Day 344: Rough Night at Sea Rattles, Rolls Dice Man
Though things calmed down when we arrived at a protected channel in Lamu. I did not start feeling better. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
IN THE florescent lights at the stern of the Musafir, Romain does his best to slice maki into strips to lay over slugs of rice or to be eaten straight as sushi, first dipped in the ginger soy sauce mixed up in a small bowl.
There's a quietness to the boat as it rolls in the big waves, its high walls dipping down toward the ocean, a best friend afraid that a kiss will ruin everything, but plagued with desire.
“Bro, you want a beer?” Dan the Australian asks. Dan's a good-looking young man with slightly wavy light brown hair, a strong jawline, blue eyes, and a winning smile. The following night one of the girls simply describes Dan as “pretty”, which seems right on the mark.
A queasiness is beginning to germinate in my stomach; an uneasiness rising with the seas.
“Is it getting rougher up here?” I ask, returning from the cellar with two bottles of imported Italian beer for a buck fifty each.
“I think so, maybe,” Dan says.
Most people are already asleep at the bow, below the stars. Or at least, they are resting. The plate of soft white fish meat is passed back to the captain. His frizzy hair is teased out to something between an afro and frightened hedgehog. He sits in the half-dark at the bow of the boat, pulling the thick ropes tied to the rudder, keeping us on course.
Five of us crowd around a shallow woven basket, throwing a handful of dice in a game of 10,000. As a Dice Man, it seems that my relationship and commitment to dice would make them kind to me in such a game. However, luck is a fickle lady. I struggle to get the necessary 600 points to even get on the scoreboard.
The night wears on and the game won't end. After two sips of beer and a swig of rum from a bottle that Romain is passing around, I find myself clinging to the beer as if it will stabilize me.
The game continues.
Dice are tossed, scores are racked up and then knocked back down. It comes to the point that we are all rooting for anyone to win – it's a team sport in a hail storm where we can all get off the pitch if someone would just score.
Willy, a scrawny Belgian with curly hair and glasses who has no issues holding down a case of beer, makes a miraculous comeback storming ahead at the end of the game.
A cheer bursts out from our little group – the only ones awake and not sailing – as Willy rolls the winning score.
When nobody is looking, I dump the rest of my beer, now warm, overboard.
I drag a mat up from the hull, grabbing my sheets and pillow – number 20. Laid out next to the poop deck, or in this case, the poop balcony, I curl up in misery as my stomach churns.
So much for an ironclad stomach.
A gush of liquid and chunks of food come pouring out of my mouth as my head dips below the ocean side of the railing. There's a pause for me to catch my breath. Then, another round of vomit gushes.
With people sleeping so close to me, I do my best to be as quiet as possible – I know I'm a pretty loud regurgitator. Unrestrained, it sounds like the mating call of some disgusting solitary creature with no mates within miles.
For most of the day, I was scuttling about checking on a few new friends to make sure they had water or a little food. Now, I am totally alone with my sickness as it grips me.
Suddenly, there's a hand patting me on the back. My body soaks up the human contact like the soil of northern Kenya tasting the first drops of rain after the drought that is now plaguing the country.
“Do you want water?” the girl next to me asks. I don't know who she is. I've seen her on the boat, but I don't know her name. In fact, I know almost nobody's name at the point.
I sip at the cup of water. It tastes like petrol. It's hard to drink with the gas flavor in my mouth.
I lay down again, only to be woken by the need to vomit.
Less comes out, then nothing.
Dry heaves rack my body. My right side cramps hard as I hangover board.
The violent purge is quickly draining me of energy.
“What a terrible time to fall overboard,” I think.
Every time I vomit, the girl next to me is sits up.
My belly hugs the thick wooden rail. My sheets have a little vomit on them from where I wiped my mouth. A pair of strong hands presses against my back. Big fingers massage my shoulders and then down my spine, attempting to break apart the knots the muscles are tying each time my head goes overboard.
The massage lasts for several minutes. There are no words to describe how grateful I am to have someone taking care of me, even for only a couple moments.
I know this feeling of dying from vomiting. It's food poisoning. Though, this time it isn't as bad as when I was vomiting a substances as thick as pancake batter on the roof I was sleeping on in Mopti, Mali years ago.
“However, I am the only one who is sick like this. It can't be food poisoning. It must just be a violent reaction to the seas,” I tell myself.
Pressed against the side of the boat, I drift back to sleep, unable to sip on the water.
There's a crashing sound and yelling in Swahili on the port side of the ship. Our crew Kenyan crew runs toward the commotion. In the scramble, I see men boarding our boat.
We are only a hundred kilometers from Somali waters. The men are scrambling up the side of our boat. There's a scuffle.
Sick and untrained in any form of combat, I stand up and stagger in the direction of the action, both aware of my uselessness and unwilling to just lay there.
How does one fight a person with a machete?
Maybe they have guns instead. It's strange to think that one of them wielding a machete is a more immediate concern than someone with a gun.
For a moment, my mind changes course: maybe we are simply tacking in the middle of the night, a couple of the tourists on board have scrambled toward the sail line, pulling it tight.
However, there's the pale shape of an unlit boat crashing into the Musafir's side, or rather the Musafir is threatening to crush the small boat with each rise and drop in the swell.
Rasta, one of our crew, grabs the man who has scrambled on board and lowers him by the back of his shirt into the small fishing vessel from which he came.
One of the men in the fishing boat frantically attempts to start their engine. He pulls on the cord of the outboard motor, but nothing happens. He pulls again. Nothing. With each passing moment, the likelihood that our ship will sink this tiny 12-footer seems more and more inevitable.
Their engine jumps to life. Quickly they manage to skirt around our wooden-hull and are gone.
In the following chatter, we find out that the men on board the tiny fishing boat were sleeping, not waking until we were already on top of them. The man who'd scrambled on board was sure his boat was sinking. He was not a pirate – he was scared for his life.
We didn't see them because the captain can see very little from the stern and they had no lights. Their nets are spread out somewhere around us. Miraculously, our rudder doesn't catch in the nets as we continue to roll through the night.
There's more dry heaving, the muscles across my abdomen straining my body with every attempt.
At some point, morning arrives. I can hear the sounds of people coming to life around me, packing up their sheets, taking their mats downstairs.
I don't move.
There is no more vomiting, but I'm exhausted. I need to rest.
“Here, have some water,” the girl next to me says.
“It's okay. I'll steal some of Nelly's; that water tastes strange to me.”
She tries to get me to hold my nose and drink it, even mixing some electrolytes into it. I sip, but the taste of petrol is overpowering.
Willy brings me a banana, which I nibble on.
I lay there watching people's feet. A cute Spanish girl – Mini, as I'll find out later – has a tan line from a thick anklet she's not wearing. Prudence has freshly painted royal blue toenails. The pink polish on someone's toes is chipping away. It's a new perspective from down here.
Of course, it's not just feet I'm watching. I can't take my eyes away from what I can see of the women in their bathing suits. I can't see above anyone's waist, but what I can see is mesmerizing. I can't help but feel a little bit like a perv, but then again, what else am I going to watch from down here?
The music is blasting next to me, Garth, whose hands are constantly pounding out a rhythm with anything he can touch, has a drum between his legs playing along with the music coming from a speaker.
I make it two meters to the bathroom, where I watch a thin trail of light brown shit fall into the blue water below me. The sudden urge to throw up returns. Done on one end, I turn and get rid of what little water and food I'd managed to eat from the other.
I fall asleep on my mat, which someone else has crawled onto as well.
Mostly, however, people seem to be re-energized. The boat is buzzing in the tropical sunlight, surrounded by beautiful blue sea.
“Oh my god, I didn't even realize you were sick,” Prudence says. “I feel so bad. You were so sweet when I was sick.”
“It's fine. You were asleep. I was just throwing up all night.”
I fall back to sleep, only to be woken by someone else checking on me, offering me some water.
It's only when we are weak and vulnerable that we can we fully understand how caring the people around us are. I would rather not be sick at all, but the overwhelming concern the crew and boarders have for me – a stranger in all truth – is beautiful.
At Prudence's suggestion, I pile some cold white rice on a plate, taking a couple bites before giving up on it and returning to my corner.
“Do you want to move away from the music,” Gareth asks.
“It's fine, unless I'm in the way.”
I'm not. The reality is that I only want to be asleep.
Nelly digs out some Sprite from the hull and pours me a glass. The sweet citrus is the first thing that's touched my lips in 16 hours that's tasted right and felt good. I down the glass and begin to drink some of her water, which she brought from Tuskey's before we left. The water tastes sweet.
With bellowing bravado, the captain starts yelling.
“Karibu, Karibu, Karibu Lamu!” He cries. “Thank you for coming, coming, coming.”
The Musafir in all her glory enters the channel between the main island and the mangrove forest on the other side. There's a bustle of commotion as we nimbly slide between the shore and another boat. We then quickly tack – no easy feat on a dhow of this size.
Everyone is dancing and waving to the people on shore; we're a party boat in full tropical glory.
I can't be bothered to lift my head to appreciate the steep sand dunes and the beautiful Swahili buildings running along the channel.
The captain seems to be calling out to nearly everyone we pass – he is coming home.
I wish he'd stop.
“Group photo, group photo,” someone calls out.
I stay curled up on the floor.
The water in the channel is steady. The boat no longer rocking, yet the illness continues to test my body.
By sunset, I'm feeling stronger, though fragile.
“Are you coming to the beach party?” someone wants to know.
“Sure, I'll come.”
A boat taxi takes us there. It's another beautiful crowd of people dancing in the finest, softest sand I've ever felt between my toes.
Before I can even order something to eat – I'm hungry now, or at least I thought I was – a queasiness returns. Instead, I totter off to a back lounge area at the beach resort. I large calico cat sits under a table next to a cushioned porch swing. I crawl into the swing.
Curled up, I'm fearful of getting left behind.
Maybe I need water.
“Isaac! How are you feeling?” Clio asks when she sees me in line for the bathroom.
“Terrible,” I say, slumping to a crouching position.
She wraps me up in her arms, patting me on the back.
“Poa, poa,” she says.
“When people are ready to go, can you make sure someone finds me please?”
After getting blackout drunk in Chiang Mai with a bunch of South Africans and passing out in a telephone booth alone, I've become a bit more aware of the dynamics of drunk groups of people.
Back on the swing, I'm starting to feel better when our first group is heading back to the Musafir.
It's only 9:30.
“I'm pretty happy here,” I say. “Maybe I'll stay where I am for now.”
At this point, I've moved from the swing to a mat on the floor.
However, I catch the next boat back, happy to curl up on my own mat on the familiar deck and get some more sleep.