Time to reflect, accept and recover
going to catch the people who did this.” Within five minutes he was gone.
By that stage my mother and father had spoken to our insurance company and a medical evacuation plane was scheduled to pick us up from the airport for our repatriation.
That evening we waited for two hours on the airstrip for the delayed plane, with the rear doors wide open to swarms of mosquitoes.
At that point all my burns were numb and I had lost all sensation in the right side of my upper body. We were placed on heavy sleeping medication on the flight, which stopped in Kenya, Egypt and Italy to refuel before landing at RAF Northolt in London.
Mum, Dad and my younger brother, Saul, met us at the airport. Mum was in tears when we hugged. They assured me that the best surgeons were awaiting us at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital before Katie and I were taken there in separate ambulances.
We were given showers on arrival, our burns were photographed, tests were conducted and our wounds were dressed. We were introduced to physiotherapists and psychologists and had a long discussion with Andy Williams, our incredible surgeon.
I learnt that I would need a skin graft operation on three main areas: my upper right arm, the right side of my back and a smaller area on my right shoulder. All the other wounds, including some minor ones on my face, would heal on their own over time. My skin graft took place on August 15, which coincided with the publication of the A-level results. I found that I had landed a place at the University of Bristol to read history shortly before I was taken into the operating theatre.
Andy Williams and his team initially thought I would require three operations, but they were able to complete all three procedures in one three-hour session.
Thankfully I have had no infections and no longer require any dressing for my wounds. However, I have to wear a pressure garment, which looks like a short-sleeved Lycra T-shirt, to protect the skin graft and help prevent the build-up of scar tissue in the affected areas.
Also I’m banned from sitting in the sun for at least a year – which is a small price to pay, even though I once obsessed about sunbathing.
In the week leading up to my surgery I was discharged from hospital, which upset me because I did not want to leave Katie behind. But I have subsequently visited her regularly and make a point of swinging past her room for a chat at least three times a week when I return to the hospital for check-ups.
While I was in hospital I found everything too chaotic even to process what Katie and I had been through. But over the past few weeks I have found time to reflect, accept and recover.
Strangely, the day of our attack had started out being the best day of my trip. I spent most of it at the ZanzibarWomen’s Sober House, which is a refuge for local women trying to overcome their drug addictions.
I spoke to many of the women and gave them diaries, which I had purchased from the market that morning, and told them to write down their thoughts over time. I thought that putting their thoughts down on paper might help them in their recovery.
Since my return to Britain I have asked myself the same questions every day: Why us? Why were Katie and I targeted? What motivated our attackers? Had they been following us or watching us for a while before they decided to carry out their unprovoked assault?
So much has been written about the attack, but none of it goes any way to answer any of the questions that still haunt me. There have even been baseless rumours published that Katie and I were attacked after turning down the men’s advances. That’s rubbish – we had never seen those men before.
With each day that passes I reflect on my time in Zanzibar with Katie and the fun we had – working with the schoolchildren between 7:30am and midday before leaving for the Tembo Hotel to sunbathe.
This was usually followed by watching the beautiful sunset at the Maru Maru Hotel, then a few drinks at the Livingstone Bar, and perhaps a trip to the Tatu Bar afterwards.
We laughed, sang and enjoyed every moment we had in Zanzibar, all while being respectful of what was religiously acceptable on the island.
There we were, two 18-year-old girls from North London hoping to make some difference in the world, while making the most of the life we’ve been given.
Such happy memories have convinced me to return to the island next year to do some more voluntary work. But for the meantime I am looking forward to starting my course at the University of Bristol in a few weeks’ time.