From Long-Distance Relationship to Living Together

August 1, 2016
gp, tanzania, zanzibar, zanzibar men
From Long-Distance Relationship to Living Together

It didn’t happen the way I expected it would. But then, what does?

When I left Zanzibar on July 4, 2015, I did so with a confused, ecstatic, heavy heart. I’d just spent two weeks falling in love with a Zanzibari tour guide named Elvis. Still on the dopamine rush of young, inexperienced, stupid love, I was being herded onto a plane with very little idea of what, if anything, came next.

Over a year of Whatsapp messages and frustrated Skype calls later, I found myself back on a plane, bound for Zanzibar. We’d scripted it, of course. It’s something you do when you’re apart. You imagine the moment—in detailed, cinematic glory—that you’ll stop being apart. My imagination had already projected every still frame onto the back of my retinas for 12 months: stepping off the plane into a wall of humidity, emerging from customs and searching the crowd in arrivals for a familiar face, finding it. Cue the orchestra. Slow motion. In January, I picked out the outfit I would wear on the plane.

On July 5, 2016, I landed in Zanzibar. (No, I didn’t book the flight on that date to be dramatic. It was $200 cheaper than flying on a Sunday). I hit play. The humidity drenched me right on cue. I entered customs determined to be out in 10 minutes, craning my neck around the barriers as if I’d magically develop x-ray vision. An hour later, I was still in line. I’d forgotten just how slowly things move here.

What was that Swahili expression? Pole, pole ndio mwendo. Slowly is the way to go.

I emerged to baggage claim fatigued, the orchestra in my head playing my triumphant crescendo on repeat, still ready for the big moment. One suitcase short, and with no working cell phone, I found myself in another line waiting to fill out a lost luggage form.

No Elvis in sight.

He has pulled me deeper into this place than I have ever imagined I could go. And I am reminded every time I step outside that I am very far from home, in a culture I am still learning to understand, trusting one person to help me through it.

An hour and a half after landing, I saw him. He didn’t melt out of the crowd like my vision. I didn’t drop my bag and jump into his arms like in a bad rom-com. Instead, he held up his hands in the universal expression for “What the hell have you been doing?”

Long-distance relationships are tricky, and unique to the individuals involved. Sure, in the first few weeks of our time apart, I Googled things like “interracial international long distance relationship advice.” But, oddly enough, Google didn’t offer many answers. It did tell me to prepare to break up within three months. And, if we made it through that, our reunion itself would be a tough transition to weather. Add culture shock and homesickness to all the other daily stresses of living and working in a new place. Google didn’t hold out much hope. But I did.

As an introvert and a writer, I live a sizable portion of my life inside my own head. Thinking, remembering, imagining, I construct entire conversations without ever saying a word to anyone out loud. In fact, I prefer typing to speaking. This bent actually proved helpful for my relationship. When you’re 8,000 miles apart, your main activity becomes imagining what once was and what might be. Elvis and I constructed and fortified our relationship in our heads. All that was left was to let the script play out into a happily ever after.

Of course, like most relatively sane people, I am aware that the world exists independently of my mind. But sometimes, I need a reminder. And those reminders are more likely to smack me in the face than tap me on the shoulder.

Cut to the Zanzibar airport.

As I return to Zanzibar, I realize just how many things have slipped out of my memory over the last 12 months: the slow lines, the hectic traffic, rapid Swahili, the constant obligation to stop and chat with every stranger on the street. Last year, these things were colors blended into the background of the place where I fell in love. I was a tourist in 2015; Elvis was a tour guide. Now, we are both something very different to each other.

He has pulled me deeper into this place than I have ever imagined I could go. And I am reminded every time I step outside that I am very far from home, in a culture I am still learning to understand, trusting one person to help me through it.

Luckily, for the most part, Elvis understands why I flinch when crossing the street, why I ask endless questions about a schedule that will inevitably change at the last minute, why every once in a while I need to eat pizza instead of rice and fish. The miles between Zanzibar and the US have finally disappeared, and now there’s hardly ever a space of more than two meters between us. We live together in a one-room apartment, cook together, do laundry together, ride the daladala (local bus) together. I never scripted these things, yet they’ve become the fabric of my daily life.

I have to accept that the part of the relationship that took place in my head is just that: one part. The rest is in the future. It is unscripted. It is unpredictable. And it should be the most heart-racing, heart-wrenching, heart-warming adventure of my life.

Adventures never happen the way you expect them to.

From Long-Distance Relationship to Living Together!

Top image: Flickr/Elton Harding, From Long-Distance Relationship to Living Together

About Katrina Marks

Katrina MarksKatrina Marks is a recent graduate of Villanova University. She comes from Kent City, Michigan and has traveled throughout Europe and Asia. For the next nine months, she is training journalism students in Zanzibar, Tanzania with Art in Tanzania’s Student Reporter’s Training Program.

3 thoughts on “From Long-Distance Relationship to Living Together

  1. Avatar
    Szilvia
    October 27, 2017
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Avatar
    August 8, 2016
    Reply

    charming, smart & intriguing ~ can’t wait to read what happens next 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Lauren Krzyzostaniak
    August 3, 2016
    Reply

    Great article, Katrina!

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