Bongoyo

I awake to a chorus of English conversation, Swahili radio, and boisterous laughter. It’s Monday at 7:30am. I smile as I stretch, for I’ve won a small victory: sleeping through the sunrise cuckoo of the rooster next door.

I roll out of bed, feeling a delicious soreness from yesterday’s swim at Bongoyo Island. I initially planned to stay on the uninhabited beach for a couple hours. I thought I would take a quick dip, read a chapter of Wild, and return on the 12:30 ferry, alone as I came. To my great delight, Bongoyo became an all-day adventure. I made five new friends as we sat underneath the thatched umbrella, discussing East African history, the etymologies of European languages, and whether the American Greek system was as ridiculous as it seemed. We climbed over coral in search of “Shark’s Cove” and exotic lizards. We swam to see boat wreckage, barely visible through the choppy waters of high tide. We stayed to watch sunset, until the boatmaster beckoned “hurry, hurry,” as we bounded through the sand toward the last return ferry.

I click through yesterday’s photos, laughing at my Sunday morning self, who had been so nervous about making this trip alone. As I had pushed out of the empty compound (Goshia and Pat were away for the weekend), gripped my clunky beach tote (bag snatching is the most common crime in Dar), and hailed a bajaj (my Swahili’s so poor, I was sure I’d get lost otherwise), that trip to Bongoyo seemed like the bravest thing I could have done. I had been tempted to stay home instead, for I still feared the unknown — would these streets be safe to walk on? Would I have enough change for the day? Would the whole trip be a mistake? I feared feeling unwelcome, because I don’t speak fluent Swahili. I feared feeling lonely, even among the expats, because I don’t really live here and I haven’t traveled more than an occasional family to Europe or Hawaii.

Fear of the unknown, of loneliness, of feeling unwelcome; yes — it had been so tempting to stay at home instead and to withdraw into books or social media or work.


Yesterday’s trip was a one-day jaunt on the beach, but it was also symbolic for me. It was proof that I could overcome these fears. That I could put myself out there, and that I’d be fine. So far, it’s brought the best victory, one more meaningful than out-sleeping my neighbor’s rooster: the growing confidence that I’m capable of independent exploration; maybe even capable of making it on my own.

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