Grateful, Thankful and Satisfied in Zanzibar

We spend the day relaxing, lazing around our room, reading and relish in the option of stretching out on the bed or sitting on the couch, so many soft surfaces to consider. Such a change from the last few weeks where a cozy spot was not possible as we moved from one place to another, comfort just beyond our reach.

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We pop open a can of Pringles,our staple in this continent and nibble on the salty snack. We wash it down with ginger beer, a tasty refreshment that has kept nausea at bay these last few weeks as we climbed Kilimanjaro and bounced around in Safari vehicles.
Options abound for dinner, there are restaurants and choice that surround and its difficult to choose. Our group plans to dine together and we set out in our clean clothes to peruse the many options available.
The night is dark and stars sprinkle above us, lighting our way as we walk sandals in hand in the cool sand. We find a lovely spot just a short distance from our resort. A table is set on the sandy beach. We sit and our chairs sink into the sand as we hunker down for the duration. Candles abound and the soft lighting is magical. Menus arrive, we are bombarded with choice, drinks, entrees. We decide after considering all our options and I close my eyes and take in the moment. I can hear the waves lap the beach, coupled with a lively band that strums out its chords.

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The food and drinks arrive and we eat and drink relishing each sip and bite. After days of stews, Milo and unbuttered bread, our taste buds explode. It occurs to me how much we take for granted in life and only when its taken away do we realize how fortunate we are. I make a mental note to always be thankful though know that in time the memory will fade.
Satiated, we begin the walk back to our beach bungalow. How lovely to know that there is a permanent structure waiting for us, complete with a comfortable bed and the ability to sleep for as long as we choose.

We bid good night to our friends, making loose plans to meet up tomorrow. Perhaps we will snorkel, kayak, or wander the beach, its difficult to decide at this moment of relaxation. I am not interested in further adventure at this moment, liking that time has stood still for a time.
In many ways this part of the trip is a typical beach vacation and we could be anywhere in the world in our safe, gated community. As I watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean, I am in this moment and content to have the next unfold without plan.

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Stone Town, last look

We have been informed that Stone Town is a great place to purchase Tanzanite, a perfect souvenir to commemorate our Kilimanjaro climb. Tanzanite is a beautiful gemstone. Its colour changes from blue to violet in different light.  It was discovered in Northern Tanzania in 1967 by the city of Arusha and Mount Kilimanjaro.  It was named by Tiffany and Company in 2002 for Tanzania where it originated.

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We wake early to peruse the many shops selling this stone.  In Canada and Hawaii I have seen a few examples of the stone, though here in Stone Town the options are more plentiful, the deep colours more prevalent.  John remarks that they aren’t giving them away and the price is dear.  We are worried about what we are buying as we have been told to purchase from the government where we can be certain of the quality.  It is a gamble and we decide we aren’t Gamblers.

We walk down to the water and see a group of cats waiting patiently.  They are waiting for the Fishermen to bring their breakfast.  Its comical to watch them, their fear of water overriding their hunger.  There are many cats in Stone town roaming the streets.  I suspect they keep the vermin under control and are fed collectively for their efforts by the people of Stone Town as they are not scraggly or thin.  Still, they look more street wise than our pampered cats in Canada.

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We stop at our favourite coffee shop for our final latte.  There are no chain coffee shops here and we are thankful for the reprieve.  This shop is located in a bookstore, adding to its ambience.  We peruse the dusty tomes and over priced bric-a-brac and settle into the comfortable chairs and enjoy a most excellent latte.

Too soon its time to gather our too many bags and haul them down the too many stairs.  We have enjoyed our time in Stone Town a great deal.  We wish we had more time in this magical place.  We cast a look behind, hoping to return this way another day, then set our sights on what comes next.

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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 Past Preserved

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Stone town is the past preserved. Young boys chase each other through the narrow streets, adults are content to mosy. As a child I roamed my streets unfettered without a care in the world. Today at home, our children grow pasty in flesh and slack in body safe in their rooms. They scroll through a virtual world. Here in Stone town, life unfolds in real time, unplugged.

Retail is everywhere, though no big box stores exist. Quaint shops appear doorway after doorway, their items similar. The Proprieters fan themselves on their stoops and chat amicably with their competition. They beckon us to look closer. “Just look,” they say. We venture in and like the spider to the fly once in we are trapped. Haggling is the order of the day. I ask, “how much?”  She responds with a price. I recoil, suggest a lower price, she looks horrified, clucks her tongue, counters with a slightly higher price. I accept for fear of further offence. The trinket is bagged in a recycled tote and I’m released. There are shops that have inflated fixed prices. Haggling, though exhausting, yields a better deal.

We pass a group of men and boys huddled around an antiquated television complete with rabbit ears. They are watching a soccer game in the open air.  They are happy and animated, joy contagious as they cheer for their team and grumble when the opposing team has possession.  My Mom told me that years ago when televisions were expensive that department stores would display them in store windows. People would gather together to watch and share. Those days are over. In our consumer driven culture everyone seems to have at least one flat screen television, lounge chair and privacy. We trade perceived luxury for camaraderie and community.

We tour the birth home of Freddy Mercury of Queen fame. There are odd items for sale, nearly as odd as the man himself. Freddy has achieved superstardom status in the Island of Spice and is marketed for profit. He was born here though spent his youth between India and Zanzibar before settling in Great Britain. His stardom occurred years after leaving Zanzibar. The tenuous connection is a conduit for currency in Zanzibar. Still, I imagine his carefree, boyhood days on this Island a sharp contrast to the life he led as an adult

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We have learned a great deal during our tour. I’m left with a longing of times past when our life was much like this one. We have sacrificed a great deal for our modern conveniences and there is no way to turn back or stop the clock.

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Half a world away

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Moved to Tears.

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He was born while we were half a world away. We were sitting on the steps of the hotel in Moshi,Tanzania waiting for our certificates to prove we climbed Kilimanjaro and refusing to board the bus to begin our safari until we had the signed certificates.

I sat with my phone clutched reading text messages from our daughter describing her contractions and shouting out the information to our Kilimanjaro friends and responding back to her that we were all excited and wishing her well. The labor progressing our chief worry was whether we would need to board the bus before the birth. If this baby did not hurry up, we would have to wait another week.

I wait for her response, nothing. I text again asking if she’s okay, nothing. Then a text arrives, “its a boy!” I shout, our group cheers.  I wait for the photo to follow.  I wait an eternity and then it arrives.  The photo moves me to tears.  I stare into the face of our newest grandson and weep, tears of joy that the ordeal is over for our daughter, that the baby has arrived safe, that he is perfect in every way.  My husband shares the photo and openly weeps, his tears contagious.  A joyous moment forever etched in our memory.

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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