I’ve been thinking about moments of peace and moments of violence a lot recently.
Okay, let me back up. First, I have to apologize. It’s been about forever since I last updated you all. I swear, I sat down last week and tried to write – but I had no words. These last couple of weeks has been some of the most peaceful and the most emotionally intense moments I’ve had this trip – so I’ve either had nothing to write about, or I’ve lacked the ability to describe what I was feeling. I’m going to make an attempt now but forgive me if I can’t express any of my experiences adequately. Sometimes travel moments are only meant to be that – flashes in time, un-captured by words.
But lets give it a shot anyways.
I originally started writing last week about moments of peace. I had been going back and forth for a while, trying to figure out what I wanted to say, and it completely took me by surprise that I couldn’t find something I wanted to talk about (I mean, come on guys, we all know I can talk about anything). No rants I felt I needed to give, no development topic I wanted to analyze, no big dengue/malaria/African immigration stories to give you a play by play on. And eventually, it kind of hit me – for the first time in a long time, I’m just happy. And content. Not shout from the walls excited kind of happy, just quietly enjoying life kind of happy. I tried to rack my brain for some sort of interesting story to tell, yet, all I found myself wanting to talk to you about was this lazy Saturday. I know, right….here I am halfway around the world, working for the UN and I want to give you an update about a lazy Saturday? Seriously, Kailee?!
I know it sounds crazy, and it sounds so ordinary, but this one lazy Saturday captures some of the most calming moments I’ve had in Tanzania so far. We had all gone out the night before, and were exhausted from dancing to our favourite African-pop songs until the early morning, that we decided to have late brunch at this little café. Lounging around on couches, drinking coffee and eating eggs bene felt a bit surreal (who knew brunch was just as good, if not better, in Africa rather than at home?!) It was one of those perfect mornings, where no one had to be anywhere, and all you had to look forward to was lying around with friends, talking and laughing.
The rest of the day proceeded as uneventful as the rest had been. We went to the beach. Swam in the ocean. Napped in the sand with warm beer and warmer chocolate. Explored hidden outposts looking out over crystal blue water. Played a horrible game of ping-pong and sang way too loudly to cheesy girl bands as we drove back to a friend’s house. And then we ended the night sitting on a balcony, drinking tea and honey, wrapped in blankets, overlooking the ocean and just talking. The day wasn’t high energy, it wasn’t particularly special, and it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary… except for the fact that I felt so genuinely content and so genuinely peaceful, that it shocked me how a person could ever really be this happy.
When you’re travelling, people always ask you about the big moments. They want to know about chimp trekking, about what working for the UN is like, about how I almost had to fly to Kenya last minute because of an immigration scandal. I’ve written about this previously, but for me, that’s never how I remember my trips. When I think back to the places I’ve been, it’s not the excursions or the adrenaline pumping adventures that mean the most. Instead, it’s those slow, lazy moments where life seems to fall into place. That’s originally why I wrote this piece; it’s so rare to ever feel truly peaceful, to feel so present in a moment, that it was actually quite unnerving. How many times do I stop to acknowledge how perfect a moment is, without running through to-do lists in my mind, or checking an email that must be soooo important. I needed to acknowledge that sometimes life seems to just fall into place, that travel can inspire those quiet moments of introspectiveness that are so beautiful and so fleeting, that fill you with so much more raw emotion than any of those big travel adventures ever will. When your heart is filled with love and all you can think about is how lucky you are to live in moments like this, it makes you think that you are exactly where you’re meant to be.
So here I am, with this blog piece crafted about how peaceful and content life in Dar feels. About how I wake up in the morning smiling, and end the nights drinking tea and talking with friends. About those quiet moments of being content really meaning so much at this point in my life, and all of that. I’m all ready for you all to roll your eyes, but also to enjoy the fact that I’m genuinely enjoying life this summer. And then we all go to Zanzibar. Well, more importantly we all come back from Zanzibar. There’s the blog post, my musings on peacefulness waiting on my computer, waiting for me to press publish…and then we get robbed.
Dar has a very, very high crime rate. We’ve been told a million and fifty times to watch out around where we live, because there are so many bag snatchings on a weekly basis. Since the beginning of the trip, we would walk with our belongings concealed in grocery bags, or money stuffed down our bra, the usual tips to keep our possessions safe. Even still, robbery never really seemed like a big concern. So what, if my bad got snatched? I never really had anything in there anyways. Who cares if a friend’s stuff got taken, things are replaceable. My thinking was that if the worse that was going to happen to me here were that my things could get stolen, then I really didn’t have to worry much. You know, in comparison to places where actual violent crime happens. The thing is though, that you can’t define violence. “Oh, our friend got his things stolen,” may not sound like that big of a deal. When you’re the one on the receiving end though, it is. It so severely, forcefully is.
A group of friends and I had gone to Zanzibar for the weekend. The entire trip had been a beautiful mix of sun, good food, better conversation and amazing people. Riding the high of our excursion, we were all walking downtown, on our way from the ferry to where we had parked the car the morning before. We were almost a block away from where we were going, when this black car pulled up behind us, seeming to want to drive past. Its always so sketchy when black cars have tinted windows, I remember thinking, trying to peer into the driver’s side as I crossed over to get out of its way. It slowly snaked its way beside our group, and then almost in slow motion, a man reached out of the car and grabbed the guy standing right in front of me.
The thing I can remember the most from that moment is the hair of the guy in the car. He had jet-black, short dreadlocks, sticking out every which way. Those little spirals of hair reached out, two massive hands under a black T-shirt, and grabbed our friend’s backpack off of his back. Except, his arm was in it, and he didn’t let go. So those jet-black spirals of hair continued to hold on, yelling to the driver to go faster. At first, our friend was running, holding onto the bag as they drove away. Then he was sliding, balancing on the side of the passenger door. And then he was being dragged, his arms still hanging on to the strap as it was being pulled deeper into the recesses of that black car, his body dangling off of the side as they sped down the road. And then he was lying in the middle of a busy road, almost sliding into oncoming traffic, thrown to a stop as they sped away.
While it was happening, it was almost if my brain broke everything down into tiny movie-like flashes, not being able to comprehend what was going on until it was over. Oh, there is a guy leaning out of that black car. Oh, the guy is grabbing the backpack. Oh, this must be a robbery. Oh, he’s being dragged down the street. Oh, the car is still speeding. Oh, he is lying on the ground, they must have gotten away. Oh…..there is something really serious going on right now Kailee. You better start reacting. It’s so funny how your body responds to moments like these, isn’t it? My mind wouldn’t let me comprehend anything until it was over, where our other friends reacted in completely different ways. One ran after the car, convinced he could get the bag back, disregarding the fact that they very easily could have had a weapon or ran him over. One got angry, yelling that he should have let go of the bag sooner to stop himself from being hurt, lectures masking her own form of fear and shock. We all drove to the hospital, sitting in silence as the doctors cleaned up the missing chunks of flesh from where he had taken the brunt of the fall, not knowing how to process what we had all just witnessed.
I’m really struggling to find the words to explain the feelings of fear, terror, and shock that accompany an experience like that. I want to explain to you the overwhelming waves panic, of going into survival, ‘lets get everyone to the hospital and make sure things are okay’ mode. I want to explain to you the piercing anger that I felt seeing my friends so visibly shaken, so upset, so hurt that all I wanted to do was make it better…and had no idea how. I want to explain how even such a routine thing, robbery in a big city, makes you skittish and nervous. How walking down the street makes me do double takes, or how the night after it happened, we all just sat there, not really knowing what to say to make any of us less shaken or unnerved. Afterwards, all of these stories started coming out about others having similar experiences. About a woman killed after being dragged under a car, about someone smashing their shoulder in two from the force of a bag snatching, of a man dying after being dragged along on his bike. Violence of any kind makes you lose faith in the place you had just started to love, just started to feel comfortable in. That feeling, of feeling unsafe in a place you call home, is one of the worst I’ve ever experienced.
I know it sounds a bit mundane. Okay, okay, your friend got his stuff stolen. There are people around the world in the middle of war, dying from hunger/poverty/disasters/conflict. Believe me, you don’t have to tell me that on the scale of world-wide violence, this doesn’t even come close to making it on the list. I’m not trying to say that this was a particularly horrible experience in the grand scheme of things, but those feelings of panic and terror that accompany human suffering? Those matter. Have you ever come that face-to-face with another human who cares so little about someone else’s life, that they are willing to sacrifice it, seriously hurt another person, and don’t even give it a second thought? They would have, and could have, killed him in an effort to inadvertently grab his bag, but that fact was meaningless. That realization that there are people devoid of empathy, devoid of kindness, who think nothing of hurting another human being, that’s what’s terrifying. And that vision, the one of dark hair and a dark shirt reaching out of a car, right beside me, so close that I could touch him, grabbing another person and dragging him down the road as the car starts speeding faster…that will forever be branded on my memory.
I would love to end this story with a nicely packaged paragraph on what I’ve learned from this experience, but I’m not sure I have a strong conclusion on this one. I have no life lesson to draw, no inspired Kailee-wisdom to really share from this. Again, I’ve been going back and forth all week, trying to find the words to describe how to make sense of all of this. The juxtaposition of these events is just so strange. How do you come to terms with the fact that a place like this can hold such happiness, and then fill you with such fear? On one hand, I’ve had some of my most cherished moments living here, and on the other, I’ve had some of my lowest. How do you make sense of your time spent in a place, when it’s filled with such polar opposites? Processing regular travel moments is already emotionally intense for me – what do you do when what you thought you were feeling one day is so drastically different from the next?
Maybe that’s the point though, isn’t it? One day, life feels amazing. The next day, you’re given different cards. Maybe the point of this trip wasn’t to be completely peaceful, or incredibly shaken up, but to acknowledge that life is filled with full moments. Full of happiness, or full of fear. Full of feeling content, and then full of feeling shock and uncertainty. A lazy Saturday with friends or a Sunday night spent in the hospital. Feeling beyond alive because of joy and friendship, or feeling beyond alive because of anxiety and panic. There is an intensity of raw emotion that fills the experience of both happiness and of hate that has been present through all of this. All of these experiences are overwhelming, and add to the slow collection of stories accumulated as part of travel. You experience, you process, and then you move on to your next travel moment…whatever that may be.
As I write to you, I’m sitting on our (new) balcony, drinking tea, and overlooking all of the twinkling lights off of Dar’s coastline. It’s beautiful, and calm, and when I look back at this trip, I’ll remember it as a one of those perfectly peaceful nights. But those vivid experiences of fear and alarm are just as important too. Both my moments of peace and my moments of violence culminate together into one long, messy string of travel memories. For better or for worse, they fill in the pages of my time in Tanzania. And maybe, that’s all a girl can really ask for.