Fire Eating and Swimming with Sharks… Life on the African Edge

It’s not every day that you get to arrive at a party on a boat. But a full moon party was happening on the other side of the island, and we organized a dhow to take us so we could arrive in traditional style. We pulled up at a beach lit by bonfires and flaming torches, and waded through the knee-deep water.

The main spectacle was a group of acrobats called the Jambo Brothers, similar to the acrobats we saw at the Bomas of Nairobi. They performed to much wild applause. But the most excitement accompanied the fire eater. He ran the fire over his arms and legs, then put a flaming torch in his mouth and ate the fire. Then he pulled me and about 8 other people up onto the stage. We sat in a long line, and the fire eater sat in the middle of us. A plate of three flaming cotton balls was brought out on a little plate. The fire eater picked up one of the balls, tossed it around in his hands, then put it down. He gestured to me, as I was sitting at the end of the line, to go ahead a pick up one of the flames. I looked to the girl sitting next to me, one of the oasis crew as well. We smiled nervously to each other, then picked up the cotton. It was HOT! But you could keep it in the palm of your hand without it burning, pass it from palm to palm and then put it on the plate, no harm done. Everyone laughed and we passed the plate along the line for everyone else to try.

Then the fire eater picked up one of the balls and balanced it on his tongue. Then he took it out, put it back on the plate and passed it down to me again. The girl beside me chickened out. I was close to but how many opportunities do you get to eat fire? This was a dorothy moment: I certainly wasn’t in North America any more! I was the first one to go. I picked it up, unable to carry it between my fingers for too long, so I tossed it slowly from palm to palm. Then, I popped it on my tongue.


No, it didn’t hurt, but I was so scared that I spat it out onto the plate right away. But I got a big round of applause and passed the plate onto the next girl (also from oasis – we had a bit of a monopoly going) who was able to keep it on her tongue for a long time. When everyone who wanted to (about four out of the eight of us) had had a go, we all stood up and bowed. It was a great start to what ended up being a fantastic night.

Underwater Safari

My time on Zanzibar has been consumed with scuba diving, and so I haven’t had time to relax on the beach. I am fitting a four day Open Water PADI course into three days, along with Sarah and another girl. Unfortunately, Sarah learned on the second day that she is unable to equalize her ears to the pressure when she descends into deep water. The other girl had an unfortunate bout of sea sickness which meant that she was also unable to continue.

Another dhow took Sarah (who was to snorkel) and I out to Mnemba, an island off of Zanzibar with a huge reef surrounding it. The reef is a marine park (an underwater national park, almost) and is known to be home to sharks, turtles, and a wide variety of marine life. Sarah attempted our first dive there, but was again unable to equalize, and so continued her Mnemba adventure on the surface. I descended to 18metres underwater with the instructor, and continued on to have one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

The Mnemba scuba dive was like an underwater safari. Being underwater is a world unto itself, as cliche as that sounds. By this time I had already completed two dives, and was able to concentrate on just enjoying and wondering at the scenery beneath me. A moray eel poked his head out of his hole, gaping at us as if we had disturbed his sleep. A giant Napoleon fish loomed in the distance, his enormous form just a dark shadow in the water until we swam closer, peeked at his deformed face and he disappeared. A pair of bannerfish, which look like giant angel fish, floated past us, close to my arm. And what looked like a shark – but turned out to be a cobi fish – swam overhead. I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t in an aquarium – that all I was seeing was real.

We surfaced for a mandatory interval, before diving again in another spot, this time a place well known for sea turtles. We weren’t disappointed. One enormous sea turtle sheltered itself underneath the reef and we swam around for a closer look. Large green turtles have enormous eyes that look like amber gemstones underwater. We spotted another one gently paddling away, so graceful for its size. When we surfaced again, I knew I was hooked. And now, as a certified diver, I am free to go and continue diving throughout my trip.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *