Saturday, March 15, 2014

Zanzibar streets

I liked Zanzibar immediately.

In general, I like islands. Something about them makes me want to remove my shoes and walk around barefoot, waving and greeting everyone I meet. I like the laid-back atmosphere, the community that the locals have with one another. I like the fresh produce and items that are locally grown or processed.
I loved that all the water I bought in Zanzibar was purified and packaged right there, not imported.
The fruit was all local, as was the seafood, fish and chicken.
They did, however, import dates. That's okay, I can forgive that as they pack a scoopful of honey-colored, glorious dates into newspaper and I walk around, tossing the pits behind me like a tropical Gretel.

We arrived on the noon ferry and I went straight away to find something for lunch. Wandering around and getting lost almost immediately in the narrow streets of Stonetown. There are no signs, and I've heard that all the maps available are inaccurate because of all the side-streets that can't be determined if they are alleys, streets, or private entrances.
I'm welcomed by everyone as they invite me into their shops to spend, preferably American dollars (a fact that frustrates me, why not local currency? why not Euros, which are worth more? but that's another conversation).
I love the architecture, the arches, the decorative railings. I love the bright colors splashed everywhere, the local people who are diverse and beautiful; descendant from Arabs, Africans, Indians.

I come back from lunch elated, telling my travel partner that I already love it here! I don't even mind at all that our first activity is souvenir shopping. As we wander around going through the narrow streets I spot the waterfront and head to the sound of the waves.
Thirty seconds later I hear screaming from where I had just been standing on the street. I'm not sure whether to investigate or not (last week there were very small bombs set off in a drainage pipe here and other news about some of the extreme lengths civilians have gone to against immodest tourists.)
As I walk back to the street cautiously, I see that it's not a fight, and not a bomb, but that its a medical emergency.

A tourist woman has been hit by a car.

I drop to my knees and place a hand on either side of the woman's head to stabilize her neck. With me at the top of her body, suddenly I'm the one in charge of this situation.
And I go into that mode: that serious, but calm mode of giving orders, making decisions and not freaking out.
She is concious. She knows her name, where she is, what she did an hour ago and she can accurately recall the events of the accident. She has feeling, but not yet significant pain. She also already had a herniated disk in her neck (oh joy!).

Ice. An enormous amount brought in a large paper bag. "smash it on the street." A handful in a handkerchief, applied to the woman's bruised, swollen, bleeding right temple and eye. A local man takes a position beside me on the street and applies it to her head.

There is blood, lost clumps of hair lying on the sidewalk. There is no ambulance in Zanzibar.

A sedan taxi arrives, the locals urge the woman to stand up and walk into the taxi. I refuse and I am sure I appeared out of my mind to the locals when I sent away the taxi as transportation to the hospital, but instead request that they bring a small door (the plan was to use the door as a backboard).

Intermittently, local woman arrive, poking their heads through the crowd and in typical East African politeness, apologize for the woman's accident. "oh! sorry!" and then disappear back into the crowd. Well-intentioned, incredibly annoying.

Throughout this, the woman's friend, the one whom I heard screaming continues to scream yelling that someone, anyone must go to her hotel and get her husband and also their tour guide. She refuses to even go to the hospital without these individuals.

Together the woman's husband and tour guide arrive, at last a minivan arrives, the back seat folded flat and I recruit four men to help lift the woman as carefully (and flatly) as possible and load her into the van.
My friend comes close to the door as I climb in the van and tell her to meet me at the hospital (how many hospitals can one island have? several, apparently. She walks to the wrong one first, then walks another 45 minutes to the next, correct one. Woops!)
We cram in, squatted over the injured woman as we rapidly proceed to the hospital, the woman's bleeding head resting and dripping on my thigh the whole way, my butt and back squished against the minivan door handle, and I use my abs the whole away to avoid losing balance or falling forward onto the woman, as I still have my hands on either side of her head.

I ask if it's alright to pray out loud. Everyone agrees and I begin asking God, Jesus, to please make the hospital prepared, for the equipment needed to be available and for translation and communication to be easy.
As I pray the driver says "We are going to the police station first to file a report."

"Jesus, please make the doctor... NO! WE ARE NOT! WE ARE GOING TO THE HOSPITAL!" I roar in the middle of my prayer with the volume and power God has given me to project my voice.

We went straight to the hospital. And I do not even care if I offended anyone by being a foreign, white woman screaming at a man.

We arrive at the hospital and thank goodness they have a wheeling stretcher.

I inquire as to where I can wash my hands, which are covered in blood. I am directed to a spigot positioned low on an outdoor wall. When I request a bathroom, I am led to a rudimentary stall with a hole in the ground and a small sink: no option of soap at all in the hospital.
So I wash my hands with plain water and am thankful I have sanitizer in my small purse, but I feel less comfortable about the cleanliness of the hospital. Which is only exaggerated when I see the bloody examination gloves and used needles tossed together in the same plastic waste basket, which has no bag, but is easily accessible to the wandering cats on the premises.

The doctor is immediately available and examines the woman's head first. Her head is to be shaved to reveal a deep cut, one which must be stitched to stop the bleeding.
After a circle is shaved around the bleeding the nurse brings me over to show me the cut. "Do you want me to tell her something?" I ask after seeing it. "No, we just thought you wanted to see." No, I don't like looking at bleeding skulls with bits of missing scalp, thank you!

The woman is then injected with a numbing agent so she will not feel the stitches.
Then I watch them stitch her.

If I ever want to induce nausea on myself, I will just recall the process of them stitching up this woman's scalp with a curved needle- the needle so dull it took the two men strength to plunge it into her head, then yank it back up, lifting up her scalp the whole time. And me, trying my best to keep a calm face so the woman would not know the horror happening to her head that she blessedly could not feel. At one point they could not bring the needle back up, and so had to call over the doctor to assist; the three men together yanking on the needle, and in result, yanking on the woman's scalp; the bleeding skin lifting up until the thread tore and they had to repeat the process again.

Then the woman is taken for x-rays and ultrasounds on her head. Each item in the x-ray room was held together by duct tape and the woman's husband looks at me and says "I am an old man, but it has been a long time since I have seen doctors use slides for x-rays." And points to a stack of slides the size of regular printer paper. I gulp.

After about an hour, (total time in the hospital being 3 hours) the woman is released from the hospital, provided with a prescription for pain killers. By this time, her eye is completely swollen shut; puffy and purple-red. Her flight home is scheduled for the day after tomorrow, she will spend the next day in bed at her hotel, avoiding all mirrors.

Her family thanks me profusely for helping and asks where I am attending medical school.
"I'm not."
They all give me quizzical looks.
"I said that I know First Aid." I reminded them.
"And you're a lifeguard!" My travel partner reminds them.
They still seem slightly annoyed at me.
It's not my fault that in the chaos and their own freaking-out they misunderstood and thought that I was a nurse or a nursing student. They are still polite, but seem less enthusiastic toward me when they realise I am not in the medical profession.


We return to the woman's hotel, fitting 11 adults into a 7 passenger minivan.
I ate a wonderful dinner with the local men who had assisted in carrying the woman to the van: chicken and beef skewers, fresh sugar-cane juice and Zanzibarian omelette-pizzas. I threw away the bloody pants,too.

Welcome to Zanzibar. It's beautiful, but don't go to the hospital.

Racing through Kenya and Tanzania

Feb 15.
Swimming at the kid's school and some cute little girls try to teach me the butterfly. Except I'm a terrible student and I swallow lots of water and don't follow the dictator-like orders from a school girl to splash around for two more laps, but simply give up. She yells at me "One more lap, properly!" But I free-style swim away from the bossiest little girl I've ever met.

I go out to dinner with my host, M and his 4 adorable brothers.
They are 12 and under, with two twins who are anything but identical in features and personality. They dress like mini J crew models with adorable slacks or chinos and cute sweaters and vests. And I have nothing nice to wear and feel like a bum.
We go to an interesting fusion restaurant advertising Lebanese and Japanese food. Sushi or Kebabs? I like'em both, but that is quite a mix!
The kids all order burgers and make faces when I ask if they want cheese burgers. No. Just plain burgers.

They all giggle and poke eachother and M takes goofy pictures of his brothers. And the youngest, the 6 year old keeps smacking my arm while yelling my name to get my attention, no matter how many times I tell him to just tap me and quietly say my name.
Asking deep questions like “Why is your skin like that?” “Why do people drink alcohol?” or telling me “I have a boy in my class like you, except he doesn't have any tattoos.” Probably a good thing a first grader has no tattoos.

All the while, sitting next to well-dressed couples enjoying wine and candle-lit dinners and giving me awkward smiles as they try to determine why I am there with 4 adorable children who are clearly not my own, this late at night, and why am I, the foreigner so poorly dressed and they look “dapper”.


Feb 17
Bomas cultural center with who other than BRIE! I was a roommate with her for all of two weeks one summer after college. She happens to be in Nairobi helping a friend who works with a sponsorship program in Nairobi and other nearby towns.
We have fun together and most of all I enjoy the local sports bar where we eat fresh bbq'ed meat (nyama choma), have a beer and watch men dance seductively towards our table as we are clearly the only foreigners. When I local friend disappeared for two minutes to use the toilet, one man took the opportunity to come and introduce himself. He walked up with his box of wine (yes, box of wine), thrusted his hip to the side and knocked over our friend's empty chair, then smiled through red-stained teeth. "Hello ladies!" with an upraised eyebrow. While I was impressed at the movement of his hips, that was about all that impressed me.


Feb 19
Going to the Kenya National Museum doesn't happen. Instead I am pretty much forced to go with M to meet with lawyers,enquire about this business thing or that business thing because he is too scared to let me go anywhere in Nairobi by my self.
Thats okay, I get to see a different side of Nairobi than many people get to see.

Feb 20
The kids have a break from school, so I take them to the Giraffe Center to pet and feed giraffes and to the Kenya Wildlife Services Animal Orphanage.
These kids who have grown up in Uganda and Kenya have never seen a giraffe, lion or many other animals which are famous from this area.
They love feeding the giraffes from their hands, petty the baby and speaking in their mother tongue, Dinka to some of the guides.
They run back and forth with the cheetah, hoping they can out-run it and I know that the cheetah is just pacing with them because it's hungry, and I contemplate the strength of the double fences to keep the hungry cheetah remaining hungry.
We see plenty of baboons running freely, not part of the animal orphanage, just roaming the way they do here.
We stop to get a snack and we hear a ruckus in the kitchen. One of the boys translates for me that a monkey snuck into the kitchen and stole something.

We watch them feed an entire cow to some lions, thinking of the bravery of the people pushing the wheelbarrow of meat along the stalls.

We eat at Carnivore with three of the brothers, who are obsessed with not eating crocodile. Waiters come to the table and offer to carve off a piece of roasted meat from their gigantic skewers; ostrich, gazelle, beef, goat, lamb, chicken, and yes, crocodile.
However, the boys ask if EVERYTHING is crocodile, exasperating the waiters, who might possibly have begun to question the intelligence of the boys:
“Is this crocodile?”
“No, its corn.”

“Is this crocodile?”
“No, its a potato.”

“Is this crocodile?”
“No, it's a chicken wing.”

“Is this crocodile?”
“No, its a cucumber.”

I ate and enjoyed the crocodile meat when it eventually did come around.




Feb 21
My friend's flight arrives at 3:40 am. Probably the worst time for a flight EVER.

My host has some airport hook-ups so they swing me a special pass to get past security and wait for my friend just behind immigration. We arrive to see about 8 immigration officers all asleep at their desks, some even have little blankets. They gave me dirty looks, shifted in their seats and continued to doze until the flight arrived.


Feb 23
Smoke shisha with Brie and her friend. Brie and I are neighbors in Nairobi! Wish we were nieghbors in North America, closer than sharing a border. Its been great to see her and see how many things we have in common.
My incredibly loud voice attracts the attention of a man at a nearby table who overhears some of our conversation, he comes over and buys a drink for all 6 of us at the table. He works with offenders in Boston; I always find common ground with people, and for once, being loud has really paid off; in a shot of whiskey.
We also discovered that Amarula Hot Chocolate is probably the best thing ever.

Feb 24
Take a bus to Mombasa.
It's hot. 8:30 pm and still 90 degrees. I'm gonna be drinking a lot of water.
Our hostel is awesome and we sleep on hammocks outside, and its cool enough at 11 pm that I'm able to sleep and wake up to a warm 7 am.


Feb 26
Head to the beach around 4 pm we miss the low tide and by now the water is so high its already up to the concrete wall and heavily crashing against it. Some young people already up the wall yell to us: “Give me 100 shillings!” “Give me 500 shillings!”
We try to ignore them and wade through the water, but its too rough and we must concede to the enterprising-youngsters who offer to help us up the wall. And by “help” it means the 15-year olds grabbing me by my arms and dragging me up the cement wall, scratching my face and knees while I beg them to stop, yell at them to wait so I can walk up the wall instead of scraping up it. But I am powerless against the teens as they have my arms and my legs are suspended.
I thank them, while nursing scratches and pay them a little money.
Their services really are in demand at this location.


Feb 27
I ride a camel on the beach. Its pretty awesome. Bucket list item checked off.
We rent a dhow (local small boat used for fishing in the mornings) for 2 hours and go out to a small, quiet beach and enjoy the crystal clear water.
Our boat driver teaches me the butterfly, and surprisingly I do a better job in the small waves at the calm direction of the adult captain than I did with the nazi-like orders of a school girl in a tranquil pool.
One of my favorite things we did in Mombasa was rent a dhow, it was wonderful.





March 1.
Travel to Tanga.
Its HOT here, hotter than Mombasa.

March 2.
Visit the Amboni caves, they are supposedly over a million years old, formed during the Jurassic Era and were under the Indian Ocean until it receded. I saw the largest spider I have ever seen in all my life. It was larger than my hand and had thick legs. I was so freaked out.
I also saw a lot of bats. My dad would hate it.


told you there were lots of bats

Tanga has no beach, even though it has a hotel called “Tanga Beach Resort”. It does, however, have mangroves.
That's about it.
We walk around the local market. I eat fresh mango sprinkled with chili powder. I don't recommend. It was terrible.


Feb 3.
From Tanga to Dar es Salaam.
Best food. I ate half a chicken (chicken tikka? Tikka chicken? Whatever its called. Aweome.) and the best naan of my life. And the street food looks amazing. I sort of wish we were here longer just to eat lots of food, it looks so good!
It is also very hot and humid here. At some point I might adjust. Maybe.