This is a story documenting kids playing in the low tides of Nungwi beach in northern Zanzibar.

Although it might not look like it at first glance, this work is very personal and offers an indirect reflection on a deeply disturbing incident that occurred to me about one hour after arriving on the island:

A boy, 9 years old, suddenly ran in front of the taxi I was sitting in. The boy was hit and his body thrown off to the side of the road. Seconds later, total chaos erupted as we all tried desperately to help him. The little kid was quickly rushed to a hospital but to no avail—he later passed away from his injuries. The incident was so shocking that it threw me completely and instantly beyond reality and into something very surreal.

Being a photographer, just the thought of picking up the camera seemed incredibly strange and illogical after the incident. It took me almost a week to feel comfortable enough to just to snap some simple photos. To that point, every single thought in my head was centered on how the incident could had been prevented and what I could do for the boy’s family. But I was forced to realize, again and again, that there wasn’t anything to be done.

That’s when I met the kids playing in the tide water. At first, I didn’t know what it was that attracted me, but I was immediately attached to and fascinated by the kids. It’s not that there was something extraordinary that these kids were doing; quite the opposite—it was the most normal thing in the world. But inexorably, I found myself joining the kids every single day on their small exploration trips after the first tide had drawn back. Me and them, in search of new adventures.

The kids would collect different shellfishes, catch poisonous sea snakes or just pick seaweed for the turtles to eat. The giant surface that opened up each morning after the first tidewater receded became a playground where the kids could meet and play together and show off what they had collected during the day.

I know: there is very little, or even nothing, extraordinary about all of this. But what I came to realize was that all of this was reflecting on what happened the day I arrived to the island. It became a way for me to process the distress that was caused by the incident. I couldn’t help but wonder if the 9-year-old kid might have known the kids I was spending every single day with.

Suddenly, I began to think of who he was, what he liked to do and who he would have become. I was also drawn to think of his family and their enormous loss. I thought of what my part was in all of this.

Amidst these emotions and thoughts, it became clear that spending my days with the kids between the tides, somehow, was the only way in my power to do something. By documenting the kids, I wanted to show their friendship and how they included me as a friend in their everyday adventures. I also wanted to show their sense of courage, their inventiveness and their skills.

And most importantly, it became a way to, indirectly, get to know that 9-year-old kid. That boy who didn’t make it across the road that day.

—Carlos Zaya