“You can stay the night,” Sheby said over the phone.
I had arrived in the Promised Land, a beach-side bungalow on Zanzibar’s southern most point on the main island. From here you can go on unethical dolphin tours, snorkel or the other usual tourist traps of spice tours and the likes.
Me? I just wanted to explore somewhere else on the island. I’ve been north to Nungwi on a dhow, I’ve been east to Paje and Jambiani for an epic jam session at Red Monkey Lodge. And Stone Town has been my home base for the past five weeks.
This weekend started with one of my best gigs at Demani Lodge where I opened for DJ Andy Newman, one of the few DJs on the planet that can get me moving to deep house music.
He even organised a ride for me to get to Paje on the east coast with some cool cats like my buddy, Rahim.
“Do you know why they have all these mango trees here?” Rahim asked.
“Do tell,” I played along.
“The story goes that there was a woman who couldn’t decide on a husband so she slept with all the men in the area. The next morning she’d cut off their heads and bury it. On top of each head she planted a mango tree.”
“What do you think?”
“I think there’s a lot of mango trees on this road,” I grinned.
We arrived at Demani Lodge where Issa said, “You’ll get free bed and drinks but food you’ll have to pay for as I don’t know what you’re capable of.”
Fair enough. I thrived off beers and then jammed my set after the bush band.
“You’ll get free breakfast,” Issa said, coming up to me to shake my hand after my set. Which just happened to be one of my best gigs to date. Andy came up after me and had me and everybody else movin’ and groovin’ to his deep house beats. His good on the decks. A resident DJ in Ibiza and Thailand, he knows his shit.
The party died at about three in the morning. I wasn’t happy with the aftermath of gettin’ thrown into the pool. I hate pools. I’ve always lived by the ocean. I can’t do pools. It’s too artificial. Even on splintering hot days where you can fry an egg on the side walk, I’d rather a cold shower than the chlorine piss-pot that is a pool.
The next morning I hit the road after breakfast and was assisted with a free ride from a taxi all the way to Jambiani. From there I hiked about a K before a car came flyin’ down the road and pulled over.
“Get in,” the bald-headed foreign driver declared.
I threw my gear in the back and hopped in.
“Igor,” he introduced himself. “From Serbia.” He was a sales rep for an American poultry company. Been in Zanzibar for just under a year. “I’ll go back to Greece, to my old job as a hotel manager,” he said. “Zanzibar just isn’t for me right now.”
We talked about religion mostly, both of us being of the belief of good energy, positivity and that kind of thing. “I don’t understand how someone can force me, or believe they can force me, to believe in what they want rather than let me choose,” he said as we sped along at about a hundred and a prayer. “I would like, one day, to put into a room a priest, a rabbi, a Hindu priest, a Buddhist, a mufti and tell them, ‘Now come up with one solution and whatever that solution is, I’ll follow it.’”
I liked the way this guy thinks.
He took me 15 K’s out of his way to drop me off at The Promised Land, “Otherwise, no cars are on this road and it’s a long walk, my friend.”
We shook hands at the gate and I bid him farewell and good luck as he did me.
A huge storm was to shake the southern part of Zanzibar and indeed, it shook. I only met Sheby the next afternoon where he decided that a barter wasn’t on offer. I thanked him for the one free night and hiked up the road where I passed Marogo Gardens (Marogo means decorative).
“Mambo!” called out a voice from inside one of the buildings. I peered in and the voice was followed by a rasta. “Karibu,” he welcomed me.
I walked in. “I’m Assani,” he introduced himself.
I bumped knuckles in the rasta way and explained my ways of travels in Ki-Swahili.
“You are welcome to stay,” he invited me in. “We are still building but you are welcome.”
“I’ll help you build,” I offered. “In exchange. That’s how I survive.”
I found myself doing some gardening over the next three days while the rains persisted. Assani fed me, gave me a place to stay and I worked alongside Ali, a mid-40’s man who was a chain-smoking pot beast.
If he didn’t have a joint rolled up and flaring he had a cigarette. I haven’t smoked so much pot in three days since the first time I introduced the substance to my body some 11 years ago. I moved rocks, chopped down plants, cleared out clearings and jammed on my guitar while the rains kept coming, the heavens cracking open with sky-splitting thunder.
By Tuesday the skies had cleared and I was ready to go back to Stone Town as I had a gig lined up at 6 Degrees South. Assani, Ali and I hiked along the road for about 3 K’s before a daladala pulled over and took us the last 2 K’s to the junction where our ways split.
“Thanks for everything, kaka,” I thanked Assani for hosting me as a brother.
“You are welcome anytime, kaka,” he said as we hugged.
I began my hike in the 93% humidity of the day towards Stone Town that lay 70 K’s away. The only vehicles on the desolate road were the daladalas.
Could be a long walk but I immediately switched back to the whole, someone-will-stop vibe that I’ve adopted throughout my travels. Even if it takes an hour or four, someone will stop.
An hour later an Italian neuro-something-or-other pulled over and took me all the way to Stone Town. We discussed how the Western world causes ulcers, how the food is killing the people because of all the chemical additives and how a simple life is much easier and causes more happiness than a piece of paper with a number on it.
She dropped me off within walking distance of 6 Degrees and I just managed to beat the rains and prepare for my evening set.
I just hope there’ll be people.