It was my second trip to the amazing island of Zanzibar but I wasn’t at my best. After 2 weeks of safaris in Kenya and Tanzania, my immune system had suddenly gone south. Did I have malaria? Food poisoning? I just knew that getting out of the bed of my hotel in Stone Town wasn’t a very exciting option. My travel mates were concerned. I’d been their ringleader and had chosen where we were going, how were going to get there and what we’d do once we got there the entire trip. Now, they were without guidance and they kept popping back into the hotel nervously to make sure I wasn’t dead.
There was a nearby hospital that agreed to come pick me up from the hotel and have a look at me. I stumbled into the doctor’s car and tried to sit up as he navigated his way back to the clinic through pot-holed dusty roads. Clinic might be a bit of a stretch. It was a one story L-shaped building with unmowed grass, unpainted walls and could have easily passed for a building from a Walking Dead filming location. Fortunately, in spite of the unkempt appearance of the place and the flies buzzing around my head, the needle they used to check my blood came out of a brand new shiny wrapper. As I waited around to make sure I was going to die of some tropical disease, the doctor asked me “So what do you think of your president coming here to Zanzibar?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. He then explained that Bill Clinton had come to Zanzibar to speak on AIDS awareness and was staying at the hotel next to mine. I’d met Jimmy Carter and George Bush senior both coincidentally enough, but Bill Clinton in Africa? What were the chances?
He gave me a giant bag of pills that was supposed to cure anything that could possibly be wrong with me and dropped me back off at the hotel. I was starting to feel better just from getting up and moving around after I’d rested all day, and I was fairly optimistic that I’d be back to normal the next day if I could just sleep a little more.
The next morning after a quick breakfast, I walked outside the hotel to see the entire street lined up with hundreds of people like a parade route. Tanzanian police and curious onlookers craned their necks for a glimpse of the former US president exiting the hotel. I’ve bluffed my way into more difficult places than a hotel, so I headed towards the entrance to see if I might be able to meet Bill. One of the girls said “We can’t go in there”. I asked her “Do you want to watch the show, or be IN the show?” My friends followed me into the lobby reluctantly. There were several secret service men standing in strategic locations, but the lobby was business as usual and no one questioned white people walking into a hotel that was mostly inhabited by white people. Throughout my years of crashing dressing rooms and unauthorized backstage jaunts I have learned a lot about sneaking into places to meet celebrities. The secret is looking like you’re doing something important and you belong there. You’re less likely to be interrupted or questioned.
We didn’t have to wait long. There was no fanfare or presidential march music, just a noticeable hush in the small crowd and the footsteps of the 42nd president coming down the staircase. Suddenly there he was. Dressed in a gray suit and a natural smile, he took the room. There might have been a dozen people waiting for him including our party. As he shook hands with each one, suddenly I was next. He looked deep into my eyes, not like a politician, but like someone who is trying to remember you for next time. “Hi Bill, I’m Bill” was all I could manage as he smiled for my camera. A few more handshakes later, his guards escorted him to his waiting car and the crowd outside cheered as he waved and seated himself behind the bulletproof glass.
I’ve met a lot of celebrities but Mr. Clinton oozed charisma like no other. The last place I expected to meet a president was in Africa. How do you follow up a meeting with Bill Clinton? In Zanzibar, there’s only one answer.
We headed to Mercury’s for lunch, the Queen themed restaurant opened by Freddie Mercury’s father in the town where the famous front man grew up as Farrokh Bulsara before he became a star. Who knew Zanzibar had so many celebrities? If we were lucky maybe we’d run into Adam Levine or Jean Claude-Van-Damme too.