Apart from a Zanzibar beach party (dodging maasai guys on the dance floor; not-so-sober sea plunge at 4am, etc.), I’m choosing to let socialising take a back seat for a while. And it is a choice, because it’s evidently easy to meet other expats, and easy to go out lots: “Oh, and you’ll turn into an alcoholic”, half-joked, half-warned my predecessor, whose job and apartment I’ve taken over.
I’m not yet convinced I’ll be taking over his lifestyle. Partly it’s a conscious decision – but partly it’s something more subtle. A sense that because I’m in Africa, things are Different. Clearly to all those going out drinking and flirting and having dinner parties it’s no different at all, just a bit sweatier and grubbier. But for various reasons – naiveté, or paranoia, or racism, or just realism – I’m a slightly different person here than in Europe.
I smile at men calling out to me on my street because aren’t they just being friendly?… yet cower behind the open window of the taxi when hordes of loud young Tanzanians pass us on their way home from the beach. I make sure I’m home before darkness falls at 6pm; I wake without an alarm twelve hours later. I avoid getting too close to my neighbours. I live in a place that has a cleaner come four times a week and round-the-clock guards at the front gate.
And I find myself in the unfamiliar role of timid newcomer who’s always asking “is it safe?” while the old hacks who’ve done a stint in Ivory Coast or Ecuador are busy painting their fingernails.
It seems ridiculous that people talk about “finding yourself” on far-flung voyages. Surely you’re much more likely to lose yourself?