…my passage back into the land of the living

Julie Anne Rhodes by Clive ArrowsmithJulie Anne Rhodes catching a lift to paradise

I need to clarify something… I may be adventurous, but I am far from fearless. I don’t like snakes. In fact my fear of snakes borders on the irrational… so much so that I would “hold it”, twisted like a pretzel bouncing across the rough terrain of East Africa in the jeep until I was absolutely desperate. Then I would insist that Tatjana accompany me in the tall grass of the bush on “snake watch duty”. You know you have truly bonded with your daughter when you’ve watched a herd of elephants trod by while you’re squatting and peeing in unison behind the bushes just a few feet away.
Julie Anne & Tatjana Rhodes
Julie Anne & Tatjana Rhodes
After 2 1/2 weeks on safari we were ready for some beach relaxation, so we stopped in Zanzibar for a few days. Naturally, being a personal chef, I was intrigued by the spice island and couldn’t wait to explore a spice plantation. The first question out of my mouth was “are there any poisonous snakes here”.
Spice plantation in Zanzibar
“Oh no, only the vegetarian kind here”
The guide replied “oh no, only the vegetarian kind here”. You could audibly hear the sigh of relief escape me. I relaxed and became completely engrossed as he showed us the bark, roots, and leaves that are the source of the spices I use to “paint with flavor”. Cloves, lemon grass, cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla, black pepper, and ginger. We tasted cassava, plantain, banana, pineapple, mandarin oranges, coconut, star fruit, lei chi, and drank coconut water. In the midst of all of it I felt a sharp stinging sensation on my ankle that I assumed was a bite from one the enormous horse flies, then milliseconds later another as I kicked
Tatjana & Julie Anne Rhodes
Tatjana & Julie Anne Rhodes moments before
and slammed my foot down to get the pest away from me. We carried on to the end of the tour, and bought packaged spices from the plantation for souvenirs. It wasn’t until we arrived back at the hotel, and I took my jeans off that I noticed a tennis ball sized swelling on my ankle, and after closer inspection, a couple sets of fang marks. I showed the hotel manager who confirmed my greatest fears and rang for the doctor immediately.
Spices for sale in Zanzibar
Spices for sale at the plantation
Annoyed with me that I hadn’t seen the snake, therefore had no clue what bit me (thank God as I probably would have died of heart failure otherwise), the doctor informed me he would have to give me an anti-venom cocktail that was basically a mixture of black mamba and several different types of viper venom. He explained that only a venomous snake would strike more than once, and it was most likely some kind of viper since I was still alive. Oh Joy! I was lucky I had jeans on, and moved my foot when I did… only one of the fangs penetrated the skin deeply. The others had just scratched the surface. At that point I would have preferred just amputating at the ankle… anything to get away from any part or thought of that snake!
Julie Anne Rhodes
Doing my best to keep a brave face on.
Tatjana calmly called our doctors in America and England to get a second and third opinion. The consensus seemed to be “have the anti-venom now, and worry about any side effects later”, so reluctantly, I agreed. As the syringe pierced my arm and the anti-venom was administered, the swelling on my ankle went down simultaneously, leaving only the nasty looking puncture wounds and some bruising. I was so proud of Tatjana for staying so cool in an emergency. It was the first time that I realized my little girl had grown up.
I also realized it was time to go home, and make a fresh start. I was done with running from my past and with playing my hand so close to my chest. It was time to take risks again. Not necessarily the careless and impetuous ones of my past, more calculated ones, but risks none the less. I was ready to live again.
Prawn Pilau

Recipe and photo courtesy of A Taste of Zanzibar by Zarina Jafferji
I collect cookbooks when I travel to learn more about local cuisine. My last day in Zanzibar I bought A Taste of Zanzibar, Swahili recipes by Zarina Jafferji. Even though Zarina now resides in England, she just happened to be there in the hotel gift shop, and graciously signed my book. My clients really enjoy this recipe.
Servings: 6
2 cups rice
2 cups water
2 pounds prawns, shelled and cleaned
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic paste
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 green pepper, cut into small pieces
2 green chilies
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
spring onions and coriander, chopped for garnish
1). Marinade prawns in garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper for 30 minutes. Soak rice in water for 30 minutes, then drain.
2). Saute the chopped onions until soft. Add tomatoes, green peppers and cook for 3 minutes. Add all ingredients except for the coconut milk, prawns, rice and water and saute for 5 minutes. Add the prawns and coconut milk and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove prawns and tent with foil to keep warm. Add drained rice and continue to cook for for a few minutes. Add 2 cups of boiling water and cook for 10 minutes uncovered.
3). Turn the heat down to low, cover the pot tightly and simmer for 15 minutes or put in oven and cook at medium temperature.
4). Add prawns back in, garnish with chopped green onions and coriander.
Serving Suggestions: Serve with an onion salad.
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  • September 25, 2009
    2:03 pm

    Hi Julie Anne,OMG…I am terrified of snakes myself. That and spiders are my greatest fear. Here in Melbourne Australia we have had a drought for over 10 years (our dams are extremely low) and it is common to hear of snake bites, especially during the summer, when they come out for food. So as we in the southern hemisphere approach warmer weather I will certainly be on the look out. Lovely blog, love the ending.Keep up the wonderful work.Aussie Mum P.S. I could almost smell the spices. Wish I was there.

  • September 25, 2009
    6:09 pm

    What an ordeal! But I must admit that it sounds a bit glamorous all the same…struck by a mysterious snake and all and you looked so beautiful even in the midst of it all. And a beautiful recipe for dinner tonight on top of it all…genius!

  • September 29, 2009
    11:57 pm

    OMG! OMG! OMG! No one could be more afraid of snakes than I am and I certainly agreed that I would have DIED on the spot if I had actually seen the snake that bit me. It's a great story, though, and I have retold it several times this week!

  • April 2, 2013
    2:34 pm

    I have just loved this story. The love for your daughter just comes shining through this adventure.

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