Day 319: Homesickness Sweeps In
I'm lucky enough to know that I'll always be able to find home with my family. Photo: Isaac 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.
I CAN'T push it aside any longer. The anxiety from being broke and phone-less in Africa turns my stomach. It's a deep sickness starting somewhere near my navel and creeping all the way up to my throat.
I just want to go home.
That's it. I want to go home.
Home is a funny thing for an expat on the road. Where is home for me at this point? The flippant answer of a false-nomad would be: I don't have a home.
That, of course, is not true. However, in the six years that I've been living outside of the United States, there have only been a couple moments that I've felt anything akin to homesickness. And even these were more moments of nostalgia than a sickness.
Lila is saddled up behind me on Rafiki as we race to Stone Town. The ferry leaves at 9:30 am. Her alarm went off at 6:30 am. She was wide awake. I, however, refused to accept the reality of a new day, preferring to float in and out of cuddles and naps as a cool sea breeze finds its way through the coconut palms and up the sandy road to our second-storey window. The fan above us rotates and rotates, gently swishing the air around the room.
It takes about 1:15 minutes to get to Stone Town from Paje. Lila, who has never seemed in a rush since landing in Zanzibar, only crawls out of bed – despite being awake she seems to prefer bed to most other places – because I point out that it's past 8 am. We should have left about half an hour ago.
Neither of us packed last night.
So, after a rushed pack-job, we're sailing toward Stone Town, keeping an eye on the drone bag that seems to be too loosely tied to the top of Liz's bag, which is strapped onto the back of Rafiki.
And it's in this moment, the relative solitude of being on a motorcycle, that the tentacles of anxiety, like those of the giant octopus on the cover of 20,000 Leagues Below The Sea, bloom in my gut and begin to climb my chest.
Where is home? The real answer. The real answer is much less mysterious and romantic than a false-nomad's answer. The real answer is that I'm am incredibly fortunate to have many places that I can call home. Home is in Phuket, where I started my first career and have friends who are as dear as family. Home is in Bloomington, Indian, my childhood home; a place that I can see in detail when I close my eyes. Home is Ossining, New York – a place I've never been before. However, it is this home that I want most. This is where my parents live, not far from Sing Sing Prison on the Hudson. This is where there is a guarantee of unconditional love, shelter, and food. This is where I can weather the storm.
We missed the 9:30 am ferry. The next one isn't until noon.
Up the street, I leave Lila with Rafiki in front of Malindi Police Station. Unlike every other time I've stepped into the building, there is nearly no waiting.
Within about 20 minutes, I have a single piece of A4 paper stamped and approved. Listed among the stolen items are the essentials: Vivo 3 Max smartphone, driving license; CORSCA insurance; import permit for Yamaha DT175.
At the bottom, almost humorously, it reads: No body has been arrested up to now, and the investigation is still going on.
Below that is the purple stamp of approval and the signature of the officer in charge.
“One down, one to go – do you mind if I buy a phone really quickly,” I ask Lila as I come out of the station, paperwork in hand.
We pull into the chaos of the bizarre, parking Rafiki among a pile of scooters, cars, locals, and men selling dates.
“Can you stay with the bike? I'm going to get a phone really quickly,” I ask Lila, after buying a couple hunks of sugary, fried dough from a woman rolling the donuts in bubbling hot oil in a pan on the sidewalk.
There is a bustling mobile phone kiosk on Benjamin Mkapa Road, it's sides wallpapered with boxes of Chinese smart phones, as well as Samsungs and iPhones.
“Hi, yeah, I'm looking for a replacement phone. Nothing too expensive though. Mine was stolen down in the south,” I say, hoping to elicit a little sympathy to take into the bargain.
“That's how it goes,” the kiosk owner, a man of Indian descent, says, an unsuppressed smile flickering across his face.
“So which is better, itel or techno?” I ask, after narrowing down the phones to something in my price range.
They're both designed to look like a Samsung Galaxy, though the memory, processing power and software leave much to be desired. If I didn't need a phone to fly Dorsey II, I might consider not buying a phone. However, I do need one to fly the drone.
“They're all made in the same place,” the man tells me.
“Okay, how much did you say the itel S11 is?” I ask.
The man's assistant bundles four or five phones into a white plastic bag and counts out a pile of cash a man on my side of the counter hands him.
I try to catch how much he's paying for the S11, but can't quite make it out.
I settle on the S11 and fork out about 75 dollars
“Can we stop at the market to get some fruit?” Lila asks when I return with the new phone in hand.
“Of course, the stalls are a couple blocks down the road.
We pop down on Rafiki. Now, it's my turn to wait, while Lila shops.
“Come on Lila, please come on,” I mumble into my helmet, as I maniacally rock back and forth on Rafiki in the parking lot in front of the Stone Town Market. The mumbling continues as the heat intensifies.
Again, we've failed to eat; the small sugar glazed fried dough we munched on moments ago hardly counts.
The heat is getting worse.
There's no shade, only the bright sun, its intensity slowly cooking my body as my mind seems on the verge of giving up.
What if I drove off right now. Drove off with all of her stuff, that would be a fucking twist, wouldn't it?
Of course, I don't. Instead, I wait. Knowing that she knows that I'm baking in the sun.
“Sorry,” Lila says appearing from one side of the market with a newspaper wrapped around some fruit.
“It's fine. I'm just cooking,” I say. “Let's go.”
“Sorry, yeah nobody was selling any interesting fruit in the market. The only table that was selling mangoseeds [mangostien] was actually outside of the market.”
“It's fine. Let's just get going, I'm dying in the sun right now.”
We pull into Stone Town Cafe. I turn on the new phone, which feels light and cheap. I pray that it works fine with Dorsey II. I know I should have bargained with the man and gotten a better price. I'm not sure how much I could have saved, but surely every Shilling counts at this moment in my life.
I ask Lila something as I start to sign into my Google account so I can download DJI Go 4, which is necessary to operate the drone.
Every time I go to hit the “0” for the password the phone types “)”. I try again and again with the same results. I turn the phone sideways and it works. The screen is glitchy.
I know I asked Lila something. Something about a self-sustaining place she was staying in Bolivia. I think I asked her where it was, but I stopped listening.
There's too much: there are my money issues; piles of my shit piled up next to me; the heat of my body and now this fucking cheap phone.
“I think I have to return it, right?” I ask Lila. “I mean, it cost 75 dollars, that's not super cheap. And it could be okay for typing, but what if I have an app and I need to click there, like for the drone.”
There's a near panic in my voice. It's the struggle of a small bait fish hooked and dragged to the bottom by a one-ounce weight.
“Yeah, of course,” Lila says. There seems to be a little hesitation in her voice. She's worried about me.
I repeat the question a few more times before jamming my unbuckled boots on and heading back to the kiosk.
Lila has finished her first cup of coffee when I return with a new phone. The man replaced it without protest. The newspaper she got at the market is spread flat on the wooden table. Three small, deep-purple mangosteen, a couple shriveled passion fruit and a pile of hairy red rambutan are attractively laid out on the page. She's cut open one of the passion fruits.
“Come feel this,” Lila says, holding out her sticky hands.
“I've just washed my hands, get those away from me,” I say.
A few moments later, I take Lila by her sticky hands and lead her toward the bathroom sink in the back of the cafe. There's the heavy smell of sandalwood incense.
Once the water is running, I take her hands, dipping them into the water before slowly lathering them up with soap, cleaning between her fingers. Each finger feels so tiny in my big hands. Gently, I rinse them.
“I don't think I've ever had someone wash my hands for me before,” she says.
“I'm not sure I've washed anyone's hands before either,” I say. There's something calm and intimate about cleaning another person's hands.
We start to walk back to the table when I feel a little something sticky between my fingers. I walk back to the sink.
“Did you just wash your hands again?” Lila asks. It's the third or fourth time I've washed my hands in the last five minutes.
“There was still some soap between my fingers.”
“You really are compulsive sometimes.”
It's true. At some point during my time abroad, I developed a number of compulsive habits. When I was younger, I liked the idea of compulsive habits, as they were so often linked to the quirky nature of eccentric geniuses. Even now, when I'm aware of them, I kind of like them. However, the bottom line is that if your hands feel dirty and you know washing them will make you feel better, you should wash them. Or, if your feet are hot for no apparent reason and putting them in cool water will help you sleep, then you should put them in cool water – even if it does seem strange. So, I wash my hands and put my feet in cool water and I feel better about things.
“I also have ticks when I get anxious, but they're just not as obvious,” Lila admits.
“How do you normally communicate with your family?” Lila asks, her small hands holding mine, her face open and earnest and concerned.
“Email and Skype.”
“Maybe you should try to Skype them soon.”
“It's fine. I'm just really anxious about the situation right now. I'm struggling, but that's okay. It's part of it all I guess,” I say.
Even last night, when we were laying under the stars on the raised platform of the beach, I found it easy to speak clearly with Lila about what's going on inside my head.
Having missed the previous ferry, I assumed that Lila would be a bit anxious about missing this one, at least that she would want to err on the safe side.
I am, it appears, wrong.
She told me that she wanted to get to the port by noon, which is a bit of a walk, but only a couple minute drive on the motorbike.
It's 12:03 when I point out the time.
“Do you have enough cash?” I ask. She'd mentioned she might not have enough Shilling and was trying not to put it on the card the trip on her card.
“I'm not sure,” she says.
“Okay, here take a little. I'm sure I owe you at least that much,” I say handing her some cash before we get on Rafiki and head to the port.
With ticket in hand, Lila lingers next to me and Rafiki near the circle. The local man who helped her figure out where to buy the ticket stands a few feet away. We both wish he'd leave.
He doesn't. So, I pull Lila up against me for a farewell kiss and deep embrace before letting her go.
Back at Stone Town Cafe, where I left my stuff, the internet speed is moving at a painful crawl. Even a simple Facebook message won't load. The speed is fluxing between 7kbps to maybe 43kbps. Then, at moments, disappears altogether. It's retarding simplest of tasks. I can only hope that it will be better at the resorts near The House of Giggles.
Flora writes. She wants to know if I'm okay.
“Hey! Yes, things are okay. I've got a new phone sorted -- it's a relatively cheap Chinese one, but I think I can fly my drone with it, which is what really matters at this point. I've got to charge it for 4 hours before leaving town. It will be done at 3pm, then I'll pick up my bags from my Couch Surfing Host and head your way. I expect to be there by 5 African time 😉,” I reply.
Mustafa is also back in Stone Town for one reason or another. I suggest he swings by the cafe to also get some work done while I wait for the phone to completely charge.
An hour after he says he'll arrive, Mustafa shows up.
He starts explaining how he's pitching promotional videos to hotels on the island. Trying to get them to put a little money into our pockets for something similar to what we did at Firefly Lodge in Bagamoyo. It's infuriating hearing how he's going about pitching them, but at least he's pitching.
Basically, he's telling them we're videographers (which I'm fine with), but that we don't have our equipment and we're trying to do anything to prolong our trips. It's a desperate angle that I can't imagine anyone would take seriously. Of course, Mustafa is a sincere charming man, so there is always the chance. However, given the fact that I'm carrying around drone and am, technically, a professional drone operator – I've been paid to do this on several occasion now – why not sell that. Instead, he talks about how he can do all the editing and shooting on his new iPhone, which simply cheapens our product.
“I don't think that's the best plan man. We need to present a more professional image,” I say.
“Dude, look at this situation. Anything is better than nothing. I mean we're not professionals...”
“Man, I really can't take any criticism right now. I'm doing my best to hold it together, but I'm struggling,” I say, my voice harsh, cutting him off.
Once I'm done with my little rant, it's obvious Mustafa is doing everything in his power not to storm off and tell me to go fuck myself. He manages.
“I didn't even finish,” he says.
“Sorry, I'm just trying to let you know where I'm at right now man.”
“If Jo [owner of Bagamoyo] goes for the price you pitched, I was thinking about that: that's like what I make in an entire month in just two days of shooting,” Mustafa says.
“Yeah, that's crazy. She's thinking about it. I'm sure she'll get back to us.”
“I hope one of the hotels gets back to us before I leave. Four free nights would be awesome.”
“Yeah, but I don't need the free nights man,” I say. It's true. Those free nights would end up costing me more money than staying at the permaculture place because there would be food and travel costs associated with them. I already have a place to stay.
“So I should turn them down?”
“No, of course not, it will be fun,” I say, trying reigning in my total asinine behavior.
The music files Mustafa wanted are done downloading. I return the SD card to him. There's lackluster goodbye and I'm alone again.
“Sorry for snapping off on you man. Really struggling to keep it together at the moment. I wouldn't be worried about Jo getting back to us. The door is open for her to make a counter offer. I think if we don't hear from her in a couple days though, we might want to check base with her by mentioning that you're leaving town on the 31st,” I write Mustafa.
“No worries bro .. ur going through a lot. Just let me know if i can help with anything.:
“Just cutting it WAY too close financially. Hard to be as chill as I usually am this close to the wire financially. I get the bike back to Kenya safely and am able to sell it, I can breathe... or if we get Jo to go for the promo video. At least the feedback she's getting is all top notch.”
“Everything is gonna fall into place hopefully.”
“It will without a doubt. Today is just especially bad. Had my first big wave of homesickness, which I've not really had in six years living abroad.”
Once everything is fully charged – which had to be taken care of before I left for The House of Giggles, since they don't have power – I swing by Mohamed's house to pick up the rest of my gear.
On the open road, the same road I took to Stone Town with Lila, I'm flying.
I'm not stopped at the checkpoint near Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, which is good.
Then, on a long stretch of salt whipped scrub land and coral rag boulders a man in a bright white uniform and equally white brimmed police cap waves me to a stop.
Two long strides puts the man towering over me and Rafiki.
“License and permit,” he demands.
His nose is so far turned toward God that his downcast eyes can barely find the insignificant human in front of him – me.
“Okay, so I have a police report...”
“No!” he says, slicing my sentence off. “This is Zanzibar! We have laws here. You must obey our laws.”
“Yes, of course,” I acquiesce. “But what I was saying is...”
He cuts me off again.
“Do you have a permit or not? Where is your permit? Show me your permit,” he demands, his chin not dipping for a second to see the world level-headedly.
By this time, I've managed to pull out the police report.
“Here,” I say, handing him the document, which I still had the strip of paper with the police officers name and number with me. However, they took it when they gave me the report.
“I see,” he says, a momentary hiccup in his damnation of my answers. However, it was only a small hiccup. “Where is the document from the Land Transport Office for this bike?”
“What? I have the Zanzibar permit,” I say.
“But where is the road tax form?”
Back on comfortable ground, he berates me for my failure to have some road tax form that I have never heard of and was never mentioned to me.
“Nobody said anything about it.”
“You must have it. You must get it right now.”
“Okay. I have to get it in Stone Town, but I'm headed to the south now. Can I get it tomorrow, please?”
It's already well past 5pm. It's not like I could secure the document before tomorrow.
“I will give you three days to get it. Today is Tuesday. You must have it by Thursday,” he says before curtly dismissing me with a vague threat if I failed to do so.
Slightly rattled, Rafiki and I roll into Kizimkazi thirty minutes later. Not long past dark, Rafiki's headlight cuts through the shrubs and coral rag road to The House of Giggles – to a home, at least for the time being.