Thursday, November 25, 2010

self invitation

My first afternoon in Stone Town found me in my hotel room, after a day of wandering the streets, wishing I were somewhere else.  Anywhere else.  I was tired of the loitering, the cat calls, the men asking me to come look at their shop, their sister's shop, their father's shop, or asking if I'd like to have dinner with them.

Although Zanzibar is an East African island, it was founded by the people of Oman. Nearly the entire population is Muslim.  Mosques dot the city streets in Stone Town.  Women are covered from head to toe in burkas.  Arab mentality encompassed the area.  And to top it off, my visit was right in the middle of Ramadan. As much as I would have enjoyed my stay had I been accompanied by a companion, I felt highly uncomfortable all alone.

Had I not been alone, I'm sure I would have taken the time to soak up the beautiful architecture, the vibrant colors, the kindness of others welcoming me to Zanzibar every 5 steps I'd take.  The sites and sounds would have enveloped me, instead of overwhelm me. Wishing I were anywhere else is something I had never experienced before.

But there I sat, in my hotel room, mentally creating a game plan for the rest of my Zanzibar stay, determining to fill it up with daily excursions.

Due to Ramadan, the street market and most restaurants weren't opened until sun down, which was around 6:30pm.  While on the roof of the hotel, writing in my journal to pass the time away, my mind was racing with the options presented to me.  I could:  a) walk the dark streets -there are no lights- of Stone Town on my own to get food, b) go to bed hungry, or c) find someone who would allow me to accompany them.

Having been my first evening there, I didn't know the lay of the land, and I didn't know how people acted when the lights were out.  Although I've always been fascinated with the Muslim/Arab culture, I really didn't know how to react in it, and the many books I've read didn't seem to help calm my concerns.  I really didn't want to go out alone.  Not in the dark.  Not on the first night. And I wanted to go to bed hungry even less than that.

There was a couple on the rooftop with me, planning their next day's activities.  I surveyed them. I tried coming up with tactful ways to invite myself to join them without seeming like an inconvenience. So I struck up a conversation, just so they knew I wasn't crazy, or strange, or anything else that could have popped into their mind had I asked if I could be a third wheel for the evening right after saying the initial hello.

Michael and Gina were kind and gracious people.  They humored me as I took their attention away from their guide book.  I hinted at being wary of walking around alone at night.  I might not have hinted well enough.  So we returned to our previous tasks for a few minutes, until I gained enough courage to request if I could intrude on their previously planned evening.  But when I did, they smiled and welcomed me along.

As we walked the city streets that night in the dark, with our flash lights, I started appreciating the beauty of the buildings. I enjoyed the sites and sounds, the curves of the road, and the hidden alleyways. And as an added bonus, I was introduced to an amazing restaurant I wouldn't have discovered otherwise.

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