The Allure and Magic of Zanzibar (Stone Town)- Final Part
As I said, the island has this allure that can make you take leave from your senses and stop thinking straight.
I remember when I first met him; I had just arrived on the island. He is an artist and spends his days painting. He has paint under his fingernails. My brother and i were lost and so he left his shop and took us to our hotel with his friend Kassim and then later, they showed us Lakwam restaurant where we ate lunch everyday.
He was young and ambitious and had those eyes that make you want to give himyou’re your money… haha.
I spent every single day with him and he became my own tour guide and friend, his name is Esmail Osman.
Esmail speaks that beautiful Zanzibari Swahili that makes you just shut up and get lost in his words. He also has this tendency of looking into your eyes when he talks. This gives you the impression that at that moment, you are the most important person in the world, no matter what you are saying.
He is a kind person with a beautiful heart. On my second night in Zanzibar, I went to the park with him and offered to buy him a meal. He accepted but reluctantly. He later explained that he is a struggling artist with no money but still, he wants to be my friend without being a financial burden. We spoke for hours and he told me about his life, I could see that he comes from a different world but I enjoyed talking to him and I listened keenly even when he said words that I couldn’t understand or spoke rapidly in Swahili that I had to play catch up.
We went for a moonlight walk on the beach and sat down to talk some more. We talked liked two friends who have known each other for ages. Esmail comes from a strguggling family and he has so many responsibilities of taking care of his siblings and parents. His parents are divorced therefore adding to his stresses. He also told me about his ex girlfriend, the one he wanted to marry. He had introduced her to his whole family and they had all expected her and were happy for him. He loved her and thought she felt the same way about him. All was well until suddenly she stopped picking up his calls or responding to his texts. It took weeks of him pleading and trying to reach out to her until he later came to find out that she had left him for someone with money. I asked him about how he had figured this out and he told me that she had come clean. She had explained that she needs someone financially stable to take care of her and her family and unfortunately, Esmail didn’t have this capability. He told me that she got married to an older man but then adds, “angalau ndoto yake ilitimia so sina ubaya nayeye”. He accepted that there was no way for him to offer her what she wanted.
On the next day which was my birthday, we once again hanged out all day. I met a random guy on the beach with these huge long dreadlocks and he offered to do my dreadlocks. I asked him what that would cost me and he said, its “rasta love, the good love, the free love”. I don’t know what he meant exactly but he seemed to believe that we shared some kind of kinship simply because we both had dreadlocks. It’s a different world.
Esmail sat with me right there on the beach as I had my hair threaded and then fixed with coconut oil and plaited in cornrows. Dreadlocks should be all natural, my new hair dresser insisted. I told him how in Kenya we use wax on the locks and he said no. That is not how God intended it. God doesn’t like artificial things in our hairs and to put wax in it is to disrespect rasta. I am not sure which religion he practices by the way…LOL
My birthday was what I wanted it to be. I went for a drink alone at a beach restaurant called “Mercury”. I had a milkshake while listening to good soft music in the background and I was at peace. Later on in the afternoon, my brother and Esmail joined me for more drinks at Livingstone, another ocean front resort. We listened to music, danced and watched the sunsets. We also got to watch some acrobatic performances at the beach and it was all wonderful.
In the evening, I went dancing at a place where they played Taarab music. I made new friends some who were Kenyans and simply had a great time with Esmail. We were just having a good time, talking about life, laughing and mingling with the other patrons.
And then it happened, he proposed. I know, I know, it sounds silly. He did it though; he went down on one knee and asked me to marry him. He said it all in Kiswahili like “ Naomba niruhusu niwe mumeoooo, nikuoweee, tuishi pamoja mileleee”. Then he went on,
“Me sina helaaa, sina masomoooo lakini ntakupa kila kitu unachotakaa, ntakulinda, ntakupendaaa, tafadhali niaminiiii” I was shocked, embarrassed by the man on his knees and I asked him to stand up. He did and then wait for it….. he started crying. Goodness! Zanzibar men are quite something!
He cried saying that I don’t believe him. He put a ring on my finger (a faded, old one that he used to wear) and asked me to think about his proposal. He said we could get married the next day at the government offices since we came from different religions. He already had the rings. According to Esmail, nothing else matters when two people fall in love. I asked him how people who have known each other for three days can fall in love and he told me that in his religion, people don’t need to date to know that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. Within marriage, they learn to love each other. Sigh….
I don’t know if it was the Swahili proposal, the tears, the salt in the water, the taarab but for a minute I wondered what it would be like if it was all that easy. If things like education, same interests, religion, backgrounds, finances didn’t matter. I imagined my life as Mrs. Esmail, what would we talk about, what would we even do together, how many times would my mum scream and faint when she hears the news? For a minute, I truly believed that nothing else mattered in life but love, sigh…. The island magic.
Anyway, on July 4th, it all ended. A very tearful Esmail bid us farewell at the port looking like his puppy just died and I felt bad for him. He reminded me to think about his proposal, swore that he would follow me to Kenya and told me that he knows for sure that he will be my husband before the end of this year. Confident man, that one is. I don’t know what motivated him and of course, I am not naïve to think he was genuine but whatever his motives were, his ambitions were real. I have heard about the “visa” relationships where people try to get tourists who can rescue them from the life on the island (by the way, with all the enchantment of the island and the tourism, the economy there is not good). I have nothing to offer him in this way. I am also looking for an escape from my life anyway.
I am not some rich woman who makes dreams come true and unfortunately, I also have my own idea of what I want in a marriage and that wasn’t it.
I will miss the island, the sunsets, the food, the park, the magic and all that. I will miss Esmail will his different world view and the Swahili that melted my heart. I will miss Zanzibar but will always be grateful for the experience.
I dreamed it, I lived it and it was more that I could ever have hoped for.