I tap into my spirituality when kite-surfing. For those of you who know me, the ocean and I are not the best of friends. Stereotype me an urban black girl, but growing up, I ran from water for fear of what it would do to my hair. Furthermore, I distinctly remember my mother bringing me to the beach one day when I was small, brought me to the shore, and had me gaze at the water.

Ma: Can you drink all this water?

Me: No!

Ma: So stay out of it!

 

Dred-loc’d and ocean drawn now as an adult, (Moana I know your heart) I’ve developed an appreciation for ocean water, though I’m still weary of her as a moving, breathing, willful being. I learned to boogie board because that was safe enough, and kept me close to the shore. I took a few surf lessons through Chica Brava, an all girls surf school in Nicaragua, just to get a feel for riding manageable waves. But this appreciation in recent years has transformed into something I can not yet name. In October 2014, I nearly drowned attempting to scuba dive in the open stormy water of the Sodwana Bay in South Africa. I’ve taken private swim lessons since then, yet that doesn’t change the apprehension I have about swimming in the ocean. I am resolved to respect her as she lays right over there, with all her appeal and might. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered the joys of kite-surfing.

 

I arrived in Zanzibar shortly after a two week long venture about northern Tanzania. I was “supposed” to stay for only a few days, just to recuperate from summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro. I had booked a return flight from Lilongwe, Milawi in a few weeks because my intention was to continue backpacking south in Africa as soon as I felt well rested enough to carry on.

 

In Zanzibar, I frequently sauntered along the ocean side as a pastime between napping and talking with strangers about the peculiarities of life. The south-eastern coastal sky was littered with what appeared to be massive colorful floating contraptions. I didn’t even know the name for the sport before I wrote it off as some more crazy shit white people do. “No way! I’m not trying that.” I distinctly remember muttering this to myself as I strolled closer and closer to Paje, the major kite-surfing hub on the island.

 

It wasn’t until a new friend, Aziz from Oman, said that he wanted to give it a try that I opened myself to the experience. Aziz and I had been volunteering at the Bwejuu Charity School together, and I had come to respect him as my personal Swahili teacher. “Well, if you try it, I’ll try it too,” I said one evening over a thermos of Zanzibar spiced tea. Maybe I was seduced by the aromatic blend of the wafting vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom from our teacups. I’m such a sucker for communal experiences anyway, so clearly the universe had conspired to get me on a surf board. But Aziz never came to the kite training center. And since I had already psyched myself up to give it a try, I took a deep breath, and told instructor Jesus from España to strap me in. I was as ready as I’d ever be. I kept thinking: I’ll do it, and when I don’t like it, I can at least say I tried. It just wasn’t for me. (WHEN I don’t like it! Catch that pessimism?)

 

Four years later, three trips back to Zanzibar for a minimum of four weeks at a time, one sting-ray bite, countless sea urchin spiney encounters, a sprained foot, scraps, cuts and all, kite-surfing is one of the best things that has every happened to me. Am I a great kitesurfer, or even a good one? No way. But every time I’m out there with a kite and a board, I feel every cell in body vibrate with life and I lust for more. I catch myself screaming sometimes out in the water. This may be because it has taken me so long, what feels like an unreasonably unfair and brutal length of time, to finally kite solo. I’m an independent kite surfer. I no longer need to look back at an instructor to tell me if I should go further left or further right. It’s like getting your driver’s license and taking the high way by yourself the first few times with the music on at last. But the thrill of kite-surfing doesn’t seem to wane as does driving solo.

 

There’s a desperation that comes over us all, from novice to professional, as we sit on the sand and will the wind to beat strong enough to float our kites. I dream about it in my sleep. I catch myself on my bed with my arms raised, practicing the timing and proper positioning to motion the kite. I just want to get it right. Kite-surfing like standard surfing is an unrelenting and cyclical waiting game for enthusiasts; the ride comes and goes, and then you wait. All this over and over again. Comparatively, kite-surfers wait on the wind while standard surfers wait on the water. But I find that it teaches patience in a way that working with children never achieved. Before leaving the kite center, the instructors commonly say, “See you tomorrow. Hey…but we must pray for the wind.” I utter to myself and to others, “God willing, there will be wind tomorrow.”

 

When I’m actually gliding across the water, I am grateful to God, her in all her grace, for giving me that glorious ride each time. I have found more spirituality, more connectedness to nature, in kite-surfing than in anything I’ve ever experienced before. The wind and her will, has humbled me, and I am in love with every breath of her. The ocean, on the other hand, well…she knows that I awfully respect her. I’m just grateful for life jackets, nah mean?

 

Naomi, a kickass nomad from Australia, and I have become an excellent pair of kite junkies. As I sit here and type, I am relying on her to alert me to come and catch the “good enough” wind if she finally blows. Lately, we’ve been spending hours staring out at the water, resolved to drink up the sheer beauty of the scenery. I scream with exhilaration a lot these days. “This water looks like glass! My god! I can’t get bored of it!” She nods in blissful agreement with me. It doesn’t matter that there’s not enough wind for which our bones ache. Our hearts are amply full.

Naomi, Mohamed, Me, Saleem

 

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