Dispatch #1: 13 Rastafarians pull up to a police checkpoint

This post introduces a new and (very) occasional feature to the blog—dispatches from people other than your proprietor. From the outset, two-and-a-half years ago, I intended for the blog to have guest appearances by friends and relatives, which would provide a forum for people on the outer fringes of Quiet Bubble’s life and times. I never seemed able to get this idea organized.

Sometimes, though, these things just fall into my lap. The following, however, wound its way here delicately and naturally, like a salty breeze wafting up the nose from the Indian Ocean, or sweet smoke curling upward. Both of which are important to the following events.

Some background about our featured guest: Brünhilde—obviously not her real name—is a dear friend who has spent the last two months traveling by plane and train through southeast Asia and the eastern coast of Africa. She now finds herself in Venice. In less than 70 days, she’s set foot in Thailand, Cambodia, Tanzania, China, and other countries. The following story came, spicy and rushed and hilarious, off the email transom from Zanzibar, on 16 October, the day after my birthday. It felt like a perfect belated birthday present and so, with Brünhilde’s permission, I present it here. I’ve edited for capitalization, spelling, and punctuation, and have added contextual links to clarify what might be obscure. Otherwise, I’ve let it be. Enjoy.

—Walter

I spent this past weekend in Zanzibar, and what follows is an impossibly true account of my only night there. I stayed on the east coast of the spice island in a village called Jambiani with an surreally turquoise sea and several guesthouses, almost all entirely staffed by Rastafarians. I spent my early evening, after a long day of hard bench seats in the crowded back of trucks (euphemistically known as dalladallas), ferry rides, and taxi drivers repeatedly asking “Are you alone? Are you travelling alone? Are you alone?,” eating coconut curry fish, drinking African cider, and learning how to play the real version of mancalaBao—from the local snorkeling guide named Captain Chicken. I met a South African couple from Johannesburg who work in advertising, and they invited me along for what I thought would be a short beachside pubcrawl with the staff from my guesthouse, Kimte, and the neighboring one, Coral Rock Inn.

20 minutes later, I found myself piling into a minibus with the South African couple, a sullen and already wasted Norwegian tourist, and 9 Rastafarians with names like Warchilla, Achmed, Idi, Capra, Natty Congo ne Moses, and James. Soon, multiple points of light passed around the stacked minibus as its passengers spontaneously cried “Jah!,” “Rastafara!,” “wah m” (ya man), and “Hakuna matata!,” which means exactly what Disney told you, and sang along to a reggae reworking of “In the Ghetto.” Our first stop was a beachfront bar pumping reggae (Buju, I didn’t know how much I missed you) and the occasional soul. We drank more Safari and Savannah [local beers] and made our way to the dance floor, which was populated by Maasai tribesmen on holiday in traditional garb and hair with fanny packs and sunglasses bootydancing with Euro tourists and other Rastafarians. The music broke for a second, and the Maasai did a traditional chant-and-jumping contest to appease the Rasta owner before calling for the lights to be dimmed and more hip-hop (which they mixed in with traditional dance). The South African couple and I thought there was no way we would do better bar-wise, but within thirty minutes the Rastas, perhaps tired of getting cockblocked by the Maasai tribesman, rounded us up, open containers in hand, and piled us back into the minibus.

A variety of herbaceous points of light were passed, beers drank, and jah’s called till we rolled up to a police checkpoint, which, I must say, must not serve the same purpose they do in the States. After a lot of barely controlled snickering, a cursory check, and a brief comment concerning the rolling tide of smoke emerging on all sides of the minibus, we were waved on, the music re-blasted, and a lot of “hakuna matatas” shouted. But the windows were closed from then on, which led to the powerful de facto hotboxing of the minibus.

We passed more village celebrations (Saturday was the first real day and night of Eid, the celebration at the end of Ramadan) on route to what I thought was another eastern coast beach bar, then another checkpoint—this time with more hassle, but again not for the smoke or open containers, but for the sheer number of us packed into the minibus. After being waved through on behalf of the night’s celebration, we improbably stopped to pick up another passenger, our 14th. We made it through another checkpoint (with mild bribery) and a breakdown (out of gas) before rolling into a nice town, an almost too nice town, my fears confirmed as our ad hoc tour guide pointed to our right and said “and this is where Freddy Mercury was born.” We were back in the capital, Stonetown, more than an hour’s drive away from our guesthouse, and it was 1:00am. This would not be a short pubcrawl.

Next, we hit an oceanfront reggae party three doors down from Freddy Mercury’s birthplace, strongly reminiscent of the interior decor and scene of WC Don’s [a Jackson, Mississippi nightspot] in the mid-1990s, but with men in full traditional Arab garb and Rastas playing pool (badly). I quartered up, but again the scene was not good enough for our hosts, and we moved on before I could play. We walked through the whitewashed streets, past the clove warehouse (Zanzibar is the world’s largest producer of cloves.), to a mid-century continental hotel converted into a disco, complete with futurist white saucer eaves, a barbeque, and a rooftop bar and pool. More drinks, then down into the disco, jammed with every type and color of person imaginable and throbbing with taarab (traditional Arab-influenced Zanzibari music), dance hall, American hip-hop, lingala, reggaeton, and Swahili rap. A little past four, with the Eid festivities winding down, we clown-carred back into the minibus, I schoolmarmishly counted heads, and after some late-night grub, we sleepily made our way back through the checkpoints arriving at Jambiani just at dawn.

After thwarting some a little too literal attempts to get into my pants by the resident sculptor, I swam out into the Indian Ocean sunrise.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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