Teaching is a great way to become an expat and move abroad, but it’s not the only way. Meet Toddré. When life handed her a pink slip, she booked a flight…to Zanzibar. Check out her unconventional story of becoming an expat.
I loved my job. I worked as an online stylist for an e-commerce start-up based in Santa Monica, California. I loved researching the attire for themed events and helping my clients look and feel their best on the most important days of their lives. I felt that for the first time in a long time, I was going places.
My life changed when I was called into the main conference room and told that I was being laid off. I mean, I knew that it was the slow season. I was listening during the meeting when we were told that our department would be shrinking. I knew that we had recently outsourced a great deal of our workload to the Philippines . . . but I knew that wasn’t nobody gon’ let me go!
I was incredulous. I vacillated between wanting revenge and phoning lawyers to laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all. I mean, who would get rid of a stellar employee like me?!!!
That following Monday, I went through all the motions of filing for unemployment, food stamps, state subsidized health care and even general aid. Then I hopped on Linkedin and started looking for other online styling jobs. But none of it felt right. In my soul. In my gut. I didn’t want to do it. The thought of sifting through online job posts, sending out my resume, prepping and getting dressed for interviews, then getting the job and possibly having to commute was NOT the business.
My roommate and I shared a beautiful 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment in Ladera Heights, Los Angeles (The Black Beverly Hills according to Frank Ocean’s Sweet Life). We had a gorgeous balcony overlooking our Disney like pool, tropical landscaping, underground parking, security guards and most of the amenities 2 single women would want. My roomie and I were like sisters and we lived in harmony. Her life had recently taken a turn: she was newly in love and planning to cohabitate with her man and his daughter. Here’s the kicker, she was terminated just one week before I was laid off. We discovered that her unemployment wasn’t going to come through and now she was left wondering how she was going to make the rent.
We went back and forth, weighing up all the options. About a week later, I texted my roomie and told her I was moving to Zanzibar. Why Zanzibar? Well, I had gone the previous year for my birthday and had a damn good time. The weather-gorge, the food-fresher than I’ve ever had and well seasoned, the architecture-mystifying, the sea-clear blue with whole sea shells and multi colored starfish + all the male attention had me shook. I planned to return the following year in 2017 for my birthday but my money was funny and I hate travelling broke.
My roomie and I gave our 30 day notice and I sold nearly everything I owned on OfferUp. The buyers were curious about why I was selling such nice things, and when I told them my plans to move to Africa, they wished me well. I boxed up a couple of collector’s items that I couldn’t part with along with most of my shoes, clothing and accessories; a total of 8 large Home Depot boxes and gave them to my Dad for storage with plans to send for them once settled.
My father couldn’t understand why I wanted to leave. I left home at 17 to attend Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana for 4 years. The goal was to get as far away from home as possible. I went straight from undergrad to grad school and studied law for 3 years in Denver, Colorado. In seven years I had been home once. During my studies, I travelled and worked in Africa in preparation for a career in International Development. Following my academic career I moved to Washington DC; got married, bought properties, opened a women’s shoe boutique and divorced within a time span of 13 years. The last few years in DC, my father was urging me to come home. Telling me that there were people like me with weird hair in San Francisco and that I could get in where I fit in. Following my divorce I did move home, but home was far from idyllic.
As my father wrestled with fear, skepticism and judgement for his oldest child, I reminded him that the reason why it was so easy for me to pick up and leave was because home was never comfortable for me. Home was never a warm and fuzzy place. This made him cry, but it was my truth. The wheels were in motion, my ticket was bought and my personal items up for sale.
When my plane took off from LAX I was elated. When it landed in Zanzibar, I thought, “What have I just done?!!” I stepped through my fear. My father taught me that the only thing to fear is fear itself. I quieted the sense of lack and limitation inside of me with the realization that I chose this life, had wanted this life for a long time and I was more than ready for my new journey.
I have fallen in love with the beautiful, warm Indian Ocean. Whenever I get wrapped up in my head about the future, I look to the ocean as a reminder to stay present and appreciate life’s simple blessings. Although overbearing at times, this tropical heat and humidity has done wonders for my skin and hair. I love the sense of community here; something that I was missing in L.A. Everyone seems responsible for each other and willingly helps one another. It’s a relief to see that the elders are protected and respected. When greeting an elder, one must say, “Shikamoo” (I am beneath your feet). He or she responds with, “Marahaba” (God is love). So that I can integrate properly and out of respect for the culture, I have been learning the official language, kiSwahili.
In Zanzibar mothers can let their children play outside unsupervised without a care. It warms my heart and puts a smile on my face to see kids actually PLAY outside and reminds me of how we used to be. A lot of the clothes sold here are second hand and/or very low quality. As a result, most of the garments I’ve purchased are bespoke. Fortunately, you can get a bespoke garment made in 1 week for $32/TZS 73,000 or less; including fabric!
Life isn’t all crystal clear warm water and mojitos. I’ve experienced people being rather small minded and judgemental because they haven’t been exposed to life outside their little villages; ignorant to the fact that there’s more than one way to be. I was initially frustrated and combative when I encountered gender discrimination, racism and colorism from Zanzibaris and expats alike. Now I simply breathe and realize that there is no utopian community. The amount of plastic bottles, rubber flip flops and discarded clothing on our beaches (depending on the tide) and roads is baffling. I am in the process of forming a self-sustaining recycling coalition to get a handle on this issue. There are no consumer protection laws that I’m aware of. The extremely low quality products sold to Africa is ridiculous. Most of the body soap and lotions on the market contain bleaching agents. I scrutinize the ingredients of each bottle before I make a purchase. It’s much easier to buy a relaxer than it is to find products that enhance curly hair. Natural personal care products are extremely limited. Many of the appliances/consumer goods sold on the market are defective.
BUGS. BUGS. BUGS. My friends keep telling me, “Toddré, this is Africa, we have insects”. Everyday, I battle ants in my kitchen. This morning I woke up to a scorpion in my living room! Sometimes I see things crawling in my home and have no idea what it is or how it got in. And the mosquitos . . . don’t even get me started on the mosquitos!!! There are frequent power outages. As I type this, there is zero electricity in the village. Frequent mobile carrier network issues are a fact of life. I relocated here with very clear intentions to attract My Husband. It has been a challenge to meet someone who is not an opportunist with whom I’m equally yoked AND is not married. I recently met a brutha in Kenya with whom I am totally smitten . . . only time will tell.
All in all, I’ve realized that I’m only in control of about 2% of my life. I set my intentions. I pray and I do my best to keep my vibrations high. The rest I’ve surrendered to the Universe. I’m creating my life as I see it. And I see freedom, light, laughter, travel, beauty, lifelong learning and above all LOVE.