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Two Weeks on Zanzibar’s Archipelego

November 24th, 2009 by · 1 Comment · Africa, Tanzania

boatThe sun is directly overhead as we ferry along the equator from Dar El Salaam to Zanzibar. Ancient wooden dhous sail on our wake, reeling in full nets for the fish market. The slow ferry saves us money, so we climb aboard claiming two seats, in the shade no less, and wedge between local Tanzanians. The boat fills up beyond capacity as families compete for floor space, men settle on steps and boys perch on railings. As the only wazungu on the back deck, curious eyes fall upon us. Tanzania’s land mass shrinks as we turn into the Indian Ocean for a 4 hour journey, listing wayward, all remnants of shade are displaced, rendering a slow torture of pure sunlight upon our backs.

Line ups do not exists in Africa, line up to use the toilet, line up to buy a ticket, line up to exit the ferry, I’m sure the verb ‘line up’ has no place in the Swahili dictionary.  All at once everyone rushes to get off the boat, pushing and shoving, luggage and elbows flying, I fight to stay behind Jay and let all the years of polite schooling go to hell. Amidst the stench and sweat of the battle, the boat slowly empties, but just enough to let new passengers lay stake for their return journey.

Zanzibar, once the world’s most exotic spice trade island with its turbulent history of brutal takeovers, trade in slave, gold and ivory, remnants of large clove plantations, groves of pineapple, papaya and mango, thatched abodes- truly an ancient world.

Our mornings were spent with Mwana, a Muslim grandmother with a forgiving smile, as we learned Swahili through song and laughter. Tragedy struck on the 4th day when she lost her grandchild of only 40 days to heart failure. On an Island without access to proper health care, there are no x-rays or ultrasounds; the doctors suspected pneumonia at birth and shot her full of penicillin, no further tests done. A country full of mourning families as the staggering infant mortality rates stagnate.

The House of WondersAfternoons we wondered Stone Town, soaking up hours of history. We searched for the beautiful baobab tree and found the remains of the horrifying slave market across the way. Illegal since 1897, the relics include a dank underground cellar and neck chains, pictures illuminate the past with women and children tied to stakes, unable to move. The catholic church has built a cathedral above the old market, using the whipping post as a pulpit for weekly sermons. The student guide asked which religion we held, his response interesting, “Religion is a safe place, it pays for my school, you ask questions and therefore don’t believe, we are taught not to answer questions, we must have faith.”

The meat and fish markets trump Morocco, as men not only shuck the meat from the animal, but rest lazily on the cutting block next to their sale, often lying in the juices, bare feet exposed. The knives are rusted  and dull, often accompanied with a blow of a hammer to slice the pieces free. Odious, I kid you not.

night vessel

Dr. David Livingstone’s last stop after his heart was buried in Tanzania is now a bar serving happy hour with free popcorn. Our favorite sunsets were at his place, best viewed with a cold Kilimanjaro and toes in the sand.

Every night local kids put on a gymnastics show, as a beached ferry, sans dock, filled with families. Vans weighted with cargo tried to whip across the sand into its strong hold. Night falls and the kids head home, the rising tide eventually lifted the night vessel out to sea, destination unknown. Immigration turns a blind eye.

Another day on Zanzibar.


One Comment

  • December 8th, 2009 by mom

    Darlene and Jay.
    I sometimes get lost on the pictures and dates. But, I just look at the water and boast scenes you have shown us and Want to be there.

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