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  • My wife and I went for a walk as the sun began to set in Jambiani, a beach town in Zanzibar. We'd never seen a low tide like this before: the water, it seemed, receded for miles into the distance -- and it almost felt like you could walk right into the horizon.

    Dozens of young boys were congregating in the shallows. Not a single adult was in sight (also, notably, not a single girl). We walked closer to them and saw that they were racing hand-made boats: some made of hollowed-out wood and scraps from potato sacks; others fashioned out of a flip-flop and plastic bag. One very young kid's boat was a plastic dish detergent container -- the sail was a u-shaped slice that was bent upwards -- and at first, it looked like a failed invention. Every time he launched it into the wind, it quickly sagged, bobbed, and sank. But an older, more experienced sailor came by and showed him a new technique, and sure enough, the boat slowly waddled its way through the shallows without sinking, and the younger kid beamed.

    I don’t want to idealize the culture of this town or minimize the complexity of these kids’ lives – but from the hour or so my wife and I stood among them, I didn’t see a single argument or shoving match. At times, it seemed that they were racing against each other, but there seemed to be no gloating, or accusations of cheating, or bitterness over loss. Mostly, what I saw (or thought I saw) was wonder: carefully readjusting the outriggers by adding or subtracting pebbles, waiting for the perfect gust of wind, watching the sails catch the wind and glide across the water, marveling at the physics they had unleashed.

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