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How British woman Briony Deuchar fell in love with Zanzibar

Dar es Salaam. “What is one fear or phobia that has always haunted you and, deep down, you wish you could overcome? They say once you do, you become a changed person, and your outlook on life is altered forever. I have a terrible fear of heights, which terrifies me to the core. However, in Zanzibar, the sky has become a tourist attraction for close to three years now.

Skydiving is booming in Zanzibar. Ironically, one of the core members of Skydive Zanzibar, Briony Deuchar, has a fear of heights. Briony is the service support director at Skydive Zanzibar. She is an English lady born and raised in London, the city renowned for its monarchy that has drawn tourists from all corners of the world, especially with the recent coronation of King Charles.

Briony first set foot in Africa as a child with her parents, when she visited Morocco. She was introduced to a whole new world and had incredible experiences. However, her first taste of safari was in South Africa when she visited Kruger National Park as a teen. “I knew then and there that Africa is a place I will return to,” Briony remembered. In 2010, she came to mainland Tanzania as a volunteer at a company called Africa Venture. She was stationed as a teacher just outside Arusha, teaching primary school children for five months. But it was her two-week break to Zanzibar that would transform her life trajectory forever. She came back to Zanzibar in 2021, right after the Covid pandemic lockdown, and Skydive was born.

In a country known for its safaris, many tourists would come to see the Big Five animals in the wilderness, climb the acclaimed Mount Kilimanjaro, and visit the Serengeti. But now, skydiving has made its way to Tanzania, an odd activity that has captured the attention of many visitors. At the Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, their banner is visibly displayed, attracting curious tourists who had no prior plans to participate in skydiving or didn’t even know that skydiving is available on the island. “We attract a lot of people. We get adrenaline junkies, people who have skydiving on their bucket list,” she said. Tourists who come for safaris in mainland Tanzania and decide to spend a few days relaxing in Zanzibar tend to try skydiving upon learning that it’s available. That’s how the word has spread about their service, inevitably with the help of social media as well. After all, who doesn’t want to post such a brave experience on their social media?

Fear of heights, if I may reiterate, is very common. But how does one conquer it? Better yet, how does one turn it into a tourism activity? I posed this question to Briony. “I, for one, have a terrible fear of heights,” she admitted. “I can’t even get up a ladder without my heart pounding faster,” she laughed. She says that when skydiving, fear is overtaken by a sort of adrenaline rush. Normally, the willing diver is accompanied by an extremely well-trained instructor who dives along and assumes total control during the dive, while you are busy thinking about how cool you will look with your picture on Instagram.

An instructor is a firm assurance for any first-time diver. Briony says it is proven that when you get to a certain height, even a person afraid of heights, their mind fails to register how far off the ground they are, whether in skydiving or flying in an airplane. This helps with dealing with the fear, contrary to bungee jumping, which she tried and would never do again. “Skydiving is much easier to do than bungee jumping because, with bungee jumping, you can see where you are heading, you can see the floor,” she said.

In skydiving, your heart pumps adrenaline through your body as you fall from the sky at three hundred kilometres an hour, with the wind pushing against your face. It’s such an incredible feeling that you can’t help but feel alive. It’s a hard feeling to explain to someone who has never tried it.

“Skydiving, if I could, I would do it over and over again,” Briony beams. However, Briony still relies on instructors to skydive, a safe bet like most visitors who partake in the activity.

It’s the feeling you get once you touch the ground and look at how far you’ve come. Just like in life, completing what seems like an impossible feat makes one even bolder to try other seemingly more impossible things.

Skydiving is still a very foreign concept to Tanzanians. The closest most people have come to skydiving is by watching Hollywood commando movies. Even then, the best we can do is cheer for the protagonist in the movie, fully aware that they are just acting for the film.

But here we are, and the airborne acrobatics that were merely on the silver screen are now one of the main tourist attractions in Zanzibar. Will the locals join in or watch from a distance as tourists from other countries take part?

“Mentally, you have to ignore all the negative things you have ever heard about skydiving,” Briony says. Besides ignoring all the outside noise, Skydive Zanzibar sends training videos to all participants just to give them an idea of how safe skydiving is. But the best advice they give is to not overthink it. Just do it. “It wouldn’t do any good watching videos on YouTube of all the skydiving accidents. It’s quite a safe sport,” she insists.

Most first-time divers just want to get in the plane and dive. Sometimes, overthinking brings imaginary fears that never materialize. The feeling of skydiving is incomparable. It’s the feeling of fear leaving your mind and body as your feet leave the airplane. It’s that moment in life when you let go of all the worries of the world and join the uncaged birds in the air, with your body suspended more than ten thousand feet in the air. Suddenly, you feel so alive, full of joy.

Having conquered that fear, once you land, you become a different person. Even as you face life, if you can jump from a plane at ten thousand feet in the air, surely applying for that job you have been scared to do will seem like such a minute task. Starting that business that you have always wanted but dreaded will become an easy endeavour. It’s almost like breaking the unseen barrier that has always held you back in life. The danger is real, but fear is imaginary.

Skydiving is a new adventure that will surely grow as Tanzania expands and innovates its tourism industry. This new addition has surely risen above expectations. As tourists flock to Zanzibar for the skydiving rush, it will only be a matter of time before the adventure is offered on mainland Tanzania as well. “It’s our dream to expand to mainland Tanzania, as we get the most out of Zanzibar,” Briony confirmed.”

Source: The Citizen