Chaos and madness
behind him was an African man with a shaved head, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans. He seemed about 21, several years younger than the driver, and looked at us as though he was about to say something. While there was nothing overtly threatening about his behaviour, Katie and I exchanged a bemused glance because we found the pair slightly odd.
I was about to ask them, “Is everything OK?” But before I could utter a word, the driver nodded – suggestive of a signal or a command.
The passenger smiled, then pulled up a jerrycan from his right side, which until that point had remained out of view. He swung it in our direction violently, dousing us with what we thought was water but would later discover was car battery acid.
Our instinctive reaction was to jump to our left, but by that time the right sides of our bodies, from head to toe, were soaked in the clear liquid. Katie, who was closer to the moped, was more badly splashed.
Within a second of the moped speeding off, with its taillight still in sight, we began screaming. Our screams were not out of frustration that our clothes had been drenched; they were screams of agony.
We felt our flesh being seared. Our screams were so loud they could be heard by revellers at the Africa House Hotel, which was several minutes’ walk away.
My entire upper body was burning, especially my right shoulder and torso. So were my feet, face and eyes. The skin on my right forearm looked as though it was covered in red paint, and I immediately noticed some discolouration on my torso and shoulder.
The pain, coupled with the taste of the fluid after some splashed into my mouth, made me quickly realise that it was not water.
Fellow pedestrians on Kenyatta Road stopped, horrified by our screams and the sight of us removing our clothes in agony.
They were the type of clothes we had been advised to purchase on arriving in Zanzibar on Saturday, July 13, after our programme coordinators at Art in Tanzania discovered our suitcases were packed with little more than high-waisted shorts, sleeveless tops and miniskirts – which we were told was certainly not suitable clothing for Zanzibar during Ramadan.
Katie and I had gone to the Darajani market in Stone Town the day after we arrived and bought more suitable clothing, namely genie pants – loosely fitted linen trousers that we came to love.
One man, who appeared to be a tourist, was carrying a large bottle of water that he held out to us when we shouted at him to throw it our way. “We need water, we’re burning,” we yelled.
Paralysed with shock, the man, who was in his forties, reluctantly lifted the cap off the bottle and began pouring water on us. The burning sensation only intensified.
From then on, chaos took over. Katie, still screaming, ran off while continuing to remove her clothes. I fell to the ground, yelling, and scratched my face in pain and pulled at my hair in the hope of getting some help.
Locals were stunned as they watched me writhe on the ground in pain. I caught the eye of a military officer, who was among those gathered, but he just stared at me without offering assistance. Dressed in a red beret and military uniform, the soldier seemed indifferent to my desperate cries for help.
Fortunately, three young local men lifted me to my feet and began to rush me in the direction of the sea, which was less than a minute away. The youngest among them, who looked 17 at the most, collected my strewn clothes as I ran towards the water. I could see Katie ahead of me running into what seemed like a public lavatory.
I tried to follow her but was stopped by my guides, who repeated, “Sea, sea.”
And so to the sea it was. I jumped into the water in my underwear and began scrubbing my body with my hands. The pain was intensifying all over my body rapidly – at a much faster pace than I could reach each burning area. I felt my right arm swelling; it was becoming discoloured and looked like greyish-green clay.
A crowd gathered on the beach. I emerged from the water after about 10 minutes to see several of the women in the crowd crying, clearly distressed by my situation.
I caught a glimpse of the holes that had burnt into my clothes, which the young man was still holding. It became increasingly obvious to me that Katie and I had become victims of a chemical attack.
The teenager holding my clothes gave me his T-shirt, and I then ran in Katie’s direction and found her surrounded by several people, including Sam Jones and Nadine, his girlfriend, who were in Zanzibar on holiday.
These two British tourists became our saviours. Sam, 27, and Nadine were applying water to Katie’s body with a hose. The acid had burnt through Katie’s skin like it had mine, leaving purple and grey patches.
At some point Sam was able to see through the chaos and madness that had overcome us and hailed a taxi, which rushed us to the hospital in Zanzibar in 10 minutes or so.
Within minutes of arriving we were given injections and placed on a drip that was supposed to alleviate our pain, but neither of