Lazy day in Zanzibar

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The long lazy days stretch out before us, yawning into eternity.

We drag our bodies out of bed and make the arduous journey of a few steps for breakfast.  The menu is limited when compared to North American standard, though the choices are less taxing for lack of choice.  The Indian Ocean is our view, every colour of blue represented. The beach has ashtray sand, though covered in seaweed.  The  bugs are drawn to the kelp and as such we are not.  Humans do not  lounge on the beach, though cows enjoy the sun and soak up the rays.  There is however much activity walking back and forth,  this is our grand plan for the day.

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We discover Dhow boats being constructed during our trek.  My Carpenter husband is enthralled with this ancient craft.  There are entire families that camp while the work is completed on the boats.  I think about my husband who travels to work and is gone for weeks at a time.  Here it is a family affair and while not everyone is working directly on the boats, having family close, eliminates the sacrifice.  How clever to have priorities clear like crystal.

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The boats are beautiful, joints seemingly invisible, no caulking required.  The work is done with hand tools, the craft passed down through the generations.  My husband recognizes the medieval tools that he has only seen in a book, here they are transferred into the 21st century.

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The boards are bent in a curious way, forced around nearby trees to achieve the desired shape, then placed in the fire to dry the inside while the outside is kept wet thus achieving the desired shape and curve required. It is amazing how the craftsmen know exactly the bend that they are trying to achieve without tools to guide the process.

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We walk slightly off the compound to peruse shops.  The items are different from what we have seen, haggling is part of the process.  We find a painting of a lion that we are told was painted by the Uncle of our shopkeeper.  It reminds us of the safari and seems a good choice.  It is taken from the frame and rolled for our long journey home.  Its interesting that there are several identical paintings of the same lion and I wonder if the Uncle is churning them out, or if a factory is doing the work.

We plan to rent kayaks.  Our friend speaks the language and we order boats for later in the day.  We arrive, western time at the predetermined hour and wait.  The men arrive with one kayak for 8 of us.  They begin the process of scrounging up more boats and life jackets. Like the Titanic there are too few of both.  They scurry up and down the beach in a haphazard way, their efforts do not increase our fleet.  A few of our group decline the adventure to free up resources.  My normally placid husband snaps and voices his displeasure, it changes nothing.

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We embark on the water with a portion of our group, some opting for no life jackets to free up the resources for those who are not good swimmers.  We paddle around and the delay has allowed us to witness the most glorious sunset on the Indian Ocean.  I’m glad at this moment we were detained. I sit back in my kayak and marvel at the beauty of the world.  There is a lesson–good things come to those who wait, or  perhaps its go with the flow? Or when in Africa, shake off the timetables, calendars and clocks of the Western world and just be…

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Hakuna Matata

We arrive at the Langi Langi beach bungalows, a charming resort perched above the beautiful, blue Indian Ocean. We will spend our final few days of our African Odyssey relaxing. The day yawns in front of us, there is no agenda, no place to be, we can finally unpack as we will spend several days at the resort.   We happily unpack our belongings, stretch out on the bed and plan our next move. 

In this moment of relaxation, I realize I’ve left my purchased spices on the bus. Frantically, I bolt upright encircling John in my panic and we propel forward and bolt out the door, relaxation shattered in the moment. We spend several frenetic minutes searching for the bus,then learn it has left. We are informed that a bag of spices was removed from the bus by one of our group members. We are given a Guide and begin walking to the next resort.  The Guide is on Island time as he slowly walks. I’m pushing the pace without knowing the destination and clipping his heels to move quicker. He stops, scans my face and effectively reads the situation. “Madam, this is the Spice Island, we do not want your spices. Hakuna Matata,” he says. His words resonate, the absurdity of my panic crystal as I chuckle to myself. 

We are reuninted with our spices and retreat back to our abode where we resume relaxing.  We sip ginger beer, munch on Pringles and plan.  We know from our walkabout that we are in a gated community, separated from the African people. We are warned of the beach boys who wander the beaches selling their wares. I’m happy the beaches remain open to the people who call Zanzibar home.  Still, our resort is off limits and I imagine the uproar this would cause at home. It is unimaginable that a tourist would have more freedom in my country.

We set out to walk the beach. Soon we are approached by a Beach boy. He has many items to sell. We listen to his pitch and politely decline. We wait for the hard sell that never arrives. He shrugs his shoulders and states, “may-be tomorrow?”  We nod our agreement and continue down the beach. It’s refreshing to just walk the beach, enjoy the scenery and not feel guilty.  Perhaps we will buy tomorrow?  For today, we will enjoy this moment and the next. Hakuna Matata indeed!

Spice of Life in Zanzibar

  

Reluctantly, we leave Stone Town. I would happily spend weeks exploring its nooks and crannies. Our bus idles outside of the Dhow Palace and we board for our tour of a spice farm, Persian baths and a home cooked meal.We arrive at the spice farm, a short drive from Stone Town. We are introduced to our guides who will inform us in words, tastes, touch and smell the reason Zanzibar is called the Spice Island.

We stop at an unknown plant. The young man cuts a piece for us to touch and smell. It is now clear, lemongrass. The tour is an education and delight. We learn that there are male and female nutmeg trees. Only female trees bear fruit; however the sex of the tree is not determined for six to eight years. I imagine how disheartening it would be to care for a tree for many years only to have it worthless. In an attempt to make up the sterility of the male tree, the female tree bears two spices, mace and nutmeg. We sample each. Mace has a slightly sweet taste while nutmeg’s is earthier.

I imagine how disheartening it would be to care for a tree for many years only to have it worthless.

We smell a plant with a flowery aroma, mlangi langi. We are told it is used to create perfumes. We carry it with us loving the scent. We sample a plant used as natural lipstick and adorn our lips. While walking, the men have been weaving palm fronds. At first I think they are only passing time until they present us with their talented creations. We are adorned with bracelets, rings, necklaces, hats and ties, a memento of this day. We are very fancy as we continue our walk through the Plantation.

  

We pass an Islamic school where the employee’s children are educated. They are as curious of us as we are of them. We take their picture and they take ours. Their families live in homes just behind the school. The plantation seems like a nice place to live, work and play among the spice, though I wonder about the isolation of this life.

We reach a small clearing and stand among coffee plants. A flash mob of vendors descend selling homemade soap and perfume. Momentarily, it strikes me as odd to buy goods in the bush, then I shrug my shoulders and move closer for a better look. Bartering exists in the jungle. We dance the haggle dance and I leave with my fair priced goods.

We round a bend and find seating. We rest and are soon treated to a remarkable display of athleticism. A young man attaches a foot rope with a loop for each bare foot and a length of rope in between. He uses the rope to inch up a large palm tree and we watch him climb about 50 feet from the ground. He barely breaks a sweat and even sings and dances. We shake our heads in disbelief. He brings down a large coconut, breaks it open and we all share the sweet milk, and soft meat. I have eaten coconut before though it’s clear that today is the first day I’ve actually tasted coconut.

We sample Jack fruit, a blend of banana and pineapple. It can grow up to 100lbs and when less ripe tastes like chicken, making it an alternative for vegetarians. It’s an odd looking plant, appealing to photograph, as I snap one picture after another trying to discover its best side. We watch the ease of Cassava planting, sticks put in the ground, the woman barely breaks a sweat as she sows the row. Cassava is incredibly versatile. It can be baked, boiled, fried, steamed grilled or mashed. We learn that it must never be eaten raw as death by cyanide poisoning will occur.

We are motioned towards an open air spice shop. We peruse the many options, haggle and buy. We likely have bought too much, though the understanding of the various spices, coupled with their fresh taste, has our taste buds dancing with the possibilities of the dishes we will create at home.

Momentarily, it strikes me as odd to buy goods in the bush, then I shrug my shoulders and move closer for a better look. Bartering exists in the jungle.

We soon arrive at our next destination, a family home. We open the gate and are greeted by the lady of the house. We are all made welcome at her home, and find a spot on the concrete patio covered in rugs. We pass around the pots of stews, rice, and naan bread and share family style. We learn about her life and the food that we are eating through our guide who interprets. It has taken several days to create this menu. We learn more about the food with its savoury broths, simple ingredients and exotic flavour. We feast on fresh naan bread, rice, meat and vegetarian stew. Gluten free options are also available.

During our Zanzibar travel time, we pass a hat to collect a tip for this meal and great service. Interesting, in Tanzania tipping for food is not common and each time seems unexpected. Yet, tipping for directions, music, advice, or any number of services that we would not tip for in North America is expected.

We walk away from the home, follow a short path and arrive at a Persian bath. These baths were built for the Sultan Said’s second wife. They were used when they were hunting in the area. Sadly, the structure has not been maintained, though it is still possible to find the typical Persian motifs of birds and flowers. There is a domed roof, massage tables and a bath to inspect.

I imagine life at that time, how dear water was and is in this country. How lovely after a day of hunting to relax in this place. Still, I wonder about the rest of the people who spent the majority of their day in search of water and how they felt about this privilege. 

Top photo by Jonathan_Stonehouse

 

Enchanted Evening in Zanzibar

We dress excited about our dinner reservation. We have booked Hurumzi, a rooftop restaurant in the heart of Stone Town and on top of the elegant Emerson Hotel.

Out of respect for the many Muslims that call Stone Town home, I’m careful to cover my arms and knees and choose a dress and shawl. I twirl in front of the mirror, loving the feeling of being dressed for dinner.

We arrive at the Emerson and marvel at the stairs, each with a different rise and run. We walk slowly, carefully and concentrate on each step as we ascend.

The restaurant is small and divided. One side has proper tables and chairs, the other features a large rectangular space with floor seating. We opt for the experience, remove our shoes and stake out our pillow for the evening. Our senses absorb the surroundings. The space has Persian rugs and richly coloured pillows of varying fabrics and textures on the carpet and backrest. There are short tables throughout the space. Above our heads a canopy of silk billows in the breeze, the air perfumed. We look over the short walls and are treated to a 360 degree view of the city and ocean.

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Our waiter arrives, dressed in a white robe and a gold hat. He washes our hands with rose water and teaches us this lovely custom. The meal is set, we only need to choose between three main courses. We sip our beverage as we await our meal. The dishes are exquisite each perfectly spiced, flavourful and beautifully presented. Our hands are washed again with rose water at the end of our dining experience.

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The call to prayer is announced. In years past, the Muzim, or leader would climb to the Minaret, a slender tower with a balcony where he would announce the call to prayer. Today this task is accomplished by a loudspeaker and occurs five times a day at specific times that change with sunrise, sunset and latitude and longitude. We listen to the last prayer of the day, the sounds melodic adding to this enchanted night.

We lean back on our pillows, shifting to find comfort and watch the live entertainment. The music is called, Taarab. It is a mixture of Indian, Arab and Swahili, the result unique. The dancer is spell binding as she elegantly moves, seemingly floating, her bare feet hardly touch the ground. She effectively draws us into her exotic world.  Bongo drums play softly in the background, the silk flutters above, stars peak on either side. Beneath, the city moves and life mundane rolls onward. Up here in the stars, magic exists on this night. I close my eyes not wanting this evening to end and commit this night to memory.

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Thanks to Gilles Chartrand for the photos of this night

Stone Town Market

We continue our tour of Stone Town.   My heart and spirit lightens as we walk away from the slave market and towards the vibrant market.

There is a richness of colour with the many spices, clothing and foods for sale. People shop daily as there is inadequate refrigeration, likely due to the antiquated electricity. I think of our home with its over sized refrigerator and extra freezer both filled to capacity for two. The contents difficult to see, too much choice leads to too much waste.

In Stone Town the food is fresh and the people close to their food. It’s disconcerting to see fish, chicken and beef still attached to its source. The fresh meat smells assault. We are removed from this at home. The animals we consume are typically pumped full of hormones. Our markets bright, meat safely stowed in a foam container, cleanly covered in plastic wrap.  Our health suffers amidst the sterility.

There are so many flies here, munching on the fish and chicken flesh. I quickly decide if I lived here I would become a vegetarian. We round the corner and I see some grapes, though on closer inspection they are covered in flies. There are no fly zones here, a keep away fly stick does its best amidst the fruit.  The fruit and vegetables seem small and less than perfect, though closer to reality. The majority of what we see would not make its way into our large supermarkets, though it would go for twice the price in an organic market, the price out of reach for most.  In Stone town, everyone eats fresh, organic produce.

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Zanzibar is the spice island. There are many vendors selling spices, the delicious smells of no interest to the flies. We linger and peruse the many options. The smells pungent, our mouths water with the possibilities. Prices are reasonable and we buy in bulk to share with friends and family at home.  We hold fresh cinnamon bark, the size of a tree limb, and learn how it grows. I think of my cinnamon dust at home, with its dear price, lack of aroma and glass jar.
We have learned so much today. We are fortunate to live where we do with our choice, clean water and reliable electricity. Still, in our want of convenience, variety and beauty I wonder what we are sacrificing in health.  There is much to ponder.

Christ Church, Zanzibar

We learn that a church, Christ Church has been built over the Slave market in an attempt to create something positive over something so negative. The church is being restored.  John notices that the scaffolding is not even close to code.  We think of how protected we are in Canada and how here are senses are sharper, we are sharper, more aware as Darwin’s theory is clearly in play.

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Many people were against slavery and worked hard to end this practice.  Chief among them were explorer, David Livingstone and the third Anglican Bishop of Zanzibar, Edward Steele.  The church was built to celebrate the end of slavery.  Steele contributed much to its design, but sadly he died just before it was completed.   He is buried behind the altar. The altar, is said to be in the exact place where the whipping post stood. Inside the church there is a cross that was made from the wood of the Mvula tree.  This tree is located in another part of Africa and it is where Livingstone’s heart is buried.

Edward Steele's grave
Edward Steele’s grave

The history is sad and the area feels oppressive.  The church makes up for it somewhat and hearing that people worked hard to abolish what was certainly a lucrative business helps.  Still, I’m always surprised by man’s inhumanity.  When I learn these sad truths I look for beauty to balance the ugly.  Perhaps this is what Edward Steele was also thinking.  I find some beautiful flowers and look for the beauty in the church and happily snap away  Beauty, its always there, sometimes we just need to look a little closer.

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Stone Town, Zanzibar

Our clothes firmly stuck to our bodies, we open the door to our room and an air conditioned oasis greets and beckons us inward.  We happily comply and drop our bags, our cranky mood lightens as each fibre of our clothing retreats.  The room is beautiful, with high ceilings, stained glass and intricately carved doors.  The tub is odd, small, round and tiled.  There is a shower and finally I’m treated to a “Hollywood” shower and take full advantage.  We climb into our four poster bed and quickly fall deep asleep.

We awake early, excited to explore Stone town and our hotel.  We eat a hot breakfast, complete with most excellent coffee and prepare to meet the rest of the group for our formal City tour and a chance to learn.

The Guide explains some of the features of the doors that we admire.  I decide today I will photograph doors and envision creating a montage of sorts once I get home. I happily snap away while the Guide narrates.  He tells us that carved chains around the doors informs people that a Slave Trader lived at that address.

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If there was raised brass on the doors, it was designed to keep elephants away.  I wonder if that would work thinking of the elephants we just saw in Tarangire ripping apart the baobab trees with little effort.  Its unlikely that it would work, but is pretty and decorative.

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The town has effectively preserved its past.  There is an Arabian influence and the predominant religion is Muslim, though other faiths are also represented.  Everyone seems to live in relative harmony.  The electrical wires above our heads are ancient and not to code.  It is amazing that there is any electricity and that the place has not burned to the ground.

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There are many clocks in this town, but none tell the current time.  Still, they are correct twice per day. There are vendors each sitting outside their tiny shops, beckoning to the people that pass, each claiming that they have the best price.  We have no time to shop, but promise we will be back later.  They shrug, their livelihood is not dependent on whether we purchase, there is less desperation here.

We walk to where the Slave Trading occurred, sadly not so long ago. We are taken to a holding area where the Slaves were kept prior to going to market. It is a sad place with a small window to the outside and chains to leash people inside, it is oppressive. The Guide shows us the whipping post outside where the Slaves were whipped to separate the strong from the weak.  The stronger would fetch a better price.  The Guide tells us that the Slaves would adopt a saying, “Lay down your hearts, for now you are slaves.”  They would accept their lot, as to fight and struggle would be futile.

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It is always moments like this that I’m ashamed to be Caucasion. The Guide helps to lift some guilt when he  tells us that in many cases the people were stolen from their villages, or lied to about work,  by their own people who would profit by providing people to Slave Traders.  Many Slave traders were from the same country too, though of course many Slaves were eventually sold to Caucasians in other parts of the world.  It seems as though there was plenty of blame to go around.