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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Turning the Paje

Updated: May 21, 2023

I have just finished reading "Without Reservations" by Alice Steinbach. It seemed fitting to bring along an actual book, considering my past experiences with power, WIFI and keeping my devices charged. This book was a memoir of an American journalist who took a year off when she realized she had entered a new phase of life. It was a dream come true, this chance for her to rediscover what it's like to be an independent woman.

I found myself so inspired by the writing of this incredible author... her insights, her self-reflection, her view on life and the friendships she made along the way, as well as her plunge into solo travel. I had not finished half of the book when I resolved to reach out to Alice Steinbach. I really needed to touch base with her on some personal level and let her know how much I had been affected by the power of her words.

I was devastated to discover Alice Steibach passed away in 2012, at the age of 79. Ten years ago.

Heart wrenching...

This book has become my bible and I intend to completely devour it on more than one occasion. Highly recommended. Should I find a worthy recipient along my journey, I may pass it along... but that is a very big maybe. It would have to be a very deserving individual.

I will endeavor to channel the wisdom and the spirit of Alice Steinbach as my own journey continues.

As I write this... I am in Paje... and my official favourite location in Zanzibar. Had I paid attention and followed the advice of most of the guide books, I would have ended up here much earlier, but, of course, I had my own laborious trail to carve.

I am staying at the Simba Garden Lodge, off the main road, and about a 10 minute walk to the beach. It's really lovely, but I think jungle would have been a more appropriate word for the overgrown chaos that engulfs the hotel... but it is almost magical in its tropical disarray.

My room has no air conditioning, which I thought might be challenging, considering the intensity of the heat. So far, I have managed to endure the hardship, keeping cool with only a small ceiling fan. It helps that the pool is only mere steps from my bedroom door, and beckons me to dive in many times throughout the day.

For some reason, words do not seem to come easy lately. I really only have the Swahili mambo, jambo and hakuna matata to rely on to get me through the day, but even then the monotony of such simplicity seems to skirt my ability to communicate in an acceptable and intelligent manner. For some reason, due mostly (probably) to the name of my location, I spent an entire day walking around saying "simba" instead of "jambo." Odd... people were saying "hello" to me and I was responding with "lion."

I can only conclude that mindless repetition results in confusion... for me, anyway.

In other words, I'm an idiot...

I have to admit, upon arrival, I was a bit worried I would have a lonesome Christmas. Once again, there was no one here at the lodge. Solitude seemed to be stalking me through Zanzibar.

That's a lie actually...

There WAS and STILL IS a very odd lady staying here.

She's beyond strange.

At first, I figured she was consumed with something frightfully important, and as she seemed so preoccupied with what was on her phone, I gave her the necessary space. It's now been three+ full days and her reclusive routine has not changed. The only time she puts her phone down, is to light a cigarette... and even then it is questionable. I would place her in her late 60's... and she drapes herself in sheet-like, linen clothing everyday. Whites and beiges only.

All she does is sit... and then sit some more. She sits by the pool... or up in the lounge... and ALL she does is chain smoke and flip through her phone. I have never seen addiction like this. I crept up behind her the other day to see what held her fascination and I was appalled to discover it was FACEBOOK. Smoking and social media... a deadly combination. Like the other guests, I am unsure as to her country of origin because she never extends any courtesies, nor does she respond when one of us says hello. In fact, she gets quite irritated. She reminds me of the infamous Claudia, from the South African adventures of 2019.

I can't fathom her reason for being here... especially around the holidays when one might think that real human interaction might be a better approach.

What's the purpose?

To get a tan? 𝗫

To meet people? 𝗫

To experience the culture? 𝗫

To take in the tranquil vibe? 𝗫

To be on Facebook ? ✔️

Oh well... smoke 'em if you got 'em!

Paje is a brilliant beach town, essentially a long strip of white sand borderded by a small village. The beach is lively and kite surfing is the top of the activities list here. Walking along the shore at any time during the day, you can see the vibrant kites that pepper the blue sky, creating a colourful landscape against the turquoise water and white sand.

The village is a true mixture of enchantment, tradition and hip. There is a very easygoing nature, a twist of modern multiculturalism and a magical allure, inviting everyone in. I really do love it.

You can wander along, taking in the variety of markets, or pop into a garden café to eat Chinese, Swahili, Italian... the list goes on... or just stop on the side of the road and buy a jack fruit... or some scorched corn.

Things I have discovered about Zanzibar;

~ The vendors (Maasai) walk around ONLY selling shoes and sunglasses... and they predominantly approach people WITH shoes and sunglasses.

~ The vendors on the beach are only selling bags of nuts. Why not pieces of pineapple? Or water!

~ Zanzibar (Tanzania) is very forward thinking with their ban on plastic bags... but fail tremendously with the hordes of plastic enclosements covering the plastic lids to the plastic bottles. There is plastic everywhere.

~ There is a lack of garbage cans. I usually just shove things into mybag to dispose of at a later date... and am in a constant state of shock caused by the sheer amount of garbage lying about everywhere.

The Maasai are out in droves here, but it has become easier to brush them off.

Maybe I'm getting better at ignoring them... or maybe they're becoming better at taking the hint. It's probably a mixture of both. It's almost like a game now... can I get to my destination before being approached by these leeches? I've become better educated on the African sex trade now and it really fascinates me the amount of single women that come here to get a man!

From the safety & confines of a local beach café, I like to sit and watch the various women with their Maasai interactions. Of course, occasionally there is that particular woman who will stop and chat... sometimes for an abnormal amount of time. I can't help but wonder, what do they possibly have to talk about? Some women even walk off with them! The horror... ! There is the usual frustration in the temperament of most, but it is the independent, solo travelers that have perfected the art of ignoring them. They will walk on quickly, determined to rid themselves of the persistent irritation, and will frequently deek into a nearby restaurant for a much appreciated pause. Just like me...

In my hotel, there is also a young couple, with a baby. Quite an interesting story, actually. She is from Kenya and he is German.

His father has just flown over from Germany to spend the holidays with his son. Upon arrival, he was met with...

"This is my fiancé."

"This is our baby."

"We are getting married right after Christmas."

The father, who doesn't speak a stitch of English, is taking it exceptionally well for someone who has just had a multitude of unexpected bombs dropped on him. I think things have gone much better than anticipated, due to the fun disposition of his enthusiastic friend. He is always up for a good time, whether it be laughing, swimming or dancing!

So off to a wedding, we go! October 27th/

They did a quick trip into Stonetown the other day to purchase a dress, rings... etc.

There is another German lady, named Lina, who has arrived at the Simba, and she & I have spent a couple lazy days walking the beach together. There is also a Ugandan lady named Patience, and she is here with her Italian boyfriend Marcello, and her two daughters, Hannah and Samantha. Hannah and Samantha and I became fast friends, bonding over our professional & quite suave pool moves. We call ourselves "Mergs," which indicates our obvious cross between being a mermaid and a frog. Very elegant, as we splash through the water. Our cow-pool moves are polished. Even though we know there are lions painted at the bottom of the pool, they do look more like cows. They really do...

Eternally a cow pool.

At the end of our first evening meeting and conversation, I foolishly agreed to go out with Patience, though I have no idea WHO I honestly thought I was when I agreed to leave at almost 11PM to go and FIND A NIGHTCLUB.

That's not the Joanna I know.

That's not me AT ALL.

That is not even the Joanna I want to become or pretend to be! What was I thinking?

Nightclubs have never been my thing.

This 'new, vibrant try-anything Joanna' was brief, of course, and she had completely disappeared within mere moments of leaving the comfort of the hotel.

I tried to be cool... really I did.

I tried to have that jovial disposition of up for anything, but the truth of the matter was;

  1. I was tired.

  2. I didn't want to go clubbing... or dancing...

  3. THE BIG ONE ~ ... drum roll... ~ I was bloated beyond comprehension. A day's diet of yoghurt, beets, hummus, avocado, mango and chapati do not a good nightclubbing stomach make. Side note: I don't really know why I put myself through such gastrointestinal treachery.. but ... what do you do? It never ends well... EVER. The Savannah cider hardly helped.

Due to the obscene amount of money required to enter the party grounds, I was granted a much appreciated escape route. I was really not up for paying the 30,000 shilling entrance fee, when I knew I would more than likely be in bed within 45 minutes.

My old is shining through...

I had promised the girls I would be up and swimming with them at 8am, and it was a promise I intended on keeping. Plus, 30,000 shillings could better be put towards a wedding present and small Christmas gifts.

We met up with the German gentlemen, who were eager to dance the night away. After one quick drink, Patience agreed to accompany me back to the lodge, as she wanted to find her boyfriend and drag him along to the party. I waited until she was ready to go, so neither of us would have to make the late night trek on our own, but my valiant efforts were ineffectual because as soon as we hit the main road, she jumped on the back of a local's motorcycle and sped off.

I do not feel a sense of danger in Paje, and everyone has told me it's very safe for tourists to wander around at night, due to the excessive amount of bars, restaurants and clubs. There was one sketchy guy we encountered earlier at the bar, so I hoped I wouldn't run into him... and I didn't.

I walked back to the hotel, by myself, thinking about how bizarre life can be if you let it lead you... and how lucky I am that I have the ability to toss myself into so many different situations... even the disastrous nightclubbing evenings!

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