I’m sitting here in my kitchen on this Monday morning – having perused other travel bloggers tips for success (hopefully avoiding having to bludgeon my followers or readers for every hour of every day) and the one thing that seems to be key is “what makes you different?”.
What makes me different indeed.
I would say I’m one part writer, one part adventurer and one part seriously underrated, undiscovered comedian; although that last one is considered – devastatingly – a matter of opinion.
So here I am, contemplating what I can offer you so that you follow me (read; carry me) to the paid-to-write-and-travel-the-world golden gates and I can class myself a success on social media (which in it’s own right, would be a joke of unparalleled ludicrousness) and a bonafide blogger.
What makes me different?
As I sit here typing, I imagine you across from me; sipping on a cuppa and eyeballing my particularly interesting choice of attire (sherpa beanie, pashmina tassled shirt, grandpa slippers and a pair of particularly unflattering tie dye pants). I come from a long line of exaggeration experts that deliver fables with a flourish and recount tales from the heights of tabletops. But I prefer stories of truth, for fact has always far more feeling than fiction. So let me tell you a story and perhaps at the end, you might find my difference.
The golden lights of many a food cart twinkled in the Forodhani Gardens in Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar. From where I was sitting; with my back to the Indian ocean and the many wooden fishing boats – known as Dhow’s – I looked out into the park and it’s street food offerings.
It was late in the evening and I had just gorged myself on Ethiopian injera bread and spicy wot (stew like) dishes but the lure of Nutella crepes by the esplanade were contesting how full my belly really was.
Like the Malécon in Havana and Marina Bay in Singapore – the sea walk comes to life after dark. A mingling of vendors, tourists, entertainers and locals alike. All seeking out to sample the freshly made goodies or barter for a catch of the day bargain with the local fishermen.
The air was warm; the hint of a breeze floating about the place and I was battling with my appetite; to crepe or not to crepe – that was the question. My friends had already decided that desert was well and truly on the menu and had gone to fetch said deliciousness. I was being kept amused while I deliberated on my dietary dilemma, by two stray cats acrobatically making their way along the balustrade. My amusement was interrupted by a local gentleman who sat down beside me.
“Jambo jambo” he smiled a yellow toothed grin at me. The beautiful thing about Swahili is that it sounds so happy – that, and I deludedly think I’m fluent for having watched the Lion King (Disney at it’s most creative; Simba means lion.. literally Lion the lion).
It wasn’t surprising that the gentleman had sat down next to me; a single female traveller is an easy target for a conversation and most locals like to practice their English because tourism is how most try to make a living; the more fluent they are, the more income they are likely to receive.
“How are you this evening?” he asked me.
“I’m good thank you and yourself?”
“Good thank you. Where are you from?”
Of all the conversations from around the world and particularly in developing nations – this is the question I am asked most. At first it can feel cheap; a way for vendors or shop owners to strike a conversation to draw you to them and whatever it is they are trying to sell. But I have come to find the cynical Western interpretation of this question is entirely wrong. For the locals of the communities I have visited, this question comes from longing and curiosity. Wealthy tourists come from places they can only dream of visiting; places that only exist in the accents of their intrepid citizens. “Where are you from” is a way of asking “Show me your world in an answer; a place I’ll likely never see. Help me to go there, if just for a moment”. And all of a sudden, asking where I am from is not the impertinent sales pitch I thought it was – but a tentative and hopeful moment to travel with me; to try to imagine where I am from whilst I stand with them on their home soil.
“I’m from Australia.”
He mumbles with his words for a moment or two and looks down into his lap as he tries to find the right word. “AH!” He lifts his head and smiles triumphantly; “Skippy the kangaroo!”.
I have just spent the day marvelling at a 148 year old tortoise just off this island of his and travelled thousands of kilometres to see game on the mainland but “Skippy” is considerably more exotic in his eyes.
I laugh. “Yes. There are lots of kangaroos where I come from.” He smiles and nods. I try to think of something to compare for him; to understand how mundane a kangaroo is to me; to find something in common.
“There are so many of them. Just like.. just like the zebras and antelope in the Serengeti.”
He looks puzzled for a moment and so I elaborate; “I just came from the Serengeti and I saw lots and lots of zebras.” I smile encouragingly at him and his expression changes as he understands what I have said. He looks down in his lap for a moment and then looks back at me offering a tight lipped, embarrassed smile. “I have never seen a zebra. I’ve never been to Tanganyika.”
Shame flushed my face. Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania – a country home to the Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti and some of the Masai Mara – is only a 3 and a half hour ferry ride from Zanzibar. A ticket is around $60 AUD.
This gentleman was likely in his late twenties and I had assumed his opportunities had extended beyond the shores of the island. They had not.
In my bid to find something in common, I had found our greatest difference; privilege.
I had spent thousands of dollars to visit Africa and to set foot on the Serengeti – which is many, many miles from my homeland of Western Australia – but here was a man who felt shame for not having experienced what I had hoped would be mundane for him. In fact, I imagine he would have been just as overwhelmed as I to see such sights.
It was that moment that imprinted itself on my memory; for all the things we choose to do in our lives, the decisions we choose to make and the stepping stones that present themselves to better ourselves; they are almost always a product of the greatest gift of chance we are given; our birthright – where we come from. It is something that not a single one of us can choose and it is the twinkling lights of Forodhani Gardens that belong to a lesson in privilege that I can’t ever forget.
There is a moment of silence between us as we chew on our what if’s and then he looks up at me sharply and grins – a master of Hakuna Matata if there ever was one – and asks me if I have seen the northern beaches or gone for a snorkel or done a spice tour. His sales pitch is approaching and I have already seen all that he is offering but for a moment I wish I hadn’t.
It was chance that had us born on opposite sides of the Indian Ocean and it was privilege that allowed me to cross that distance. Perhaps our differences will bother me far longer than they bother him; and so they should. I have the privilege of seeing poverty and being able to leave it. I should shoulder the burden of knowing different because I have a greater chance of being able to take the steps to help change it.
Hakuna Matata may mean ‘no worries’, but in Tanzania more than 75% of the country lives below the poverty line on less than $3.10 a day and more than 40% of those on $1.90 per day. With statistics like that, it’s hard to imagine how anyone can believe in “Hakuna Matata”.
The gentleman moved on once we established I wouldn’t be able to partake in any of his tours and while I have no doubt that I’ve been long forgotten in his mind – he will remain in mine; a face that reminds me of humility and my interpretation of the true meaning of Hakuna Matata; always keep perspective.