ZANZIBAR AND THE TOWN OF STONE
‘When the flute is played in Zanzibar, all Africa east of the lakes must dance’
– Old Arab Proverb
Zanzibar, Zanj-el-Bar, and exotic sounding land of the Zijn, a far-away place whose name captured a romantic image in my head. The mythical Town of Stone and Spices, where you get disoriented just walking the streets, you get dizzy from the sounds and aromas, and people greeting you with friendly “Jambo”. You hear Jambo all over the place, from very busy street vendors trying to lure you into their shops and touts that do not understand NO! It brings out images of old-world Arabian stories of Ali Baba and the forty thieves, or Aladdin and the 1001 Arabian Nights and of Sherazade who told her stories to the Sultan to capture his heart and other exotic mysteries. Sherazade also whispered her stories through the allies to capture my heart and stole my soul.
On all our trips to Zanzibar we are always absolutely in awe. As you fly over Dar-es-Salaam the reaction in the cabin is always the same, there is a happy buzz and cameras are hauled out while everyone oohed and aahed, you look down and over an unbelievable aquamarine blue ocean scattered with small coral islands and with dhow’s, returning home after the day’s fishing. The first time we went, as the airplane came in to land, the tall coconut palms bent their heads in the wind and in my head I thought that they were waving a warm welcome to us all.
Zanzibar International Airport, yes, I expected a huge airport, but you have to be there to appreciate it! When they opened the doors the heat and the humidity hit us like a huge wave, it was so hot and humid, you immediately start to sweat and by the time you reach the building you’re one big wet mess. You are met at the entrance by a lot of very unfriendly people. The first time I thought they might just be very hungry, it was in the middle of Ramadan, but the second time I was proven wrong, the airport staff is just unfriendly! Before you can reclaim your bags, you must first fill in the very same form that you already filled in on the airplane, then to internal affairs to show that you’ve got a valid passport, Yellow Fever card and visa. Although Zanzibar is part of mainland Tanzania, the person behind the counter forcefully stamp your passport with a Zanzibar stamp to show you that they still are proud of their autonomy as a separate entity. Then to a counter where they slam down your bags, all done manually and before you can get outside you get inspected by Fauna and Flora. The first time Kallie must have look like somebody bringing in some illegal contraband, Mr. Checkpoint Charlie grabbed a piece of chalk, drew a big cross on his bag and shouted Open! He had to open it for the custom people! I find it really funny, they would have much more fun with my bag! How do you explain 16 panties in your luggage, still in their original packaging, unless you want to sell it on the black market somewhere on the island? Will they believe me when I try to explain that I always make sure that I have enough of everything with me and always extra! All this activity happens in a space not much bigger to what we will refer to as a big school hall!
Outside we were swarmed and mobbed by taxi drivers and touts for hotels and everything else. Fortunately we always have somebody to fetch and to take us to the hotel.
A small piece of advice that need to be said here. Do not try and use the toilets at the airport unless in dire need, adapting to Tanzanian toilets takes a while and it is always a very interesting experience. If it is your first time you visit anywhere in Africa, all that I will say is “Good Luck” The toilets at the airport is in fact glorified holes in the ground over which you have to squat and use hand showers to do the rest, if you need toilet paper, carry it with you. In fact always make sure you have toilet paper with you, it can get worse! A couple of years ago the SABS withdrew their support from some toilet paper factories because these factories produced below standard toilet paper. I asked myself what happened to all of these millions and millions rolls of toilet paper? I think all of it was send to East Africa and that the factories still produce and deliver to these countries, once you find yourself in a toilet in East Africa, and there is some paper by change, you will see what I mean!
For now, I will let you wonder why I am so in love with Stone Town … watch this space I will tell you soon …