Hi to all of you… hope you’re well and full `o’ beans. I am now ‘Zanzibar returned’ and a much happier person for it…

The famous spice island (Unguja for the locals) lives up to its myth… even when all I caught was a glimpse of its capital, Stone Town, infamous in history as slave trade centre. I, however, was all a swoon over the graceful, beach front buildings – white-washed, spacious, mostly wood, with arches and latticed windows and high ceilings – more curves than straight lines, and distinctly, elegantly Arabic influenced.

And in front of them was the blue, blue sea, well stocked with fishing boats and small motorboats with rounded, orange covers for the wazungus (white tourists) and a cruiser or two, pointing to the fact that I need to increase my marine crafts vocabulary double quick…! Once I spied a dhow – its triangular sail a thing of beauty and simplicity – crawl ever so sloooowly across the bay and decided that romantic though this boat looks, I’d rather view one than travel in it!

The Zanzibari’s are graceful too, particularly the women, usually in flimsy black hijabs, with their faces uncovered, and wearing, often over their head a gay red tightly drawn scarf, also made of flimsy cloth. One teenager displayed her naval under her hijab, as she was wearing under it the low slung jeans and short t-shirt, popular with all teens everywhere these days! I may invest in one of these rather seductive garments myself..! (May also be useful to gain entry into mosques which are otherwise out of bounds…) The mixing of all that Arab, black African and Asian (Indian) blood has sure produced pleasing results, making me advocate for mixed-race unions yet again and just for that reason alone!

As for the males, the really striking creatures are the tall, slim, graceful Massai men, here on the mainland or in Zanzibar, with red and sometimes purple shawl-like garments draped around them, leaving one shoulder bare, carrying a staff or spear, with the loveliest beaded jewellery on their wrists, ankles, necks and ears. Sometimes they wear headpieces too. It goes to show (yet again) that men in general would be far more attractive if they wore more interesting clothing as well as sported some jewellery… (Hope you guys are keeping an open mind…) I don’t think they could compete with the Massai exactly but still…!

We stayed in a cheapish hotel (US12 per night) which was a nice building of the kind mentioned before with these gorgeous painted and tasseled wooden beds with blue mosquito nets producing an effect not unlike the hijabs on the ladies. In short: Everywhere the eye turns it encounters beauty. (To quote a pal who was perhaps quoting someone else!) Of course there’s garbage flung around in parts and a leaking sewer or two but who cares?

We also walked through the narrow alleys flanked by pealing house fronts and shops – touristy and everyday – that form the labyrinthine Arabic quarters. In the touristy parts we were hustled, though gently. But left alone in the others. It’s customary here (as on the mainland) anyhow to greet people with Karibu (welcome) or Jambo (hello) and the vibe is generally relaxed and friendly. A no is taken quite well, often with a smile.

We had gone there (Elisabeth, a Swiss cooperant working at Haki and local colleagues L and A) to partake in the Zanzibar International Film Festival, which besides movies, showcases music, art, literary readings, from the “Dhow countries or countries of the Indian ocean – and there was also local theatre and craft particularly at the Women’s panorama. What was nice was that there were quite a few free events for the locals, and even the paid events, save for the opening, were TSH (Tanzanian shilling) 500 which is about 50 cents US. In fact, they even tour the villages on the island with the movies and movie equipment.

The opening night was a joyous celebration held in the stone amphitheatre of the Old Fort which is a sturdy and well preserved building right on the waterfront, and featured a Zimbabwe woman singer (Stella Chiweshe) a qawali group from India, spirited speeches from the chair people, dancers from Tanzania’s Iringa region (they wore cowbells!) and CDR (Congo) director’s musical, political satire in French and a local language, called in English, “The Governors New Clothes.”

Saw a few movies (some documentary) about slavery and a rediscovery of roots, two young Dutch painters staking out in Masaai territory drawing with pigments made from local materials (really a zany flick called White canvas, black hyena), among others. We also ate street food – fish and meat kababs, the local version of falafels, etc at the Fordhani garden which is a nice, waterfront hangout area much frequented by the locals with kids and various generations of family, camped on the grass, relaxing, chatting and eating.

The food reminds me that I have been tucking into asli (authentic) Indian food of the sort I really like which comes from South India and Gujarat and even Maharashtra (my state) at the Kisutu street in Dar. I also stocked up on garlic pickle, sweets and snacks. After one such dinner, I felt religious enough to visit one of the many temples there… There was the usual assortment of Gods – Shiva, Parvati, Durga, Ganesh, a banyan tree which was also being worshipped, women sitting in the large courtyard chatting, while kids played. I must say these temples are much nicer in terms of both construction and ambience than anything I have seen in dear Canada – they seem much more organic while the Canadian’s ones seem transplanted by force, somehow.

I prayed for a house (it’s been tough finding one though. everyone’s trying…) Ironically, the very next day after I’d sought protection and good luck I had computer problems all day and other screw-ups ending finally with my sandal strap breaking (though luckily very near my hotel)!

My hotel, pretty basic but middling in these parts I’m told, is in the bustling African neighbourhood of Kariakoo with a veggie market right next door and all kinds of goods and services available around. There’s always layers of sound here from human voices, cars, construction, carts, Muslim calls to prayer (really soulful and haunting though. Somehow not at 4.30 am!) and music – mostly African and at times Indian. Generally it’s very musical here and one comes across people humming or singing as they work at times. They seem to have a different, deeper, relationship to music than in Asia or the West from what I gather. I enjoy all the sounds but insistent disco music kept me up late last weekend… enjoyed the relative quiet of the Zanzibar hotel.

I was advised not to walk around alone and at first I was rather freaked on the security issue (having heard stories and given warnings) but I have now divested myself of my credit cards, camera and my fears and walk to and from work. It’s about a 20 min. walk. I have been taken for Caribbean and Goan but not Indian alas coz I lack the long boring type of hair and clothes that Indian woman seen in that neighbourhood wear! My hair in fact almost borders on an Afro now!

Dar itself is a pleasing, spacious seeming city, not that hectic for chaotic (well compared to Indian cities) and with distinctive neighbouthoods, African, Indian, expat. up market, etc. Have eaten in many garden restaurants by now and dipped my feet in the Indian ocean at Coco beach.

That’s all for now. But I must mention a Roman excess type of situation that I inadvertently found myself in – you know how they used to over indulge and then throw up. My pleasure trip to Unguja was followed by a nightmare ferry ride back, with the boat heaving and rolling like a creature possessed. Barf bags were passed around at the beginning of this 2 and half hour journey and about 80 per cent of the passengers threw up, including yours truly. I could not even contemplate the blandest of foods which is ugali (cornmeal) last evening, but have bounced back overnight. It seems the thing to do is to avoid this 4 pm ferry. Ferries at other times are Ok as was the one we took to Unguja at 10.30 am.

Opps I forgot to mention work! It’s all positive and you’ll hear more about it later….
Ta for now,
Veena