Firefly Wonder in Zanzibar

From Paul Saltzman, in Oakville, Ontario –

As a filmmaker, I’ve had many grand experiences of nature: 8 days of floating down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, every second bringing a new vision of beauty; flying over the Amazonian watershed,  trees so thick you couldn’t see the ground but the sun glistened beneath the trees because water entirely covered the  forest floor. And then there was Zanzibar….

In 1977 I did a documentary series called ‘Spread Your Wings‘ – it’s about creativity in  different cultures and how creative traditions get passed down  from one generation to the next. In Zanzibar we were telling  the story of a young teenager learning to carve/build Arab dhow boats in Ras Nungwi, a tiny fishing village nestled in the palm trees on the north end of the island.

In those days, no tourists visited Zanzibar, and the pristine white sand beaches were empty. In Zanzibar Town there was just one hotel, the Oberoi, where I stayed with my two-person crew.  We were the only guests in the large dining room, save for some Russians who seemed to be building a military instillation.

We started each day by loading our equipment into a rented VW van, which had a roof that could be completely opened. Then we would drive 60 km north from town to reach the village. This took well over an hour. The first 55 km we sped along a deserted two-lane blacktop. But the last 5 km we had to slowly tranverse rough volcanic surface that violently shook all the equipment and our bones as well.

And the fireflies? Several nights as we drove back from filming along the unlit paved road, we passed through huge flights of their glistening lights.For the entire drive, I would open up the roof and stand up as we drove through millions (I imagine) of fireflies completely filling the roadway as well as the surrounding fields and woods.  As we drove, the fireflies came straight at me,  then flowed around my head and shoulders, never hitting me and fortunately me never hitting them. Somehow our speed and the wind streaming past also saved the fireflies from hitting the van, as we never found any traces of them.

This surely was the greatest light-show ever by mother nature!!! Magic!!! Even better than when, at 17, I worked on a ship in the Arctic and watched the mesmerizing northern lights filling the entire sky for 360 degrees from horizon to horizon as we sailed through the night.