Monday, December 04, 2006

To Mafia

The sleepy town:

Dhow in "port (beach area where other ships congregate)":

Raison-d'etre:




(Written on the beach:)

I'm sitting on the beach of Kilidoni (hm, an apropos name), the main town of Mafia Island, one of the islands of the Zanzibar archepelago off the coast of Tanzania. The beach, nearly deserted, is white sand and turquoise, crystalline waters of tides of the Indian Ocean rushing into the shore, with a few white-shrouded dhows dotting the horizon. After walking the beach all morning, I've taken shade under a palm trees. A clement, salty breeze is blowing around me. This paradisiacal day is making me forget the near asphyxiation I endured to get here...

On the very crowded motor boat (with no life jackets for passengers), the gasoline-based engine was a pollution hazard to the riders especially for those near the back. Before boarding the boat I noticed that a tarp was pulled tightly over one side. I knew it would be a chaotic scrambling free-for-all to get a seat at all, so I resolved to (try to) sit on the open-air side. I was on the last bench on that side, which was better than sitting on the back-board, as those that did were drenched by the sea. The ride was 4 hours on an over-stuffed boat.

Soon after the journey commenced, they put the tarp down on our side of the boat, so that for over 120 people there was only a small flap in the front of the boat (on the other side) for air. As the trip wore on, as the oxygen-deprivation set in with only gasoline fumes coming from the motor to breathe. I could feel myself getting foggy and light-headed and sick and sleepy. I would have vomited, and it was not sea-sickness (I never get that), but I had long since digested my breakfast and so my stomach was empty.

Some people sitting on the other side, tried to hold up the tarp to let some air into the main compartment. I tried the same on my side but with the wind rushing past the side (and therefore toward the back), I could not get a fresh breath.

I wanted to put my head down to sleep, but a voice in my head said to keep my head up so when a breeze from the front alighted to the back I could get some oxygen.

How ironic would that be to die of suffocation on the open sea!

I prayed. I kept my thoughts silent. I could see other people getting sick around me as my own head dimmed.

Some time later, they opened the tarp on the other side completely. Immediately I felt better and took many deep breaths of ocean air. The boat couldn't come all the way into the shore because the tide was low, so we were put onto a smaller boat (propelled by pole) and walked the rest of the way in clear, warm water onto the beach under the moonlight of an almost-full moon to await our luggage. I settled into the guesthouse after 10pm. The rest of the night was needed to clear my head completely.

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