Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ferry ride to Unguja

The ferry ride to Unguja was long, but peaceful. The ocean was beautiful. For miles on end, there was nothing around but calm skies and a gentle sea. Standing there, I couldn’t help thinking just how small and insignificant I was.
When the island became visible in the distance, we were all excited. Everybody wanted to see Unguja. A family with a video camera was filming the approach to the island. I was standing next to them and could hear their little boy crying out for candy, “Awz helwa,” over and over again to his mother.

The deck was packed. Everybody was standing out there watching the island. I imagine many of them were coming back home to visit their families. Some were probably coming to visit for the first time, perhaps to work, or maybe to make a new home on the island. Others were tourists, come to see “Africa”. There was a mix of people on that ferry, rich and poor, but for the moment, we were all equals as we stood on the deck, caught up in awe at the island’s beauty.

Some people were so enraptured that they forgot where they were, and left their bags unattended on the ground. Of course, one man, alert to the opportunity, took advantage of the fact that the deck was crowded and no-one was watching. He grabbed hold of another man’s bag and was trying to sneak away with it when somebody saw him and raised the alarm: “Mwizi!”

Suddenly, the magic spell was broken. Everyone turned away from the beautiful view in time to see the young man being pushed into a corner. The bag was grabbed from him and returned to its rightful owner. Only then did the angry crowd unleash its wrath on him. The crowd rained blows on him and kicked him mercilessly, only stopping when two men who had muscled their way through stood before him, shielding him. They took him to a little room and locked him up in there.

Whatever transpired after that, I do not know. I imagine that when the ferry docked, the man was turned in to the police. As for the rest of the passengers, most of them went back to what they were doing before the incident: watching the approach to the island. To them, it was just another ordinary day: a man had tried to steal and mob justice had been meted out to him. Now that he had been locked away somewhere, they could go back to admiring the features of the island- the trees were now visible, as were some beautiful white buildings.

I noticed that the tourists looked a bit anxious. They were probably shocked at the speed with which everything had happened and at the seeming brutality of the crowd. Where had the anger and violence come from? They were not used to being this close to public anger and violence.

Whatever their feelings were, there was no time to dwell on them, the ferry soon docked and everyone was in a rush to get off.

This work is licensed to Rose Kahendi under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.