No, no, A. didn’t propose. But our reunion at the tiny airport in Zanzibar three weeks ago was quite emotional.
I got off the tiny plane in the searing heat, walked down the steps to the pavement and saw him standing in one of two adjacent doorways, a big smile spread across his face. The other door was manned by airport officials who were checking for proof travelers had the yellow fever vaccination. I was hot, dirty and tired from two consecutive red-eyes — and all I wanted to do was run to A. The officials tried to shuffle me through the doorway, and amidst the confusion and all of the people pushing through, I walked through the door without producing the yellow health card (I had it with me and did indeed have the vaccination). A. wrapped his arms around me and held me tighter than he’s ever held me and said he was feeling emotional (his code for “I’m tearing up.” Sorry, A., I just outed you).
When we walked out of the terminal area (one big room) to the road, we found a man holding a sign: Matemwe Beach Villages. He was the messenger for our driver, Juma, who had slipped away for 4 p.m. prayer (Zanzibar is mostly Muslim). Juma returned and drove us more than an hour through poor villages to the east side of the island. We arrived at Matemwe, where the manager, Nadia, sat us down, told us to relax and gave us each a glass of mixed fruit juice and a warm towel to wipe our hands.
For the next five days, we mostly slept, ran on the beach, swam in the pool, read under little shaded bungalows looking at the Indian Ocean, ate delicious meals of mostly vegetables and fish and gazed at the brilliant stars.
One of the days, in the late morning, A.’s stomach started to act up. He wanted to stay in our bungalow and I was ready to head to the pool. So, clad in my bathing suit, skirt and tanktop, I took my book to a hammock with a view of the sea and settled in. About 20 min. later, and older man and a younger man walked up and squatted next to the tree near the hammock.
“Jambo!” [How are you?] The older man said.
“Jambo!” I replied and smiled.
“Where are you from?”
“America,” I said.
“Are you alone?”
“No,” I said. I didn’t feel threatened at all. “My boyfriend is back at the bungalow.”
“Why is he not here with you?”
“His stomach is upset.”
“How do you like it here in Zanzibar?”
“I love it, it’s beautiful. Do you live here?”
“Oh yes, I’m an English teacher.”
“Your English is quite good.”
All the while, the younger man, I’d say in his 20s, sat quietly behind the older man and smiled and looked down at the sand.
“Would your boyfriend be mad if he knew we were talking with you?”
“Oh, no, no, it’s OK.”
“Would you be mad if he was talking with a woman from Zanzibar when you weren’t here?”
“No, no, we trust and love each other.”
“You wouldn’t be jealous?” he said, playfully with mock surprise.
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“How would you like to live here, to see these beautiful beaches every day?”
“I’m quite happy with where I live,” I replied.
“But you could live here — on this beautiful island and have anything you want.”
The whole time he was smiling.
“I’m really happy and in love with my boyfriend, but thank you.”
With that, he slowly got up and signaled to the younger man. “Enjoy your stay in Zanzibar,” he said.
And the two wandered down to the edge of the water and disappeared down the beach.