Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

“I’m Not Japanese Anymore”

she said, and we dissolved into gales of giggles. We struggled to regain control over ourselves. She was the Japanese ambassador’s wife, my dear friend, and we would hide out and have coffee together whenever our busy schedules would allow. We always sought out the quietest time of day, the most remote tables, so we could have complete and utter privacy as we shared our week, our worries about our kids, our lives.


Our topic was a recurring one in our conversations – that once you have left your native country and lived elsewhere, you aren’t the same anymore. Your eyes change, and you see things differently, your taste buds change and the unfamiliar becomes familiar. Unacceptable color combinations become acceptable, the cacaphonous and discordant become music to your ears. Once you have lived in a foreign country, you can never be truly the person you were before you left.

“I’m not so patient with ceremony any more,” she continued, and we dissolved into laugher again, because her life was full of endless ceremonial events. The great blessing in all this for both of us, is that we are both married to men who are at the same time traditional and ceremonial, and secret iconoclasts. Every now and then we could even get together, all four of us, and share an evening of relaxation and laughter, mostly laughing at ourselves and the difference between how others perceived us, and how we really are.

We treasure these friends. They are the kind that could call us late in the day and say “We are unexpectedly free tonight – can you meet us?” and if there was any way we could, we would. They were our playmates; when we were together we were free to be totally ourselves.

Sometimes in life we are handed roles to play, and if we are honorable people, we play them as best we can. The secret is to keep a very clear idea of where the role ends and we begin. We show respect where respect is due, we carry out the rituals that give richness and tradition to our lives, and heritage to our children.

But glory and honors are transient. Roles and job titles come and go. Good friends and those who keep your worst secrets – they are worth more than gold and diamonds.

September 23, 2006 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Qatar, Relationships, Uncategorized, Women's Issues | 2 Comments

Heaven on Earth

Where are you? There were some clues . . . on the menu board, and in the shape of the dhows sailing by . . .

Here is my idea of heaven on earth – Mnemba Island. You can see it in the distance, beyond the fishing boats off the northeast corner of Zanzibar. Only ten bungalows on Mnemba, a private island, maximum 20 guests; this is another CCAfrica property. About a third of the guests seem to be honeymooners, but there are also families, divers, people who want privacy and care-free time alone.

The temperature stays around 85 degrees, day and night, most of the year. The bungalows are large and luxurious, fine linens, huge bath areas, and lots of extras – a terrace with couches for lounging, snoozing, reading, keeping your diary. . . a bed swing, on which my husband frequently snoozed . . . your own basket with beach towels, flip flop sandals, sand shovels and a bucket . . . an outside sink in the ground with running water to wash the sand off your feet . . .tables and chairs where you can have dinner, write a letter, keep up your journal, an addictive African board game, and a library full of books, even an internet connection in the library if you are so addicted.

You arrive by powerboat, greeted upon arrival with a fruit drink and are told “you won’t need your shoes again until you leave the island.” It feels really funny going to the dining room barefoot, but oh! you get used to it! The sand is made of coral, and it never gets hot.

Your butler escorts you to your “bungalow” which is the size of a small house, with indoor and outdoor living areas, including a covered chaise longue area all your own, near the beach. He shows you all the features, including bathrobes, racks to dry your beach towels, locally made toiletries, etc – anything you might need, it is there. If something is not there, you have only to ask.

Meals are amazing. Lots of choice, everything fresh and freshly prepared, lots of Zanzibari grown pineapple, banana, and lots of freshly caught seafood. Breakfast when you want it, any way you want it, even brought to your bungalow. Lunch at the open air, thatched roof dining room, unless you have taken it with you on a day trip, out fishing, into Zanzibar island, out on a diving trip . . . and dinner is served on the beach sands amidst a series of hanging lanterns, tables spaced generously so that you feel intimate and private, even with other guests around.

You don’t need a lot of clothing; they do your laundry for you on a daily basis. You do need to be covered at meals, (If you are in a bathing suit, you need a T-shirt and kikoy wrap, or some other cover-up) as many of the staff are Moslem, and the resort respects their sensitivities.

*Kikoy are about 1 meter by 1.5 meters, 100% cotton in a variety of irresistable colors, available throughout Tanzania, and also in the Mnemba gift shop. You have six of them, in a variety of lovely colors, in your bungalow.

Mnemba also runs its own private diving school. Dives are included in the daily rate, dive school is not. Snorkeling equipment and diving equipment are free, and just in front of the widely spaced bungalows is a huge marine reserve with over 400 varieties of fish. Back at your bungalow are books helping you to identify the fish you’ve seen. The colors are breathtaking.

Mnemba Island reservations are so sought after that you either have to book very far in advance, or take your chances that someone has cancelled at the last minute. It took us three years to be able to get in there . . . and because I had such high expectations, I was really worried that it couldn’t possibly be as good as it looked. It was. It was even better. This place knocked my socks off.

it is the perfect transition spot from safari to going home. It is the perfect place for a three to five day getaway. It is the perfect place to hide from the world. It is perfect for a honeymoon. You can have as much or as little privacy as you want. You can be as active or as lazy as you want. And when the time comes to go – to will take Mnemba Island with you in your heart. Happy travels!

September 23, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Tanzania, Travel, Uncategorized, Zanzibar | 7 Comments