Day 320: Discovering Dirt and a Safety Net
Get a bird's eye view of The House of Giggles. Video: 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.
SET between the domes of The House of Giggles, the sun emanates a vibrant, tangerine glow from below the horizon. The scrubs that manage to collect enough of soil to survive, like crows desperately pecking at pieces of foil, stretch out to the eastern horizon. The western horizon is dotted with coconut palms digging into the sand along the Zanzibar coast. But now, the west is a dark blue and the sun is rising where one expects it to rise against another horizon in another place.
The cement floor on the open balcony in front of the domes is exceptionally hard. I've learned that not all ground or floor is equal when it comes to sleeping, and this particular platform is hard.
There was a light sprinkle last night. Any rain is needed, so it's good that the clouds opened up for a moment, though not great for those of us sleeping under the stars. Flora, who is also sleeping on the uncovered balcony, but at a measured distance from me, moved downstairs to one of the hammocks, as did I. Though once the rain was finished, I returned to the floor, as I didn't like how the hammock cocooned me, bending my back, curling my body.
In the early morning light, Flora's figure is a shadow as she goes through her morning yoga practice next to me. The House of Giggles slowly comes to life. The sounds of people moving and talking and laughing come from below as I remain in the shade of the domes with my eyes closed, savoring the fleeting moments of sleep between the laughs and muffled voices.
Nearly an hour later, Mwanzi, one of the locals who's helped with the project from the start, is taking Carlos, a nearly 27-year-old volunteer from Venezuela, to fetch soil for one of the beds.
“I'll come along,” I say, fresh from hanging up my sleeping bag in the sun.
It looked as if they were about to leave at that very moment. But, I think very little happens “at that very moment” “ here.
Instead, Mwanzi wanders off to do something else and Carlos settles in on the cement ledge of the empty pond that will one day be an aquaculture. He sits near “Mama” Megan. Mama Megan is in her late 20s. She a beautiful hippy and not a mother, but the local chief of this little tribe of which I'm momentarily a part.
“Mind if I take a hit?” Carlos asks.
“Sure, most people aren't a fan of wake and bake here,” she says, passing him the joint.
The marijuana here is soft, they say. I've yet to try it here and am not particularly interested in having any at the moment. Soft is good for the morning, it gets you into a flow without putting you back to bed.
“If this was California kuush, you'd go back to bed in an hour,” Megan says with a laugh.
I'm feeling quite. So, I listen to them talk. Their conversation wanders to trimming weed in California, where you can make 600 to 1,000 dollars in a day depending on how efficient you are.
Mwanzi, Carlos, and I push a wheelbarrow down a bush path that leads toward Twiga Beach Bungalows. There's another shovel and wheelbarrow somewhere down the path, past the soil pit, Mwanzi goes to find it, while Carlos scrapes shovel fulls of dessert-dry, dusty soil into the wheelbarrow we have with us. It's a dark, healthy soil that gives a few low-growing weeds life.
His shovel finds a spot a couple inches deep for a full shovel of dirt.
Once Mwanzi arrives with the second shovel and wheelbarrow, I get to work.
I kept telling myself that physical labor was going to be good for my soul. There comes a point where a person is too disconnected from physical labor, too disconnected from their body, they lose power.
The shovel scrapes into the coral rag bedrock fractions of the inch below the surface as I dig in.
The morning sun is already hot.
It's a harsh environment here, even this close to the coast. When you're right up against the azure waters, it doesn't seem harsh at all, it seems magical. However, five minutes walk away from the Indian Ocean, harsh seems to be more than an adequate word choice.
Shoulders taught and elbows locked out, I begin pushing one of the wheelbarrows back to the garden. It's a seven or eight-minute walk from the soil patch to the compound. My arms feel the weight of the wheelbarrow as we walk, its tire jogging against large pieces of coral rag.
Imagine what could be done in a whole day. How much soil could be moved? Maybe I could move 10, 20 barrels in a day. Surely that would make me worthy contributor, would merit my existence at the little commune. A free-loader stayed here for 11 days without doing almost anything. He simply went to the resort nearby and slept here for free. They never said anything to him. So it's not that I can't get by doing the minimum. It's that the weight of doing so little would be more of a burden then doing at least my fair share.
As vulnerable as I feel right now – I'm the kind of vulnerable that lives in your gut like a parasitic worm – I don't want to risk seeming like a freeloader.
Flora passes by us as we're heading back for a second load of dirt.
She gives me a big wet sip of cold water from her bottle.
A couple more loads later, the sun has climbed high into the morning sky, gathering intensity. We pull up into the cool shade of the house.
“Do you mind if I borrow a bottle of water and give you another one after I go to the village?” I ask.
Flora agrees, but seems a bit unhappy about it. She's been distant since I arrived. That warm glow of motherly love had justifiably evaporated with the realization that I'd spent last six days with a girl I know from Bagamoyo.
Megan is sitting in the open common area teaching Carlos how to make a dream catcher.
I pace from the hammock back to the room, back to the hammock back to the room. The anxiety is winning at the moment and I know it. I want to be somewhere where people already know me. Somewhere where people already love me. Everyone is open, but in their own jam here.
I draw up a list of things that are bothering me.
I need to shit. Mwanzi said to use the toilet, but the girls say it's not such a good idea. I'm on their side, but ask around to confirm.
The compost toilet is a shit-show with thick white maggots crawling in the urine bowel and feces piled up so high that it's easy enough to see it shifting with life. I've taken dumps in worse places – there was this bus stop in Ghana where the entire basin below the toilet rim was white with the thickest maggots I'd ever seen. Not a fan of having to use a similar facility for the next month, I chose the great outdoors.
Squatting down in the bush, over the hard coral rag, yellow urine comes gushing out the front and thick yellow curry comes out the back. If you served that poo in a bowl with a side of rice in an Indian restaurant – smell aside – people would be impressed with the way it looked. The taste would be a different issue altogether. I wipe my ass as well as I can with some tiny leaves and then pile several stones on top of the curry.
A trail of small cow droppings leads back toward the commune. I wonder if this is one of the places they collect the manure for the gardens. Perhaps I'll be back to pick up the little turd treasures tomorrow afternoon.
Back in the room, in the hope that I will find solace in taking inventory of all that I have with me – all that I own – I begin to unpack my bags and flip through my paperwork. It turns out that I do have a copy of Rafiki's Kenyan registration, which is a good start. However, I'm missing copies of many other documents that I desperately need. I make a mental note to check Google Photos to see if pictures of any of them are backed up online.
I want to reach out to someone. I'm tempted to reach out to Lila, as she can best understand my situation. But I decided not to. It makes everything complicated and I don't want to keep seeming so weak and vulnerable in front of her.
Instead, I reach out to Ms. Meat, a dear friend of mine from Phuket who has moved back to the UK. I'm not sure why I reach out to her, as her buoyant positive responses sometimes get under my skin, the words tumbling from her fingers as if she's not heard what I said. But I know she does. And I know she deeply loves me. And I know she greatly cares about me. And It's mutual.
“Are you ok?” she asks.
“I'm struggling for sure.”
“How? Money emotion the end new things...”
“Feeling vulnerable, tired. Ready for this to be over.”
“Yes, those two really penetrate the soul. So many people waiting for you back home. Wud love to hug you now. Yes, but it's getting there. What do you need?” she asks.
“Would rather you swept me away. Not sure a hug covers it.”
“Have you got ur ticket home booked?”
“So you have a way home. It's as you said, just getting thru the time!”
“I'm down to less than 500 dollars for 61 days. I'm staying at a start up permaculture for the next month. Lost proof of insurance, motorcycle import permit, yellow fever book, and phone. Flights from Nairobi. I'm in Zanzibar. It's just anxiety. I know it”
“Of those things lost, how much do you need them?”
“The situation isn't as hard as I think. There's a chance for me to make money while I'm here with the drone. It's just the way anxiety is attacking me.”
“Of course and it's understandable... a tall order!! I'm gonna pay you for a future climbing trip in the US that you have to take me on as I can't make it to you now. What the quickest way for me to send it to you?
“Hahahaha, you're coming climbing in America with me??????? Can we go to the Red river gorge?
You really don't have to pay me. You know your company is the most precious thing.”
“But of course, I'll look into it. And yes, I know, that's a giver, but as I can't come now this commits me to a future visit 😉.”
It's what I needed to hear. I know it when I read it. It is a tall order. This is a tough spot and she gets that. And I love her more for getting that and saying the right thing at the right time. The anxiety loosens its grip on my chest, as I continue to re-organize my belongs, preparing for a 30-day stint here and then 31 more days of Dice Travels.
No sustainable drinking-water system is in place at the commune. It's the only cost we have per day. I day dreamed of rationing my water consumption to 1.5 liters per day, cutting my daily-living costs from a dollar to 50 cents. It's a ridiculous idea. I'll be lucky to keep my consumption to three liters a day with this work and this heat.
“Carlos, I'm headed into town to grab some waters, you ready?” I ask. “Anybody else need anything?”
Everybody else is set, besides Mama Megan who notes that we need petrol for the generator to get the water pump going again – not the water is drinkable, but it keeps the place running.
“We're headed into town now. How much will it be?”
It's about 12,000 Shilling. Though Megan says something about everybody chipping in and then getting reimbursed when Heather gets back, nobody moves to collect money, which is fine, as Carlos has enough to cover.
“Water, weed, and gas,” says Carlos, a rasta fanatic who is now based in Barcelona. Carlos' hair is shoulder length and naturally wavy, though it's on the verge of dreading. He's loud and happy and constantly carrying his end of a good conversation. I was pleased that he wanted to join me to pick up water. It's nice to have a buddy with whom to do errands.
We're dripping wet with sweat by the time we pick up water and find the fruit vendor, not far from granddaddy baobab, who also sells oil and petrol.
Carols buys a soda for 500 Shilling. I refuse, then cave. It's only 25 cents and my body craves the cold sugar water.
“Look at the ingredients in this: carbonated water, sugar, other approved sweeteners. They have sugar and sweeteners in this,” I say, passing the drink to Carlos and then his local buddy who we met up with under the baobab.
My shoulders hurt from carrying the six pack of water and gas canister. I switch sides and then switch sides again. Then let Carlos carry the gas can for a bit while I put the water on my head, holding it in place with one arm.
Everyone is still chilling at the commune when we return. It's not until about 4pm, as some of the bite of the sun starts to fade, that people rustle up from naps or whatever they were doing to pass the hottest hours of the day.
I'm still trying to read the Number One Lady Detective of Botswana. The critics rave in their reviews.
I say the critics are raving mad. The book is rubbish. It's hard to enjoy it, but I'm trying and will continue to try, as it's the only book I have with me. Hopefully, the lodge that we charge our devices at will have some books for which I can swap.
Flora has pulled on a black baseball cap and is working in one of the nearby gardens.
I say gardens, though there's no real word for what most of these are yet. They are in various stages of construction, though some do, without a doubt, pass as rugged gardens. Others, such as the one Flora is working in is nothing of the sort. It's simply an amoeba shaped area set apart from the rest of the grounds by large coral rag rocks. Inside this particular garden is a bed of cardboard, piles of long-thorned acacia bramble, and soil rich with coral rag rocks and pebbles.
Flora is making through path to the garden, as it's too big. In the process, she's pulling off the brambles and sifting the small stones from the soil.
“Mind if I help?” I ask, worried about typing on my computer as those out front are working in the golden light of the late-afternoon sun.
Crouched down along the bed, I help sort out the tiny pebbles, feeling the dusty like soil fall away. I'm overly cautious around the painful acacia thorns, though my precautions only help some of the time. Often enough, the thorns find their way through my flip flops, stabbing me in the foot despite my best efforts.
“In permaculture, you're not supposed to dig at all, only add on with things that you find in the surrounding area,” Flora explains. “So I'm cheating a little by digging up the rocks, but the soil is too good to waste.”
Flora, like everyone here, is learning permaculture on the fly. The no dig thing is something she uncovered a week or so ago.
It's good to work together.
“Wow, it goes so much faster with two people,” Flora says, stepping back from the completed path.
I move on to carrying some flat rocks over to Baby Da Da, who is a 19-year-old German girl who's been here for a couple weeks and gives the rest of the girls serious cases of the giggles along with all kinds of happy energy. Most of them admit that they weren't nearly as cool as Baby Da Da (Baby Sister in Swahili) when they were her age.
I might not have been as cool either. But then again, at that age, I'd left for Europe on my first big solo trip and ended up busking on the streets of several of the big cities, tossing fire clubs and big knives up into the air as part of the juggling act. But that doesn't compare to taking on Africa like she is.
“Mwanzi, come here please!” Baby Da Da calls out. In her eagerness to build the flat-stone path from the bathroom to the shower, she's shoveled into the waterline.
Mwanzi turns off the water to stop the split from spraying and everyone goes back to whatever they were doing it.
It's not until Flora, who doesn't want to cook tonight, mentions that she can't cook without the water that I ask Mwanzi what needs to be done to fix the pipe.
Thankfully, it's only a small hole, so once it's wrapped up in duct tape, we have water. However, the shower has inexplicably stopped working.
Baby Da Da points the hose straight up in the air.
“We can shower together,” she says.
We stand out in the African soil and catch the water in our hair. I wash my hands and feet, cleaning up before yoga with Flora, whose offered to do an evening session with all of us.
“Isaac, are you coming on the boat tomorrow?” Carlos asks. He's talked to Mwanzi about organizing a dolphin, snorkeling tour on one of the local speedboats tomorrow. The whole team is going. However, it costs about 15 dollars per person.
“No, I think I'll stay here and collect some soil,” I say.
Everyone is pretty excited about the trip. I'm sure it will be awesome. Hopefully, things with the drone video pan out and I'm able to afford a few excursions at the end of my stay.
But right now I need save money.
“Hey, we're going to go into the village and get food,” Flora says with the kind of excitement one gets when going to a steak house after having not eaten out for the better part of month.
“Ah, that's okay. I'll just stay here,” I say. “Thanks though.”
“What will you eat?” Flora asks.
“I don't know. I'll sort something out,” I say though I've no intentions of touching the communal food. If I'm cooking I might as well be cooking for everyone.
There's a silence The House of Giggles once everyone leaves.
I'm here alone with the sounds of the bugs and the chattering of my keyboard as I settle into one of the hammocks to write.