Monday, April 23, 2012


Sometimes you're just meant to see something. Sometimes the universe lets you know you have unfinished business, memories that will linger forever.   That's how I felt when I was leafing through a stack of old British Vogues in a cafe in Arusha waiting for lunch.  I turned the page, and there it was, an arresting glossy spread by Mario Testino taken outside Dar House on the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar.  In the days ahead of me, like stacks of unopened books, I know pages will be dedicated to the time I spent there.  I'm haunted by the dramatic evening backdrop witnessed from the upstairs lounge. As the full moon ascended over the sea, the tide slowly moved out, leaving almost a mile of beach.  Where the sea once flowed, where anchored boats swayed in the current, there was only stillness like thick paint left on the canvas from an impressionist's brush.  My mind was tricked by the memory of motion, of cresting green waves, but the seas was gone.  At first the silence was unnerving, than calming.  The fine white sands glowed under the moon like phosphorescence.   It's only been weeks, and I already find myself revisiting this image in my mind like a dream I can't quite shake.

Our meals, beautifully presented tuna steaks, king fish, and salmon from our backyard sea, served with crisp, tart greens, and grains, were delicious. South African Shiraz, rich Tanzanian coffee, fresh mango juice, bottles of water.  Heaven.  Time was suspended from life in Los Angeles, from the hideously long flight to get to this magnificence,  and from the poverty surrounding our oasis.  And yet by the end of our three day stay the truth had found us.  Yes, we were perhaps fooled and disarmed by the tranquility within the walls of our compound, especially since our staff included three night guards, and two day guards.  Inside the house, Richard, the manager, was also the amazing chef.  He employed a housekeeper who kept things tidy and helped in the kitchen and a grounds and pool boy.  Organizing my suitcase Sunday morning before our post lunch departure, I checked my wallet for my passport.  My heart sank when I realized four crisp hundred dollar bills, needed to pay for our safari, were gone.  I hoped I had misplaced them.  I didn't want our stay at Dar House to end this way.  With regret, I announced to the others my loss.  Upon looking, D was missing three C notes, and L two.  I felt like I had played a role, wealthy white tourist with cash in semi-plain sight for the taking.  It didn't matter how appreciative, complimentary or grateful we were, someone saw us simply as a bank.  The disparity between our circumstances too great to ignore.  Confronting Richard, we watched his face fall, and lip quiver.  He didn't want to believe this was possible, neither did we.  Our leaving was awkward and rushed.  We departed before lunch.  No one helped us with our bags, but they did all come out into the driveway as we loaded up.  The pool boy approached, stopped a few feet away, and sought eye contact.  His soul was heavy, apologetic, sad.  The women, in her soft yellow cotton dress and head scarf, sat on the ground with her back to the wall.  She was angry, wouldn't look our way, tears pooled in her eyes.  She played with dirt between her hands and as we drove passed she let it slide between her fingers, then wiped her hands together as if to say, "good riddance".  Like in a bad movie, backing down the dirt driveway, we slammed smack into a tree.  Minor dent, nerves frayed.  We'll never know what happened, who stole the money, or why.  We did learn the police had to be notified, a report filed and Richard spent the night in jail.  We were deeply saddened.  None of us believed he was guilty, but according to the law he was accountable.  We're not sure how the owners handled this situation, if one or all lost their jobs.  As compensation they offered us a free night, which at some point Joey will use with his friends and we'll be reimbursed.   A bittersweet way to end three extraordinary days in a magnificent place.  The good with the bad.  The ugly with the beautiful.  The yin with the yang.

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