I join The House of Giggles – there's no doubt in my mind that I'm welcome.
As we hit the base of the hill, about where the bounty of bougainvillea bordering Swahili Beach Resort comes to an end, I realize the red bag is gone.
Oops. It must have bounced off when I was ramping one of the puddles.
It's a short stretch of road, less than a mile. It should be easy enough to find the bag – it's not like a man with fox ears on his helmet is hard to miss if anyone finds it.
I turn Rafiki around and quickly retrace our tracks, passing no one as we go. I return to exactly where I dropped Flora off. A bright red bag in the middle of the road should have been easy enough to find, assuming that it is still on the road, which it clearly is not.
“You're back?” Flora asks.
“Yeah, my bag fell off the back of the bike, but I can't find it,” I say, still not overly worried about the situation. “Can I borrow your phone and try to track it?”
“Oh no. Sure, of course.”
Flora hands me her phone.
My big fingers tap on the tiny iPhone screen. I log Flora out of her Google account and then go to log into mine.
I try again, maybe I miss typed.
I try a different password.
Google wants to send a recovery number to my phone, so I can access the account.
I take a deep breath in. The phone was the only thing valuable in my bag, right? I try to remember what else was in the bag. Phone, wet underwear, shoes. Is that it? Oh, and the knee pad. Fuck, that's 100 dollars down the drain.
I take another deep breath.
“I'm sure we'll find it,” Flora says. “Do you want me to look with you? Maybe you left it back at the house.”
Though I'm not sure I agree, I see no reason to squelch her optimism.
“I remember thinking that the bungee cord felt a little loose when I dropped you off. But maybe it fell off somewhere on the way back. I don't know,” I say.
Thinking of Lila arriving in the park, waiting for me. Waiting for me and waiting for me because I'm not going 30 minutes late, but hours late feels like a someone has let a maniac with cactus arms loose inside me, causing jaw-clenching anxiousness because there's nothing I can do about it.
“Can I borrow your phone to message my friend on Facebook? I want to let her know I'm going to be late,” I ask Flora.
My thick fingers tap at the small screen.
“y.phon has been stolen
“bag fell off back pf bike
“trying to get ot taken care of
“stay in touch
“lets still meet up tonigjt,” I type. I fucking hate iPhones.
We hop on Rafiki and re-trace my tracks. Flora scans the road, seeing nothing. On the way back, she asks the few people we spot on the road if they've seen the bag. She speaks a little Swahili to them as she asks, her beauty, charm and confidence probably making progress where I wouldn't have any luck. Not that she's found a lead, yet.
We slip past the bare, low cement walls of Kizi Nyumbani Lodge. Flora knocks on the door of a hut near the entrance.
A man pops out, quickly closing the door behind him, his face a blur.
“Hi, we wanted to know if you found a red bag?” I say.
“What no. I've been sleeping. I just woke up,” he says, eyes shifting.
“Oh, are you sure?” Flora asks.
“Yes, I just woke up. See,” the man says, waving to the towel around his waist as if that is proof of something. “What's in it?”
“Some very important documents and stuff,” I say.
“Okay, if I hear anything, I'll let you know.”
“Great, thank you.”
We return to where we started the search, then head back to The House of Giggles to see if one of the guys who works there can help me.
“Fuck!” I yell, moments later.
My balled fist slams Rafiki's dash. All the paperwork for Rafiki was in that fucking bag. All those documents that are worthless to anyone but me are in there. My yellow fever card is in there and the import permit – the document I traded Rafiki's registration for at the border is in there.
The reality of the situation is dealt with swift soul-crushing force: I might not be able to get Rafiki back into Kenya. Without the registration, which isn't even in my name, I won't be able to sell her. I need to be able to sell her at the end of this to make it all work. However, without that fucking piece of paper, what can I do?
Seething, I try to breathe.
I take another deep breath.
“Sorry about that,” I say to Flora, who is cool as a morning breeze despite my furious outburst.
“It's fine. I understand.”
There's nothing at The House of Giggles. The boys, as the girls always call the men here, aren't around at the moment.
Slowly, we retrace the tracks of the motorcycle. There's nothing else to do.
Down the road, step by step we search for someone decent enough to help us.
A goat herder in the brambles and bushes opposite the large open yard and pair of seaside bungalows comprising Kizi Nyumbani Lodge, hobbles toward us, a knowing but fearful look in his eyes.
“Are you looking for something?” he asks, as if he already cognizant of the answer.
“Yeah,” Flora says. “A red bag.”
“I think, I think maybe Ibraham, living in the bungalow over there. I think maybe he knows something,” the man says, checking over his shoulder as if to ensure nobody spotted him talking to us.
“Awesome, thank you. Thank you so much,” I say, heart leaping with a sudden jolt of hope.
With a bob of his head, the man slips away from us, back to his half dozen goats, which are ripping at what leaves their tough lips can free.
Filled with a glimmer of hope, we had toward Kizi Nyumbani Lodge, maybe the man saw it fall and thought it was safest to keep it at his four-table, open-air restaurant.
We knock on the door. The same man, the owner of the lodge, opens it.
“Hi, we wanted to check with you about the bag,” I say.
“I haven't heard anything.”
“Oh, because we just talked to someone and he said that you found it,” I say, jumping straight in.
“Who said that? Tell me who told you that,” he aggressively demands.
“What? I don't know. Just some guy.”
“He told you I took a bag? And you believed him? How can you come here and say I did something like that? Why would I take a bag?”
“That's just what he said.”
“I wouldn't take a bag. Why would I take a bag? Look I own all of this, why would I do that?”
You would have taken the bag for the same reason anyone else would have taken the bag, I want to shout at him. My blood is already boiling.
The conversation quickly becomes cycle with him saying that nobody would take a bag one moment and then saying that he gets robbed sometimes, throwing everything at us.
“Why would I do that?” he asks for the hundredth fucking time.
“Just stop, just stop talking, stop talking,” I yell, turning my back on the asshole.
His voice drones on and on to Flora, address my back as well, not an ounce of understanding in a single word slipping out from between his lips.
I storm toward the ocean.
There's so much that's so important in that bag and this fucking asshole isn't budging.
Taking deep breathes down by the ocean, I listen to the way the swelling high tide begins to lick the rag coral cliff. Darkness has settled over the island and the water.
Of course, I've fucking blown it. With the arrogant, furious attitude I just presented, there's no way he'll budge. He's going to stick to his guns until doomsday. Hopefully, Flora can sweet talk him into being reasonable, but I doubt it.
At this point, I don't care about the phone, about the money. I need that paperwork.
I wait for Flora to join me, but she's still talking to the Ibraham.
After about five minutes, I'm calmer, more relaxed, but still wondering if I can force him to open his door. It'd be pointless, even if I could, we spotted someone earlier who was acting super dodgy about the bag as well. He seemed to know something, but wasn't going to talk. Most likely, the bag isn't even on the lodge property anymore, if it ever was.
Flora confirms the obvious when I return to the outside light burning above his door: he doesn't know anything, but he'll let us know if he does. She gives him her phone number, so if he hears anything, he can be in touch.
Walking back, we both agree I blew it when I blew my top. But it was too much. I was too helpless, too vulnerable and there wasn't an etch of sympathy scraped across the man's accusing face. Accusing me of accusing him.
Back at The House of Giggles, we find Mwanzi. He's halfway through a blunt, but acquiesces to our request to go into the village and ask around. However, as soon as he hears there is a phone in the bag – I don't even mention the money – his face goes a little blank. He doesn't see any hope in recovering it.
“Mwanzi says nobody knew anything, but that it might already be on a dala-dala into Stone Town,” Flora says, after he returns.
Of course, it's impossible that everybody knows nothing about the bag. It's too small of a community. Way too small of a community for something like that to go completely unnoticed or unspoken about.
I'm cool again.
A little lost, I sit on the balcony, trying to figure out what this means for Dice Travels, what this means for me.
“Isaac, I'm so sorry,” Heather says.
“It's fine. It's what it is.”
Flora offers me a hit of a joint.
“No, thank you,” I say. “I never drink or smoke when I think to myself 'I really need this'. It builds bad habits. I'll be fine. I just need to get back to town and start tracking the phone. See what I can figure out.”
It's full dark. Flora curls up into my arms as we hug, her soft lips brushing my neck. A deep, almost motherly love flows from her entire body. I want to soak in it like a person with chills wants to climb into a warm bath. I want to drown in it and have the rest of the world cease for a few moments.
What can I do to recover my phone tonight? I can get on my computer and at least try to track the phone that way. At least on my computer, I won't need to remember any passwords, as I should be logged into everything.
“You really don't have to go,” she says.
“I know, but I do. It's bad enough that I'm hours late to meeting my friend. Plus, I want to get back and log in on my computer. I'm not going to be able to relax until I try to track the phone.”
Her body presses against mine. I want nothing, but to throw in the towel on the day. Instead, I mount Rafiki and we speed toward Stone Town. Speed toward Stone Town without an international driver's license, without proof of insurance, without Rafiki's registration, without my Zanzibar driving permit.
The road opens up in front of Rafiki's dim headlight. “Next bike,” I tell myself, “Next bike, I'm getting all sorts of extra flood lights added.”
Mohamed is already up to speed about the situation when I arrive. He messaged me earlier to make sure I didn't need the room tonight, as someone wanted to book it on Air BnB. I was amazed he even asked – as I've already overstayed the original dates set for him to host me. Though I'm not sleeping at his place tonight, I do need to pack a bag for the next couple of days with Lila – I'm determined not to let this fuck-up impact our mini-holiday. The rest of my bags I'm leaving with Mohamed in a spare room.
Mohamed hot spots my laptop so I can message Lila.
“Hey! I'm back. Are you still around?”
It's nearly a 11pm, but she is around and still waiting for me at the guesthouse in Stone Town.
I stuff my tank bag with a camera and everything else I'll need for the long weekend.
“Are you sure you want to go now?” Mohamed asks. “You're welcome to stay here.”
“Yeah, it's fine. My friend already has a hotel room.”
At this time of night, a quietness, a stillness, settles over Stone Town. I skirt the edge of the sound, pulling down familiar cobblestone streets toward Forodhani Park. Nobody is in the park. The night market is closed, the food stalls shut down, the lights off. Mizingani Road bends away from The House of Wonders and toward the ferry and Mercury's Bar, where a bright neon sign still glows.
I slow roll down the road checking the small hotel signs, looking for Kiponda.
As if the night couldn't get any longer.
Mizingani Road trundles into Malawi Road, I do a lap at the circle junction and slowly move down Malawi.
Of course, it's not on Malawi. Lila said to follow the road along the park, which is Mizingani.
Mizingani is a one-way street, at least I think it is. Nonetheless, I poke backward a block to double-check the hotels I passed. Nope, none of them look right.
I should have written down the name of the place. The letters are shifting in my unsettled mind.
I do another lap, this time going the right direction. Something moves in the shadows by the pier. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a security guard – or at least could be a security guard – try to wave me down.
A full grown man with fox ears prowling the streets on a motorcycle is hardly discrete.
I gun Rafiki and take off.
Fuck! If I had my phone, this would be so easy: plug and play. Now, the charming maze-like quality of Arabic-city design is not so charming.
I park. Gloved hands knead my face for a moment. I take a deep breath.
I have my laptop in my tank bag. If I can find an internet connection, I can sort this out. It's possible.
I kill Rafiki next to the Mercury House below Cafe Miwa. I used their internet a couple days ago. If I'm lucky, the power will be on and I can reach the signal.
The blue light of the laptop fills my face. Feeling like a secret agent – apparently a very bad one if the occurrences from earlier today are to be factored in – I check for a signal.
Success. After so much failure, a little success feels very good.
“I'm sooooo lost,” I write Lila.
There's no response.
Then an ellipsis on the screen next to her name starts to wave up and down – she's writing.
“Where are you near? I'm at Kiponda BnB 1863 Nyumba Ya Moto Street, if you go to the gardens or that road along that passes the Hyatt go in the direction of the port and there's an opening and then a small passageway and the door is on the left with a little hanging sign,” she writes.
Perfect. I plug the address into Google Maps.
This is it. I'm basically there – basically.
I stare at the map. So, it's a little street tucked away off Mizingani.
I pull past the park for the fourth or fifth time tonight
Four men on two motorcycles quickly surround me in a patch of dark, away from the street lights. With one bike in front and one behind, I'm trapped between the metal wall of a construction site and the water.
“Police,” one of the men shouts, slipping off the motorcycle in full riot gear.
All of them are in olive-colored army uniforms, a wide-barreled riot control gun is slung across his chest, rounds of ammunition belted to his waist. Another officer holding an AK47, not pointed at me, stares me down through the visor of his crowd control helmet.
“Turn off the motorcycle,” one yells.
My fingers fumble to find the ignition – just because they have badges doesn't mean I'm not about to be hijacked.
They crowd around me as I take off my helmet.
“Where is your driver's license?” one of them asks.
Where is my driver's license? I would also like to know the answer to that. Additionally, I would like to know where my Zanzibar driving permit, my import permit, my money and my phone are.
I stammer out an answer.
“They were stolen,” I say again.
“Where is the police report?” he asks, his voice taking a more hostile edge.
“It happened today. I've not filed a police report yet. I was going to file it in the morning.”
“Where is the motorcycle registration?”
“It was all stolen. Everything was stolen,” I say.
“You can't drive without a license. Why didn't you report it immediately?”
“I was looking for it. Down in the south. I can't remember the name of the place. Somewhere in the south. I was looking for it down there. Then, it was so late; I just want to get to my hotel.”
“We have to bring you to the police station and confiscate the motorcycle. Give me your passport.”
Drawing pencils – all the same hardness – spill out onto the road as I search stuffed tank bag for my passport. My hands shake, tremors of a drunk, as my voice wavers on the verge of hysterics, it nearly cracking into tears like thunder ushering in the first rains of spring after a long, cold winter.
Based on the success of this type of performance at the pier when I landed, I'm playing everything up – but only a little.
“What? You're supposed to be helping me. I was robbed. I'm a tourist. You're supposed to help me,” I say.
“What do you want us to do?” he asks.
What I want them to do is let me go so I can deal with this in the morning. So I can go to Lila's room and shower and wash my face and sleep.
“I'm so close. My hotel is just right there. Can't I go in the morning?” My voice sounds weak, as if its legs are about to go on it. The shaking in my body rattles Rafiki.
The tension cracks.
“It's okay, it's okay,” he says. “You get on the bike and follow us to the police station. You can file a report there.”
It's going on midnight. I don't want to file a report, but it's better than having Rafiki swiped out from under me.
With two officers in front of me and two behind me, we reach the Malawi Road circle. A couple blocks later, I'm told to park Rafiki on the narrow sidewalk leading up to the tall Malindi Police Station.
Two plainclothes officers stand behind a counter in the fluorescent light of a worn-out, empty lobby. A long bench runs against the far side. Next to it is a large, tired table.
I lug my bag and keys in with me.
I hand the men my passport. No, I don't have the registration for the bike. It was stolen.
What else was stolen?
I give them a rundown of exactly what was stolen. Painfully, I watch the man write everything down into the log, uncertain letter by uncertain letter.
I'm handed a small piece of paper.
“How much are you going to give them for helping you?” asks the officer who brought me in and stayed to help translate.
“What? Oh, I don't know,” I say, quickly checking my wallet. I've got maybe 40,000 Shilling – 20 bucks.
I pull out two red 10,000 Shilling notes and hand them over.
“Okay, so you bring this back at 3pm to have the big guy sign off on it,” the officer says. Earlier, he was saying I needed to come in the morning, but now he seems confident that late afternoon on Friday will be fine.
Back on the road, I immediately stop and ask for directions to the hotel. I weave deeper into the maze of Stone Town, popping back out not too far from the police station. I ask directions again. This time, I find the road. At least I think it is.
There, below the smallest wooden sign, in a soft yellow light, sits Lila. In the peeked arch leading into the bed and breakfast, she's accompanied by an older security guard wearing a white button-up shirt.
Lila jumps me before I dismount Rafiki. She's been rushing in and out of the hotel, going between having the internet and waiting for me. It's past 1am now.
I'm in a daze.
The man is taking Rafiki away.
Lila is leading me up flights of stairs to her room