Chaos and mad­ness

Friday - - Society -

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

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