Day 315: Roped into Historic Stone Town
The mixtures of cultures in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Stone Town. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli / Music: Turku Nomads
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 die lands on the white sheets of our bed. I say our bed, but in fact, it's Lila's bed. She's opened her door, hosting me at her hotel room while she's in Zanzibar.
About an hour ago, we crawled into the bed after our fifth cold shower of the day, falling asleep among countless tiny kisses. On waking, it was time to establish an evening plan, which was why the die was cast.
The list reads:
1) Go out for a drink somewhere.
2) Go get a bottle of booze from somewhere if we can find an open store.
3) Go get a snack.
4) Go out to see if music venue is still playing.
5) Go find something to tie Lila up with.
6) Go wander around Stone Town.
It's a five.
Lila's crawling toward me with a silly smile on her face, delighted at how uncomfortable the results of the roll have made me.
“You're the one who put the option on there,” she says, sneaking up for a kiss.
“I know, I know, but still...” I moan.
It's dark on the snaking streets of Stone Town. The city is safer than it feels. I know it is, but the way the narrow, windy roads press in makes me feel vulnerable after yesterday. I take a deep breath in and settle myself.
“Enjoying the beauty of the night, the feeling of the cobblestone roads beneath your feet,” I tell myself.
Nearly all the doors are shut.
One is cracked open. Instinctively, Lila meanders toward it, ready to slip through and explore.
“Don't do that,” I say. I love, though don't entirely approve, of the fact that she's so willing to just pop through any open door to see what's happening, even if it's someone's house. Isn't that great way for things to start?
“What door is that one?” Lila asks, pointing to one of the ornately carved doorways.
“It's an Indian one,” I say. “See the arch at the top.”
Stone Town is a city of doors.
The elaborately carved doors frames line the narrow streets of the historic town. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The doors are why I coughed up 15 dollars from what little money I have left for a tour this morning. I knew there would be other reasons to go on a Stone Town walking tour, but it was the doors, which seem to have a lot more to say than I could understand with out a translator, that made it necessary.
It's a slow morning. The room is floating in an ethereal white glow, the kind of soft lighting one expects in heaven, if one hopes that heaven does little more than comfort your soul. Lila and I wake, snuggle, go back to bed.
We wake again. She gets up for breakfast. I stay put, too exhausted from yesterday to be bothered.
“I'm so tired,” I moan when she comes back. “I couldn't figure out why then realized I had such a massive day yesterday. Just on an emotional roller coaster sort of thing.”
Lila places a small finger banana that she swiped from breakfast for me on a counter before crawling back into bed.
“So we're doing a Stone Town tour today, right?” I ask.
“If you're up for it, I'd like to.”
“The only plans I have for the day is to go back to the police station at 3pm to get the official report.”
There are a few things I want to take care of online as well, just in case I can track my phone now that I have WiFi. However, I'm determined not to let losing so many important documents and my phone destroy our long weekend together.
Only a couple days ago, I witnessed how quickly an interesting person can become poor company in Stone Town when they're preoccupied. I'm not going to let that happen. There's only so much I can do about the situation outside of being in this moment and refusing to allow the past to tarnish it.
Downstairs at the white-plastered tunnel entrance of Kiponda, a man, presumably one who works here, is sitting on a stone bench built into the wall. He makes a call to organize the tour for us.
Our guide, in a heavily worn t-shirt and saggy jeans with stylized rips across the knees, looks like a lanky punk yanked off the street.
“Welcome to our Stone Town tour. Today we will be exploring many aspects of the UNESCO World Heritage City. We will learn about the four doors of Zanzibar, visit the Spice Market,” he drones in a quiet, monotone voice, running through a well-rehearsed, professional introduction to the tour.
“Feel free to take pictures and ask lots of questions. The more questions, the better the tour,” he says without an ounce of enthusiasm. “Do you have any questions yet?”
We do not.
The guide's voice is even softer and more muffled when he speaks toward my left year. It's been having issues since Bagamoyo. I think it might be getting infected after I was unable to drain out some pool water. However, it doesn't hurt, yet.
Narrow, light brown mango leaves are strung together across the entrance of a number of the wooden doors close to the only Hindu temple in the city. Hindus believe that the mango leaves, most of which are plucked from the low-hanging branches of the large trees inside a ruined Portuguese fort on the seafront, bring the household good luck.
Dried mango leaves hang in front of a Hindu home for good luck. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
“There are zero percent Hindu, zero percent Christians and zero percent others on the island of Unguja,” the guide explains.
I glance at Lila I'm fairly sure he means there is less than one percent of people in those categories on the island, as zero percent could hardly sustain the two churches in Stone Town, as well as the Hindu temple.
It's a modest temple. There are minor shrines for Jayashree Hanuman, Shree Radhe Krishna, Shree Ganpatiji, the elephant-headed one, and several others.
In the full light of the sun beating down into the courtyard, their are pigeons eating from long troughs. Our guide doesn't know why there are so many pigeons or whether or not the shrine is trying to attract them.
It was a modest Hindu temple. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Lila and I wander through the simple sanctuary on our own. It's nothing like the elaborate, breathtakingly-beautiful Hindu temples one can find in George Town, Malaysia or even tucked away on Phuket. It's more of a curiosity on the Islamic island.
Out in public with our guide, Lila and I have toned down our affection, our hands only touching for brief moments. Our bodies leaning against each other as if we're only friends.
We quickly move through the shaded streets, blowing past open-doored shops, brightly colored paintings and African knick-knacks that have tumbled out onto the cobblestones.
“This is Jaw's corner,” the guide says.
The corner is a tiny plaza, ten-strides long and ten-strides wide. I've walked through it nearly every time I've come to Stone Town. A mural of Hollywood's greatest Great White Shark is painted on one of the walls. However, it's the wagging of jaws that gives the place its nickname, not the painting.
“It is a place where men come to talk about politics,” our guide says.
At the center of the plaza is an exceptionally tall pole. Stringers run from the pole to the buildings nearby, each rope burdened by the heavy pendants of a political party. Wooden benches are put out so men, it's exclusively populated by men, can lounge in the shade and watch a television hung up in one corner of the square as they sip tea or coffee brought to a boil over hot coals.
A good three meters up the pole is on old landline telephone. Next to it is a sign, which reads: Free International Calls.
Jaws corner is a place of politics. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The place feels festive. In the evening, someone dices up grilled octopus and sells it by the piece. Now, however, there is a man peddling local peanut squares that pair well with tea and coffee. A few men in their long kaftan and their round kufi hats gather around a game of mancala. In fact, several matches are in being played out as we walk through.
The enchanting Arabic city design of the winding streets among the tall buildings does its best to keep us out of the sun. The walls themselves remain cool to the touch until the sun catches them and begins to bake the plaster. Beneath the thick layer of plaster are thick piles of coral rag rubble framed up between teak and mango timbers.
Because Stone Town is an exemplary Swahili coastal trading town of East Africa, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. According to UNESCO, the town “retains its urban fabric and townscape virtually intact and contains many fine buildings that reflect its particular culture, which has brought together and homogenized disparate elements of the cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe over more than a millennium.”
We make our way through the plastered, lime-washed two-storey, three-storey buildings. An old bicycle is saddled with a wooden-framed, clear-sided box caked full of dates from Saudi Arabia or Dubai. We're getting close to Darajani Bazaar, the famous Stone Town market.
The market was once famous for its spices, especially clover grown on Pemba Island, while the slave market, elsewhere, in town was one of the last such markets open in the world.
Welcome to the famous Stone Town market. Photos: Elizabeth Narwold
Past the arching white plaster entrance, we find ourselves below a tiled dome, where the market splits. Ahead, is the heart of the market, where fresh fruits, veggies and, of course, spices are sold. To our right is the butchery with carcasses of animals hanging from meat hooks. Few of the animals are recognizable, most hunks dead of flush. Behind the butcher stands are tall round tree stumps deeply pitted at the center from countless years of being on the sharp end of a butcher knife. To our left is the fish market. Since I visited Capri at the age of 13 with family friends, I've been in love with fish markets. There are the pungent smells of fresh fish and sea salt. More importantly is the underwater bounty set out on ice, steel trays, and wooden planks.
If the fishing is good, there's the usual suspects: smaller tuna, barracuda, sardines, and several generic-looking fish. There's also mussels and shrimp and lobsters and squid and octopuses. However, what's exciting about browsing a local fish market is that fishermen are selling everything they pulled up from the ocean. Each day, there is some catch that is a bit strange, a bit of a surprise, a bit of a hidden treasure (though it's value is questionable). Today, there are two large leopard speckled moray eels as thick as my forearms – and that's saying something, as I've got the forearms of a climber and compulsive masturbater.
What can be regularly dragged out of the sea is always a wonder. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
My heart drops, however, when I spot a small reef ray, no longer than my arm, thrown up onto one of the metal trays. Below it, on the grubby dirt floor is another ray, one of its wings already sliced up into long strips, its cephalic lobes hanging limp. These creatures are one of the most enchanting, magical animals to hold a diver's gaze. They stir the soul with their intelligence as they fly through the water.
Though there are rays, I'm pleased to see no young sharks diced up for the grill, as can be found outside a number of seafood restaurants in Phuket.
Deeper inside the market, we find ourselves at a spice table, an orgy of smells that tickles the mind, unlocking notions, desires – an appetite. Our noses twitch with the desire to snort lines of the exotic smells of the freshly ground spices. There is a reason the archipelago was famously known as the Spice Islands during the spice trading era.
The heat of the tropical noonday sun is beating down on us. A bead of sweat clutches to the tip of my nose for a brief moment before joining countless others on the cobblestones below my bare feet. My sandals, which I haphazardly tucked into my luggage last night, were lost somewhere in my search for Lila, leaving me barefoot in the fish market and now barefoot on the sizzling stone walkways.
“Let's have a sugar cane juice,” I suggest, as it is without a doubt the most refreshing drink on earth – the British army and summer drunks can keep their gin and tonics.
“I've never tried it, but sure,” Lila says.
“What? You've never tried it? But it's so amazing! I remember the first time I tried it in Egypt – on my gap year. I thought it was the drink of gods.”
We're on New Mkunazini Road, where my favorite sugar cane juice vendor is setup.
I order two glass mugs.
The man inspects a long, hard piece of cane leaning against a wall, then slices off the bottom and top before splitting it lengthwise. The blue grinder chokes to life, the wheels like those on a steam roller creating enough room for him to feed the cane through, crushing it as they go around and around. Crushing it and squeezing out a thin, yellow juice. The cane is run through the far side of the grinder, where the wheels run more closely together. Then, the stalk is folded up and run through several more times. Finally, the man slices up a small, yellow-spotted lime and runs that through with the cane to add a hint of citrus to the drink.
The man ladles up two heavy glass mugs of the juice, pouring it through a strainer before handing them to us.
Sitting on the edge of a sidewalk, our backs against the wall we drink.
“It's amazing, right?” I say.
“I thought it would be sweeter. It's perfect.”
Someone comes out of the building that we're sitting next to. A cold gust from the air-conditioned building tickles the sweat on our bare skin. It's been so long since I've had the pleasure of air conditioning. It's probably as hot in Phuket as it is here. However, in Phuket everywhere is air conditioned. There's a 7-Eleven on every corner, and it's not entirely unusual to pop in and browse their exotic crisp section just to take a break from the heat. However, here, on the east coast of Africa air conditioners are as thin as the air at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro – if not thinner.
Our tour putters past the house of Freddy Mercury, where Lila and I have a photo taken with us in the doorway.
“What? You don't know who Freddy Mercury is?” I scold Lila. “He's a legend. He's the heart of Queen!”
“Oh, yeah. I know Queen.”
“If it makes you feel better, I had no idea who he was until a couple days ago when I read the signs,” I admit.
There are a number of long explanations of who Freddy Mercury – born Farrokh Bulsara – was and about his life. Born right here in the house in front of us, his musical talent wasn't recognized until he was in attendance at a boarding school in India, and the rest is history with which most – the clearly not Lila or myself – are familiar.
“It looks out of place, doesn't it?” Lila asks.
“Yes, it really doesn't fit in.”
The windows of the house, which has since been turned into a hotel, look a bit too square. There's something in the design that feels like it's from the 80s – unlike the rest of the UNESCO World Heritage site.
Overlooking Forodhani Park, the outer walls of the Portuguese fort and rounded fortified towers appear to be transplanted from some King Arthur legend. Though it once was armed with iron cannons turned toward the sound, it is now in ruins. Through as side entrance, we find ourselves on a large, grassy field with local shacks selling African-style paintings, wood carvings, t-shirts, and all sorts of souvenirs. The stalls cling to the side of the walls, perhaps in hopes of finding shade, while a dirt path is worn through the open field. In the shade of a gnarly mango tree established in one corner are a number of wide women sitting in plastic chairs, offering to do weaves, braids, and other types of typical African hairstyles.
Lila wanders toward a far wall, her sarong tight around her waist. I follow behind. She's drawn to the crumbling tower in the corner. It would be possible to follow a steep dirt and rubble path to the top, though it might be a down-on-hands-and-knees sort of scramble. Instead, she veers toward the other tower. A rickety set of stairs made from thin metal bars and wooden planks leads up to the ramparts. Carefully, we pick our way up, stepping over the holes created by missing planks.
At the top, in the shade of a tower, we lean into a doorway. I steal a kiss, as she affectionately presses against. The door behind us opens.
“Karibu,” says a smiling man's face as a blast of air conditioning escapes his office.
He invites us in.
“Asante sana,” we say, thank him for his hospitality, but remaining on his doorstep, instead of coming in.
Who would have thought a small tour agency would be hiding in the tower?
We walk along the outer wall to another tower, this one housing a gallery for local artists. The tall, rounded walls are covered with a large assortment of paintings varying drastically in style and subject matter – though all retaining an African element. Two working men seem unperturbed by us poking around and taking advantage of the large fan sweeping across the room.
There's some clutter around a spiraling metal staircase to the top, but no sign saying we can't go. I hesitate. However, knowing that this is exactly the sort of thing Lila loves, I push on up, half prepared for one of the men to stop us.
Neither of them does.
The top of the tower is in disarray. There's a large pile of discarded paintings, some of them once good enough to sell to tourists, though far from master pieces. Some have fallen from their frames, while others have twisted their frames in the heat. The walls are too tall for us to gain a sweeping view of the bay and the small stone window frames are angled down so ancient guards could keep their eyes and guns on more immediate threats.
On the other side of the fort's single, internal wall is a stone amphitheater, more shops, and few restaurants.
Our guide explains that shows are still regularly put on in the amphitheater. In fact, outside, we spot a sign mentioning that a local music performance will be happening tonight. The entrance fee is a modest 5,000 Shilling.
Not even a stone throw away from the fort is the House of Wonders. The building rises far above the rest of the city. It's clock tower still steadily keeps time, its face pointing out to the bay under a small steeple roof and what appears to be a Christian cross, though perhaps it is simply a lighting rod.
Three-storey classic Greek columns rise up from the base of the building setting it apart from all the other architectural marvels in Stone Town. Two cannons, rusted and nonfunctional, are propped up on either side of the wide, double-door entrance. There is an arch above the door frame, which would mark it as an Arabic door, if not for the small bump carved on top – a crown, marking it as a royal house.
Out front, our guide points out the tiny leaves of a henna tree, explaining that the leaves are set out in the sun for two weeks before being ground up and used for henna. The intricate designs from the light brown skin dye, however, are not for unmarried women, he notes.
It's a bit of relief when our guide tells us that we're done with the tour. It's been interesting, but I've not eaten and I'm hot and my feet are hot and I've gone a soggy from all the sweating.
Back in the room, I pop my head out of the shower.
“Want to join me for a cold shower?” I ask.
I suds up Lila, holding the shower head in my hand, running the cold water through her auburn hair before turning it back on myself. Padded dry with a fresh towel, we curl up in bed and drift off for a short nap before I have to return to the police station.
“It shouldn't take long at all, they just need to give me the official police report,” I tell Lila.
We plan to meet back at the hotel in about an hour.
I arrive at the station hungry and barefoot. I flash my slip of paper to one of the two men who helped me last night. The heavy set man, points me toward a bench to wait my turn.
A distraught woman sits on a bench at the table I sat at last night. Everyone can hear what she's saying to the detective. Is it a domestic violence issue, I wonder. A man involved in the case is sitting on the steps outside, smoking a cigarette.
Without understanding a word of what's being said I feel my protective biases taking over. If someone asked me who was the victim, I'd say the woman. I'd say the woman was a victim and that she deserves justice. Is this the case? I have no idea.
The woman is in silent tears as she keeps gesturing toward her phone, as if some proof might exist on the device. The detective doesn't make a move to check it.
The man is brought in for questioning. He talks loudly and keeps glancing at me and the other guys on the bench, as if to say: You know how women are.
At some point, the woman is brought into a back office to talk with a female detective – or someone I presume is a detective. The man who was smoking a few minutes ago continues to showboat, eventually ending with both him and the detective sharing some big smiles.
I watch them talk for awhile, wondering when I'm going to get my slip of paper and be done with this nonsense.
I young guy saddles up next to me on the bench and does his best to make small talk. I'm not particularly interested in small talk. I'm interested in my piece of paper. However, I do my best to be polite.
The conversation dies. He rekindles it. It dies. He rekindles it again.
“Any idea why this is taking so long?” I impatiently ask him.
It seems that no matter how patient you become and how much you learn to adjust, you're pushed farther and farther beyond what seems reasonable. Nobody has told me what the hell is going on. I've caught the eye of both detectives I paid last night and neither has told me why I'm sitting here waiting or what I'm waiting for.
“Patience, he is coming,” the young man says.
“I have been patient. But what's going on?”
“Hakuna matata,” he says.
People fucking love saying hakuna matata when your worries are not their worries. It's nonsensical this hakuna matata, as well as them serving up the popular translation “no worries”, as if we don't get the drift.
“I just want to know what's going on.”
“Hakuna matata, no worries man,” the guy says, again.
“Dude, no worries for you. I've just had all my stuff stolen. It's not hakuna matata. It is a problem. That's why I'm here. If it was hakuna matata, then I wouldn't be here,” I nearly shout at the poor guy.
“Calm down, it's okay.”
“Okay for you,” I say. “Not okay for me.”
I need to eat something.
“I'll be back,” I say.
Out on the street, I make my way down to an Indian vendor's shop and buy some chunks of bread and a Stoney Tangawizi.
Gnawing on the piece of bread, I settle back into my seat.
The fat detective in the same washed-a-million-times gray polo he wore last night has stepped outside for a smoke. I join him outside.
“What's going on?” I ask.
“Waiting for the big boss to get back. He went out. He should be back soon.”
“Are you sure? Maybe it's better if I come back tomorrow? My girlfriend is waiting on me and she's going to be angry that it's taking me so long,” I say with a bit of a boyish grin.
“Tomorrow is the weekend. He doesn't work. He'll be back.”
When does come back, the big boss does come back, he informs me that it's too late. It's too late to stamp a fucking piece of paper for me.
The office is closed now.
I need to come back tomorrow morning, maybe around 10am.
Stepping out of the office and into the five-o'clock sunlight I'm elated, a weight has slipped from my shoulders despite the lack of progress – at least I'm not waiting in that damn office anymore.
I get completely turned around in the maze of streets trying to find Lila's hotel, popping up on the far side near the Freddy Mercury House.
“Hey man, we've got shoes,” someone calls at me. I've looked at a few pairs of flip flops on my way through the maze, but only have 5,000 Shilling in my pocket, not nearly enough money to buy shoes.
“Sorry, I don't have enough money right now.”
“Come. Look. What size?” the rasta guy with thin dreadlocks asks.
He finds the right size for me.
“How much? Maybe I'll come back and buy them.”
“They're 20,000 Shilling,” he says.
“Oh, that's too much for me.”
“How much can you pay?” calls out as I start to walk away.
“10,000, but I only have 5,000 with me.”
“Okay, no problem. You give us 5,000 now and you can come back and pay the rest later,” he says.
“Really? Awesome. What's your name?”
His name is Jesus, his partner's name is Power. So Jesus Power hooks me up with flip flops for 5,000 Shilling and a promise of 5,000 more.
Lila is patiently curled up on a couch upstairs, starting The History of Love, the book I finished a couple days ago.
“Sorry, that took so long. I didn't get the right paperwork, but I did get shoes,” I say with a smile, hopeful that she's not going to be pissed that I'm 90 minutes late.
After dinner at the night market in Forodhani Park, Lila and I wonder toward Baboo Beach Cafe.
The rasta man hobbles toward us, hands out stretched, holding cheap necklaces with emblems the shape of the continent made out of plastic stamped in China.
It's the same bum that approached Mustafa and me in Forodhani Park the first night we were in Stone Town. We'd both blanked the dirty man as we sipped our coffees at a metal table. His pitch droned on about being from Nigeria and being Christian and we didn't care. We didn't want to buy cheap, tacky necklace.
Tonight, there's something different in his eyes, there's desperation etched on his face. Or maybe I just recognize desperation that I failed to see the first time.
“Can you buy something?” he asks.
“We don't want anything,” I say.
“Please, you have to help me. I'm Christian. I'm from Nigeria. They hate Christians. They're going to through me in jail.”
“The police said if I don't pay them tonight. They'll throw me in jail. I don't have enough money. I can't go back to jail here,” he says, tears brimming below his faded eyes. “They need 40,000 Shilling tonight.”
Something shifts inside of me. After yesterday. After yesterday, when despite having an incredible network of friends and family, I felt so vulnerable, there is an empathy that was never there before. What's it like to be a Nigerian in an African nation that does not want you? Scraping by without family or friends or a Christian community?
Of course, the man could – and most likely does – have some serious drug habits. But to go to jail because you can't find two pennies to rub together?
I don't think I've once reached into my pocket and given anyone begging for money a shilling since I arrived in Africa. It is against policy. Having a policy allows me to look a child sniffing glue to stifle his hunger in the eye. Look him in the eye and recognize that he is a person, a desperate person, but what he's asking from isn't going to help. It allows me to look at the larger picture, where this is an epidemic that can't be cured with a tiny handout. A picture where individuals are lost.
I look at Lila.
She looks back at me.
He catches my hesitation and runs with it.
“Anything man, anything and maybe they'll let me be. I'll give you all these,” he says, shoving the necklaces toward us, tears trickle past the sunspots on his dark face.
“I don't have that much money,” I say. “Lila, do you have any cash on you?”
“I'll pay you back. I'll sell these and I'll pay you back.”
Lila hesitates, but then checks.
We give the man 17,000 Shilling – eight bucks.
He takes the money without even a thank you, slipping it away, nearly as quickly as he himself disappears, taking his necklaces with him.
We stand for a moment in the wide, dark road. It doesn't feel right, but I can't imagine not having dipped into my wallet this time.
“I don't know,” I say. “I never do stuff like this. What's your general policy?”
“I don't like to give people money. Maybe food, because you know exactly what they are getting and it's something they need.”
“Yeah, I don't even do that. But after last night, I don't know, I'm getting soft I guess. I'm sure it won't last.”
Taking Lila's small hand in mine, it seems that we're nearly always in contact, as if any other state is unnatural, we continue our walk.
“Let's go in!” Lila says, dragging me toward the Park Hyatt Zanzibar as soon as she spots the beautiful facade of the double-building hotel.
One of the two buildings, Mambo Msiige, dates back to the 17th century, its architecture a natural combatant to the heavy tropical eat as it blends Swahili, Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements. The buildings are rich in history, having served as a hospital for European soldiers during WWI.
We slip into the elegant lobby like we belong there, making our way to the infinity pool and deck in the back, which overlooks a narrow beach and the ocean.
It must have rained while we were napping earlier, as the wooden deck is wet and the cushions on the sun loungers have been removed. The ocean is dark, but not black, catching cold moonlight on a warm night.
Giddily, Lila points at a couple geckos prowling the sand-washed walls of the white building, their opaque bodies dancing toward the outdoor light fixtures, hunting insects.
“Yeah, in Thailand we have huge geckos. They're as long as your forearm,” I say.
Smiling at the lizards we, lay back on one of the loungers, our eyes drifting up to the sky.
“Do you ever think about the stars?” Lila asks.
“A friend told me once that you shouldn't spend time with a guy who never thinks about the stars.”
“You're friend's ridiculous, but do you know what I think they are?”
“Big balls of burning gas. 'Everything is gas to you Pumba',” I say, smiling.
“What? Where is that from?”
“The Lion King. Don't you remember the Lion King?”
“How do you remember all this stuff?”
“I don't. I always bungle quotes. I'm pretty sure I'm just paraphrasing.”
We talk about the stars for a bit, watching the tiny white dots faded by the lights of the Park Hyatt. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a security guard moving, but we look like we belong here. There are no issues.
“Okay, want to explore more?” Lila asks.
Like two children let loose in a museum, we wander from hall to hall, testing doors, testing chairs, momentarily even taking in the sketch art in the library.
Upstairs balconies overlook a modest courtyard, thick with shrubs and an ornate fountain, an ideal place to lounge with a notepad while drinking an old fashioned and pondering the world one sip at a time.
I'm ready to leave before Lila, her appetite for exploration is insatiable. With a stupid grin on my face, I finally manage to pull her out of the hotel. I miss this kind of energy, this kind of wide-eyed taking in of so much. If she wasn't here, I wouldn't consider wandering into the hotel to explore as an option – it's funny how often we limit our options (rarely seeing strawberries). Alone, I would have wandered up and down streets I already know and probably would have ended the evening with a pot of coffee at the Stone Town Cafe.
Together, we make our way to Baboo Beach Cafe, it's a place I need to share with Lila. It's a gem, a hidden gem that I'd discovered, a place she would appreciate.
The die orders us a date shake, which neither one of us is particularly excited about, but the Die's Will will be done. It's the last of our money, and, again, I say “our” when I mean Lila. I'd forked out all my money to the Nigerian. She'd been smart enough to save a few thousand shilling so we could have a drink together.
The shake arrives. It's not bad. It's somehow reminiscent of blended carrot cake with dates – too many dates.
A small rowboat pushes toward a floating bar in the distance.
“We could go back and get some money. Then, check it out,” I suggest.
“We can make that an option.”
Walking back along the beach, we watch a group of young boys play with a puppy in the sand, the waves lapping at the soft shoreline nearby. Ten minutes later, we find ourselves back at Forodhani Park, and then back at our hotel.
After a nap and rolling the die, which lands on a five, which dictates that we have to find rope with which to tie Lila up, we step outside.
The city is closed. It closes early and stays closed. The streets are dark, the only sound being a distant scooter engine rumbling back and forth between the narrow walls binding the streets together.
I take comfort in the fact that I don't actually have to tie Lila up tonight. We just have to find rope. I pull at a scrap of string in a dingy corner of one of the streets, holding it up for Lila to look at. She's not impressed. The hunt is desperate – we've yet to spot a single open store.
I know that down by the market, where Stone Town snuggles up against Zanzibar City, there are places that sell ropes and cords and strings and ribbons. However, I doubt they are open at this late hour.
It's at about this moment, as I start seriously weighing our options, that Lila spots an open door and I have to stop her from wandering into someone's house.
Up ahead, there is the warm glow of an open shop. It's just a wooden counter flopped out of a wide, open window with chicken wire across its face. Behind the wire is a thick woman in a headscarf, standing among a bounty of candies, wash detergents, drinks, cheap toys, and packaged foods.
“There! There's a clothes line, we could use that rope,” I say, pointing at a package of rope with plastic clothes pins.
We buy the rope and a plastic green bicycle toy with a sucker sticking out of the saddle, to which Lila and I took a fancy.
Already out and about, we push toward the other side of town, curious to see what's open.
The famous Lukmaan restaurant on New Mkunazini Road is shutting down when we arrive. A few steps past it, before the turnoff for the Anglican Cathedral, there are vendors standing at a row of well-lit carts folding up Zanzibar pizzas, grinding frothy mugs of sugar cane juice and even one hacking up the purple tentacles of a grilled octopus.
“Want to try some octopus?” I ask.
“I don't know.”
“Here, I'll get some and you can try mine. Octopus is the best.”
Lila nibbles at a piece, confirms that it's “okay”, and leaves me to eat the rest.
We begin the journey back to our room.
The narrow street we're on spills into cobbled square filled with music, but not a single person. The moon banishes the shadows from the square, pressing them against the buildings. The music takes us by the wrist, the Islamic rhythms and melody starting to guide us. The sound pours out from a golden crack between two large wooden doors of a mosque. The energy and beauty of the party inside blooms in our imaginations.
Lila wants to go in. I hesitate.
“Go for it,” I say, moving away from the doors toward the other side of the square. “I'm not going.”
Lila walks toward the door, but catches a head shake from a man on the far side of the square. We hadn't noticed him, but he must have been watching our absurd dancing moments ago.
At the junction in the thick maze of streets, there is a round shouldered man standing behind a cart piled with kettles and metal containers
A handful of men are spread out around him, sitting in the shadows on the narrow raised stone strips running along the homes, like truncated public porches.
He pours us two shots of coffee from the long spout of a kettle warming over glowing embers. I take the tiny porcelain cups back to Lila before returning for food.
He's out of the peanut brittle that they sell at Jaws Plaza. All he has left are thick pieces of a soft, foamy, round bread.
Lila and I say nothing, listening to the sounds of the men sipping their coffees in the silence of the city, like a soft breeze pushing through the tightly woven branches of a hedge maze.
“I like traveling with you,” Lila says after a few minutes. “Otherwise, I wouldn't be eating any of this.”
“Yeah, I always eat on the streets when I can. I like the food.”
I get us another round of coffee, all of it amounting to less than a dollar or two.
We're nearly back. At least back to the part of town that I was entirely lost in last night, which means we are close. But just as last night painfully proved, close isn't always enough.
“I have no idea where we are. I know we're close, but where is the hotel?” I ask.
Lila smiles. She knows exactly where we are.